Saturday, June 19, 2010

Back to St. Andrews

I HEAD BACK TO ST. ANDREWS later this morning. Look for me sometime again on Sunday.

Seventh heaven

The struggles, survival of 7th Heaven

Written by Rick Hellman, Editor (Jewish Chronicle)
Friday, 18 June 2010 12:00

The idea of Seven Heavens is actually an early Jewish mystical concept, propounded by, among others, the sect that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. So it’s fitting that a young Jewish man from Kansas City, Mo., chose 7th Heaven as the name of his record store near the corner of 76th Street and Troost Avenue back in 1974.

The seven "firmaments" figure prominently in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice among the Dead Sea Scrolls. More on the seventh heaven (broadly speaking) here.

Nabucco at Masada - commentary

NABUCCO AT MASADA - commentary:
Setting opera in Masada resonates with Jewish audience

Published On Fri Jun 18 2010

By William Littler Music Columnist (Toronto Star)

MASADA, ISRAEL—The active campaign to list Masada among the world heritage sites received a huge boost this month with the Israeli Opera’s staging of a two camel-, 10-horse production of Verdi’s Nabucco at its desert base.

Background here.

Review of Canada's Big Biblical Bargain

REVIEW of Canada's Big Biblical Bargain in (scroll down):
Canada’s Big Biblical Bargain
Jason Kalman and Jaqueline S. du Toit

Most Canadians know something of the Dead Sea scrolls: the first discovery in 1947 by Bedouin nomads after two millennia buried in a cliffside cave, and subsequent finds over the next nine years in 10 other caves; the controversy the texts have sparked over what they reveal about early Judaism and the origins of Christianity; and the endless debate over who owns them now, still making news last year as the scrolls visited the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

What few realize, however, is that a key portion of the scrolls was once set to be permanently housed in Montreal. Half of the 16 scrolls shown at the ROM, in fact, were purchased from their Bedouin finders by a Jerusalem museum with money provided by McGill University. Its $20,000 contribution bought 500 manuscript fragments and, according to Kalman and du Toit, was crucial to keeping the collection intact and available to scholars. In exchange, McGill was promised ownership.

Background here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ron Hendel has left the SBL

RONALD S. HENDEL has left the Society of Biblical Literature:
The battle royal between faith and reason is now in the center ring at the SBL circus. While the cultured despisers of reason may rejoice—including some postmodernists, feminists4 and eco-theologians—I find it dispiriting. I don’t want to belong to a professional society where people want to convert me, and where they hint in their book reviews that I’m going to hell. As a scholar of the humanities—and I might add, as a Jew—I do not feel at home in such a place. What to do? Well, I’ve let my membership in SBL lapse. Maybe that’s a cowardly response, but sometimes, as Shakespeare wrote, “The better part of valor is discretion.” Sometimes it’s reasonable to avoid conflict. And like Pascal and Spinoza, I’m partial to reason in matters of scholarship. But my heart, for reasons of its own, gently grieves.
I didn't know about the change in the wording of the mission statement and I can't say I'm happy with it. I and others have noticed that since the departure of the American Academy of Religion, attendance at the annual-meeting SBL sessions has been disturbingly low, but diluting the mission of the Society is not the solution.

Congratulations to James McGrath et al.

CONGRATULATIONS TO JAMES MCGRATH, with Charles Haberl and April De Conick,, who have been awarded a large NEH grant:
Butler Religion Professor Awarded Federal Funding Report

A Butler University associate professor of Religion has landed a $130,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to translate the Mandaean Book of John. James McGrath and his collaborators plan to spend the next two years producing a typed version of the text in the original language and translating the more than 200 pages of handwritten text.
UPDATE: The project now has a blog: The Mandaean Book of John .

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review of Jewish magic exhibition

A REVIEW of the Jewish Magic exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem:
How lucky charms still bring us a little magic
For all the Bible’s warning against superstition, you can still find Jews wearing amulets today.

By Mordechai Beck, June 17, 2010 (Jewish Chronicle)

Israel's representative at the recent Eurovision Song Contest, Harel Skaat, unashamedly flaunted a kemaye - a Hebrew amulet - on his bared chest during his performance. "I believe in all these superstitions," he confessed.

Skaat is not alone. Superstition and magic among Jews has a history stretching back to biblical times. It is said that the first amulet was the "sign" given by God to Cain to protect him from potential assassins.

A new exhibition, called "Angels and Demons", in Jerusalem's Bible Lands' Museum offers a panoramic view of this Jewish fascination with magic. It brings together written and graphic material from across the centuries and around the globe displaying what the classic book on the subject, Joshua Trachtenberg's Jewish Magic and Superstition, calls "a folk religion". Alongside legitimate Judaism another, subterranean belief system has persisted, attracting rabbis, scholars and laymen alike.
And here's something interesting that I didn't know about:
Also on display is a young boy's shirt holding various charms in its pockets. It was found by the late Yigal Yadin in the same cave as the letters of Bar Kochba overlooking the Dead Sea. The fact that such a charmed vest would be used by this group of spiritual seekers back in the second century attests to the depth to which these customs had taken hold of the people.
Background here.

Oxyrhynchus biblical papyri

VIGILIAE CHRISTIANAE has an article about the Oxyrhynchus Papyri in its current issue (64.3): Sacred Scriptures as Trash: Biblical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus (requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rioting over archaeology in Jaffa

Hundreds of haredim riot in Jaffa
06/16/2010 13:47

Rioters say archaeological dig desecrates graves, 5 policemen injured.
Talkbacks (13)

Hundreds of haredim were involved in violent riots in Jaffa on Wednesday, in Rehov Louis Pasteur around the site of an archeological dig. Fifteen haredim were arrested.

The haredim maintain that the work desecrates the sanctity of ancient bones at the site. Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, the senior rabbinic leader of the Eda Haredit Badatz (rabbinical court), was on the scene to encourage the protesters and lead a curse against those working at the site.

It would be interesting to hear more about what has actually been found at the site.

Background here.

Kthobonoyo in the Netherlands

The Netherlands: ancient faith of the Middle East fathers

Guardian Weekly reader Catherine Ann Lombard writes on a visit to Mor Ephrem, the Syrian Orthodox Monastery at the far eastern border of the Netherlands and meets 45 boys who are learning to read and chant in kthobonoyo, the litur gical language that only about 300 people in the world speak today

More on Kthobonoyo here.

Hershel Shanks profiled in the NYT

HERSHEL SHANKS is profiled in the New York Times:
Shining a Light on Ancient Israel

Published: June 16, 2010

NEW YORK — He’s not exactly a household name, but anybody who has been paying only intermittent attention to the tricky, contentious and occasionally litigious world of biblical archaeology will know that Hershel Shanks, who at the age of 80 has just published his autobiography, is the leading non-archaeologist in the field.

Mr. Shanks is the founder and editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, a position from which he led the campaign a quarter-century ago to make the famed Dead Sea Scrolls available to pretty much any scholar who wanted to examine them — after forty years during which only members of a small and possessive group of experts were allowed access to them.

In acknowledgment of that, Mr. Shanks has titled his new book, the 21st he has either written or edited, “Freeing the Dead Sea Scrolls: And Other Adventures of an Archaeology Outsider.”


A novel about Josephus

A NOVEL about Josephus:
The Good News According To Josephus

By: C.G. Weiss
ISBN: 1-4500-2787-3 (eBook )
ISBN13: 978-1-4500-2787-8 (eBook )
ISBN: 1-4500-2785-7 (Trade Paperback 6x9 )
ISBN13: 978-1-4500-2785-4 (Trade Paperback 6x9 )
ISBN: 1-4500-2786-5 (Trade Hardback 6x9 )
ISBN13: 978-1-4500-2786-1 (Trade Hardback 6x9 )

Pages : 275
Book Format :Trade Book 6x9
Subject :
FICTION / Historical

eBook ($9.99)
Trade Paperback 6x9 ($19.99)
Trade Hardback 6x9 ($29.99)
Please choose book availability


It takes place in the year 95 C.E. (A.D.) at the home of Flavia Sabena — a cousin to Emperor Domitian — on the last night of the Festival of Saturnalia. The hostess has invited eminent Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, as guest of honor, to give readings from his works while they wait up all night in their annual solar vigil celebrating the mid-Winter Solstice. Among the guests are P. Cornelius Tacitus, the leading voice among Roman historians, and Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus the biographer of the Caesars. Opening with the “Star & Scepter” prophecy and a fl ashback to Isaiah, the action shifts to Josephus, who explains that what encouraged the zealot bandits who fomented this war, was an ambiguous oracle of a world ruler coming out of their country that was supported by their scriptural writings. But as it turned out, the oracle foretold the elevation of Vespasian, who was proclaimed Roman Emperor while he was in Judea.
Follow the link for author information and an excerpt from the book. If the excerpt is representative, a lot of the dialogue is taken from the works of Josephus and some of the other Festival guests. Not sure how well that would sustain a whole novel.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prince Charles quotes a Gnostic gospel

PRINCE CHARLES cites a Gnostic gospel (and the canonical Jesus tradition) in a recent speech on the environmental virtues of the Islamic tradition. I quote the passage in context:
This [unsustainable lifestyle] happens when traditional principles and practices are abandoned – and with them, all sense of reverence for the Earth which is an inseparable element in an integrated and spiritually grounded tradition like Islam – just as it was once firmly embedded in the philosophical heritage of Western thought. The Stoics of Ancient Greece, for instance, held that “right knowledge,” as they called it, is gained by living in agreement with Nature, where there is a correspondence or a sympathy between the truth of things, thought and action. They saw it as our duty to achieve an attunement between human nature and the greater scheme of the Cosmos.

This incidentally is also the teaching of Judaism. The Book of Genesis says that God placed Mankind in the garden “to tend it and take care of it,” to serve and conserve it for the sake of future generations. “Adamah” in Hebrew means “the one hewn from the Earth,” so Adam is a child of the Earth. In my own tradition of Christianity, the immanence of God is made explicit by the incarnation of Christ. But let us also not forget that throughout the Christian New Testament, Christ often refers to Himself as “the Son of Man” which, in Hebrew, is “Ben Adam.” He, too, is a “son of the Earth,” surely making the same explicit connection between human nature and the whole of Nature.

Even the apocryphal Gnostic texts are imbued with the same principle. The fragments of one of the oldest, ascribed to Mary Magdalene, instructs us that “Attachment to matter gives rise to passion against Nature. Thus, trouble arises in the whole body; this is why I tell you; be in harmony.” In all cases the message is clear. Our specific purpose is to “earth” Heaven. So, to separate ourselves within an inner darkness, leads to what the Irish poet, WB Yeats, warned of at the start of the Twentieth Century. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer,” he wrote, “things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.”
With all due respect to Prince Charles, I have two comments. First, regarding the title "the Son of Man," the word Adamah means "earth" or "ground," not "the one hewn from the Earth." The term/name Adam, "man" or "human being," would indeed probably have brought to mind an echo of Adamah as a folk etymology. But if Jesus used the phrase "the Son of Man" (and I think it's likely he did, although it's less clear he meant himself), he would have been speaking in Aramaic. The Aramaic phrase is bar (a)nasha, (the second word is "man," "human being" from another root, related to the biblical name Enosh). The phrase has no connection with the Hebrew word adamah and would not have brought it to mind.

Second, regarding the Gospel of Mary, I have serious reservations about using a Gnostic scripture to support modern environmentalism. Gnosticism taught esoteric knowledge that was supposed to help the soul escape from the irredeemably corrupt material world into the spiritual, heavenly Fullness or Pleroma. This is not a philosophy that had any sympathy or concern for the natural world.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fallout from the Ashkelon graves?

FALLOUT from the removal of the Ashkelon graves?
Ottoman-era Archaeological Dig in Jaffa Vandalized (Turkish Weekly)


While no suspects have been arrested, since the controversial excavation of the ancient graves on the grounds of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon began a wave of vandalism against IAA archaeological digs swept the country.

Previous attacks on IAA dig sites in Jaffa and elsewhere were found to be the work of haredim.
Recent background on the controversy over the ancient graves at Barliali Hospital ER site is here, here, here and here.

Congratulations to Stevan L. Davies

Drs. Davies and Austin receive faculty awards

Misericordia University honored three faculty members for excellence in scholarship, teaching and service to the campus and community during the 84th annual commencement ceremony at the Anderson Sports and Health Center on May 23.

Stevan L. Davies, Ph.D., professor of religious studies, received the Louis and Barbara Alesi Excellence in Scholarship Award for the third time. The annual award recognizes and promotes the academic accomplishments of faculty members in terms of their scholarship and/or artistic achievements. Faculty members are selected by the Misericordia University Faculty Awards Committee. Dr. Davies also received the award in 2000 and 2005.

Dr. Davies of Dallas, Pa., has a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a doctorate in philosophy from Temple University. He has taught religion at Misericordia University for 31 years. During that time, he has published seven books, including “The Secret Book of John Annotated and Explained,’’ and his most recent release, “The Infancy Gospels of Jesus: Apocryphal Tales from the Childhoods of Mary and Jesus Annotated & Explained.’’

His most recent single-authored book is a continuation of his studies of the New Testament apocrypha. The book is an analysis and commentary on the Gospel of James, the Gospel of the Infancy and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Dr. Davies also was awarded a federal National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study ancient and contemporary religion in Oaxaca, Mexico. The summer institute in Oaxaca led to an exhibition of Oaxacan revolutionary woodcuts at the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery and to two published essays, “The Popul Vuh’s Myth of the Origin of Shamans,’’ and “On the Use of the Term Sacrifice in Maya Studies,’’ by the Community College Humanities Review.

Dr. Davies also appeared on the History Channel about Gnosticism for a program on the Shroud of Turin and has published book reviews and presented at many professional conferences.

Professor Davies has a website on the Coptic Gospel of Thomas and many related (and one or two unrelated) matters: The Gospel of Thomas Homepage.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ancient Judaism landmarks at the Israel Museum

ANCIENT JUDAISM LANDMARKS at the Israel Museum (Haaretz):
The Shrine of the Book and the Model of Second Temple Jerusalem
The model of Second Temple-era Jerusalem, recently relocated to a spectacular new home next to the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum - itself recently refurbished - has made these two sites companion pieces illuminating the time of Jesus.


Ebion, the fictional heretic

EBION is Stephen Tomkins's favorite heretic:
Ebion, the fictional heretic
The Ebionites, said to follow a non-existent Ebion, remained closer to Jesus's Jewishness than other Christians

Stephen Tomkins, Friday 11 June 2010 13.15 BST
Article history
The question: Who's your favourite heretic?

My favourite heretic in Christian history is a man called Ebion. He never existed, but had interesting and revealing reasons for not doing so.

The movement he founded, the Ebionites, did exist. It was one of the earliest Christian heresies – necessarily so because it involved staying closer and truer to the Jewish roots of Christianity, in many ways, than the mainstream church did.

The Ebionites were largely Jewish and remained attached to Jerusalem while the mainstream church spread throughout the Roman Empire. St Irenaeus, the exiled bishop of Lyons and leading polemicist against heresies in the second century, wrote about them that they understood the scriptures "in a peculiar way: they practice circumcision, continue to observe the customs commanded by the law, and in their Jewish way of life even venerate Jerusalem as the house of God".

In other words they were so wilfully misguided as to practice the faith of Jesus and the first Christians, even after the church had reworked it to adapt to the non-Jewish world.


More on Jewish genetics

Genetic testing raises an age-old question — are the Jews a people, or a religion?

Last Updated: 5:15 AM, June 13, 2010
Posted: 12:15 AM, June 13, 2010
Comments: 0

We are home, Helen, thank you very much.

Two new genome studies of Jews worldwide prove that the Jewish people — long called the “People of the Book,” the “Chosen People” or, in unkind circles, “those people” — are, indeed, a people after all.

The first study, by researchers at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, found that Jews across the globe share distinct genetic traits that are different from other groups and that trace back to the ancient Middle East.

Researchers say the study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, puts to rest age-old questions about whether Jews are a group of unrelated people who share a religious ideology or a distinct ethnicity with common ancestry.

“The debate is over,” said Dr. Edward R. Burns, one of the lead authors of the study. “The Jewish people are one people with a common genetic thread that evolved in the second or third century BC.”

The study, “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era,” compared the genetic analyses of 237 Jews, including Sephardic (Middle Eastern) and Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews — as well as an analysis of 418 non-Jews worldwide, and found that the Jews were more closely related to each other than to their fellow countrymen.

Past studies have reached similar conclusions, but they looked at smaller populations and considered only blood groups, mitochondrial DNA (a type of DNA passed down by mothers) or Y chromosomes (passed down by fathers).

For this inquiry, researchers conducted a genome-wide analysis of the major groups of the Jewish Diaspora — Ashkenazi Jews; Italian, Greek and Turkish Sephardic Jews; and Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian Jews.

The study — and a second genetic study published Friday in the journal Nature — scientifically undermines arguments made by those who challenge Jews’ historical relationship to Israel, such as former White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who resigned last week after saying Jews in Israel should “go home” to Germany, Poland and the United States.

An interesting opinion piece on the historical and social (e.g., with reference to intermarriage) implications of the new studies.

Background here.

In San Diego

I'M IN SAN DIEGO. Got in last night and managed to get some sleep, but have been awake for the last hour or so.