Saturday, July 29, 2006

THE CONTROVERSY OVER LAMSA'S TRANSLATION of the Aramaic Bible is covered by CBS11tv in "Aramaic-English Bible Translation Draws Criticism." What's that? You didn't know there was a controversy? Well, there isn't much of one, but I suppose it is nice to see the Syriac Peshitta get some air time. Maybe.

Rocco Errico seems to be saying that it's useful to look at the Peshitta because Jesus spoke Aramaic and it may give us some insights into idioms and such. There's some truth to this, but a little of it goes a long way. Syriac is a much later, Western Christian dialect and insights into Jesus' language and thought world are much more likely to come from the Hellenistic-Era Qumran Aramaic texts and Jewish Palestinian Aramaic inscriptions. But he seems also to be claiming that the Syriac Peshitta is actually the original Bible, which is simply wrong. It was translated from the Greek and Hebrew some centuries later in a process that is fairly well documented.

The article says that "most theologians agree that the apostles' native tongue was Aramaic, they still say they wrote the New Testament texts in Greek in order to communicate to the emerging Greco-Roman establishment" -- that is, Greek. Actually all philologists (which is what I think they meant, rather than theologians) think the New Testament was written in Greek. There is no controversy about this and anyone who thinks the Peshitta is the original New Testament is, I repeat, simply wrong.

The article spirals off into increasingly odd theological discussions that I'm not going to touch. But I did find this line amusing:
Research shows the Targums and Jewish Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds were written in Aramaic.
First, research on the Targums would show this pretty readily, since anyone who knows Aramaic would notice before long that it's the language they're written in. Second, the Talmuds have a lot of Aramaic in them, but they're largely written in Hebrew.

Lamsa's translation of the Peshitta (which you can access here) could be a useful crib for anyone who wants to read the Syriac Bible but whose Syriac is a little rusty. This might include biblical scholars and other philologists as well as Chaldean and Assyrian Christians. I know next to nothing about him, but the views ascribed to him in this George Lamsa Wikipedia article are crankish, rejected not by most, but by all specialists in Aramaic, and would not be taken seriously in professional journals and monographs.

UPDATE (30 July): Tyler Williams and Christian Brady have already commented on the story. I should have clarified re the first quote above, that it's widely agreed that (apart from Paul) it was the generation after the apostles, or in some cases later people, who wrote the New Testament.

Also reader Gabe Eisenstein writes to say that there's much more Aramaic than Hebrew in the Talmuds (Gemaras). I recall more Hebrew from my very limited work with the Babylonian Talmud, but it's not my area of expertise and I shouldn't have generalized. In any case, "research shows" that there's lots of Aramaic in the Talmuds, but some Hebrew too.
THE PSALM 83 THAT WASN'T: Art Daily describes how the mistake about the bog Psalter came about and includes the original press release. It's ironic that this time, when journalists went to the effort to look up a biblical reference in a press release, it led to this huge mixup.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Sploid furthers the mixup by misunderstanding that the psalm visible in the bog codex was the English Bible's Psalm 82 (it was actually Psalm 84) and drawing some rather creative conclusions about gods from outer space.

Friday, July 28, 2006

UPDATES: I've updated posts from the last week on the Bog Psalms Kerfuffle (with corrections), the Temple Scroll, and Magic Mushrooms.
SOME IRANIAN-AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS are cooperating with both Justice Department "actors" and the Iranian Government to prevent the sale of those Iranian cuneiform tablets as compensation for terrorism:
NIAC and IABA Join Forces to Protect Ancient Persian Article

By Shervin Boloorian, National Iranian American Council (Payvand)

Washington DC, July 27, 2006 - The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) are joining forces to protect priceless Persian artifacts from being sold for private profit. The artifacts excavated from Persepolis are under threat of being seized by a legal defense team and auctioned off as compensation for a 1997 terror bombing attack in Israel.

Already having spurred a grassroots effort to persuade US Department of Justice actors to assist the University of Chicago, NIAC is now working with IABA and other Iranian-American organizations to pursue additional and complimentary avenues to prevent the ancient relics from being auctioned

The Iranian government's recent decision to appear in court has opened up opportunities for outside parties to play a role in protecting the artifacts. Since the Iranian government is being sued, only the government in Tehran itself has standing to represent itself. At a lower level court, the University of Chicago's efforts to retain the clay tablets was rejected for this precise reason.

The case is to be heard on 21 August.
DAVID AND SOLOMON: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, is reviewed in the Cleveland Jewish News.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

MUCH SUPERSTITIOUS KERFLUFFLE has arisen over the Latin Psalm codex discovered in an Irish bog, which was found open to Psalm 83 -- a psalm that condemns the efforts of the nations to wipe out Israel. WorldNetDaily has a roundup, if such things interest you. The problem with this sort of divination is that people only notice the apparently significant coincidences. The "'Judas went out and hanged himself' - 'Go thou and do likewise'" variety, which don't work, go unremarked, as do the countless cases where no coincidence happens. Just in the few years I have been running PaleoJudaica I've reported on numerous biblical and Bible-related manuscript discoveries. No one got excited about the eschatological significance of, for example, the recently discovered Leviticus fragments, although I'm sure someone could have if they'd worked at it.

Incidentally, a recent article in Al Ahram mentioned the ancient Coptic Psalter in the renovated Coptic Museum and noted that it contained psalms by Asaph (Essaf), one of which is, of course, Psalm 83. Coincidence? Do you really think so?

UPDATE (28 July): Joshua Waxman e-mails:
According to a recent Reuters story, they used a different numbering of Psalms, and it is really Psalm 84, about the vale of tears, not Psalm 83.
Ah, so it was Psalm 83 according to the numbering of the Vulgate. Alas, Psalm 84 isn't even a psalm of Asaph. It will be interesting to see if WND posts a correction.

It sounds as though someone at least looked up the reference in the Bible to write the article and I give them points for that.
Also, the word is kerfuffle, not kerfluffle.
So it is. I stand corrected. For more information on the word, which is Scots, see here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

THERE ARE UPDATES ON THE STATUS OF ISRAELI DIGS by Amnon Ben-Tor, Eric Cline, David Ilan, and Ilan Sharon on the Biblical Archaeology Society website.
THE TEL DAN EXCAVATION has been ended early this season:
Rhodes archaeologist returns after working near war zone

By Zack McMillin
July 26, 2006
It was when the Israeli army patrols began asking them to leave that Rhodes College archaeology professor Ryan Byrne and his colleagues finally decided they should abandon their excavation site in Golan, near the border between Israel and Lebanon.

The previous two days, Hezbollah rockets and Israeli artillery had provided the soundtrack accompanying their work at Tel Dan, where excavations provide a constant reminder of the violence and cultural and religious conflicts that have defined the area for millenia [sic].

Ireland worker finds ancient psalms in bog

Associated Press Writer

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) -- Irish archaeologists Tuesday heralded the discovery of an ancient book of psalms by a construction worker who spotted something while driving the shovel of his backhoe into a bog.

The approximately 20-page book has been dated to the years 800-1000. Trinity College manuscripts expert Bernard Meehan said it was the first discovery of an Irish early medieval document in two centuries.


The book was found open to a page describing, in Latin script, Psalm 83, in which God hears complaints of other nations' attempts to wipe out the name of Israel.

[Pat] Wallace[, director of the National Museum of Ireland] said several experts spent Tuesday analyzing only that page - the number of letters on each line, lines on each page, size of page - and the book's binding and cover, which he described as "leather velum, very thick wallet in appearance."

The article has a photo as well, although there's no readable text on it.

(Heads up, Ian Werrett.)

UPDATE: This Reuters article makes the inevitable comparison:
"In discovery terms, this Irish equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls is being hailed by the museum's experts as the greatest find ever from a European bog," the museum said in a statement.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in the mid 20th century, are considered to be of enormous religious and historical significance since they include some of the earliest known surviving biblical documents.

The Irish discovery, recovered from bogland last Thursday, comprises extensive fragments of what is thought to be an Irish Early Christian Psalter, written on vellum, a fine animal skin parchment.
This article also has a much better photograph, in which letters in some of the lines can be made out:

UPDATE (6 August): more here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

HANNIBAL THE ANIMATED -- Some interesting news about Vin Diesel's Hannibal project:
Diesel in deal for "Hannibal" cartoon at BET

By Kimberly Nordyke Mon Jul 24, 1:52 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -
Vin Diesel will take on the Roman Empire in a new BET Networks cartoon series about military leader Hannibal.

Diesel will voice the noted general, and his One Race Prods. company is producing the show, titled "Hannibal the Conqueror."

The half-hour series will span the life of Hannibal, from his tutelage as a warrior under his father, Hamilcar Barca, to his scaling of the Alps with an army of elephants, and his invasion of Italy.

Presumably the cartoon will be in English rather than Punic. But don't worry, the Hannibal movie is still going forward as well.

(Via Cinematical.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

DEAD SEA DISCOVERIES has published a new issue (13.2, 2006). Table of contents:

A Note on Isaac as First-born in Jubilees and Only Son in 4Q225
pp. 127-133(7)
Author: Halpern-Amaru, Betsy

The Origin of the List of David's Songs in "David's Compositions"
pp. 134-149(16)
Author: Noam, Vered

Physiognomic Knowledge in Qumran and Babylonia: Form, Interdisciplinarity, and Secrecy
pp. 150-176(27)
Authors: Popović, Mladen

The Poetry of 4Q416 2 III 15-19
pp. 177-193(17)
Author: Reymond, Eric D.

The Qumran Cemetery: 150 Years of Research
pp. 194-228(35)
Author: Schultz, Brian

Epochs and End-Time: The 490-Year Scheme In Second Temple Literature
pp. 229-255(27)
Author: Werman, Cana

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
pp. 256-270(15)
Links to the individual articles can be found on the page linked to above. The articles require a paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
A DIFFERENT PART OF THE TEMPLE SCROLL will be on display in the Cradle of Christianity exhibition at the Maltz Museum in Cleveland, according to Art Daily:
New Dead Sea Scroll Going to Maltz Museum

BEACHWOOD, OH.- One of the most well-preserved fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls ever discovered will be on view at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage beginning Aug. 1, 2006. This fragment will replace the portion of the Temple Scroll (Cols. 19-21) currently displayed in the Museum’s world premiere exhibition, Cradle of Christianity: Treasures from the Holy Land.


The new fragment is part of the Temple Scroll, one of the most historically important of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It contains four columns (Cols. 41-44) dealing with different topics related to architectural aspects of the ideal Temple, as well as ritual details.

That's the first I've heard that sections of the Temple Scroll were being displayed on their own, and I wonder if this is accurate. I know that even the relatively complete scrolls have sections that have broken loose, but I would have thought the authorities would want to keep the whole thing together nevertheless. But I am not a conservator.

UPDATE (28 July): Eibert Tigchelaar e-mails:
Another part of the Temple Scroll was exhibited in Berlin in May 2005. "Der in Berlin ausgestellte Text - das Endstück der insgesamt acht Meter langen Rolle - enthält auf Hebräisch Informationen zu Fragen des Tempels."
Of course, the scroll has not been one scroll ever since it was opened.

Another scroll of which sections have been displayed are the cave 11 Psalms Scroll (the stitching deteriorated very soon after the opening, so that only the separate sheets remained), and part of it has been exhibited e.g. in the 1993 Washington exhibit.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

THE GILGAMESH RESTAURANT LOUNGE is reviewed in the Sunday Times by A. A. Gill. He ate there with Jeremy Clarkson. British readers will immediately grasp the epic cultural significance of this event. It is hard to explain to others. Clarkson is known for his television shows about fast cars, his politically incorrect Sunday Times column (e.g., here), and for generally being politically incorrect in a loutish but boyishly endearing way. As Gill notes, he would make a fair Enkidu. Gill is an acerbic television and restaurant critic who has a gift for finding just the right nouns and verbs to describe bad food. He's too metrosexual to make a proper Gilgamesh, but when the two get together, the comparison almost works -- at least as a parody.

He gives the Gilgamesh three stars (of five), which is an okay rating for Gill. His description of the restaurant deserves to be quoted. After an account of how Camden Market has changed from the time when it used to consist of three hippies, he tell us:
It’s astonishing. You get in up an escalator. The main dining room is huge, and must seat up to 300 people. It has a retractable glass ceiling, three storeys high, and decoration that makes Cecil B DeMille look like St Francis of Assisi. The Babylonian theme has been extravagantly extemporised. Every surface is covered in bas-relief and woodcarvings taken from the great collection in the British Museum. These aren’t copies, they’re proper Bollywood pastiches, handmade in India.

Triumphal Babylonians peer down at you with a severe mien. Ancient Babylon didn’t have much of a sense of levity or tomfoolery. The cuneiform joke book was a very short tablet: “So, there was this Sumerian, this Assyrian and a Jew...” By way of light relief are the long pietra dura bar, made in the style of the Italian Renaissance, and some Chinese dragons nesting under the eves. To add to the theatrical effect, the lighting changes in a slow disco spectrum, bathing you in blue, green and red to match the music, which is part sword-and-sandals epic soundtrack and part sing-along pop classic.

The customers are a mixture of taxi drivers with their mistresses, Essex tanning-parlour magnates with both their mistresses, media workers with their boyfriends and a lot of girls who appear to be in search of a footballer. Some of the waiting staff wear curly radio earphones. Whether these are a simple style affectation or channel ancient voices, I don’t know. It doesn’t make them any more efficient.

The mise en scène is incongruously, but grandly, finished off with a coup de théâtre. The sports-dome ceiling opens onto the goods track to King’s Cross. Every five minutes, locos pulling containers of Korean gearboxes and German nail-polish remover emit ferrous screams 20ft from your table. The effect is stupefying.
And the food? I won't quote the whole section, but here are a couple of excerpts:
... Despite the cacophony of the room, the number of covers and the distraction of so many Wag wannabes, the food is actually very good: well made, with clear flavours, imaginative combinations and attractive presentation. If you feel you’ve eaten a lot of it before, that’s because it is becoming London’s regional cuisine.


So, to recap: there’s this Babylonian restaurant, decorated from India, serving Japanese-Chinese food, cooked by a Welshman, for Londoners from every corner of the world. It’s culturally incoherent. But before you sneer, it’s not socially so. This is what the melting pot looks like. And it’s certainly an improvement on three hippies.
Also, it's expensive (£200 for three people). But, again, this is fairly positive as Gill reviews go and means he liked it pretty well.
THE CASBAH used to be a Punic trading port, according to the New York Times:
The Crumbling of the Casbah

Published: July 23, 2006


IT has stood for centuries, a slope of gleaming white houses climbing in steps from the sea like a construction of sugar cubes. It gave this Mediterranean port the nickname la Blanche, the white one. But despite the romance surrounding the old quarter, known as the Casbah and once home to pirates and freedom fighters, it is literally imploding from neglect.

Unesco has declared it a World Heritage site, and the Algerian government has designated it a protected landmark, to no avail. Closed in on itself, symbolizing the local population’s long isolation from French colonial rulers — and more recently, radical Islam’s retreat from modernity — this seemingly impenetrable agglomeration of houses is falling down.


Historic preservation is a luxury for steady times, and Algeria is still feeling its way toward the future from a dark and turbulent past. It has only just righted itself from a decade of fundamentalist Islamic violence. The nation’s focus is now on economic development. But tourism, the great engine of preservation in so many cities, is low on the list of Algeria’s concerns. Algeria doesn’t really need tourists. It has oil. Casbahs, from the Arabic for “fortified place,” exist across North Africa, and many have been beautifully restored. In Algiers the word once referred only to the citadel built above the old city, but it came to mean the old city itself. When people speak of the Casbah, they are referring uniquely to this crowded hillside between the fortress and the sea.

A Phoenician trading post called Ikosim occupied the point of land as early as the sixth century B.C. The Romans arrived 500 years later, and the arc of an amphitheater can still be traced in the walls of the buildings in the lower Casbah.

I didn't know about the Phoenician (Punic) connection, but I suppose it makes sense.
Mushrooms induce mystical experiences
Subjects report direct experience of `beyond'
Psilocybin not `God in a pill,' scientists say

Jul. 22, 2006. 01:00 AM (Toronto Star)

A recent Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study suggests "sacred mushrooms" can provide a religious experience that makes one see the world from a different, more positive perspective.

The study tested psilocybin, the active agent in so-called "sacred mushrooms," to determine whether it could induce "mystical experiences" in a group of 36 adults with religious backgrounds.

The answer, the study says, is an emphatic yes.

Interesting, although the article does not define "mystical experiences" very clearly.

UPDATE (28 July): Reader Roberto Labanti e-mails to note that the Psychopharmacology article is currently available for free pre-print download here. This is the abstract:
Rationale Although psilocybin has been used for centuries for religious purposes, little is known scientifically about its acute and persisting effects.
Objectives This double-blind study evaluated the acute and longer-term psychological effects of a high dose of psilocybin relative to a comparison compound administered under comfortable, supportive conditions.
Materials and methods The participants were hallucinogen-naïve adults reporting regular participation in religious or spiritual activities. Two or three sessions were conducted at 2-month intervals. Thirty volunteers received orally administered psilocybin (30 mg/70 kg) and methylphenidate hydrochloride (40 mg/70 kg) in counterbalanced order. To obscure the study design, six additional volunteers received methylphenidate in the first two sessions and unblinded psilocybin in a third session. The 8-h sessions were conducted individually. Volunteers were encouraged to close their eyes and direct their attention inward. Study monitors rated volunteers’ behavior during sessions. Volunteers completed questionnaires assessing drug effects and mystical experience immediately after and 2 months after sessions. Community observers rated changes in the volunteer’s attitudes and behavior.
Results Psilocybin produced a range of acute perceptual changes, subjective experiences, and labile moods including anxiety. Psilocybin also increased measures of mystical experience. At 2 months, the volunteers rated the psilocybin experience as having substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance and attributed to the experience sustained positive changes in attitudes and behavior consistent with changes rated by community observers.
Conclusions When administered under supportive conditions, psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences. The ability to occasion such experiences prospectively will allow rigorous scientific investigations of their causes and consequences.
Electronic Supplementary Material Supplementary material is available for this article at and is accessible for authorized users.
MORE ON THE CONCERNS of the AIA and ASOR about the current conflict in the Middle East, reprinted at the Combined Jewish Philantropies website:
Biblical Sites May Be Hurt, Experts Worry

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

American archaeologists warned Friday that fierce fighting in Lebanon and northern Israel could damage or destroy the region's rich archaeological heritage --- threatening sites from biblical, Roman, Crusader and Byzantine times.

The heads of the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Schools for Oriental Research called on all parties in the conflict to "avoid targeting" cultural sites and do everything possible to minimize any damage to antiquities.

"This region embodied much of the early history of the three great religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam," said AIA President Jane Waldbaum. "With people lobbing missiles and bombs all over the place, the risk of damage could be very serious."

Waldbaum said the institute had unconfirmed reports of damage at Baalbek, the spectacular site of pre-Roman and Roman ruins in the Bekaa Valley about 50 miles northeast of Beirut.