Saturday, April 23, 2011

Another profile of the Samaritans

ANOTHER PROFILE OF THE SAMARITANS: Samaritan community in the West Bank (PRI's The World).

Happy St. George's Day

HAPPY ST. GEORGE'S DAY.

Paradise in Haaretz

THE THEME OF "PARADISE" is explored from numerous different angles in an Haaretz article by Aviva Lori: Intimations of immortality. It includes, inter alia, comments from Rachel Elior and Guy Stroumsa on ancient Judaism and ancient Iran:
Prof. Rachel Elior from the Hebrew University is an expert on Jewish mystical thought across the ages. She recently edited a thick volume titled "A Garden Eastward in Eden: Traditions of Paradise" (Magnes Press, Hebrew ), which examines the representation of paradise in religious, literary, artistic and cultural works from ancient times to the present.

What does the Jewish paradise look like?

Elior: "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apocrypha contain marvelous descriptions of paradise with incense and perfume trees, as in the Song of Songs. It is pictured as a magnificently beautiful place where angels poeticize and do the sacred work. It was created on the third day, time does not control it, and everything that lives in it has eternal life. After the destruction of the Temple, it's already a different story. Rabbi Akiva says then, 'All Israel have a portion in the world to come, other than the wicked.'"

[...]

Paradise is an ancient Iranian conception, says Prof. Emeritus Guy Stroumsa, from the Hebrew University (Sarah Stroumsa's husband), who is currently professor of Abrahamic Studies at Oxford and recently edited a book about the concept of paradise in Judaism and Christianity in ancient times. "The word pardes [orchard] is a Hebraized version of faradis, an ancient Iranian word," he says. "In Greek it is paradiso, which means a closed place. The Greeks added the notion of 'closed garden,' and the Greek translation of the Bible used the term 'Gan Eden,' Garden of Eden."
Worth a read.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

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

Review of Humphreys, The Mystery of the Last Supper

THE MYSTERY OF THE LAST SUPPER by metallurgist Colin Humphreys, is reviewed in the Los Angeles Times:
Last Supper was not Jesus' last supper, researcher says
A British academic believes Jesus used a largely abandoned 3,000-year-old calendar that had Passover beginning Wednesday evening, and that the meal was indeed a Seder. So his actual last supper would probably have been jail fare.

By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

April 22, 2011
The Last Supper was probably the next-to-last supper of Jesus' life, a British researcher has concluded after using ancient calendars and astrological data to rethink the chronology of what Christians know as Holy Week.

Colin Humphreys, a scientist who previously explored the Exodus of the Old Testament, believes his studies show that Holy Thursday — the day that Jesus gathered his disciples for the famous supper, according to tradition — was actually a Wednesday.

Humphreys also believes he has resolved a longstanding disagreement over whether the Last Supper was a Jewish Passover Seder: It was, he says.

Humphreys' book, "The Mystery of the Last Supper" (Cambridge University Press), was published Thursday, a day that many Christians observed as one of the holiest of the year. That's a mistake, according to the researcher, a professor of materials science at Cambridge University who has made a sideline of biblical research.

"The Last Supper was on Wednesday, April 1, AD 33, with the crucifixion on Friday, April 3, AD 33," Humphreys writes. He believes that his research not only definitively establishes the dates, which have eluded most scholars, but that it resolves an apparent conflict within the Gospel accounts of Jesus' last days.

[...]
Those dates sound suspiciously precise. Most historical Jesus scholars would be cautious about narrowing the time down beyond a range of a few years.

The article has a little to say about scholarly responses:
Humphreys' book is likely to create a stir among biblical scholars, whether or not it alters prevailing views.

"I think it's really fascinating the way he brings in astronomy and ancient calendars and other contributions from outside the field of biblical studies," said Paul Anderson, a professor of biblical studies at George Fox University, a Quaker school in Newberg, Ore. Anderson previewed Humphreys' book before publication.

However, he said, "scholars won't agree with many of his presuppositions."

But Humphreys said he has received mostly warm reviews from Bible scholars, even if they don't "agree with every word." And, as a scientist and Christian, he said he hopes his efforts will contribute to the dialogue between science and religion.
The book is published by Cambridge University Press, so one would hope that means it has been thoroughly vetted and is worth looking at. Nevertheless, I want to hear from some top-flight historical Jesus specialists and I think it's a little odd that the media treatments I've seen so far don't quote from any of them. And all the more so after a breathless e-mail blurb for the book arrived in my mailbox yesterday from CUP. My favorite quote in it was "A gripping read that is hard to put down" by ... get ready ... Sir John Houghton, Chairman of the Scientific Assessment Committee of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. Call me suspicious, but that makes me wonder how seriously CUP is taking this whole peer review thing and how hard they might be finding it to get endorsements from the above-mentioned historical Jesus scholars.

More on the book here.

UPDATE: Professor Geza Vermes has e-mailed to note that Sir Colin has been at this for quite a while. Back in 1984, before he was Sir Colin, his ideas about the date of the Last Supper were noted in a New Scientist article. Vermes wrote in a response that Humphreys showed "the kind of naivety to which scientists inexperienced in historico- literary matters tend to be prone." In his e-mail today he adds "Of course, he claims to have solved the mystery of the star of Bethlehem too."

Not looking promising here, either for Sir Colin or CUP.

UPDATE (23 April): Mark Goodacre pokes some holes in the theory: Dating the Last Supper a Day Early?

A report on Samaritan Passover

A REPORT ON SAMARITAN PASSOVER, which began the day before Jewish Passover this year:
Photo-op on Mount Gerizim

How an ancient Samaritan ritual turned into a tourist free-for-all.


By Chaim Levinson (Haaretz)

In this animal-conscious era where people are willing to eat steak so long as they don't have to hear about the cow, it seems unlikely that thousands of Israelis would be willing to wait hours to see slaughtered lambs, hanging and smelling of burned oil. But this Passover ritual, practiced by Samaritans, has become a magnet. This is no mere killing of animals, but an anthropological phenomenon - a holy ritual that takes place not too far from home, a throwback to ancient days. Thousands of Israelis, and foreign tourists, are apparently prepared to push through crowds each year to photograph a white-clothed man slitting the throat of a lamb.

[...]
More on the Samaritan Passover here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Congratulations to Myrto Theocharous

CONGRATULATIONS TO MYRTO THEOCHAROUS: Another Successful PhD Defense in Cambridge. Her thesis title is "Inner-Biblical Echoes in the Septuagint of Hosea and Amos."

New Testament apocrypha news

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: A couple of recent blog posts relate news about developments in research on some New Testament apocrypha.

First, at Apocryphicity, Tony Burke announces the publication of his new edition of the Greek text of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas: CCSA 17: De Infantia Iesu Evangelium Thomae.

Second, at his eponymous blog, Alin Suciu announces his identification of a new Coptic fragment of an apocryphal gospel (?): An Apocryphal Fragment Sold at Sotheby’s (The Pseudo-Gospel of the Twelve Apostles).

Paul Flesher on the James Ossuary

ARAMAIST PAUL FLESHER has a brief essay out on the James Ossuary: UW Religion Today Column for April 24-30: The Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus: 10 Years On. Excerpt:
In 2004, the Israel Antiquities Authority brought charges against Golan for forging antiquities. But all did not go as planned. Some expert witnesses changed their evaluations, and others could say little more than they could not make a determination. The trial dragged on for years: 138 witnesses testified, with 52 of them being experts in some area of antiquity or archaeology. The trial ended and the judge has been considering his ruling ever since. Indications are that he will announce a verdict soon.

If the judge determines Golan is not guilty of forging the inscription, does that mean the inscription refers to James the head of the Jerusalem church? Not necessarily. Not only must the inscription be proven forged "beyond a reasonable doubt," but the charge is only that the forgery is modern. The inscription as a whole or the part of it saying "brother of Jesus" could have been added in antiquity, perhaps after Emperor Constantine and his successors transformed Palestine into the "Holy Land" after 324.

It is even probable that the Jacob/James mentioned in the inscription is not James the brother of Jesus. Jacob, Joseph and Yeshua (short for Joshua) were common Jewish names at the time.

Given the nature of belief, however, a verdict against forgery will strengthen many Christians' belief that the ossuary links to Jesus through his brother and thus "proves" the Bible. Indeed, many people will continue to believe in the inscription's authenticity even if it is declared a forgery.
The judge's verdict will be interesting and not irrelevant to the question of whether part of the inscription on the James Ossuary is forged. But (I say it again and again) ultimately the only way for the genuineness of the whole inscription to be established is in the pages of peer-reviewed journals and monographs. As I said before (see next link), I'd like to know of any such publications on the inscription. So far, no one has replied.

Oded Golan's recent essay on the forgery trial, the James Ossuary, and the Jehoash inscription is noted here.

Talmud in Connecticut

TALMUD IN CONNECTICUT:
House approves certificate program in study of Talmud

Posted on 04/20/2011

By DANIELLE CAPALBO

[Stamford] Times Staff Writer

STAMFORD -- Yeshiva Bais Binyomin, a Stamford-based college for men, has come one step closer to providing a certificate program in studies of the Talmud, a central text of the Jewish faith.

The House of Representatives voted this week to approve legislation to authorize the program at Bais Binyomin and The Talmudic Institute of Connecticut, in Bridgeport.

The state Senate must also approve the bill.

"This legislation expands opportunities in higher education for students looking to pursue a degree that focuses on Jewish heritage," said State Rep. Gerald Fox III, D--146, who introduced the bill.

[...]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fake metal codices watch: The Economist

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: The Economist has taken up the story in the context of Easter and "Hebrew," i.e., Jewish Christianity: Early religious archaeology: An Easter enigma, Whatever happened to the Hebrew Christians? (no author given).

The article is pretty up to date on the story as far as it has been covered by the mainstream media, but note this:
... But a dissonant voice has come from Peter Thonemann, an Oxford University historian who was shown a photograph of a copper engraving, apparently found along with the lead codices; what he saw, at least, was a crude forgery, he insists. But so far, no scientific authority in a position to judge has seen more than a fraction of the objects.
This is misleading and is clearly slanted toward wishful thinking that somehow the bulk of the codices might be genuine. The "copper plate," first, is inscribed in Greek that is an obvious forgery; second, it is a plate in one of the bound codices (see photos here and note the binding); and third, the plate has clear connections with some of the other plates in the other codices. It is from the same cache.

The new line seems to be that we can't judge until all the codices are made fully available for study. That simply isn't true. There's ample evidence from what has been released that the codices are fakes. It would be interesting to have all the material available in order to understand the hoax better, but that isn't going to somehow make some of them genuine.

If only the unnamed author if this piece bothered to consult specialist blogs, he or she would have had much more material and could have produced much better coverage.

Background here, where some of that much better material is collected.

Fake metal codices watch: Davies interview

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: The Sheffield Telegraph interviews Philip Davies on the codices, repeating much hype and silliness from earlier media coverage, albeit with a small dose of caution:
Prof’s mystery texts

Published on Wednesday 20 April 2011 08:43

Tiny books could be most important find since the Dead Sea Scrolls

A PROFESSOR from Sheffield has been asked to help authenticate dozens of mysterious texts being talked about as the most important find since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Philip Davies, The University of Sheffield’s emeritus professor of biblical studies, is one of a handful experts from across the world asked to investigate the 70 ancient texts, found in a cave in Jordan.

For some the find forms what could be one of the most important discoveries in Christian history - but others doubt their authenticity.

[...]
The interesting part is the quotation from Philip:
“It is extremely exciting and a very curious case - it’s not normal for books to be bound on both sides,” said Philip. “They may be sheets of secret signs and people may have prayed over them.”

Tests suggest the scrolls date back to at least the first century AD but one of the books has a carved image of Christ with depth - an artistic feature not associated with anything as early as the first century AD.

“That looks too modern in style for my liking,” said Philip.

“I think some of them may be authentic, and as yet I can’t work out what sort of a hoax they might be.”

[...]

“At the moment the codices are hard to reach so it’s difficult for any of us to actually see them at first hand,” said Philip.

“At the moment there is every reason to be extremely cautious.”
Some thoughts:

First, can someone please publish those "[t]ests" that supposedly "suggest the scrolls [sic] date back to at least the first century AD"? Until they have been peer-reviewed by specialists in ancient metallurgy, I am not going to take them seriously.

Second, "what sort of hoax they might be" is an interesting question that is worth following up. If someone intended to make money from them, this turned into an epic fail once the Jordanian Government took an interest. It would be helpful to know when they were forged and, if possible, who did it and why.

Third, that "carved image of Christ" has a suspicious similarity to the "Mona Lisa of the Galilee" mosaic. And there are other, similar problems with the iconography and script of the codices (see here, here, here, and here).

Fourth, as for "I think some of them may be authentic," I'll take the liberty of quoting myself (with an added link):
So just because one of the codices is a fake, does it mean they all are? Let's see. Some guy makes a major epigraphic discovery. So what does he do? He goes out and finds a forger and has the forger make up some very similar fakes and salts the real cache of codices with them. You believe that?
I'm all for keeping an open mind until the evidence is in, but in this case we are past the point of being extremely cautious. The evidence is compelling that this supposed cache of ancient texts is fake.

On a more positive note (so to speak), the fakeness of the codices did get some coverage in the MobyLives column of the Melville House Publishing Co. yesterday: Newly discovered Christian codices both timely and fake. It's not major media, but it did make it into Google News.

Background here.

Paul and Qumran conference in Metz

CONFERENCE: Les manuscrits de la mer Morte et la littérature paulinienne/The Dead Sea Scrolls and Pauline Literature; Colloque International, Metz, 14-16 juin 2011/International Colloquium, Metz, june 14-16, 2011.

I noted this in February, but Timothy Lim has written to ask me to publicize it again, so here it is. It looks like a good conference. I wish I could go, but I'm already attending the Sixth Enoch Seminar at the end of June and I can only do so much conferencing.

Review of Hoffman & Cole, Sacred Trash, in BG

BOOK REVIEW: of Hoffman and Cole, Sacred Trash, by Judy Bolton-Fasman in the Boston Globe: Centuries of once-forgotten Jewish history brought to light. Excerpt:
Hoffman and Cole’s vivid portrayal of the discovery of the ancient Cairo Geniza — the world’s richest depository of Jewish manuscript fragments, which the authors playfully describe as “a kind of holy junk heap’’ — is equal parts treasure hunt for the sacred and historical and Herculean rescue of important texts.
More reviews here.

Creighton prof studies comics religiously

I KNEW THIS WAS LEONARD when I saw the headline:
Creighton prof studies comics religiously

By Howard K. Marcus
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
« Metro/Region

Leonard J. Greenspoon is serious about the funny papers — especially when it comes to religion.

“Each comic strip has its own sort of language,” said Greenspoon, who holds the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization and is professor of classical and Near Eastern languages at Creighton University. “You have to know how to read comic strips in the same way you have to know how to read everything else.”

His familiarity with ongoing stories in strips makes it easier for him to follow as many as he does. Each day he reads more than 100.

For him, looking at comic strips is something of a ritual.

“I need to do it,” said Greenspoon, who is also a theology professor at Creighton. “I don't let a day pass. If I do let a day pass — if I'm not feeling well or something — then I have to go back. I don't want to miss anything.”

He's hardly a casual reader.

“I read the comic strips more carefully than the average reader. But that's what my professional life is, really. I analyze manuscripts. Greek manuscripts, mainly, biblical manuscripts and Hebrew manuscripts,” he said. “I'm used to analyzing life down to the smallest elements, which is not a bad thing to do, because I have to imagine that cartoonists and those responsible for comic strips think through what they do.”

[...]
He also has a column called "The Bible in the News" at BAR, noted, e.g., here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SBL session on mystical praxis and experience

SBL SESSION ON MYSTICAL PRAXIS AND EXPERIENCE: For the November 2011 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco I have organized a joint session of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism unit and the Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity unit.

Details:
PRAXIS AND EXPERIENCE IN ANCIENT JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM

This session is dedicated to the memory of Alan F. Segal

This session focuses on how our understanding of ancient Jewish and Christian mysticism can be advanced by attention to its use of ritual praxis; study of mystical experience itself, insofar as we can gain access to it; and understanding this mysticism in the larger context of ancient Jewish and Christian religious experience.

April DeConick, Rice University, Presiding

April DeConick
A tribute to Alan F. Segal (5 minutes)

James R. Davila, University of St. Andrews
Ritual praxis in ancient Jewish and Christian mysticism (25 minutes)

Mystical experience is a black box to non-practitioners. Mystics engage in certain practices (prayer, rituals, etc.), which function as inputs; they have experiences inaccessible to anyone else (the black box); and, at least often, they give accounts of those experiences, which functions as the output. The experiences of ancient mystics are doubly inaccessible, since the practitioners are all dead and we are left only with such accounts of their experiences as have survived the vicissitudes of time. Our information for ancient mysticism comes from written instructions for engaging in mystical praxis; actual accounts of specific visionary experiences; fictional accounts of such experiences (which may nevertheless describe real praxis); and, in rare cases, architecture or artifacts tied to such rites. Such evidence can studied with the normal array of historical critical methods, but also by means of phenomenological comparison with other accounts of premodern esoteric rites and anthropological work with modern shamans and visionaries. This paper investigates how ritual praxis can contribute to our understanding of ancient Jewish and Christian mystical experience, drawing on a range of primary evidence from antiquity to the modern era and exploring the methodologies that can help us extract the maximum amount of of information from that evidence.

István Czachesz, University of Heidelberg
Experience in ancient Jewish and Christian mysticism: Insights from cognitive neuroscience (25 minutes)

Modern brain imaging technology gives us access to brain function and potentially allows us to understand mystical states of consciousness better. In the first part of my paper, I will briefly consider what contributions these technologies have already made; what further contributions they might make; and the methodological challenge of applying this information to the mystical experiences of long dead people. In the second part of my paper, I will address the question of how religious experience is connected to other aspects of religiosity. In particular, I will propose that a religious movement gains evidence for its core beliefs from some typical form of religious experience that requires the activation of particular brain areas. This hypothesis allows for predictions about the typical operations, group structure, and theological views of the movement. In the final part of my paper, I will consider how the hypothesis helps us understand ancient Jewish and Christian mysticism.

Break (10 min)

Frances Flannery, James Madison University
Mysticism as an Epistemological Sub-Category of Religious Experience: The case of the Testament of Abraham (25 minutes)

The work of the Early Jewish and Early Christian Mysticism Group significantly widened earlier definitions of mysticism (April DeConick, ed. Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism, Atlanta: SBL Press, 2006). Very recently, the Religious Experience Section, as well as the work by Ann Taves (Religious Experience Reconsidered, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), helped to sketch the parameters for investigations on religious experience (Frances Flannery, Colleen Shantz and Rodney Werline, eds., Experientia: Volume One, Leiden: Brill, 2008). As these arenas of investigation have demonstrated, the definitions and the relationship of mysticism to religious experience are close and sometimes overlapping.

Here, I explore the idea that mystical practice is usefully construed as a sub-category of religious experience that entails perceived events rooted in individual bodily expressions of an epistemological personal revelation. Such a revelation, while not necessarily new within the mystical or religious framework, is singular in that it is freshly orienting and purposeful for the mystic. I investigate The Testament of Abraham, a late antique text of either Jewish, Christian, or “god-fearing” provenance. Regardless of its exact origin, the text encodes esoteric mystical practice, recognizable only to elite ritual experts, within a larger religious story, which is aimed at a general Jewish or Christian audience and which involves practice of a different order. I argue that this text’s encoding strategy speaks to the self-constructed, emic identity of some early mystics (whether Jewish or Christian), who saw themselves as standing within but above non-mystical strains of their religion, as a result of their own profound personal somatic and epistemological experiences. Finally, I argue for a categorical shift in our contemporary discussions of “mysticism” and “religious experience.”

Rebecca Lesses, Ithaca College, Respondent (15 minutes)

Pieter F. Craffert, University of South Africa, Respondent (15 minutes)

Discussion (30 minutes)

Seth Sanders on "inauthentic experience" and heavenly ascents

SETH SANDERS has an interesting post on Inauthentic Experience, pseudepigraphy, and heavenly ascents. That reminded me of my upcoming SBL session, which I've been meaning to put up for some time. See my next post.

Fish in a barrell and nails in the coffin ...

FISH IN A BARREL AND NAILS IN THE COFFIN of the Nails of the Cross documentary. I hope Mark is right about this story dying down.

(UPDATE: Bad link now fixed!)

The Jewish artifacts in the Vatican Museums

THE VATICAN MUSEUMS and their approach to displaying Jewish artifacts come in for some criticism from Michael Satlow in The Forward: The Pope, the Jews and the Vatican Museums.

Excerpt:
And this, then, brings us back to the Vatican Museums. At least since 2001, Judaism has, in the eyes of the church, ceased to be “profane.” It, like Christianity, is “holy.” Housing the items from the Jewish catacombs in the Gregorian Profane Museum with artifacts from ancient Greece and Rome would thus seem to be in tension with the teachings of the Vatican itself. Jews, in this new teaching, really are not like Greeks and Romans.

Therefore, the museums miss an opportunity to convey their current understanding of the theological place of Jews and Judaism, and perhaps even undermine it. The museums can do a better job reflecting the church’s position.

How? I suggest that the Vatican Museums open a section devoted to Jews and Judaism. This museum should exhibit not only Jewish antiquities, but also other Jewish treasures owned by the Vatican (for example, manuscripts), as well as Christian art that depicts Jews. The very addition of such a museum in the complex would display the same admirable courage as the church itself in dealing with Jews and Judaism, an implicit acknowledgment that Jews are part of the Christian story.

The contents of such a section would be of great interest to a great many visitors. The Vatican’s Judaica collection is interesting in its own right, and now there is no logical place in the museum complex to display it. Just as important, though, these objects often raise troubling questions of acquisition, which touch on the larger issue of historical Jewish-Christian relations. The way to deal with these questions, though, is not to hide the objects.

Cyrus Cylinder back in Britain

WELL GOOD:
Cyrus the Great’ Cylinder returns to the UK in one piece

Monday, 18 April 2011 18:52

LONDON, (CAIS) -- The Cyrus the Great Cylinder, described as the world's first Charter of Human Rights returned to the British Museum on Monday, following the seven-month loan to the National Museum of Iran (NMI).

The priceless Cylinder arrived in the UK just after the cultural authorities in Iran severed ties with the Louvre over the French museum’s decision not to lend Iranian antiquities to NMI.

The British Museum said the artefact would go back on display in its ancient Iran gallery (Room 52) on Tuesday.

Prior to loaning, the cylinder caused difficulties between the two countries when the Islamic Republic threatened to cut ties with the British Museum if it did not lend the Persian artefact.

[...]
Background here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sinai Palimpsests Project

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: The Sinai Palimpsests Project:
Scholars use tech tools to reveal texts
Researchers from UCLA and abroad to begin analyzing erased manuscripts that retain invisible traces of the past

By CRYSTAL HSING (The Daily Bruin)
Published April 15, 2011, 1:41 am in News

Instead of reading between the lines, UCLA researchers will be reading under them.

Leading a team of scholars and researchers, a UCLA professor has collaborated with the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library to begin a five-year project to study the erased layers of text in a collection of ancient manuscripts.

Claudia Rapp, a UCLA history professor, and Michael Phelps, executive director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, will lead the Sinai Palimpsests Project. Together they will study a collection of more than 125 palimpsests, or recycled manuscripts, at St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai in Egypt using imaging technology.

[...]
Via John Byron's The Biblical World blog.

More on St. Catherine's Monastery here and follow the links. For an important and famous palimpsest from St. Catherines (Codex Syriacus of the Four Gospels) see here and follow the links. And for other manuscript imaging and conservation projects see here and follow the many links.

Telegraph obituary for Edward Ullendorff

AN OBITUARY FOR EDWARD ULLENDORFF has been published in the Telegraph:
Professor Edward Ullendorff

Professor Edward Ullendorff, who died on March 6 aged 91, was an authority on Ethiopia and the Bible and held the chair of Semitic Languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London from 1979 to 1982.
A long and detailed survey of his interesting life and career.

Background here.

Zahi Hawass sentenced to 1 year in prison

ZAHI HAWASS has been removed from his post as Minister of Antiquities and sentenced to a year in prison. But he is appealing the conviction. The NYT piece has a link to his blog, where he gives his side of the story.

Happy Passover!

HAPPY PASSOVER to all those celebrating. It begins this evening at sundown.

Some biblical references are here. (Sorry, the links have rotted.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fake metal codices watch: Doom Metal?

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: No new word on the fake metal codices, but Google News helpfully alerted me to a History of Doom Metal at the Codex Doomicus magazine's Blog.

Background (on the story of the fake metal books, not Doom Metal music) here.

Oded Golan on the James ossuary and the Jehoash inscription

ODEN GOLAN has published a defense of the authenticity the James Ossuary inscription and the Jehoash/Joash inscription at the Bible and Interpretation website:
The Authenticity of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash Tablet Inscriptions – Summary of Expert Trial Witnesses

As a collector of antiquities for many decades who has seen tens of thousands of ancient pieces originated from the Land Of Israel, and based on the opinions I received from various experts with experience and understanding in numerous relevant areas who examined the items, I maintained that there is no foundation for the IAA's allegations that these items are forgeries. The authenticity of each one of these two inscriptions stands at the heart of this unique trial, and the Court is expected to render its decision on this issue.
Todd Bolen summarizes his argument (mainly involving the citation of authorities) about the James Ossuary text here. Golan, of course, is a defendant in the Israel forgery trial and so has his own reasons for wanting the inscriptions to be genuine. I don't have a strong opinion about the genuineness of the full inscription of the James Ossuary, although I am skeptical. I am very skeptical about the Jehoash inscription for reasons explained here.

I am not qualified to comment on the analysis of the patinas, except to note that in situations where experts disagree, it is difficult to reach firm conclusions. This discussion ultimately must be decided in the pages of peer-reviewed journals and monographs.

Speaking of which, has anyone ever mounted a peer-reviewed defense of the authenticity of either text on the basis of philology and palaeolography (i.e., arguments I can understand)? I'm not aware of any, but I haven't followed these stories terribly closely in the last few years. If the answer is no, that would make me doubt that there is a persuasive case to be made.

Background on the James Ossuary and the Jehoash inscription is here and here.

New book on the chronology of the Last Supper

THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE LAST SUPPER is in the news this week for some reason:
New theory on date of Last Supper

Leesha McKenny (Sydney Morning Herald)
April 17, 2011

ONE of the most famous meals in history is commemorated a day late, a new book by a Cambridge University physicist claims.

Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, who was knighted last year for his contribution to science, argues that the last supper Jesus Christ shared with his disciples occurred on Wednesday, April 1, AD33, rather than on a Thursday as traditionally celebrated in most Christian churches.

The theory would explain the apparent inconsistencies between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke - which say the Last Supper was a Passover meal - and that of John, which says Jesus was tried and executed before the Jewish festival. It would explain another puzzle: why the Bible has not allowed enough time for all events recorded between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Sir Colin's book, The Mystery of the Last Supper, out this week, uses astronomy to re-create calendars, plus detail drawn from texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls to propose a timeline for Jesus's final days.

[...]
This article is also reprinted in about a billion other newspapers.

I'm not sure what, if anything, is new in this theory. Annie Jaubert argued back in 1965 that Jesus followed the Qumran solar calendar and therefore celebrated the Passover at a different date than the Jerusalem authorities. This theory still seems to be around, although it has its difficulties.

I've never heard of Sir Colin and he seems to be a scientist rather than an historian, which has the potential to go badly wrong. But I will keep an open mind about the book until I see some specialist reviews.

The archaeology of Gaza

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF GAZA is treated by Reuters in "Sands, Not Lights, Cover Gaza Archaeology Sites" by Khan Younis. It mentions an amateur museum of archaeology run by one Waleed Al-Aqqad, but does not cover the archaeology museum of Jawhdat Khodary or the Gaza archaeological museum announced by the PA some years ago (what ever happened to that one?). It also deals with the site of the Saint Hilarion monastery and the challenges of trying to maintain the region's archaeology under Hamas.

A few earlier posts on the history and archaeology of Gaza are here, here, and here.

Syriac writers in the early Islamic period

SYRIAC WATCH:
Illuminating Early Christian-Muslim Relations
Released: 4/13/2011 1:40 PM EDT
Source: Mount Holyoke College

Newswise — Michael Penn, associate professor of religion, has received not just one, but five awards to fund his research and writing for the next two years.

Penn’s focus is on early Christian-Muslim relations, particularly writings by Syriac Christians who lived in the same region as Mohammed and his followers during the rise of Islam from the seventh to the ninth centuries. (Syriac is an Aramaic dialect, which, according to Penn, few people speak today.)

While there have been a handful of journal articles on this topic, Penn says these early Christian writings have generally been overlooked because few scholars read ancient Syriac. His forthcoming books on this subject will be the first to delve into this material and pull it together into one work.

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Congratulations to Professor Penn. This sounds like an important project.