Saturday, February 28, 2009

THE SBL FORUM has published a number of new essays this month. This one in particular caught my eye:
They’ve Given You a Number and Taken Away Your Name’: Gnostic Themes in The Prisoner, Television’s Ultimate Cult Classic

Mark Holwager and Valarie Ziegler

Surprisingly, no one has discussed The Prisoner’s striking parallels to Gnostic religions. Using the Gospel of Thomas and “The Hymn of the Pearl” from the Acts of the Apostle Thomas, we will demonstrate how The Prisoner exemplifies the Gnostic myth of descent and return, depicting a hero who refuses to be fully embodied in the hateful world in which he is imprisoned, who insists (contrary to evidence) that he is from a truer world in a higher realm, and who risks everything to return to the beginning and reunite with his genuine self....
It's quite interesting. The Truman Show is another example of a retelling of the Gnostic demiurgic redemption myth in modern media. The parallels are so strong that I'm inclined to think they're deliberate. Truman is the True Man trapped in the false world of the Demiurge Christof (the off-Christ) and is inspired to escape by Sylvia (Sophia), and so on. But I'm hardly the first to point this out.

Friday, February 27, 2009

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Is 2 (Slavonic) Enoch being read by Dispensationalists? In the Tampa Tribune one Dale L. Gillis writes with consternation:
Recently I found that some believers in Rapture are reading The Secrets of Enoch and treating it as Scripture. While Enoch is an ancient book, it isn't in the Bible or even in the Apocrypha. Supposedly it was written before the flood and Noah carried a copy on the Ark.

Secrets of Enoch assume that God has a physical body. It tells us that both Eden and the place of torment for mortals are in the third heaven. This is apparently lower than the moon and sun, which are in the fourth heaven. The fifth heaven contains the place of torment for demons, the angels who rejected God.

Although read by Rapturists, Secrets of Enoch says nothing about God planning to Rapture believers off the earth before the end. ...
I wonder if this is an isolated incident or a trend. Could get interesting ...
ANOTHER SCALE MODEL of the Jerusalem Temple:
Farmer builds model of Biblical temple
A retired farmer has spent more than 30 years building an enormous scale model of a Biblical temple.

Last Updated: 12:44PM GMT 26 Feb 2009 (The Daily Telegraph)

Alec Garrard, 78, has dedicated a massive 33,000 hours to constructing the ancient Herod's Temple, which measures a whopping 20ft by 12ft.

The pensioner has hand-baked and painted every clay brick and tile and even sculpted 4,000 tiny human figures to populate the courtyards.

Historical experts believe the model is the best representation in the world of what the Jewish temple actually looked like and it has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the globe.

No "historical experts" are actually quoted by name, and I would take the claim with a grain of salt. The writer seems unaware of the scale model of the Temple (indeed, of the Herodian city of Jerusalem) now residing at the Israel Museum (see here and follow the links back). That one's 50:1 scale makes its Temple twice the size of this one (100:1 scale). But this is still quite an impressive hobby.
CAN'T MAKE IT UP: A Torah vending machine.
Vending Machines Dispense Torah Learning

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

( Learning Torah has replaced chips, candy bars and pretzels at a vending machine on the second floor of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. Passengers can receive a small booklet that allows them to cover a precept of Jewish Law, Mishna, Aggadah (allegories and non-legalistic text from the Talmud) and part of the weekly Torah reading.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

SOME CONTROVERSIES that - directly or indirectly - involve archaeology and ancient Judaism are currently in the news:

This one just goes on and on:
Reform rabbis urge relocation of Museum of Tolerance
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

The leaders of Reform Jewry in North America on Wednesday urged the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center to relocate its planned Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem to an alternative location in the city due to the location of a Muslim cemetery found on a section of the planned construction site.

Background here.

This one has been around for awhile too, but there are significant recent developments:
Palestinians ask Obama to press Israel to halt demolitions

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) — The Palestinian Authority urged the US president on Monday to press Israel to scrap a plan to raze almost 90 homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

"We call on President Barack Obama to intervene personally to have this project stopped," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the main aides of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The Palestinian owners of 88 houses in the Silwan neighbourhood have received eviction notices saying that the structures will be destroyed because they were built or expanded without the necessary permits. The move would affect about 1,500 people.

Haaretz also noted the following recently:
Jerusalem offers to voluntarily relocate 1,500 Palestinian residents
By Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem municipality may offer to voluntarily relocate some 1,500 Palestinian residents of the city's Silwan neighborhood - currently living on top of an archaeological site - to alternative lots in East Jerusalem, residents say.

The option was brought up by city council and East Jerusalem portfolio holder Yakir Segev, in meetings with the residents.

(The latter via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

Finally, an archaeological controversy involving ancient Jewish bones outside Israel:
Jewish bones in Rabat are ours'
Heritage Malta says everything must stay on site

Kurt Sansone (Times of Malta)

The Jewish catacombs in Rabat were at the centre of controversy in recent days after Heritage Malta called in police when a Jewish religious delegation allegedly entered the site without authorisation.

The Jewish community in Malta is demanding that the human bones found inside the catacombs are given a proper burial according to Jewish rites.

A Jewish delegation made up of at least 10 experts, Rabbis and archaeologists from Israel and the US was brought over to Malta by the Jewish community to carry out the burial.

YESTERDAY was the fifth anniversary of the USA release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The British release wasn't until 26 March and I didn't see it until late April. My review of the film is here.

Evy Nelson asks on Facebook, "Isn't it ironic that a film which generated mountains of press at the time of its release passes its 5th anniversary today unnoticed ... unmentioned?"

Sic transit gloria mundi. Now how do you say that in Aramaic?
MORE ON THE SIMULATED ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG in Texas (see here). Trey Thames e-mails to alert me to the Tel Ya'ar website and to a local TV interview:

And he adds:
The only correction I have for the article that you referenced is the number of artifacts within the site. We have about 350 artifacts, not 50. In addition there is the remains of 4 homes and 5 skeletons. Each of the skeletons were placed in such a way, or other evidence given for cause of death or the manner in which they were killed. Trying to give our students more opportunities for deduction and analytical thinking.

I'd love to have some feedback on our program, if you have any.
Nothing except to say that it looks like a very good one.
IT'S NOT CRYSTAL, but it's a
Rare Magic Inscription on Human Skull
By Dan Levene (Biblical Archaeology Review)

Not long ago, the well-known collector Shlomo Moussaieff acquired two earthenware bowls, the open ends of which were adjoined to form a kind of case—inside the case was an ancient human skull. A magic incantation, written in Aramaic, was inscribed on the skull.

The article tells us that at least four other such skulls survive, none scientifically excavated but all discovered long enough ago that they are very unlikely to be forgeries. There's nothing about the authentication process for this one, so I can't say anything about the case for its genuineness. But here is what Levene says about it:
This skull came to Moussaieff inside two bowls that formed a case. The bowls themselves contain no writing. An examination of the bowls gave me the impression that they were an original and integral part of a single magical object of which the skull was the main part. This is, however, speculative.

The inscription on the skull contains many of the features common to magic bowl inscriptions. We know the names of at least some of the people for whom the skull incantation was made. Two of them are common Jewish names: Martha and Shilta. According to one scholar, Shilta is derived from an Aramaic word meaning “after-birth.” And the skull is probably that of a woman. Although parts of 11 lines of text have survived, it is difficult to make much sense of what remains. The text is surrounded by a squiggly line, a common element among incantation bowls.

The text, however, is only part of the mystery. Basic questions continue to baffle: Why a skull? I have no certain answer. That so few examples exist, in comparison to the large number of bowls, suggests that the use of skulls for incantation texts was rare. Judaism, of course, has many taboos regarding human remains. Even touching a corpse imparts impurity. Necromancy is forbidden5 (although it was obviously sometimes practiced). Perhaps the skull was used for this text because it was thought that the spirits of the dead, to which skulls are obviously connected, have access to the supernatural realm.

In the end, this skull and its text remain mysterious, unfortunately revealing less than they conceal.
Indeed. This is really cool and I hope it can be shown to be genuine. Related BAR articles include "Lilith: Seductress, Heroine or Murderer?" and "Word Play: The Power of the Written Word in Ancient Israel." For more on the Aramaic incantation bowls, see here and here and follow the links.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

THE VALMADONNA LIBRARY, exhibited by Sotheby's, is reviewed in The New Republic:
The Valmadonna Astonishment

by Peter N. Miller
Five hundred years of sacred history in one place.
Post Date Tuesday, February 24, 2009

For medieval Christians, Jerusalem was the omphalos of the world--the navel. It was there that this world was connected to the world to come. Dante parodied this spiritualized geography in his Divine Comedy, where the descent into and beyond the bottomless pit of Inferno inverted into the mountain of purgatory whence the ascent to paradise could begin. On the Bebelplatz in Berlin, between the opera house and the old university, the Nazis celebrated their ascendency by burning the books of Jews and other degenerates in 1933. Visitors since 1995 can peer through a small glass porthole into a room carved into this ground by the Israeli artist Micha Ullman. It is a square white room filled floor to ceiling with shelves. But the shelves are empty. The books are gone, buried in the air.

If one were able to descend into that room, and if that room were as bottomless as the agonies for which it stands, and if our universe were shaped like Dante's, we would re-emerge from the Bebelplatz monument into another white square room--even bigger--also lined floor to ceiling with shelves. Only this time, in a reversal as breathtaking as it is improbable, the shelves would be filled with books. Tall and short, thick and thin, with pretty bindings and quotidian ones, a few open to spectacular illustrations, most open to ordinary pages of print. This way out of a bookless dystopia, this emergence from the collapse of civilization into a sanctuary of civilization, was available to the roughly 10,000 people who in recent weeks packed the tenth-floor galleries at Sotheby's in New York to view the 13,000 books of the Valmadonna Trust collection. They were vouchsafed a vision as hallucinatory as any in Borges.

Nice image.

See also The Valmadonna Slideshow.
TWO LECTURES by renowned specialists in early Judaism are happening in the United States on opposite sides of the country:
Schäfer to give annual Cherrick Lecture in Jewish Studies

By Neil Schoenherr

Feb. 24, 2009 -- Peter Schäfer, Ph.D., the Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies and director of the Program in Judaic Studies at Princeton University, will present the 2009 Adam Cherrick Lecture in Jewish Studies, "Why Did Baby Messiah Disappear? The Birth of Christianity From the Spirit of Judaism," at 7 p.m. March 19 in Wilson Hall, room 214.

The lecture is free and open to the public. A kosher reception will follow.

If you follow the link for the next one, you have to scroll down a bit:
Professor to speak about Jewish mysticism tonight

CHULA VISTA: Professor Rachel Elior, a biblical scholar from Jerusalem, will lecture on the topic of Priests & Angels: Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Jewish Mysticism, from 7:30 to 9:30 tonight at Temple Beth Sholom, 208 Madrona St., Chula Vista.

Elior, one of the foremost experts on Jewish mysticism, has written 13 books and has taught at Princeton, Yeshiva and Michigan universities.

The cost is $10 and is open to the public. Information: (619) 420-6040 or –D.B.
Wish I could go to both lectures. Especially sorry about Elior's, since I'll be in San Diego in April and so am just missing it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A LATE-ANTIQUE SYNAGOGUE in the Golan is profiled by Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
Today on the Golan, the greatest Jewish interest centers on the synagogues, which number as many as 25. Some have been largely renovated, like that of Katzrin, but one of the most fascinating stands in ruins at Umm el-Kanatir, and is now being carefully reconstructed stone by stone by engineer Yeshu Drei and archeologist Haim Ben-David of the Kinneret Academic College and Bar-Ilan University.

Drei has erected a giant mobile crane on the site and plans to lift all the remaining black basalt stones, which have been carefully numbered from one to more than 2,000, into position within the next two years.

The work has been going on apace for some five years and, when complete, it will be a fine monument to the skill of the original builders of the fifth and sixth centuries CE and the meticulous reconstructors of today. It already gives us today an impressive picture of what the synagogue must have been like in the past.
The ruin has some points of interest, including an engraving of a man sticking his tongue out at the viewer and, perhaps, some early evidence for a Hanukkah Menorah (cf. here).
ARCHAEOLOGIST* JOE ZIAS denounces Biblical Archaeology Review and its editor Hershel Shanks in an essay published on the Bible and Interpretation website:
H. Shanks, “The Liberator of the Scrolls,” and BAR’s Contribution to Archaeology

For years, BAR has promoted itself as having championed the interests of the Dead Sea Scrolls; in fact, Shanks continually presents himself as “liberating the scrolls from a handful of scholars and making them available to all scholars. The opposite is true.”

By Joe Zias
Science and Archaeology Group,
The Hebrew University
February 2009
It will be interesting to see how Hershel Shanks responds.

*UPDATE (28 February): Sorry, that should be "osteologist."

Monday, February 23, 2009

A DAY CONFERENCE on the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls is being held at KCL in May:
The Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Day Conference at King's College London (Strand Campus)

Thursday 14th May 2009


10.15: Registration (Council Room, directions from Strand Campus Lobby)

10.30-12.00: Discussion of pre-circulated extracts from Michael Knibb, Professor Emeritus, King's College London, Essays on the Book of Enoch and Other Early Jewish Texts and Traditions, Brill, 2009.

12.00-12.45: Lunch

12.45-2.00: Charlotte Hempel, University of Birmingham, 'The Teaching on the Two Spirits and the Literary History of the Community Rule'.

2.00-3.15: Lutz Doering, King's College London, 'Letter, Treatise or Historicising Document? Revisiting the Genre of 4QMMT'

3.15-3.30: Tea

3.30-5.00: Short papers by Graduates and recent PhDs.*

5.00-5.30: Reception

5.30-7.00: Simon Tanner, Computing and the Humanities, King's College London, 'The Dead Sea Scrolls Digitalization project'.

*To offer a 20 minute paper (plus 10 minutes feedback and discussion) on a theme related to the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, please complete and return the form at the link below by 15th March 2009 and attach a (roughly) 300 word proposal. Presenters must be registered at the conference.

To register for the conference, please complete the form at the link below, by 15th March to propose a Graduate paper and by 1st May to register, and send it, along with a cheque for £15 payable to King's College London, to:

Ariane Dreysse
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
King's College London
Strand, London WC2R 2LS

Questions? E-mail
(Via the SOTS List.)
ANCIENT HEBREW INSCRIPTIONS from Iron Age II and the Hasmonean period have been excavated at Umm Tuba in the vicinity of Jerusalem. [UPDATE: Coverage also in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.] (Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

UPDATE (24 February): Zip file of photographs here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: The Archangel Metatron is clearly fond of jazz. Most recently we find a song in his honor by the Bad Plus. According to band pianist Ethan Iverson in an article in All About Jazz, "Metatron — in the song 'My Friend Metatron' — is an archangel with whom you'd better not mess."