Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fake metal codices watch: Yahoo moves in.

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Yahoo News has finally taken some interest in the story of the debunking of the codices. The LiveScience article from last week has been migrated to the Yahoo News site. It is dated 11 April, but that is the date of the original article. The migration looks to have been in the last twenty-four hours or so. Also, Zachary Roth at the YN blog The Lookout summarizes the story and links to Thonemann's London Times article. Yahoo News has a large audience, so this is very good news. Let's hope that other mainstream media outlets will take notice.

Background here.

More on the CAD and similar projects

MORE ON THE CHICAGO ASSYRIAN DICTIONARY: Chuck Jones has gathered numerous links and even a video on the history of the project over at the Oriental Institute blog.

Via James Spinti. James includes a link to the Chicago Hittite Dictionary project, on which he worked for a time and which began in 1975 and seems to be about half finished.

Background here.

Meanwhile, I've just learned that the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary has morphed into an entirely electronic project. I think I still have the 1984 "B" volume sitting on one of my bookshelves.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fake metal codices watch etc.

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: LiveScience has another go at the fake codices in Jesus Christ the Man: Does the Physical Evidence Hold Up? by Natalie Wolchover. The article is basically about the problem of evidence for the historical Jesus and it comes to temperate conclusions on that at the end. But along the way it takes effective swipes at Simcha Jacobovici's Easter present of nails from the true cross, the Shroud of Turin, the fake metal codices, dodgy theories about Jesus and the Qumran library's Teacher of Righteousness, and an ancient-but-bogus crown of thorns.

My hat is off to Ms. Wolchover for inserting some much-needed critical scrutiny of the latest rash of ridiculous Easter claims about early Christianity. But I'm still waiting for the mainstream media to take up the important story of the debunking of the fake metal codices. And waiting ...

Mark Goodacre takes apart various claims by Jacobovici here and here.

Background on the metal codices and the nails is here and here.

Some background on the Shroud of Turin is here.

Review of Hoffman & Cole, Sacred Trash

BOOK REVIEW: A brief one of Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, Sacred Trash: The Lost And Found World Of The Cairo Geniza in Macleans.

More reviews here.

Review of Carroll, Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Book review: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World,' by James Carroll
Examining the violent histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Stanley Meisler Special to the Los Angeles Times

April 17, 2011
Jerusalem, Jerusalem

How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World

James Carroll

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 418 pp., $28

James Carroll's latest book is very ambitious. Invoking history, anthropology, social psychology, geography and theology, the author, a former Catholic priest, delves into the stories of the violence unleashed by the organized religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam throughout their existence. He anchors the book by describing how each has used the city of Jerusalem, holy to all three, as a symbol or metaphor or touchstone.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Larry Hurtado on Early Christian “Testimonia” Texts

LARRY HURTADO has an interesting post on Early Christian “Testimonia” Texts.

Fake metal codices: still waiting ...

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Still waiting for coverage by major media of all the reasons for concluding that the codices are fake. Any time now ...

Hebrews, Philo, and Bezalel

HEBREWS, PHILO, AND BEZALEL: Horace Jeffery Hodges has reflections here and here over at Gypsy Scholar.

Did they actually believe this?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Duane Smith: Did They Actually Believe This?

Note my comment, which leads to a post of mine that deals with the subject of invisibility in ancient Judaism etc.

I've sometimes wondered the same about the spells in the Greek Magical Papyri for interrogating corpses (PGM IV.2140-44) and making a zombie (PGM XIII.278-82).

Chicago Assyrian Dictionary now complete

THE CHICAGO ASSYRIAN DICTIONARY is now complete with the publication of volume U/W. The project began ninety years ago and the first of the twenty-one volumes (G) was published in 1956. (Some of the "volumes" come in 2-3 physical volumes.) The entire set is available for downloading here.

UPDATE (16 April): More here.

Review of Lieber, Yannai on Genesis

Laura S. Lieber. Yannai on Genesis: An Invitation to Piyyut. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2010. 500 pp. $59.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-87820-464-9.

Reviewed by Debra Blank (Brandeis University)
Published on H-Judaic (April, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Required Reading for All of Us

Once in a while, not often enough, a book comes out that represents a tectonic shift in its field as well as others. This volume is such a book, and after six months of perusing it, I remain impressed by the author’s erudition, creativity, and contribution not only to piyyut studies, but also to Jewish, Hebrew, and Byzantine studies in general.

The study of piyyut is enjoying a boom, thanks mostly to the increasing accessibility of Genizah material. This has in turn vastly deepened our understanding of liturgical history, synagogue life, and the wider Byzantine Jewish culture. However, familiarity with piyyut has not spread much beyond a niche of cognoscenti, because the secondary literature has been mostly written in Hebrew and the poems are usually regarded as impenetrable. Popular association of piyyutim with lengthy, boring synagogue services probably exacerbates the disinterest. Thus undergraduate and MA Jewish studies students and their instructors (in the North American world at least), not to mention clergy and laity, remain largely ignorant of this literary and liturgical phenomenon and its implications.

The fact that piyyutim tend toward the abstruse is no defense for this ignorance, because mystical texts are no less so, and that field is enjoying great popularity, aided by a large English-language library. In fact, once past the hurdles of Hebrew language and formulaic allusions, many piyyutim are readily accessible for the learned layperson or student. People just need to be shown how these poems work.

In only one example of its refreshing quality, Laura S. Lieber’s book forthrightly acknowledges and explains the ignorance of piyyut. Then she argues for its relevance to a broad swath of other fields, including literature, Byzantine worship (not just Jewish), and ritual studies--to name only a few. As such, this book is a long-needed English-language introduction to piyyut and should be required reading for introductory courses in Jewish studies, graduate students, Jewish clergy and educators, and Judaica academics, as well as the cognoscenti.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fake metal codices watch, plus those nails

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Boo to Chuck Colson at, who falls unreservedly for the fake codices story in Relics of Christianity: All the Middle East Has Left? The really sad part is that the point of the essay is to highlight the problem of Islamist persecution of Christians in the Middle East, an issue I too have raised frequently in this blog (e.g., recently, here, here, and here). You would think that he could at least Google the subject of the codices a little before making them the chief hook in an otherwise worthy essay. Heck, if he had done his research he could have made his point even more poignantly and said that fake relics of ancient Christianity are more important today in the Middle East than protecting the Christians living there now. But no.

While we're still on the subject of preposterous claims about old bits of metal, the story of Simcha Jacobovici's supposed conveniently-just-before-Easter discovery of the nails of the True Cross is now propagating at full speed through the media. I note with particular disappointment that Beliefnet includes a credulous Religious News Service article (Archaeologist Claims to Find Nails from Jesus’ Cross) which piles on Jacobovici's bogosity even more than the Reuters piece noted yesterday. The RNS article does at least note the reservations of a couple of respectable scholars, but I would have thought Beliefnet might have taken more interest in whether such a story had any chance of actually being true. Silly me.

UPDATE: Regarding the nails story, Mark Goodacre invokes Blackadder.

UPDATE: Philip Davies suggests that a drawing on one of the fake metal codices is based on a seventh-century depiction of Jerusalem. It doesn't look very similar to me, but have a look yourself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fake metal codices watch: some progress

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: The LiveScience article has been taken up by the Online Journal (Lead Codices Declared Fake) and (Lead Codices Now Thought to be Fakes). These are not major media outlets, but still, this is some progress.

Background here.

UPDATE: Osteologist Joe Zias has published some vigorous criticisms of some of the players involved with the metal codices and other problematic metal plates: A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:The $ons of Darkness and the Wicked Prie$ts; all hustling Jesus plates, Jesus scrolls, and the fast buck. (Via James McGrath, uploaded by Jim West.)

Bizarre historical claims day

BIZARRE HISTORICAL CLAIMS DAY: Is it just me, or has the story of the fake metal codices presaged an unusual rash of media stories involving bizarre claims about the ancient biblical world? Consider the following:
Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus's cross
04/12/2011 09:13

Simcha Jacobovici's "The Nails of the Cross" claims that the artifacts turned up in a Tel Aviv lab; many call the film a publicity stunt.
This Reuters piece appears in the Jerusalem Post. Jacobovici, the "Naked Archaeologist," is in top form here: having noticed that an excavation found some ancient nails in a tomb near Jerusalem, possibly connected with the grave of the high priest Caiaphas, he concludes, naturally, that the nails were used to crucify Jesus. After all, what else could they have been for?

At least the IAA was consulted:
The Israel Antiquities Authority, which oversaw the Jerusalem excavation, said in reaction to the film's release that it had never been proven beyond doubt that the tomb was the burial place of Caiaphas. It also said that nails are commonly found in tombs.

"There is no doubt that the talented director Simcha Jacobovici created an interesting film with a real archaeological find at its center, but the interpretation presented in it has no basis in archaeological findings or research," it said.
[UPDATE: Robert Cargill: no, simcha, you didn’t find the ‘nails of the cross’ of christ (a week before easter).

UPDATE: Rogue Classicism: Simcha’s Crucifixion Nail Silliness.]

Then this:
British Museum hopes to clean up with the 'Holy towel of Jesus'

By Rob Sharp, Arts Correspondent (The Independent)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

It is Jesus's "Holy Towel", once visited by pilgrims in the belief that it showed the face of Christ, formed when he dried his wet head on a piece of cloth and left an indelible mark.

The Christian relic the Mandylion of Edessa usually takes pride of place in the Pope's private Matilda chapel in the Vatican. It is rarely seen in public, and is one of the earliest images of Jesus – although there is scholarly disagreement about whether the facecloth is the original or a copy made 400 years after the life of Christ.

There is scholarly disagreement in the sense that all scholars believe the latter and none the former.

Don't get me wrong. I think it is cool that the BM is displaying a Monty-Pythonesque late-antique relic that got a lot of attention in the Middle Ages. Such things are of intrinsic historical interest (for the history of late antiquity and the Middle Ages) despite being fakes. As I've said before, I like my fakes ancient. But I do object to the tone of the article, which creates a bipolar distinction between two "views." When journalists do this, frequently (as here) one of the two views is reputable and the other is held by cranks, if anyone.

I can't find anything about the Mandylion at the BM website, but I'm going to assume they are marketing the exhibition in a responsible way.

And this:
Fall of Roman Empire caused by 'contagion of homosexuality'
A prominent Italian historian has claimed that the Roman Empire collapsed because a "contagion of homosexuality and effeminacy" made it easy pickings for barbarian hordes, sparking a furious row.

By Nick Squires, Rome 4:56PM BST 08 Apr 2011 (The Telegraph)

Roberto De Mattei, 63, the deputy head of the country's National Research Council, claimed that the empire was fatally weakened after conquering Carthage, which he described as "a paradise for homosexuals".

The remarks prompted angry calls for his resignation, with critics saying his comments were homophobic, offensive and unbecoming of his position.

The fall of the Roman Empire was a result of "the effeminacy of a few in Carthage, a paradise for homosexuals, who infected the many.

"The abhorrent presence of a few gays infected a good part of the (Roman) people," Prof Mattei told Radio Maria, a Catholic radio station.

This one is drawing some wider attention due to the wild political incorrectness of the claims. My thoughts are:

1. I know of no evidence that homosexuality was more prevalent at Carthage than in other parts of the ancient world. Given how common and mainstream it was in Classical Greece, I see no reason why the ancient Carthaginians should be singled out as "infecting" Rome with it.

2. Even if we set aside the question of Carthage, this sort of higher order abstraction ("homosexuality caused the downfall of the Roman Empire") would have to be argued on the basis of highly detailed evidence on many levels and it would be exceedingly difficult even for a modern sociologist to defend any similar claim about the modern world. I suspect it would be impossible to argue convincingly. It would be vastly more difficult to argue for an ancient society about which comparatively little evidence survives.

3. But Professor De Mattei was not arguing, he was asserting, in an interview with his co-religionists. As far as I'm concerned, he's entitled to his opinion and to the free speech to assert it as long as he makes clear he is expressing a personal view and not speaking in his official capacity. It's not clear to me whether he did express himself this carefully or not.

4. All that said, his claim seems historically dubious to me — and also unfalsifiable (untestable) and therefore not very interesting. As Popper would say, it's not even wrong.

Cross-file under "Punic Watch."

[UPDATE: David Meadows has a roundup of discussions over at Rogue Classicism: Pondering the Cause(s) of the Fall of Rome.]

And finally this:
Secrets within Great Pyramid of Giza Point to One True God
This is just a press release about a book that revives goofy hermetic claims about the Great Pyramid. I wouldn't have mentioned it except for the fact that it appears on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle. It's not marked as a paid advertisement, but perhaps they're getting some money for posting it. But they shouldn't be getting mixed up in this kind of nonsense.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hurtado on Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries

BOOK NOTE by Larry Hurtado: Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik (eds.), Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007). xxx + 930 pp.

Hugoye 14.1

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES Volume 14 Number 1 (Winter 2011) has recently been published. TOC:

A Soghitha on the Daughter of Jephtha, by Isaac.
Sebastian Brock, University of Oxford

Syriac Inscriptions in Syria.
Françoise Briquel Chatonnet and Alain Desreumaux, CNRS—Orient Et Mediterranee, Mondes Semitiques, Paris

Oldest Syriac Christian Inscription Discovered in North-Syria.
Françoise Briquel Chatonnet and Alain Desreumaux, CNRS—Orient Et Mediterranee, Mondes Semitiques, Paris

A Newly Discovered Painting of the Epiphany in Deir Al-Surian.
Karel Innemée, University of Leiden

The Shorter Syriac-Armenian Glossary in Ms. Yale Syriac 9. Part 2: Glossary in Transcription/Translation.
Hidemi Takahashi, University of Tokyo

Book Reviews

Recent Books on Syriac Topics..
Sebastian Brock, University of Oxford

John F. Healey, Aramaic Inscriptions and Documents of the Roman Period, Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions.
Aaron Butts, Yale University

Robert D. Millar, ed., Syriac and Antiochian Exegesis and Biblical Theology for the 3rd Millenium.
J.W. Childers, Abilene Christian University

Janet Soskice, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Ladies Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels.
Emily Cottrell, Leiden University

A.H. Becker, Sources for the Study of the School of Nisibis.
Grigory Kessel, Philipps Universität

Rosemary A. Arthur, Pseudo-Dionysius as Polemicist: The Development and Purpose of the Angelic Hierarchy in Sixth Century Syria.
Robert Kitchen, Knox-Metropolitan United Church, Regina

Ovidiu Ioan, Muslime und Araber bei Išocjahb III. (649–659).
Andrew Palmer, University of Münster

Fake metal codices: the "Hebrew" script etc.

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Steve Caruso posts an analysis of the script at the Aramaic Blog: The Lead Codices: Character Sheet. One particularly interesting point:
Seems to be a mix of Old Aramaic, Palmyrene, and Nabatean forms, not a single known and well-established script. There may even be a bit of Samaritan influence.
Such a mixture of script forms could not come from antiquity; it must be a modern fake.

Steve does not accept that that script is the same as that from the bilingual Greek-Nabataean (Aramaic) inscription from which the Greek phrase came, but his analysis still confirms that the codices are fakes.

Via James McGrath.

Background here (immediately preceding post).

Still waiting for those media updates and corrections ...

UPDATE: The Finnish press has discovered the story — and to their credit the correct story. The Google translation seems to be pretty bad, but it gives the general idea.

UPDATE: Steve Caruso's paleographic analysis is featured in LiveScience (taken from Life's Little Mysteries): Exclusive: Early Christian Lead Codices Now Called Fakes. The piece also refers to Thonemann's debunking, but does not make full use of it. And Elkington's credentials are finally examined and found wanting. This sort of thing should have appeared in the BBC etc. over a week ago. But this, at least, is progress. Well done, Steve!

(Via David Meadows.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fake metal codices watch

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: The Express has an article on Peter Thonemann's debunking of the fake metal codices: UNHOLY ROW AS NEW EXPERT CALLS ANCIENT SCROLLS FAKES (via David Meadows). For the first time "[a]rchaeologist and biblical scholar" (argh!) David Elkington responds to Thonemann:
Mr Elkington hit back at Dr Thonemann yesterday: “He’s not a biblical scholar, he’s a Greek classicist.

“Dismissing the provenance of the books on the basis of two low resolution photographs by e-mail is out of order.
It's not surprising that Mr. Elkington resorts to a completely irrelevant ad-hominem attack rather than replying to Dr. Thonemann's devastating argument, but it does show that Elkington is getting desperate. (And one has to ask why Elkington himself contacted Thonemann in the first place if he thought his specialty wasn't relevant.) James McGrath takes the article and Mr. Elkington's comments apart in detail here.

Background here (immediately preceding post).