Saturday, December 12, 2009

FORENSIC RECONSTRUCTION of the face of St. Nicholas? "Well, we did add the beard."

No, I made that quote up, but Kate Nicholas (no relation, as far as I know) does suggest that "[a] possible source for the broken nose may have been the altercation between him and Arius at the First Council of Nicaea, over what later was deemed the heresy of Arianism."

(Cross-file under Technology Watch and Can't Make It Up.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA has published a Hanukkah message on the White House website:
Statement by the President on Hanukkah

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all who are celebrating Hanukkah around the world. The Hanukkah story of the Maccabees and the miracles they witnessed reminds us that faith and perseverance are powerful forces that can sustain us in difficult times and help us overcome even the greatest odds.

Hanukkah is not only a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but for people of all faiths to celebrate the common aspirations we share. As families, friends and neighbors gather together to kindle the lights, may Hanukkah's lessons inspire us all to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, to find light in times of darkness, and to work together for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.

Hebrew translation available here at
MARY MAGDALENE meets belly dancing:
Moon Belly Dance studio to present '100,000 Feet Deep'

The studio's latest show uses different traditions about Mary Magdalene.

By Jessica Schuster (MOVE Magazine)

Published Dec. 11, 2009

As it has been used for centuries, dancing can convey messages words cannot. It can interpret the unknown and surface hidden emotions all through movements. The Moon Belly Dance studio brings together women to tell their different stories through dance.

Moon Belly Dance studio owner Kandice Grossman coordinates opportunities for women to express their passion for performance. Dec. 12 at The Blue Note, performers will be showcasing an intricate look at the elusive Mary Magdalene through their production, "100,000 Feet Deep: Mary Magdalene."

Grossman, who serves as the artistic director of 100,000 Feet Deep, has pulled from many aspects of her life to create the vision for this production. Grossman is a women's studies professor at Columbia College and has been studying Mary Magdalene for about 15 years.

"There are so many myths and traditions about her ranging from Gnostic, Christian and Beguine," Grossman said. "She was really an elusive character and that has caused us to have little snippets of her life."

THE MILWAUKEE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION is coming on 22 January and preparations are well underway:
Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit coming alive

By Jackie Loohauis-Bennett of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Dec. 12, 2009

If you let loose your imagination, you might hear a desert wind blowing across Milwaukee and smell the scent of ancient parchments - and maybe just a whiff of old camel.

That's because curators and artists are re-creating part of the Middle East in the halls of the Milwaukee Public Museum for the "Dead Sea Scrolls and The Bible," the largest temporary exhibit ever produced by the museum staff.

Opening Jan. 22, the exhibit will evoke a faraway time and place using everything from eerie wind sound effects to a 50-foot-wide re-creation of Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

The "Dead Sea Scrolls" spotlights more than 200 artifacts dating from 300 B.C. to A.D. 70, including the oldest known texts of the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) and the oldest existing version of the Hebrew Masoretic Text.

Then there's this:
But perhaps no job on this construction site has been more delicate than the one Wendy Christensen-Senk has tackled for three months. She's rebuilding a camel. A camel with dry rot.

In life, the camel with no name trod the sands of the Middle East. In the 1970s, his skin was mounted at the museum, and he has held court in the North Africa Exhibit since then.

When "Dead Sea Scrolls" planners decided to use him to portray the lifestyle of the Bedouin people who found the scrolls, Christensen-Senk took a close look to see how the camel had fared over the decades.

The diagnosis: A severe case of camel rot.

"The acids from the tanning process had eaten up the skin, and he had dry rot," she said. "Pieces of him were flaking off."

Christensen-Senk had to use a hypodermic needle to put the skin back using new types of glue that flex with the temperature. She added parts of the skin that had gone missing over the years.

These days, Camel stands proud again: hump up, lips saucy. Christensen-Senk said: "No straw could break this camel's back. He's back in his glory."
A camel through the eye of a needle?

I've noted this exhibition earlier here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

YESTERDAY'S Samaritan genetics post has been updated.
SUNRISE IN ST. ANDREWS (which happens close to 9:00 am this time of year):

The Botanic Gardens

Entrance to Cockshaugh Park

Click on the pictures for a larger image.
THE HELIODORUS INSCRIPTION is back in the news for Hanukkah. New fragments of it were published earlier this year. JTA has a recap:
Maccabees still making news

By Gil Shefler · December 10, 2009

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Some 2,200 years after the Maccabees' revolt, historians and archaeologists are uncovering new information about their era.

This year's biggest discovery is a correspondence between Seleukes IV, whose brother and heir was Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Chanukah story, and one of Seleukes' chiefs in Judea found on parts of an ancient stele.

Professor Dov Gera of Ben-Gurion University, who studied the stone's inscription, said it confirms the account by the Jewish historian Josephus regarding the tightening grip of the Greek-Syrian empire over its subjects' religious practices.

NEWS ON THE HASMONEAN KINGDOM, just in time for Hanukkah. This IAA press release is posted in full on the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs site:
Archeological analysis proves Hasmonean rule extended to Negev highlands
10 Dec 2009

Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority: “The Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus conquered Gaza and the Negev and for decades prevented the Nabataeans from using the Incense Road.”
Via Joseph I. Lauer and others.
HAPPY HANUKKAH to all those celebrating. It begins this evening at sundown.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

THE TOPOGRAPHY OF HELL is covered in the latest Philologos column in The Forward. Excerpt:
In ancient rabbinic Judaism, which could cite in its support the biblical phrase ha-shamayim u/shmey ha-shamayim, “the heaven and the heavens of the heaven,” these layers were thought to be seven — a number whose sacred status goes back to the Bible, too. (Think of the seven days of creation, the seventh or Sabbath day, the seven branches of the menorah, etc.) Most likely, this sacredness was linked from the outset to the concept of a sevenfold heaven, which in turn derived from the seven brightest and most independent heavenly bodies: the sun, moon and five visible planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Each of the heavens associated with one of these bodies had its own name in rabbinic literature, as did each of the seven hells. The latter were, using synonyms for the underworld taken from the Bible: She’ol, Avadon, Gehinom, Duma, Tsalmavet, Eretz-Taḥtit and Eretz-Neshi’h.

There is Jewish literature from the Middle Ages that enumerates the inhabitants and punishments of every one of these “houses” of hell, as they are called there, each of which has its own tribunal of judges and is so large that it would take 300 years to walk to one end of it from the other. (Assuming that a man can walk 30 miles a day, this would come to roughly 23 million miles for the entirety of hell.) All seven, according to rabbinic tradition, were glimpsed in a vision by the prophet Isaiah. Thus, we are told, “When Isaiah entered the first house, he saw two men carrying jars of water on their shoulders and emptying them again and again into a pit that never filled. ‘Tell me their secret,’ he said to God. ‘These,’ the Holy Spirit answered him, ‘are the men who coveted what belonged to others and are now paying the price for it.’” The second “house” of hell is for the gossips and slanderers, who are hung from their tongues. In the third are the adulterers, who are suspended from their sexual organs, and so on and so forth.
The seven levels of hell (and the corresponding seven levels of heaven) are dealt with in detail in some of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts being translated for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.
CONGRATULATIONS to Syriacologist Professor Susan Ashbrook Harvey at Brown University, who has received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern.

(Via George Kiraz on the Hugoye list.)
Yochanan Muffs, Scholar of Bible, Law and Languages, Is Dead
By Ed Greenstein (The Forward)
Published December 09, 2009, issue of December 18, 2009.

Yochanan Muffs, a scholar of Bible, law and Semitic languages whose books illuminated the legal and social meaning of emotions such as love and joy in the lives of Jews in antiquity, succumbed to Parkinson’s disease on December 6.

Muffs, professor emeritus of Bible and Jewish thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, had been coping heroically with Parkinson’s for 40 years, with the help of his extraordinary wife, Yocheved. Yet for about half a century, despite the slow, steady progress of the disease, Muffs inspired generations of students and colleagues through his brilliant scholarship and exciting teaching. Indeed, such overused descriptions hardly do justice to the creative intellectual magic he brought to the classroom and the page.


Muffs saw himself as an anthropologist of his ancient forebears and a psychologist of the Divine. Several items of his published research became academic landmarks, beginning with his very first book, “Studies in the Aramaic Legal Papyri From Elephantine.” In this 1969 watershed work, Muffs analyzed all manner of legal documents from a colony of Jewish families literally holding the fort for the Persian governor of Egypt in the fifth century BCE. Gleaning comparative evidence from Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Jewish and other legal sources, Muffs was able to extract insights on innumerable aspects of these documents and, through them, the everyday life and thought of the people for whom they provided some order. A rich vein of information and commentary emerged, extending well beyond the documents themsleves. The book remains in print, an invaluable resource.

May his memory be for a blessing.
SAMARITAN WATCH: At BoingBoing, Maggie Koerth-Baker discusses recent genetic studies of the Samaritans and the implications of those studies. Excerpt:
As the 21st century dawned, the few Samaritans left (712 in 2007, up from a low of 146 in 1917) still claimed to be descended from the ancient Hebrew tribes. Jewish religious authorities still disagreed. And strong evidence either way was still lacking. Until 2004.

See, that tiny population (which wasn't real big on converts) led to a decent amount of inbreeding. In fact, according to research done in the late 1990s, 84% of Samaritan marriages are between cousins--making them the most highly inbred population on the planet. Unfortunately, that title comes with a propensity for genetic abnormalities, concern about which eventually led several Samaritans to turn their DNA samples over to a team of genetics researchers.

The results turned up some surprising confirmation of the Samaritans' personal origin stories. The study compared Samaritan Y-chromosome DNA (genetic information passed mostly intact from father to son) and mtDNA (ditto, but from mother to daughter) with that of several different Jewish populations from across the Middle East and Africa, as well as with a couple of non-Jewish groups from the same areas. Not only do the Samaritan Y-chromosomes seem to be closely related to Jewish Y-chromosomes, but most of the Samaritans actually carry a distinctive set of Y-chromosome mutations known as the Cohen Modal Haplotype--which is connected with men descended from the ancient Jewish priestly class.

On the other hand, Samaritan mtDNA doesn't match up to its Jewish counterparts at all, said Marcus Feldman, Ph.D.,professor of biological sciences at Stanford University and part of the research team that studied the Samaritans in 2004.

To Feldman and his colleagues, the genetic evidence suggests that modern Samaritans are descended from Hebrew men, left behind after the Assyrians conquered ancient Israel, who went on to marry non-Hebrew women. It's probably not just coincidence that Samaritan ethnicity (at least, the official social recognition of that ethnicity) is traditionally passed to a child through its father--exactly opposite from the way Jewish ethnicity has been traditionally passed down.

In that way, the evidence suggests that both the Jews and the Samaritans are right, sort of. If you believe ethnicity is something passed down from the mother, then the Samaritans probably aren't Children of Israel. But if you think ethnicity comes from the father's side (or, you know, from both parents) then the Samaritans have a good case. It's all about how you use culture to interpret the science.
I confess I don't understand how her narrative explains the evidence. The Assyrian exile would not have left behind more men than women. On the contrary, I would expect that the depredations of the war would have killed off more men. There would have been plenty of un-exiled "Hebrew" (i.e., Israelite) women to go around, so why would the remaining men have favored non-Israelite women?

The lack of Samaritan women today, however, is a serious problem for the community. Background here and follow the links back.

(Cross-file under Technology Watch.)

UPDATE (11 December): Richard Bauckham e-mails:
Is this evidence not strongly reminiscent of Ezra 9-10 and Neh 13:23-27? Judean men were marrying non-Israelite women. Presumably Judean women also married non-Israelite men, but they left the Jewish community to join that of their husbands. So, if these Judean men had not divorced their foreign wives and sent their children by them away with them, they would have had descendants who were Jewish in the male line but non-Jewish in the female. There did not have to be a shortage of Israelite women for this to happen. We simply need to suppose that there was reciprocal inter-marrying between Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

So the Samaritans would be descended from Israelites whose inter-ethnic marriages were not severed by reforms like those of Ezra and Nehemiah. This needn't have anything to do with the Assyrian exile.

One might even speculate that they descended from Jewish priests from Jerusalem who resisted the reforms and left for Samaria taking their non-Jewish wives with them. Neh 13:28 gives an example of such.

I know there has been recent discussion of Samaritan origins that I have not kept up with. Those who have may be be able to relate these ideas to the current discussion.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

PH.D. SCHOLARSHIPS at the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews!
St Mary's College, The School of Divinity
Six New Scholarships to Celebrate 600 Years of Divinity in St Andrews

The School of Divinity at St Mary's College, St Andrews, Scotland is offering six PhD scholarships to be taken up in the Autumn of 2010, or as soon as possible thereafter to work in the following fields:

1. The Matthew Black Scholarship: for a student interested in Old Testament / Hebrew Bible
2. The Donald M. Baillie Scholarship: for a student interested in Theology;
3. The Richard Bauckham Scholarship: for a student interested in New Testament;
4. The Emanuel Tov Scholarship: for a student interested in Old Testament / Hebrew Bible Textual Criticism;
5. The Queen Margaret of Scotland Scholarship: for a student interested in any field of Divinity;
6. The Lady Kenmure Scholarship: for a student interested in any field of Divinity.

The scholarships cover home fees for a UK or EU student, or a contribution of around £3500 per annum towards overseas fees. An additional stipend of £3000 (or £1000 for the fourth scholarship) is offered to the recipients. Recipients of the scholarships (1-4) will be asked to teach one language class in their second and third year of residency or do equivalent work.

The successful candidates will join a rapidly expanding School of Divinity postgraduate program.

Candidates for these scholarships are required to fill out the normal postgraduate application forms. Special attention will be given to the PhD proposal.

Further details can be obtained from: Ms Margot Clement, Postgraduate Secretary, School of Divinity, St Mary's College, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JU, Scotland, Email:

The closing date for applications is January 15, 2010.
Protests after Israeli minister signals shift toward theocracy

Published Date:
09 December 2009
By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem (The Scotsman)

ISRAEL'S justice minister has touched off a storm of controversy by suggesting that he would like to see the country evolve into a theocracy based on Jewish religious law.

Minister Ya'acov Neeman, an observant Jew, told a conference of rabbis and religious court judges late on Monday that holy texts contain "a complete solution to all the things we are dealing with".

He said that the past standing of Jewish religious law "needs to be restored so that the law of the Torah will become the binding law of the land". The Torah can mean parts of the Old Testament but it also sometimes includes the Talmud, a delineation of Jewish laws dating to the second and third centuries and subsequent rabbinic opinions.

Mr Neeman praised the work of rabbinical courts that gain jurisdiction by mutual consent in solving financial disputes. He said they are "a worthy way of inculcating the Torah's laws step by step".

If the quotes are accurate and in context, they are bound to offend a large part of the Israeli population. Minister Neeman and others are already back-pedaling away from the "theocracy" characterization, but the damage seems to be done. Calls for his resignation are noted in the Jerusalem Post. The same publication suggests mildly that "[i]f our justice minister wants to think out loud, he should do so in the privacy of his own home." Yossi Sand in Haaretz takes a rather firmer line: "And if such shameful words uttered by the justice minister do not cause him to resign and to sit at home, or at a private law firm, then some evil is bound to befall us; for we have become like Iran of the ayatollahs, like Afghanistan of the Taliban, and Sodom is no longer so bad." The Taliban are being invoked by others as well - see first Jerusalem Post link above.

By the way, regarding the Scotsman article, although both Talmuds may contain Tannaitic (i.e., second and third-century) material in their Gemaras, their more-or-less final editing came well after this, the Yerushalmi in the early fifth century and the Bavli in the sixth century or later.
CONGRATULATIONS TO PROFESSOR MAJELLA FRANZMAN, well-known specialist in Gnosticism at Otago University in New Zealand, who has accepted a high-level administrative post at the Curtain University of Technology in Australia:
Franzmann named Humanities Pro VC at Curtin

* From: The Australian
* December 09, 2009 5:09PM

HIGH-powered academic Professor Majella Franzmann has been appointed Curtin University of Technology's new Pro Vice-Chancellor of Humanities.

In a move signalling an upgraded focus on humanities research, Professor Franzmann said she was looking forward to helping boost the faculty's national and international profile.


Professor Franzmann was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2001, and awarded an Australian Centenary Medal in 2003. She served on the Council of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2007.

She is widely published and has research interests in gnosticism, feminist biblical interpretation and Manichaean and Nestorian remains in China.

Professor Franzmann gained her PhD at the University of Queensland in 1990 with a thesis on the Syriac, Coptic and Greek texts of the Odes of Solomon.

She was the recipient of the prestigious Humbolt Fellowship at the University of Tubingen, Germany, in 1992-1993. She also held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University from 1986-1987 with her research focusing on the figure of Jesus in the Nag Hammadi writings.

I hope she will still have time to continue her research!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

LOOKS LIKE I'm up a tree. Time traveling from 1973?
THE CAPTAIN OF THE GOOD SHIP PHOENICIA has written (scroll down) to the Telegraph to call for action against Somalian pirates. I'm pleased that the Phoenicia has been able to avoid pirates on its journeys. Captain Beale doesn't say whether they had to use their anti-pirate sonic ray gun though.

More background here.

UPDATE: Do bogus prophecies count? If so, the Weekly World News is in. (Cross file under Dead Sea Scrolls, popular culture watch.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

THE NEXT BEST THING TO BEING THERE: Ancient city of Pompeii added to Google Street View.

I've posted a few photos from my visit to Pompeii last June here.
CARL JUNG'S THE RED BOOK includes themes from Jewish and Christian myth and esotericism. The new facsimile edition is reviewed in the New York Times:
The Symbologist

Published: December 3, 2009

From 1914 until 1930, C. G. Jung recorded, revised, rewrote, recopied and painstakingly illustrated what he considered “the numinous beginning” from which all the rest of his work derived. “The Red Book,” or as Jung called it, “Liber Novus,” consisted of some 200 parchment pages of meticulous calligraphy and visionary paintings collected into a huge folio bound in red leather. While its content, either whole or in part, was made available to a handful of colleagues and patients, its publication was postponed until now, nearly 50 years after his death, because Jung feared the book’s potential impact on his reputation. After all, anyone who read it might conclude what Jung himself first suspected: that the great doctor had lost his mind.


Practicing “active imagination,” Jung conjured characters with whom he interacted and conversed. Dreams, he felt, were “inferior expressions of unconscious content” because there was less tension in sleep. “The Red Book” “faithfully transcribed” visions Jung recorded privately in his “Black Books,” adding commentary and painting what he had seen in his waking dreams to encourage readers to “understand the psychological nature of symbolism” and challenge them “to a new way of looking at their souls.” The whole is structured after Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” a work of great influence on Jung. But while Nietzsche had announced the death of God, “The Red Book” described “the rebirth of God in the soul,” drawing from many and varied sources, including the Bible, the Apocrypha, Gnostic texts, Greek myths, the Upanishads, the ancient Egyptian “Am-Tuat,” Wagner’s “Ring,” Goethe’s “Faust” and Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” And, as Shamdasani points out, although the writers on whom Jung drew “could utilize an established cosmology, ‘Liber Novus’ is an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.” Jung continued to practice while working on “The Red Book” and encouraged his analysands to summon and record their own visions, as he had done. The book a patient created would be, he said, “your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal.”

In fact, reading “The Red Book” is like visiting a foreign place of worship. To understand Jung’s text — to meet and listen to the creatures of his unconscious — requires solitude, silence, concentrated effort. At the beginning of the book (which is divided into “Liber Primus,” “Liber Secundus” and “Scrutinies”), Jung rediscovers his soul, alienated while he “had served the spirit of the time.” With it, he embarks on a series of adventures and meets, among others, Elijah, Salome, a serpent and the Devil. The narrative proceeds like a blend of biblical prophecy and dialectic ...
The article includes a nice image of the open volume. I wonder if I can finagle a review copy.
Discovery of world's oldest church may turn prison into tourist site
By Eli Ashkenazi
Tags: Israel archaeology

Megiddo prison, surrounded by prison guards on horseback supplemented by guard dogs, is not a place that many people would care to approach. But if a plan now in the final stages comes to fruition, it could become a tourist attraction drawing Israelis and tourists from around the world.

Behind the prison walls, the remains of the oldest Christian house of worship ever discovered were unearthed four years ago in the course of prison renovations. The plans that are coming together call for the relocation of the prison to a site a short distance away so that the archaeological site can be opened to the public.

Some prisoners, including both common criminals and security prisoners, were allowed to dig below the prison - jailbreak style - as part of the archaeological research. The ancient finds on the site have led to an agreement in principle involving the prison service, the Megiddo Regional Council and the Antiquities Authority for the relocation of the detention facility.

Background here and follow the links back.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

SHLOMO SAND'S THE INVENTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE is listed as one of the best history books of 2009 in the Independent and gets a positive brief review from Lisa Hilton:
There's nothing retiring about Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, £18.99). The outrage surrounding Sand's book in Israel has positioned him as an enemy within, an arch-revisionist working out of the university of Tel Aviv. Sand's contentions – that much Zionist history derives from deeply unreliable sources and that Jewish identity is essentially defined by religion rather than race or nationalism – are thorough and reasonable, but this has not prevented his attackers from claiming he wants to write Israel out of history. Sand's arguments are considerably more subtle; he does not question the right of Israel to exist; rather, he calls for a more rigorous examination of the premises on which that existence is based and suggests that they require redefinition. Sand takes on a formidable tradition in claiming that moral validity in the Middle East needs good history, and no discussion of the region any longer seems complete without acknowledgement of his book.
For more reviews go here and follow the links back.
JOHN BROWN AND ZION OIL are still drilling for oil in Israel and still haven't found it. I've noted the story before here (where I discuss his misunderstanding of a biblical text that refers to olive oil, not petroleum), here, here, and here.