Saturday, April 03, 2010

Anti-Semitic idiocy derails Maaloula Aramaic Institute

ARAMAIC WATCH: Anti-Semitic idiocy derails the Aramaic Institute in Maaloula, Syria.
Easter Sunday: A Syrian bid to resurrect Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ is remembered on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but the language he spoke is all but forgotten. A controversial new language institute in Syria seeks to save Aramaic.

By Alastair Beach, Contributor / April 2, 2010 (CSM)

Malula, Syria

While millions will commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter Sunday, only a handful of people could discuss his works in the language of his day: Aramaic.

Nearly all of them live in three Syrian villages, the last outposts in a region largely swept by the Arabic of Islam. In a bid to preserve its ancient heritage, Syria launched a series of language courses in 2007 to bolster the fading influence of a 3,000-year-old language that once reigned supreme in the Middle East.

And so it was that an Aramaic institute joined the cluster of buildings that cling to a rocky spine in the village of Malula, about 35 miles northwest of Damascus. But the program ran into trouble recently, when a Syrian newspaper suggested that the alphabet being used to teach written Aramaic bore an uncanny resemblance to the Hebrew characters found in modern-day Israel.

Worried that a flagship heritage scheme might in any way be associated with the country’s neighboring enemy, the government-run University of Damascus, which established the institute, acted quickly to freeze the Aramaic program.

“There were some people in the press trying to cause trouble,” says George Rezkallah, an elderly villager from Malula who runs the institute. He is hopeful that classes will be able to resume this summer.


Background on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula) and its Aramaic Institute here.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Maronites in Israel seek to preserve Aramaic

ARAMAIC WATCH: Maronite Christians in Israel seek to preserve their language:
The Ben Yehudas of Aramaic
By Dorit Shilo (Haaretz)
Tags: Israel news

Two Aramaic-language television stations in Sweden are locked in a war for viewership among speakers of the ancient Middle Eastern tongue. Devotees of Suroyo TV and Suryoyo Sat (both are variations of the Aramaic word "Syriac," the Aramaic language) wage heated online debates over which station is superior. The majority preferSuroyo, the older station, and claim Suryoyo Sat copied much of its content and broadcasts too many reruns.

Some of the stations' most avid viewers live in Israel, primarily in Haifa and the Galilee. Shady Khallul of the Upper Galilee village of Jish says, "What does it matter which channel is better? The important thing is that they exist. These channels prove that our Aramaic language lives and breathes."


Shady Khallul and his brother Amir have been working for years to revive the holy language of Aramaean Christians in Israel and to bring it back into everyday use. Their model, Shady says, is none other than Eliezer Ben Yehuda, father of the contemporary Hebrew language renaissance.

"If you, the Jews, were able to revive Hebrew and turn it into a modern language, why can't we?" he asks. "Last year we received permission from the Education Ministry to teach Aramaic in first and second grades at the school in Jish, and we had to draft a curriculum from scratch. Amir wrote the textbooks and I traveled around the world to buy dictionaries and grammar books so that we could translate and adapt them for use in Israel. I brought most of the teaching material from Sweden, and the dictionaries from France. Most Aramaic books today are printed in Lebanon, but we have no way of bringing them in from there."

Unlike biblical Aramaic, written in Hebrew letters, the modern dialect - the Western variant of which is called Syriac - is written in another ancient script, which resembles a melding of the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets. Like Hebrew, the language comprises 22 characters and is written right to left. Each of Aramaic's two principle dialects - Western and Eastern - has its own alphabet. Both, however, share a classical written alphabet, Estrangela, reserved for prayers and religious texts.

The challenge before the Aramaeans in Israel, who use the Western dialect, is twofold: On the one hand they must teach their children to speak the language and persuade them to use it in their everyday lives, with family, friends and at school, and on the other hand teach them to read and write in the two alphabets (the Western and the Estrangela).


Precious connection

The Maronite Christians in Jish enjoy a vibrant community life and maintain close ties with Maronites living elsewhere in Israel - mostly in Nazareth, Acre and Haifa. These include 2,000 former South Lebanon Army soldiers who sought refuge here after Israel's pullout from southern Lebanon in 2000.

"When we first expressed the desire to teach Aramaic to members of our community, the people of the village were very enthusiastic," Khallul says. "Classes were immediately started at the church in Jish, on Fridays for kids and Tuesdays for adults. This year, after the Education Ministry approved the plan, people got even more excited. Schoolchildren were given the choice of studying Aramaic, and of 100 students in first and second grade, 64 chose Aramaic class instead of art and drawing."

I wish them good success.

More on the Sepphoris/Tzipori tomb etc.

MORE ON THE SEPPHORIS/TZIPORI TOMB and other finds involving ancient bones:
Old bones that never lie
By Ran Shapira (Haaretz)
Tags: Israel news

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi was not supposed to have had a tomb at all. According to the accepted tradition, the 3rd-century sage and head of a yeshiva moved his institution from Lod to Tiberias, not far from Tzippori, as he got on in years. Ben Levi, whose sayings are mentioned in the Mishnah, was one of 10 saintly men who, tradition says, ascended to heaven without actually dying.

However, last summer, New York-born Mitch Pilcer, who operates a bed-and-breakfast in Tzippori in the lower Galilee, was making preparations to build more rooms when he discovered a cave with an inscription at its entrance, testifying that the rabbi was buried there. He had no doubts about it.

"I knew immediately who it was," says Pilcer. "I'm a yeshiva graduate, a religious person, and the inscription was very clear: 'This is the burial place of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi Hakapar.' I felt as though this was the moment I had been living for all along. The tzaddik [righteous man] had watched over me and helped me and my family succeed and now I had to watch over him."

For this reason, probably, Pilcer did not rush to call in the Israel Antiquities Authority to investigate the grave site, even though the law obligates him to do so. He did contact the ultra-Orthodox organization Atra Kadisha, however, which seeks to protect ancient graves and tries to prevent construction in their vicinity to avoid desecrating the honor of the dead.

Dror Barshad of the Antiquities Authority in the north explained that the law leaves no room for doubt: In every place where antiquities are found that might be harmed by construction, a proper excavation must be carried out. Moreover, he adds, Pilcer himself dug in the burial cave, used a coffin there as a prayer table, and damaged artifacts; therefore, he will face criminal charges. Meanwhile, the authority applied to the court, which issued a stop-work order to Pilcer and compelled him to allow the digging to be done.

"We excavated in order to get an indication about the tomb and the inscription," says Barshad, "and we did this in full cooperation with the ultra-Orthodox."

It is far from clear that this is actually the tomb of R. Yehoshua ben Levi. Background here.

The article also mentions an earlier controversy over another burial cave found in Tzipori (noted here). And, of course, graves found at the site for the proposed emergency room of the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance conflict are both mentioned. The 2004 story of the Roman cemetery at Acre is also noted (background here and here).

Good Friday

TODAY IS GOOD FRIDAY. Best wishes to all those observing it.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

David Noel Freedman Award

THE DAVID NOEL FREEDMAN AWARD for excellence and creativity in Hebrew Bible Scholarship has an intention-to-submit deadline of 2 April (tomorrow).

This looks like a worthy successor to the Mitchel Dahood Memorial Prize of the 1980s and 90s.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A night with Judas Iscariot

Marvin Meyer, Ph.D., chairman of Chapman's Religious Studies Department, will discuss the many facets of Judas and his changing role throughout history – even taking on the role of Judas in some readings – in "A Night With Judas Iscariot" at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 6 in the Fish Interfaith Center on the Chapman campus.

Admission is free and open to the public; call 714-997-6947 for more information. Event parking is available in the structure under the Chapman stadium – enter off Walnut Street. Parking permits are on sale in the structure at $2 for two hours or $3 for four hours.

"A Night With...Judas Iscariot" will be a multimedia presentation featuring Meyer, a resident of Orange, performing readings from the New Testament, the Gnostic Gospel of Judas and other texts, as he gives insight into the complexities of Judas.

Are angels the new vampires? More Enochiana.

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Are angels the new vampires? More Enochiana today in a Globe and Mail review of Danielle Trussoni's Angelology:
Indeed, the book’s central reference is the Book of Genesis, in particular the strange few verses in chapter six describing how the “sons of God” took “the daughters of men” as wives, producing a race of giants.

These are the creatures who inhabit Angelology: malign and imperious, determined to enslave humankind, kept in check only by the heroic efforts of a secret fellowship of scholars who have been on to them from the beginning. Literally.

“I would argue that angels are much older than vampires or any of these other creatures, that they’ve been a part of our culture from before the Bible,” Trussoni says, warming to the trend question. “So I don’t know if you can say that’s new. It’s not trendy. It’s actually really arcane and nerdy, to be honest.”

Angelology is replete with ancient texts and biblical apocrypha like the Book of Enoch, the action winding from one musty library to another. Comparing it to the work of Umberto Eco, the Times reviewer called it “an elegantly ambitious archival thriller.”

But make no mistake: Trussoni’s angels are every bit as dangerous as anybody else’s vampires. The ones she has walking among us are unsavoury at best, albeit beautiful beyond imagining. The ones she has imprisoned at the bottom of the Devil’s Throat Cavern in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains are downright terrifying.

This is what angels are, Trussoni says, explaining her desire to “peel back” the modern sentimentality that has reduced them to “puffy little new-age cherubs, which I find unbearable.” The “puffy white stuff” feeds a spiritual yearning, she admits, but it hardly fits with the true history of angels.
Indeed. I enjoyed Kostova's The Historian and this book sounds interesting.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

John Hobbins reviews Milwaukee DSS exhibit

JOHN HOBBINS reviews the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Milwaukee.

Codex Climaci Rescriptus resurfaces

CODEX CLIMACI RESCRIPTUS, last seen in June on auction at Sotheby's, has resurfaced in the hands of a private collector who seems to be trying to do the right thing with it:
Bible museum could make home in Dallas

12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, March 30, 2010

By MATTHEW HAAG and SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

Hobby Lobby Inc., the national arts and crafts store chain, says it has been on a buying spree of rare Bibles and other sacred documents to fill a proposed National Bible Museum, with Dallas a likely location.

The Oklahoma City-based company, owned by the Green family, announced Monday that it has collected a "vast array" of materials, including biblical papyri, Hebrew scrolls, medieval manuscripts and a comprehensive assortment of Bibles and rare books.

Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, said his family has a Christian commitment to helping tell the Bible's story and is working with a group, which includes people from Dallas, that came up with the National Bible Museum idea.


Sixth-century Bible

Hobby Lobby said Monday that it had bought Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a sixth-century Bible that includes New Testament passages in Palestinian Aramaic.

The extremely rare document – described in promotional materials as "one of the earliest-known near-complete Bibles in the world" – failed to sell at a Sotheby's auction last year, Carroll said.

In January, Hobby Lobby bought the book from Westminster College at Cambridge University, with Sotheby's handling the sale, Carroll said. He would not reveal the price.

A Sotheby's spokesman confirmed the transaction.

Carroll said the Green family agreed about four years ago to help secure property for the National Bible Museum and more recently became an aggressive buyer of materials.

UPDATE: Peter Head comments at Evangelical Textual Criticism.

Pseudepigrapha terrorism

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA TERRORISM - it had to happen sooner or later.
Pa. man charged with threatening GOP's No. 2 in Congress

By The Philadelphia Inquirer

Last Edit: Mar 29 2010 - 1:18pm

PHILADELPHIA -- A Philadelphia man has been arrested and charged with threatening to kill the Republican party whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, officials announced Monday.

The FBI says Norman Leboon, 38, told investigators he was the "son of the god of Enoch" and that he had posted a video on the Internet threatening the lives of Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and his family.

An FBI affidavit makes no mention of an incident last Tuesday when a bullet smashed through a window at Cantor's campaign office in Richmond about 1 a.m. Police have said their investigation indicated the bullet was a stray from a randomly fired handgun.

According to the affidavit, Leboon allegedly said in the video: "Remember Eric ... our judgment time, the final Yom Kippur has been given. You are a liar, you're a Lucifer, you're a pig, a greedy (expletive) pig. You're an abomination. You receive my bullets in your office. Remember they will be placed in your heads. You and your children are Lucifer's abominations."


Enoch appears in Chapter 5 of the Book of Genesis as a seventh generation descendant of Adam and the father of Methusaleh.

Some believe Enoch never died based on the line "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him away."

The Book of Enoch, which is not included in the Bible, is attributed to the patriarch, but it is considered an example of the body of works known as pseudepigrapha, texts whose claimed authorship is unfounded.
I'm glad Rep. Cantor is okay.

Homer Simpson has Jerusalem Syndrome

HOMER SIMPSON has Jerusalem Syndrome:
In "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed," the latest episode of the long-running Fox sitcom, which aired Sunday, The Simpsons set off to Israel on a church mission. They go at the urging of neighbor and devout Christian Ned Flanders, who thought a dose of the Holy Land would bring Homer much-needed salvation.

No surprise, this plan didn't go well.

Among the family's foibles and offenses, Homer became delusional and believed he was the "chosen one," destined to bring Muslims, Jews and Christians together. Diagnosed with "Jerusalem syndrome," he called himself the "Messiah" and proposed the new faith of "Chrismujews," a religion that would praise both peace and chicken.

This storyline, while certainly creative and twisted in the classic Simpsons way, is rooted in something real.

Indeed. Background here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Lod Mosaic is going to New York in September

THE LOD MOSAIC is going to New York in September:
Lod Mosaic Comes to the Met

By Zack Englander (The Commentator)

Published: Sunday, March 28, 2010

Updated: Sunday, March 28, 2010
Lod Mosaic

On September 28, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will begin to display a 1,700-year-old mosaic from Lod, Israel. The mosaic was found in 1996, as road workers were rebuilding the highway between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. Around 30,000 people came to see the mosaic when it went on display for the weekend after the excavation.

The 600-sq. foot mosaic is thought to have belonged to a wealthy Roman living in, what was then called, Lydda. It consists of colorful animals, fish and sailboats, sectioned off in a decorative border. The elaborate artwork is surprisingly well preserved with only a couple of tile-less blemishes.

A lecture series will precede the exhibition.

Background here and follow the links back.

Zahi Hawass and "the Zionist enemey"

Egypt antiquities chief: I gave the Zionist enemy a slap in the face
By Haaretz Service
Tags: Israel news, Israel Egypt

The head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities said that "he gave the Zionist enemy a slap in the face," when he canceled the inauguration of a restored Cairo synagogue two weeks ago, Army Radio reported on Sunday.

"Israel is the Zionist enemy, and I gave this enemy a strong slap in the face," said Doctor Zahi Hawass.

Background here.

UPDATE: More here. Jews banned from Maimonides Synagogue.

Bus ads for third Temple in Jerusalem

J’lem posters call for 3rd Temple

By ABE SELIG (Jerusalem Post)
29/03/2010 00:51

Posters leaving out Al Aksa mosque plastered on buses with e. Jerusalem routes.

While tensions continue to simmer around the Temple Mount after riots in and around the capital’s Old City earlier this month, a new campaign calling for the construction of the Third Temple atop the holy site has made its way to the sides of 200 Egged buses in the city, which now sport posters featuring a picture of a rebuilt temple on the Mount, and nothing else.

The posters, which contain the phrase, “May the Bais Hamikdosh be rebuilt speedily and within our days,” were sponsored by the Our Land of Israel group, which is led by Rabbi Shalom Dov Volpo and activist Baruch Marzel, leave out the site’s current structures – namely the the Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

The campaign’s organizers chose to plaster the posters on buses whose routes take them through predominately Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

This is exceedingly unhelpful. I have commented here and many times before on the subject of excavation on the Temple Mount. And this ad campaign seems intended entirely to inflame the situation.

Happy Passover!

PASSOVER begins this evening at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Corpus Coranicum Project

THE CORPUS CORANICUM: Qur'anic studies come of age.
The origins of a holy book

Using ancient texts, scholars have begun an audacious effort to unravel the story of the Koran. What will they find?

By Drake Bennett (Boston Globe)
March 28, 2010

Later this spring, a team of scholars at Germany’s Berlin-Brandenberg Academy of Sciences will complete the first phase of what will ultimately be an unprecedented, two-decade effort to throw light on the origins of the Koran.

The project, called the Corpus Coranicum, will be something that scholars of the Koran have long yearned for: a central repository of imagery, information, and analysis about the Muslim holy book. Modern research into Islam’s origin and early years has been hampered by the paucity and inaccessibility of ancient texts, and the reluctance of Muslim governments in places like Yemen to allow wide access to them.

But, drawing on some of the earliest Korans in existence — codices found in Istanbul, Cairo, Paris, and Morocco — the Corpus Coranicum will allow users to study for themselves images of thousands of pages of early Korans, texts that differ in small but potentially telling ways from the modern standard version. The project will also link passages in the text to analogous ones in the New Testament and Hebrew Bible, and offer an exhaustive critical

commentary on the Koran’s language, structure, themes, and roots. The project’s creators are calling it the world’s first “critical edition” of the Koran, a resource that gathers historical evidence and scholarly literature into one searchable, cross-referenced whole.


Though the publication of the first section of the Corpus is only the beginning, it’s possible to see in it the outlines of its larger ambitions. The goal, essentially, is to place the text in a historical context. “We want to frame the Koran as a text of late antiquity,” says Michael Marx, the project’s research director. “We put stress on the links that the Koran has to other Near Eastern religions: Christian sources, rabbinic sources.”

For instance, in one of the parallels that the researchers will post, they compare one of the most important passages in the entire Koran — “He is God, one, God the absolute, He did not beget nor is He begotten, And there is none like Him” — to nearly identical passages in the Hebrew Bible and the Nicene Creed (the profession of faith in many Christian liturgical services). Both the Bible and the Creed long predate the birth of the Koran. To Marx, this demonstrates the extent to which the Koran, a text that proclaims itself immutable and eternal, is in fact a recognizable product of the particular historical moment in which it was created.

“Once you have all the texts on the table,” he says, “it’s possible to make quite clear that the Koran has a history, that it is interacting with human history.”


Other contemporary scholars take things further. Gerd-R. Puin, a retired professor of Arabic studies at Germany’s Saarland University, has been working for decades on a trove of Korans from a mosque in Yemen — possibly the oldest ones in existence. Because they were primarily memory aids, early Korans were written in a vowel-less “skeleton” language. Deciphering those clusters of consonants requires a sense of what languages and what cultural and religious traditions Mohammed and his earliest followers were borrowing from and reacting against. Much of the wording and imagery of the Koran are borrowed from Christian and Jewish texts, Puin argues. In fact, he says, much of the Koran is incomprehensible unless read alongside those earlier texts. As an example, he points to the term “sakina,” which Muslim scholars have translated as a spirit of calm — Puin argues that it only makes sense as a descendant of the Hebrew term “shekhinah,” which means the presence of God. The more one studies its historical context, Puin argues, the harder it is to resist the sense that the Koran itself was, at least in part, pieced together from parts of other religions.

This sounds like an extraordinarily important project from both a text-critical and a history-of-religions perspective. And a courageous one as well: it is bound to generate strident opposition in some circles.

A couple of years ago I noted the story about the recovered photographic archive of Qur'an manuscripts, but this article give much more information about the whole project. For the Corpus Coranicum website, follow the link.

The story of the reuniting of the Song of the Sea fragments

THE SONG OF THE SEA FRAGMENTS, now on temporary display in the Israel Museum, are the subject of an article in the Jerusalem Post which tells the full story of how they were reunited. Brief excerpt:
Mishor and Engel quickly established that the Ashkar fragment and the London Manuscript had indeed been part of the same Torah scroll, separated only by a column and a half of missing text. Both fragments are assumed to have come from the Cairo Geniza, a depository of ancient Jewish documents, including worn-out holy books, but that is not certain. Although most of the Geniza fragments were salvaged by Cambridge University in 1896, tens of thousands ended up in other collections and in private hands. Centuries after the original Torah scroll had been taken out of circulation, circumstance had brought these two fragments separately across the Atlantic within a few decades of each other – one from Beirut, the other from London. They were now being reunited in Jerusalem, at least in a temporary exhibit.
Read it all.

Via Joseph I. Lauer's list. Background here.