Saturday, October 29, 2005

THE HYPNERATOMACHIA POLYPHILI, along with other "rare tomes," is becoming availble on CD-Rom/DVD according to the Berkeley Daily Planet:
These discs make it possible to examine and magnify in minute detail not just text and illustrations, but even the paper, watermarks and binding. Although for now we still see through a glass, it is no longer darkly. It is as if someone, our computer genie, were willing to take an infinite amount of time to display every detail of a treasured object, its hand-tooled leather bindings, translucent watercolors, the very texture of the paper. There is none of that greying out of the page that you find in many facsimiles. The presence of each book is almost palpable.

The Octavo Editions series covers classics in art, architecture, botany, zoology, religion, science and literature and, although the actual book is viewable in its pristine form, plenty of explanatory background material is provided as well. While the prospect of owning Gutenberg’s Bible, Redouté’s Roses or Tory’s Champ Fleury rang my bells, the following titles made this old English major positively salivate:

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), the chef d’oeuvre of Aldus Manutius, the greatest printer of the Italian Renaissance, has fascinated poets, psychologists and iconographers for half a millennium. Anyone interested in dreams, erotica, alchemy, architecture, hieroglyphs, emblems, allegory or symbolism has probably stumbled upon this title and its hermetic illustrations and wondered about its author, its euphuistic language and its meaning.

It reads like a collaboration between Baron Corvo and Carl Jung. The real author is unknown even though the name Francesco Colonna is encrypted into the text. Joscelyn Godwin, whose 1999 translation is the only complete English version, pays lip service to Colonna in that volume, although two years earlier in Prague he told me that he was convinced by recent scholarship that Leone Battista Alberti, the humanist author and architect, wrote this strife of love in a dream. Whoever wrote it, the book is one of the most beautiful ever printed and all of that loveliness comes through in this disc.
"ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD." The Letter of Aristeas and the Library of Alexandria figure in an essay in Ha'aretz by Michael Handelzatts.
Ancient Armenia gave faith an alphabet

By Rich Barlow | October 29, 2005 (Boston Globe)

Few birthdays are cause for a global scholars' conference at Harvard, but they're raising a metaphorical glass in Cambridge to toast the Armenian alphabet. It's not just that at 1,600 years old the alphabet makes Methuselah look like a youngster. These three dozen letters gave a written language of faith to a pivotal country in Christian history.

Years before the Roman emperor Constantine's famous conversion, Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion, in the year 301. At the time, Armenian was a spoken tongue only, meaning worshipers relied on translators during services to interpret a Bible that was written in other languages.

''Bare oral translations," an Armenian theologian later wrote, ''were insufficient to satisfy the aspirations of the heart."

A fifth-century priest, Mesrob Mashtotz, sated those aspirations, devising a 36-letter script (two more letters were added later) so the Old and New Testaments could be rendered in Armenian. For Armenians worldwide, including the Armenian Apostolic Church, religion and language would become intertwined as the life supports keeping the nation's culture and heritage alive outside the homeland, says James R. Russell, Mesrob Mashtotz professor of Armenian studies at Harvard.


The article also notes that an excerpt from Proverbs was the first biblical text to be trascribed into the alphabet. But this seems to be garbled:
The effects spilled over beyond Armenia's border; for example, Russell says that many works of Philo of Alexandria, the great Jewish theologian of the Greco-Roman era, have come down to us only because they survived in Armenian and subsequently were translated into Greek.

Yes, some of Philo's works survive only in Armenian, but the were translated from Greek into Armenian, not the other way around. I'm sure that's what Professor Russell said and the interviewer misunderstood.

A number of Old Testament pseudepigrapha and New Testament apocrypha also have important manuscript traditions in Armenian.

Friday, October 28, 2005

GOOD ADVICE ON TEACHING HEBREW from Charles David Isbell at the SBL Forum site:
The Hebrew Teacher: Guru, Drill Instructor, or Role Model?

Clicking on this link will downloan the PDF file onto your system.

(Via the Bible and Interpretation website.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

PSEUDO-HEGESIPPUS, De excidio Hierosolymitano, an important fourth-century Christian Latin history of the first-century destruction of Jerusalem which made extensive use of Josephus' Jewish War, has now been put online in English translation by Roger Pearse on his Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts website. It is important as a roundabout but early source for the text of Josephus' work, and also exegetically as a fairly early Christian reworking of a major Jewish source. (Heads-up, Hypotyposeis.)
MORE ON SHEIKH KAMAL HATIB (KHATIB). Whether or not WorldNetDaily quoted him correctly, his organization does seem to indulge in Jewish-Temple denial. This from an Haaretz article ("Focus / `False' dreams, and temples, on the Mount" dated 23 June 2005 (according to Google cache):
Last week, before he was arrested, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, head of the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch, slammed Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy for his comment that the police were considering allowing Jews to go to the site. Salah said that Levy's remarks "reveal the tragic circumstances of the existence of the Al-Aqsa Mosque under the occupying Israeli rule."

Following this week's wave of arrests of top Islamic Movement members, the organization published a declaration saying that the campaign against it was part of the "rosy, narcissistic, false dream" of the Israeli government "to build their false temple on the blessed land of Al-Aqsa."

Ra'ad's deputy, Sheikh Kamal Khatib, told Haaretz this week that the steps against his movement also serve the interests of the Palestinian Authority - and especially the new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) - which is concerned about the control the organization is beginning to wield over the Mount.

The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement holds an annual Al-Aqsa Festival, which it first started in the 1990s and which draws thousands and thousands of participants. The movement fundraises intensively for renovations via its Al-Aqsa Association and publishes propaganda in the form of books and articles on the "false temple" Israel plans to build once it has rid the Temple Mount of all mosques.

Brousing through the books sold at the movement's store in Kafr Qana, for example, one suddenly comes across "scientific" proof showing that the First and Second Temples never stood on the site, as the Jews believe. ...

Note also the intensely anti-historical attitude he takes in these comments in an exchange with the Catholic Archbishop of the Galilee, Butrus Al-Mu'alem, reported by MEMRI (Special Dispatch Series - No. 41, "Muslim-Christian Tensions in the Israeli-Arab Community").
Archbishop Al-Mu'alem stated: "I want to be clear that we are the Christians of this land and not uninvited intruders. We were Arabs before the appearance of Islam, we are still Arabs, and we will continue to be Arabs. We were the first to congratulate [the Muslims] who came in the days of the Caliph Omar. I send you back to history."

Sheik Khatib responded: "Revered Archbishop, is it a day of struggle or a day of reconciliation…? If anyone else had said those things we may have forgiven him, but coming from you - there can be no forgiveness. What do you mean when you say you were here before the appearance of Islam? It means that Islam is a foreign phenomenon here. …You should know that for us Islam is not only the religion of the Prophet Muhammad, but also the religion of Moses, Jesus, and Abraham [who according to the The Koran are considered prophets of Islam]...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

THE HOLIDAYS SHEMENI ATZERET AND SIMCHAT TORAH are today, outside Israel. Shemeni Atzeret began on the evening of the 24th and lasted one day in Israel (with Simchat Torah on the same day), but continues a second day outside of Israel (today, with Simchat Torah today as well). I think I have this straight this time. If not, I'm sure someone in Israel will correct me.

Shemini Atzeret is a biblical holiday mentioned in Numbers 29:35-38. Simchat Torah is not a biblical holiday, but it marks the beginning and ending of the annual cycle of Torah readings.
Robert H. Johnston, Examiner of Dead Sea Scrolls, Dies at 77

Published: October 26, 2005 (New York Times)

Robert H. Johnston, an archaeologist who helped develop a way to read ancient texts blackened or faded by time, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, died last Wednesday at his home in Brighton, N.Y. He was 77.

He spent more than a month in the hospital recently after several minor falls followed by infections and minor strokes, said his wife, Louise, but she could not point to a single cause of death.

Mr. Johnston, who for two decades was a professor and administrator at the Rochester Institute of Technology, worked in digital imaging to tease out ancient text, often minute fragments of individual characters, that had not been seen for as long as 2,000 years. This involved manipulating technology first used for medical diagnosis and enhancing pictures taken from military satellites.

Along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, texts from the time of Christ, Mr. Johnston decoded parts of a 10th-century parchment copy of a famous treatise by the Greek mathematician Archimedes that had been used as the fabric for a 13th-century prayer book, among other projects.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Hobbits maybe, but no giants.
WAS JESUS BORN IN BETHLEHEM OF JUDEA? Then archaeologist Aviram Oshri, writing in the current issue of Archaeology Magazine, wants to know where the Herodian remains of the town are. He hints that Jesus may have been born at another site with the same name in Galilee. Too bad this is just an abstract.
A NEW USE FOR ANTIOXIDANTS is reported by Wired News. Actually, I thought the ink of Dead Sea Scrolls was carbon based, but the article says that recipes for iron gall inks go back to the Scrolls.
CHORAL MUSIC inspired by the Dead Sea Scrolls is being commissioned in North Carolina.

Monday, October 24, 2005

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: World Net Daily reports more from Sheikh Hatib on Temple Mount archaeology and history:
Israeli dig to spark Temple Mount violence?
Al Aqsa leader warns of deadly riots, busing supporters to mosque

Posted: October 24, 2005
1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Aaron Klein
© 2005

JERUSALEM – A senior Al Aqsa leader whose group has been accused of associations with Hamas told WorldNetDaily yesterday recent Israeli digs near the Temple Mount and a plan to construct an underground visitors center near the Western Wall are really Jewish designs to destroy the mosque, potentially sparking deadly riots.

The group, which has previously been involved with Temple Mount violence, has been sending buses the past few weeks to Israeli Arab neighborhoods asking Muslims to "swarm" the Al Aqsa Mosque to protect it from "Jewish attacks," WND has learned.


The archaeological dig in question was noted here on PaleoJudaica. And here's a Ha'aretz article on the visitor's center.

Then there's this historical note:
Hatib told WND the recent Israeli archeological findings are "nonsense. Finding pieces of one centimeter is nothing near our historical right that counts thousands of years before Israel and before Moses. I suggest to the Israeli and Jewish fanatics and to the Christian groups in America who support them to think about how to support peace and not war."

UPDATE (25 October): A reader who does not wish to be named takes me to task a bit for quoting WND, since they are not actually journalists, they have an obvious agenda of their own, and their reporting is not necessarily reliable. Fair enough. The information is only as good as its source. What Sheikh Hatib is reported to have said has the historical problems I have indicated. It does cohere with what the Zayed Centre said about the al-Aqsa Mosque, but that doesn't mean the Sheikh's comments have been reported accurately by WND, and I have no cross verification. I blog, you decide. If anyone is aware of him saying he has been misquoted or misrepresented, please let me know.

UPDATE (27 October): More here.
STILL MORE ON ANNE RICE'S JESUS BOOK: Time Magazine has an article and Newsweek has an article and also an audio excerpt from chapter one.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

FURTHER TO THE EARLIER LOST BOOKS DISCUSSION, David Meadows points to an article in the Australian on Missing Masterpieces," including lost books by Homer, Confucius, Aeschylus, and some much more recent authors. Interesting, but this should not have been repeated without qualification:
But on December 22, AD640, a reader with a very different agenda was in control of Alexandria. Where literary works were concerned, he was strict: "Those which disagree with the Word of God are blasphemous, those which agree, superfluous." Amrou Ibn el-Ass, on orders from his caliph, decreed that the library be burned. The scrolls opened a final time, unfurled by the flames, and the complete works of Aeschylus became lost forever.

The story about Muslim fanatics burning the contents of the Library of Alexandria should be taken with a good firkin of salt. The sources for the story are very late and unreliable and its historicity is quite doubtful. Julius Caesar may be the one responsible for (accidentally) burning down the library, although this is debated. Details are here. Note especially the last three links in the post.
MY TEMPLE MOUNT VIDEO POST has been updated over the last couple of days. If you haven't checked it for a while, have another look.

UPDATE (24 October): bad link fixed.
THE JESUS SEMINAR is alive and well and is coming to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in November to observe its twentieth anniversary.
AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM is planned for Gaza. The BBC has the story in "Gaza's ancient history uncovered". Excerpt:
Around the world, Gaza is seen only as a deeply troubled place - a bloody arena in the Palestinians' confrontation with Israel.

But efforts are being made now to present a fuller picture.

The Palestinian Authority has approved a plan to build a national archaeological museum in Gaza.

Land has been set aside, and the United Nations is helping to develop the project.

"People around the world have looked at Gaza through the TV as a place of violence and anarchy," says the head of the United Nations Development Programme in Gaza, Khalid Abdul Shafi.

"Yes there was violence. But there is another face of Gaza - there is culture and archaeology and history."

I wish the project good success.