Saturday, February 23, 2008

THE ENOCH SEMINAR has a new website. Cool.
EGYPTIAN BLOGGER Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman (Karim Amer) is (surprise, surprise) not being treated well in that Egyptian prison:
One year in prison for Egyptian blogger

2008-02-22 13:21:34

Amnesty International Press release
22 February 2008

One year ago, Egyptian blogger Karim Amer was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for the "crime" of publishing on the internet material critical of Islam and President Mubarak.

The then 23-year-old former al-Azhar University student was sentenced on 22 February 2007 and the Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence on 12 March of the same year. Amnesty International described the sentence as yet another slap in the face of freedom of expression in Egypt.

Amnesty International considers Karim Amer to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned on account of the peaceful expression of his views. The organisation condemned the four-year sentence he received and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Karim Amer, who is serving his prison sentence in Borg Al-Arab Prison, Alexandria, wrote in his letters to one of his legal counsels that he was beaten on 24 October 2007.

Karim Amer said he was punched and kicked by a prisoner and a prison guard under the supervision of a prison investigations officer. One of his teeth was broken and he was badly bruised. He was then taken to a disciplinary cell, hand-cuffed and his legs tied up and beaten again by the same two individuals on the orders of the prison investigations officer.

Karim Amer wrote that he was examined by the prison’s doctor, but there was no mention of his broken tooth in the medical report. He also said that he was not allowed to file a complaint about what happened.

After he was beaten, he was put in solitary confinement in a disciplinary cell until 2 November 2007. During this period, he was given only one meal and one bottle of water a day and not allowed to send letters. He was finally moved back to the prison section where he was initially detained on 7 November 2007 and held in an individual cell.

Amnesty International has also called for an investigation of Karim Amer’s ill-treatment in prison and for appropriate measures to be taken to ensure his safety and security.

Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to review or abolish all legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for the mere exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion.

Karim Amer was first detained by the Egyptian authorities for twelve days in October 2005 because of his writings on his blog ( about Islam and the sectarian riots that took place in the same month in Alexandria's Moharram Bek district. These riots followed reports that the video of a play believed to be anti-Islamic was being screened in a Coptic church in the district.

In March 2006, disciplinary measures were taken against him by al-Azhar University and he was dismissed. The university's disciplinary board found him guilty of blaspheming Islam.

He was rearrested in Alexandria on 7 November 2006 following a complaint made against him by al-Azhar University. He remained in detention since then until his sentencing, following a series of extensions.
I'll say it again: barbaric.
The language of Moses
By DAVID SMITH [Jerusalem Post]

At first glance the ulpan at Kibbutz Tzova, about 20 minutes west of Jerusalem, may seem no different than any other. But within a couple of minutes of listening to the exchange between students and teachers, it becomes clear that there is something fishy about the Hebrew spoken here.

Welcome to the Biblical Ulpan, a framework that allows students to study biblical Hebrew in its original context. In place of the conventional grammar-driven approach to Hebrew study that often includes memorizing elusive rules and arcane verb charts, biblical Hebrew is the medium through which the language is taught here to Christian and Jewish students.

"Studying a text needs the 'code' [the language] and the culture, history and geography in order to be most fully understood," explains Randall Buth, who founded the ulpan 10 years ago.


Buth says some of the students try to speak biblical Hebrew in the street or in restaurants, evoking a smile or puzzled look from Israelis, though they are usually understood.
This would be something like coming up to someone in New York or London and speaking to them in Shakespearean English.
Often, he reports, Israelis affirm the effort. "At archeological sites it frequently happens that Israelis will walk by, hearing us read a biblical passage, explaining the passage and the geography in simple biblical Hebrew. Sometimes they are curious enough to stop and ask the teacher what they have just heard. They have never heard anything like it and are impressed to see foreigners take the time and discipline to delve into the ancient texts like this."

This is the first time I've heard of this program, but it sounds like a good concept. One quibble about the headline (for which, obviously, Randy is not responsible): the language being taught is hardly that of Moses, which would be more like Ugaritic. Biblical Hebrew is the upper-class Jerusalem dialect of the Hebrew of the late First-Temple and early postexilic periods, but overlaid with an early medieval pronuciation in the vowel-pointing of the Masoretes.
Brooklyn College To Feature Classic Silent Film ‘Golem’
by Brooklyn Eagle (, published online 02-22-2008

BROOKLYN COLLEGE — Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College concludes its 2007-08 Arts in the Afternoon series with a screening of “The Golem” on Sunday, March 9 at 2 p.m. The film will be accompanied by a world premiere score, commissioned by Brooklyn Center as part of its newly launched New Work/New York initiative, which supports multidisciplinary artists in the creation of works that receive their New York and/or world premiere at Brooklyn Center.

Recognized by many as the source of the Frankenstein story, Paul Wegener’s 1920 landmark silent film “The Golem” draws from ancient Hebrew legend to tell the story of Jewish inhabitants in an Eastern European ghetto. Faced with persecution, the community’s rabbi forms a giant golem out of clay to serve as protectorate. Tom Nazziola’s original score for the film breathes new life into this classic piece of German cinematic expressionism. The afternoon will also feature a post-performance discussion with Nazziola.

For more on the film, see here.

UPDATE (24 February): Iyov notes another upcoming showing of the film, and also notes that it can be bought on Amazon.

Friday, February 22, 2008

THE ARK OF THE COVENANT (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in Zimbabwe?
A Lead on the Ark of the Covenant
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008 By DAVID VAN BIEMA [Time Magazine]

When last we saw the lost Ark of the Covenant in action, it had been dug up by Indiana Jones in Egypt and ark-napped by Nazis, whom the Ark proceeded to incinerate amidst a tempest of terrifying apparitions. But according to Tudor Parfitt, a real life scholar-adventurer, Raiders of the Lost Ark had it wrong, and the Ark is actually nowhere near Egypt. In fact, Parfitt claims he has traced it (or a replacement container for the original Ark), to a dusty bottom shelf in a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe.


Parfitt, 63, is a professor at the University of London's prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies. His new book, The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500 Year Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark (HarperOne) along with a History Channel special scheduled for March 2 would appear to risk a fine academic reputation on what might be called a shaggy Ark story. But the professor has been right before, and his Ark fixation stems from his greatest coup. In the 1980s Parfitt lived with a Southern African clan called the Lemba, who claimed to be a lost tribe of Israel. Colleagues laughed at him for backing the claim; in 1999, a genetic marker specific to descendents of Judaism's Temple priests (cohens) was found to appear as frequently among the Lemba's priestly cast as in Jews named Cohen. The Lemba — and Parfitt — made global news.

Parfitt started wondering about another aspect of the Lemba's now-credible oral history: a drumlike object called the ngoma lungundu. The ngoma, according to the Lemba, was near-divine, used to store ritual objects, and borne on poles inserted into rings. It was too holy to touch the ground or to be touched by non-priests, and it emitted a "Fire of God" that killed enemies and, occasionally, Lemba. A Lemba elder told Parfitt, "[It] came from the temple in Jerusalem. We carried it down here through Africa."


Parfitt's final hunt for the ngoma, which dropped from sight in the 1940s, landed him in sometimes-hostile territory ("Bullets shattered the rear screen," of his car, he writes). Ark leads had guided him to Egypt, Ethiopia and even New Guinea, until one day last fall his clues led him to a storeroom of the Harare Museum of Human Science in Zimbabwe. There, amidst nesting mice, was an old drum with an uncharacteristic burnt-black bottom hole ("As if it had been used like a cannon," Parfitt notes), the remains of carrying rings on its corners; and a raised relief of crossed reeds that Parfitt thinks reflects an Old Testament detail. "I felt a shiver go down my spine," he writes.

Parfitt thinks that whatever the supernatural character of Ark, it was, like the ngoma, a combination of reliquary, drum and primitive weapon, fueled with a somewhat unpredictable proto-gunpowder. That would explain the unintentional conflagrations. The drum element is the biggest stretch, since scripture never straightforwardly describes the Ark that way. He bases his supposition on the Ark's frequent association with trumpets, and on aspects of a Bible passage where King David dances in its presence. Parfitt admits that such a multipurpose object would be "very bizarre" in either culture, but insists, "that's an argument for a connection between them."

I think the only connection that is at all likely is that this drum (carbon dated to 1350 CE) was made in the Middle Ages as an object of ritual power vaguely inspired by traditions (the Bible? oral traditions based on the Bible?) about the Ark of the Covenant. There is no evidence at all that the Ark of the Covenant was a drum and its description in the Bible would not allow for it being one.

Still, I suppose I should read his book, since the lost Temple treasures figure a good bit in my research right now. And I may have more news for you on that soon.

UPDATE: I noted the original story about the Lemba and their Cohen DNA here back in September of 2003.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW has put the full text of it's current issue (March/April 2008) online. TOC:

Fit for a Queen: Jezebel's Royal Seal
Does the seal belong to the notorious wicked Phoenician queen Jezebel?
By Marjo C.A. Korpel

Emmaus: Where Christ Appeared
Excavators at Emmaus-Nicopolis believe they’ve got the right one
By Hershel Shanks

First Publication: A Newly Discovered House Shrine
A Temple Built for Two
Intriguing evidence suggests Yahweh shared a throne with Asherah
By William G. Dever

Dissecting the Qumran-Essene Hypothesis
Magnifying glass on the Scroll scholars
By Edna Ullmann-Margalit

First Person
In Defense of Eilat Mazar

Queries & Comments
It Ain’t Easy
Trip of a Lifetime
Schoolyard Bully

Biblical Views
Should Palm Sunday Be Celebrated in the Fall?
By Bruce Chilton

Archaeological Views
Save Endangered Landscapes
By Shimon Gibson

Another View
Why Isn’t King Solomon Just a “Dirty Old Man”?
By James Kugel

Another View
Don’t Be So Quick to be Disappointed, David Ussishkin
By Norma Franklin

Past Perfect
An English Newsgirl in Palestine

Neolithic by Susan Foster McCarter
The Neolithic Revolution in the Near East by Alan H. Simmons
Mary Magdalene Understood by Jane Schaberg with Melanie Johnson-Debaufre


Scroll Editor Strugnell Dies
Troubled former editor-in-chief dies at 77

$57 Million for BAR WorldWide

The Bible in the News
Apocrypha Now

By Leonard J. Greenspoon

Exclusive New Photos of Ancient Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate

Call for ASOR Papers
$10,000 prizes offered

Scholars Face Off Over Antiquities
Are unprovenanced artifacts worth studying?

In Their Own Words
Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek
By Mendel Kaplan

What Is It?

Dick Steffy (1924–2007)
Larry Toombs (1919–2007)

How Many?

In History

Special Collections
Picturing Jerusalem; Medieval and Renaissance Treasures; and Excavating Egypt

Cartoon Caption Contest
What Bible calls 'Holy ground' can be yours
The ultimate gift! Temple Mount soil beautifully encased

Posted: February 20, 2008
5:06 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee."Psalms 122:6

JERUSALEM – Have you ever wanted to own a piece of the Holy Land?

Is someone close to you in love with Jerusalem?

Do you enjoy giving unique gifts to those you love?

At the very moment the Israeli government is reportedly considering giving up holy sites and sections of Jerusalem to create a Palestinian state, now you have a chance to hold on to your own piece of the Temple Mount.

For a limited time, genuine Temple Mount soil is being made available exclusively to WND readers as part of a campaign of solidarity with the Mount, which is under threat by Islamists and by Israeli government laws banning Christians and Jews from worshiping at the site or visiting during most hours of the day.

This past summer WND was able to salvage a very small amount of soil from the Temple Mount slated to be disposed by the Waqf, the holy site's Islamic custodians. The soil, which originates near what many consider the holiest place of the Mount itself, was searched for ancient relics since the Waqf numerous times has attempted to dispose of Temple artifacts.

I'm sure there must be an interesting story behind this "salvage" project.
THE WOMEN'S TORAH COMMENTARY is covered in the Jerusalem Post:
Why a women's Torah commentary?

The recent debut of The Torah: A Women's Commentary, brings together the scholarship and insights of women from all segments of the Jewish community and from around the world.

For the past two years, in advance of the commentary's publication, I have previewed drafts in congregations across the country. Inevitably, when I conclude my teaching, a male member of the audience raises his hand and asks one of the following questions: "Why should men be interested in a women's Torah commentary?" "Why would you create a commentary that only speaks to half of the community?" "In this day and age, shouldn't we create a work that brings together women and men instead of segregating them?"


Recently, the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion featured a panel of scholars gathered to celebrate the publication of the women's commentary and to reflect on its significance. One of the panelists was the renowned Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow, the author of the influential 1990 book Standing Again at Sinai, a contributor to the commentary and a member of its editorial board.

Plaskow characterized the publication of the commentary as a "watershed event," perhaps as important as the ordination of the first woman rabbi. When she used the word "watershed," she referred to the figurative meaning of the word: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of actions or state of affairs.

How is the publication of this commentary a turning point? One answer to that question became clear when the panel ended and I spoke to one of our authors, a Bible professor who wrote one of the Central Commentaries in Leviticus.

The professor said she did not fully appreciate the significance of this project until she taught the commentary she wrote to the sisterhood group at her local synagogue. She explained that for the first time, many of the women saw themselves as part of the implicit audience of the Torah. They were no longer bystanders listening in on a conversation aimed at someone else. Instead, they sensed that the Torah was speaking to and about them. They were able to see how the text was relevant to them as contemporary women and how their lives as women were relevant to the interpretation of the biblical text.

On a literal level, a watershed is an area of land that channels all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet. This is, in fact, an ideal metaphor for A Women's Commentary. This volume gathers five forms of exegesis into a single location. It collects the wisdom of several hundred Jewish women - scholars, clergy, poets and other writers - into one place. It assembles the writings of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox and secular Jews into a common source.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls on display at S.F. museum
Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 02/19/2008 03:22:06 PM PST

A precisely legible, 42-inch-wide Dead Sea Scroll in Hebrew from the Book of Psalms should be enough to dominate a modest-size gallery at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. But add 6,000-year-old burial containers, ritual objects from the Iron Age, a Byzantine mosaic and Islamic gold jewelry and you truly have a museum exhibit that can be called "5,000 years of treasures."

This collection is merely the first in a series produced in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority, which was involved . The big draw, of course, is the brown parchment fragment of Psalm 119, one of the longest and best preserved of the biblical scrolls discovered in the last half-century in caves along the western side of the Dead Sea. It is from the most famous site, Qumran. Whatever a museum visitor's religious beliefs, it is hypnotic to inspect the precise handwriting that dates from the first century A.D., accompanied by an English translation mounted above.

As curator Renee Dreyfus points out, the lines from Psalm 119 are not in the same order that has become standard in versions of the Old Testament. Another distinction: "The name of God, because it was so sacred, is written in Paleo-Hebrew, an older form of the writing."

The Psalm scroll is carefully displayed under a thick transparent panel, lighted intermittently to protect it from fading. Even so, it will be replaced in May by other scrolls, one from the Book of Genesis and another from the apocryphal Book of Enoch, "which was not included in the Bible, for whatever reason," Dreyfus says.

THE TYNDALE TECH BLOG has a good post on online resources for Qur'an, Arabic and Islamic theology.
Joseph H. Hellerman
Reconfiguring Ethnic Identity
Drawing upon his background as a social historian, Hellerman proposes that a clue to the success of the Christian movement lay in Jesus' own conception of the people of God, and in how he reconfigured its identity from that of ethnos to that of family, functioning as a kind of ethnic entrepreneur, breaking down the boundaries of ethnic Judaism. xii + 381 pp. Published October 2007/
Individual Discount Price £27.50 / ¤41.25 / $50.00
List Price £55.00 / ¤82.50 / $110.00
ISBN 978-1-906055-21-9 (hardback)

J. Harold Ellens (ed.)
Essays in Memory of Bruce M. Metzger (2 volumes)
These wide-ranging and often innovative volumes honour the multifaceted work of this doyen of New Testament textual critics, formerly Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary. Volume 1 is Interpretation of the Text for the Community (The Nature of the Bible, and Understanding the Bible: Hermeneutics). Volume 2 is Implementation of the Text in the Community (The Church and the Bible: Pulpit and Parish, and The Academy, Science, Culture, Society, and the Bible. 348 + 244 pp. Published October 2007.
£25.00 / ¤37.50 / $47.50 each
List Price £50.00 / ¤75.00 / $95.00 each
ISBN 978-1-906055-15-8, 978-1-906055-18-9 (hardback)

Calvin J. Roetzel and Robert L. Foster (eds.)
Essays in Biblical Studies in Honor of Jouette M. Bassler
Jouette M. Bassler, Professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, is honoured by the 19 contributions to this Festschrift. Authors are Cousar, Fee, Fiore, Foster, Frolov, Furnish, Heller, Jewett, Elizabeth Johnson, Ila Bovee Kraft, Kraftchick, Mitchell, Nelson, Neyrey, Rensberger, Roetzel, E.P. Sanders, Tyson, Yarbrough. 288 pp. Published November 2007.
Individual Discount Price £27.50 / ¤41.25 / $55.00
List Price £55.00 / ¤82.50 / $110.00
ISBN 978-1-906055-22-6 (hardback)

Anselm C. Hagedorn, Zeba A. Crook and Eric Stewart (eds.)
Essays on Social Science Methods and the New Testament in Honor of Jerome H. Neyrey
Jerome H. Neyrey, Professor of New Testament at Notre Dame since 1992, is widely recognized for his groundbreaking contributions to social-scientific criticism of the Gospels and the Epistles. In this Festschrift the contributors (including David Aune, John H. Elliott, Philip Esler, Bruce Malina and John Pilch, Halvor Moxnes, Carolyn Osiek, Gerd Theissen) notably advance the same cause. xii + 263 pp. Published August 2007.
Individual Discount Price £25.00 / ¤37.50 / $47.50
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ISBN 978-1-905048-39-7 (hardback)

Zeba A. Crook and Philip A. Harland (eds.)
Jews, Christians and Others. Essays in Honour of Stephen G. Wilson
The sixteen contributors to this Festschrift include Kim Stratton on curse rhetoric, Adele Reinhartz on Caiaphas, Willi Braun on meals and social formation, Philip Harland on meals and social labelling, Richard Ascough on missionizing associations, John Barclay on Judaean identity in Josephus, John Kloppenborg on the recipients of the Letter of James, Laurence Broadhurst on ancient music, Larry Hurtado on manuscripts and identity, Edith Humphey on naming in the Apocalypse, Michele Murray on the Apostolic Constitutions, Roger Beck on the Late Antique 'Horoscope of Islam', Graydon Snyder on the Ethiopian Jews, Alan Segal on Daniel Boyarin, Robert Morgan on theology vs religious studies, and William Arnal on scholarly identities in the study of Christian Origins. xvi + 292 pp. Published November 2007.
Individual Discount Price £25.00 / ¤37.50 / $50.00
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ISBN 978-1-906055-17-2 (hardback)

Barry D. Smith
Paul Parts Company with his Jewish Heritage
How can one escape God's wrath and gain eternal life? On this crucial theological question, Paul differs from other members of the Second Temple Jewish community. Contrary to the current consensus, Smith argues that while their soteriology is synergistic, the divine and the human co-operating, Paul knows only of a salvation independent of all human effort. xiv + 285 pp. Published May 2007.
Individual Discount Price £25.00 / ¤37.50 / $45.00
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ISBN 978-1-905048-82-3 (hardback)

Jacqueline C.R. de Roo
At Qumran, the 'works of the law' are deeds of obedience to God's law, and are ultimately inspired by God. For Paul, on the other hand, they are quintessentially the works of Abraham, the good deeds of a sinful man, and so incapable of making atonement. This closely reasoned study proposes an alternative both to traditional interpretation of Paul and to the 'New Perspective on Paul'. xiv + 280 pp. Published March 2007.
Individual Discount Price £30.00 / ¤45.00 / $47.50
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ISBN 978-1-905048-30-4 (hardback)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND ... DATA STORAGE? A prolonged and convoluted analogy.
Mad Dog 21/21: Recovering Lost Prophets

Published: February 18, 2008

by Hesh Wiener (IT Jungle)

If you ask computer professionals who they thought were the leaders in data storage, chances are you'll hear names like IBM, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliances, and Hitachi. If you asked these storage companies, you might get a different list that included some outfits that were largely unknown in the end user world. But end users probably don't have to worry that they will miss out on some important new vendors. The Storage Establishment is buying up many of the emerging suppliers. This high-profile interest in the new crop of vendors makes all the contenders a lot more visible.

Still, the computer business is huge. It's possible that some of the storage system developers with the very best ideas will still for the most part be overlooked for a considerable time, like the caves of Qumran. Data recorded on parchment and other media sat in these caves for a couple thousand years until 1947, when a shepherd stumbled on some of the documents, beginning a process of archeological discovery that lasted about nine years and yielded several hundred items.


However the market unfolds, it seems likely that old and new vendors will be pushing larger and less costly arrays to satisfy what for now seems to be an unquenchable appetite for storage capacity across every industry sector and in every geographic region.

It points to what will be a necessary future development, perhaps the next big opportunity for storage system vendors: creating archival technology that can keep pace with services using gobs of online and nearline storage. It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of tomorrow's storage systems and the information they will house. Somewhere in Bebo, Facebook, MySpace, or another social networking site there might or might not be some Web pages belonging to prophets, but it's a safe bet that those sites and their huge file libraries of will generate plenty of profits. And that says nothing about a related business that is expected to become pretty big, pretty fast, storage as a service delivered via the Internet, a business in which the storage device makers might also be the vendors. What is less certain than the prospects for the storage business is whether the information stored on these sites will be around in 2,000 years, and whether it might be a good thing if it's not.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ED COOK is dream-blogging Lost like a good apocalyptic prophet.

Years ago I had a dream (under the influence of a bad case of flu and rather a lot of Nyquil) in which I became omniscient for a few minutes and started a list of The Twenty Most True Things. Alas, I couldn't remember any of them when I woke up.
THE LOST SYRIAC PAGE recovered in the Deir al-Surian Monastery library is covered much more thoroughly by the Art Newspaper:
Fragments of world’s oldest Christian manuscript found in Egyptian monastery

Written in 411 AD, the text was hidden for over 1,000 years in a vault used to store olive oil

Martin Bailey | 18.2.08 | Issue 188

Fragments of the earliest dated Christian literary manuscript have been found at Deir al-Surian, an ancient monastery in the Egyptian desert. Dating from 411 AD, these were discovered under a collapsed floor of a ninth-century tower. The fragments are from the final page of a codex written in Syriac (an Eastern Aramaic language) which was acquired by the British Museum library in the 19th century.

The story of the discovery of the manuscript is told in detail. Excerpt:
Lord Curzon’s acquisitions whetted the appetite of the British Museum, and two years later it sent scholar Dr Henry Tattam to Deir al-Surian. Among the several hundred manuscripts he purchased was the one that Lord Curzon had been forced to leave behind. Back in London, the note made by the monk in 1086 was spotted.

The note on folio 239 read: “Behold my brethren, if it should happen that the end of this ancient book should be torn off and was written at the end of it thus.” The monk had then copied out the colophon, which stated that the manuscript had been written at Orrhoa (Edessa, now Sanliurfa), by Jacob, in the year 723 (in the Greek calendar, or 411 AD).
Ditto for the recent discovery of the last page:
There the matter rested for a century and a half. In 1998, the ninth-century tower of Deir al-Surian was renovated, and several hundred fragments of ancient manuscripts were discovered by the monastery’s librarian Father Bigoul under a wooden floor which had probably collapsed as long ago as the 14th century.

It is unfortunate that such drastic restoration of an ancient building was done so casually (surprisingly, it was authorised by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities). No trained archaeologists sifted through the rubble, although Father Bigoul did his best to save what he could. Modern building materials were used in the reconstruction.

Nevertheless, the work did result in the discovery of the manuscript fragments. Analysing the find has taken time, but in 2005 two Syriac scholars, Sebastian Brock (Oxford University) and Lucas van Rompay (Duke University, North Carolina), recognised four small fragments which appeared to be in the same neat handwriting as the 411 manuscript.

In London they consulted the codex, and found that the four fragments were indeed from the final page. These wrinkled pieces have now been conserved at the monastery by London paper specialist Elizabeth Sobczynski.

And there's information of the contents of the library and the ongoing conservation efforts:
For most of the 20th century, Deir al-Surian’s manuscripts were hidden away—and relatively neglected. The monks were understandably reluctant to show them to outsiders, since their collection had been denuded in the 18th and 19th centuries by European bibliophiles.

But despite these losses, Deir al-Surian still retains 1,000 manuscripts, of which 49 are in Syriac. It also has 150 ancient Coptic manuscripts and 15 Ethiopic texts. Recent cataloguing has uncovered the world’s oldest dated Biblical manuscript in any language, a Syriac version of Isaiah, from 459 AD.

Read it all.

The Art Newspaper also has an article on the monastery itself:
Noah’s Ark in the desert

18.2.08 | Issue 188

The ancient Egyptian monastery of Deir al-Surian is traditionally said to have been modelled on Noah’s Ark, since the outline of its walled buildings looks like a ship.

But Deir al-Surian resembles the Ark in another sense, as it has preserved unique examples of very early Christian art, dating back 1,600 years. Its isolation, together with its 12-metre-high walls, has helped protect this little oasis and its precious contents.

Background here and keep following the links back.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Earthquake damages Temple Mount. Waqf says Israel is to blame.
Israel Earthquake Damages Only Temple Mount and Shechem

by Ezra HaLevi

( An earthquake shook Israel at 12:37 PM Friday. The only damage reported in Israel was on the Temple Mount and near Shechem (Nablus).

The earthquake measured 5.3 on the Richter scale; its epicenter was located in northeastern Lebanon. Earlier last week a quake measuring 4.1 was felt in northern Israel, also originating from Lebanon, near its northern city of Tyre.

A large hole opened up on the Temple Mount during the quake, which was soon covered by officials from the Wakf Islamic Authority that administers the mosques built atop Judaism’s holiest site.


Wakf Officials Blame Israel
Wakf officials tried to blame Israel for the 6-foot by 5-foot hole, which is about three feet deep, claiming it was caused by Israel, which it accuses of tunneling beneath the Temple Mount. They demanded an end to all Israeli excavations in the area.

Though several excavation projects are taking place around the Western Wall Plaza, none of them entail tunneling past the wall itself and beneath the mount. ...
THE GOSPEL OF BARNABAS is a major source for an Iranian Jesus-movie. Rick Brannan is on the case.
SYRIAC IS GROOVY. And gutteral. But not grunt-work. Good luck to Kelli in her studies.
CRIME DOESN'T PAY when you neglect the cuneiform:

How a high-school dropout and his elderly parents fooled the world

Robert Fulford, National Post
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The fake Amarna Princess sculpture made by Shaun Greenhalgh that was bought by the Bolton Council for £439,767.ReutersThe fake Amarna Princess sculpture made by Shaun Greenhalgh that was bought by the Bolton Council for £439,767.

Shaun Greenhalgh, an Englishman whose furtive career has been unfolding in courtrooms, newspapers and museums for the last three months, may well be the most versatile art forger in history. He can do a convincing Gauguin, an 18th-century bronze portrait, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture or a broken chunk of Assyrian wall art. He finds it just as easy to do ancient Egyptian.

A high-school dropout at 16, Shaun taught himself painting, drawing, stone carving and several other techniques. Then, with the enthusiastic support of his family, he became an art criminal.

His story has been mostly ignored in North America because journalists here fail to see it as a saga of British craftsmanship and enterprise performing in a world where these qualities are insufficiently appreciated. In their lower-middle-class home at The Crescent, Bromley Cross, Bolton, Greater Manchester, Shaun's family has for many years operated a traditional cottage industry.

Alan Bennett should write the movie that must be made about them. Shaun, 46 years old, sounds like a failure-to-launch boy, living with his parents, from the stories Bennett has written for BBC radio. Shaun's Mom, Olive, 83, and Dad, George, 84, are both collaborators -- the Artful Codgers, one London newspaper calls them. Testifying in court, Mom claimed her work was purely routine, like making calls for Shaun because he's too shy to talk on the telephone.


After many successful years, and scores of sales, the Greenhalghs were caught out by that old devil hubris. Shaun, deeply impressed by his own talent, forgot that serious chicanery requires careful attention to detail. He sent the British Museum what was apparently an ancient Assyrian stone relief showing a soldier and horses with cuneiform writing. It looked great until someone noticed a minor spelling mistake in the writing and someone else said that the harness on the horses was from the wrong period.

The British Museum called Scotland Yard. ...
(Via Explorator 10.43.)
ARAMAIC WATCH: A lost page from a Syriac book has been rediscovered in the floor of the Deir al-Surian Monastery Library in Egypt:
Found at last: the world's oldest missing page

Fifth-century Christian text turns up under floor in Egypt, bringing early church martyrs to light

By Andrew Johnson
Sunday, 17 February 2008 (The Independent)

A year after the Romans packed up their shields in AD410 and left Britain to the mercy of the Anglo-Saxons, a scribe in Edessa, in what is modern day Turkey, was preparing a list of martyrs who had perished in defence of the relatively new Christian faith in Persia.

In a margin he dated the list November 411. Unfortunately for the martyrs, history forgot them. At some point, this page became detached from the book it belonged to. Since 1840, the volume has been one of the treasures of the British Library. It is known only by its catalogue code: ADD 12-150

The missing page has always been a fascinating mystery for scholars and historians. Now, after an extraordinary piece of detective work, that page has been rediscovered among ancient fragments in the Deir al-Surian monastery in Egypt. It is, according to Oxford University's Dr Sebastian Brock, the leading Syriac scholar who identified the fragments, the oldest dated Christian text in existence.
The page is important in itself:
"It is a list of martyrs and it must have been added to the main book at the last minute," he said. "There were three fragments from the last page. It was a distinctive handwriting, and it was very exciting to identify it. It is very important to complete the book. Many of the names on this list we have not come across before. So it gives us a lot of clues about that half of that century. Rome at the time was officially Christian, so the rival Persians would have persecuted Christians."

The fragments were among hundreds discovered beneath a floor in the Deir al-Surian, which is itself a treasure trove of ancient books.
For more on the Deir al-Surian Monastery and its library, go here. I'm really curious about how these pages ended up in the floor, though. In any case, this is all very good news:
Dr Brock and his colleague, Dr Lucas Van Rompay of Duke University in North Carolina, are now working on the first catalogue of the many manuscripts that are more than 1,000 years old.

Elizabeth Sobczynski, founder of the Levantine Foundation, which supports the conservation of the mon-astery's manuscripts, is raising money to build a state-of-the-art library to preserve the remaining ancient books. "I found four fragments, and joined three of them together," she said. "These fragments survived for so many centuries, which is amazing .... They could so easily have been swept away."
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.
APOCRYPHA WATCH: Tobias and the Angel is previewed in the Baltimore Sun in an interview with the general director of Baltimore's chamber opera company.
Taking on 'Tobias and the Angel'

By Tim Smith | sun Music Critic
February 17, 2008

British composer Jonathan Dove's best known opera is Flight, a kind of comic-opera Airport movie, but with much more sophisticated plot lines. That colorful work, written in 1998, was followed a year later by Tobias and the Angel, a "church opera" based on the Book of Tobit, a text considered apocryphal in Hebrew and Protestant canon.

While Flight quickly crossed the Atlantic and has been successfully staged in a couple of U.S. cities, Tobias and the Angel is only now being readied for its North American premiere by Opera Vivente, Baltimore's chamber opera company. Heading the cast as the Angel is David Walker, a countertenor and Dove fan more frequently heard at major opera houses. Company general director John Bowen discussed the process of choosing, understanding and staging this unusual work in the darkly beautiful 1895 nave of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon.

Background here.
REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING GNOSTICISM I: THE SYLLABUS have been posted by Tony Chartrand-Burke. It's good to see courses on these specialized but fascinating topics being taught to undergraduates. Back in 1991 I taught a course on Apocalyptic and Gnostic Literature at Tulane University and it was very well received, but I haven't had the opportunity to teach it again. I look forward to future posts from Tony on his course.

UPDATE (25 February): More here.