Saturday, March 18, 2006

THE LOEB CLASSICAL LIBRARY IS CELEBRATING ITS 500TH VOLUME with a Loeb Classical Library Reader. The Times reports:
Setting out with the immodest ambition of publishing “the entire extant Greek and Latin literature from the time of Homer to the Fall of Constantinople”, the series reproduces bestsellers (Homer’s Iliad, Caesar’s The Gallic War) as well as niche works. Those with a touch of the trainspotter about them will find Frontinus’s Aqueducts of Rome, or Aelian’s On The Characteristics of Animals particularly diverting.

The library has now narrowed its horizons but still commissions new translations. With long-lost ancient works (plays of Sophocles, epic poems, Christian gospels) soon to emerge from Egyptian papyri currently under infra-red examination at Oxford University, the library can look forward to some virgin material.

That is good news for academia. James Loeb endowed a percentage of the library’s profits to the Department of Classics at Harvard and, with 499 volumes in print, it harvests more than $750,000 (£435,000) per annum. In May another moneyspinner will be added: coming in at No 500, Quintilian’s The Lesser Declamations — an experimental law game for the budding attorney of the 2nd century AD.

To celebrate this 500th edition, A Loeb Classical Library Reader has been pulled together.
The complete works of Philo and Josephus are also well-known LCL volumes. The Reader will doubtless give the whole series some welcome publicity and will serve as a useful Classics textbook.

UPDATE: The Reader gets a positive review in the Los Angeles Times.
Investigating canals across time, from space
Ur takes a step back to see ancient networks

By Alvin Powell
Harvard News Office

The view from space of an ancient canal network is recasting archaeologists' understanding of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and of the farming economy that supported it at its height of power almost 3,000 years ago.

The work of Assistant Anthropology Professor Jason Ur, detailed in the November/December issue of the archaeology journal Iraq, is casting doubt on the long-held belief that canals that brought water from springs and rivers far to Nineveh's north were mainly constructed to support the city's elaborate gardens.

Using declassified satellite photographs taken decades ago, Ur found what he believes is evidence of branches in the canals that indicate extensive agricultural irrigation in the lands north of Nineveh that scholars had thought dependent on rainfall for their annual production.

With irrigation, those fields would have been potentially far more productive than if they had been reliant on the vagaries of natural rain. Ur said the canals indicate that the farming system underlying what was then the Middle East's dominant empire was more complex and organized than previously thought.


(Via Archaeologica News.)
The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah
by Karen Armstrong
443pp, Atlantic Books, £19.99
Diarmaid MacCulloch reviews the book for The Guardian, but he isn't buying Armstrong's thesis:
But I really don't buy the axial age. I started reading Armstrong with keen anticipation, and my scepticism grew the more I read. The Jaspers thesis is a baggy monster, which tries to bundle up all sorts of diversities over four very different civilisations, only two of which had much contact with each other during the six centuries that (after adjustments) he eventually singled out, between 800 and 200BCE - note those six centuries! ...

There is a danger in all this of creating new myths: new sacred stories pregnant with meaning, on the basis of the centuries of accumulated religious myth in sacred scriptures which are a major part of Armstrong's raw material. Myths are always created for a reason, and in Armstrong's case the reason is wholly admirable and welcome. Much modern religion is ignorantly dogmatic, especially inclined stridently to proclaim how right it is and how wrong everyone else is. We now face very serious danger from it, whether it calls itself Christianity, Islam or any other label. To stand up to it is a duty of civilisation. Armstrong has been a major voice in the effort to talk about religion in a more thoughtful and open way. But I wish that she had not relied so heavily on the Jaspers myth in this rich and deeply felt book.

Da Vinci copy claim 'in tatters' (BBC)

A lawyer for author Dan Brown has told the High Court that claims he stole ideas for The Da Vinci Code have been left "in tatters".

John Baldwin QC, representing publisher Random House, said the evidence made it a "travesty" to say Mr Brown lifted from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.


Mr Baldwin claimed the claimants' case would fail "even if Mr Brown had taken these ideas".

"The ideas are of too general a nature to be capable of copyright protection," said Mr Baldwin.

That sounds right to me.

Friday, March 17, 2006

MUMMIES YES, TOMB NO: The chamber in the Valley of the Kings seems not to be a tomb after all:
Pharaonic find was mummification room, not tomb

Mon Mar 13, 11:44 AM ET

CAIRO (Reuters) - A chamber discovered last month in the Valley of the Kings was a room used by the ancient Egyptians for mummifying pharaohs buried in the area, rather than a tomb, Egypt's top archaeologist said on Monday.

THE DISCOVERIES AT KFAR KANA, especially the Roman-era tunnels, are discussed in detail by the National Geographic Society:
Ancient Jewish Revolt
Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
March 15, 2006

A series of underground chambers and tunnels recently found in Israel were likely used as refuges during the First Jewish Revolt, archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority announced.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
Da Vinci link may soon be revealed

Mar 16 2006 (ic

By Shahid Naqvi

It has been billed as one of the world's great unsolved mysteries. Ten letters on a marble tablet that, legend has it, could help reveal the location of the mythical Holy Grail.

Many have tried to crack the code which, surprisingly, is not located deep within some catacomb in Jerusalem, but a stately home a short trip up the M6 from Birmingham in Shugborough, Staffordshire.

So far none have succeeded.

However the 258-year-old mystery might be about to be solved.

Canadian codebreaker Louis Buff Parry claims to have unlocked the secret message and plans to explain his theory to the world this weekend.

And the world, no doubt, is waiting with baited breath.

The "Da Vinci link" in the headline is awfully weak. It refer not to the actual Lenardo Da Vinci, but to an indirect allusion in Dan Brown's book:
Commissioned by Thomas Anson in 1748, the 20 ft high monument depicts a group of shepherds and shepherdesses contemplating the after-life.

The reason it has been linked to the Holly Grail is because the picture is a mirror-image likeness of a painting by artist Nicholas Poussin.

Poussin was rumoured to be a Grand Master of the Knights Templar and the original painting housed in the Louvre, Paris, was linked to the Holy Grail in Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code.
Here's a PaleoJudaica post on the Shepherd's Monument from November of 2004. There's a link there to a picture of the stone. The secret message reads "D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M." This doesn't strike me as the sort of code that would be easy to decipher. It's very short and there's not much in the way of context. This is amusing, but hardly "one of the world's great unsolved mysteries," and not a very promising route for recovering the Holy Grail, for which there is no contemporary historical evidence anyway. (Yes, Jesus presumably did use a cup at the Last Supper, but there's no evidence it was kept and made an object of veneration. Grail legends first appear in the Middle Ages.)
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (which I still haven't gotten around to seeing) is out on DVD and is reviewed in the DVD Times.
MADONNA AT PURIM -- Here's one for the You Can't Make This Up File:
Madonna turned heads dressed as a sexy French maid at a fancy dress Kabbalah party.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

SPEAKING OF PHOENICIANS, there's more from Sicily:
Phoenician city not destroyed
(ANSA) - Palermo, March 14 - An ancient Phoenician city unearthed in Sicily was inhabited after its supposed destruction, the head of an Italian dig team claims .

"Our finds, including cooking pans, Phoenecian-style vases, small altars and pieces of looms, show Motya had a thriving population long after it is commonly believed to have been destroyed by the Ancient Greeks," said Maria Pamela Toti .


Digging down into the earth there, the new objects were uncovered and found to date to periods after the city's documented destruction by the Greek tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse in 397 BC. "Now the corroborating evidence has come to light," Toti said .


The fresh finds come hard on the heels of the discovery at Motya, near Trapani, of an ancient Phoenician temple dubbed "unique" in the West .

I have more on the latter story here.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
VIN DIESEL is still planning to make a movie about Hannibal (a trilogy, in fact) with the dialogue in Punic:
Diesel dreaming of dead-language film trilogy
Plus: Amanda Bynes blasts reports of eating disorder

By Jeannette Walls
Updated: 2:55 a.m. ET March 16, 2006

Look out Mel Gibson. Vin Diesel is following in your footsteps.

Gibson raised eyebrows when his “The Passion of the Christ” was done entirely in the archaic language of Aramaic. Now Diesel has revealed that he wants to make a three-part swords and sandals epic based on the life of Hannibal. And he wants to do the films all in Punic, the language that was spoken by the Alps-crossing conqueror, but not by anyone for 2,000 years.

The star of “The Pacifier” tells the April issue of Details that his production company has set up offices in Spain, where the actor has spent months retracing Hannibal’s steps, hiking into the Alps, and visiting the ruins in Cartagena and Saguntum.

ANOTHER REVIEW OF THE PARIS EXHIBITION, this one by Gunilla K. Knutsson in Ranskan
"Livres de Parole. Torah, Bible, Coran"

An Intellectual, Esthetic and Emotional Experience

During these times of renewed saber-rattling in the name of God, every Christian, Jewish and Muslim extremist should be required to spend a day at the exhibition "Livres de parole. Torah, Bible et Coran", which is showing at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) in Paris until the end of April. Considering that religious fundamentalism again is playing a geopolitical role - in the West as well as in the East - the BNF curators took a brave initiative when they put together a show which traces the history of the three monotheistic religions from their common cradle in Mesopotamia (i.e. modern Iraq) to the present. They have managed to steer away from any potential invitation to polemics, however, by taking a strictly historical and bibliographic approach to the texts and objects on display.

Da Vinci case has no hope, says publisher

By Katy Papineau and Salome Wagaine, Times Online, and PA News

The publisher of both books involved in The Da Vinci Code copyright case told the High Court today that he thought the two claimants were “in danger of making fools of themselves.”

I'd say it's quite a few years too late for them to be worrying about that.
GOSPEL OF JUDAS BOOKS: Mark Goodacre has publication information on two books that the National Geographic Society is publishing on the Coptic Gospel of Judas in April. I shall have to order them for our library.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The brains behind Modular Moods and many of the hottest parties in and around New York is DJ Handler. He collaborates with non-electronic musicians and creates textural fusions. His references include Ashkenazic cantorial music, traditional Yemenite melodies and hip-hop; he spins a mix of Baile Funk and Afro Beat blended with ’80s freestyle and hip-hop. MC Y-LOVE (born Yitz Jordan) is a black convert to the Bostener sect of Chassidus (the mystical branch of Orthodox Judaism). He creates seamless polyglot rhymes in English, Arabic, Yiddish and Hebrew. Y-Love is also reviving Aramaic, the ancient language of Jewish law.
Mass spectrometer helps in tyrian purple research (Laboratory Talk)

Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, are using a mass spectrometer from Applied Biosystems to investigate the composition of tyrian purple. This is one of the oldest and most prestigious dyes in the ancient world, and is produced exclusively by hypobranchial gland secretions from different molluscan species. Some 12,000 molluscs were needed to produce enough dye to determine 6,6'dibromoindigo as the major structure of the dye, early in the twentieth century.

Dan Brown grilled in Da Vinci Code copyright case
Tue Mar 14, 2006 2:24 PM GMT167

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - The lawyer representing two historians who accuse Dan Brown of copying their work in his best-seller "The Da Vinci Code" said on Tuesday he suspected the author had lied in his evidence.

The 41-year-old Brown, in the witness box for the second day, was forced to defend his assertion that he had not read "The Holy Blood, and the Holy Grail" when he came up with the idea for his religious thriller.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, co-authors of the 1982 Holy Blood book who are suing Brown's British publisher Random House, say he lifted their ideas wholesale.

Part of Brown's defence has been to say that he had already written the synopsis for The Da Vinci Code, one of the most successful novels ever with sales of around 40 million copies, before he became familiar with the Holy Blood book.

Actually it speaks well for Brown that he originally ignored such a piece of obvious drivel. That said, the sources he did use don't sound all that promising:
When [prosecution lawyer] Rayner James pointed out that the Holy Blood book was referred to as "essential reading" in another work Brown used for his research before writing his synopsis, he replied:

"I had everything I needed for that synopsis. I'm in a synopsis phase. I'm looking at the big picture, not the details."
And, surprisingly, orthography is playing a part in the trial:
The court heard discussions on the difference between British and U.S. punctuation and spelling, as Brown sought to prove documents attributed to his wife were not her work.

Again Blythe emerged as a key partner in Brown's phenomenal success, researching and suggesting plot ideas as he wrote.
There's more on that in this article:
'Da Vinci' documents could hold key

By César G. Soriano, USA TODAY

LONDON — Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown spent a grueling second day on the witness stand here Tuesday, defending his book against charges of copyright infringement. But the person at the heart of the case was not even in court: his wife, Blythe.


Blythe Brown "is passionate about art and secret history and was enjoying educating herself and being involved in the research," the author wrote in a 69-page witness statement.

Her research has become a primary focus in the suit brought by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Their attorney, Jonathan Rayner James, grilled Brown about his wife's research methods Tuesday, charging she cobbled together unattributed material from several sources, including Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and used them to create documents that became the synopsis for The Da Vinci Code.

Brown, sounding testy, repeatedly denied that his wife created the documents, noting that one contained British spellings and punctuation.

I wonder what on earth this is all about. Did the prosecution introduce documents attributed to her that are by somebody else? Someone British? Who? The mystery deepens ...

The case continues, as they say.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Most Important Biblical Artifacts Ever Found -- Coming from Jerusalem to the U.S. for the 1st Time (Dakota Voice)

In Exhibition on Shared Roots of Christianity and Judaism Exhibition Will Showcase Jewish and Christian Treasures from the Israel Museum; Once in a Lifetime Opportunity to See the First and Only Presentation Outside of Israel of One of the Most Important Dead Sea Scrolls—the Temple Scroll

CLEVELAND, Mar. 13 -- The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage will premiere a major exhibition on April 1, 2006 tracing the shared roots of Judaism and Christianity, bringing to the U.S. for the first time the most significant biblical artifacts ever found, including the Temple Scroll, one of the most important of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is newly restored and has never before been displayed outside of Israel. Excavated in Israel over the last century, these one- of-a-kind Christian and Jewish archeological treasures come together for the first time to reveal a story of intertwined roots and shared heritage in a world premiere exhibition, "Cradle of Christianity: Treasures from the Holy Land."

The exhibition will include lots of other cool artifacts, such as the Caiaphas ossuary and the Pontius Pilate inscription.
JUSTIN DOMBROWSKI is blogging on the Babatha papyri.
HERE'S A LONG ARTICLE ON ANNE RICE and her Jesus book in the Chicago-Sun Times:
Rice: 'The doctor told me to say my goodbyes'

March 13, 2006


LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Johnny Depp would make a perfect Jesus. At least that's what Anne Rice thinks. And she has given it a lot of thought. "Definitely, Johnny Depp," she says decisively, casting, in her imagination, the hypothetical leading man of the television series she hopes to develop for HBO based on her latest novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, which chronicles Jesus' life. "I haven't told Johnny Depp yet, but wouldn't he be perfect?"

Well, she had better hurry. I like Johnny Depp too, but he's getting a little over the hill to play Jesus.

There's lots in the article and I don't have time to comment on it. But I leave you with this excerpt:
Rice is a fan of Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" and says claims by critics that it is the "most violent film ever made" are ridiculous.

"I couldn't believe it. I thought, 'You haven't seen "The Last of the Mohicans"? You didn't get dragged to a Freddy Krueger movie by your 11-year-old son, like I did?' I was hiding under the seats while he's sitting there eating popcorn as Freddy murders people," she says, laughing. "The most violent movie ever made? Come on. Do kids really wake up in the middle of the night screaming that they're afraid of Roman soldiers?"
I still feel queasy when I remember The Last of the Mohicans.

UPDATE (15 March): But Joe Cathey liked it.
MORE DETAILS from the Jerusalem Post on the Solomonic-era ruins found at Kfar Kana in the Galilee:
Ancient city found at 'Kana of the Galilee'

In a rare find, remnants of an ancient Israelite city that dates back three thousand years have been uncovered during excavations in the Israeli Arab village of Kfar Kana in the Lower Galilee, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

The area, located north of Nazareth, is revered by Christians as the site where Jesus is said to have performed his first miracle.

The settlement being unearthed existed at the time of the United Kingdom of King Solomon and the Kingdom of Israel following the split between Israel and Judah, in the 10-9th centuries BCE.


Following the destruction the ancient Israelite city, the site was abandoned until its ruins were re-inhabited by Jewish settlers in the Early Roman period in the 1st century CE, Israel's top archaeological body said.


UPDATE: And even more details from the A.P. on the Roman-era remains:
Tunnels shed light on an ancient revolt
Archeologists in Israel say discovery dispels theory of `spontaneous' uprising against Rome

By Laura Resnick
Associated Press
Published March 14, 2006

JERUSALEM -- Underground chambers and tunnels used during a Jewish revolt against the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago have been uncovered in northern Israel, archeologists said Monday.

The Jews laid in supplies and were preparing to hide from the Romans during their revolt in 66-70, the experts said. The pits, linked by short tunnels, would have served as a concealed subterranean home.

Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the find shows the ancient Jews planned and prepared for the uprising, contrary to the common perception that the revolt began spontaneously.

DAN BROWN was in the witness stand yesterday in the Da Vinci Code trial. I have no great love for Brown, but I don't think the plagiarism case against him holds up. Here's a Telegraph article that covers yesterday's events:
I did not hijack book's plot, Dan Brown tells court
By Hugh Davies
(Filed: 14/03/2006)

The writer Dan Brown said he was astounded to be in court accused of stealing the ideas behind his runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code.

Mr Brown, whose book helped him earn £45 million last year and the title of the world's highest paid author, insisted that claims that he had based The Da Vinci Code on decades of research by British-based writers were completely false.

But to defend him against the charge of copyright violation is not to defend him against the charge of cluelessness. This Times piece provides yet another example:
In an early novel a hero uses the words “without wax” as code for sincere, because “the English word evolved from the Spanish sin cera”, a term used by sculptors to describe works where they had not cheated by patching marble with wax. Sorry, Dan, “sincere” comes from the Latin sincerus, meaning “clean, pure or sound”. Next time, include the OED, in your “detailed research”.

Monday, March 13, 2006

BALASHON - HEBREW LANGUAGE DETECTIVE is a new blog on Hebrew and related languages:
An American in Israel investigates language - modern and classic Hebrew, slang, Yiddish, Aramaic, Yeshivish, and more - with an eye on etymology. I'm not a professional linguist, and will be using this blog to explore my own questions, and I welcome yours as well.
MORE ON SEIZING ANTIQUITIES from museums as compensation for terrorism:
New legal approach draws museums into fray in fight against terror
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - A Rhode Island lawyer has pioneered a new legal front in the war on terrorism, turning to the collections of major American museums to seek compensation for victims of Middle East suicide bombers.

Among the museums and institutions being pursued by David Strachman is the University of Chicago. He wants the university to surrender a treasure trove of ancient Persian artifacts to survivors of an attack staged by Hamas, the militant group that won the recent Palestinian elections.

The request was recently sustained by a federal magistrate in Chicago.

The reasoning was as straightforward as the implications are far-reaching: Supporters of terrorism should be punished. Hamas is partially financed by Iran. Therefore, Hamas' victims should be compensated by confiscating Iranian property, making Persian artifacts in American museums, such as University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, fair game for federal marshals and a moving truck.

Read it all. This is an extremely messy case on which I have already commented here. I have serious reservations about this approach for two reasons. First, although I'm all for holding the current Iranian regime responsible for its support of terrorism, it is not clear to me that seizing these antiquities from the University of Chicago would hurt the regime in any meaningful way. It sounds as though a lot of (all of?) the material was excavated long before the Khomeini revolution. It may belong to Iran in principle but their losing it would not have a practical financial effect on them. Second, these antiquities are not just Iran's heritage, they are the heritage of humanity's past, and they shouldn't end up as loot in private hands for any reason. They belong in a museum.
A SOLOMONIC-ERA TOWN? Arutz Sheva has a brief report to the effect that an "ancient Jewish" (i.e. Israelite) town from the time of Solomon has been located by the IAA under an Arab village in the Galilee. The same site is reported to preserve Roman-era Jewish material.
Ancient Jewish Town Discovered Under Arab Village
HAPPY PURIM (begins this evening at sundown) to my Jewish readers. The name "Purim" comes from the story of the casting of the "lot" in the book of Esther chapter 3.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dan Brown has been called many things, but never 'my hero'. Until now

Nick Cohen
Sunday March 12, 2006
The Observer

You don't have to love the English language to disapprove of The Da Vinci Code. A passing respect for your mother tongue is enough to make you wince when Dan Brown takes a chainsaw to the old girl and slices her into clichés and easy-to-assemble sentences. Why millions of people have bought the literary equivalent of an Ikea flatpack is a riddle beyond Brown's power to solve. It is a page-turner, to be fair, with a mystery that pushes you past the arthritic dialogue of the stock characters.


True, but I think that's being a little hard on Ikea.

I agree with the following:
... David Hooper, a specialist in intellectual property, said the case was something new. The Holy Blood authors are not saying that Dan Brown had copied chunks of their work verbatim. Instead, they are suing him for taking some of their ideas, researching them, playing with them and turning them into a novel. If they win, Hooper believes a chill will go through cultural life as publishers face the next to impossible task of separating original thoughts from other people's thoughts.

Restricting free use of ideas is the spirit of the age. Firms have claimed copyright on plants and parts of the human genome because ideas are worth more than all other assets. The World Trade Organisation recognised this when it made international acceptance of intellectual property rights one of the central aims of the drive to globalisation in the Nineties.

I hate to be the one who has to say it, but Dan Brown needs to win. If he doesn't, free thought may be stifled in the name of protecting ideas.