Saturday, March 08, 2008

SO FAR SO GOOD. The new Indiana Jones trailer is a hit, in no small part thanks to the Intenet:
Trailer for upcoming 'Indiana Jones' film a smash hit with audiences in theaters and online

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Times sure have changed in the 19 years since Harrison Ford last donned the signature fedora of thrill-seeking archaeologist Indiana Jones. The viral spread of the trailer for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is proof of that.

The trailer for the May 22 release has drawn highly enthusiastic responses in theaters. But it may have had its biggest impact online, on a younger audience that may not think of Ford, 65, as equal to today's spry action heroes.

After premiering Feb. 14 on "Good Morning America," Lucasfilm and Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures sent the trailer to the Web, plus movie theaters and TV stations around the world. Paramount estimates the trailer was seen more than 200 million times worldwide in the first week alone.

Harry Knowles, who runs the movie fan site (his official title is Head Geek), says he first saw a bootleg version of the trailer online, then the official version online, and then saw it twice in theaters.

There were cheers in the theater when the familiar theme song kicked in, Knowles said, and comments on his Web site have been positive. "People generally really, really loved the trailer," he said.
I've linked to the trailer here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

NUBIAN ANTIQUITIES are at risk in the Sudan, as are modern Nubians:
Nubia at Risk as the Next Sudanese Tragedy

Contact: Loralei Coyle, 202-682-4131, 202-905-6852 cell,; Radio Interviews: Jeff Walton,; both with The Institute on Religion and Democracy

WASHINGTON, March 6 /Christian Newswire/ -- An ancient civilization that has survived the tumult of history could fall prey to rising floodwaters if the National Islamic Front regime if the Sudan has its way. Construction has been completed on the Chinese-built Merowe dam, scheduled to begin submersion of the region later this year. The newly dammed river will displace hundreds of thousands of Nubians and drown ancient sites, home to unexcavated historical treasures and monuments from the time of the Pharaohs and the ancient Christian and Jewish communities of Kush.

The Nubians have long been oppressed by the Khartoum government, which has banned them from teaching their children in their native language as part of an aggressive Arabization project and now seeks to use the dam as a tool to disperse the ancient community.

The man who says he has the lost Ark
07/03/2008 (Jewish Chronicle)
By Simon Rocker
In the Bible, it could be seen only by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies. Anyone who lay an unauthorised finger upon it would instantly drop dead. It was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, where it vapourised its Nazi captors.

Now a British academic believes he has unravelled the mystery behind one of antiquity’s most sought-after objects — the lost Ark of King Solomon’s Temple.

Tudor Parfitt, professor of Hebrew at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, has located an object he believes could be the successor to the original Ark.

And so on. (Background here.) But I haven't seen this before:
But Professor Parfitt believes that the biblical Ark was not quite what it appears. It was a drum-like object which doubled as a primitive cannon, releasing a kind of early, perhaps saltpetre-based explosive. “The Ark did blast things,” he said. “It was a kind of weapon, it is obvious from the text.”
There is no basis for this in the biblical texts about the Ark. I remain unconvinced.
ANNE RICE has published a new Jesus book. Chapter one is available online.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Settlers dig tunnels around Jerusalem

James Hider in Jerusalem (London Times)

Jewish settler groups are digging an extensive tunnel network under Muslim areas of Jerusalem's Old City while building a ring of settlements around it to bolster their claim to the disputed city in any future peace deal, anti-settlement campaigners have told The Times.

One group, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, said that settler tunnels could one day extend under the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, and claimed that extremists could use the access route to attack the structure in an attempt to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. Settler groups flatly deny such allegations.

Arutz Sheva has more:
New Tunnel Expands Jewish Quarter of Old City

by Ezra HaLevi

( Israel is opening a 25-meter long tunnel that will connect the Western Wall Tunnels with an ancient restored synagogue in the so-called Muslim Quarter, uniting the Old City.

Channel 2 television was brought on an exclusive tour of the new network of tunnels, which was broadcast during Wednesday’s 8 o’clock news. (click here to view the report - in Hebrew)

The tunnel will lead from the Western Wall plaza to the Ohel Yitzchak synagogue, which is being reconstructed and rehabilitated by the Moskowitz Foundation, headed by Land of Israel philanthropist Irving Moskowitz.

Also, I'm not sure if the following is related to yesterday's story:
Police detain three Arabs over illicit work on Temple Mount
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Jerusalem police on Wednesday detained two Arab Israeli members of the Islamic Movement for carrying out unauthorized construction work on the Temple Mount, police said.

The two men were taken in for questioning after trying to carry out "surfacing work" in an unauthorized area of the holy site for the second straight day, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.

A third Arab Israeli suspect was detained for trying to create a disturbance at the site.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Researcher: Moses was tripping at Mount Sinai
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)

"And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking." Thus the book of Exodus describes the impressive moment of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

The "perceiving of the voices" has been interpreted endlessly since these words were first written. When Professor Benny Shanon, professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads the verse, he recalls a powerful hallucinatory experience he had when he visited the Amazon and drank a potion made from a plant called ayahuasca.

"One of the things that happens when you drink the potion is a visual experience created via sounds," he says.

Shanon presents a provocative theory in an article published this week in the philosophy journal Time and Mind. The religious ceremonies of the Israelites included the use of psychotropic materials that can found in the Negev and Sinai, he says. "I have no direct proof of this interpretation," and such proof cannot be expected, he says. However, "it seems logical that something was altered in people's consciousness. There are other stories in the Bible that mention the use of plants: for example, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden."

I have argued elsewhere (see here, here, and here) that Jewish intermediaries in the second temple and rabbinic periods generated visions and spirit encounters for themselves using shamanistic ritual techniques. It's not unlikely that they were doing this at at earlier time as well. That said, I have never found any evidence that they used psychotropic drugs and it is pure speculation to say that they did.

UPDATE (6 March): This from an Israeli chatroom, via the Guardian:
One poster writes: "Maybe it is true - then religion really is the opiate of the people."
Police stop Islamic work on Temple Mt.
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Police on Tuesday stopped Wakf Muslim trust officials from performing unauthorized construction work on the Temple Mount.

Officers blocked workers from continuing unauthorized "surfacing word," said Jerusalem police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco. "It is our duty to ensure that the status quo is maintained on the Temple Mount."

He said Wakf officials had planned to carry out the work as a result of the tensions in east Jerusalem over the recent violence in the Gaza Strip and that the unusual police intervention sparked opposition on the holy site.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XXVII has been published by Kevin A. Wilson at Blue Cord.
EVA ETZIONI-HALEVY is interviewed in the Albany Herald about her novels on biblical women:
Reviving biblical heroines
Israeli author brings biblical women to the forefront with her fictional novels.

TEL AVIV, Israel — When mystery, romance and suspense book lovers are looking for a page-turner, they usually look for the names they know.

James Patterson. Terry McMillan. Nora Roberts.

But for three-time author Eva Etzioni-Halevy, all of the elements that make for a good read are in the best-selling book of all time — the Bible.

“I was searching for my roots in the Bible and when I read the Bible I found it very fascinating,” Etzioni-Halevy said in a phone interview from her Israel home.

Etzioni-Halevy, a Jewish retired professor emeritus of political sociology at Var-Ilan University in Israel and child Holocaust survivor, said when she decided to trace her heritage in the Bible, she didn’t expect to it to be as entertaining as it was enlightening.

“The people described in the Bible are so similar to us,” she said. “They lived thousands of years ago, yet they’re so similar to us in their desires and hopes. They are not described as angels. They all had strengths and weaknesses, many of which stem from their personality.

“The Bible is a divine book and also a very human book,” she said. “If everyone in the Bible were described as innocent, I would have put it down.”

She said she was especially intrigued by the women of the Bible for their various acts of bravery and leadership, though they are not as spotlighted in the Bible as their male counterparts.

With this in mind, Etzioni-Halevy said she took her rekindled religion and decided to give the heroines of the Bible her own version of the spotlight that she felt they deserved.

“Five years ago I decided to switch over to writing biblical novels,” she said. “This is a completely new chapter of my life which I never dreamed of doing before.”

Her first novel, “The Song of Hannah,” was released in 2005. Then came “The Garden of Ruth” in 2006 and her latest installment, “The Triumph of Deborah,” released late last month.


Monday, March 03, 2008

IN THE MAIL, from the author:
Ian C. Werrett, Ritual Purity and the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 72; Leiden: Brill, 2007)
This is a revised version of the doctoral thesis Ian wrote under my supervision.
NEWS IS SCARCE about developments around the kidnapping of the Chaldean archbishop in Iraq, but here's what I can come up with.

From an APF article on Saturday:
The Syriac Christian archbishop of Mosul, Baptiste Georges Casmoussa, himself a kidnap victim two years ago, said he had begun negotiating with the kidnappers for his Chaldean counterpart's release.

"We received a telephone call from the kidnappers and have begun negotiations for the release of Monsignor Farraj Rahhu," the Rome-based missionary news agency MISNA reported Casmoussa as saying.

Casmoussa was himself kidnapped in January 2005 and held for a day before being released.
And from an AP article on the recent demise of an al-Qaeda-Iraq leader:
It remains unclear if al-Qaida was responsible for Friday's kidnapping of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and the killing of three people who were with him.

[U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gregory] Smith said that Iraqi and U.S. forces were searching for those who abducted the cleric as he left Mass in the northern city of Mosul. The European Union also appealed for his release and condemned the kidnapping in an announcement.
Background here.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

STOLPER'S LAW - important philological principles for the decipherment of Akkadian:
Professor Stolper also has a healthy mythology surrounding him at the Oriental Institute. He is widely credited with the invention of "Stolper's Law," which stipulates that, when translating Akkadian, an unknown adjective is likely to mean "pure," and an unknown verb probably means "destroy."
(From the Matthew Stolper Wikipedia entry, via the Agade list.)