Sunday, December 31, 2006

"THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH: Clinical Practice Guidelines for Post-Deployment Health Evaluation and Management" -- brought to you by the VA/DoD. As David Meadows says in this week's Explorator, this application of the Epic is "somewhat strange."
RALPHIES 2006. Ed Cook (here, here, and here) and Mark Goodacre have posted their annual best-of the-year Ralphie awards, so I suppose I may as well post mine as well.

MUSIC: Sorry, I didn't listen to any new music this year.

MOVIES: Didn't go to the cinema either, except to take my son to two or three children's blockbusters, all of which were forgettable. Of the pre-2006 movies I saw outside the cinema and for the first time this year, my favorite was the eerie Donnie Darko (a mentally disturbed teenager is led to save the universe by a spirit guide who takes the shape of a giant rabbit). I liked the quasi-shamanic wounded-healer theme that drives it. I saw the Director's Cut, which, from what I can tell, makes more sense than the original version. See also the helpful Wikipedia FAQ, which, however, contains many spoilers.

BOOKS: I managed to read a number of technical monographs, mostly to review them. All of them were good and some were excellent, but none really stands out as best of the year. But I'll just mention one of the excellent ones that is likely to be of some general interest to regular PaleoJudaica readers:
Philip Alexander, The Mystical Texts: Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and Related Manuscripts (Library of Second Temple Studies, 61, Companion to the Qumran Scrolls, 7; London and New York: T & T Clark International, 2006), pp. x + 171. £65. ISBN 0-567-04082-8.
Surveys the Dead Sea Scrolls that have mystical content and places them in the larger context of the mystical tradition in Judaism.

I read a fair number of novels this year, mostly science fiction. Again, many were good and some were excellent, but the best was unquestionably:
Charles Stross, Accelerando (London: Orbit, 2005 [but paperback 2006])
Traces a future history of the Singularity, starting from the second decade of this century. Bizarre enough to be plausible.

TELEVISION: British television had a number of very good new series this year. My favorite was Life on Mars. (A man in 2006 is trapped in his own comatose body after a car accident and subjected to the persistent and fully realistic hallucination that he has been transported to 1973 - or has he actually somehow been astrally projected there? - while his doctors at first think he's brain dead and then begin to resort to risky experimental measures to try to reawaken him before his weakening body gives out. To conclude in season two in 2007.) The 2006 season of Doctor Who, with David Tennant as the new Doctor, and Torchwood (a Doctor Who spinoff featuring Captain Jack Harkness as an alien hunter in Cardiff) come in neck and neck for a close second place. Spooks (the adventures of MI5 agents) deserves honorable mention as well. My favorite new children's series was ITV's Prehistoric Park (nature presenter Nigel Marven travels back in time to rescue extinct species from oblivion). My favorite television moment of 2006 was Nigel coaxing two baby T-Rexes through the Time Portal with a ham sandwich while, in the background, the fireball from the dinosaur-destroying meteorite blasts toward them at two hundred times the speed of sound.

UPDATE: More Ralphies from Chris Brady and Tyler Williams.
COLLOQUIUM ON REVELATION IN ANTIQUITY -- Moulie Vidas e-mails the following:
Revelation, Literature and Community in Antiquity, Colloquium at Princeton University

On 14-16 January, 2007, Princeton University will host a three-day colloquium which sets to explore the connection between revelation and literary and social configurations, focusing on texts written between the hellenistic period and the rise of Islam. Seventeen papers will be presented by faculty members and graduate students from Princeton University as well as guest speakers from other institutions. For full details, see our website: Please e-mail if you wish to attend.
The program includes quite a lot on ancient Judaism, and also deals with Manicheism, Platonism, Hermeticism, early Christianity, the Qur'an, etc. I wish I could go.
A BRIEF REVIEW of books on The Gospel of Judas:
New books respond to Gospel of Judas

By Jean Peerenboom

The Gospel of Judas made a big splash when it was revealed to the world in April, and naturally, it spawned several books analyzing, discrediting or praising it.

Noted theologian N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham in the Church of England put together a short treatise that essentially dismisses the new gospel as shedding any true light on early Christianity or presenting a challenge to the Christian church. He offers an orthodox Christian response in "Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity?" (Baker Books, $18.99).


A second look at the gospel of Judas comes from religious studies professor Bart D. Ehrman in "The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed" (Oxford University Press, $22). Written for a more general audience, it talks about what the gospel teaches and how it relates to the other gospel texts — those in the New Testament and those not included in the Bible.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

STAND UP FOR HEROD! A site called "" has published an essay by Uri Cohen which offers us some more Herod revisionism. Cohen seems to want to rehabilitate Herod the Great and even to draw an analogy between him and the current president of the Palestinian Authority.
Stand up, stand up for Herod!
by Uri Cohen - 21st Century Socialism Thursday, Dec 28 2006, 3:41pm phone: UK 07968-859-322
mashriq / arabia / iraq / history / non anarchist press

Ancient Palestine
It is a seasonal story of ancient Palestine: the Arab Jewish king, the suicidal religious militants, the re-invention of God and the abolition of Jerusalem. The historical truth is both stranger and more familiar than the tales in the Gospel. It is a sound historical analysis of Palestine 37-4 BC.
Stand up, stand up for Herod!
A seasonal story of ancient Palestine: the Arab Jewish moderate king, the suicidal religious militants, the re-invention of God and the abolition of Jerusalem. The historical truth is both stranger and more familiar than the tales in the Gospel.

King Herod the Great, who ruled Palestine from 37 to 4 BC, is vilified by both Jewish and Christian traditions. Like more recent Palestinian leaders, King Herod enjoyed relative autonomy under the menacing shadow of the world’s most powerful empire and its brutal army of occupation. Like the current Palestinian president, King Herod was politically undermined by popular religious militants. The ancient Jewish fundamentalists denounced Herod as a Roman imperialist puppet and a corrupt heathen ruler.

But why stand up for Herod? Partly, for the sake of historical truth. For example, Herod’s massacre of the innocents as described in the Gospel of Mathew – which is the main thing that people today ‘know’ about the much-maligned monarch - certainly never happened. The event is not mentioned in any other contemporaneous account and cannot be reconciled with the date on which we are told that Jesus was born.

Yes, the story in Matthew doesn't have any verification and is generally taken to be a legend. But it's not correct that the supposed date of the event is irreconcilable with the date of Jesus' birth, since we don't actually know exactly when Jesus was born. It's true that it's widely recognized that if Herod was still around when Jesus was born, Jesus must have been born before Herod's death, which is generally taken to have been 4 BCE. But if the massacre of Bethlehem story is legendary, any connection of Jesus' birth with the reign of Herod becomes tenuous. Luke does place the conception of John the Baptist in Herod's day (1:5], but his chronology of Jesus' birth has its own problems.
Monotheism, the cult of the single invisible god, was imposed on the Jerusalem city-state by the Zoroastrian Persian Empire, at around 500 BC. The Persian invaders installed a priestly aristocracy who set out to merge a number of pagan deities into a single male god: called Jehovah. To achieve this spiritual task, the Jerusalem priesthood reformed the old Palestinian gods and goddesses.

In Palestine, the pagan pantheon of deities was dominated by the male god Jehovah and his female consort, the goddess Ashera, and another prominent male god El or Elion and his female consort Eilat. The Jerusalem monotheists divorced the female goddesses from their husbands, banishing the female side of godliness and violently repressing all female cults. Then the monotheists set about merging the remaining male gods into a single male, invisible, macho and homicidal God. This single God was called either Jehovah or Elohim (the Hebrew plural for Gods).


In 37 BC Palestine, Herod inherited a kingdom that was beset by social and religious strife. While maintaining the authority of the priestly aristocracy, Herod tried to rule in name of all Palestinians.

He was later vilified by Jews and Christians for tolerating pagan communities and promoting religious freedom. Herod was an Arab leader with a strong Jewish faith, who ruled in a secular way - he could perhaps teach current Arab and Jewish politicians a trick or two. But above all he had to please imperial Rome and its insatiable appetite for material tribute, new highways, forts, conscript armies and mineral riches.

Was Herod an Arab? One can make that case. He was three-quarters Nabatean (his mother was Nabatean and his father Idumean but with a Nabatean mother), but culturally he was Idumean. The Nabateans were an Arabian ethnic group that spoke an Arabic dialect originally, but adopted Aramaic language and culture, at least in educated circles. The Idumeans, however, were not Arabians; they were descendants of the Edomites, an ethnic group that spoke a Northwest Semitic dialect (i.e, closely related to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician) in the Iron Age II and had a polytheistic religion that included the worship of a god called Qaus. The surviving Idumean inscriptions in the Persian and Hellenistic periods are in Aramaic. (See here and here.) The Idumeans were forcibly converted to Judaism in the Hasmonean period and from that point on they seem to have considered themselves Jews.

So Herod was genetically three-quarters Arabian and presumably was exposed to some Nabatean language and culture from his mother, but he himself was vigorously committed to Judaism. There is no cultural or religious continuity between the polytheistic Nabateans of Herod's time and modern Palestianian Arabs, but some of the latter surely transmit some Nabatean genetic material, and modern Palestinians speak a variant dialect (coming from Islamic Arabia) of the language that the Nabateans originally spoke. Add all that up as you will. (For more on such questions, see here.)

As to Herod's personality and rule, whether or not Matthew's story of the slaughter of the innocents is true, it's typical enough of the sort of thing he might have done. (More on that here). By the standards of his own time he may not have been as bad as he looks to us, but he was nothing to be proud of. As despots go, he accomplished more than some, but I think a little standing up for Herod goes a long way.

Also, I'm a bit baffled by this "Jehovah" business. The name Jehovah is an erroneous form created accidentally by Christian Hebraists who didn't know that the vowels added to the name YHWH in the Masoretic text were meant to indicate that the name should be read as "Adonay," "My Lord." The name Jehovah never existed in antiquity, and it's odd to see it used repeatedly in an article that is so concerned with giving the true story of Second Temple era history. Incidentally, the origin of the word Elohim is messy, but is probably something like the following. It is actually a singular abstract noun formation rather than a plural and means "divinity" (cf. Hebrew Ne(uRiM [נערים], meaning the quality "youth"). Because its ending coincidentally resembles the masculine plural noun ending, it secondarily became the plural of the word El, "god" as well, which makes for some ironic confusion.

Otherwise, the essay presents an anti-Zionist, revisionist reading of the history of the Second Temple period. This is kind of interesting but it contains a good bit of wild speculation (e.g., the claim that monotheism was imposed by the Persian Empire or the confidently reconstructed polytheistic cults of Yahweh/Asherah and El/Elyon/Eilat).

Cohen appears to be inviting modern Palestinian Arabs to claim Herod as one of their own. I suppose they can have him if they want him. His Judaism credentials are debatable too and I don't imagine many Jews would mind sharing him. But the historical links to modern Palestinians are tenuous and the historical analogy to the present strikes me as weak. Be that as it may, if Palestinians want to adopt Herod, they will need to accept the existence of the Second Jewish Temple, whose renovation and rebuilding was his greatest achievement.

UPDATE (31 December): Reader E.K. e-mails:
On the subject of Herod's Arab background (and evaluation in early Judaism), it is worthy to note a stream of exegesis that saw in Herod the fulfillment of either Daniel 9:24-27, Genesis 49:10, or both (attested in Eusebius, Epiphanius, Slavonic Josephus, with echoes in Justin Martyr and Julius Africanus), which William Adler regarded as having an earlier Jewish provenance ("The Apocalyptic Survey of History Adapted by Christians: Daniel's Prophecy of 70 Weeks," by William Adler, published in The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity, 1996). In this reading, Herod would be the prophesied Gentile who would take the scepter of Judah away and/or come "to destroy the city and sanctuary". The Herodian interpretation of these scriptures would have then survived in Christian exegesis for some time.
EPHRAIM ISAAC cites the Ethiopic book of Enoch in an interview on the Ethiopic calendar:
Ethiopia: Scholar Says Ethiopian Calendar Neither Gregorian Nor Julian

The Ethiopian Herald (Addis Ababa)

December 29, 2006
Posted to the web December 29, 2006

Addis Ababa

A renowned Ethiopian born U.S scholar, Prof. Ephraim Isaac said that the Ethiopian calendar is unique in that it belongs neither to the Julian, nor to the Gregorian calendars.

He also said that close to 2,000 African-Americans living in the U.S have been organizing themselves to come to Ethiopia for the celebration of the New Ethiopian Millennium.
Oracle Content & Collaboration

Prof. Ephraim who is Director of the Institute of Semitic Studies in the United States, said that most scholars, including himself, believe Ethiopia has retained the old Egyptian system of calendar.


In addition to Mestehafe-Hissab, the professor said, there is a very famous book called, Mestehafe-henok, (The Book of Enoch) which is found only in Ethiopia with chapters that deals with some calculation of the years.

He's referring to the Astronomical Book, which was originally a separate and longer work, but now is found in chapters 72-82 of 1 Enoch. Extensive fragments of the original Aramaic Astronomical Book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Friday, December 29, 2006

‘MACCABEES’ (Sunday through Thursday) Courtesy of a time machine (bet you didn’t know Brooklyn had one), children 5 and older can journey back to ancient Judea and experience the Hanukkah story as an interactive tour. (Through Jan. 7.) Sunday at noon, 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m.; Mondays through Thursdays at 12:30, 1:30, 3 and 4:30 p.m., at the Jewish Children’s Museum, 792 Eastern Parkway, at Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, (718) 467-0660,; $10; $15 includes museum admission. (NYT)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

MUSSOLINI'S VILLA -- the one with the ancient Jewish catacombs underneath -- is back in the news. The Times of London has an article on its reopening to the public, but I don't see anything new in it.
Mussolini's Roman villa restored to glory
Paul Bompard, Rome
# Il Duce paid rent of one lira a month
# Interior ruined by Allies then vandals

The magnificent historic villa that was the home of Benito Mussolini when he was the all-powerful Duce of Italy has been reopened to the public after nearly 30 years of restoration.

The nine buildings and gardens of the Villa Torlonia, which were largely built in the 19th century by the Torlonia princes of the Vatican aristocracy, will now house an art museum dedicated to the Roman school of 20th-century painting.

The complex will also house a high-tech playground and a museum of the Holocaust, dedicated to the 2,000 Jews who were deported from Rome during the German occupation of 1943-44.


n 1919 it was discovered that the villa stood over an underground Jewish cemetery from the Ancient Roman period, and its main chamber, richly decorated, can now be visited.

After languishing for decades, the buildings and the gardens, set in peaceful tree-lined avenues with ornamental pools and fountains, are once more fully open to visitors.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

VIN DIESEL'S HANNIBAL MOVIE is still in the works:
Diesel follows trend for dead languages with film in Punic
By Jonathan Brown (The Independent)
Published: 27 December 2006

For film students with a passion for archaic languages awaiting the release of Mel Gibson's bloodcurdling Mayan adventure Apocalypto next week, 2007 could prove to be something of a vintage year.

Following in the footsteps of the controversial star comes another movie tough guy with the desire to be treated as a serious artist.

Vin Diesel is hoping to replicate the success of Gibson's Aramaic-language film The Passion of the Christ and to a lesser extent the Yucatec Maya-scripted Apocalypto by starting production of his own adaptation of the life of Hannibal Barca in the original Punic.

The Hollywood rumour mill has been abuzz with talk of the forthcoming historical epic for months. But many have dismissed as little more than a bad joke suggestions of Diesel recreating the life of the man considered by many to be the greatest military strategist of all time.

However, the shaven-headed star with the gym-buffed physique insists that he is deadly serious. Having recruited the same academic who translated Passion for Gibson, he spent much of this year scouting Spain for suitable locations. Diesel has said that he will direct and star in Hannibal the Conqueror, which is expected to go on general release in 2008.

For more on Diesel's Hannibal project, see here and follow the links. And on a related note, this month's Archaeology Magazine has an article on Hannibal (abstract here).
GNOSTICISM SCHOLAR MARVIN MEYER has given a lecture on The Gospel of Judas at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A FEW MORE ITEMS from Joseph I. Lauer's list in recent days:

First, from CNN: " Shortcuts: How to make it as an archaeologist"

An unflinching look at the profession. Excerpt:
Even Howard Carter, whose discovery, in 1922, of the tomb of Tutankhamun made him one of the few archaeologists ever to attain the status of international celebrity, endured decades of unrecognized penury before eventually hitting the big time (at one point he was so poor he was reduced to producing sketches for tourists to fund his work). If you are not utterly obsessed with the subject, to the exclusion of all else, then archaeology is probably not for you.
Second, Lauer writes the following:
The Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies has scheduled a very interesting program for its 12th Annual Meeting to be held at Bar-Ilan University on Thursday, December 28, 2006. The subject is "New Studies on Jerusalem"
Following is the English version of the day-long program.
I have also received the program in Hebrew and have it in Word document form. I would be happy to forward it to any interested person. [His e-mail address is josephlauer at hotmail dot com if you want to contact him.]


The Ingeborg Rennert Center, The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, The Faculty of Jewish Studies, Bar-Ilan University
in cooperation with:
The Center for the Study of the Land of Israel,
the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jerusalem District

Invite you to
The 12th Annual Meeting of
the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies

8:45 gathering
9:00 opening remarks:
Prof. M. Orpali, Dean of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Bar-Ilan University
Prof. J. Schwartz, Director of the Ingeborg Rennert Cetner for Jerusalem Studies

Session 1 – 9:15- 10:45
Chair: Joshua Schwartz

Avraham Faust
Jerusalem's Countryside during the Middle Bronze Age
Eilat Mazar
The Fortifications of Jerusalem in the Second Millennium BCE in Light of the New Excavations in the City of David
Gabriel Barkay
An Ancient Hebrew Weight from the Temple Mount
Boaz Zissu
A "Vanished Settlement" from the Iron Age: Excavations near the “Cave of the Ramban”, Upper Qidron Valley, Jerusalem

Session 2 - 11:15- 12:45
Chair: Moshe Fischer

Joseph Patrich
The Location of the Second Temple - A New Proposal
Orit Peleg
Architectural Decoration from Judea during the Second Temple Period in Light of the Finds from Jerusalem
Eyal Regev
The Ritual Baths Near the Temple Mount: What Were They Used For?
Yehoshua Peleg
The Meaning of the Word "Xystos" in the Writings of Josephus

Lunch Break

Session 3 - 14:00 15:50
Chair: David Adan-Bayewitz

Ronny Reich and Guy Bar-Oz
The Jerusalem City Dump in the Late Second Temple Period: A Quantitative Study
Ehud Weiss, Ram Bouchnik, Guy Bar-Oz and Ronny Reich
A Dump Near the Temple? Two Difficulties Regarding the City Dump Adjacent to the Second Temple
Ram Bouchnik, Guy Bar-Oz and Ronny Reich
Faunal Remains from the Late Second Temple Period: A View from the Village of Burnat and Jerusalem City Dump Assemblages
Emmanuel Friedheim
Jerusalem in the Light of Greek and Roman Authors
Leah Di Segni
Epigraphic Finds Reveal New Chapters in the History of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Sixth Century.


Session 4: 16:20- 17:40
Chair Shimon Dar

Yuval Shahar
Was There a Civilian Settlement in Jerusalem between the Two Jewish Revolts?
Amos Kloner
New Dating for the Eastern Cardo of Aelia Capitolina
Ben-Zion Rosenfeld
The Attitude of the Sages toward Jerusalem after the Bar-Kochba Revolt
Oded Shay
The Museums and the Zoological Collections in Jerusalem in Late Ottoman Palestine

The conference proceedings (app. 180 pp. including 2 articles in English and 17 in Hebrew, with English abstracts) will be on sale during the conference

For additional information, please contact the Ingeborg Rennert Center ( or Avi Faust (
And finally, this IAA press release:
The Beit Ha-Kerem Neighborhood in Jerusalem: An Attractive Place in Antiquity Also (December 10, 2006)

In excavations being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Beit Ha-Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem, an archaeological site that was hitherto unknown is currently being uncovered. The site is situated in the heart of the built-up neighborhood and the remains there indicate that throughout a number of periods in antiquity the place was considered a desirable location to live in. In the excavations remains were exposed that date to the First Temple, Second Temple, Byzantine and Mamluk periods.
The Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out a salvage excavation following the discovery of archaeological remains in a lot slated for construction on Ha-Satat Street in the Beit Ha-Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem. So far remains from four periods were discovered: the end of the First Temple period (8th -7th centuries BCE), end of the Second Temple period (1st century BCE-1st century CE), Byzantine period (4th-7th centuries CE) and Mamluk period (14th-15th centuries CE).

In one of the excavation areas a cave was revealed that housed an olive oil extraction plant comprised of two phases. The first phase of the installation dates to the Byzantine period. The remains from this period include an especially large stone that was used as a press-bed for a screw-operated olive press from which the oil flowed into an adjacent collecting vat. In the second phase, in the Mamluk period, the floor of the cave was paved with flagstones that also covered the Byzantine press-bed and the collecting vat. Another press installation that was probably operated with weights was made in place of them. The press-bed and collecting vat of this later installation were preserved. A large stone memmel, used for crushing the olives prior to pressing them, was found in the cave.

In the second area a trial excavation was conducted in order to ascertain what antiquities exist there. Another large cave was discovered by chance in which there was a large concentration of masonry stones and numerous fragments of pottery vessels, glass vessels and tesserae from the Byzantine period.

In the excavations that were carried out along the edge of the lot numerous pottery sherds from the end of the First Temple period were discovered on the bedrock surface thus attesting to the presence of a settlement there or in the surrounding area during this period. Two hewn shafts were also exposed from which fragments of pottery vessels were recovered that date to the time of the Hasmonean dynasty (1st century BCE).

Ya’akov Billig, director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said, “If in the future additional excavations are conducted in the open areas that remain nearby we may learn more about the nature of the settlement that was here during the different periods”.
NORMAN GOLB takes the Seattle Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit to task for its bias in favor of the Essene hypothesis. For more on Golb and his theory see here.

(Via the Agade list and Joseph I. Lauer.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

THE ANGEL METATRON has taken up professional wrestling in Mexico:
12/10 – Arena Coliseo de Guadalajara
1. Estrella de Jalisco & Exterminador beat Destroyer & Frayle de la Muerte by DQ when Frayle fouled Estrella.
2. Infierno/Magnum/Mr. Trueno defeated Golden/Idolo/Metal Blanco
3. Metatron beat Rey Trueno by DQ when Mr. Trueno ran in. Everyone else in the previous match also got involved and it was decided that there would be a steel cage match on Sunday where all 8 men would put up their masks.
4. Fabian el Gitano/Tigre Blanco/Tigre Metalico defeated Angel Blanco Jr./Hijo del Pierroth/Toxico
5. Dr. Wagner Jr./Gallo/Rey Bucanero beat Averno/Mephisto/Ultimo Guerrero
My emphasis.
NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: In the Sunday Times, Peter Stanford has some mostly sensible observations on the New Testamet Apocrypha, largely in response to Robert Beckford's BBC4 program The Secret Family of Jesus. (I haven't seen this show yet, but Grant Macaskill has lent me a video of it and I hope to get to it during the break.) Excerpt:
So, the alternative versions really have the capacity to set pulses racing only if the Gospels in the New Testament are labelled as gospel truth. The church certainly used to label them as such. When I was growing up Catholic in the 1970s, children were strongly dissuaded from reading the Bible. We needed, we were told, a priest to interpret it for us. Just in case we came across awkward elements such as Mary’s other children.

But the reality today, as even a Jesuit professor from the Vatican’s Bible Institute admits on screen in The Secret Family of Jesus, is that the church long ago ceased to claim that every word and detail in the New Testament is sacrosanct. If you want to dispute almost any item of church teaching or dogma, you can find plenty of evidence in the Gospels we already have in the Bible to back you up. Christianity, for instance, is infamously uptight about sex, but Jesus utters scarcely a word about it in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

This is not to say that the Apocrypha are not fascinating, tantalising and useful for building a more accurate picture about the circumstances and the factions that surrounded Jesus and the movement that turned his memory into a global force. But we need to be more precise about what they are and what they aren’t. What irks about Beckford’s presentation, therefore, is the underlying claim that, because more gospels have suddenly turned up, we can bin the ones we’ve already got. That is as manipulative of the truth as the early church fathers. Or even Dan Brown.
This is more or less what I've been saying and what any specialist in Christian origins will tell you: the New Testament Apocrypha generally tell us nothing about the time of Jesus, but are full of fascinating information about notions and controversies in early Christianity from about the second century on. The possible exception is the Gospel of Thomas, which may contain some early and useful information about the sayings of Jesus, but even this is contested.

One other point is worth a comment:
When David Jenkins, the erstwhile Bishop of Durham, caused headlines back in 1984 by questioning the literal truth of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus, it was pointed out that he was only saying publicly what had been discussed in the common rooms of theological colleges for decades, some of it influenced by the Gnostic gospels, which often make no mention of Jesus rising from the dead.
I'm not sure which specific texts Stafford has in mind, but there aren't any apocryphal gospels that teach that Jesus was just a good man who died and that was the end of it.
PALEOJUDAICA is profiled briefly in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (January/February 2007). The article is entitled "Archaeology Enters the Blogosphere," but, ironically, the text is not given online. But I'm grateful for the publicity in any case. Welcome to any new readers who have found this blog through the BAR piece.

(Heads-up, G. R. Grena.)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

ANOTHER REVIEW of Geza Vermes's new book, The Nativity: History and Legend, has appeared in the London Times. Excerpt:
In sum, it becomes evident, from Vermes’s account, that Matthew and Luke manipulated quotations from earlier texts, invented episodes and elaborated upon earlier myths to provide compelling narratives of Christ’s birth. Few people will be surprised or offended by his conclusions.

The “facts”, as we may call them, are not new. German biblical scholarship of the 19th century effectively dismissed the scriptures as documents of unimpeachable accuracy. But they are the next best thing. They are works of genius. They have enshrined the mystery, and the majesty, of Incarnation. There may not have been a star, or a flock, or gold, or frankincense, or myrrh. But they constitute the power of a compelling narrative that remains, for many millions of people, the source of inspiration and of comfort. That, in itself, is perhaps worth celebrating in this period of the year.
ARAMAIC WATCH -- Aramaic in Minnesota:
In Jesus' language

Aramaic, the ancient Middle Eastern tongue, is kept alive in churches in the Twin Cities.

By Jean Hopfensperger, [Minneapolis] Star Tribune

Last update: December 23, 2006 – 12:51 AM

The Rev. Rodrigue Constantin belongs to a rare group of Minnesotans who can carry on a conversation in Aramaic, the language believed to have been spoken by Jesus 2,000 years ago.

When he consecrates the bread during his Christmas services, Constantin's words, "Ho no den ee tow faghro deel," will carry an added authenticity, because this is how Jesus would have told his disciples: "This is my body."I find that people are really fascinated by the language; there's a mysterious aspect to it," said Constantin, of Holy Family Maronite Catholic Church in St. Paul. "There's a historic thread starting 2,000 years ago that has reached me."

He is among roughly 100 people in Minnesota who can order loaves and fishes -- or lefse and lutefisk -- in Aramaic. They are mainly immigrants from small Christian communities in southeastern Turkey, one of a few pockets of the Middle East where a dialect of Aramaic remains a living language.

Aramaic also lives on in Minnesota as a liturgical language, used during church services at Holy Family and St. Maron Catholic Church in Minneapolis.


Downstairs in the church social hall, Susan Youmes is having breakfast with her husband. The daughter of the Cans, she's among the next generation of Aramaic speakers, and proud of it. Listening to Aramaic prayers and songs in church, she says, "brings something to your heart."When I watched 'The Passion of the Christ,' I didn't have to read the subtitles," boasted the young mother from Burnsville.

Language of cinema

That comment brings a smile to the Rev. William Fulco, a Jesuit priest and Aramaic scholar who translated the dialogue in Mel Gibson's movie from English into the ancient language. He also was an adviser to producers of "The Nativity Story," released this month.

Syriac, the Aramaic dialect that Youmes and the Cans speak, is the modern language closest to what Jesus would have spoken, said Fulco, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Well, maybe, but it's not all that close. Jesus spoke first-century Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, which was a Western dialect. Syriac is an Eastern dialect that was spoken somewhat later in Edessa (in modern-day Turkey) and which became the standardized language of the Eastern, Aramaic-speaking Church. The two dialects are not all that similar, although speakers of one Aramaic dialect can generally get the gist of what's being said in another Aramaic dialect.
THE PERSECUTION OF IRAQ'S RELIGIOUS MINORITIES has now (at last) been the subject of testimony to Congress:
Nina Shea Testifies Before Congress on Behalf of Iraq's Assyrians and Other Minorities
Posted GMT 12-22-2006 21:56:15

(AINA) -- The following testimony of Nina Shea, Director Center For Religious Freedom, was delivered on December 21 Before The US Congressional Committee On International Relations, Subcommittee On Africa, Global Human Rights, And International Operations.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, for allowing me to testify today on behalf of the Center for Religious Freedom.

Chairman Chris Smith has been a dedicated and passionate leader on human rights for many years, and I wish to commend him for all the important hearings held under his chairmanship in this subcommittee. They have held governments around the world accountable, including our own, and given hope and relief to millions of the world's oppressed. This hearing today is no exception.

Egregious religious persecution occurs in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and several other countries officially designated by the State Department as "Countries of Particular Concern," and is being addressed by the other witnesses today. There is an additional country where religious groups of various faiths face some of the bloodiest persecution in the world today, a country that is not listed among the CPC's. It is Iraq, and it is on this country, and particularly on the persecution faced by Iraq's smallest, most vulnerable minorities, that I will direct my testimony.

We should view Iraq's smallest religious minorities -- the Christians, Yizidis, Mandeans, Baha'is, Kaka'i and Jews -- as we once did Soviet Jews. The persecution these small minorities face stands out against even the horrific violence now wracking the rest of the population. This is demonstrated by the stark statistic that an estimated half of the members of the small minorities have been driven from their homes in the past two or three years, either to other parts of the country or abroad. Their very survival as communities within Iraq is now threatened by what amounts to ethnic, or rather cultural, cleansing. The State Department's Religious Freedom Reports accurately depicts a defenseless non-Muslim population that is being pounded by all other factions. Al Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, Kurdish militants, and criminal gangs all persecute and prey on these small religious minorities.

Read it all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

UPDATES: I've posted a number of updates and corrections to posts from the last week, so scroll down and have a look.
KYLIE MINOGUE AND GNOSTIC APOCRYPHA? There is a connection, albeit indirect:
Can't get her out of his head

* Helping Kylie Minogue with choreography is just one of Akram Khan's unlikely collaborations, writes Clifford Bishop
* December 21, 2006 (The Australian)

DURING her long and incomparably pert career, Kylie Minogue has provoked some powerful responses in a wide variety of men, but it's a safe bet that no other straight man has responded in quite the same way as the Anglo-Bangladeshi dancer and choreographer Akram Khan. "It was like looking into a mirror at my ideal self," he says. "An image of what I would like to be. The kind of honest, humble human being that I just didn't expect."

Remarkably, he seemed to have just as profound an effect on her. They met this summer, when Khan was working with a different kind of diva, the imperious French ballerina Sylvie Guillem, on a show called Sacred Monsters. Khan, trained from the age of seven in the Indian kathak style of dance, and Guillem, who was even younger than that when she realised ballet would be her life, had grown up immersed in rigorous classical traditions and wanted to explore their feelings of being liberated and, strangely, profaned as they broadened their horizons. "Kylie came to a rehearsal," Khan says, "and afterwards we talked for hours. She was really moved." It was only a matter of months since Minogue's doctors had told her she was cured of the breast cancer that had been diagnosed in 2005. "She told me about coming through that," he recalls, "of how it felt like a second chance and made her want to do something more spiritual."

So, instead of the slow, therapeutic build-up she had planned to her tour, the singer threw herself into two gruelling weeks of learning dance routines based on kathak. ...

This year, he collaborated with minimalist composer Steve Reich. Next year gets even odder. He is creating a piece with the National Ballet of China and collaborating with Juliette Binoche on a two-handed play called Gnosis, loosely inspired by the same apocrypha as The Da Vinci Code.

"It's based on the idea that the body contains all the knowledge you will ever need," he says, "and the goal of your life is to find it. It looks as if I'm diversifying, but I think I started scattered and now, in a funny way, I'm moving towards my beginning, becoming what I want to be." So, in light of what he said earlier, does that mean he's turning into Kylie Minogue? To Khan's infinite credit, whether as an actor or as a human being, when he says "I hope so", you don't doubt him for a minute.
My emphasis. No word on whether Kylie might be cast as Eve. Or Sophia.
The hidden latrines of the Essenes
By Ran Shapira


The resemblance between the 1st century historian's testimony and the content of the Dead Sea Scrolls does not end with the law forbidding spitting into the center of a circle. Magen Broshi, former curator of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem, where the Qumran scrolls are housed, says there are dozens of parallels between Josephus' writing and the content of the scrolls. One of the main similarities regards purification rituals and the Essenes' meticulous hygiene.

Anthropologist Joe Zias, of the Hebrew University Science and Archaeology Department, recently found positive evidence of the Essenes' adherence to these rituals. Together with Dr. James Tabor, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and parasitologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, Zias found the latrines that were used by the Essenes in Qumran. The three researchers say that, in addition to shedding a great deal of light on the unique culture of the Essenes in Qumran, the discovery represents an archaeological bonanza: Additional proof that the Essenes wrote the scrolls. Zias explains that when feces are left on the desert floor, exposure to sun and wind quickly annihilates intestinal parasites. But when feces are buried in the earth, intestinal parasites may survive for many months and their eggs may be preserved for as long as 2,000 years, as in the case of Qumran.
The most interesting part of the article is Yitzhaq Magen's challenge to this interpretation of the site:
However, Dr. Yitzhak Magen, staff officer of archaeology in the Civil Administration of the West Bank, was not impressed by the new discovery. Last summer, Magen and his colleague, Yuval Peleg, published findings based on 10 years of excavation in the Qumran ruins. Both researchers reached the conclusion that Qumran was not a monastery but an enormous ceramics factory. They found fragments of clay artifacts at the site and many pools, which they believe were used to submerge the sediment that surfaces, to this day, when local rivers overflow to produce tremendous, winter floods. Magen maintains that this sediment provides excellent raw material for pottery production. According to Magen and Peleg, the pools were not ritual baths; nor were they used by the Essenes, who immersed themselves in ritual baths twice a day. "In addition," Magen says, "the Qumran area and particularly the caves surrounding the site, are full of predatory animals and animals that consume carrion, like foxes, hyenas, and leopards. People who lived in this area for years were well aware of that. They feared these animals and certainly would not leave their camps to relieve themselves. Thus, it is unreasonable to assume that the camp's latrine was located at such a distance."

"It was not the Essenes who buried the scrolls in the caves near the Qumran ruins," Magen adds. "The scrolls were buried by Jews who escaped from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple." One of the main escape routes from Jerusalem passed through Qumran. Jews, who were somewhat unfamiliar with the area and had no knowledge of its predatory animals, did not fear entering the caves to bury the scrolls, he proposes.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE to all those celebrating.

UPDATE (22 December): Reader Marcus Wood e-mails to point out that, according to the BBC, the solstice is today. I checked a couple of places, including the first link above, and got the 21st as an answer, but whatever. In cases of conflicting dates for sacred holidays (or opportunities to party), the sensible approach is to celebrate both.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

IT'S M. R. JAMES SEASON at BBC4. (For more on James, see here and follow the links.)

(Heads-up, Grant Macaskill.)

UPDATE (22 December): Reader Rosemary Pardoe e-mails:
A little correction to your blog. The link you give for the "M.R. James season" actually refers to last Christmas. This Christmas there isn't an MRJ season as such, but they're repeating his "A View from a Hill" from last Christmas, along with the MRJ documentary from 2004, and - most importantly - a brand new adaptation of MRJ's story "Number 13". That's tomorrow [i.e., today, the 22nd] on BBC4.
The correct link is here.
THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY has an opening for a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Post-Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Studies.

(Via the Agade list.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

AMY-JILL LEVINE'S NEW BOOK is reviewed in the Vanderbilt News Service:
A prescription for Jewish-Christian relations; "The Misunderstood Jew" is Amy Jill Levine's new book 12-18-2006

Amy-Jill Levine recalls twice being approached by “nice, silver-haired Protestant women” who had never met a Jewish person. They wanted to know where she had had her horns removed.

“They were both surprised and relieved to know that Jews don’t have horns,” Levine said.

As a Jewish expert on Jesus and the New Testament, the Vanderbilt professor has also experienced a neo-Nazi interrupting her lecture to protest the decidedly non-radical concept that Jesus was Jewish. Another time a student from Kenya was standoffish; it turned out that in the student’s native language the word “Jew” meant “someone who deceives or betrays.”

In her new book The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, Levine painstakingly illustrates the wasted effort that has gone into obscuring, distorting, explaining away or ignoring the simple fact that Jesus was a practicing Jew.

How a manuscript found in an Irish peat bog was saved

Restorers are hoping to separate the pages of the ninth-century psalter and recover some of the ancient text

By Martin Bailey | Posted 18 December 2006 (The Art Newspaper)

LONDON. An astonishing discovery in an Irish bog is posing an unusual conservation challenge. A chance find by a peat cutter last summer in County Tipperary, southern Ireland, turned out to be a psalter, which has been dated to around 800 AD. The discovery has been described as the Irish equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

National Museum of Ireland conservator Rolly Read and his team are now stabilising the compacted vellum mass. The difficult issue is how to separate the pages, preserving as much as possible of the ancient text.


The first stage of the work, which has almost been completed, is a full investigation of the book in its excavated condition. This has involved an analysis of the binding and book structure, photography, magnetic resonance imaging, multi spectral imaging, analysis of vellum deterioration and an investigation of pollen samples.

Work is about to start on the second stage, which will involve the delicate separation of the pages and the process of drying out the vellum. Sadly, the vellum losses mean that only a fairly small part of the text of the Psalms remains, but it should be enough to enable scholars to see how the book has been written, decorated and bound.

The article has lots more interesting details, such as the conclusion that the codex originally contained the whole book of Psalms.
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BUSH at the White House Hanukkah reception are here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

PETER WILLIAMS, New Testament textual critic, Syriacologist, and blogger at Evangelical Textual Criticism, is leaving his post as Senior Lecturer in NT at Aberdeen University to become the new Director/Warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge. This according to Justin Taylor at the Between Two Worlds blog (via Michael Pahl at the stuff of earth) and confirmed by a Tyndale House announcement posted by Ardel Caneday on the Biblia Theologica blog. Best wishes and congratulations to Pete, but we'll be very sorry to see him leave Scotland.
WELCOME TO C. BRIAN ROSE, the new president of the Archaeological Institute of America, and kudos to Jane Waldbaum for her years of service in the office.

Also in the latest issue (January-February 2007) of Archaeology Magazine, there's a list of the top ten discoveries of 2006. The Irish bog Psalms manuscript comes in at number 4.
King David on trial at university event
By Chris Emery
[Baltimore] sun reporter
Originally published December 18, 2006

King David, the second monarch of the Israelites and a hero of the Bible, was defiant during his trial in a Northwest Baltimore courtroom. Wearing a golden crown and facing charges of adultery, murder and coveting another man's wife, he maintained his innocence on all counts.

"I was at my palace when he was killed," said David - being portrayed by Daniel Kirsch, a biblical scholar - when asked by the prosecuting attorney if he murdered the husband of a woman with whom he had had an affair. "I did not lay a glove on him, and if I had, it would not fit."

I'm not sure what the glove is all about, but this reaction is most uncharacteristic of the biblical David, who confessed immediately when confronted by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12 [RSV]):
7: Nathan said to David, "You are the man. Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, `I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul;
8: and I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.
9: Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uri'ah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites.
10: Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uri'ah the Hittite to be your wife.'
11: Thus says the LORD, `Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.
12: For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.'"
13: David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
UPDATE: Reader Joshua Waxman e-mails:
the glove reference is an OJ Simpson reference.
"If the glove don't fit, you must acquit"
UPDATE (22 December): Reader Gary Greenberg e-mails:
Also, David was the third king of the Israelites, not the second. Eshbaal, son of Saul, was the second king of the Israelite
True. The reference is 2 Samuel 2:10 ("Ish-bosheth," "Man of Shame," is probably an unfriendly bowdlerization of "Esh-baal," "Man of Baal").

Also, Seth Sanders e-mails:
As for David, the full narrative context of the II Sam 12 story suggests he would be as shrewd as Kirsch implies--after all, it is only after Nathan drew him into a brilliant poetic and legal trap, and then made an elaborate pronouncement, in the voice of the Lord himself, that David had betrayed the divine trust and would be punished, that David admitted guilt. Indeed, it is only after the Lord proclaims that David has been caught, is guilty, and will incur terrible consequences that David even confesses--note well, not explicitly to the crime itself, but only to having "sinned against the Lord" (David's centire confession is only two words in Hebrew). Even here, one could consider it more an attempt to gain forgiveness (which is immediately, though only partly, granted) than a sincere apology. David's strange act of fasting only before his son's death, could be read as a totally pragmatic attempt to escape the consequences of his actions, followed as it is by no show of remorse once his pragmatic gambit fails, upon the boy's death.

Perhaps the real anachronism here is the idea that a formal human institution like a court, rather than a prophet deploying the full arsenal of Israelite poetics and divine justice, could hold the king responsible for his actions. Anyway, fascinating stuff!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS occupies the numbers 1 and 4 spots in National Geographic News's list of top ten stories for 2006. The thesis of the number one story is now contested. And, unfortunely, a Noah's Ark story is also in the list.

(Heads up, reader G.M. Grena.)

UPDATE (22 December): Link to story now corrected.
QUMRANET is a startup firm backing a new Linux kernel:
New virtualization system beats Xen to Linux kernel

By Matthew Broersma, TechWorld, 12/14/06 (LinuxWorld)

A relatively obscure virtualization system has leapfrogged better-known rivals to make its way into an upcoming Linux kernel.

KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) has been accepted by kernel gurus such as Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton for inclusion in Version 2.6.20 of the Linux kernel, developers said earlier this week. The system consists of a loadable kernel module and a user component, and is licensed under the GNU General Public License.

Its development is backed by Qumranet, an Israel-based start-up with finance from Sequoia Capital and Norwest Venture Partners, which is still in stealth mode. Qumranet is named after Qumran, an ancient settlement near the Dead Sea best known as being the closest to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

THE INK AND BLOOD EXHIBITION is coming to Idaho. I've noted this before, but here's another brief article:
Dead Sea Scrolls Remnants To Show at Museum of Idaho
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Surviving fragments of The Dead Sea Scrolls will appear alongside some of the oldest bibles and religious texts preserved by history at the Museum of Idaho.

Museum officials will announce details of the exhibit on Tuesday.

The exhibit will come to Idaho Falls in February.

It's titled Ink and Blood -- Dead Sea Scrolls to the King James Bible.

Jerusalem Engineer: Temple Mount Ramp May Collapse
13:30 Dec 15, '06 / 24 Kislev 5767

( A Jerusalem city engineer warned this week that the ramp leading to the main tourist entrance of the Temple Mount is in danger of total collapse.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

UPDATE ON THE MONASTERY OF THE SYRIANS (Deir Al-Surian) in Egypt: I noted a piece on this monastery and its important library last May. Now Jill Kamil has more in Al-Ahram:
Troves of scholarship
For 1,500 years, Deir Al-Surian has had a working library. Active steps are now being taken to conserve this rich heritage, says Jill Kamil

The Coptic monastery known as Deir Al-Surian, or the Monastery of the Syrians, contains more than 3,000 books as well as a vast number of texts in Syriac, Aramaic (the language of Christ), Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic. They date upwards from the fifth century and today, as a result of the revival in Coptic monasticism in recent years, a new generation of educated monks are anxious to safeguard this heritage. Both Syrian and Coptic monks are engaged in their conservation, as well as restoration of the monastery itself.

Collaborating with them on what is known as the Deir Al-Surian Library Project is the Levantine Foundation. The aim is twofold: to salvage old manuscripts which, after surviving a century and a half in a living community, are in danger of being lost, and to conserve the remaining literary inheritance of more than 1,000 Syriac manuscripts for future generations.

The project is moving ahead and members of the conservation team, with the help of volunteers and on a shoe-string budget, are surveying, restoring, cataloguing and storing the Syriac texts in a suitable environment. A digital photographic record of each manuscript will eventually be made to facilitate access for scholars, and appropriate storage for the manuscripts and facilities for visiting scholars is also planned.

There follows an interesting summary history of the monastery.

Two thoughts. I hope that the digital record of the manuscripts will make its way online in due course. And, as always, I hope that study of these manuscripts will uncover new copies of known and unknow Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Our project is probably too far advanced to take account of such finds, but future More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha projects will be able to include them.
THE IN THE BEGINNING: BIBLES BEFORE THE YEAR 1000 EXIBITION is reviewed by Rebecca Cursey in National Review Online.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A NORWEGIAN PH.D. THESIS ON JOSEPHUS is noted by Torrey Seland on the Philo of Alexandria blog.
ANTIOCHUS EPIPHANES -- not such a bad guy either?

This must be historical revisionism week. First Herod the Great, and now Antiochus:
Antiochus' decrees - a figment of Hasmonean propaganda
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-163 BC), ruler of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, was known as an eccentric king. He spent his childhood as a hostage in Rome and ascended to the throne only due to the surprising death of his father and murder of his brother.

When he inherited the kingdom it was already in decline. However, this does not explain the moves that made him infamous to this day - the brutal edicts he issued against the Jews in 167 B.C., forbidding them to practice their religion.

"The reason for Antiochus' oppression of the Jewish faith, attack on the Temple and prohibition of the Torah precepts is not explained by the existing historic sources," says Dr. Steven Weitzman, a lecturer of Judaism in the University of Indiana and the author of Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity.

Weitzman analyzes the description of the edicts in the Hanukkah tale, and concludes that the story was concocted by the Hasmonean kings as propaganda intended to legitimize their precarious rule. The Hasmoneans used literary tales dating back to ancient Eastern kingdoms as the basis for their story of Antiochus, he says.


In a recent essay in the Journal of Biblical Literature Weitzman says these explanations are based an unfounded speculations. He suggests checking what purpose the story about Antiochus' edicts was meant to achieve, and how it served the interests of those who wrote it - the supporters of the Hasmonean kings.

"The Maccabees have been considered heroes for so long, that it is hard to imagine that in their time, their rule was extremely controversial. They and their descendants, the Hasmonean dynasty, presented themselves as high priests, but did not belong to a family that held that position for a long time. Neither did they belong to the House of David dynasty, which was supposed to produce kings. Therefore many Jews did not recognize the Hasmoneans as legitimate rulers."

"The story of Antiochus' edicts is part of the effort to justify the Maccabee's rule. This is why they described themselves as protectors of the Jewish tradition, a tactic which many rulers and conquerors in the ancient East used to justify usurping power," he says.

You can download the JBL article from this page. It's in JBL 123.2, Summer 2004. This is a large file that contains a PDF version of the whole issue.

I haven't read the article and don't have time to right now, so I won't comment, except to say that I'm skeptical. Here's one response noted in the Haaretz article:
Weitzman's position is far from acceptable to many researchers of the Second Temple era. Professor Joshua Efron, a senior historian of the Hasmonean period, believes the Maccabean revolt and ensuing rule were accepted by the majority of the nation.

"The Maccabees were undoubtedly widely supported," says Efron. "Otherwise they would not have been able to conduct guerilla wars as they did. A minority cannot rebel and wage such war without popular support."

Efron has no difficulty explaining Antiochus' edicts. "Indeed, this was not customary Hellenistic kings' behavior, but some believe the initiative to issue the edicts did not come from Antiochus but from the Hellenist Jews, who wished to amend the Jewish religion," he says.
It's interesting to note that the sixth century chronographer John Malalas has an account of the Maccabean revolt in his Chronicle (8.22-23) which is arguably based on Seleucid sources and gives a somewhat more positive picture of Antiochus. But it would not support Weitzman's theory that the persecution was just Hasmonean propaganda.

We plan to include Malalas' account in the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project (as "8 Maccabees"), although we don't yet have an editor for it.

(Heads-up, Joseph I. Lauer.)
HAPPY HANUKKAH to all those celebrating. It begins this evening at sundown.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

ST. PAUL'S SARCOPHAGUS (if that is indeed what it is) is discussed at the Bible Places blog.
HEROD THE GREAT -- not such a bad guy after all?
Historians, Fans Defend the 'Real' King Herod
By Nicole Neroulias
Religion News Service

He ruled over the ancient Jews for 37 years, and when it comes to bad publicity, King Herod has reigned supreme ever since.

Annually vilified in Christmas pageants as the tyrant responsible for the slaughter of Bethlehem's baby boys and for chasing Mary, Joseph and Jesus into Egypt, Herod the Great should receive more balanced treatment, some historians and academics argue.

Like most biblical villains -- Judas, Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, take your pick -- Herod has simply gotten a bad rap, some say.

For example, historians say Herod probably never ordered the Massacre of the Innocents that Christians commemorate in late December.

True, but, as the article notes later on, the deed would have been entirely in character.

The article is quite right that Herod accomplished some remarkable things during his reign, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple. But such information as we have about him (and to be fair, most of it comes from Josephus who is not always to be trusted) indicates that he was also murderously ruthless and was probably not in the best of mental health, especially later in his life.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

PIERLUIGI PIOVANELLI is guest-blogging at Apocryphicity, with a post entitled "Gospel of Judas opens old wounds." He comments on recent publications and has redactional notes on the differences between the English and French versions of some of them and the scholarly conflicts those differences reflect.
JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL has just published another article (vol. 5):
Ronit Shoshany, "Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai in the Cave and Elijah in the Wilderness: A Comparison between Talmudic and Biblical Narratives"


Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai is described in talmudic and midrashic sources, for the most part, as a righteous scholar and wonder-worker. The Babylonian version of the cave narrative (Shabbat 33b–34a), however, offers a more critical portrayal. This paper presents an analysis of the talmudic cave narrative and compares it with the Elijah biblical narrative in I Kings 19. There the prophet behaves like a zealot, abandoning his community and entering the wilderness due to his disappointment with human nature. Despite finding some individuals who are faithful to God, Elijah remains critical of his entire people. The central argument of this paper is that the Babylonian redactor fashioned the cave narrative as an analogy to the biblical narrative, with changes appropriate to the different time period and plot.
You can download it in PDF or Word format here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Vatican may open St Paul's tomb

By Philip Pullella (The Scotsman)

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican said on Monday it was studying the possibility of opening a thick marble sarcophagus believed to contain the remains of the 1st century apostle St Paul to study its contents.

The prospect was raised at a news conference at which Vatican officials unveiled the results of an archaeological dig which has made part of the sarcophagus in Rome's Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls visible to pilgrims.

"We tried to X-ray it to see what was inside but the stone was too thick," said Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the basilica on Rome's outskirts.

Wouldn't it be nice if it turns out that copies of his letters to the churches were buried with him in an airtight container?

(Via Archaeologica News.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jailed for a Blogpost
By Dalia Ziada & Jese Sage : BIO| 11 Dec 2006

In a cramped jail cell in Alexandria, Egypt, sits a soft-spoken 22-year-old student. Kareem Amer was remanded to over a month in prison for allegedly "defaming the President of Egypt" and "highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt." Where did Amer commit these supposed felonies? On his weblog.

If the Alexandria prosecutors' standards of censorship were applied in the US, thousands of Americans would be behind bars. The Egyptian authorities' decision to jail an obscure student for his blogposts reveals a larger struggle for free speech playing out between dissident bloggers and state prosecutors across the Middle East.

"THE GOSPEL TRUTH: Why some old books are stirring up a new debate about the meaning of Jesus" is a long, thoughtful article in U.S. News & World Report on ancient Gnosticism and its modern defenders and opponents. Worth reading in full. I excerpt the conclusion:
Theological comfort zone. But can there really be any reconciliation of those who believe that salvation comes from the outside, through the redemptive act of a divine savior, with those who believe that it comes through self-knowledge? Such a difference, Johnson, Wright, and other traditionalists argue, cannot be explained away by scholars like Pagels as merely politically motivated differences. The distinctions reflect profound theological and anthropological convictions about human nature and its relation to the divine.

The core Christian teaching is wrong, Wright insists, if the Gnostics are right. "In other words," he says, "you are not the spark of light; you are part of the problem. And if you look deep within your heart, and you are true to what's deep within your heart, then you will actually mislead yourself and others that you drag down with you."

The Gnostic perspective is unlikely to wither even under such forceful attacks. Its defenders, past and present, inevitably intellectuals like those second-century, Greek-speaking eggheads, are always ready with a quick "Yes, but." "This is an exciting time to be a scholar," says Marvin Meyer. "There are now so many new approaches and possibilities and ways of putting things together that they allow people to find out where their theological comfort zone is." The Gnostic claim that the truth lies within fuels an argument so deep and old-and indeed so fundamental to who we think we are-that it is hardly surprising that it finds expression in our contemporary culture wars. And unlikely that it will cease doing so in the culture wars to come.
For a related post, see here.
DONNY GEORGE has been hired as a visiting professor in the United States:
Stony Brook Hires Baghdad Museum Director

Donny George
, who directed the National Museum in Baghdad and became a vocal advocate for protecting Iraqi antiquities before leaving his post recently and fleeing to Syria, has been hired as a visiting professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, the university announced. Mr. George became the international face of the plight of ancient artifacts in Iraq, many of which have been stolen or destroyed since the war began in 2003, but left his job in August after telling colleagues that he felt threatened. Mr. George, a Christian, was a midlevel official in the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein’s government and could have been the target of a revenge campaign by conservative Shiites, American officials said at the time. Beginning next semester, Mr. George will teach two courses, “The Archaeology of Mesopotamia” and “The Cultural Heritage of Iraq.” He will also conduct archaeological research. His appointment was sponsored by Stony Brook and the Scholar Rescue Fund, a program run by the Institute of International Education to provide refuge to persecuted scholars. RANDY KENNEDY
(From the New York Times via the Agade list.)
A CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS to Biblical Studies Carnival XIII has gone out at Tyler Williams's Codex blog. This edition will include a Best of 2006 section.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"THE LOST GOSPELS," a documentary on the apocryphal gospels, was shown on BBC 4 last week. I didn't see it, but the comments I've heard on it have not been positive. And the Apocryphicity blog links to a very negative review.
UPDATE ON THE ARRESTED EGYPTIAN BLOGGER: His story has been covered by CNS News and MEMRI. And don't forget the Free Kareem! blog. No real news; he's still under arrest. I wish the case were getting more attention from the big media organizations.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

PETER KIRBY has a podcast on "The Week in Early Writings" in which he reads aloud selected blog posts (including one from PaleoJudaica). He's soliciting feedback on the project, so drop him a note if you have any.
FOR MANY MORE PHOTOS of the "Church of the Ark," go here.
THE BIBLES BEFORE THE YEAR 1000 EXHIBITION is reviewed again, this time in the Washington Times.

UPDATE: The International Herald Tribune has a much longer and more detailed review. Excerpt:
A fragmentary scroll found in a cave at Khirbet Qumran ("The Qumran Ruins" in Arabic) on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea preserves a few lines from Isaiah copied before 73 B.C. Many similar fragments surfaced at Qumran, making the 1947 find by Arab shepherds a landmark in the history of Hebrew manuscripts.

The other huge discovery made half a century earlier was that of manuscripts in the Genizah (store room) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue dating from 882 A.D. at Fustat, the early Islamic city near Cairo. There they lay, because in Jewish law, flawed manuscripts must be set aside. These included fragments of vellum scrolls with lines from the Genesis copied in the 5th or 6th century or perhaps later.

A series of fascinating revelations came with the pages of a manuscript of which the vellum pages had been washed out to be used again. The earlier text, still legible, retains a literal translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek made by Aquila around 125 A.D. A fragment in a 6th-century hand, on loan from Cambridge University Library, illustrates the continued prevalence of Greek as a cultural language in some Jewish circles at a time when Syriac (the modern version of Aramaic), had long been the spoken language across the Semitic Near East.

Written over Aquila's half-washed translations, the later text reproduces Hebrew poetry by Yannai, a Near Eastern writer who composed one poem for every weekly portion of the Torah read in the synagogue. Few of his poems were known prior to the opening up of the Genizah. Hundreds have now been recorded.
As usual, there seems to be a glitch or two:
The earliest complete Christian Bibles, all in Greek, date from the 4th and 5th centuries. A fourth-century volume, possibly copied in Caeserea, Palestine, is on loan from the monastery of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai.
Actually only part of this manuscript (the Codex Sinaiticus) is in the exhibition.

And I'm not sure about the following:
Not least among its treasures, the earliest near-complete dated manuscript of the Bible copied in 929 A.D. is believed to have also come from the Genizah. A page decorated with a scrolling pattern and an arcade with alternate triangular and round arches symbolizing the Temple Ark bears striking analogies to Koranic illumination in Syria.
This makes it sound as though there's a "near complete" copy of the Hebrew Bible dated to 929 on exhibit. I've not heard of such a manuscript coming from the Cairo Geniza and I doubt very much that this is correct; the Cairo Geniza produced fragments of codices and scrolls, not complete or even near-complete manuscripts. Can someone give us the story on this manuscript?

Also, I just noticed the following symposium, which is being co-chaired by one of my History-Department St. Andrews colleagues:
The Old Testament in Byzantium

Symposiarchs: Professors Paul Magdalino (University of St. Andrews and Koç University, Istanbul) and Robert Nelson (Yale University).
Venue: The Meyer Auditorium, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Dates: December 1–3, 2006

This symposium, designed to complement an exhibition of early Bible manuscripts at the Sackler Gallery of Art, examines the use of the Greek Old Testament as text, social practice and cultural experience in the Byzantine Empire. Not only are reminiscences of the Old Testament ubiquitous in Byzantine literature and art, but Byzantines revered and identified with Old Testament role models. The phenomenon has never received systematic investigation, despite the fact that this was the part of its tradition that Byzantium shared most widely with other cultures – not only its Christian neighbors, but Judaism and Islam.
The program and abstracts are also available via the link.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Vatican archaeologists find tomb believed to be that of Apostle Paul
Updated 12/6/2006 5:04 PM ET

ROME (AP) — Vatican archaeologists have unearthed a sarcophagus believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul that had been buried beneath Rome's second largest basilica.

The sarcophagus, which dates back to at least A.D. 390, has been the subject of an extended excavation that began in 2002 and was completed last month, the project's head said this week.

"Our objective was to bring the remains of the tomb back to light for devotional reasons, so that it could be venerated and be visible," said Giorgio Filippi, the Vatican archaeologist who headed the project at St. Paul Outside the Walls basilica.

The interior of the sarcophagus has not yet been explored, but Filippi didn't rule out the possibility of doing so in the future.

There's nothing about the size of the sarcophagus being unusual, so it appears he wasn't a midget after all.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE UPDATE: From the Jewish Journal of greater L.A.:

Fate of Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Rests With Israeli High Court

Israel's highest judicial and executive authorities both have weighed in on the protracted dispute surrounding construction of a $200 million Center of Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in the heart of Jerusalem. The ambitious Simon Wiesenthal Center project, designed by famed Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, has been stalled since February, when the Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction halting any construction work. The court acted on a petition by two Palestinian groups, which asserted that the planned museum would sit atop an ancient and sacred Muslim cemetery.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center's founding dean, and his lawyers in Jerusalem have argued that the site has been used as a parking lot and underground garage for decades and that Islamic courts had ruled that the onetime cemetery had thus lost its sacred character.

Hier said that he had offered a number of compromises to resolve the dispute, but that the Muslim plaintiffs were stalling and "trying to run out the clock."

Attorney Durham Saif, representing the Palestinian side, said that in its most recent hearing in October, the court told the Wiesenthal Center to submit a redesign of the museum, so that construction would not damage the cemetery.

The next court hearing is scheduled Jan. 3, but in the meantime, Hier said, the delay has added more than $1 million to the cost of the project and has slowed down fundraising in the United States.

BENYAMIM TSEDAKA is speaking on (and for) the Samaritans in Savannah this Sunday:
Samaritan shares story of ancient culture
Coastal Empire | Local News (Savannah Morning News)
Dana Clark Felty | Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:30 am

Savannah may boast thousands of Biblical "Good Samaritans."

But an ethnic Samaritan, a descendant of the ancient community of Samaria, will be speaking at a downtown synagogue Sunday.

Benyamim "Benny" Tsedaka, an elder of the Israeli Samaritans, will make a presentation on the history of the culture, from the height of their population - about 1.5 million between the 4th and 5th centuries - to the present day.

Samaritans number about 700 today, with most living in just two communities: Kiryat Luza in the West Bank, and in the city of Holon in Israel.

The public is invited to attend the presentation Sunday at Temple Mickve Israel. Reservations are required by noon today to attend a luncheon at 12:15 p.m. Sunday but are not required to hear the speaker at 1:15 p.m.

I have more on Mr. Tsedaka here, here, and here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

METATRON, ALIEN ABDUCTOR? This article in UFO Digest critiques a couple of surveys done on alien abductions. This paragraph in it surfaced in one of my Google News searches:
The control word, TRONDANT, originally thought to be an arbitrary, made-up word, was in fact a real word. The word “Trondant” is a title for the angel Metatron, or Sefer Ha-Heshek. (By the way, the Metatron stories and their connection to possible ancient, alien abductions and contacts, is an interesting topic in itself. But that’s another story.) ...
I dare say.
THE BOOK OF 2 ENOCH is cited in a horoscope at Artvoice:
ARIES (March 21-April 19): In the ancient Hebrew text known as the Second Book of Enoch, the author describes his trip through the ten heavens and a meeting with God. He’s surprised to find that hell is here, located in the northern regions of the third heaven. Why is this relevant to you? Because I believe it might help you understand an apparent anomaly that will soon appear. While you’ll be having expansive adventures in circumstances that resemble paradise, there’ll also be a diabolical area nestled right in the midst of the beauty. It won’t be a big deal or terrible annoyance as long as you recognize it early and plot a course around it.
Arieses, you are warned!

(2 Enoch, of course, is preserved in Old Church Slavonic, not Hebrew.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

PATRISTICS CARNIVAL #1 has been posted at hyperekperisou by Phil S. It links to lots of posts of tangential relevance to ancient Judaism.
ARCHAEOLOGIST DAVID USSISHKIN replies to El-Haj at the Solomonia blog. See especially point #5, which clarifies the use of the bulldozer.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'Church of the Ark' found on West Bank

By Harry de Quetteville in Shiloh (The Daily Telegraph)
Last Updated: 1:40am GMT 04/12/2006

Archaeologists claimed yesterday to have uncovered one of the world's first churches, built on a site believed to have once housed the Ark of the Covenant.

The site, emerging from the soil in a few acres in the hills of the Israeli occupied West Bank, is richly decorated with brightly coloured mosaics and inscriptions referring to Jesus Christ.

According to the team, led by Yitzhak Magen and Yevgeny Aharonovitch, the church dates to the late 4th century, making it one of Christianity's first formal places of worship.

"I can't say for sure at the moment that it's the very first church," said Mr Aharonovitch, 38, as he oversaw a team carrying out the final excavations before winter yesterday. "But it's certainly one of the first." He said the site contained an extremely unusual inscription which referred to itself, Shiloh, by name.

And this almost has the ring of an Indiana Jones movie:
The team at Shiloh is considering whether to dig under the beautiful mosaics that they have uncovered, in order to find traces of the Ark. "We have to decide whether to fix the mosaics here or take them to a museum," said Mr Aharonovitch.

Jewish residents in the modern settlement of Shiloh, which sits on a hill amidst Palestinian villages, want the team to keep digging.

David Rubin, a former mayor of Shiloh, said: "We believe that if they continue to dig they'll reach back to the time of the Tabernacle," referring to the portable place of worship where the Israelites housed the Ark.
I suspect the issue is whether to move the mosaics to see if there's an earlier (pre-exilic?) shrine there. The location of sacred spots tends to be very conservative and not apt to move even if the local religion changes, so it's not an unreasonable to look for an earlier sanctuary at the same spot. Whether "traces of the Ark" are likely to be found is quite another matter and the formulation is a little sensationalistic. I'll believe it when I see it.

UPDATE (6 December): Reader Menachem Brody e-mails:
There is no question- walls and entrance to a monumental building from the time of the Second Temple are clearly visible to the West and to the North of the excavated mosaic.

Buildings from the time of the Judges are found on the Tel itself, as well as a very likely location for the site of the Tabernacle.

No need to look for the Ark- as well documented, was lost to the Philistines at the battle of Even HaEzer, and was returned to Jerusalem by David...
UPDATE (9 December): For more photos of the excavation, see here.