Wednesday, June 18, 2008

THE BITS OF ARCHAEOLOGY in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are reviewed by Mark Rose in Archaeology Magazine. While you're there, take the poll on which of the Indy movies is your favorite. I'm with the 40.9% who voted for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Plus, Archaeology has an interview with, Rob Cohen, the director of the August-release The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, who has an anthropology degree from Harvard. Not that the movie is exactly obsessed with getting the history right:
We took the facts and we let our imaginations play with them. So any archaeologists looking for absolute re-creation will say, "These people didn't do their research." But I'm making a fantasy, which frees me to some degree from verisimilitude and historical accuracy. Ninety percent of it is historically accurate to my knowledge, but the 10 percent is where you play fast and loose. It's a movie. You've got to make it entertaining.
I can go with that. I'm looking forward to the movie.
What are the mysterious stones emerging from Kinneret waters?
By Eli Ashkenazi
Tags: Lake Kinneret, Israel

A marine scientist has discovered a series of mysterious stone patterns on the lake bed of drought-stricken Lake Kinneret.

The man-made piles of stone, which are now above water, jut out from the freshwater lake, and sit 30 meters from each other along a 3.5-kilometer stretch of the eastern shore, from the Kinneret College campus to Haon resort.

Gal Itzhaki of Kibbutz Afikim first noticed the stones while strolling along the lake's receded shoreline. He says the patterns are a "fascinating phenomenon" and are part of an "impressive building enterprise."

Though they have not yet been scientifically examined, there are several hypotheses as to what functions they fulfilled. One theory postulates that they were part of a boundary between the ancient lakeside towns of Hippos, also known as Sussita, and Gadara. ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

THE MUSICAL DAVID IN SHADOW AND LIGHT is reviewed in the Jewish Press. The review includes discussion of the background of the story in rabbinic legend. Excerpt:
The frames come from a projector upon which Archangel Metatron (Donna Migliaccio) shows the 930-year-old, wheelchair-ridden and dejected Adam (Norman Aronovic) how the future will unfold. Metatron shows Noah, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Miriam, Samson, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Einstein, Martin Luther King, and Kennedy. But as she tries to fast forward past the young David, who is only destined to live a matter of hours, Adam insists that Metatron stop the reel:

“I wanna see the baby. The one with the red cheeks,” he demands. “Ah … ah … look at him … see how he shines so bright. His heart is fire - holy light.” Though she has been sent to cheer Adam up, Metatron agrees to euthanize him and helps him transfer his final 70 years to King David.

In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus is accompanied throughout his series of journeys by his guardian angel: the “gray-eyed goddess” of wisdom, Athena. In “David in Shadow and Light,” King David (Matt Pearson) has the benefit of two protectors in Adam and Metatron, who try to defend him, even as he sins and fights with King Saul (Bobby Smith) and Michal (Carolyn Agan). Still, viewers know that David will ultimately have too much blood on his hands to build the Temple, and he will die unhappy for his inability to achieve this dream, just as Moses did when he only managed to see Israel from the distant peak of Mount Nebo.

Where most plays that address biblical topics deal in clichés and very loose allegiance to the text, “David in Shadow and Light” must be commended for its careful study of Jewish scripture and commentaries. Hyman does invoke poetic license at various points in the narrative, but he proves himself to be such a diligent student of scripture that these departures appear to be conscious decisions rather than ones bred from ignorance.

The basic storyline is based on tradition. According to the Zohar (Part 1, page 91b), God showed Adam how history would unfold, so Adam, who was supposed to live until 1,000, donated his final 70 years to David. The Zohar does not mention any angel, but the Yalkut Shimoni (Bereishit 41) does include Metatron in the story. In the Yalkut, Adam asks God for permission to give David the 70 years, and God agrees. Adam then writes up a contract (which perhaps inspires the contract Faust proposes to Mephistopheles in Goethe’s “Faust”), which he, God, and Metatron sign. Metatron is viewed as a protector of the Jews, and the name (which is not feminine in scripture) might mean “messenger.”

The play casts Goliath (Russell Sunday) as a punk rocker, with a Mohawk, a lot of spikes, and tight leather pants. This, of course, does not appear in the Bible, but a punk rocker with a serious attitude problem makes sense, in light of the biblical tale of Goliath trash-talking the Jewish soldiers in Samuel 1:17, “Why have you come out to battle? Am I not the Philistine and you the servants of Saul? Choose for yourselves a man, and let him come down to me.” He later curses David’s God and tells him, “Come to me, and I will give your body to birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Even if the giant’s attire is more contemporary than biblical, the play does follow the Babylonian Talmud in its decision to have Goliath haunt David after he is beheaded and insist he is David’s relative. Tractate Sotah (page 42b), which responds to the moment in the Book of Ruth where Orpah kisses Naomi goodbye while Ruth, clinging to her, states, “Let the descendents of the one who kissed (‘neshukah/’) fall in battle to the sons of the one who remained (‘devukah’).” The Talmud is of course referring to David and Goliath.
The reference to Samuel should read 1 Samuel 17:8 and the later reference to Samuel, not quoted here, should be 1 Samuel 16. I don't have time to check the other references.

Background here. In response to my earlier post, Carla Sulzbach sent some relevant links that I didn't have time to post at the time. The story is told in Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews IV, p. 87:
In a measure David was indebted for his life to Adam. At first only three hours of existence had been allotted to him. When God caused all future generations to pass in review before Adam, he besought God to give David seventy of the thousand years destined for him. A deed of gift, signed by God and the angel Metatron, was drawn up. Seventy years were legally conveyed from Adam to David, and in accordance with Adam's wishes, beauty, dominion, and poetical gift (12) went with them.
And the story from the Yalkut is given here. Carla also noted the parallel to Joseph's and Clarence's viewing of George Bailey's life in It's a Wonderful Life, which had occurred to me too.
EPHREM THE SYRIAN was saint of the day on 9 June and got a blurb from the Catholic News Agency. He wrote a great deal of important Syriac literature in the fourth century, a good bit of which still survives. For more, see here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

HAARETZ EDITORIALIZES AGAINST the proposed Israeli-Palestianian archaeological agreement. Excerpt from this piece by Meron Benvenisti:
Indeed, the agreement has sections that deal with the return of archaeological artifacts that were removed from the occupied territories since 1967, preservation of archaeological sites, cooperation on excavations, as well as special arrangements for Jerusalem. But the interest raised by the draft is connected less to its details than to its fundamental approach, which regards Israel's archaeological activities in the West Bank as a theft of cultural objects rightfully belonging to the Palestinians, as if Israelis were colonialist grave robbers a la 19th century, who stripped the precious historical legacy of the Ancient Near East and transferred them to museums in Europe. Now, goes the logic, as the land Israel is divided into two states and the era of colonialism is brought to an end, what was stolen will be restored to its rightful owners.

This approach transforms national cultural heritage into a matter of collections, which exist to be exhibited in museums before tourists, or to be part of the antiquities trade. Even though the Cultural Heritage Agreement declares that "Israel and Palestine constitute one archaeological domain that is divided by political borders," the concept that drawing geopolitical borders can determine the ownership of an ancient artifact - or an archaeological site - by one nation or another, is not only simplistic and legalistic, but should be unacceptable to anyone for whom national or cultural heritage is not dictated by "peace makers" specializing in conflict resolution and creators of a virtual world.

It is true that chauvinists and settlers have corrupted this heritage and turned it into a rite of blood and earth, but it must also be recognized that an approach that is willing to view the Qumran site, for example, as Palestinian, is an unfortunate approach that stems from revulsion at the aggressive effort to transform the Palestinians into aliens in their homeland.
Background here.

UPDATE (17 June): Todd Bolen has much more from Joseph Lauer here.
JAMES KUGEL is interviewed about his book How to Read the Bible by CBCRadio.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"This is very bellicose literature," [Amy] Cottrill [assistant professor of religion at Birmingham-Southern College, Alabama] said. "It's very violent. They are asking God to go kill their enemy."

Though they may be largely ignored, the psalms are considered along with the rest of the Bible to be divinely inspired and the word of God to most evangelical Christians, Cottrill said. "The Bible has a tremendous amount of authority," she said.

The ancient texts, held sacred for millennia, are deserving of scrutiny and study, she said. "There is a trend toward reading less scripture," she said.

Cottrill, 37, has a doctorate in Hebrew Bible from Emory University in Atlanta and a master of divinity degree from Methodist Theological Seminary in Delaware, Ohio.

She grew up in Parkersburg, W.Va., the daughter of a United Methodist minister, but she is a teacher, not an ordained minister or preacher.

"I knew pretty early on I wanted to teach," she said.

Cottrill arrived on the faculty at Birmingham-Southern a year ago and teaches classes on world religions, Old Testament, New Testament, gender in the Hebrew Bible, and Bible in contemporary culture.

Her book, "Language, Power and Identity in the Lament Psalms of the Individual," offers literary analysis of the writing style of the psalmists.

She finds them to be starkly different in worldview from the modern religious sensibilities of Jews and Christians.

"Most mainstream religious people do not think of God as a religious warrior," she said. "The psalmists did. To them, God is all-powerful, but God is also very personal, very close. They definitely feel they have access. Sometimes they barter with God, saying, `If I die as a result of this suffering, who is going to praise you?' That's a pretty bold view."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

THE NABATEAN SPICE ROUTE is the subject of a long Travel piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. Excerpt:
Dr Tsvika Tsuk, the chief archaeologist of the Israel Parks and Nature Authority, says the government has invested $US6 million ($6.4 million) in the past 10 years in the spice route, predominantly to preserve the Nabataean ruins. "There are no Nabataean documents but we know about them from the Roman historians, and the Negev is littered with archaeological clues," he says. "They numbered about 10,000 in the third and fourth centuries BCE [Before Common Era or BC], although at their peak, in the first century CE [AD], they grew to 25,000."

The next day we continue west towards Gaza. Soon, the desert gives way to greener pastures. Atlantic pistachio trees appear. European bee-eaters abound; a lilac-breasted roller flits by.

The beware-of-the-camels signs disappear and in their place are signs to Sderot, the Israeli town often the target of Kassam missiles from Gaza.

Gaza, the heartland of Hamas extremists, is a no-go zone. Instead, I'm perched on a ridge just above Kibbutz Nir-Oz, peering through binoculars. Although the Mediterranean is barely visible, I imagine ships full of cargo gently edging their way across the horizon, redolent with perfume, incense and spices.

So why did the kings of the desert who ruled the spice route for 500 years disappear, leaving only astounding archaeological relics? What happened to these ingenious nomads who built "the rose red city half as old as time", as Petra was described by British scholar John Burgon in 1845?

The Romans began to discover sea routes, rendering the overland spice route obsolete. In 106 AD, they annexed the Nabataean kingdom. Soon the nomads began planting crops, including vines, which they harvested on terraces that are now being reinvented by Eyal Izrael and a clutch of Israeli viticulturists. Laying down roots on the land ensured the Nabataeans' assimilation into Roman culture.

"We knew about the Nabataeans growing grapes," says Izrael, who owns Carmey Avdat Winery. "We took their concept and planted the vines exactly on the same spot, taking advantage of the same irrigation systems."

Gazing at the fertile valley below, I realise the rock I am standing on is not what it seems. It is the crossroads of antiquity and modernity.
There are in fact Nabatean documents and I'm sure the reporter misunderstood whatever Dr. Tsuk said. There are some substantial texts in the Babatha archive and there are also thousands of brief rock inscriptions.

Friday, June 13, 2008

TZIPORI (Sepphoris), home of Rabbi Judah the Nasi, traditional editor of the Mishnah, gets a Tourism profile in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
It was in Tzipori, at the end of the third century, that the eminent rabbi edited a compilation of Jewish traditional literature and Oral Law known as the Mishna. Considered the second most important book in Judaism (after the Torah), the Mishna shaped, and continues to shape, all aspects of Jewish life everywhere.

No wonder, then, that on the day that Rebbi breathed his last people thronged to the city to mourn him and follow him to his grave. The Talmud tells us that many miracles occurred on that fateful day, a Shabbat eve. It seems that the sun stood still until every mourner returned home. And only after each one had cooked his fish, filled a jar with water and lit his lamp did the sun sink in the Heavens and Shabbat commence.

Despite its indisputable importance, there was little to see at the site of ancient Tzipori until the early 1980s. Although small-scale excavations were carried out during the British Mandate, and remains of a Roman theater were discovered, no effort was made to find the rest of the famous Jewish city. Indeed, the hill on which it stood was completely covered with dirt, brush, and fruit trees left from the hostile Arab village that stood nearby until 1948.

When serious digs finally began, archeologists could hardly believe the result: not only did the ancient city sport a theater, but one that was well-preserved. Unique mosaics were uncovered in several parts of the site along with entire neighborhoods, a market street and the marvelous underground water system.

Today ancient Tzipori is one of the most exciting national parks in the country. When you visit, you follow a wide Roman Cardo to marvelous extensive fifth-century mosaics illustrating the Nile River Festival and Amazon warriors. If you look down at your feet you will see crevices made by chariot wheels and, carved into the stones, a menora and games played by children long ago.
"METHUSELAH," the Masada date sprout, is now a small date palm:
"Methuselah" Tree Grew From 2,000-Year-Old Seed
Anne Minard
for National Geographic News
June 12, 2008

The oldest-sprouted seed in the world is a 2,000-year-old plant from Jerusalem, a new study confirms.

"Methuselah," a 4-foot-tall (1.2-meter-tall) ancestor of the modern date palm, is being grown at a protected laboratory in the Israeli capital.

Because a witness to the long-ago siege recorded the Jews' plight and eventual mass suicide, locations of their food stores—which the Jews left behind to show they didn't starve to death—were well documented.

So the exact age of the seed isn't a big surprise, said project leader Sarah Sallon of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, but: "I was surprised that we were able to grow it."

Methuselah beats out the previous oldest-seed record holder, a lotus tree grown from a 1,300-year-old seed in 1995 by Jane Shen-Miller, a botanist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues.

There are photos too.

I've noted the progress of "Methuselah" frequently in the last few years. The first announcement was here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SOLOMONIC MAGIC is alive and well. Get your amulets and seals while they're hot.
"TUTELA VALUI." You find Latin in the most interesting places.

Glenn Reynolds comments "At least it didn't say Romanes eunt domus."

People seem to be taking Ms. Dupre to task for messing up the language, as often does happen with tattoos, but I'm not sure that's fair in this case. It looks to me as though she's aiming to say "I have stayed healthy through protection." The grammar works if tutela is taken as an ablative of means or instrument (with a final long a). The message, of course, is appropriate, but one wonders how many of the intended readership would have known Latin well enough to get the point.

UPDATE: I see that Rogue Classicist David Meadows understands the grammar the same way I do.

UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers.

UPDATE (13 June): Welcome to Ann Althouse's readers as well.
THE RUSSIAN COLLECTION OF JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS is on the agenda of the JNUL and they hope to have it relocated to Israel:
State renews efforts to bring disputed Jewish manuscript collection from Russia
By Anshel Pfeffer

The State of Israel plans to renew its efforts to retrieve the world's second-largest collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts from Russia.

Various parties have been trying to bring the impressive Ginzburg collection to Israel for years. Now, they are hoping that renewed Russian-Israeli cooperation, primarily Israel's expected transfer of the Sergei building in Jerusalem to Russia, will enable the collection to be brought to Israel.

The noble Russian-Jewish Ginzburg family acquired its collection over three generations, beginning in the 1840s. The collection includes 14,000 books, 45 incunabula (books published in the 14th century at the start of the printing era), more than 2,000 Hebrew manuscripts and 1,000 Arabic manuscripts. It is considered the second largest collection of antique Jewish literature in the world, after the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Baron David Ginzburg, the last of the collectors, died in 1910. After his death, Zionist activists, including Eliezer Ben Yehuda, began trying to bring the collection to the land of Israel. In May 1917, the National Library in Jerusalem signed a contract with parties in Russia to buy the collection for half a million rubles. The acquisition was funded by donations from Russian Zionists, and when the money was delivered, the books and manuscripts were packed into crates to be delivered. But the shipment was delayed by World War I, and when the Bolshevik Revolution broke out, the Soviet authorities seized the books and sent them to the Lenin Library in Moscow.

Over the years, prominent Jews, including Albert Einstein, Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, and Foreign Ministry officials, tried to bring the Ginzburg collection to Israel, but their efforts were rejected. Now the heads of the Jewish National and University Library (Israel's official national library, which is located in Jerusalem), including director general Shmuel Har Noy and board chairman David Blumberg, are trying to put the matter on the public agenda.