Saturday, July 18, 2009

ANOTHER REVIEW of the ROM Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition:
Mysterious Qumran finally reveals some secrets to 21st-century voyeurs

Sacred words, never meant to be seen by outsiders, are on display now to the world

Michael Valpy

From Saturday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Jul. 17, 2009 11:58PM EDT

The crowds move slowly through the soft, muted light at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum exhibit of the Dead Sea scrolls. They are focused, mesmerized, reading every word on display. As intense, perhaps, as peeping toms.

That is Chad Stauber's thought. The 29-year-old doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, who spends his academic life studying the scrolls and their meaning and whose recorded voice reading documents in Aramaic is part of the exhibit, said encountering the 2,000-year-old documents ignites a feeling of voyeurism.

The people who wrote the scrolls, who ritually recited them, who may have spirited them away from other libraries and from Jerusalem's great Second Temple, and who finally hid them in caves as an advancing Roman army destroyed everything in its path – the mysterious Dead Sea community of Qumran – never intended they should be seen by outsiders.

Despite the headline, this is the longest and most thoughtful review of the exhibit I've seen so far. And there's this additional information:
As awe-inspiring as the fragments of the scrolls on display are the two inscribed chunks of Jerusalem limestone from the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

The first bears the message, in Hebrew, “to the place of trumpeting,” suggesting it marked the spot where a temple priest would have stood to blow a trumpet to indicate the beginning and end of the sabbath. The second contains part of a warning, in Greek, that non-Jews who venture into the temple's precincts can be put to death by order of the high priest.

Chad Stauber stands beside the two temple fragments and says repeatedly that he is astonished that the Israeli Antiquities Authority allowed them to come on tour with the selection of scrolls.

He said, gesturing to the “place of no trumpeting” fragment of the temple: “Jesus would have walked under that, or by that.”
Background to the exhibition is here (and keep following the links back).

Some background to the Greek Temple inscription is here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

THE LATEST ON THE PALESTINIAN PROTESTS of the ROM Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition: looks like the protest-backfire effect is in operation:
Toronto’s Jews rally around Dead Sea Scrolls

July 16, 2009

TORONTO (JTA) -- Toronto's Jews have responded with their wallets to accusations that an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls is illegal.

More than 500 tickets were sold last weekend to the exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum following an e-mail blast from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to community members warning that pro-Palestinian groups want the exhibit closed.

Background here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

THE PALESTINIAN PROTESTS over the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum continue to get coverage.

From The Forward:
Furor Over Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition
By Michael Kaminer

Published July 15, 2009, issue of July 24, 2009.

Toronto — Crowds at the Royal Ontario Museum’s heavily hyped Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition — Dead Sea Scrolls: Words That Changed the World, which runs until January 3, 2010 — have far exceeded the museum’s own expectations. In the show’s first nine days, more than 18,000 people flocked to the museum’s spectacular new Daniel Libeskind-designed Michael Lee-Chin Crystal pavilion — about 52% above the exhibitors’ own projections.

But hosannas for the showing, featuring four scroll fragments on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and displayed in public for the first time, have not been universal. Last April, the Palestinian Authority appealed to Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, to cancel the show, citing international conventions that make it illegal for a government agency to take archaeological artifacts from a territory that its country occupies.

This article has some welcome detail about the specifics of the protests and the responses of the exhibition organizers.

From the Jerusalem Post:
Toronto Jews rally around museum taking flak over Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit

A coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations is demanding that the Royal Ontario Museum close a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that opened last month, saying Israel looted the "Palestinian artifacts" during the Six Day War.

Toronto's Palestine House and the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid say the "Words that Changed the World" presentation is illegal.

When the museum refused to cancel the exhibit, which runs through January 3, the NGOs instead asked it "to release to the public and publish on its Web site the legal opinion that it obtained and on the basis of which it decided to go ahead with this exhibit," Palestine House said in a statement

The organizations are asking the museum to seek an opinion from UNESCO on the legal and ethical issues involved in the exhibit.

There was also a protest by about 30 people outside the museum.

Both articles point out that, in terms of the exhibition itself, the protests may backfire. They amount to a lot of free publicity, ticket sales have exceeded expectations, and there is a counter-movement encouraging people to buy tickets.

Background here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

PHILIP R. DAVIES is worried about biblical illiteracy and its long-term impact on biblical scholarship and on society:
... But even non-religious scholars like me were sharply conscious of the irony of our situation: without the affection and interest of religious people, we would be out of a job. More recently, Hector Avalos, the only non-religious scholar I know of that actually seems to hate the Bible, has suggested that the Bible and its academic followers should go the way of all flesh—not his phrase, nor of course mine either.

Avalos may have his way before long if the confessional/non-confessional argument persists. I think it’s time for some cooperation. As with numerous political conflicts (Northern Ireland, Palestine/Israel) the real battle is between moderate and extreme, not between those in the centre but on either side of the perceived issue. On one extreme are those who believe that the Bible is literally true, in defiance of all common sense: but scholars already spend enough of their time trying to counter this nonsense, and in any case, fundamentalists don’t care about the future of the Bible, because the future is God’s business. The real battle is with the other extreme, the biblically illiterate—whose ignorance is not even their own fault!
An interesting essay ("Whose Bible? Anyone's?") on the Bible and Interpretation website.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES has just published Volume 12 Number 2 (Summer 2009). TOC:

The Syriac Life of John of Tella and the Frontier Politeia.
Nathanael J. Andrade, University of Michigan

Luke 17:21: "The Kingdom of God is inside you." The Ancient Syriac Versions in Support of the Correct Translation.
Ilaria Ramelli, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan

Monks, Manuscripts, and Muslims: Syriac Textual Changes in Reaction to the Rise of Islam.
Michael Philip Penn, Mount Holyoke College

Brief Article

A Bibliography of Süryânî Periodicals in Ottoman Turkish.
Benjamin Trigona-Harany

Book Review

Holger Gzella and Margaretha L. Folmer, eds., Aramaic in its Historical and Linguistic Setting.
Aaron Michael Butts, University of Chicago

Conference Reports

EACL 2009 Workshop on Computational Approaches to Semitic Languages. Athens, Greece. March 31st, 2009.
Wido van Peursen and Constantijn Sikkel, Peshitta Institute, Leiden

Monday, July 13, 2009

THE TALMUD BLOG is a new blog on the academic study of the Talmud. From the first post:
Welcome to a new home for scholars of rabbinic literature working in the monkish cramped carrels and offices of academe, and the magnificently isolating reading rooms of libraries around the world. The goal is to build a kind of command center that keeps up with new trends in the field, reviews recent research, covers conferences, meetings, and symposia, looks at nifty new tools, and occasionally, considers the broader implications of the scholarship. If we have learned that the internet is the collective brain of humankind, and that the Talmud is an epitome of rabbinic culture, then this site expresses but the will of the people! So comments are appreciated, and advice is golden. Take a look around. The sidebar is catered especially for your research needs - particularly students of the Bavli. But what's missing, and what's extraneous...
(Via Hagahot.)
AN OBITUARY FOR MARTIN HENGEL has been published in the Telegraph:
Professor Martin Hengel

Professor Martin Hengel, who died on July 2 aged 82, was professor of New Testament studies at the German university of Tübingen between 1972 and 1992, and one of the greatest biblical scholars of his time.

Published: 6:32PM BST 12 Jul 2009

Although Hengel enjoyed an international reputation, the early years of his academic career were seriously hampered by his father's insistence that he should be involved in the family textile business. He was obliged to manage a factory in Leicester for several years.

None the less he made a unique contribution to the understanding of the New Testament and Christian origins by combining his work in this field with no less expertise in the fields of Judaism and early church history. Thus his magnum opus Judaism and Hellenism (1969) broke new ground and changed the course of New Testament studies by demonstrating that the Judaism out of which Christianity evolved was one deeply influenced by Hellenism.

More here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

MORE ON PALESTINIAN PROTESTS over the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum:

First, Robert Fisk has an essay in the Independent ("You won't find any lessons in unity in the Dead Sea Scrolls"), chiefly mocking the efforts of the exhibit to emphasize religious "unity" and expressing disappointment that certain political issues, including the Palestinian protests, were not mentioned. Also the Armenian genocide of 1915:
So cautious are the dear old Canadians – who should by now have learned that concealing unhappy truths will only create fire and pain – that they do not even mention that "Kando", the first recipient of the scrolls, was Armenian. Of course not. Because then they would have to explain why an Armenian was in Jerusalem, not in western Turkey. Which would mean that they would have to mention the Armenian Holocaust of 1915 (one and a half million Armenian civilians murdered by Ottoman Turks).
Actually, the sources I can find which discuss Kando's background report that he was a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church (e.g., here, here, etc.). There seems also to have been an Armenian antiquities dealer involved in the early negotiations over the Cave One scrolls (see, e.g., here), so perhaps Fisk is conflating the two (and maybe he could have done his research more carefully). In any case, were Kando Armenian, I don't see why that would obligate the exhibition to bring up the Armenian genocide.
This would anger Canada's Turkish community, who are holocaust deniers. And in turn, it would anger the Israel Antiquities Authority, who do not acknowledge that the Armenian Holocaust ever happened, there being only one True Holocaust, which is that of the Jews of Europe.
It's not clear to me what this is about. Is he really saying that the IAA has denied the historical reality of the Armenian genocide of 1915? That seems, first, unlikely, and, second, rather beyond its remit. Or is the issue that the IAA has not used the specific language "holocaust" or "genocide?" Or that the Israeli Government doesn't and the IAA is guilty by association? The ADL got into some trouble over this issue a while ago and, more recently, so has President Obama. I'm not going to go into that debate except to say that the ROM Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition would have no reason either to get involved in it.

He summarizes the Palestinian case as follows:
... But up come the spoilsports, namely the Canadian "Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid", to suggest that the scrolls, originally in the hands of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and the Ecole Biblique Française, were "confiscated and illegally removed by Israel" in 1967. The Royal Ontario Museum, the protesters say, is showing "looted" property which it has no right to exhibit. The Palestinian Authority itself has intervened, arguing that the museum is "displaying artefacts removed from the Palestinian territories". (Let us not, O Reader, mention the Elgin marbles, albeit that the Brits don't occupy Greece.)
Second, The Ottawa Citizen has an editorial about the Palestinian protests ("The old bait-and-switch"). Excerpt:
An odd assortment of groups are protesting the exhibit on the grounds that the scrolls are stolen artifacts and really belong to Arabs, not Jews. Yes, you read that correctly. Hebrew manuscripts of the Jewish Bible that were written centuries before Muhammad was born are, apparently, Muslim property.

It’s easy to see what’s going on here. Just as Holocaust denial circulates in some corners of the anti-Israel movement, there is a parallel effort to deny the Jewish people’s ancestral connection to the Holy Land. The idea is to delegitimize Israel by denying the indigenous rights of Jews. Some Israel-haters have even taken to arguing that Palestinian Arabs are the real descendants of “ancient Hebrews.”
Background here.