Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jesus and Anacreon

A NEW ESSAY at Bible and Interpretation:
Jesus and Anacreon: The Gospels as Copy Exercises

Looking for the “origin” of a gospel is bit like looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb on Easter morning: it was here just a minute ago.

By R. Joseph Hoffmann
I mention Anacreon because he stands at the beginning of a long tradition of preservation through imitation. In a 1958 collection of his work by Bruno Gentili (Rome, Edizioni dell’ Ateneo) the editor for the Classical Review of that year complained that at least 37 of the poems included as genuine–based on his assessment of vocabulary, testimonia, and metrics–were not authentic and should be moved to an appendix or to the nearest dustbin. There is even a suggestion that the editor tried to smuggle some very obviously non-anacreonic verse into the edition because he thought they were “pretty”—for shame.

What everyone knows about classical tradition, however, is that Anacreon’s name, reputation, style and prestige is preserved through the art of literary imitation. –Through copying.

New Testament scholars are very much more familiar with classical civilization than they used to be. So much so that biblical studies on the New Testament side has matured enormously in the twentieth and early twenty-first century from the parochial theological discipline it was in the nineteenth. But at a programmatic level, it needs to scrap the idea of authorial attribution completely and to acknowledge that the production of New Testament gospels, at least in the case of the synoptics, was an anacreonic process—a process of imitation, based on the desire to imitate and enhance rather than merely to produce or propagate an original. Admirers of the Jesus-story were using a prototype for copy exercises. Whose story it was is of no importance, and remains of no importance well into the second century.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gnosticism does not qualify for charitable status

GNOSTICISM (at least in one form) is not a religion and does not qualify for charitable status according to the UK Charities Commission:
Commission rejects Gnostic Centre's bid for charitable status

By Paul Jump, Third Sector Online, 15 January 2010

Review by regulator upholds earlier decision to turn down application

The Charity Commission has rejected an application for charitable status from an organisation that promotes an ancient mystical belief system called gnosticism.

The Gnostic Centre, which is based in Leeds, applied to be a charity with the possible purposes of advancing education, advancing religion or promoting the moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community.

However, in an internal review carried out by two of the regulator's board members, the commission upheld its earlier decision to reject the application.

The board members decided that the Gnostic Centre did not advance education as understood in charity law because its objects included the promotion of modern gnosticism, whereas education had to be "based on broad values that are uncontroversial and would generally be supported by objective and informed opinion".

The centre told the commission that gnostics believed the world was created by a lesser god, while gnostics' efforts were concentrating on getting in touch with the true, higher god.

The board members agreed that gnosticism possessed some of the legal qualities of a religion, such as belief in a supreme being, but did not promote "a positive, beneficial, moral or ethical framework" because it focused too narrowly on the spiritual welfare of individuals.

The commission found no evidence of "shared morals or ethics" among the movement's followers and said the centre needed to provide hard evidence that as people's spiritual awareness increased, they "exhibited positive behaviours for the benefit of society".

A follow-up article here indicates that the Gnostic Centre may appeal. The website of the Leeds Gnostic Centre is here. I'm not a lawyer and I don't know how accurately the board's position is being represented in this article, but if they really think they can formulate a legally useful definition of religion, I wish them joy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gesenius conference in Halle, Germany

Conference at the University of Halle (Germany), 14-18 March 2010

"Biblical Exegesis and Hebrew Lexicography: Gesenius' Hebrew Dictionary as Resource and Mirror of Old Testament Scholarship, throughout 200 Years since its first Publication"

Wilhelm Gesenius (1786-1842), professor for Biblical studies at the University of Halle, was the founder of modern Hebrew lexicography and grammar. His numerous works on Hebrew and on further Semitic languages were most influential, especially his "Hebraeisch-deutsches Handwoerterbuch" and the "Thesaurus philologicus criticus linguae Hebraeae et Chaldaeae Veteris Testamenti".

The conference, celebrating 200 years since the first edition of the "Handwoerterbuch" was published in 1810, will deal with different aspects of the lexicographical and exegetical work of Wilhelm Gesenius, its basis and its influence, its different editions, its re-worked editions, and its translations. The central question will be how Biblical exegesis influenced the dictionary and its development during its different editions, on the one hand, and how the dictionary influenced the critical exegesis of the Hebrew Bible, on the other.

Jewish Studies Postdoc at Colgate

A JEWISH STUDIES POSTDOC is being advertised at Colgate University.

NEH Grant for Cynthia Baker

CONGRATULATIONS TO PROFESSOR CYNTHIA BAKER, who has received an NEH Grant for work in Jewish studies:
Religion professor receives NEH grant for 'identity terms' research
Posted by: Bates Views on Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Identity terms" are the words that people use to affiliate themselves and others with particular groups — ethnic, racial, religious, social and so on.

Cynthia Baker, associate professor of religious studies at Bates [College in Maine], recently received $50,400 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support her research into one of history's most fraught identity terms: "Jew," a word that can convey praise, pride, prejudice or pure description.

No studies exist that analyze the use and the historical development, from ancient times through the postmodern era, of that term, Baker says. The NEH grant will enable her to research and write a book slated for publication in the "Key Words in Jewish Studies" series published by Rutgers University Press.

The book will map the emergence, evolution and current permutations of the term "Jew." Baker's yearlong research will involve experts and archives in the U.S., Europe and Israel, among other resources. She will examine ancient inscriptions and conduct art-historical analyses of images of Jews including those from medieval European churches, manuscripts, modern cartoons, propaganda and current pop art.


Review of Milwaukee DSS exhibition

Stunning "Dead Sea Scrolls" a trove of history
The Book of Isaiah was the only entire book of the Bible to be discovered among the scrolls.

By Bobby Tanzilo
Managing Editor

Published Jan. 26, 2010 at 9:03 a.m.

Tags: dead sea scrolls and the bible, john trever, golda meir, qumran, israel, milwaukee public museum, st. john's bible, jerusalem

There's no doubt that being in the presence of the Dead Sea Scrolls wields a special power for the devout. But faith is not a prerequisite for marveling at "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible: Ancient Artifacts, Timeless Treasures," on display at the Milwaukee Public Museum through June 6.

However, a good pair of reading glasses -- if you require them -- wouldn't hurt.

The exhibit, which features fragments of original scrolls, artifacts, photographs, facsimiles of an intact scroll, models and more, is loaded with informational panels that tell you all you need to know about the history of the scrolls and their discovery, the historical context, the battle for control of the scrolls, attempts to decode them and much more.

A nice review that covers the entire exhibit in some detail.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Setbacks for the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem

THE MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE in Jerusalem has been scaled down and has lost its architect:
Museum of Tolerance halves building plan
January 25, 2010 (Jerusalem Dispatch)

by Dan Slobodkin
A Museum of Tolerance will open in Mamilla within four years, though at half the size and cost previously planned,
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Los Angeles Jewish Journal on Sunday.
“While it seemed perfectly possible in 2002 to raise the money, by 2009 we were forced to reconsider in light of the declining economy,” he said by phone from Independence Park in Jerusalem, where he is currently staying to attend a granddaughter’s wedding.
Last week celebrated architect Frank Gehry announced he was stepping down from the controversial project. His design called for eight separate buildings, totaling 240,000 square feet at an estimated cost of $250 million. The plan has been scaled down to one large building of 120,000 square feet, at an estimated cost of under $100 million.

This museum project has been beset by controversy ever since it was realized that it is being built over an old Muslim cemetery. The latest on that:
Since then the site has been plagued by legal holdups following claims the site for the museum lies partly on an ancient Muslim cemetery, but two weeks ago the High Court rejected a petition to reopen the case and fined the plaintiffs.
Background here and follow the links.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tomb of Ezekiel Watch

TOMB OF EZEKIEL WATCH: The Iraqi Government seems to be on the defensive regarding the desecration of Ezekiel's (traditional) Tomb in Al-Kifl. Good. Haaretz reports:
Iraqi workers erased an ancient Hebrew inscription from the tomb of biblical prophet Ezekiel while renovating a nearby mosque, Army Radio reported on Sunday.


Iraq maintains that the damage was done unintentionally by untrained workers. Professor [Shmuel] Morre [of Hebrew University], however, is skeptical. "I urge UNESCO to supervise the renovations and to have them carried out by professionals and not simple workers," Morre told Army Radio.

According to Army Radio, the Iraqi government dispelled claims the damage was done on purpose, and asserted that it sees the Jewish sites as assets important for tourism. It maintains that the incident isn't only damaging to Jewish history, but is also harmful to the interests of the Iraqi government
Yes, I would say so. I'm glad they're catching on to that.

Background here and keep following the links back. For what seems to be the now-erased Hebrew inscription, see here. I've posted a transcription and translation, but the pictures I had linked to are now gone.

New fragments of the Cyrus Cylinder

NEW FRAGMENTS OF THE CYRUS CYLINDER, found in the British Museum, have manifold political implications.
British Museum in battle with Iran over ancient 'charter of rights'

Tehran alleges time-wasting as curator trawls through thousands of cuneiform clay fragments for Cyrus the Great's legacy

* John Wilson
* The Observer, Sunday 24 January 2010

The discovery of fragments of ancient cuneiform tablets – hidden in a British Museum storeroom since 1881 – has sparked a diplomatic row between the UK and Iran. In dispute is a proposed loan of the Cyrus cylinder, one of the most important objects in the museum's collection, and regarded by some historians as the world's first human rights charter.

The Iranian government has threatened to "sever all cultural relations" with Britain unless the artefact is sent to Tehran immediately. Museum director Neil MacGregor has been accused by an Iranian vice-president of "wasting time" and "making excuses" not to make the loan of the 2,500-year-old clay object, as was agreed last year.

The museum says that two newly discovered clay fragments hold the key to an important new understanding of the cylinder and need to be studied in London for at least six months.

On the new fragments:
Irving Finkel, curator in the museum's ancient near east department, said he "nearly had a coronary" when he realised what he had in his hands. "We always thought the Cyrus cylinder was unique," he said. "No one had even imagined that copies of the text might have been made, let alone that bits of it have been here all along."

Finkel must now trawl through 130,000 objects, housed in hundreds of floor-to ceiling shelving units. His task is to locate other fragments inscribed with Cyrus's words. The aim is to complete the missing sections of one of history's most important political documents.
On the Iranian Government:
Six months before pro-democracy protests were met with violence in the wake of the presidential election, tea and sweet pastries were offered to the British guests at the Iranian cultural heritage ministry. MacGregor was there to meet Hamid Baqaei, a vice-president and close ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Their friendly discussion was a significant diplomatic breakthrough at a time when tensions between Britain and Iran had been strained to breaking point after the expulsion of British Council representatives from Tehran. The recent launch of the BBC Persian television service had also been interpreted as a provocation by London.


MacGregor may have been put on the spot by Baqaei, but he agreed to a three-month loan by the end of 2009. A year later, Baqaei's tone towards MacGregor is not so friendly. Quoted by the Fars news agency in Iran, he accused the museum of "acting politically". Further "British procrastination" would result in a "serious response" from Iran.
But others are also making political use of the Cyrus Cylinder:
The Cyrus cylinder remains a compelling political tract more than two and half millennia after its creation. Accepting her Nobel peace prize in 2003, the Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi cited Cyrus as a leader who "guaranteed freedoms for all". She hailed his charter as "one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights".

In 2006, the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw contrasted the freeing of Jewish slaves by Cyrus with Ahmadinejad's "sickening calls for Israel to be wiped from the face of the map".
And even if the current Iranian Government wins on this one, they may find it a victory with unintended consequences:
They may well be getting more than they bargained for. To the Ahmadinejad regime, the cylinder is an iconic object, one that fuels collective pride in national heritage. But to those who are fighting for freedom of expression in Iran in the face of violence, the return of Cyrus could offer a potent new rallying point.
One can hope.

Cool photo of Irving Finkel.

Background to this political controversy (before the discovery of the new fragments) is here. Follow the links at the bottom of that post for previous posts on the Cyrus Cylinder. Although it's true that its contribution to the progress of civil rights has been exaggerated at times, it is still not much of a showpiece for the current Iranian Government and its oppressive policies. And given the present instability of that government, I think the BM is right to be wary of loaning them precious cultural treasures. For some related thoughts (involving Iraq), see here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Metatron "Slays" Goliath. Really.

"Metatron 'Slays' Goliath."

Content Deal Brings Another 4,000 Hours of Premium Movies and TV to Mobile Platforms

(January 22, 2010)

SAN DIEGO, CA -- (Marketwire) -- 01/22/10 -- Metatron Inc. (PINKSHEETS: MRNJ) today announced that it has entered into an agreement with Goliath Motion Picture Promotions Inc. of Los Angeles, CA to bring over 4,000 hours of premium television programming to the iPhone and Droid mobile platforms.

Cross-file under "headline of the week."

Milwaukee DSS exhibit Watch

There's insight - but not proof - in the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 23, 2010 10:14 p.m.

They speak of a Teacher of Righteousness and a pierced messiah, of cleansing through water and a battle of light against darkness.

But anyone looking to the Dead Sea Scrolls in search of proof, say, that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah presaged by the prophets, or that John the Baptist lived among the scroll's authors, will be disappointed.

What the scrolls provide instead, scholars say, is a window into a world of religious ferment 2,000 years ago that gave rise to Judaism and Christianity as we know them today.

Hints of the Scrolls in Bible

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 23, 2010 10:32 p.m.

To understand how the Dead Sea Scrolls influenced early Christianity, just turn to the New Testament.

Take, for example, the Great Isaiah Scroll, a facsimile of which is on display as part of the Milwaukee Public Museum's Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Written around 125 B.C. and the only scroll to emerge virtually intact from the caves at Qumran, its messianic message is quoted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke, the earliest of which wasn't written until around A.D. 65.

Also, more Scrolls events around this exhibit are noted here.