Saturday, July 04, 2009

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY to all American readers.

(Wikimedia Commons image)
A NEW BOOK on the history of the interpretation of the Talmud and its implications:
Agreeing to disagree: KU prof’s new book on Talmud

Written by Beth Lipoff, Staff Writer [Kansas City Jewish Chronicle)
Friday, 03 July 2009 12:00

Sergey Dolgopolski has studied Talmud in his native Russia, Israel and the United States, and in his new book, he’s come to a conclusion: the disagreements in the text’s commentary are a lost art.

“What this is trying to accomplish is to show that Talmud is an intellectual discipline, like rhetoric or logic — an art of thinking,” Dolgopolski said.

In “What is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement,” Dolgopolski, an assistant professor of religious studies and Jewish studies at the University of Kansas, says that contemporary, mainstream culture encourages agreement as an ultimate goal.

However, Dolgopolski argues that the 15th century Talmud shows instances where it’s fine to disagree when someone cannot prove his point is right and another person’s is wrong.

“The book places the ways in which the Talmud has been studied into the much larger context, not only what was going on in the 15th century … but how the ways of studying the Talmud fit into the larger view of the history of western civilization and thought,” Dolgopolski said. “I’m not doing the work of a historian, but rather the work of an intellectual who looks at those methodologies from a theoretical perspective that has been developed in the 20th century.”

The Babylonian Talmud was, of course, redacted in the sixth century or perhaps a little later. I take it that by "the 15th century Talmud" the writer means the interpretation of the Talmud in the 15th century.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A RESPONSE to Palestinian objections to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum has been published by law professor Ed Morgan in the National Post):
Ed Morgan: Dead Sea cranks
Posted: July 02, 2009, 10:45 AM by NP Editor
Full Comment, Ed Morgan

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are being exhibited this week at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), have survived time, weather, sand--and now the political storm caused by protests at their being toured by the Israel Museum, which houses the scrolls in Jerusalem.

Opponents of the exhibit include the Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Canadian solidarity groups supporting the Palestinian cause. They accuse the Israel Museum of having taken the scrolls from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities upon Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967. Israel's actions are alleged to be contrary to international conventions protecting cultural artifacts and prohibiting their removal.

The ROM is right to stare down the protests.

Background here.
ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: A shakeup among the heavenly host?
Metatron Appoints New Directors and Officers
Background here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL 43 has been published (with some, er ... genre adjustment) by Patrick George McCullough at kata ta biblia.
A REPORT on the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum is in the Globe and Mail. One of many more to come, I dare say. Excerpt:
The questions of who wrote the scrolls and why are still being hotly debated, and this exhibition tends to theories rather than conclusions. The eight scrolls on show (for the first half of a six-month run) include a section of the Book of Daniel never publicly displayed before; a section of Genesis telling the story of how Joseph is wrongfully accused of rape by Potiphar's wife; and an apocalyptic text known as the Book of War, a blessing that was intended to be recited over the surviving Jews at the end of time. A second set of scrolls, including parts of Deuteronomy never displayed before, will go on show at the midpoint of the exhibition's run to minimize light exposure. Also, a fragment showing the Ten Commandments will be on display from Oct. 10 to 18.

All the fragments are displayed with full translations and ample information about their content, date and material. Beside a fragment of the Book of Psalms, hidden speakers play a contemporary recording of a female voice singing psalms in Hebrew to remind visitors these texts are sung in synagogues to this day.
Background here.
MANDEANS (MANDAEANS) in the United States face some cultural challenges. The AP has an article on them. Excerpt:
The world's roughly 60,000 Mandaeans have been coming to the United States in small numbers for several decades. Surges occurred at the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, after the Gulf War in the early 1990s and after the 2006 bombing of Iraq's al-Askari Mosque, which set off sectarian violence.

Now, an estimated quarter of the population is in refugee camps in Jordan and Syria, while 10,000 remain split between Iran and Iraq. The remainder are scattered from San Antonio to Sydney. Several thousand are thought to live in the U.S., according to Mandaean-American leaders, but no formal totals are kept.

Members of Mandaean organizations from across the globe are convening in Stockholm, Sweden, on Wednesday to discuss ways to keep their religion alive in the diaspora.

One of the focuses of the conference will be language. Linguistically, the Iraqi community has all but lost its connection to the spoken Aramaic dialect of its Mandaean forefathers.

Charles Haberl, director of the Middle East Studies Center at Rutgers University, said that while Arabic and German translations of Mandaean holy scripture are available, the young Mandaean-American community is cut off from its texts because most cannot read Iraqi Arabic even though they speak it.

"When you grow up as a Christian, you know the story of (Christianity). We can't even read the Ginze," the central Mandaean religious text, said Mais Mandwee, 21, of Kalamazoo. "It's a shame."
There is a push for English translations to be produced, which would be a good thing.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

PHOTOS OF THAT ANCIENT UNDERGROUND QUARRY have been published with commentary on the National Geographic Society website. Background here.
THE CURRENT WOES OF THE SAMARITANS are surveyed in the Toronto Star. I knew about the problem with finding brides, but not about the communications towers and the tahini:
Samaritans run out of brides

Israeli radio towers seen as latest threat in West Bank village

Jun 30, 2009 04:30 AM
Comments on this story (6)
Oakland Ross

KIRYAT LUZA, West Bank- It is no easy matter to be a Samaritan, much less a good one, in these stressful times.

The list of their grievances is considerable: apparent health problems, an export embargo on their famous tahini, and, most worrisome, a shortage of brides.

Samaritans must endure the mysterious scourge of the seven nearby communications towers – most of them Israeli-built and controlled – whose electromagnetic radiation is deemed to be a health hazard.

"Our people suffer headaches because of this," grouses Husney Kohen, one of this venerable community's 12 hereditary priests. "Maybe this will eliminate us from existence."

Samaritans also have to contend with the rejection of their renowned tahini, made from ground sesame seeds.

"Our sauce is kosher," says Kohen, an elegant 65-year-old dressed in a grey robe. "It is the very best in the world."

For the past 18 months, Israeli customs officials have barred import of the sauce, made in a local factory that provides a livelihood for 10 Samaritan families – or did.

"The Israelis tell us it's a security issue," Kohen complains. "Why? This is another obstacle in the life of the Samaritans."

Background here.
THE APOSTLE PAUL'S DNA may be available for cloning (whether or not that is a good idea):
Basilica bones are St Paul's, Pope declares after carbon dating tests

Richard Owen in Rome (The London Times

Pope Benedict XVI said last night that bone fragments found inside the tomb of St Paul in Rome had been carbon dated for the first time, "confirming the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul".

He said that archaeologists had inserted a probe into the white marble sarcophagus under the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls which has been revered for centuries as the tomb of St Paul.

The pontiff said: "Small fragments of bone were carbon dated by experts who knew nothing about their provenance and results showed they were from someone who lived between the 1st and 2nd century. This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the mortal remains of Paul the Apostle."

The Carbon-14 result is suggestive, but it's too early to say we have proof this is Paul's body. Let's see what additional information they find if and when they open the tomb. I'm hoping for a first-century copy of Paul's genuine letters.
MORE ON THE LOD MOSAIC, which goes on display on 9 July. I noted it here a couple of weeks ago, but now the IAA website and Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs site have more photos to go with the article. There's also a video.

Monday, June 29, 2009

SCROLL DOWN or go here to read the laureation address for Bishop Tom Wright's honorary doctorate last week.
MIXED RESULTS so far in the case concerning the Mor Gabriel Monastery land dispute in Turkey:
Turkish Court Rules Against Assyrian Monastery
Posted GMT 6-24-2009 18:34:11

Midyat, Turkey (AINA) -- The Turkish court issued two decisions today in the case of the embattled Assyrian monastery St. Gabriel and postponed until September 30 another decision. The dispute is over the so-called forest, land that lies within the monastery grounds and which is comprised of half grown bush.

According to today's court decision this land is now owned by the Forestry Department (a Turkish authority). The monastery lost some 34 hectares of land (136 acres). The court decided that the Forestry Department, on behalf of the Turkish State Government, now owns the land and can do whatever it wants with it. Despite the fact that the protective wall that shields the monastery staff and its guests lies on that land. The great surprise for the most of the international representatives was that the Turkish state involved itself in such a "minor" matter that is vital for a religious community and affects a historic monument.

The case against the director of the monastery foundation, Mr Kuryakos Erg├╝n, was held in another court room; he was charged with intentionally violating the law by building the protective wall that surrounds the grounds of the monastery. This case has been postponed to 30th September.

The Turkish State Treasury Authority lost its other case against the monastery. Twelve parcels of land both inside and outside the wall of the monastery, amounting to some 24 hectares of land (96 acres) remain in the possession of the monastery, though the board of the monastery believes this decision will be appealed.

A Monastery lawyer says that they will appeal all the way to the European Court, if necessary. There is coverage also at Hurriyet Daily News.

Background here and here.
APOCRYPHA WATCH: An Apocrypha-inspired art exhibit in Italy:
ILLEGGIO (near Udine) - Casa delle Esposizioni: Art inspired by Biblical Apocrypha including Caravaggio's Rest During the Flight into Egypt, loaned by Rome's Doria Pamphili Gallery, Guercino, Durer, Andrea Pozzo, Byzantine and Russian icons; over 80 works, until October 4.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

SOTHEBY'S is auctioning an ancient Aramaic and Greek biblical manuscript owned by Westminster College in Cambridge. Steve Caruso has the story and some commentary at the Aramaic Blog. The Forbes article is here. A Wikipedia article (with all the usual caveats about such things) on Codex Climaci Rescriptus is here. The Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog was on the story (here and here) back in May. People on the Hugoye list are not happy (here and here).

As always, I hope that, if the manuscript must be sold, some philanthrophist will buy it and donate to a museum. Failing that, I hope the buyer will make sure to keep it available for scholars to study.
CONGRATULATIONS also to the Rt Revd Dr Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, who received an honorary doctorate at the University of St Andrews last week. Meant to flag that in the Donaldson post, but was in a horrendous rush. Professor Tevor Hart gave the laureation.

UPDATE (29 June): Here is Professor Hart's laureation address:
Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, The Rt Rev Dr Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham.

Tom Wright was born on the 1st December 1948 in Morpeth, Northumberland, the second of four children, and heir to the long-established timber business run by his father. His early education was at Sedbergh school (then in the wilds of Yorkshire) where academically he excelled in classics and learned to love and to play cricket and rugby – cricket because Yorkshire were rather good at it in those days; rugby because, as he told me, one had rather little option! In between school and University came a gap year, and a chance to try his hand at the family trade – working as a lumberjack in British Columbia!

Undergraduate studies were at Oxford, first in ‘Greats’, and then in Theology as part of training for Anglican Ministry, graduating with first class Honours in both subjects. It was during this period that Tom met and married Maggie (who it is our great pleasure to welcome here today) and from then on studies were combined with the busyness of family life, with the eventual appearance of four children – Julian, Rosamund, Hattie and Oliver – and (much more recently – and the arithmetic is Tom’s, not mine!) two and a half grandchildren: Joseph, Ella, and one due in October.

A DPhil in Oxford under the supervision of George Caird led to a Fellowship and Chaplaincy at Merton, a five year spell in Canada as Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at McGill University in Montreal, and, in 1986, a Lectureship in New Testament Studies back in Oxford where Tom also held the posts of Chaplain and Fellow of Worcester College. In fulfilling these various appointments he quickly established a model of working that has been the hallmark of his career ever since; a mutually enriching counterpoint between the pastoral ‘cure of souls’ and top-flight, internationally renowned scholarship.

In the mid-1980s a prodigious publishing career began which was from the outset directed again quite self-consciously both to the academy and to the wider reading public. This has continued largely uninterrupted ever since, producing a stream of more than 60 books from popular works, through ‘mid-level’ texts for students and the theologically literate public (I confess to having several of these readily to hand on my own bookcase!), to the sort of substantial academic monograph which rather than just adding to the log-jam of scholarly works in print takes its chainsaw to the state of the discipline, reshaping it altogether. Scholars are generally deemed eminent if they manage to do this in one field of specialized concern. Tom Wright has done it both in his work on the historical Jesus, and in his contributions to Pauline studies. The core of this contribution lies in a massive six-part work Christian Origins and the Question of God of which three substantial volumes have already been published and a fourth is eagerly anticipated in the next year or so. On top of all this, Tom has published innumerable scholarly articles, and delivered prestigious named lectures in Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, London, Yale and many other universities besides. In 2007 he added St Andrews to that list, delivering one of the current series of James Gregory Lectures on Science and Religion on the theme ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’ Tom is one of the foremost living New Testament scholars, and we are not the first university to have honoured his scholarship in this way.

But Tom’s scholarship cannot properly be disentangled, let alone isolated, from the other vital side of his calling, as a pastor and (latterly) a senior churchman: First as Dean of Lichfield from 1994, then as Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, and since 2003 as Bishop of Durham, one of the most senior Episcopal appointments in the land. Here, both in his role as diocesan bishop and as a figure with a significant profile within the public life of the nation, he has put into practice commitments arising directly out of his theological learning. Resurrection, he urges in his writings, means that God is concerned with and for the whole of human life and not just some supposed ‘spiritual’ bit of it; from his seat in the House of Lords and in regular appearances on national TV, radio and in the press, Tom’s has been a powerful and a distinctive Christian voice on global debt, the Iraq war, constitutional reform and many other issues of the day. His particular commitment to the economic and social challenges facing the Northeast of England, and his enthusiasm for meeting the people of his diocese both in- and outside churches have made him a much-loved pastor in the region as well as a distinguished representative of an ancient tradition the riches of which, he insists, need to be recaptured and re-imagined so as to speak to our shared present and future.

Amidst all these other achievements, Tom admits to playing the piano, the guitar, the Dixieland jazz trombone and pretty much anything else musical he can get his hands on. His CV lists his ‘clubs’ as the Athenaeum and the Bishop Auckland Golf Club (of which, as Bishop of Durham, he is actually President). Golf, he says, is a great source of relaxation and solace, because it’s the one thing which, as a bishop, he can do really badly, and absolutely no one complains! So there we have it: from the chainsaw to the five-iron via the jazz trombone. A man of many and diverse hidden talents! But for all the world to see, a ground-breaking scholar, whose career-long commitment to holding the life of the academy and the Church together has had a remarkable positive impact on each.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to New Testament scholarship and to the life of the Church I invite you now to confer on Tom Wright the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa.
The Friedberg Genizah Project Website (FGPW)

The Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP) is an ambitious undertaking which, we hope, will greatly advance Genizah research. One of the main tasks it has set for itself is to computerize the entire corpus of Genizah manuscripts and Genizah-related materials: images, identifications, catalogs, metadata, transcriptions, translations and bibliographical references. FGPW is the Internet Website on which the project’s main results will be displayed.

If you are interested in Genizah research or in Jewish (or Islamic) Studies in general, you are cordially invited to register to the site. If you do not wish to register, you are always welcome to visit its Demo component. The site is evolving and growing constantly. Development and maintenance are carried out by Genazim (FGP Computerization Unit), headed by Prof. Yaacov Choueka.
Some background here.

(Via the Agade list.)
A DEAD SEA SCROLLS FAQ is out in the National Post. It's okay, although I think the variants in some of the biblical manuscripts are more historically and theologically significant than they do. It's amusing that there's now a Curse of the Dead Sea Scrolls, just like the Curse of the Mummy. Maybe we can get Brendan Fraser to do a movie ...

Graduation is over but I'm moving house over the next few days, so blogging may continue to be erratic.