Saturday, April 11, 2009

Where the language of Jesus stars on football field
Sheera Frenkel in Jish (London Times)

In a small church north of Nazareth a group of children are reinventing the spoken tongue of Jesus Christ.

“Hallelujah, blessed be the Lord,” yells out one boy, 7, in Aramaic, in a manner that would not disgrace a rap artist. Near by a girl clutching a pink bag copies down the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic script, dotting her lines with tiny hearts.

Scholars believe that Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount on the rolling hills surrounding this church. Two thousand years later these students are the newest members of the Christian Maronite community who have decided to reinstate Aramaic as their daily spoken language.

Maronites study the language to understand religious texts but in the village of Jish Aramaic is returning as the language of the common man.


Friday, April 10, 2009

MORE ON PALESTINIAN OBJECTIONS to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum:
Tories mum in dispute on Dead Sea Scrolls

Apr 10, 2009 04:30 AM (Toronto Star)
Comments on this story (2)

The Conservative government is staying mum on a letter from senior Palestinian officials opposing a planned exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Royal Ontario Museum.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon declined to comment yesterday on accusations that the six-month exhibit, set to begin in June and organized in co-operation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, violates at least four international conventions or protocols on the treatment of cultural goods that were illegally obtained.

Background here.
WRONG-WAY STREET? The Daily Mail gleefully reports that the pilgrim route on the Via Dolorossa in Jerusalem may go in the wrong direction.
Shimon Gibson, a Holy Land specialist, said the traditional start of the Via Dolorosa, north of the Old City, should be at the other end of the city.

Since medieval times, Christians have assumed that the Praetorium, the starting point of the route and the Roman headquarters mentioned in the Gospels as the scene of Jesus's trial, was the Antonia Fortress which stood in the north of Jerusalem.

But Professor Gibson said there was 'no historical basis whatsoever' for this being the site where Jesus was tried and condemned to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

Little of the fortress's structure has survived but, having surveyed the remains of its rock-cut base in intricate detail, he concludes that it could not have been more than a military observation tower.

He said archaeological excavations pointed to the site of the trial being 900 metres away at the remains of a large paved courtyard south-west of Jerusalem, south of the Jaffa Gate.

It was situated between two fortification walls with an outer gate and an inner one leading to barracks where it is most likely that Jesus was held.

The open courtyard contained a platform of around two square metres - details that 'correspond perfectly' with the Gospel of John's account of Pontius Pilate sitting on a judgment-seat at an elevated place.

Professor Gibson, who is based at universities in Israel and America, said: 'The astonishing thing is that thousands of Christian travellers and pilgrims pass by this site without realising its significance.'
But there are no plans to alter the pilgrim route.
ST. JEROME is profiled in the Catholic Star Herald. Not sure why, since his feast day is 30 September. But always happy to give him some bandwidth. "He is appropriately the patron saint of Scripture scholars, archeologists and librarians."
TODAY IS GOOD FRIDAY. Best wishes to all observing it.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

2 ENOCH IN COPTIC! The book of 2 Enoch, previously known only in versions in Old Church Slavonic, has now been partly recovered in an earlier Coptic translation. The fragments were found nearly four decades ago and the transcriptions and photos have been sitting unnoticed for many years. Here's the announcement:
No longer ‘Slavonic’ only
2 Enoch attested in Coptic from Nubia

During his work preparing the publication of Coptic manuscripts from Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia, Joost Hagen, doctoral student at Leiden University, The Netherlands, very recently came across some fragments he could identify as part of the text of the so-called ‘Slavonic Enoch’ (2 Enoch), the first time a non-Slavonic manuscript of this intriguing text has been found.

The fragments were discovered at Qasr Ibrim, one of the capital cities of Christian-period Nubia (southern Egypt, northern Sudan, 5th-15th cent. AD), during excavations by the British Egypt Exploration Society (EES) which started in 1963 and have brought to light an astonishing number of finds, textual and other. Joost Hagen has been entrusted by the EES with the edition of the manuscript material in Coptic, the language of Christian Egypt and one of the literary languages used in the Christian kingdoms of Nubia.

The ‘Slavonic Enoch’ fragments, found in 1972, are four in number, most probably remnants of four consecutive leaves of a parchment codex. The fourth fragment is rather small and not yet placed with certainty, also because there is as yet no photograph of it available, only the transcription of its text by one of the excavators. For the other three fragments, both this transcription and two sets of photographs are available. The present location of the pieces themselves is not known, but most probably they are in one of the museums or magazines of the Antiquities Organization in Egypt.

The fragments contain chapters 36-42 of 2 Enoch, probably one of the most interesting parts of the work one could wish for, with the transition between two of its three main parts: Enoch’s heavenly tour and his brief return to earth before the assuming of his task back in heaven. Moreover, they clearly represent a text of the short recension, with chapter 38 and some other parts of the long recension ‘missing’ and chapters 37 and 39 in the order 39 then 37. On top of that, it contains the ‘extra’ material at the end of chapter 36 that is present only in the oldest Slavonic manuscript of the work, U (15th cent.), and in manuscript A (16th cent.), which is closely related to U. For most Coptic texts, a translation from a Greek original is taken for granted and the existence of this Coptic version might well confirm the idea of an original of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch in Greek from Egypt, probably Alexandria.

Archeologically it seems likely that the Coptic manuscript is part of the remains of a church library from before the year 1172, possibly even from before 969, two important dates in the history of Qasr Ibrim; a tentative first look at palaeographical criterea seems to suggest a date in the eighth to ninth, maybe tenth centuries, during Nubia’s early medieval period. This would mean that the fragments predate the accepted date of the translation of 2 Enoch into Slavonic (11th, 12th cent.) and that they are some several hunderd years older than the earliest Slavonic witness, a text with extracts of the ethical passages (14th cent.).

Although this Coptic manuscript is fragmentary, it proved to be possible to reconstruct part of the missing text using (translations of) the Slavonic versions, and several theories formulated about the book of 2 Enoch by Slavists and theologians have already been confirmed or proven wrong. Recently, the priority of the longer recension has been advocated (again). But the discovery of this first non-Slavonic witness, at the same time the oldest manuscript known so far, calls for renewed discussion about this matter. Unless the two recensions had indeed already split up in Greek, the short recension, and the oldest Slavonic manuscript U, have to be taken more seriously from now on.

At the Enoch Seminar in Napels, Joost Hagen hopes to present his recent discovery in the presence of the very people who can hopefully contribute to an answer to these questions.

Mr Joost L. Hagen MA (1978) studied Egyptology at Leiden University, the Netherlands, specializing in Coptic Egypt and with (among others) the following minor subjects: papyrology, biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, modern standard and christian Arabic and Old Nubian. In 2003, his MA thesis, entitled “O LORD, Thou preservest man and beast”: The Encomium for the feast day of the Four Creatures, attributed to John Chrysostom (in Dutch, unpublished), was accepted with the grade 8.5 out of 10.

At the Eighth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Paris, 2004, he presented part of this research, published in 2007 as ‘ “The Great Cherub” and his Brothers: Adam, Enoch and Michael and the names, deeds and faces of the Four Creatures in the Encomium on the Four Creatures, attributed to John Chrysostom’, in N. Bosson and A. Boud’hors (eds.), Actes du huitième congrès international d’études coptes, Paris, 28 juin-3 juillet 2004, Vol. 2, 467-480.

In winter 2004 / 2005 he spent half a year at the Institut für Ägyptologie und Koptologie of the Westfälische Wilhelms-universität Münster, Germany, where he developed an interest in the so- called “Gospel of the Saviour”, about which he also lectured during a 2007 conference on apocryphal gospels in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany: ‘Ein anderer Kontext für die Berliner und Straßburger “Evangelienfragmente”: Das “Evangelium des Erlösers” und andere “Apostelevangelien” in der koptischen Literatur’, article in press).

In September 2005, he started a four-year research project at Leiden University to prepare his doctoral dissertation about the role of Coptic in Christian Nubia, entitled Multilingualism and cultural change in late-antique and medieval Nubia: The evidence of the Coptic texts from Qasr Ibrim. In the course of this research, now in its final stages, he regularly visited the Qasr Ibrim archive in Cambridge, England, and the Egyptian and Coptic Museums in Cairo and the Nubia Museum in Aswan, Egypt.

In 2006, he participated in the first Summer School in Coptic Papyrology in Vienna. He assisted his supervisor, Dr. Jacques van der Vliet, in preparing his Dutch book about the Gospel of Judas (published in 2006), and regularly gives popular lectures about the Gospel of Judas himself. He is a member of the International Society of Nubian Studies (since 2006) and the International Association for Coptic Studies (since 2008).
Sent to me by Andrei Orlov and also distributed on the Enoch Seminar list. (See also Andrei's useful website on 2 (Slavonic) Enoch.) It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this discovery for scholarship on 2 Enoch and the ancient Enochic traditions in general. Indeed, this is one of the most important discoveries in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha studies in recent years.

UPDATE (10 April): More on Slavonic Pseudepigrapha here. And the Enoch Seminar website is here.
PUNIC WATCH: Remembering Hannibal in the Alps.
Hannibal In Sölden

Thursday, April 9th, 2009 (Fast Track Ski Holidays)

Austrian glacier resort Sölden will again stage its spectacular Hannibal show on the Rettenbach glacier this Spring as the once year-round ski area winds down its winter 2008-9 season – although the skiing continues in to May.

The performance of ” Hannibal – The Crossing of the Alps” is all about the historical facts of the Second Punic War and its protagonist Hannibal, who is described in a biographical way with all modern theatre settings on the amazing open-air stage.

The spectacular show depicts the historical crossing of the Alps of the Carthaginian army on their way to Rome in a modern setting. Snow-grooming machines act as elephants. Skiers, climbers and parachutists are modern warriors.

Sounds worth seeing if you happen to be there on a skiing holiday.
A NEW DEAD SEA SCROLLS CONTROVERSY! We've gone a week or two without one, so I guess it's time.
Dead Sea Scrolls stir storm at ROM

Palestinian PM wants Harper to scrap show, claims violation of international law

Apr 09, 2009 04:30 AM
Comments on this story (74)
Oakland Ross

JERUSALEM–A planned Toronto exhibit of ancient Middle Eastern manuscripts is threatening to plunge Canada, along with the Royal Ontario Museum, into the thick of the long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Beginning in June, the ROM will host a six-month exhibit of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls, organized in co-operation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

But top Palestinian officials this week declared the exhibit a violation of international law and called on Canada to cancel the show.

In letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and top executives at the ROM, senior Palestinian officials argue the scrolls – widely regarded as among the great archaeological discoveries of the 20th century – were acquired illegally by Israel when the Jewish state annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.

"The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories," said Hamdan Taha, director-general of the archaeological department in the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

"I think it is important that Canadian institutions would be responsible and act in accordance with Canada's obligations."

The Palestinians say the planned ROM exhibit violates at least four international conventions or protocols on the treatment of cultural goods that were illegally obtained.

Both Canada and Israel are signatories to all of the agreements, the Palestinians say.

I doubt that there is much mileage in this argument, but I am not an international-law lawyer. Should be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

PASSOVER begins this evening at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating.
AN IRON-AGE-II LAPIDARY INSCRIPTION IN HEBREW has been discovered, alas in a very fragmentary state, in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The Art Daily has good coverage:
A Fragment of a Hebrew Inscription from the Period of the Kings of Judah was Found

JERUSALEM.- A fragment of a limestone plaque bearing several letters of ancient Hebrew script was discovered while sifting soil that was excavated in the vicinity of the Gihon Spring, within the precincts of the “Walls around Jerusalem National Park”. The excavation is being carried out on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the direction of Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa and Eli Shukron of the IAA, and is sponsored by the ‘Ir David Foundation.

The stone fragment dates to the eighth century BCE and this is based on the numerous pottery sherds that were discovered together with it, as well as the shape of the Hebrew letters that are engraved in the inscription.

Keep digging.
GEZA VERMES has an Easter piece in the London Times - "Myth or history: the hard facts of the Resurrection" - in which he summarizes and discusses the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Excerpt:
There are four rational ways for explaining away the Resurrection conundrum. One: the body was not found by the women because the guardian of the cemetery used the first opportunity to move the body of Jesus out of the grave that had been prepared for someone else. Two: in the darkness the women lost their way and went to a wrong tomb. Three: the Apostles stole the corpse as was alleged by the priestly leaders. (But since nobody expected Jesus to rise again, why should anybody fake his resurrection?) Four: Jesus was buried alive and survived. This modern concoction, popularised by The Da Vinci Code, is unsupported by ancient evidence, though we know that recovery from crucifixion was possible. In this class of literature, Jesus usually marries Mary Magdalene and settles away from Judea, in the South of France or in Rome.
One can add a fifth and more radical position, held, for example by the NT scholar John Dominic Crossan, that the accounts of the burial of Jesus and the subsequent empty tomb are legendary accretions with no historical basis at all.

Vermes concludes, however, on a more positive note.
ZAHI HAWASS UPDATE: Further to my comments on Dr. Hawass's unfortunate statement about Jewish history in an Egyptian TV interview, he has now posted a clarification on his website (noted by Joe Lauer as alerted by Jim West):
Clarification of Remarks on Jewish History

I am concerned that a statement that I made recently about Jewish history is being widely misrepresented in the media. In a February interview with Mahmoud Saad of the television show El-Beit Beitek,I discussed the Arab-Israeli conflict in its historical context. I contrasted the relative unity of the international Jewish community with the political fragmentation that we see among the Arabs.

Unfortunately, many people seem to have taken this comment to mean that I believe in a sinister Jewish conspiracy to control the world. This is simply not true. I do not believe at all in such a conspiracy. In the interview, I was using rhetoric to make a point about disunity and infighting in the Arab world, which I feel is the cause of much suffering in this region - I never meant to imply that I put any stock in the myth of a universal “Zionist conspiracy.” I hope that my actions, including my ongoing advocacy for the preservation of Egypt’s Jewish monuments, will dispel any doubts about my position in this matter. I hope for a peaceful, equitable settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, for the good of all of the innocent people who have suffered because of it.
It is fair for him to appeal to his record and I think he deserves on the grounds of it to be cut some slack, although I think his summary of his own comments that he is clarifying is rather incomplete. Still, what he says now is unobjectionable and encouraging. That said, he still isn't off the hook. Joe Lauer, alerted by Israel Finkelstein, points to another MEMRI report, on "Antisemitic Statements and Cartoons in Wake of Gaza War" (published on 30 March) which quotes Dr. Hawass in an Arabic piece written in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 22, 2009, as follows:
Zahi Hawwas, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Council, wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the "Jews of Palestine" are murderous by nature: "The concept of killing women, children and elderly people... seems to run in the blood of the Jews of Palestine. [In fact,] it seems to have become part of the false faith of this people, who is tormenting us in our [own] homeland.

"When I speak of the Jewish faith, I do not mean their [original] faith, but the faith that they forged and contaminated with their poison, which is aimed against all of mankind... The only thing that the Jews have learned from history is methods of tyranny and torment - so much so that they have become artists in this field. They have done to the Palestinians what Pharaoh and Sargon [of Akkad] did to the Jews..."
Dr. Hawass needs to rein in his "rhetoric" if he does not wish to give the impression that he is sending one message to speakers of English and a very different and corrosive message to speakers of Arabic. As I said before, such comments do his otherwise positive and constructive international reputation no good.

Monday, April 06, 2009

TUDOR PARFITT'S SUPPOSED ARK OF THE COVENANT may have been nicked by Robert Mugabe's family - this according to the Daily Express:
But now, almost a year later, Parfitt is worried. Since the publication of his book and the broadcast of the documentaries, the whereabouts of his intriguing discovery are once again unknown. Parfitt says he has been told by sources close to family members of the autocratic Zimbabwean president Robert ­Mugabe that the object is now in the possession of one of Mugabe’s relations, perhaps even Mugabe himself.

“I first got suspicious when I started to hear that several people who had tried to see the Ark, many of them ­respectable academics, had been turned away and the museum was becoming very cagey about it,” he says. “Then a contact of mine who has connections to Mugabe’s extended family told me that people close to Mugabe have taken it.

“I’ve tried to make attempts to confirm it but Zimbabwe being such a difficult and corrupt country has meant I haven’t been able to discover where it has been taken.”


Now the object is missing, further analysis is impossible.

“At first the authorities in Zimbabwe had been relatively uninter-ested in what we were doing but as they began to appreciate what we had found the threats started,” says Parfitt. “Members of my team who had been allowed to film the ngoma were told that if they tried to return they would come to harm or be thrown in jail.”

Parfitt also says that sources who have told him of the Mugabe family’s interest in the Ark have stressed that their lives could be in danger for even discussing its present whereabouts. These aren’t empty threats. Mugabe’s thugs have killed and tortured countless people. At least half of Zimbabwe’s population is in danger of starvation and cholera is killing one in 20 citizens.

If Parfitt’s suspicions are correct and Mugabe really does have possession of the sacred Ark of the Covenant, it could hardly be in more evil hands.
Well, the Ark can take care of itself. Recall the Nazis in Raiders.

Seriously, regular readers will recall that I am highly skeptical of Professor Parfitt's theory. Nevertheless, the object, whatever it is, should stay in the hands of its Lemba owners and, I hope, also be available for scholars (especially specialists in African history) to study.

Background here.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Israeli archaeologists revive Western Wall
Tags: Israel News, Temple Mount

Israeli archaeologists are inspecting the Western Wall stone by stone in a new conservation effort at the Jewish holy site.

The oldest stones were laid 2,000 years ago as part of the retaining wall of the Jewish Temple, and the newest by the Ottomans - who ruled the area until 1917.

Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Jon Seligman says the work aims to make sure stones don't collapse on those praying below.

Good idea.

UPDATE: Joseph I. Lauer has sent the IAA press release.