Saturday, April 01, 2006

THE CRADLE OF CHRISTIANITY EXHIBITION in Cleveland opens today. Here are two reviews:
Treasures gleaned from a shared past (The Plain Dealer)
Key Dead Sea Scroll Makes U.S. Debut (NPR)
CONGRATULATIONS to the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:
Hebrew and Semitic Studies to celebrate golden anniversary

March 24, 2006

by Barbara Wolff

The genesis of this anniversary began with another one:

Rabbi Joseph L. Baron suggested in 1954 that the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in the American colonies might best be recognized with a special chair in Hebrew language and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Baron backed his commitment to that idea and $75,000 in private donations funded a faculty position occupied initially by the late Menachem Mansoor.

In 1954 Mansoor was a young scholar interested in the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. His first course, Modern Hebrew Literature, enrolled 37 students. Hebrew and Semitic studies became an official department in 1956.

If you're in Madison this coming week, note the lecture series associated with the anniversary celebrations.
A NEW BOOK ON KABBALAH by Joseph Dan is reviewed in Commentary Magazine by Benjamin Balint. Excerpt:
Amid all the trendiness, one almost hesitates to ask the essential question: what is kabbalah? Joseph Dan of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who has reflected on the subject for some 50 years, offers a fascinating reply in his new book.

Kabbalah, which literally means “that which has been received,” refers broadly to a “hidden” doctrine that (along with the “Written” and “Oral” Torah) is said to have been given by God to Moses at Sinai and to have been privately transmitted ever since, often only in hints and allusions, from master to disciple. Throughout the medieval period and well into the early modern age, traditionalists took these teachings very seriously, although they were also regarded as an inherently dangerous subject matter that could lead all but a select few into heresy or madness. In later, post-Enlightenment times, many scholars and religious progressives came to consider these teachings a form of superstitious nonsense. Only in the last hundred years or so has kabbalah become a subject of academic study.

Dan’s book thus represents the fruit of a century’s worth of research and systematic analysis, much of it centered at the Hebrew University. Exquisitely attuned to the varied schools, streams, and shades of his subject, Dan begins on a note of caution: although the term “kabbalah” has never been so widely used as it is today, even in the past it did not have a single meaning. Having warned us that “there is no ‘kabbalah’ in the singular,” he proceeds to give us a nuanced chronological survey of kabbalah in the plural.
Read it all. Sounds like a very useful book.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Road to Temple Mount uncovered


The main road that ran from Jerusalem's City of David to the Temple Mount during the time of the Second Temple has been uncovered by Israeli archeologists, those involved in the dig said Thursday. The road connected the Shiloah pool in the City of David to the Temple Mount compound.

The 2,000-year-old road was discovered adjacent to the Shiloah pool during ongoing excavations at the site, said Israeli Antiquities Authority archeologist Eli Shukrun. He is directing the dig together with University of Haifa archeologist Prof. Ronny Reich.

MORE ON THE NEGEV SPICE ROUTE that is now spared from being mined:
No mine for Genesis Land


In what is seen as a major victory for environmentalists, the Southern Regional Planning Council decided on March 20 to reject a proposal to mine the western Hazeva region of the Negev desert.


On July 17 last year, UNESCO board members agreed to preserve the ancient Spice Route and the adjacent area within the western Hazeva region as a World Heritage Site. At that time, a phosphate mining proposal for the same site had been tentatively approved. This region, known as Genesis Land, is part of the Spice Route and noted for its unique canyons, springs and vast untouched stretches of land.

A tale of cats, Vestal Virgins and more cats
GREGORY ELDER (Redlands Daily Facts)

Sadly, the Bible does not have a lot of cats in it, and depending on which translation you read, perhaps none at all.

There are of course the big cats like lions, as in the lion of Judah, or the leopard, who cannot change his spots, the text tells us. But the simple housecat does not get much of a showing, although they were known to the Greeks and Romans, and the Egyptians worshipped them.

There is one exception to this odd biblical omission, which is in the Deutero-Canonical books, or the Apocrypha, which is accepted as scriptural by some churches and not by others. "Thy idols shall fall and cats shall walk upon them," the Hebrew sage declares, denouncing the pagan gods and goddesses of the ancient world.

The author doesn't bother to give the reference, but he seems to be thinking of Epistle of Jeremiah 22, which does have cats sitting on idols, although not fallen ones. Here is the verse in context:
17: For just as one's dish is useless when it is broken, so are the gods of the heathen, when they have been set up in the temples. Their eyes are full of the dust raised by the feet of those who enter.
18: And just as the gates are shut on every side upon a man who has offended a king, as though he were sentenced to death, so the priests make their temples secure with doors and locks and bars, in order that they may not be plundered by robbers.
19: They light lamps, even more than they light for themselves, though their gods can see none of them.
20: They are just like a beam of the temple, but men say their hearts have melted, when worms from the earth devour them and their robes. They do not notice
21: when their faces have been blackened by the smoke of the temple.
22: Bats, swallows, and birds light on their bodies and heads; and so do cats.
23: From this you will know that they are not gods; so do not fear them.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Excavators at Kafr Kana find 2,000-year-old jugs linked to the Great Revolt
By Ran Shapira (Haaretz)

Eleven earthenware jugs lay patiently on their sides for close to 2,000 years, until excavators recently discovered them in a subterranean cave near Kafr Kana in the lower Galilee. This amazing find has been linked to the Great Revolt in the second half of the first century CE, and it is assumed the jugs stored food in the caves, which were used as a hideout.

The jugs were found during a salvage excavation at the Karem el-Ras antiquities site on the western outskirts of Kafr Kana, beneath a house from the Roman period (from the first century CE) with a packed earth and stone floor.

When the excavators, led by Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority, uncovered the floor, they noticed three unusual stones. Situated near one another, the stones were flat and circular, each about 50 centimeters in diameter. After the dirt surrounding them was removed, the excavators discovered the purpose of these stones: to cover the entrances to three subterranean chambers, built of stone and shaped like igloos.

(Via the Agade list.)
SPECIAL DEAL for postgraduates attending the Edinburgh Justin Martyr conference:
This is a special announcement and update on the International
Conference on Justin Martyr and His Worlds to be held in New College
(School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh) 20-22 July 2006. See the
conference web page for further information, registration form, and a
draft schedule of presentations:

We now are pleased to announce a half-fee reduction for PhD students,
meaning a confernce registration fee of £45, for those who register by
15 April (£65 thereafter). Please pass this notice on to research
students in your department. For others, the conference fee is £90
(registration by 15 April; £110 thereafter).

L. W. Hurtado, Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology
Director of Postgraduate Studies
School of Divinity, New College
University of Edinburgh
Mound Place
Edinburgh, UK. EH1 2LX
Office Phone: (0)131 650 8920. FAX: (0)131 650 7952
(From the British New Testament Society e-mail list.)
Kershaw Family Endows UC San Diego's First Faculty Chair In Archaeology
Posted by: jpiercey on Thursday, March 30, 2006
Topic Education (PNN online)

Norma Kershaw, retired educator and a prominent Southern California philanthropist, lecturer and volunteer in the fields of archaeology and cultural studies, first met UC San Diego professor of Anthropology and Judaic Studies Thomas Levy, Ph.D., some 20 years ago while she was excavating at a site in Israel. Their shared interest in the history and archaeology of the Levantine region has kept the two in touch since they met.

But it still was a surprise to Levy earlier this year when Kershaw and her husband, Reuben, made a significant donation to UCSD through the Kershaw Family Trust to establish the Norma Kershaw Endowed Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands. This is the university’s first endowed faculty chair in the Department of Anthropology and the fifth endowed chair in Judaic Studies within the UCSD Division of Social Sciences. This philanthropic gift contributes to UCSD’s $1 billion fundraising initiative, The Campaign for UCSD: Imagine What’s Next.

The campus has named Levy as founding chairholder. His most recent book (with T. Higham, Oxford University) is The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating – Archaeology, Text and Science (London: Equinox). Based on his publications and fieldwork in both Israel and Jordan, Levy is recognized as one of the leading experts on the archaeology of the Middle East.

The Vīdēvdād Project is a long term project of a small Iranistic team in the section of Indoeuropean Linguistics of the Department of Classical Philology and Indoeuropean Studies at the University of Salamanca. It is supported with the financial aid of the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia and of the Junta de Castilla y León. Formerly this project has been carried out in the Institut für Iranistik of the Freie Universität Berlin with the collaboration of Maria Macuch and with funds of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

This is from the index page:
Vīdēvdād is the only complete Nask of the Sassanian Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrian religion, that has been transmitted to us in its complete Sassanian version. According to the Dēnkard the books of the Avesta were divided in three categories: gathic, ritual and legal. The legal text are divided since the Avestan in the law of Zaraθuštra (dāta- zaraθuštrahe) and the law of Vīdēvdād (dāta- vīdaēuua-). The latter handled mainly on prescriptions against nasu- "corpse" and the demoness concerning witth it (druj- nasu-).

Therefore, the Nask Vīdēvdād consisted in originally only of prescriptions in order to remove impurity from the pure elements of the creation of Ahura Mazdā. However, through many centuries of transmission, another texts about different matters have been incorporated to it, such as the mythical creation of the sixteen lands and their countercreations (V 1), Yima’s mythical kingship and his protection of the whole creation (V 2), the goddess of the earth (V 3), contracts and punishment for breaking them (V 4), proper dog’s care (V 13), sin for killing an otter and its atonement (V 14) , Θrita and the origin of the medicine (V 20) and the origin of the diseases (V 22). On the other side only V 5-12, V 16-17, partly V 18-19 and V 20 deal with different themes related to impurity and its purification and the removing of the evil forces. Thus the Sassanian text of Vīdēvdād which has arrived to our time sums 22 chapters (phl. fragard), but not all of them seem to have belonged in origin to the Vīdēvdād Nask.
This is an example of a fairly common phenomenon in the study of antiquity: medieval and later manuscripts that contain medieval texts mixed with late antique and genuinely ancient material. Pseudepigrapha manuscripts often have the same sort of mix. These Iranian texts preserve material that is of considerable interest for the study of ancient Jewish apocalypses and apocalypticism

(Via the Agade list.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

THE ARTSCROLL YERUSHALMI, volume 1, is reviewed by the Jewish press. It discusses the series rather than the volume, and is quite positive. Excerpt:
While some Jewish studies educators feared the ArtScroll series would provide an easy way out for students looking to avoid the challenges represented by the Talmud, most have been convinced that the elucidation of these texts has allowed many more people to become involved with Talmud study than in generations past. To date, available in English, Hebrew and French, the impact of the ArtScroll is only beginning to be felt, and the Jerusalem Talmud will serve as an additional measure of its role.

Revolutions like these in Jewish scholarship are rare and can often only be best appreciated with considerable hindsight. Yet in the relatively short amount of time that ArtScroll Talmuds have been appearing in study halls and Jewish homes around the world, it is clear the Mesorah publishing house has offered a valuable contribution to the spread of Jewish study.
Image of Jesus' crucifixion may be wrong, says study

PARIS, March 30, 2006 (AFP) - The image of the crucifixion, one of the most powerful emblems of Christianity, may be quite erroneous, according to a study which says there is no evidence to prove Jesus was crucified in this manner.

Around the world, in churches, on the walls of Christian homes, on crucifixes worn as pendants, in innumerable books, paintings and movies, Jesus Christ is seen nailed to the cross by his hands and feet, with his head upwards and arms outstretched.

But a paper published by Britain's prestigious Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) says this image has never been substantiated in fact.

Christ could have been crucified in any one of many ways, all of which would have affected the causes of his death, it says.

"The evidence available demonstrates that people were crucified in different postures and affixed to crosses using a variety of means," said one of the authors, Piers Mitchell of Imperial College London.

This isn't exactly a grand revelation. It's well known in scholarly circles that we really don't know much about the postures used in ancient crucifixions, and the movie The Last Temptation of Christ uses a nontraditional but possible posture, so this ought to be well known in popular culture as well. That said, this is the first I've heard of convicts being nailed to a cross by their genitals and I wonder what evidence there actually is for that. Not that I doubt the creative imagination of the ancient Romans.
$200 Million Gift Triggers Backlash at NYU By Michael Balter ScienceNOW Daily News 28 March 2006 When New York University (NYU) officials announced last week the creation of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, it was widely seen as a major coup. The new Ph.D.-granting research institute, devoted to the art, archaeology, history, literature, and geography of ancient societies, was made possible by a private gift of $200 million in cash and real estate, one of the largest donations the university has ever landed. Yet some NYU faculty, along with outside archaeologists, are aghast that the school accepted the money. One leading NYU archaeologist has already resigned from the university's existing ancient studies center to protest the decision. [...]
I'm less tolerant of antiquities collecting than I used to be, and after the forgery scandal in Israel I hope Shelby White will think twice about continuing to collect. She has promised to "deal with" anything in the collection that she "should not have bought," which is good, although I'm sure that one could debate what exactly that last quoted phrase should mean. But in any case the Leon Levy Foundation has done an immense amound of good for archaeology and the study of antiquity and I think it would be counterproductive for NYU to turn down the gift. (Heads up, reader Carla Sulzbach.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

'Da Vinci Code' Rival Releases New Book

The Associated Press
Monday, March 27, 2006; 5:19 PM

-- "The Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown and his courtroom nemesis, Michael Baigent, now have a new rivalry _ on the best-seller lists.

Brown's novel goes on sale in paperback Tuesday with an advance printing of 5 million copies, the same day that HarperSanFrancisco is issuing "The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History" by Baigent, with an initial hardcover print run of a much more modest 150,000.


UPDATE: MSNBC has an excerpt of Baigent's book.

He turned over all those photographs without keeping copies for himself.


He neglected to get a receipt.


And he doesn't give the names of any of the British Museum "experts."


Monday, March 27, 2006

EILAT MAZAR is interviewed in Moment Magazine about the big administrative building (palace?) she's excavating in Jerusalem. Nothing new, but a good summary of the evidence, the issues, and the controversy:
Eilat Mazar: Uncovering King David's Palace

Eilat Mazar is not at her dig just south of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where she has been exhuming the massive stone walls of what she believes to be the 10th-century remains of King David’s palace. Instead the 49-year-old widowed mother of four is at her office at the Shalem Center, a conservative social policy think tank in Jerusalem’s German Colony. Her short blonde hair bobs up and down as talks about the palace, possibly the most stunning archaeological discovery in Israel in decades. “It’s a huge structure built on the most important place that controls everything around it,” she says with excitement. “It must have been an important structure. We need to reveal more of it.”

I think we can all agree on that much.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

IN THE MAIL: Here are the orders that were waiting for me when I arrived:
Al-Ghazali, The Niche of Lights (ed. D. Buchanan) (oddly, no longer registers on Amazon)

Al-Ghazali The Incoherence of the Philosophers (ed. M. E. Marmura)

Glenn Reynolds, An Army of Davids

Robert A. Heinlein, Red Planet
The first three are for me and the fourth is to read with my son.