Saturday, March 11, 2006

• "Journey Beyond Words," the weekly lecture series on the Dead Sea Scrolls, continues at 7 p.m. Tuesday when scholar Peter Flint explores "Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls" at Charlotte's First Presbyterian, 200 W. Trade St. For more on the series, tickets and the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that continues drawing big crowds at Discovery Place in uptown Charlotte: (704) 372-6261 or
CONFERENCE REPORT from the Hellenic News of America:

Tampa, Florida
The Annual Educational Forum the American Foundation for Greek Language and Culture, was held on March 2-4, 2006 on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa. The central theme of the Forum was “Hellenic Paideia: Challenges to Higher Education.” As in 2005, the sponsors of this year Forum were George and Margo Behrakis of Boston. The Forum was free of charge and the public was invited to attend.

This paper in particular is of interest:
Dr. James F Strange is a Distinguished University Professor and Graduate Director of the Religious Studies at USF. Dr. Strange has initiated and directed major archaeological excavations, beginning in summer of 1982, at the once great city of Sepphoris, also known as Eirenopolis on its coins under Nero, which was rebuilt by the king Herod Antipas and made it his capital following the death of his father, Herod the Great, at about 4 B.C. Dr. Strange delivered on Saturday a stimulating lecture on "Hellenic Artifacts in Eirenopolis, "City of Peace", Near the Birthplace of Christ". In his talk he presented highlights of the excavations at Sepphoris, and the intriguing implications of his original observations from these excavations for New Testament Studies. The excavations at Sepphoris, revealed a vital and expanding city founded in the 2nd century BC. The city was marked by paved streets, public and private buildings, and an aqueduct the brought water three miles from ancient Abila. Sepphoris was designated the seat of the Galilean Sanhedrin the 55 BC and became the capitol city of Galilee in the same period. Herod the Great, who figures in the gospels, built a palace at Sepphoris. At the death of Herod the Great the city was destroyed and inherited by Herod Antipas, the third son of Herod the Great. Antipas built a theater in Greek style, first discovered by the University of Michigan excavations, but re-investigated by the University of South Expedition. Subsequent excavations revealed a villa in Greco-Roman style and a huge civil basilica at the intersection of the two main streets of the city. Other finds included coins, pottery sherds by the thousands, and important fragments of glass and metal. Sepphoris was a great Jewish intellectual center until Christianity became a legal religion during the fourth century CE. Pottery with Christian crosses embossed on the bases have turned up at Sepphoris, and the city gradually became important, receiving its first Christian Bishop in the fifth century AD. The Jewish presence remained strong until the seventh century AD.
THE DA VINCI CODE TRIAL continues to provide amusement:
Da Vinci Code challenger 'copies' (BBC)

A writer who accuses The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown of copying has agreed at the High Court that he himself would "hijack" other people's words.

Co-author of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, Richard Leigh, was told in court ideas in his book were copied.


Friday, March 10, 2006

I'VE UPDATED the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha website, breaking the texts down into categories, deleting one or two that turned out not to be suitable, and adding a number of new ones that have turned up in recent months. This isn't the final version. There are some complete texts I'm still withholding from the list while we think about them, and I've got a great many short quotation fragments that we're still evaluating, but the list is now better organized and more accurate.
Blessing of Da Vinci date error

By Alan Hamilton (The Times)

Dan Brown's mistake over the Crusades could prove a weapon in his defence against plagiarism

DAN BROWN got a date wrong in The Da Vinci Code. The error may well prove to his advantage.

According to him the Priory of Sion, alleged keeper of the secret of Christ’s wife and children, was founded in Jerusalem during the Second Crusade in the reign of Baldwin II. But according to the authors of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, who are suing Brown for stealing their plot, the Priory was founded in 1099 during the First Crusade, and Baldwin did not ascend the throne of the ancient city until 1118.

It should be most amusing to hear Dan Brown testify next week that he alone should get credit for all the mistakes in his book.

Also, there are these interesting statistics at the end of the article:
Sales of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, first published in 1982, have increased sevenfold since the hearing began last week — 3,000 copies — and a few days ago British sales of The Da Vinci Code passed 4 million to add to worldwide sales of 40 million.
Almost makes getting sued sound okay.

On a more serious note, the Catholic Church continues to gear up for the movie release with lots of multimedia material refuting The Da Vinci Code and defending the Catholic viewpoint. Zenit has a press release.
THE ARMENIAN ALPHABET had a birthday celebration at the New Library of Alexandria. Al Ahram has the story:
By the book
Eva Dadrian
found more than words at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina's exhibition marking the 1,600th anniversary of the Armenian alphabet

Commemorating the 1,600th anniversary of the creation of the Armenian Alphabet the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Armenian Republic in Egypt, presented an exhibition of rare Armenian manuscripts in February. Inaugurated by Ambassador Taher Khalifa, Head of External Relations at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and Rouben Karapetian, the Armenian Ambassador to Egypt, the exhibition was followed by a scientific conference entitled "Armenian-Egyptian Historical and Cultural Relations."

The exhibition offered a rare opportunity for visitors to see 19 Armenian manuscripts, eight originals and the rest facsimiles, from the Institute of Matenadaran, Yerevan. One of the oldest and richest libraries in the world, the Matenadaran, as the Armenian manuscript library in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, is known, is one of the world's leading repositories of ancient manuscripts. Its history dates back to the creation of the Armenian alphabet and its collection of over 18,000 manuscripts covers almost all areas of ancient and medieval Armenian culture and science, from history, geography, grammar, philosophy, law, medicine, mathematics, cosmography, alchemy-chemistry, to literature, chronology, art history, music and theatre. It houses manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Amharic (Ethiopian) and in some of the ancient languages of India and Japan.

Including, I dare say, many Old Testament pseudepigrapha manuscripts. Lots of pseudepigrapha were translated into Armenian.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

HOT GNOSTICISM TOPICS are covered by Beliefnet:
Ask the Author: Gnosticism Hot Topics
Q&A: The Gospel of Mary, fringe sects, and grass eaters...our author replies.
By Richard L. Valantasis

Here's something I didn't know:
Which of the early Christian or Gnostic sects is the most interesting to you personally?

I am most fascinated by the Boskoi, the Grazers. They had a concrete plan to live in the Garden of Eden, and they carried it out despite all the social pressures to conform. They were radical "back to the earth" people who loved God and the world God made. We could use more of that today, given what we are doing to the physical world we live in.
THE "DEAD SEA SCROLLS OF BUDDHISM" are back in the news after having been carbon dated:
Buddhist scrolls may be missing link

March 9, 2006 - 8:29AM (Sydney Morning Herald)

Rare manuscripts dubbed the "dead sea scrolls of Buddhism" have been carbon dated to the first and fifth centuries AD by Australian scientists, and could be the missing link in Buddhist history, a local scholar says.


I know this has nothing to do with ancient Judaism, but it has "Dead Sea Scrolls" in it, so what the heck.
French kings drawn into Da Vinci clash

By Alan Hamilton (The Times)

Copyright claimant wilts in the witness box as the books are subjected to a line-by-line comparison

ALTERNATELY sucking the end of his pen and toying with his luxuriant moustache, Mr Justice Peter Smith was engrossed in his paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code, thick with yellow page markers.

The judge had clearly acquainted himself thoroughly with the text of Dan Brown’s blockbusting novel during a six-day adjournment of the hearing in which the authors of a previous book are claiming infringement of copyright, alleging that Mr Brown stole much of his plot from them.

Yesterday’s proceedings in the High Court got down to line-by-line comparisons between DVC and The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, published in 1982. ...
Grant Macaskill pointed me to the best line in today's article:
The arguments moved on to car chases, of which there is at least one in DVC and none in HBHG.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS WATCH: The Christian Science Monitor explores the ethical implications of the National Geographic Society's connection with the publishing of this (looted) manuscript:
A gospel's rocky path from Egypt's desert to print

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
| Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

When the Gospel of Judas first surfaced in Geneva in 1983, scholars wondered if the mysterious text could trigger a reappraisal of history's most infamous traitor.

They never found out, however, because they couldn't afford the $3 million price tag on this second-century gnostic tale. Instead, the fragile pages vanished into private hands and set off on a 23-year, intercontinental journey through fist-pounding negotiations and even periods, reportedly, stuffed inside a Greek beauty's purse.

Now, at long last, the world is about to see the contents. The National Geographic Society last week reported it will publish a translation this spring, when "The Da Vinci Code" film is sure to rekindle interest in gnostic artifacts.
I don't recall hearing anything about "a Greek beauty's purse" before this. But at least that's not as strange as the story about the prostitute (two prostitutes?) who showed John Strugnell a microfilm of a (Qumran?) Enochic manuscript, which microfilm she had hidden in an even more unusual place. Strugnell did verify that something like this actually happened, but he seems to be saving the details for his memoirs.

Be that as it may, the key issues in this article come out here:
National Geographic doesn't deny Dr. Robinson's allegation that the text left Egypt without that country's required authorization. Still, the organization stands by its decision.

"Everyone involved believes the materials should be given to Egypt" after scholars finish translating them, says spokeswoman Mary Jeanne Jacobsen. "National Geographic has done its due diligence, and is working with an international team of experts on this artifact to save the manuscript before it turns to dust and is lost forever."

But others worry that those who publish "hot" manuscripts create a tragic incentive. "When you publish material that's the result of recent looting ... you're adding to the value of other pieces similar to it," says Patty Gerstenblith, an expert in culture heritage law at DePaul University Law School in Chicago. That entices others to hunt for treasure, she says, with hopes that even something later branded contraband could still yield a nice windfall.

This is the problem and I don't know of a good solution.

For the episode involving the Enochic manuscript, see Biblical Archaeology Review 20.4 (July-August 1994): 46-47.
PROFESSOR RON TAPPY is speaking on the Tel Zayit inscription this evening in Cleveland.
THE LATEST on the Da Vinci Code lawsuit:
Plot thickens in Da Vinci Code case
(The Scotsman)

An author who claims his theories on Christian heresies were copied in The Da Vinci Code (DVC) came face to face with the Grand Inquisitor.

The inquisitor took the shape of John Baldwin QC, the barrister representing publisher Random House which is being sued for copyright infringement.

And Michael Baigent, co-writer of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (HBHG), agreed in the witness box that some of the evidence in his statement to the High Court was "false".


Also, there are more details in this London Times article. Baigent's testimony was so lame it makes me wonder if he isn't deliberately throwing the case now that he's got his publicity.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

THIS SOUNDS LIKE A STRANGE "DOCUMENTARY." My comments are interspersed.
It Began in Jerusalem
Tuesday, 7 March 2006, 10:44 am
Press Release: Maori TV
Tuesday March 7 2006
Publicity Release

It Began in Jerusalem

A two-part documentary series that traces the beginnings of Christianity, REVELATION, premieres on Maori Television this Sunday March 12 at 4.30 PM.

Acquired from Southern Star International for broadcast on Maori Television, the documentary series starts in the sixth century, 1000 years before the birth of Christ, when the Jews of Palestine were forced into slavery.
The sixth century (BCE, I assume) was not 1000 years before the birth of Jesus. It was the 500s. I'm not sure what the "forced into slavery" bit is about. The Babylonian exile maybe? But they were exiled, not enslaved.
From the mystery that surrounds the secretive burial and discovery in 1940 of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the formation of the Roman Empire, REVELATION examines the reign of terror that saw many Palestinian women commit suicide in mass protest.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, not 1940. I don't know what the "reign of terror" and the suicidal "Palestinian" women are about and I don't feel inclined to speculate.
The documentary attempts to prise apart the beginnings of Christianity from its Judaic past to its church of all nations present.

Here, it seems, we come to the agenda of the film. However, the beginnings of Christianity are not prisable apart from it's Judaic past, so the attempt isn't likely to get very far. If this press release reflects the quality of the production and some producer actually paid good money to make it, they were ripped off.
A NEW JESUS MOVIE by an Egyptian producer is in the works:
Egyptian producer plans first Arab film on Jesus

Mar 6, 2006, 13:34 GMT (Deutsche Presse-Agentur)

Cairo - In the wake of global controversy over publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, an Egyptian film producer has announced the first Arab-made film project detailing the life of Jesus Christ.

A central theme of the film, which is projected to cost far more than the average Egyptian production, will be the holy family's flight to Egypt, producer Mohammed Ashub told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in Cairo on Monday.

Wiesenthal Center May Move Muslim Graves

By SARA TOTH, Associated Press Writer

Monday, March 6, 2006

(03-06) 11:15 PST JERUSALEM, Israel (AP) --

The Simon Wiesenthal Center may relocate Muslim graves discovered on the Jerusalem site of its planned tolerance museum in hopes of soothing Muslim anger, a spokesman said Monday.

This part doesn't seem to me to add up:
Durgham Saif, a lawyer for the human rights group Karameh, which is involved in the court case, said he did not know about the plans to relocate graves but said moving them would not satisfy the group's demands.

"We have criteria that there is no way to build anything on the cemetery," Saif said. "It's a holy matter."
But according to media reports a parking lot had already been built over the proposed site of the Wiesenthal Center in the 1980s. Plus a hotel was built over another area of the cemetery in the 1920s, approved by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the time. That doesn't decide this case either way, but I don't find Durgham Saif's argument here persuasive.

Monday, March 06, 2006

MORE PYRAMIDS TOO? I've already noted the discovery of an intact tomb in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, which it now seems contained seven coffins and which is not far from King Tut's tomb. That's impressive, but just wait. In an article in Egypt Today (via Archaeologica News), Zahi Hawass drops this teaser about another discovery:
“Some people put on perfume in the morning,” he says. “My perfume is the sand. If I don’t smell the sand every day, I will die. Egypt is still so rich. I made a discovery recently in Saqqara. I haven’t announced it yet, but it will show that you can still discover cachets and” He pauses, and it’s the long, dramatic pause for which he is famous on international television. “and even whole pyramids in Egypt.”
Stay tuned!
MY PAPER "The Hekhalot Literature and the Early Jewish Apocalypses" has been accepted by the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group for the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Washington D.C. in November. Here's the abstract:
This paper explores the relationship between the Hekhalot literature -- the pre-Kabbalistic corpus of mystical texts that give instructions on how to ascend (or "descend") to God's heavenly throne-chariot and to compel the angels to grant revelations -- and the verifiably Jewish apocalypses of the early centuries C.E. and earlier. The article views the Hekhalot literature from the heuristic social-scientific model of the practitioner (the "descender to the chariot") as "shaman/healer" and examines the apocalypses to determine which elements of this model already existed in the earlier period and whether these indicate a genetic relationship between the apocalyptic visionaries and the descenders to the chariot.
The social-scientific model is the one presented in my book, Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature. You can read an early version of the thesis of the book in my 1994 SBLSP article, "The Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

RECENT CAVE EXCAVATIONS in the Dead Sea region have uncovered some important coins from the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt. I've probably covered this before, but I can't remember (and I'm unexpectedly in Edinburgh this weekend and kind of busy). This is a Netscape News report, found via last week's Explorator.
Amazing Find Near the Dead Sea

When Israeli archaeologists began excavating caves near the Dead Sea, they found a real treasure: nine rare silver coins that are believed to date back to a failed Jewish rebellion against the Romans in the second century A.D.


UPDATE (6 March): Yep, I had posts on it here and here almost three years ago.