Saturday, October 28, 2006

"THERE WERE ERRORS." Some sort of Blogger glitch kept me from posting today until just now. The posts showed up on my dashboard, but I kept getting this message when I tried to published them and they refused to appear on the blog. Blogger has been having a lot of technical trouble this week (and, to give them credit, they've apologized profusely on the Blogger blog). Sorry for the delay.
THE BIBLE BEFORE THE YEAR 1000 EXHIBITION was reviewed last week by the Washington Post:
A Testament To Change: Early Scraps Of the Bible
Rare Fragments Show Evolution of Scripture

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 21, 2006; Page C01

If 40 percent of Americans refuse to believe that humans evolved from earlier hominids, how many will accept that the book we know as the Bible evolved from earlier texts and was not handed down, in toto, by God in its present form?

The fossil evidence for human evolution is permanently on display at the American Museum of Natural History. Hard evidence that the Bible took its present shape over centuries will be on display for the next 11 weeks, from today through Jan. 7, across the Mall at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

They are rarer than dinosaur bones, these fragments of papyrus and animal skin that tell the Bible's story. With names such as Codex Sinaiticus, the Macregol Gospels and the Valenciennes Apocalypse, they evoke lost empires and ancient monasteries as surely as archaeopteryx and ceratosaurus conjure up primeval swamps and forests.

The Sackler's exhibition, "In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000," is one of the broadest assemblages of this material ever brought together in one place. "It has not happened before, and we will not see its like again in our lives," said guest curator Michelle P. Brown, professor of medieval manuscript studies at the University of London.

These are documents with the proven power to shake faith. That's what happened to Bart D. Ehrman, author of the 2005 bestseller "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why."

Ehrman's story is interesting, but I don't think that textual criticism has that much effect on most people's faith when they become aware of it.
A NEW JESUS MOVIE has just come out, in which Jesus is black:
New Jesus film puts race into religion
POSTED: 8:01 a.m. EDT, October 27, 2006
By Simon Hooper for CNN

(CNN) -- The life of Jesus has always provided controversial subject matter for filmmakers.

From Monty Python's irreverent "The Life of Brian" to Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," which depicted a sex scene between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Hollywood's often iconoclastic interpretations of the gospel story have rarely failed to stir up religious fury.

Earlier this year Mel Gibson's bloody account of the final hours of Jesus, "The Passion of the Christ," was named the most controversial Hollywood movie of all time by U.S. magazine "Entertainment Weekly."

Appearing at No. 13 on the same list was the movie adaptation of Dan Brown's blockbuster, "The Da Vinci Code."

But a new film covering the last two days of Jesus' life is aiming to stir up a new debate about popular representations of Christ by depicting him as black. Furthermore, the film suggests that the persecution suffered by Jesus may have been racially motivated.


Friday, October 27, 2006

GHOST STORIES and the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Tess Gerritsen, author of the novel The Mephisto Club (Ballantine Books):

"It all starts with `the chill.' While reading the news, or listening in on a conversation, I'll hear something that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and I know this will be my next plot.

"Reports of a corpse who woke up in the morgue inspired my novel Vanish. Ancient accounts of demons described in the Dead Sea Scrolls launched The Mephisto Club. Both books started with `the chill.'
He said what?

The mystery over what actor James Caviezel says in Aramaic at the end of an ad opposing Missouri Amendment 2 on stem cells has an answer. Some scholars say Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” says, “You betray the Son of God with a kiss.”

Jaci Winship of Missourians Against Human Cloning confirmed that: “The point is, Amendment 2 is a betrayal.”

One wag joked that Caviezel was saying, “I’m Jesus, and I approved this message.”

The ad, which features baseball players Mike Sweeney and Jeff Suppan, was to air for the first time in the World Series on Thursday night.
Did anyone out there who knows Aramaic see this ad? I can't find it on YouTube (let me know if you can) but here's the scene from The Passion of the Christ in which Caviezel says the words in question.

UPDATE: Joe Cathey e-mails to point to the Caviezel ad here. The beginning of the ad seems to be cut off and the first Aramaic word is missing: he says (in Aramaic) "- the Son of Man with a kiss."
SPEAKING OF INDIANA JONES, his (unsuccessful) tenure review can be read here.

(Heads-up, Chuck Jones.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

At age 64, Ford says he's still fit to play Indy
Oct. 24, 2006. 01:00 AM (AP)

ROME-Harrison Ford says he feels "fit to continue" to play Indiana Jones, despite growing older.

Not much in the way of detail in that article, but someone named Mark Harrison publishes some rumors in the Alabama Times-Journal::
Ford has said the fourth movie will be set in slightly more recent times, to reflect a proper degree of aging for the characters. It will be interesting to see is how well the concept itself has aged, and whether audiences can still feel quite so detached from the concept of pure evil in a post 9-11 world. Suddenly, the concept of evildoers trying to get their hands on weapons of great power seems a little less like fantasy.
We'll see.

By the way, it's "Ark," not "Arc."
THE DEMISE OF SECRET MARK is described by Bruce Chilton in "Unmasking a False Gospel" in the New York Sun. Excerpt:
A recent book by Stephen C. Carlson shows us how the basics of scholarship were eclipsed by sensationalism on the left, compounded by willful dismissal on the right, and why "Secret Mark" needs to be seen as a fraud. In "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark" (Baylor University Press, 151 pages, $24.95), Mr. Carlson, a lawyer, argues his case as if in a civil proceeding, meeting the test of proof by preponderance of evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. He has mastered his brief impressively, and although in my view he does not quite prove that Smith was a forger, he does demonstrate - within the limits of certainty that incomplete evidence involves - that "Secret Mark" is someone's forgery, and that Smith, who died in 1991, was the likely culprit.
He'a also pretty hard on modern "neo-Gnostics":
Publicity and naïveté have encouraged the rise of a form of neo-Gnosticism, a fashion greatly encouraged by recent discoveries and alleged discoveries. In embracing these ancient sources, the neo-Gnostics are unlike their ancient counterparts. They want to embrace the earth, not subjugate it; they don't wish to be elitist. Above all, they want to insist on the gender-equality of women with men. You need to cherry-pick Gnostic sources, and ignore a great deal of what they say, to make that picture work as an account of the Nag Hammadi library. Neo-Gnostics do just that, and falsify history. Many ancient Gnostics were openly anti-Semitic, taught that the physical world was the hopelessly corrupt product of a false god, and insisted that only the predestined elect could know the divine truth. These are persistent tendencies, rather than a set of precise ideas that all Gnostics repeated, but they are facts that can't be denied.
One can make the same sort of criticisms of a lot of religions, and I'd rather see them improve on Nag Hammadi Gnosticism than the alternative. But that's just me. The final paragraph has some searching criticism of scholars:
No literature has suffered more from this problem than that of the second century of Christianity. In the case of "the Secret Gospel," a modern researcher ( Morton Smith himself, or someone whose forgery duped Smith) has made up a Gnostic document up in the attempt to manipulate scholarly discussion and public perception. The fact that this attempt succeeded for so long stands as an indictment of American scholarship, which prides itself on skepticism in regard to the canonical Gospels, but then turns credulous, and even neo-Gnostic, when non-canonical texts are concerned.
UPDATE (27 October): To clarify, regarding the neo-Gnostics: Many, perhaps most, religions can be accused of misconstruing and selectively reading their own scriptures to suit later agendas. Some go as far as falsifying history (for example, Christian fundamentalist creationists and Muslims who deny that a Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). If people today want to be Gnostics (and it's not for me to tell them whether they should be or shouldn't), I would rather they be Gnostics who support women's rights and the prudent use of the earth's resources and who aren't anti-Semitic. If any of that is untrue to ancient Gnostic scriptures or doctrines, so be it. (But if they want to claim that these are the actual values of ancient Gnostics, I will, as usual, call them on any historical inaccuracies.)

UPDATE: Loren Rosson takes a somewhat different view over at The Busybody. And (via a comment by Stephen Carlson in the same post) a neo-Gnostic responds to Chilton here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More from Loren here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

UPDATES: I've added updates to posts on the 23rd and 24th. I'm busy with work and family things today, so that may be all for today.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

PRADA "THUNDER PERFECT MIND" -- Now you can see the video on YouTube.
GOLB AND THE SCROLLS -- Various people have been sending me this article from the Chicago Tribune (requires free registration to access):
U. of C. professor may be right after all
Chicago scholar's long-discredited theory on Dead Sea Scrolls finds support in new archeological dig

By Ron Grossman
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 22, 2006

The Dead Sea Scrolls have provoked endless controversies since the ancient manuscripts, hidden away in the age of Jesus, were recovered in an obscure corner of the Holy Land in the late 1940s.

But one thing scholars have agreed upon: Norman Golb is wrong.

Golb, a feisty University of Chicago professor, has long argued that the scrolls are a sort of library of writings by different Jewish sects hidden near a site known as Qumran to protect the texts from Roman invaders.

Most scholars, meanwhile, have insisted that the scrolls are the work of a tiny sect that wrote them in a monastery at Qumran.

"In 40 years, about the only one Golb has been able to convince is himself," said Eugene Ulrich a University of Notre Dame professor and eminent scrolls scholar.

But a new archeological dig has produced evidence that puts a spotlight on Golb's long discredited theories and suggests new ideas about the missing link between Judaism and its offshoot, Christianity.

"A lot of people said he was wrong," said Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, "But Norman had one small piece of the puzzle all along."


Now, comes independent verification of Golb's hunch. As noted in Biblical Archaeology Review, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg concluded that the site wasn't a monastery and had nothing to do with the Essenes. It began as a fortress--just as Golb said--when the Jews had an independent kingdom. When the Romans afterward took over Palestine, it housed a pottery factory.

"Whosoever severs the link between the site, its Essene community and the scrolls found in the caves, of necessity also undermines all previous ideas about the nature and provenance of the scrolls," Magen and Peleg wrote.

I've always found Golb's ideas interesting and worth thinking about (see, e.g., here and here). And it does seem plausible to me that numerous small libraries from around Judea were consolidated during the Judean revolt with whaterver library was at Qumran. But the contents are uniformly sectarian or at least unobjectionable to sectarian sensibilities (with vanishingly few, if any, exceptions), so I think the collections of scrolls that were brought to Qumran came from sectarians living outside it.

Until recently, everyone seemed to agree that Golb was wrong about Qumran being a fortress, on the grounds that the water system is inadequately defended. But this has been challenged now for some time (see this post from 2004). For more on the theory of Magen and Peleg, see here. And Golb's theory has already received attention in relation to the new excavations.

UPDATE (25 October): David Stacey e-mails:
Jim, In today's blog you flag up an old internet article of mine. That was written before I'd had a chance to study de Vaux's field notes which are not in C.U. library. When interlibrary loans eventually produced a copy I realised that there was a fundamental error in his interpretation of the archaeology of the aqueducts, an error that has been reproduced without question subsequently. (The 'main' aqueduct together with the so-called 'main building' could not have been built before the time of Herod). An article has been accepted for publication in DSD but will not get to the head of the queue before the end of next year. A shortened version without plans or photos can be accessed at [this link (word file)].

Monday, October 23, 2006

COPTIC is still a living language. Barely.
Coptic language’s last survivors

By Joseph Mayton (Daily Star, Egypt)
First Published: December 10, 2005

CAIRO: Considered an extinct language, the Coptic language is believed to exist only in the liturgical language of the Coptic Church in Egypt. The ancient language that lost in prominence thanks largely to the Arab incursion into Egypt over 1300 years ago remains the spoken language of the church and only two families in Egypt.


Mona Zaki is one of only a handful of people that continue to use the language in everyday conversation. She speaks a colloquial form of Coptic with her parents and a few relatives that dates back 2,000 years.

“In many ways it helps strengthen my faith,” Zaki said. “It has really helped when I go to church because they still use a form of Coptic for many services.” Her dialect, however, differs slightly from the standard Coptic that is used for study and church services.

She does not speak Coptic with her children.

“I felt that Coptic was a worthless language to have my children speak, therefore I did not do so when they were young,” said Zaki.


“My parents felt it was an important part of our heritage and spoke to me in Coptic since I can remember,”

Zaki revealed. “Why I didn’t pass on the language to my children, I don’t know.” Zaki says that she often receives strange looks when she is overheard speaking Coptic on her mobile phone. “People look at me as if I am an alien and I don’t belong. I guess that is what my ancestors had to deal with,although violently in some instances,” she said,which is the main reason that Zaki chose not to speak Coptic with her children.

“I didn’t want my kids to have to experience the exclusion that Coptic had with me when I was younger,” she revealed. “I can remember my friends making fun of me when I talked to my parents

That's a pity.

(Via the Agade list.)

UPDATE (25 October): Daniel Foster e-mails to note this post on the Logos Bible Software Blog.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

THE SITE OF HATRA IN IRAQ seems to be pretty well secured, unlike most of the major archaeological sites there. The News Tribune has a profile, which is reprinted by AINA.
Along the Silk Road, troops find hope

SEAN COCKERHAM; The News Tribune

Published: October 18th, 2006 01:00 AM

HATRA, IRAQ – Remains of the giant columns, temples and fortifications of the 2,600-year-old city of Hatra tower over the Iraqi desert.

This was a major city along the Silk Road. Hatra sent caravans of traders throughout the Middle East with spices, woodwork and gems. It was a tolerant center of diverse religions that twice repulsed Roman invaders.

Now the 1st Battalion of the 37th Field Artillery Regiment from Fort Lewis does daily combat patrols in the area, and religious tolerance is hard to come by. Just a month ago, a suicide car bomber killed several people in the neighboring settlement of al-Hatra.

But the U.S. soldiers draw inspiration from the beautiful ruins, hoping someday they can be a world-renowned center of tourism.


Academics say the Hatra site, 68 miles southwest of Mosul, is arguably the most spectacular archaeological site in Iraq. It is one of two places in this country to be designated by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. The other is the city of Ashur, the capital of ancient Assyria.

Hatra, mostly built of limestone and gypsum, blends Greek, Roman and Arab architecture. Remains of public baths, statues and defensive towers give a feel for its former grandeur.

It’s not known how much more remains underground. About 70 percent of the ancient city’s 750 acres have not yet been excavated.

Staff Sgt. Adam Armstrong, a 30-year-old who lives in Puyallup, had his re-enlistment ceremony at Hatra. The inscriptions within the ruins are mostly in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ.

“I’m a Christian and this is over 2,000 years old,” Armstrong said. “Knowing Christ possibly could have walked on these grounds is phenomenal.”

Hollywood took note of the ruins in the early 1970s. Hatra is featured in the opening scene of “The Exorcist” as the site where a priest discovers a relic foreshadowing that he will soon be facing evil.

The ruins also are a testament to Saddam Hussein’s staggering ego. Saddam ordered that the bricks used in renovating the historic site in the 1990s had to be carved with his initials.

The new era of violence in Iraq has impacted the ruins. A U.N. archeological team investigated the site and found looters damaged two features after the U.S. invasion in 2003. The archeologists also complained the U.S. was threatening the stability of the buildings through the destruction of stockpiles from a nearby Iraqi ammo dump.

“These delicate and sensitive remains are vulnerable to permanent and irreparable damage owing to the detonation of recovered ordnance nearby,” Jane Waldbaum, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, wrote the U.S. government in 2004.

The blasts were reduced, and the U.S. and Iraqi forces now have secured relative calm in this area, although insurgents operate not far away.

Archaeologists still find Hatra too dangerous for excavations, and few visitors come to the site.

Hatra was a major Aramaic-speaking polytheistic religious center into late antiquity.

Meanwhile, today, Aramaic-speaking Christians in Iraq are fleeing the country in droves because of Islamist persecution.