Saturday, March 25, 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ex-Christian scholar explores New Testament views of Jews

By Richard N. Ostling
The Associated Press
Posted March 24 2006

Julie Galambush brings a rare background to the often delicate topic of Jewish-Christian relations and her special interest in the first-century split between the two faiths.

She was an American Baptist Churches minister and teacher at the Lutherans' St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Now a convert to Reform Judaism who belongs to a temple in Falls Church, Va., she teaches Bible at the College of William and Mary.

Galambush, naturally, doesn't believe in Jesus' divinity. But her main emphasis is that Christians misunderstand what their scriptural writers originally meant to say about Jews.

She develops that case in The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament's Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book (HarperSanFrancisco). ...
Looks interesting.
Zion Oil & Gas: We may have a discovery

UPI Correspondent

BINYAMINA, Israel, March 23 (UPI) -- Zion Oil & Gas, a company on a "Biblical Treasure Hunt" for oil in Israel, may have proven wrong everyone who scoffed at the idea of black gold in the Holy Land.

"We have what appears to be a discovery of both oil and gas in a number of different zones," Zion said on its updated Web site.

There are a number of indicators that point to a discovery, Zion said. These include: "Increased penetration rates while drilling ... with natural gas shows on the gas chromatograph, which measures natural gas components; microscopic oil and gas stains on sample rock cuttings during drilling; asphaltic rock cuttings that burn when lit with a match; gas bubbles and oil stains on the mud pit while drilling; pockets of gas that ignited and flared for several minutes at different times when the well was being swabbed; and a skim of oil in sample jars taken from fluids being swabbed," according to the company Web site.

The company has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering, and its application for listing on the American Stock Exchange is being reviewed.

I have commented earlier on the project and its basis in biblical mis-exegesis here. I would be very happy if they find oil anyway, but I'll believe it when I see the gusher. Meanwhile, I'm not buying any stock in the company.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO PALEOJUDAICA! My first post was three years ago today. The first anniversary post is here and the second here. The counter reads 233,436 hits, 125,982 of them in the last year, nearly an exponential increase over the previous year. PaleoJudaica has 315 links from 115 sites (down quite a bit from last year, for reasons unclear to me, but during the summer at one point there were links from over 190 sites). I no longer try to keep count of biblioblogs, but there are more and more of them all the time.

I haven't had time to put together a detailed review of the year as in previous years. But here are some of my favorite posts from the last twelve months:

I leave for a fortnight's holiday in San Diego first thing tomorrow morning. I'll try to slip in a little more blogging before then, but I'm very busy. I don't expect to post anything on Saturday, but look for me again on Sunday, blogging from sunny California. Thanks for your interest in PaleoJudaica and please keep coming by!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Controversy Over Christ Movie in Egypt

By Sobhy Mujahid, IOL [Islam Online] Correspondent

CAIRO, March 22, 2006 ( – An intended attempt to produce a movie on the life of Jesus Christ (peace and blessings be upon him) has stirred a hot debate between Al-Azhar scholars who vehemently oppose the depiction of any Prophet and Christian activists who considered the rejection an interference in their private affairs.

"Al-Azhar (the Cairo-based oldest seat of learning in Sunni Islam) rejects the depiction of Christ in a film because he is not only the prophet of the Christians but also Muslims believe in him and all other prophets," Abdel Mooti Bayumi, a professor in Al-Azhar University, told IOL.

Islamic Researches Academy (IRA) of Al-Azhar had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against any "depiction of Allah's prophets" including Jesus, secretary-general of the IRA Sheikh Ibrahim Attah Al-Fayoumi told IOL Tuesday, March 21.
Other IRA members, however, seem to be denying that there has been an official response (i.e., a fatwa?):
But IRA members denied that the academy officially rejected the movie of Jesus Christ, saying that it had not been forwarded for scrutiny.

"The academy does not scrutinize any drama or literary work until asked to do so by a specific party," said Al-Fayoumi.

Al-Azhar gives recommendations for such works and not binding decrees, he said, adding that it is the justice system that makes verdicts.

"Banning drama, art or literature works is the responsibility of censorship. It is not Al-Azhar business," he said.
But the response of the scriptwriter, the producer, and unnamed "Christian activists" seems entirely sensible to me:
Christian activists, however, hit back, saying making a movie on the life of Jesus Christ is not prohibited by the Christian dogma.

"Producing a movie on the life and pains of the Christ is not the first of its kind but would be the 30th on the international level," Coptic political activist Jamal Asaad told London-based ASharq Al-Awsat daily Monday, March 20.

The move is significant since it is the first Egyptian-Arab movie on Jesus Christ, he added.

The movie scriptwriter has a similar stance.

"Christian dogma does not prohibit the depiction of Christ, so what gives Al-Azhar the right to intervene?" charged Fayez Ghali, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Some churches in Egypt stage plays and screen movies on the life of Jesus Christ, activists said.

The film's producer, Mohammed Ashub, said it was not the business of Al-Azhar, which has not issued an official protest, to interfere in the making of the movie.

"Al-Azhar does not have the right to intervene in something which concerns the Christians, otherwise it would have to tear down the icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary from churches," he told AFP.
I hope this one doesn't turn ugly, but I also hope that the makers of the film don't back down.
THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS is to be covered in a National Geographic Channel "Global Television Event" on 9 April according to a press release. It promises that the document itself "will be first presented during a press conference at the National Geographic Society in early April."
"WHAT'S NEXT? SUMERIAN?" And why not?
NYU receives $200 mil. for new center

by Liz Skalka
News Editor

March 22, 2006
NYU has received a donation of nearly $200 million — among the largest ever given to NYU — to create an interdisciplinary center for ancient studies, NYU officials announced yesterday.


John Bernstein, the president of the Leon Levy Foundation, told WSN that the foundation is pleased to be working with the university to create a center that will approach ancient studies in a new, multidisciplinary fashion.

“We want to work with one of the great research institutes,” he said.


The new ancient studies program is geared toward crossing boundaries and is expected to bring together different departments at the university that focus on topics in ancient studies, said Mark S. Smith, the Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient and Near Eastern Studies in the Hebrew and Judaic Studies Department.

“It has potential to create fantastic synergy between existing faculty in ancient studies and the center itself,” he said.

Smith said the gift “may be unprecedented” in the field of ancient studies.

“This is great news for New York University,” he said. “We don’t usually get gifts like this, and to get one in ancient studies is really unique.”

The article has lots of additional details.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

THE CRADLE OF CHRISTIANITY EXHIBITION will be moving to Florida in December:
Biblical exhibit encore to Tut

The Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, which has attracted more than 500,000 visitors to its current exhibit Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, will follow that up with a major exhibition of biblical artifacts that trace the common origins of Judaism and Christianity, museum officials announced Tuesday.


The collection of artifacts, which date from the time of Jesus to the Seventh Century, includes one of the Dead Sea Scrolls; a burial ossuary of Caiaphas the High Priest, who according to the New Testament delivered Jesus to the Romans for trial and crucifixion; and a commemorative plaque inscribed with the name Pontius Pilate.

The Temple Scroll is the Dead Sea Scroll in the exhibit.
MUSSOLINI'S VILLA is now open to the public, according to the A.P. As noted before here, there are archaeological relics associated with its underground bunkers:
The bunker was dug 23 feet deep, burying a 10-foot-thick concrete box with bare cylindrical corridors and multiple escape routes.

While restoring the chamber, archeologists discovered it was built over a second-century Christian tomb, in which they found three bodies. The area was a common burial ground in Roman times, housing mainly the sprawling underground corridors of one of six Jewish catacombs in the city.


Future plans for Villa Torlonia's grounds include opening the ancient Jewish catacombs and building a museum dedicated to Holocaust victims right across from Mussolini's residence.
This is the first I can recall hearing about a second-century Christian tomb at the site.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Environmentalists save ancient Perfume Route from destruction

By Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz Correspondent

Environmental groups on Monday persuaded the southern committee of planning to turn down a plan that would open a phosphate quarry in an area where the ancient Nebatean Perfume route passed through.

The committee decided against the Rotem Apart company's Sde Hetzba West plan, ruling that it was in the public's interest to favor preservation over development.

AN INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF THE ANCIENT WORLD has just been funded at New York University:
N.Y.U. and Columbia to Receive $200 Million Gifts for Research


Published: March 21, 2006 (New York Times)

New York University and Columbia have each received donations of about $200 million, among the largest to academic institutions in recent years. The gifts, from different donors, come as both universities try to compete with rivals that have far larger endowments.

The gift to N.Y.U., among the largest it has ever received, will create a multidisciplinary center for the study of the ancient world. Consisting of cash and real estate valued at up to $200 million, the gift is from the Leon Levy Foundation. Mr. Levy, who died in 2003, was a Wall Street investor and benefactor of art and archaeology. The university president, John Sexton, and the Levy foundation's trustee, Shelby White, Mr. Levy's widow, are expected to announce the gift today.


N.Y.U. officials emphasized in interviews that a goal of the new center, to be called the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, was to approach the research and teaching of antiquity on a broad geographic and thematic scale. The focus will be on cultural evolution through time and across societies and regions, incorporating the history, archaeology, literature and art of antiquity.

The areas to be studied will include not only Europe and the Mediterranean basin, but also Central and East Asia — from Gibraltar to Taiwan, as Glen W. Bowersock, a historian familiar with the plans, put it.


The institute will be in a six-story townhouse at 15 East 84th Street, which was previously owned by the Ogden Reid family and then the American Jewish Congress. The Levy Foundation bought the property two years ago and is having it renovated.

Christopher Ratté, a classical archaeologist at N.Y.U., said the institute was expected to hire five or six full-time professors, maybe an equal number of visiting fellows, and several post-doctoral researchers.

Congratulations to NYU! This is excellent news. Shelby White and the late Leon Levy have made a very valuable contribution to the study of antiquity -- notably in Larry Stager's Ashkelon dig -- for many years. Oh, and congratulations to Columbia too on their new Science Center.
Judge Asks Sharp Questions at Close of 'Da Vinci Code' Case


Published: March 21, 2006 (New York Times)

LONDON, March 20 — The lawyer for the two men who say Dan Brown stole from their book for his novel "The Da Vinci Code" faced sharp and relentless questioning from the judge in the case during closing arguments in the High Court here on Monday.

The judge, Peter Jones, will not issue a decision for several weeks, and it is impossible to know how he will rule. But his tough questions appeared to reflect skepticism, even exasperation, toward some of the arguments put forward by the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." (The book's other author, Henry Lincoln, is not taking part in the lawsuit.) They claim that Mr. Brown lifted the central "architecture" for his megaselling "Da Vinci Code" from their nonfiction book, published in 1982.

Justice Jones seems to be showing good sense in this case and I shall be very surprised if he rules against Random House.

Monday, March 20, 2006

THE SBL PSEUDEPIGRAPHA SECTION'S PROGRAM for the November 2006 meeting in Washington D.C. has not yet been published, but Pierluigi Piovanelli has kindly sent me an abstract of the paper he will be presenting in the session on my book. Here it is:
In Praise of "The Default Position," or Reassessing the Christian Reception of the Jewish Pseudepigraphic Heritage

It is well known that many ancient Jewish Pseudepigrapha have been preserved in their integrality only through secondary versions and Christian late antique and medieval manuscript traditions. Building on such evidence, a large majority of specialists of Second Temple literature is still eager to identify newly discovered parabiblical narratives bearing no explicit Christian signatures with new Jewish Pseudepigrapha. However, during the last two decades some authoritative voices - Marinus de Jonge, Robert A. Kraft, and Enrico Norelli, to mention just few of them - have begun to argue that early Christian authors could have written at least some of those texts. In the same vein, James R. Davila's new monograph on The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha (2005) provides us with a useful survey not only of Christian "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha That Appear to Be Jewish" (Ch. 2) but also of "Pseudepigrapha of Debatable Origin" (Ch. 4) that were previously deemed to be Jewish but that probably are of Christian origins. The plausibility of such a paradigmatic shift is independently confirmed by the major changes that another great specialist of Second Temple Judaism, George W. E. Nickelsburg, has just introduced into the revised and expanded edition of his 1981 masterful introduction to Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (2005). In this new edition, some Pseudepigrapha are now relegated into a newly created limbo of "Texts of Disputed Provenance" (Ch. 9), while others are purely and simply omitted. Following the same line of thought, I will discuss some examples of Jewish Pseudepigrapha copied and translated by Christian scribes (the so-called Coptic Jeremiah Apocryphon), Christian rewritings of Jewish Pseudepigrapha (the Paraleipomena of Jeremiah), and Christian original compositions (the Melchizedek Story). This new approach will help us to emphasize the natural continuity existing between ancient Jewish and early Christian pseudepigraphic trajectories.

Pierluigi Piovanelli
University of Ottawa
Pierluigi is translating the Coptic Jeremiah Apocryphon and the Story of Melchizedek for our More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. The session looks promising.
HOW TO WRITE A BEST SELLER: Dan Brown has some advice. I'll have to keep it in mind for my next book.
COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS WATCH: Mark Goodacre notes a radio interview on the Gospel of Judas by Aberdonian New Testament scholar Simon Gathercole. Mark writes:
Simon explained that the Gospel was written long after the living memory of the apostles, and that it featured anachronisms equivalent to our writing a document about Queen Victoria in which she comments on The Lord of the Rings and on her CD collection.
HAPPY SPRING EQUINOX and Persian New Year (Norouz).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

HOLY GRAIL "CLUE"? The Times has the only follow-up I can find to last week's promised revelation about the inscription on the Shepherd's Monument:
Holy Grail 'clue' at stately home

A CODE etched on a marble monument in the grounds of a Staffordshire stately home is a secret message that the Holy Grail is buried near by, a Canadian codebreaker claimed yesterday.

One or both of the stones thought to make up the Holy Grail are “very likely” to be buried in the Shugborough estate, near Stafford, according to Louis Buff Parry.

The inscription reads "D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M." I think it looks like a password to somebody's computer account.