Saturday, May 10, 2008

HARRISON FORD is profiled by the Independent in advance - of course - of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Excerpt:
The marketing men are taking a rather different line on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is a star attraction at the Cannes film festival starting next week and which opens in the UK later this month. They are talking about something "fresh but familiar", which is what fans will be hoping for from the old team of storymaker George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg and star Harrison Ford back in the hat as the born-again archaeologist action hero. The money men are predicting the blockbuster of the summer.

Harrison Ford has form on that. The previous Indiana films have been one of the biggest box-office successes in the history of the movies. They won Ford the No 1 slot in Empire magazine's Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time list – and took his gross worldwide earnings to almost $6bn, making him one of the most financially successful actors of his generation. Who cares that his long career has featured only one Oscar nomination when he has appeared in five of the top 10 highest-grossing movies ever.

Still, Indiana 4 has been a long time coming. Spielberg and co have been on the lookout for a good enough script for more than 15 years, rejecting three so-so ones in the process. "None of us was fully satisfied with what was produced," says Ford.

There is an irony in that. For long planning is the antithesis of the happenstance that has characterised Harrison Ford's long career. Many of the nodal points over the past four decades were happy accidents or serendipitous defaults. His big break, playing Han Solo in the first Star Wars film, came while he was a carpenter standing in to read for an absent actor. Indiana's leather coat (very odd wear for a hot-climate archaeologist) was originally intended for another actor, Tom Selleck, who at the last minute couldn't get out of his contract for the TV show Magnum PI.
And there are already noises being made about a fifth Indiana Jones movie. I'll let you know what I think of that once I've seen the fourth.

Meanwhile some high school students in Florida are learning about real archaeology in a simulated excavation:
The project, a joint effort by Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast high schools' Community Problem Solvers teams, is designed to teach students about world cultures through archaeology, said Flagler Palm Coast teacher Diane Tomko.

"When you learn about archaeology, it's hard to do it in the classroom," said Tomko, who worked with Matanzas teacher Mat Saunders to coordinate the project. "They get more of a hands-on experience this way."

To prepare for their roles as archaeologists, students first researched 15 different countries including Japan, India and Pakistan, said Bunnell fifth-grade gifted teacher Karen Driscoll. They had to familiarize themselves with the art forms, dress and currency of the country.

Students practiced their excavation techniques using toothpicks to carefully wedge out the chocolate chips in cookies, Driscoll said. Saunders -- who will lead Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas students on a dig in Belize this summer -- said it's important students understand that there's more to archaeology than just digging up antiques.

"We're teaching them scientific method, history, world cultures, geometry," he said. "Everything is tied into this."

The 27-by-50-foot dig box may be the largest of its kind in North America and is similar to a real archaeological site, Saunders said. Before the students could dig, Saunders and Tomko charted the locations of each country in the box and buried dozens of artifacts -- ranging from a full samurai suit to a golf club.
Good stuff.

Friday, May 09, 2008

DRUZE DNA is producing some interesting genetic data:
Genetics Confirm Oral Traditions Of Druze In Israel

ScienceDaily (May 8, 2008) — DNA analysis of residents of Druze villages in Israel suggests these ancient religious communities offer a genetic snapshot of the Near East as it was several thousands of years ago.

The Druze harbor a remarkable diversity of mitochondrial DNA types or lineages that appear to have separated from each other many thousands of years ago, according to a new study by multinational team, led by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Rappaport School of Medicine.

But instead of dispersing throughout the world after their separation, the full range of lineages can still be found within the small, tightly knit Druze population.

Technion researcher Karl Skorecki noted that the findings are consistent with Druze oral tradition suggesting the adherents came from diverse ancestral lineages "stretching back tens of thousands of years." The Druze represent a "genetic sanctuary" or "living relic" that provides a glimpse of the genetic diversity of the Near East in antiquity, the researchers write in the May 7th issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

THE BIBLE, BRITISH VERSION. Including the Apocrypha.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Archaeologists find Queen of Sheba's palace at Axum, Ethiopia
07.05.08 23:38 (TREND Information, Azerbaijan)

Archaeologists believe they have found the Queen of Sheba's palace at Axum, Ethiopia and an altar which held the most precious treasure of ancient Judaism, the Ark of the Covenant, the University of Hamburg said Wednesday, the dpa reported.

Scientists from the German city made the startling find during their spring excavation of the site over the past three months.

The Ethiopian queen was the bride of King Solomon of Israel in the 10th century before the Christian era. The royal match is among the memorable events in the Bible.

Ethiopian tradition claims the Ark, which allegedly contained Moses' stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, was smuggled to Ethiopia by their son Menelek and is still in that country.

Whatever is going on here sounds garbled to me. I take it that a German team of archaeologists has found a tenth-century BCE palace in Axum and speculates that it might have belonged to the Queen of Sheba. This sounds at least possible. But the Bible does not say that Solomon married the Queen of Sheba. That, the stuff about the Ark, and the name Menelek all come from the medieval compilation of Ethiopian legends in the Kebra Negast. (See the links at the bottom of this post for background.) The original story of the Queen of Sheba is found in the Bible in 1 Kings 10:1-13.

This may be an important find, but we'll have to see. Watch this space.

UPDATE (10 May): Todd Bolen has some useful observations at the BiblePlaces blog.
A PBS SPECIAL ON JUDAISM is reviewed by the NYT:
Telescoping 4,000 Years of Talmud and Tradition

Published: May 7, 2008

It is easy to see why someone might approach “The Jewish People: A Story of Survival” with a certain reservation. The documentary, to be shown on Wednesday on WLIW and on other PBS stations in June, condenses four millenniums of atrocity into 60 minutes, allotting the pogroms the amount of time it takes to dust a coffee table.

On the surface “The Jewish People” is like a YouTube video reducing multiple seasons of a complex television show — let’s say “Battlestar Galactica” — into 50 seconds: enslavement, evil pharaohs, the marauding Babylonians, the overpowering Romans, the rise of anti-Semitism, the ravages of the Crusades, shtetls, the birth of Yiddish, the Holocaust, Stalinism, the glories of Theodor Herzl, Zionism. And yet what we get is an impressive and surprisingly rigorous feat of synthesis that roots itself in the lesser-known aspects of Jewish life during the ancient world.

If Ms. Leibowitz really does take her Talmud on the plane, it must be the Reader's Digest condensed version.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I've mentioned the Schøyen Collection here, but the links have all died. But see also here and here.

UPDATE: Duane Smith comments at Abnormal Interests.
ARAMAIC WATCH: This is a novel use of Aramaic, although I'm not sure what it has to do with the sacks.
Wool sacks return to cathedral
By Tanya O'Rourke (Bradford Telegraph and Argus)

Woolsacks are hanging from the Bradford [England] Cathedral bell tower once again - more than 350 years after they were strung up around the outside to protect it from cannon fire.

During the English Civil War, the sacks were used in the 1642 Bradford Siege to prevent damage being caused by Royalist cannonballs.

And this month - as part of an exhibition by Bradford-based artist network CART - hessian sacks are adorning the inside of the tower with fragments of Aramaic script, the ancient language of the time of Christ, also featuring.

The piece, called Blessed, hangs 30 feet from the bell tower into the cathedral.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THOMAS LEVY, who has been named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences:
Founded in 1780, the Academy annually elects individuals who have made preeminent contributions to their disciplines and to society at large. The 2008 class of scholars, scientists, artists, civic, corporate and philanthropic leaders elected as fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences includes 190 new Fellows and 22 new Foreign Honorary Members from 20 states and 15 countries.


Thomas Levy is professor of anthropology at UC San Diego where he holds the Norma Kershaw Endowed Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and the Neighboring Lands. Levy has had a distinguished career as a field archaeologist working in Israel and Jordan, focusing primarily on the evolution of complex societies and on the role of technology in the evolution of ancient cultures. Since joining the faculty in 1992, he has served as the chair of the Department of Anthropology, director of the Judaic Studies Program and associate director for Archaeology at UCSD’s Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology, part of Calit2. Levy’s interests include anthropological archaeology, Biblical and Near Eastern archaeology, ethno-archaeology in India and the application of digital methods in archaeology. In 2007, he served as the guest curator for the San Diego Museum of Man’s exhibition ‘Journey to the Copper Age’ carried out in association with the National Geographic Society.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

THE CHRONOGRAPHIAE of Julius Africanus, which survives only in fragments, has been published in a new edition that is reviewed in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.
Martin Wallraff (ed.), Iulius Africanus: Chronographiae. The Extant Fragments. In collaboration with Umberto Roberto and Karl Pinggéra, William Adler. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, NF 15. Translated by W. Adler. Berlin-New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2007. Pp. lxxxix, 352. ISBN 978-3-11-019493-7. €91.59.

Reviewed by Hagith Sivan, University of Kansas (

Word count: 1514 words

First, congratulations are in order to the venerable Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller for producing, for the first time in its history, an edition with an English translation and even an introduction in English. "Let these be multiplied," as the rabbis used to say, a blessing that, one hopes, is sufficiently suitable for an edition of an author who hailed from Palestine.

Julius Africanus well deserves the effort that the impressive international team assembled by Martin Wallraff has obviously invested in this project. Of Africanus' not insignificant output, consisting of the Cesti (originally in 14 volumes), two letters (one addressed to Origen, the other to an Aristides) and the Chronographiae (originally in 5), we now have the most complete collection of 100 fragments from the last work and, equally useful, of 99 testimonia.

Through the Chronographiae Africanus conceived the extraordinarily ambitious plan of fitting widely disparate strands of different histories into a biblical frame of time, beginning with Adam and culminating with the Resurrection. The resultant chronological system served as a basis for universal histories of which the Eusebian-Hieronymian version proved both influential and lasting. Perhaps the success of the latter ultimately guaranteed the dispersal and fragmentary survival of the model conceived by Africanus.

UPDATE (5 May): Blog post title for the day:
He Was the Very Model of a Pantheon Librarian
L'AELAC (L'Association pour l'étude de la littérature apocryphe chrétienne) has its annual meeting in June in Dole, France.