Saturday, April 22, 2006

MORE MODERN GNOSTICS: The Los Angeles Times has a collection of responses to the Gospel of Judas, starting with a Bishop of the Gnostic Society:
Gnostics Find Affirmation in Gospel of Judas

The document portrays the disciple as a faithful servant of Jesus, not a villain -- a firm belief of the small Christian branch. But it doesn't shake up mainstream doctrine.

By Arin Gencer, Times Staff Writer
April 22, 2006

When National Geographic unveiled the Gospel of Judas this month, the narrator in the accompanying television documentary solemnly announced: "It tells a different story. One that could challenge our deepest beliefs."

The Gospel portrayed a Judas who simply carried out his master's orders — and did not betray him.

But for Gnostics, a small branch of Christianity, that so-called revelation was just a confirmation of a long-held belief that there was more to Judas and the crucifixion story than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John suggest.

"Gnostics were inclined in this direction for a long, long time," said Bishop Stephan Hoeller, of the Gnostic Society, who also leads a congregation in Los Angeles. The society was founded in 1923, he said, and the church, Ecclesia Gnostica, was started in 1956.

"The notion that Judas was this terrible villain … that has never really been accepted in Gnosticism," Hoeller said.

AN AIA RESPONSE TO STAGER'S "STATEMENT OF CONCERN" was posted on the Agade list. I reproduce it here with Jane Waldbaum's permission:
A "Statement of Concern" regarding the publication of unprovenanced antiquities has been circulating recently by letter, email and on various scholarly listservs. The "Statement" affirms opposition to looting, recognizes the damage done by the destruction of context, and makes a case for the publication of unprovenanced antiquities, particularly texts, in order to salvage the information they may contain.

The "Statement," however, also makes several erroneous assertions regarding the policies of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) on the publication of undocumented antiquities, and alleges that these "rules" were adopted "without a vote of (its)membership." In fact, since 1970 the Council of the AIA has voted to adopt a series of resolutions and policies that are quite different from what is asserted in the "Statement." The Council is the largest and most representative governing body of the AIA. It is comprised of representatives chosen by all of the AIA's 102 Local Societies and of representatives of the members-at-large, and is empowered to vote on policy issues and pass resolutions on behalf of the membership. The following list of the AIA's ethical and publication policies adopted since 1970 is provided in the interest of setting the record straight and of clarifying the AIA's positions on the publication and presentation of undocumented antiquities as well as its ethical standards. Complete texts may be found on the AIA's web site.

1. Resolution in support of the Draft UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Adopted by a vote of the AIA Council, December 30, 1970.

2. Resolution on the acquisition of antiquities by museums. Adopted by vote of the Council of the AIA, December 30, 1973.

3. Resolution on the presentation of undocumented antiquities at the AIA's Annual Meeting. Adopted by vote of the Council, December 30, 1973 and revised 2004. The full text of the amended resolution is provided here:

The Annual Meeting may not serve for the announcement or initial scholarly presentation of any object in a public or private collection acquired after December 30, 1973, unless its existence can be documented prior to that date, or it was legally exported form the country of origin. An exception may be made by the Program for the Annual Meeting Committee if the presentation emphasizes the loss of archaeological context.

4. In 1978 the editors of the American Journal of Archaeology (AJA) adapted the 1973 Annual Meeting Presentation Policy to apply to articles published in the AJA. See Editorial Statement, AJA vol. 82, 1978, p. 1. The policy has been clarified in a succession of editorial statements published in the AJA vol. 86, 1982, pp. 1-2; vol. 94, 1990, pp. 525-527, and most recently vol. 109, 2005, pp. 135-136 (see also The current text of the AJA publications policy as amended in 2004 reads: As a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, AJA will not serve for the announcement or initial scholarly presentation of any object in a private or public collection acquired after December 30, 1973, unless its existence is documented before that date, or it was legally exported from the country of origin. An exception may be made if, in the view of the Editor, the aim of publication is to emphasize the loss of archaeological context. Reviews of exhibitions, catalogues, or publications that do not follow these guidelines should state that the exhibition or publication in question includes material without known archaeological findspot.

At no time was an attempt made to "blame the object" or to prevent the scholarly discussion of archaeological objects or materials already in the scholarly record. In the words of Naomi Norman, current Editor-in-Chief of the AJA, "The clear intent of the policy was not to enhance the market value or importance of these objects by giving them the imprimatur of the AIA by publishing them for the first time in the AJA..." In clarification of the modified policy she stated, "The intent here is to keep the checkered past of an object out in the open and part of the continuing scholarly discussion of that piece (emphasis added). All too often, once a piece gets 'proper scholarly presentation' and the debate begins, scholars forget that the object is without archaeological context and may have come to the market illegally...The point is to remind us all of how much information and value is lost when an object is illegally removed from its archaeological context," (AJA 109, 2005, p. 136).

5. On December 29,1990 the AIA Council voted to adopt a Code of Ethics. The Code was amended at the Council meeting of December 29, 1997 and now reads:

The Archaeological Institute of America is dedicated to the greater understanding of archaeology, to the protection and preservation of the world's archaeological resources and the information they contain, and to the encouragement and support of archaeological research and publication. In accordance with these principles, members of the AIA should:

1. Seek to ensure that the exploration of archaeological sites be conducted according to the highest standards under the direct supervision of qualified personnel, and that the results of such research be made public;

2. Refuse to participate in the trade in undocumented antiquities and refrain from activities that enhance the commercial value of such objects. Undocumented antiquities are those which are not documented as belonging to a public or private collection before December 30, 1970, when the AIA Council endorsed the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property, or which have not been excavated and exported from the country of origin in accordance with the laws of that country;

3. Inform appropriate authorities of threats to, or plunder of archaeological sites, and illegal import or export of archaeological material.

6. A Code of Professional Standards applying to AIA's professional members was adopted by vote of the Council on December 29, 1994 and amended on December 29, 1997. Among other things, this Code states: "Professional archaeologists should adhere to the Guidelines of the AIA general Code of Ethics concerning illegal antiquities in their research and publication." The full text of this Code may be found at

It should be noted that neither the general Code of Ethics nor the Code of Professional Standards constitute "rules" that the membership "must" follow. They are rather guidelines for ethical behavior and statements of responsibility to the archaeological record that the membership of the AIA, through its Council, has affirmed many times since 1970. While these guidelines firmly discourage any involvement of its members in the antiquities trade, the AIA does not censor the objects of members' research and scholarship.

Jane C. WaldbaumPresident, Archaeological Institute of America

Friday, April 21, 2006

STATEMENT ON UNPROVENANCED ANTIQUITIES: Jack Sasson forwards the following on the Agade list. If you want to sign up, write to Larry Stager, not me.
From Larry Stager ( Any response should go
to *him*.

Below is a Statement of Concern for which I am collecting signatures expressing the importance of publishing unprovenanced archaeological materials and inscriptions. Please read the Statement and, if you agree with it, let me know if we can list you as a signatory.

When emailing me, kindly give me your
Area of interest.

If you know of colleagues who would be willing to be a signatory, please have them write or email me to this effect.

We have no specific plans at this time concerning how we will publicize this Statement. Surely we will provide a copy to ASOR and AIA. The Statement and signatories will also be published in BAR. And undoubtedly it will get some press and internet coverage.

With best regards,

Lawrence E. Stager
Harvard University



We are archaeologists and scholars who deal with archaeological materials from the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean basin. We wish to express our concern at a movement that has received much publicity lately that condemns the use of unprovenanced antiquities from consideration in the reconstruction of ancient history. On the contrary, a history of this region cannot be written without the evidence from unprovenanced antiquities.

1. We are strongly opposed to looting. We encourage governments to take all necessary steps to stem, if not eliminate, looting at the source by increased surveillance at archaeological sites, involvement of local communities to increase pride in their heritage, vigorous prosecution of offenders and by the use of modern scientific advances such as motion-sensing and satellite-based technologies.

2. We also recognize that artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. On the other hand, this is not always true, and even when it is, looted objects, especially inscriptions, often have much of scholarly importance to impart.

3. It is true that many unprovenanced antiquities have been looted. Other unprovenanced antiquities, however, are the result of chance finds either by people on their own property or by others on public land. Still other unprovenanced antiquities on the market come from old family collections.

4. The list of important unprovenanced and looted antiquities of value is long: the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Codices, the recently reported Gospel of Judas, the Wadi Daliyeh papyri, to name only a few. Hundreds of thousands of cuneiform tablets, the basis of our understanding of Mesopotamian history, are unprovenanced. Almost all ancient coins and stone seals that reveal so much about ancient society come from the antiquities market. It has been rightly said that the history of the ancient Near East as we know it could not have been written without the use of unprovenanced, often looted artifacts and inscriptions.

5. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) have adopted rules (without a vote of their memberships) prohibiting the initial publication in their journals of unprovenanced artifacts. Similarly, papers at their meetings are not permitted to be read if they are based on unprovenanced antiquities. We strongly oppose these restrictions. Scholars cannot close their eyes to important information.

6. The opposition to the publication of unprovenanced antiquities is supposedly based on the view that their publication encourages looting. Yet it is almost universally recognized that this prohibition on publication has had little or no effect on looting.

7. We do not encourage private collection of antiquities. But important artifacts and inscriptions must be rescued and made available to scholars even though unprovenanced. When such objects have been looted, the antiquities market is often the means by which they are rescued, either by a private party or a museum. To vilify such activity results only in the loss of important scholarly information.

8. We would encourage private collectors of important artifacts and inscriptions to make them available to scholars for study and publication. Too often collectors who do make their objects available to scholars are subject to public obloquy. As a result, collectors are disinclined to allow scholars to study their collections, and the public is the poorer.

9. Our interest is scholarship. If we had to decide between ignoring vital information and encouraging looting, we would have a difficult choice. But, fortunately, that is not the choice we are faced with. Studying and publishing important looted artifacts has no demonstrable effect on the extent of looting.

10. The real objection to the antiquities market and unprovenanced material is that it somehow sullies our hands by participation in an illegal enterprise. But we believe a more refined judgment is called for. Yes, it would be nice if we always had professionally excavated materials to study and publish. But that is not the situation. Our choice is either to study unprovenanced material or ignore it. Given that choice, we prefer to study unprovenanced material. The sweeping exclusion of unprovenanced material from scholarly consideration results only in a loss to scholars, to scholarship and ultimately to the public.

11. The questions we deal with here are quite apart from the issues currently engaging the media and the public regarding patrimony laws and repatriation. These issues are complex and separate from the issues we are concerned with here. On the repatriation issues, we express no view.
I think there's a lot of good sense in this, but I haven't decided yet if I'm going to sign it. Some thoughts:

(1) I'm not sure what evidence there is on whether scholarly involvement with looted artifacts encourages further looting. Intuitively, I would guess it does, but I don't know and I don't know how this could be proved or disproved. How would such evidence be gathered? Are there objective data either way? The question is one of degree too, and we really need a costs-benefits weighing of whether it's a little extra looting as the price of saving data from lots of critically important artifacts or much additional looting to save data from only a few artifacts of dubious genuineness (see next point). Or something in between.

(2) The Statement does not mention the problem of antiquities forgeries, which clearly has been encouraged by scholarly involvement of unprovenanced artifacts. Certainly both popular and scholarly interest in biblical-related artifacts encouraged the forgery scandal in Israel. Indeed, some of those forgeries seem to have involved altering actual ancient artifacts (the James Ossuary, the Ivory Pomegranate, etc.).

(3) I think there's a qualitative difference between Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas on the one hand, which would be horrendously difficult to forge and which are of enormous inherent value even if their archaeological contexts are lost and, on the other hand, ostraca, bullae, many lapidary inscriptions, inscribed and uninscribed seals, and various other artifacts, which are much easier to forge and some of whose value depends considerably more on having an archaeological context. It would be ridiculous not to study the Gospel of Judas (once properly authenticated), and if the AIA and ASOR really forbid papers and publications on it, I think that's a mistake. But nevertheless, the field of Hebrew-and-related epigraphy has been badly damaged by all the fakes poured into it from the 1980s on, and this is in no small part due to the antiquities trade and scholarly involvement with it.

Perhaps the third point can be addressed on a sliding scale, on which the use of a looted artifact is contingent on the degree to which its authentication is robustly reliable. But the danger of encouraging both looting and forgeries remains a problem to which I have no ready solution. I do agree that we should not ignore highly important and fully-authenticated, very-hard-to-forge artifacts even if they are looted. I will continue to study the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas but I will also continue to be suspicious of unprovenanced (often looted) ostraca, bullae, and the like that appeared from the 1980s on unless I have extremely good reason to think they are genuine.

What do you think? Comments enabled. (Click on the time-of-posting link below.) Be nice and to the point. Please give your right name. Irrelevant and rude comments will be deleted.

UPDATE: For technical reasons involving my search engine, I've had to shut down the comments function, which has only been used on this page. Here are the comments that were left:
Jim, you are correct in seeing a difference between things like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas and ostraca, bullae, etc. But I'm far from clear where the demarcation line is. And in the history of scholarship, some fairly lengthy documents have turned out to be forgeries.

I'm also afraid that the current policies actually give cover to the forgers. Their work no longer needs to face the scrutiny of the scholarly community.

You are also correct about being "suspicious of unprovenanced (often looted) ostraca, bullae, and the like that appeared from the 1980s on" unless one has "extremely good reason to think they are genuine." To me this is a matter of where the burden of proof lies and that tends to follow the evidence even in cases were the artifact was well provenanced. There have been cases of salted artifacts.
# posted by Duane : 3:45 PM

I for one believe thay any materials that may have valuable information for scholars should be analyzed. Unprovenanced items are most definitely a problem and I agree that forgeries have been an issue. However, I would think that upon close scrunity by various experts, forgeries can be identified. I wish I new exactly certain papyri, scrolls, and inscription came to light, but the bottom line is that we have them and should try and figure out if we can learn anything from them. So much of our knowledge of Near Eastern antiquity has come via chance discoveries (and shady black market dealings: unfortunately, that's life! As my Ancient Judaism prof. often iterates, "we must play the ball as it lies."

Michael Helfield (M.A.)
# posted by Anonymous : 4:51 PM

Hello Jim,

First, thanks for sharing this with us. I will shortly post my own thoughts about the matter in fuller depth at my blog, but for now, here's some thing I have in mind.

I too agree with most of the statement, especially on the points concerning government crackdown. Actually, I don't think "vigorous prosecution" would adequately describge the loathe for these spineless leeches. Looters, and their equally vile counterparts forgers, need at the minimum financial ruin.

In Africa, if poachers are carrying weapons, they are shot by the military protecting the wildlife. That should put things into perspective a bit.

HOWEVER, I do recognize that unprovenanced artifacts can still have serious worth. What needs to be done is to devalue the artifacts so that no money can be made from it, if possible, and to perform rigorous tests to verify authenticity.I would support a statement that nothing can be published until it has undergone the tests necessary for validation. Otherwise, we *are* encouraging these people to continue to loot, plunder, and forge to get make money off of stolen goods.

And with that, we really need to bear in mind that they are indeed stolen.

# posted by Chris Weimer : 11:14 PM
Israel Museum Expansion Moving Forward

April 20, 2006 (Architectual Record News)

Officials from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, an icon of Israeli architecture, and the country’s premier showcase of art, archaeology and Judaica, recently announced plans for a $50 million expansion. The project, which is being led by New York-based designer James Carpenter, will include four main elements: a covered entrance path, a new main entrance hall, reorganized and expanded galleries, and a new space for temporary exhibitions.

THE HAMAS WIN IN THE ELECTIONS is creating complications for Palestinian archaeologists:
Palestinian Archaeology Braces for a Storm
John Bohannon
(Science Magazine)

RAMALLAH--Six years ago, Hamdan Taha, director of the Palestinian Authority's Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, was struggling to make ends meet with a skeleton crew and a $500,000 budget (Science, 7 January 2000, p. 33). Then last December, his department got a windfall: The Palestinian Authority offered a $6 million budget boost. Much of the new money was to be for preservation, but some was tagged for the excavation of a freshly uncovered Bronze Age site called Tell Etell, a few kilometers outside Ramallah--the first archaeological project that would be fully Palestinian from start to finish.

But fortunes change fast here. After Hamas was elected to the Palestinian government in January, Israel ceased transferring customs payments. Last week, the European Union announced that it is suspending direct aid to the Palestinian territories. And the United States is asking international agencies to withhold contributions until Hamas recognizes Israel and renounces violence, although few agencies so far have joined the squeeze.

"This will bring terrible impacts on Palestinian archaeology," says Moain Sadeq, antiquities chief in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority may be forced to lay off guards at sites, which could exacerbate a serious looting problem. Some also fear that a Hamas-led government may refocus archaeological efforts on the region's Islamic roots, at the expense of earlier periods. ...
But the minister of tourism and antiquities for the PA says that the latter will not happen.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Jewish responses:

"Discovery of New Gospel Rekindles Interfaith Jitters," by Hillel Halkin (Jerusalem Post columnist):
Of course, since the text of the "Gospel According to Judas" has not yet been released by the National Geographic Society, we may yet be in for unpleasant surprises. This gospel, so the advance publicity has informed us, is, like a number of other noncanonical early Christian accounts of Jesus' life and death, a Gnostic document - and in its attitude toward Jews, Christian Gnosticism was on the whole even more hostile than mainstream Christianity. The fact that the "Gospel According to Judas" vindicates Judas does not necessarily mean that it will prove to be a vindication of the Jews or Judaism.

But never mind that.

An early, second-century C.E. exoneration of Judas Iscariot is sufficient unto itself. And although it obviously has great historical significance for scholars, such an exoneration will speak especially to those Jews (of whom I confess to be one) who have always felt both close to the figure of Jesus and unforgiving toward a Christian world that persecuted us viciously in his name. With such a Judas, one can identify.
"Judas, Reconsidered,", by Lawrence H. Schiffman, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies, New York University (The Jewish Week):
Despite its alleged kosher certification of Judas Iscariot, the Gospel of Judas is part of a literature that represents a sort of alternative anti-Judaism to that which developed in the era of the Church Fathers. Much has been made of the fact that this text describes Judas as having been particularly close to Jesus, who revealed to him esoteric teachings. However, the content of this revelation is a series of Gnostic teachings that are totally at odds with Christianity as we know it.


The Gospel of Judas discovery may lead some to read the New Testament in a way that further reduces its anti-Judaism � by interpreting Judas� role as part of what Christians see as the divine plan. If so, this text will have turned out to be �good for the Jews.� Texts such as the Gospel of Judas can help to remind us of alternative explanations and guide us towards greater understanding, but they cannot be taken as the basis for any kind of historical understanding of the first century.

Christian responses:

Catholic Santa Fe Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan as quoted in "N.M. Catholic archbishop: Judas text heretical, ‘not a real gospel'" (Catholic News Service):
Writing in the May issue of the monthly archdiocesan newspaper, People of God, Archbishop Sheehan said the National Geographic Society, which sponsored an English translation of the ancient text and put the manuscript on exhibit in early April "did a disservice to Christian people and has exploited this old manuscript for its own purposes."


"In the early church there were many writings such as the Gospel of Judas which were rejected as unworthy to be included in the Bible," Archbishop Sheehan wrote. "We believe that the early church fathers had the guidance of the Holy Spirit in determining which writings were truly authentic and inspired by God and which writings were not. Obviously the Gospel of Judas did not 'make the cut.'"
Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in a sermon, as reported in "Archbishop of Canterbury says Gospel isn't a cover-up for the powerful" (Ecclesia):
In his Easter Sunday sermon, delivered at Canterbury Cathedral, the spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans – himself a noted scholar – acknowledged that the discovery of the Coptic text of a ‘Gospel of Judas’ and the excitement generated by the publication of The Da Vinci Code might appeal to people's desire for exciting secrets.


“We have become so suspicious of the power of words … the first assumption we make is that we're faced with spin of some kind, with an agenda being forced on us. So that the modern response to the proclamation ‘Christ is Risen!’ is likely to be, ‘Ah, but you would say that, wouldn't you? Now what's the real agenda?’”

Said the Archbishop: “Anything that looks like the official version is automatically suspect. Someone is trying to stop you finding out what ‘really’ happened, because what really happened could upset or challenge the power of officialdom.”

The New Testament account doesn't fit this model he says: “It was written by people who, by writing what they did made themselves less powerful, not more. They were walking out into an unmapped territory, away from the safe places of political and religious influence … it was written by people who were still trying to find a language that would catch up with a reality bigger than they had expected.”
THE AKRON FRAGMENTS OF THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS, if that's what they are, were conserved and photographed in January and made a public appearance yesterday:
Akron's piece of Judas puzzle unveiled to world
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Evelyn Theiss
Plain Dealer Reporter

They are tiny brown pieces of papyrus with torn edges -- smaller than a playing card, almost woodlike in their appearance -- with lettering most people wouldn't recognize.

Some of these pieces were revealed to Northeast Ohioans today via television and Web images. The fragments were photographed in an Akron law office Wednesday morning.

The fragments are believed to be part of the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, unveiled last week by the National Geographic Society. The gospel purports to record conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot in the last week of their lives and indicates that Judas only betrayed Jesus at his request.

R. Scott Haley made the papyrus available. The Akron attorney has been appointed receiver over art dealer Bruce Ferrini's extensive inventory of religious artifacts and antiquities.

Haley is keeping them in a secure place until the question of who owns them is resolved: whether it is Ferrini or a Swiss art dealer and the Switzerland-based Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art.

There are more details from the Akron Beacon Journal in "Ancient documents, book once owned by da Vinci removed from Akron vault" and from the Canton Repository in "Lawyer tries to sell papyrus bits he says have ties to Judas". The National Geographic Society says that the fragments will have to be authenticated before the Society can take a position on what they are. I hope they aren't sold off to pay Mr. Ferrini's debts!
BAD NEWS AND GOOD NEWS FROM THE SITE OF BABYLON. The New York Times reports in "Babylon Awaits an Iraq Without Fighting." There's been lots of bad news for a long time and up to the present:
Mr. Hussein started in 1985 with a project that was part restoration, part new construction and all ego. He imported thousands of Sudanese laborers (Iraqi men were tied up with the Iran-Iraq war) to build an ancient-looking palace right on top of Nebuchadnezzar's original one. Yellow brick walls 40 feet high and stamped with Mr. Hussein's name replaced the stumpy mounds of biblical-age mud.

To be fair, Mr. Hussein did shore up Processional Way, a wide boulevard of ancient stones, and the Lion of Babylon, a black rock sculpture around 2,500 years old.

After the Persian Gulf war in 1991, he commissioned a modern palace, again over some ruins, done in the pyramidal style of a Sumerian ziggurat. He called it Saddam Hill. In 2003, he was about to begin construction on a cable car line stretching over Babylon when a certain invasion got in the way.

American marines stormed up the Euphrates River valley on their way to Baghdad and turned Saddam Hill into a base. Their graffiti is still scrawled on the walls, including, "Hi Vanessa. I love you. From Saddam's palace" and "Cruz chillen' in Saddam's spot."

But more serious than that, archaeologists said, was the use of heavy equipment, like helicopters and armored vehicles, which may have pulverized fragile ruins just below the surface.

Mr. George, who was Mr. Hussein's field director for Babylon in 1986, said he remembered once scraping a few inches beneath the topsoil and unearthing a "wonderful little plate."

"So just imagine what we have lost," he said.

Looters did not help, either. After the invasion, a locust-like swarm of thieves descended on Iraq and picked clean countless historical sites. (Iraq has more than 10,000 of them.)

Babylon was not as badly hit as others, but many of its prized artifacts disappeared from museums. By the summer of 2003, cuneiform tablets, among the oldest examples of writing, were being sold on e-Bay.

Ancient artifacts and even bones have also ended up in sandbags filled by soldiers who were defending the site, according to an investigation by the British Museum in 2004.

Elizabeth Stone, an archaeologist at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, who is helping to restore Babylon, said troops "took big scoops out of major ruins."

According to a recent BBC report, an American Marine colonel said he was willing to apologize for the damage caused by American troops, but added that the ruins would have been worse off if no troops were there to protect them. Americans are now staying out of the site and allowing Iraqis to guard it.
He's probably right, but it's hard to imagine how the securing of the site could have been handled in a more ham-fisted, damaging way.

But there's good news too and I hope it represents a turning point:
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is pumping millions of dollars into protecting and restoring Babylon and a handful of other ancient ruins in Iraq. Unesco has even printed up a snazzy brochure, with Babylon listed as the premier destination, to hand out to wealthy donors.
ROSEMARY RADFORD RUETHER has a Beliefnet essay on the feminine divine in Christianity and early Judaism:
God's Wisdom
What we're talking about when we talk about the feminine divine in Christianity

By Rosemary Radford Ruether

It has become a kind of dogma among many feminists interested in spirituality that Judaism and Christianity suppressed all female imagery of the divine. It is also assumed that it was women who created female symbols of the divine and that these symbols served to empower women. So, this line of thinking goes, female symbols for the divine were suppressed as a part of a patriarchal disempowerment of women. However, my own research, published in my book, "Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History" shows that all these relations are considerably more ambiguous.

Men, more so than women, probably shaped much of the classical images of the female divine in the ancient Mediterranean world and elsewhere. Such images served male and upper class interests, at least in their official expressions The feminine divine was seen as protecting men in power, probably because they were believed to be protecting men, like a great mother whose power is seen as nurturing rather than judgemental.

But in truth, female symbols of the divine were never entirely suppressed in Judaism or Christianity. Although they were marginalized, they continued to reappear in renewed forms--and are still with us today.

The root of female images of the divine in Christianity lie in what's known as the Wisdom tradition, which is found in the latter half of the Hebrew Bible ...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

THE CRADLE OF CHRISTIANITY EXHIBITION at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland is reviewed by Tom Freudenheim in The Forward:
Sowing the Seeds of Christianity
By Tom Freudenheim
April 21, 2006

You don't need to be a born-again Christian to understand the critical role played by the Holy Land in the development of Christianity. That's probably what the folks at Cleveland's new Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, which opened last October, are counting on by showing Cradle of Christianity, a major exhibition from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that opened early this month. Recent reports about the discovery of the Gospel of Judas and its potential meanings should make this show even timelier.

BRUCE FERRINI, most recently associated with Gospel of Judas fragments, is profiled by the Akron Beacon Journal. The piece is an archive story reprinted from last December, but I don't recall noticing it then.
Worn pages tell a tale
Millionaire art dealer Bruce Ferrini had it all: fame, fortune and respect. But tragedy struck the Bath resident, and his storybook life began to unravel

By Bob Dyer
Beacon Journal staff writer

Published: Sunday, December 11, 2005

Talk about a fall from grace.

November 2002: Kent State University announces largest gift in school's 92-year history -- $6.8 million, from Bath resident Bruce Ferrini.

April 2004: Ferrini arrested by U.S. marshals, charged with contempt of court.

September 2005: Ferrini files for bankruptcy protection.


Even a Hollywood producer wouldn't dare to pack this many cliched elements into one drama. We've got the hilltop mansion . . . precious relics . . . mysterious thefts . . . dramatic detective work . . . mistaken identity . . . a child prodigy . . . a fatal drug overdose . . . Scotland Yard . . . the Vatican . . . Sotheby's . . . Christie's . . . Interpol . . . the Dead Sea Scrolls . . . George Washington . . . and Leonardo da Vinci.

Michael van Rijn figures in the story too.

More on Bruce Ferrini here, here, and here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE -- University of Edinburgh postgraduate student Michael J. Leary has a new blog:
Because the New Testament is Becoming Cool Again.
He's been posting a lot of good stuff on the Gospel of Judas and related matters. Have a look.

UPDATE: Here are a few other recent blog posts on the Gospel of Judas. Craig Evans is interviewed by Danny Zacharias over at Deinde and he makes clear that, despite what the New York Times says, he does not think the Gospel of Judas has any historical basis in the first century. Chris Weimer posts on what may have happened to some of the texts found with the Gospel of Judas at Thoughts on Antiquity. (And Michael Leary, above, has lots more on this.) And Ed Cook over at Ralph takes on the New York Times with " Is the Gospel of Judas "Troubling"?" and takes issue with Christopher Hitchens in " Gnosticism and the Jews."
BLOGGING HAS BEEN LIGHT LATELY. Sorry about that. Since I got back I've been playing catch-up at work and there have been holiday distractions as well. It may be another week or two before things settle down. I still haven't had time to figure out what's wrong with the "blogger at paleojudaica dot com" address above. But meanwhile, if you need to reach me, write to my university address: "jrd4 at st-andrews dot ac dot uk".
SOME OF THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS REMAINS UNPUBLISHED and is in a bank vault in Akron, Ohio, according to the Akron Beacon Journal:
A sizable chunk of that manuscript -- 10 to 20 percent, by one estimate -- is right here.

How did it get here?

The short version is this: The manuscript was discovered in a cave in Egypt in the 1970s and wound its way through antiquities dealers in Europe and the United States before being purchased in 2000 by Bath Township resident Bruce Ferrini.

Ferrini is an internationally known art dealer who filed for bankruptcy last September. He bought the ancient book, known as a codex, for $2.5 million. But because of his failing finances, the deal fell through.

Ferrini was at least $4.6 million in debt last year, according to court filings, and creditors began to battle for his holdings. Akron attorney R. Scott Haley was appointed to catalog and assess Ferrini's possessions.

In 2001, when the sale fell apart, Ferrini supposedly returned the whole codex to its previous owner. But according to Haley and National Geographic, which photographed the Akron pieces in February, a significant portion of the gospel remained in Ferrini's possession.

Ferrini referred a phone call to Akron lawyer Morris Laatsch, who said Ferrini returned everything he was given by the previous owner, and questions whether the National Geographic experts are correct.

``There's more than one series of writings,'' Laatsch said. ``The Gnostics apparently wrote lots of things. Possibly this could be from this same document. But if the experts do say it is, I guess perhaps you can rely on them or not rely on them.''

Manuscript's location

The delicate fragments are inside a special vault at FirstMerit. Only the bank has the combination to an outer vault, and only Haley has the combination to an inner vault.
Rumors about this have been circulating, but this is the most detailed account I've seen so far.

Monday, April 17, 2006

JESUS LAUGHED. Guy G. Stroumsa has an article ("And the traitors will become heroes") in Haaretz on Gnosticism and the Gospel of Judas. It has some interesting ideas, notably about Jesus laughing in Gnostic tradition.
Jesus laughs

A striking characteristic of the new text is the fact that it depicts Jesus as laughing a lot. This is a laughter of superiority and scorn for the blindness of others - including his disciples, who do not understand the essence of things, nor the significance of their acts. This laughter is typical of the figure of the Gnostic Jesus, and is familiar to us from other Gnostic texts, especially those found toward the end of World War II at Nag Hammadi, south of Fayum. The Nag Hammadi "library" is comprised of approximately 50 Gnostic texts in 13 codices in the Coptic language (into which books had been translated from the original Greek). The texts had not been known beforehand.

The discovery at Nag Hammadi, which is similar in importance to the discovery of the scrolls at Qumran, allowed us to understand rather precisely the processes of the emergence of the Gnosis and the details of its extensive mythology. The new text, along with three other texts that were found in the same codex, is a significant addition to the Nag Hammadi discovery.

Jesus laughs at the sight of the stupidity of the "rulers" (Archons) - the angels of evil. These act under the command of the god Saklas (the Fool - related to the Hebrew word ksil), who is the God of Israel, the creator of our material and evil world. Saklas and his cohorts intend to crucify Jesus, but they succeed only in killing the material body, an empty shell that the spiritual redeemer succeeded in exiting before the calamity. Therefore Jesus laughs.

Parallel to Isaac

Some time ago I suggested the hypothesis that Jesus' laughter in the Gnostic texts hints at constructing the figure of Jesus as a parallel to the biblical Isaac (whose name comes from the Hebrew root for laughter), who is also saved at the last minute from an attempt to sacrifice him. The new text supports this hypothesis, both because of the centrality of laughter and because it includes a probing discussion of sacrifice in general, and human sacrifice in particular. The possibility of seeing Jesus as an avatar of Isaac hints that the first Gnostics were Jews, and that at the basis of their interpretation stood the difficulty of acknowledging that the messiah died (and in such a humiliating way). The new discovery helps us draw a more precise picture of the complex religious situation that existed at the inception of Christianity.
Indeed, Jesus never explicitly laughs in the canonical gospels, although he does "rejoice" (Luke 10:21) and he is laughed at once (Mark 5:40). But in the Gospel of Judas he laughs quite a bit, and also elsewhere in Gnostic texts, notably in the Gospel Apocalypse of Peter (NHC VII.3 81), where he laughs from the cross. I'm not sure what to make of all this, although I suppose it must mean something.

That said, I can't say I see anything in Isaac parallels that leads convincingly to a pre-Christian Jewish Gnosticism. I myself think that Gnosticism developed within Christianity.

UPDATE: My thanks to Richard Bauckham for the correction above (Apocalypse of Peter not Gospel. The Gospel of Peter is a different, non-Gnostic work.) Also, there are two Apocalypses of Peter, one (the one to which I was referring) survives in a Coptic manuscript from the Nag Hammadi Library and another survives in Greek (in part) and Ethiopic (complete).

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"People have had a sense for a long time that something is missing in Christianity but it has been very hard for them to put their finger on what that is," says [Richard] Smoley, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated religious scholar who lives in Massachusetts. "Some of the insights of the Gnostics are getting close to it."

So who were the Gnostics, and what did they believe?

Even that, says Smoley, is a tricky question. He defines them as a very diverse group of early Christians who flourished between the first and fourth centuries A.D. in mystical schools and largely vanished due to persecution by mainstream Christians. While the Gnostics also believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ, they parted ways with mainline Christians when it came to the spiritual status of everyday folks, focusing more on achieving inner-enlightenment (with meditation and secret rituals) than on connecting with an external God through the established church hierarchy.

"Gnosis in Greek means inner-knowing," explains David Tresemer, founder of Boulder's All-Season's Chalice, a local church which incorporates many Gnostic texts and teachings into its spiritual practice. "It means that the human being has the capacity for direct experience of spiritual reality without the intermediary. That is the whole key of Gnosticism."


Today, at Tresemer's 16-year-old nature-based, transdenominational church in the foothills west of Boulder, the congregation comes together for full moons, solstices and other celestial celebrations. They meditate, walk the labyrinth, dance, or sit in silence in pursuit of that often elusive "gnosis" or enlightenment long written about by Gnostic scholars.

It also offers workshops called "The Path of the Ceremonial Arts," for men and women.

Tresemer says he has seen the church grow in recent years, as people have longed for a more intimate experience with the divine.
"THE DOG ATE MY JESUS PAPERS" -- Nick Ochwar comes up with the best title so far for a review of Michael Baigent's new book.
MORE COPTIC GNOSTICA? This BYU panel discussion on The Gospel of Judas is not of great interest in itself, since it mostly covers well-trodden ground. But these comments by Professor S. Kent Brown merit highlighting:
When asked if the world should expect similar discoveries in the future, Brown said "yes." He said this gospel may be part of a larger cache that includes other documents.
"I actually had my hands on some of those, once," he added.
The texts he saw were being offered for sale and have yet to surface, he said. He believes the reason the documents haven't surfaced may be because they were obtained illegally. He's glad BYU didn't buy them, he said.
"That might have brought stain on the university," he said. "Right now the university enjoys wonderful relationships with authorities in Egypt."
And here we have the problem with looted antiquities. On the one hand we don't want to encourage the looters and the whole illegal-antiquities-trafficking infrastructure. On the other, we don't want to lose ancient manuscripts like the ones Brown seems to have seen, and sometimes these are found by accident and quite innocently. Whatever the solution in this case, it goes without saying that the Egyptian Government should be involved with it.
HAPPY EASTER to all those celebrating.