Saturday, February 06, 2010

Book Review (BMCR): Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt

Roger S. Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009. Pp. xv, 100. ISBN 9780691140261. $29.95.

Reviewed by Benjamin Garstad, Grant MacEwan University (

Roger Bagnall is one of the foremost authorities on the written remains of Roman Egypt and the evidence they offer us for a lost world, but in this slender volume he wears his formidable learning lightly. The four essays that make up the book are adapted from lectures he gave at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris in 2006. They offer engaging and approachable insights into a field of research in which even professional classicists are compelled to defer to the training and experience of experts, but which remains of interest to many. With a sweeping breadth that sacrifices remarkably little in the way of convincing depth, Bagnall makes an up-to-date survey of the topic of early Christian books in Egypt, indicates where (and why) research may have gone astray in the past, and points the way forward for future work.

This part in particular is of interest:
Bagnall follows his argument for the paucity of Christian literary remains we should expect before the turn of the second century with a pair of case studies. The first concerns Carsten Peter Thiede's attempt to date the Magdalen papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Matthew to the first century and support his overall contention that the Gospel was composed before the fall of Jerusalem in 71. I can only imagine that it was the notoriety of this case which suggested it as an example of a private or partisan agenda skewing the scholarship of early Christian papyri toward an early date. It certainly required no subtlety for Bagnall to demolish Thiede's claims for the benefit of the reader. Indeed, it might be considered a mean-spirited exaggeration to describe an affair which might have been dismissed with a shrug as "gruesome" and "horrifying" and to characterize Thiede's ZPE article as a parody of academic form with none of its substance, particularly in light of his recent death. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, after all. Without lash in hand Bagnall seems, by contrast, inconclusive in his treatment of Antonio Carlini's suggestion that a fragment of the Shepherd of Hermas might belong to the first half of the second century. Carlini himself concedes that the palaeographic evidence is at odds with the testimony of the Muratorian Canon (dated to near the end of the second century) that the Shepherd was written during the episcopate of Pius in Rome (142-55). Bagnall offers a generous hearing to Carlini's resolution of the problem with reference to the composite nature of the Shepherd and the possibility that we might find remains of its independently circulating parts. The Hermas fragments highlight the complications of serious and disinterested scholarship. The contrasting examples of early dating might have played well to the audience of a lecture, but are perhaps not so instructive in the less ephemeral format of a written essay.
The late Prof. Thiede's attempts to find fragments of the Greek New Testament among the Dead Sea Scrolls have also not been found persuasive. Also, the Muratorian Canon has been redated to the fourth century by some scholars.

An early codex of the book of Isaiah also figures in the book.

St. Anthony's monastery restored

ST. ANTHONY'S MONASTERY in Egypt has undergone restoration:
World's oldest monastery restored


Egypt has completed the restoration of reputedly the world's oldest Christian monastery, called Saint Anthony's.

The monastery is believed to be 1,600 years old. The government-sponsored restoration project cost over $14m (£8.9m) and took more than eight years.

The monastery is a popular site for Coptic Christian pilgrims.

The restoration comes soon after Egypt's worst incident of sectarian violence in a decade, when six Copts were shot dead on Christmas Eve.

Of tangential interest to PaleoJudaica, but noted because of the connection the Egyptian authorities (including Zahi Hawass) have been making with the Nag Hammadi murders, already covered here. And the restoration is a good demonstration that the Egyptian Government is taking care of non-Muslim antiquities. This should go without saying, of course, but under current circumstances I can see why they would want to emphasize it.

Second Temple Judaism Ph.D. position at Groningen

A PH.D. POSITION dealing with Second Temple Judaism is being advertised at the University of Groningen. Mladen Popovic e-mails:
PhD position The Jewish Revolt against Rome (0,9 fte) (210026) at the Qumran Institute of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands

The Graduate School of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen is looking for a PhD candidate (0,9 fte) for the project 'The Jewish Revolt against Rome: Religious Groups and the Shaping of Identities in First-Century Judaea'.

This PhD position is financed by a grant of the SNS/Reaal Fund. It will run parallel to the interdisciplinary NWO VENI project The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish War against Rome (66-70), which investigates the impact of Rome on the self-understanding of a Jewish group at Qumran prior to the revolt. PhD candidates are expected to carry out research within the historical and a f first-century Judaea in relation to the impact of the Roman Empire on the region and the conflict of 66-70/73. Projects may investigate e.g. Flavius Josephus' position, specific Jewish groups, Roman reactions, specific sites, regions or interregional connections from different perspectives and on the basis of different sources (literary, archaeological and/or numismatic). The final form of the PhD project will be determined in consultation with the PhD candidate.

We are looking for enthusiastic candidates with a Master's degree or equivalent, in a (sub)discipline in which the doctoral study will take place. Candidates with a degree in Hebrew Bible, J! ewish Stu assics, or Archaeology are especially encouraged to apply.

The degree must have been obtained within a reasonable period of time and with results that justify the expectation that the student will be able to successfully complete the programme in four years.

This PhD position is available as of September 1st, 2010.

Signed applications should be received by the Graduate School Office by March 1.

For additional information see:

Friday, February 05, 2010

BBC: Archaeology and the struggle for Jerusalem

THE POLITICS OF JERUSALEM ARCHAEOLOGY is addressed by the BBC in Archaeology and the struggle for Jerusalem. Like the essay I commented on a couple of days ago, this article raises a number of valid concerns, but it too ignores entirely the part played by Islamist denial of basic historical facts such as the existence of Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in antiquity. It's curious that this myopia is so common among Westerners who comment on the situation.

The Samaritan High Priest has passed away

Samaritans mourn their high priest
05/02/2010 05:00 (Jerusalem Post)

Elazar ben Tsedaka, 83, ‘wise’ and ‘selfless,’ traced his office back to Aaron.

Snow flurries drifted to the ground on Mount Gerizim overlooking Nablus on Thursday, as mourners gathered to bury the spiritual leader of the Samaritans, who passed away the previous day.

High Priest Elazar ben Tsedaka ben Yitzhaq was born during a snowstorm 83 years ago, one mourner said. On Thursday, as he was being laid to rest at the holiest site in the Samaritan religion, the snow began to fall again.

According to Samaritan tradition he was the 131st holder of the post since Aaron. This is not be accepted by all historians, but the office may well go back to the Hellenistic period, which would still make it the oldest office in the world. One account in Josephus suggest that it is an offshoot of the Zadokite high priests in Jerusalem from around the time of Alexander the Great.

Mourners took shelter from the storm inside the community center in the hilltop neighborhood of Kiryat Luza, where much of the ethnoreligious group of 730 lives. Nearly all the rest live in Holon’s Neveh Pinchas neighborhood.

Inside, well over 100 men gathered in a somber, eerily quiet ceremony around the casket holding Elazar, who will be replaced as head priest by his cousin Aharon Ben-Av Hisda Cohen.

Photos of the funeral are here. I don't know what Samaritans say for this, but I hope that may his memory be for a blessing will serve.

(Heads up, Carla Sulzbach.)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

On the congeniality of an apocalyptic Jesus

HELEN BOND finds an apocalyptic Jesus all too congenial to today's world and therefore no safeguard against distortion when we try to reconstruct the historical Jesus (Bible and Interpretation again). In the 1980s the Jesus Seminar found a Jesus that always looked to me suspiciously like a contemporary American humanities professor, so the problem is not new. The best rule of thumb is to try to follow the evidence on a detailed level where it leads, without assuming that any reconstruction is likely to be more objective in principle than any other. And it's also important to face the fact that our historical evidence for Jesus was not written with our interests in mind and may well not suffice for the type of historical reconstruction of his ministry and his teaching which we want.

Biblical Scholarship and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

JULIA M. O'BRIEN has recently visited Israel and the West Bank and has reflections on Biblical Scholarship and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at Bible and Interpretation. She is quite right that solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian issues must be political ones and that uncritical use of the Bible and ideological use of the archaeology of the area are entirely unhelpful. That said, I was disappointed that she completely ignored the Islamist ideologies that are very much in play and which try to deny any historical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel/Palestine, often resorting to Orwellian dismissal of the historical evidence (as with the persistent denial that there was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount). Scholars need to combat both trends so that the politicians can proceed without distraction by historically worthless ideologies. PaleoJudaica spends a good deal of time on this problem.

UPDATE (5 February): Related thoughts here.

The Holiness Code cramps today's Jerusalem lifestyle

ABIGAIL PICKUS is finding that those laws in the Holiness Code of Leviticus are cramping her social life in Jerusalem. Note especially Leviticus 20:13 and 21:14.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Biblical Studies Carnival 50 (?)

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL 50 (or something) has been posted by Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests.

Clergy on the Milwaukee DSS exhibition

CLERGY WEIGH IN on the Milwaukee Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition:
Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit creating local excitement

MICHAEL BURKE | Posted: Monday, February 1, 2010 7:00 am |

The Milwaukee appearance of the Dead Sea Scrolls has enlivened interest in the ancient documents among Christians and Jews alike, say area clergy.

A rabbi and two ministers comment.

Background here.

Lunar Calendar Conference in Jerusalem

A CONFERENCE ON THE LUNAR CALENDAR has just been held at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem:
Conference Shed Moonlight on Lunar Calendar

by Yoni Kempinski


The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem hosted an international conference January 30 through February 1, called: Living the Lunar Calendar: Time, Text and Tradition. Leading international scholars presented three days of lectures, sessions and events, including a fully-guided tour to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden for centuries.

A partial list of speakers included: Prof. Lawrence H. Schiffman, New York University; Prof. Sacha Stern, University College London; Prof. Wayne Horowitz, Hebrew University Jerusalem; Prof. John Steel, Brown University USA; Prof. Stanislaw Iwaniszewski, National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico; Dr. Jonathan Ben-Dov, University of Haifa.

There's also a video interview with Larry Schiffman and Sacha Stern. And the cuneiform calendrical tablet in the Bible Lands Museum is also mentioned. For more on it, see here.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Companion presentation to Milwaukee DSS exhibition

THE MILWAUKEE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION is connected to a companion show at a local planetarium:
Stars align for Dead Sea Scrolls

Posted: Jan. 31, 2010 (Journal-Sentinel)

The Milwaukee Public Museum's new exhibit, "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible," reveals many secrets of the famous scrolls. Find out the answer to more of their mysteries at the Daniel M. Soref Planetarium's companion presentation, "Secrets of the Dead Sea."

Background here.

Update on the Raphael Golb case

THE RAPHAEL GOLB online-impersonation case has taken a new twist according to Inside Higher Ed:
But new court documents point to evidence suggesting that Norman Golb, his wife, Ruth, and their other son, Joel, were aware of the alias-based campaign and may have assisted in carrying it out. Raphael Golb stands accused of harassing various scholars who do not believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls originated in Jerusalem — a theory Norman Golb advocated in a 1995 book. The new documents, released last month, purport to show transcripts of e-mails exchanges among members of the Golb family indicating coordinated efforts to advance Norman Golb’s theories though Web aliases. They also include sharp criticisms of Schiffman, which the prosecution is trying to use as evidence of motive and intent for the identity theft — the only felony charge against Raphael Golb. The evidence was released to the court after the defense moved to suppress it. Norman Golb could not be reached for comment.
See the article itself for a link to the relevant "new court documents." An e-mail from Norman Golb to Inside Higher Ed is quoted later in the article, but it seems not to be addressing this latest accusation.

Background here.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Phoenicia reaches South Africa

THE GOOD SHIP PHOENICIA has reached South Africa:
Phoenicia - they've reached South Africa

Leg by leg, they're getting there.

Recreating the first circumnavigation of Africa in a 600BCE replica boat was never going to be easy.

But this week Phoenicia was greeted with a very warm welcome at Richards Bay in South Africa, a little north of Durban.

A convoy of 21 yachts came out to meet Phoenicia and back at the Zululand Yacht Club a party of journalists, television cameras, port officials and local supporters were ready to welcome the Phoenician Ship Expedition team to South Africa.

Background here.

Gnosticism: here come the laywers

Lawyers criticise Charity Commission's decision on gnostics

By Paul Jump, Third Sector, 26 January 2010

Regulator 'obliged to draw on absurd case law'

The Charity Commission's rejection of the Gnostic Centre's application for charitable registration is "begging" to be appealed to the charity tribunal, according to charity lawyer Rosamund McCarthy.

An internal commission review decided that gnosticism did not meet the legal definition of a religion because it did not promote "a positive, beneficial, moral or ethical framework" .

But McCarthy, a partner at Bates Wells & Braithwaite, said the case law the commission was obliged to draw on was "absurd" and needed to be tested legally. She said it was also possible that the commission had breached the Human Rights Act, which requires religions and other moral belief systems to be treated equally.

Can't say I'm surprised. Background here.

Latest on Milwaukee DSS exhibition

THE LATEST on the Milwaukee Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibition:
Dead Sea Scrolls stir pride in Jewish community

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: Jan. 29, 2010

When organizers started planning Sunday's Jewish community event around the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum, they were hoping for 100, maybe 150, takers.

No one expected the overwhelming response that is propelling Jewish Night at the Museum into one of the largest events in the local Jewish community in years.

As of Friday, more than 500 people had registered.

They are drawn not only by the scrolls - these 2,000-year-old remnants of Jewish texts excavated from caves in the Judean desert - but also, according to organizers, a sense of pride and community.

Events involving the Dead Sea Scrolls always seem to draw more interest than the organizers expect.

Background here.