Saturday, January 10, 2009

GILGAMEL the demon - one who appears as an angel of light, as some of the more dangerous ones do - had his debut tonight in the second episode of the new ITV/STV series Demons. Gilgamel clearly gets his name from the Sumerian King Gilgamesh, known mainly from the Epic of Gilgamesh, but with the ending -"-el" tacked onto the end of his truncated name. This is a time honored-method of creating angel names and sometimes demonic names as well. As for Gilgamesh, there's ancient precedent in the Book of Giants for him be recast in the role of a malevolent supernatural being. I had a couple of relevant Web lectures posted, but they seem to have accidentally been deleted in the recent upgrade of the University website. I'll try to get them restored on Monday.

Demons is silly, but it keeps its tongue sufficiently in cheek to make it kind of fun.
EVE Online Prepares to Become Apocrypha
The article isn't relevant, but the headline is cool.
THE UNBORN, the new horror movie, has been getting numerous reviews, most of which pan it thoroughly. But it appears to have a couple of themes of minor interest (dybbuk, exorcism in Hebrew), so I note the review in the Chicago Tribune:
MOVIE REVIEW 'The Unborn' ★1/2
'The Unborn' stars Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman
Rating: 11/2 stars (poor-fair)

By Michael Phillips | Tribune critic
January 10, 2009

Filmed in Chicago but universal in its lameness, writer-director David S. Goyer's horror thriller "The Unborn" is the story of a dybbuk (a spirit searching for a human host to possess) who makes trouble for the skinny North Shore college student played by Odette Yustman, who's always out jogging when she should be considering a sandwich. The movie climaxes with a Hebrew exorcism, conducted by Gary Oldman's Rabbi Sendak. If this had been a Lutheran exorcism, the victim would've been pelted with passive-aggression and a hot dish. A Unitarian exorcism? Counseling and mint tea.

Perhaps the theme most consistently mentioned in the reviews I read (I got through many, but not all of them) was how often Ms. Yustman appears in her undies or less. But the relentless use of clichés and the Holocaust-exploitation came up frequently as well.

Be that as it may, I have more on the dybbuk myth here.
PALMYRA is covered in a detailed travel piece in the Malaysia Star:
Palmyra — past & present

Palmyra was once ruled by Queen Zenobia, a descendant of Cleopatra. She defied Rome and her country was subjugated. All but forgotten, travellers have brought her back to life.
My guide, Fayez, is a charismatic Syrian who has taught archaeology at a local university and so is an excellent source of information if prodded with the right questions. Within the tomb, the mummified remains of the dead were stored in drawers recessed into the walls and stacked vertically on top of each other. Each drawer cover bore a bust of the dead person — not as he or she was, but as he or she was thought to have become in a glorious afterlife.

In all, the tower could store over 300 remains.

Another type of burial place, as exemplified by the Tomb of the Three Brothers, is the underground chamber called a hypogeum. A flight of stairs leads to a large underground chamber which sports the same arrangement of sliding drawers stacked vertically for storing mummies. Two-thousand-year-old murals decorate the walls.

Fayez translates the script on the tomb door, in a Palmyrene dialect of Aramaic, the lingua franca of the day. It declares the tomb a commercial venture — a funeral service that accepted bodies for a fee, some two millenniums ago!

The known tombs have all long been looted and emptied, but there are some mummies at the Palmyra museum, with a detailed explanation of the mummification process — not recommended reading immediately after lunch!
An intricately carved ceiling in the Temple of Ba’al.

Palmyra is mentioned as Tadmor in ancient texts dating as far back as the second millennium BC. It is also mentioned in the Bible, and was a part of the Roman empire in the first century BC when its importance as a trading centre grew as trade flourished.

Exotic materials — fabrics, spices, ceramics, glassware and ivory — passed though Palmyra, since it was on a crossroads between the Roman empire and the great civilisations to the east.

The Roman emperor Hadrian visited Palmyra in 129 AD and was enchanted by it. The great structures that remain today were largely built during this period, the halcyon days of Palmyra.

The greatest of these is the Temple of Ba’al (sun). In the sandy wastes of toppled columns, there is little left that hints at the grandeur of the temple. It falls to my guide, who has come equipped with drawings of the temple as it once stood, to conjure up images of what must once have been a monument to the wealth and power of Palmyra.
More on recent excavations at Palmyra is here, here, here, and here. I've commented on a Greek inscription here and on an inscription in Palmyrene Aramaic located in Britain here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

MORTON SMITH and the Secret Gospel of Mark get another look in light of recently published correspondence between Smith and Gershom Scholem, the great twentieth-century scholar of Jewish mysticism. Professor Anthony Grafton has a long article in The Nation ("Gospel Secrets: The Biblical Controversies of Morton Smith"). Excerpt:
To prove that Smith invented nothing, [Guy] Stroumsa has published a fascinating collection of primary sources: Smith's correspondence with a lifelong friend, the twentieth century's greatest Jewish scholar, Gershom Scholem. Smith, an adventurer in life as well as in scholarship, went to Jerusalem in 1940 on a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship awarded him by the Harvard Divinity School. Caught in Palestine by World War II, he spent four years there. At the Hebrew University--the pre-eminent German university in the world in those days, thanks to its faculty of erudite, brilliant refugees--Smith studied classics with Moshe Schwabe and Hans Lewy and Jewish mysticism with Scholem. He helped translate Scholem's first great book on the Kabbala, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, and translated an ancient Jewish mystical text under Scholem's supervision. More remarkably, Smith wrote a doctoral dissertation, in Hebrew, on Tannaitic (early rabbinical) parallels to the Gospels and became the Hebrew University's first Christian PhD. Returning to the United States in 1945, he began a career in the Episcopalian ministry, then moved back into scholarship and became, eventually, a professor of ancient history at Columbia University, where he taught until 1990. From 1945 until Scholem's death in 1982, the two men corresponded regularly. Their letters, which Stroumsa and associates have edited, open a new window on Smith's career, the scholarly world in which Smith flourished and the Secret Mark.

For Stroumsa, the documents make one point clear beyond doubt: Smith could not have forged Clement's letter or Secret Mark. For Smith's letters show him discussing the material with Scholem, over time, in ways that clearly reflect a process of discovery and reflection. From the start, he was sure he had a new work of Clement's on his hands. In August 1959, Smith wrote to Scholem that "the material by Clement of Alexandria which I found at Mar Saba last year is turning out to be of great importance, and as soon as I get all minor nuisances off my hands I must work hard at it." Later that year he went into more detail, noting that the letter "contains some amazing information about the Carpocratians and the Gospel according to Mark." By early 1961 he was working up the materials that eventually went into his two books.

But the more radical conclusions took time to emerge. Not until October 1962 did Smith tell Scholem that "I am really beginning to think Carpocrates and the sort of things he represented (and especially the ascent through the heavens) were far closer to Jesus than has ever been supposed." If Smith really forged Clement's letter, then he also must have spent years deliberately deceiving one of the few scholars he deeply respected. Yet he showed remarkable equanimity when his efforts proved partly unsuccessful. When Smith's scholarly book on Secret Mark appeared, Scholem accepted the letter as Clementine. But though he appreciated Smith's evidence about the magical side of early Christianity as "very good and convincing as far as it pertains to the tradition of the original church," he also found himself "not sure whether the story can be truly taken as historical evidence about Jesus himself." Smith, in his reply, showed only gratitude for his friend's detailed critical response: "Your letter pleased me very much and I thank you most sincerely for writing me at such length about my book.... As to Jesus, I should perhaps have emphasized more strongly that all accounts of his teaching and practice are conjectural, and I claim to my own conjectures only that they fit the reports as well as any and better than most." This is the tone of a colleague in inquiry, not a foiled forger.
Grafton concludes:
... I believe that Smith really found his letter, and that Scholem gave him the framework into which he inserted it. But that's just what I think. Many will disagree. This time, the professor is the Cheshire cat. He smiles and is gone.
That goes against the current consensus - which doesn't, of course, make it wrong. Then again, I ask you, how much understanding of people can someone have who writes the following?
Most philologists, as is well known, have little sense of humor--something every forger needs.
UPDATE: Grafton's view (about Secret Mark, not philologists' sense of humor) may not be the consensus, but he's in good company. Note Helmut Koester's declaration at the SBL meetings in Boston last November (as reported by Mark Goodacre):
"If the Secret Gospel of Mark is a forgery, then I am the biggest fool in the SBL."
As a long-time veteran of SBL, I can assure you this is no small claim.

(Via Hypotyposeis. I will be interested to hear Stephen Carlson's thoughts on this article.)

UPDATE (13 January): More on Scholem from Grafton here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

THE TWELVE DAYS OF MEIER at Ken Schenck's Quadrilateral Thoughts blog.
PHOTOGRAPHS of the Cologne Mani Codex are available online here.

(Via April DeConick at her Forbidden Gospels blog.)
THE FIRE GOSPEL by Michel Faber, is reviewed by Janet Maslin in the NYT. Excerpt:
Mr. Faber, still best known for his long, ravishing “Crimson Petal and the White,” this time manages to be most insightful when describing fatuous superficiality. Yes, review parodies are cheap shots, but he makes them priceless. Theo is horrified to learn that his book is being bought by readers of “The Da Vinci Code.” He marvels at Amazon’s own flat-footed product description. (Malchus’s account is “as honest and vivid as when it was written — in the 1st century AD, at the dawn of the Western world’s greatest faith.”) He encounters spectacular displays of semiliteracy (“once he gets his ear cut off and sees the crucifixtion, thats basicly it.”)

And he is treated by pedants the way Prometheus was treated by carrion-eating birds, even when those birds themselves are a point of contention. “Carrion-eating birds (whose precise species is unclear in the Aramaic, a detail on which Grippin expends a 17-line speculative footnote!) peck out his eyes and portions of his entrails,” one particularly irreverent reader complains. “A curse on these money-grubbing exercises in imaginary scholarship, cack-handed hokum and Mickey Mouse theology!” he complains.
The footnote is a nice touch.

Background here.
Reviving Ancient Scythopolis

Jan 7, 2009 4:44 PM, By Lisa Murphy (Live Design)

Reviving Ancient Scythopolis The ancient Roman-Byzantine city of Scythopolis in Israel was destroyed in 749 CE by an earthquake, but new life has been given to the area thanks to a multi-sensory multimedia project in the nearby archeological site of Beit She'an.

The $3 million project is a joint initiative of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism through the Israel Government Tourist Corporation, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, and the Beit She'an Municipality. The attraction is expected to bring in 400,000 visitors annually and was created by C-nario and Disk-In Pro.


Following the introductory presentation, visitors walk through the streets of Scythopolis with its marble columns, stone pavements, bathhouses, and mosaics, while watching images of people and objects projected on the shops, pillars, and building remains of the city streets. The images are accompanied by voices and music, reviving the atmosphere and daily life of an old Roman-Byzantine town. In Scythopolis’ ancient theatre, visitors can watch a Roman performance of dancing and music, as well as an audience applauding the performers—all projected on the theatre seats.

Background here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: More on the manuscript digitization project in Kerala, India:
Kerala to preserve Christian heritage

(Manorama Online)

Thrissur: Kerala has launched a project to preserve and digitise manuscripts and heritage material related to 2,000 years of Christianity in the state. The project, launched in collaboration with Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) and some leading European and American universities, also aims to "promote further studies on the subject in a proper perspective".

A forum called Association for the Preservation of the Saint Thomas Christian Heritage (APSTCH) has been formed to locate, gather and preserve all available documents including the manuscripts in Syrian. "The purpose of the project is to preserve and maintain the St Thomas Christian heritage, monuments, manuscripts and printed books in Syrian and Malayalam to create correct data-base for the study of Christianity in Kerala, their culture and traditions," APSTCH honorary president Mar Aprem said.


According to Mar Aprem, as many as 120 manuscripts had been digitised. They include 'The Chaldaean Kashkol' (breviary-prayer book) written in 1585 and 'Hudra' (prayer book for 365 days). According to historians, much of the original documents relating to native Christian community have been destroyed by Portuguese in the 15th and 16th century as part of their drive to "Latinise" and bring St Thomas Christians under the Papal control. Also, many other documents had perished due to humid tropical climate and the poor conditions in which they were preserved.

The KCHR is also trying to revive interest in Aramaic, an endangered Semitic dialect believed to have been spoken by Jesus Christ, among the masses, Aprem said. Aramaic, with different dialectical variations was spoken in parts of Syria, Iraq and Turkey. During Jesus's time Jews spoke Hebrew and Aramaic and its Galilean dialect was believed to have been spoken by Jesus. According to Aprem, modern Aramaic is spoken by over 4,00,000 people belonging to various emigrant communities that moved out of Middle East. For St Thomas Christians in Kerala, Syriac was the main church language till mid-20th century.
I noted what seems to be the same project last year here and I've also posted on Aramaic in Kerala here and here. And a few years ago I noted another Indian manuscript digitization project here. In that post I also discussed a Hebrew Old Testament pseudepigraphon (The Words of Gad the Seer) which was discovered in Cochin (Kochi), a city in Kerala. It would be nice if one of these projects turned up more pseudepigrapha manuscripts.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CAN'T MAKE IT UP: The Good Ship Phoenicia is protecting itself from pirates with a sonic ray gun.

(Via Dorothy King the PhDiva, who is keeping close track of current piratical conflicts. Background to the Phoenicia expedition is here.)
HERE'S "A LIST of people who belong to the online community of those who read ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and possibly other NW Semitic languages, with fire in their belly." I am pleased to be on it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

MURPHY'S LAW is celebrating (?) its 60th anniversary:
Murphy's Law rules! It’s the maxim that says if something
can go wrong, it will – and it’s now 60 years old. So just who WAS Mr Murphy?

By Marcus Dunk (Daily Mail)

Last updated at 12:35 AM on 06th January 2009

While this year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th of the publication of his On The Origin Of Species, another major theory is celebrating an anniversary this year and - if anything - it offers an even more profound insight into the workings of the world than Darwin's theory of evolution.

It was 60 years ago that Murphy's Law was first formerly introduced to the world. Also known as Sod's Law, this is the landmark theory which, put simply, states: If anything can go wrong, it will.


For Murphy himself, the law and its variations to which he gave his name was the cause of great annoyance. While he preferred to see the law as a principle of good, defensive design - a willingness to be prepared for the worst - he regarded most versions of his Law as 'ridiculous, trivial and erroneous', and said as much before his death in 1990.

Although he may have failed to see the joke, he does have something of a point. While it is easy to label Murphy's Law as the ultimate pessimist's charter, there is an undercurrent of optimism running just beneath the surface of this Law, one that wryly acknowledges that although things will probably go wrong, recognising that fact is the first step in being prepared for when that actually happens.

Faced with a downturn that could rival the Great Depression of the Thirties, Murphy's Law is the perfect creed for our times - a rallying cry of wry pessimism and cold-eyed realism that could be just the ticket to see us through the current downturn.

Unlike the Darwin anniversaries, no formal celebrations have been planned for the 60th birthday of Murphy's Law, but no matter.

In the coming year, if your plans go awry, if disaster strikes, you lose your job, lose your home or find your slice of toast has landed butter-side down on the kitchen floor, know that in your own way you have paid tribute to Murphy and his most universal of laws.
Now you know.

(Via Dorothy King on Facebook.)
VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: April DeConick notes an article with chemical/geological analysis by Yuval Goren in the Israel Exploration Journal.

Background here.
PHILIP JENKINS'S BOOK, The Lost History of Christianity, is reviewed by Brother Jeffrey Gros, F.S.C. in the Catholic Review Online. Excerpt:
In “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and How It Died,” Philip Jenkins provides an engaging volume, whose clarity of style and accessible narrative belies the carefully researched and detailed documentation that lies behind such a readable story.

He outlines the rise, heritage and expansion of these churches in the early centuries with centers attributed to the apostles. He describes their successful missionary activity as far as China, India and Indonesia, their rich literary and theological production, and their evangelization of whole cultures. He gives an engaging and differentiated view of the coming of Islam, its complex relations with its Jewish and Christian roots, and the variety of approaches it took to its Christian neighbors and subjects. Like Christian relationships with Jews in Europe, periods of toleration alternate with periods of persecution.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A NEW BOOK on the Sibylline Oracles.
ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: The Mars Volta's album, The Bedlam in Goliath comes in second in Johnny Firecloud's list of The Top 40 albums of 2008 at Craveonline:
From the very first second of "Aberinkula," the album's opener, Bedlam grabs you by the throat and shoves you down the rabbit hole. Middle-eastern harmonies at the end of the track segue directly into "Metatron," where we're introduced to the true mood of the album. Cedric's frantically swaying, polysyllabic verse delivery, coupled with Pridgen's otherworldly fills and stop-starts going into the chorus are only supplemented by Juan Alderete's stunning basswork and Rodríguez-López’s wah-wah wizardry. You'd think the song is over once the dreamy mid-song breakdown ceases, giving way to silence, but you'd be wrong; without warning, the song crashes back to life with a blindingly frantic pace.
Background here.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

APRIL DECONICK has a Report on "The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story" Exhibit: The Alexander son of Simon Ossuary. And she promises more reports on the exhibition, including on the Apocalypse/Vision of Gabriel inscription.

Background here.

UPDATE (5 January): Another review of the exhibition is here.

UPDATE: Somehow I missed April's interim report on the Apocalypse/Vision of Gabriel inscription.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences seems to have done pretty well. It ends today.
Museum officials say they don't know how many people have attended the exhibit. A spokeswoman says at least 85 percent to 90 percent of the 2,000 slots available each day have been filled since Dec. 26.
From April 19-21, 2009 the University of Notre Dame will host an international conference on the Quran entitled The Quran in Its Historical Context. Like the 2005 Notre Dame Quran conference (the papers of which are published with Routledge as The Quran in Its Historical Context), the 2009 conference is dedicated to an examination of the Qurans relationship with the historical circumstances in which it emerges and with the larger literary tradition especially Biblical in which it participates. Particular attention will be paid to the relationship of the Quran to Syriac Literature (and, among other things the theories of Christoph Luxenberg). The keynote speakers of the 2009 Notre Dame conference will be Profs. Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd and Robert Hoyland. Fr. Sidney Griffith will also present a paper. All are welcome to attend.

For more information please visit the conference website:
(From Gabriel Said Reynolds on the Hugoye list. Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch.")

For the conference volume of the 2005 Notre Dame conference see here. For "Christoph Luxenberg" see here and here.