Saturday, March 31, 2007

JAMES KUGEL notes that in the Bible God is not omniscient or omnipresent:
Envisioning a God with a body

The all-knowing, invisible God, we think of today isn't present in early chapters of the Bible, Jewish scholar James Kugel (right) says. Instead, those texts describe a walking, talking deity who travels from place to place

MIRKO PETRICEVIC (Waterloo Record)

(Mar 31, 2007)

Contrary to popular opinion, God in the earliest books of the Bible didn't know all things.

Nor did He exist everywhere, all at once, James Kugel says.

Instead, the God of Israel was a walking, talking deity who needed to seek clarification from time to time, the world-renowned Jewish scholar observed during a recent public lecture at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo.

God also experiments and sometimes gets it wrong and has to initiate damage control (e.g., Genesis 6), and he sometimes has to be talked out of rash decisions (e.g., Exodus 32).
ANNE RICE'S JESUS NOVEL is being made into a movie in Israel according to this press release:
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt' to Shoot in Israel This October

LOS ANGELES, March 30 /PRNewswire/ -- CHRIST THE LORD: OUT OF EGYPT, the motion picture based on Anne Rice's best-selling novel about Christ's early years, will begin shooting in Israel this October. Good News Holdings' decision to make the film in Israel has the full support of the Israeli government and casting has begun in Israel to find the boy who will play Jesus at the age of 7. A theatrical release is planned for Fall 2008.


Friday, March 30, 2007

First Temple wall found in City of David
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A wall from the First Temple was recently uncovered in Jerusalem's City of David, strengthening the claim that it is the site of the palace of King David.

The new find, made by Dr. Eilat Mazar, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center's Institute for the Archeology of the Jewish People, comes less than two years after she said she had discovered the palace's location at the site just outside the walls of the Old City.

The monumental 10th century BCE building found by Mazar in 2005 following a six month dig has ignited debate among archaeologists about whether it is indeed the palace built for the victorious David by King Hiram of Tyre as recounted in Samuel II:5.

A 20-meter-long section of the 7-meter-thick wall has now been uncovered. It indicates that the City of David once served as a major government center, Mazar said.

Mazar estimates less than a quarter of the entire wall has been uncovered so far, and says that it is the largest site from King David's time ever to have been discovered.

The dig is sponsored by the capital's Shalem Center, with academic backing from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
There has to be an error here, perhaps just a word inadvertently omitted. Mazar must have said that she found a wall from the First Temple period, not a wall from the First Temple itself. Any surviving wall of the Temple would be buried under the Temple Mount platform and could not be excavated. It sounds as though this wall is actually from the monumental building she found earlier.

I'm extremely busy today and am unlikely to get in much blogging. But I did want to comment on this.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

First synagogue facing Temple Mount to be built

The only synagogue in the world overlooking the Temple Mount will be built in the High Commissioner's Residence neighborhood in the southern part of Jerusalem. The project, titled 'Nof Zion' (view of Zion) is run by the Digal company, owned by Yehuda Levi and Meir Shamir.

The NIS six million investment was made entirely by donations of contractors and others. The synagogue will be built as a part of a neighborhood containing a hotel with 150 rooms and 475 apartments overlooking the Mount.

The synagogue, which will have a dome over it, will be two kilometers from the Temple Mount, but no building will obstruct the prayers from the holy location, and they will feel as if they are standing right next to it. The synagogue will be constructed by the "Bnei Zion Association" led by Yehuda Levi and his wife Betty.

PETE WILLIAMS, in his new role as Warden of Tyndale House, is profiled in Christian Today (not to be confused with Christianity Today). Pete, who is departing from Aberdeen University, is a prominent figure on the British New Testament scholarly scene and is a frequent contributor to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.
MICHAEL BAIGENT AND RICHARD LEIGH have lost their appeal in the Da Vinci Code copyright case and they now face three million pounds in legal fees.
Novelist Dan Brown wins 'The Da Vinci Code' copyright infringement case in London

By Danica Kirka

9:44 a.m. March 28, 2007

LONDON – Britain's Court of Appeal rejected a lawsuit Wednesday from two authors who claimed novelist Dan Brown stole their ideas for his blockbuster novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh had sued Brown's publisher, Random House Inc., claiming he had copied from their 1982 nonfiction book, “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.”

Such is the fate of over-reachers.
Ancient Israelites Snacked on 'Pizzoh,' Historians Reveal
By Bob Michael March 26, 2007

RAS SASAFEH, Egypt. -- The discovery of an apocryphal cookbook, likely written in the time of Moses, promises to change Passover traditions worldwide.

"The Israelites had a pretty limited menu, and frankly they were bored," said Biblical scholar Ruth Meqabyan. "We have strong evidence that they began to sculpt exotic cuisine in dough in order to alleviate the crunchy boredom of matzoh."

Adornments included the addition of olives, figs, lentils, medallions of whole-roasted lamb, and grated manna.

The decorated flatbread, called 'pizzoh,' resembled Neopolitan-style thin-crust pizza. Deep-dish variants required over eighteen pounds of flour per serving.

Another cutting-edge discovery from the Weekly World News.

(Heads-up, Tony Chartrand-Burke.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

MARK GOODACRE has another Talpiot tomb update over at the New Testament Gateway blog. Thanks also to Mark for the blogiversary good wishes.

Also, Mark notes an updated Coptic grammar for those responding to April DeConicks call, as Mark puts it, "for compulsory Coptic for all." My Coptic is rusty these days but, like Mark, I like Lambdin's grammar, which I got back in the 1980s. I'm sorry to hear that it is now hard to find. And a commenter to Mark's post writes plaintively, "By DeConick's reasoning, Latin, Syriac, Greek, and Coptic all need to be compulsory." Well yeah.
Turkish team to present report on excavation this week
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ANKARA – Turkish Daily News

A group of Turkish experts that went to Israel last week to visit a controversial excavation site will present a report to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan on Thursday or Friday.

THE JUDAS NOVEL by Archer and Moloney is already being parodied (in the Guardian). Excerpt:
Chapter 3

1. The treacherous Scribe tried to get Judas to betray Jesus, but he refused.

2. Judas understood the writings of Ezekiel far better than Jesus and the other disciples, but they didn't want to listen. So they never understood the true meaning of the Son of Man.

3. Judas also tried to tell the disciples what Jesus had meant by, "Get thee behind me, Satan." But they did not want to learn the subtleties of ancient Aramaic so Judas said unto them: "Verily, it is your loss."
Verily, verily.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

FACILE GRAND HISTORICAL COMPARISON ALERT: Usually these involve America being the Roman Empire. This one in the American Chronicle is at least novel: The EU gets to be the Manichaeans.
50 Years of European Manichaeism

Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
March 25, 2007

What European politicians and statesmen, intellectuals and philosophers tried to exorcise with the most ardent fervor is precisely what they have immutably been so far: Manichaean!


Around the middle of the 6th century, Manich├Žism seemed to have died out in Western Europe, but in reality it survived through a number of secret societies down to the times of the Paulicians and Bogomili. When the latter were driven out by the Byzantine emperors, they met with groups in the North of Italy and the South of France whereby the quintessence of Manichaean teachings had survived, and they merged with them, giving successively birth to the formidable Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, and the Free Masons.

The Manichaean Nature of today’s Europe

Two diametrically opposed groups of power for various reasons supported the rise of a European Union, trying - each one - to pull the institutions under formation close to their own ideals. We attest these two groups in frontal battle of ideas and concepts, not followers and armies thus far.

The Catholic pledge for Christian Europe clashes with the Free Masonic concept of a secular Europe; associations fight against or in favor of abortion, and issues like Euthanasia have risen to points of discord. Homosexual marriages and homo-parental legislation have become issues of fundamental political determination. Soon or later, Europe – united or not – will have to choose between two diametrically opposed groups that have shaped its History, leading Europeans to battlefields and death.

In parallel with this ideological confrontation between the Catholic church and the descendants of European Manichaeism, another issue should draw more attention; even if eliminated at the ideological level, Manichaean dualism reigns in the sphere of political language and behaviour.

Suffice it that we refer to the highly symbolic Berlin Declaration that is expected to be signed in terms of a 50 years European panegyric, and we are met with an abundance of duplicitous statements that are made to hide realities and to unveil imaginative considerations.

The essay includes a long summary of the history of the Manichaean movement. Use at your own risk; I'm not familiar enough with the details of this history to be confident of catching errors. I'm not sure I follow the overall argument (the core of which I have tried to excerpt here), but have a look if such things amuse you.
THE NEW JUDAS NOVEL by Archer and Moloney is excerpted by MSNBC:
Novelist pens fourth gospel
New book looks at the story of Jesus through the eyes of Judas

Updated: 6:18 p.m. ET March 26, 2007

"The Gospel According to Judas," published simulataneously in eight languages this month, is a fictionalized account of the life of Jesus purportedly written by Judas’ son, Benjamin. Authored by novelist Jeffrey Archer and biblical scholar Francis J. Moloney, the book follows the style of the gospels to offer what some reviewers say is a more sympathetic portrayal of Judas. Archer and Maloney were invited to talk about their book on TODAY. Here is an excerpt:
Chapters one and two of the book follow.

Note to MSNBC: There are already four gospels.

UPDATE: Speaking of Judas, this is tantalizing. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 26, 2007

U.S.-funded encyclopedia revels in Iran's greatness

Jim Krane, Canadian Press
Published: Monday, March 26, 2007

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - The Christian concepts of heaven and hell originated in Iran. The Jewish holy Talmud is littered with Iranian words and ideas. And some Iranians cherish the Israeli city of Haifa as a sacred place.

These are among the fascinating nuggets in the Encyclopedia Iranica, a sprawling project that since 1973 has sought to distill 5,000 years of Iranian history, geography and life and has produced 45 blue-bound volumes proclaiming Iran's greatness.

"Today more than at any other time we need to keep our Iranian culture alive," Iranica's director Ehsan Yarshater told an audience of 350 Iranians at a fundraiser in Dubai last month. The glitzy dinner, concert and auction raised US$100,000 for a project that will take an estimated $20 million - and another decade or so - to finish.

The Iranian government bitterly opposes the encyclopedia, and the U.S. government backs it. More than half of the encyclopedia's budget comes from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, which has funded it as a project of major cultural significance since 1979 - the same year Iranian students occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

"Once completed it will be a magnificent gift to our children and the generations to come," said Yarshater, an Iran scholar at Columbia University in New York.

The encyclopedia is Yarshater's life work. Now a frail 86-year-old with Parkinson's disease, he started the encyclopedia 32 years ago, just after leaving Iran. The project threatens to outlast him. Another Columbia Iranologist, Ahmad Ashraf, will take over leadership of the project if Yarshater dies before completing it.

Only 13 volumes of the English-language encyclopedia have yet been published, up to the letter G. It's been so slow that managers have abandoned the one-letter-at-a-time approach and are soliciting all remaining articles at once.


Concepts such as the survival of a person's soul after death, the Day of Judgment, heaven and hell, and holy angels all derive from Iran's surviving Zoroastrian faith, a 3,000-year-old religion that predates Islam and Christianity, the encyclopedia says. Iran's hard-liners also frown on the Zoroastrian beliefs.

I think that the claims in the article about Iranian influence on Judaism are a bit inflated. Resurrection, Judgement Day, heaven and hell, and angels are all concepts logically flowing out of the religion of ancient Israel, although it is clear that parallel ideas in Iranian religion had some influence on the development of these concepts in Judaism.
I AM DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE that the New Testament Lectureship recently advertised by the University of St. Andrews has now been offered to Dr. Grant Macaskill and he has accepted the offer. Grant is currently a British Academy Fellow at St. Mary's College and we welcome him anew as he prepares to take up the role of Lecturer in September.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

TALPIOT TOMB WATCH: Just a couple of blog posts to note. James Tabor summarizes his case for a connection between the Talpiot tomb and Jesus' family in "The Talpiot Jesus Tomb: An Overview." And Tony Chartrand-Burke has a post on "The Jesus Tomb and Christian Apocrypha."

And, as ever, Mark Goodacre continues to post on the subject at the New Testament Gateway Blog.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The self-appointed new Sanhedrin reportedly wants to sacrifice sheep on the Temple Mount for Passover:
Sanhedrin plans for sacrifice of sheep


In a donated apartment concealed among the narrow streets of the Jerusalem suburb of Nahlaot, 13 Orthodox Jewish men meet every Tuesday to debate matters of Jewish law. They are the management team of a larger developing Sanhedrin, or religious court, in Israel.

They plan to sacrifice sheep on the Temple Mount on the day before or one month after Passover, which will start at sundown April 2. Either date is permissible under Jewish law. "If the government will not resist," said Rabbi Dov Stein, 68, a member of the group, "we will do it."

As Easter eclipses the last days of Passover this year, Christians will focus again on the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. The Sanhedrin, meanwhile, will literally attempt to resurrect the Passover sacrifice of old.

For these Jews, the sacrificial Passover offering is not their redemption per se, yet it is vital to the process.

The Passover sacrifice is the latest of more than 40 legal decisions issued by the modern Sanhedrin. Seventy-one Orthodox men revived the court more than two years ago in the city of Tiberius, the geographical spot that they believe marked the final days of the Sanhedrin a few hundred years after the time of Jesus.

I don't think that much of anyone is going to receive this plan with enthusiasm.