Monday, January 31, 2005

Christopher Ricks in the Guardian

Christopher Ricks is a critic, a punster, and a famous appreciator of Milton, Eliot, and Bob Dylan. There is an article about him in the Guardian (link courtesy of Expecting Rain) that is too good not to quote from liberally.

Interesting point:
Ricks says he has always been in favour of academics being both general practitioners and specialists. "Milton, for instance, is too important to be left to Miltonists and he is also too important to be left to non-Miltonists. Students need lectures from someone who had devoted time to Milton and also discussion with a generalist who could become involved in those questions that Miltonists would simply not raise."
In religion and biblical studies, I think this obvious (to me) truth is ignored. Many in the Society of Biblical Literature feel, I think, that they have a special expert knowledge of the Bible and the poor, benighted souls outside of the academy (and inside the church) should be happy for the enlightenment the professionals bring. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Ricks, if the Bible is too important to be left to the laity, it is also too important to be left to Biblical scholars.

Me, too:
Martin Dodsworth, a university contemporary, says [Ricks's] weakness for puns is part of what makes him such a vivid and powerful critic. "He thinks through the power of a word and its place in society. .... He is not just interested in literature, but also in the way words do things in the world."

A gentleman's protest:
Ricks smiles and says he gave up golf "when the Conservative party invaded Suez. It might not seem much of a gesture, but it mattered to me and I think it sent a pretty clear signal."
Hope my brother doesn't find out.

Ricks went up to Balliol College in 1953 to read English, and still delights in stories about eccentric Oxford figures, such as a mean tutor who sat so close to his meagre fire "that every now and then there would be a smell of burning tweed and he would have to put himself out". He is still impressed by people who are called names that seem to have no relation to their initials. "CS Lewis was Jack. Wonderful."
I've only been to Oxford in my imagination, and all I know about Balliol is that Lord Peter Wimsey went there ("We are mortified in nineteenth-century Gothic, lest in our overweening Balliolity we forget God"). As for C.S. Lewis being named Jack, Lewis tells in his autobiographical Surprised by Joy that he named himself Jack at the age of three (apparently realizing at that early age that he did not want to be addressed as Clive for the rest of his life).

On the advantages of the B.Litt. over the Ph.D.:
"I think that [writing a dissertation] is much too much to ask of someone in their mid-20s and it explains the paralysis in doctoral work. The amount of research you have to do to find out that no one has done what you have done is quite different from an apprenticeship in sources, authorities, and methods. Of course, if the apprentice comes up with an original piece of leatherwork or glassware that's good. But it is an apprenticeship."

World-class zinger:
One [book] review did prompt TS Eliot to bring in the lawyers when Ricks said Eliot's clearing Wyndham Lewis of having fascist sympathies was like the pot calling the kettle white.

So That's What I've Been Doing Wrong:
"When I was in my mid-20s someone once said to me at a party that I was 'brilliant but unsound'. I thought I should do something about that and the way to show you are sound is to edit things."
Damn, and I thought it was translating things.

Is Theory Dead?
"It does seem," says Ricks, "that a lot of people who were looking for a certain sort of salvation from literary theory - political and perhaps personal salvation - have been a little bit disappointed. There have been quite a lot of defections from the theory ranks and a lot of people have found out, to their mild surprise, that they were really liberal humanists all along."
So Ricks thinks Theory is all but dead in the UK? It looks to me (I speak as an outsider) that, here in this country, scholars are still forced to labor under its dreary hegemony. May it soon totter and fall.

Hey, good one!:
In 2003, he was awarded the $1.5 million Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award. He will devote the money to work at the institute and, perhaps predictably, describes it as "a particularly sweet slice of the Mellon".

Read the whole thing.

Fun with Denominal Verbs

Christian Brady is annoyed by some denominal verbs in English, particularly "defensing" as in, "Pittsburgh is going to have a tough time defensing New England and Tom Brady's arm." He also mentions "efforting," which I have not heard or read, but comes up on Google quite a few times. One that especially annoys me is "I suspicion" for "I suspect." Google on that one and you'll get more than a few, as well.

However, the formation of verbs from nouns is pretty productive in English, and the verbs to film, to pocket, to shape, to house, to napalm may have once raised the same hackles as *to defense and *to suspicion. When there is no morphological change marking the word-class shift from noun to verb, it is called "conversion" or (by some) "zero derivation" (meaning there is an invisible or zero morpheme).

Maybe *to defense and *to suspicion annoy because "defense" and "suspicion" themselves are derived nouns (from defend and suspect, respectively) and it is unusual for derived nouns to undergo conversion; it offends against the economy of language (as this article suggests). Why not just use to defend or to suspect? That doesn't account for the high annoyance factor of *to effort, however.

Denominal verbs are an essential part of many languages, but conversion as a linguistic process is not. In Semitic, the D-stem (Hebrew Piel, Aramaic Pael) is used to "verb" many nouns. For instance, I believe that the common verb dibber is a denominal formation from davar, "word" = "to make words, speak." (HALOT improbably connects it with devorah, "bee," and suggests the primeval meaning was "to buzz." I doubt this.) Another example in Biblical Hebrew is kihhen "to act as priest" from kohen (Ex. 28:1 and elsewhere).

It's actually quite fun to collect examples of highly unusual denominal verbs in Semitic. Giorgio Buccellatti at UCLA used to say that his favorite denominal verb was Arabic baumara "to shift into neutral," derived from the French point mort, "neutral gear." A famous one in Modern Hebrew is le-hizdangeff, "to walk down Dizengoff street (in Tel Aviv)." Another good one is le-hitcharben, "to make a mess of something," from חורבן, churban, "ruin." Syriac offers a host of denominal verbs, such as ethbarnash "to be made human," from bar-nasha, "human," which comes to have a theological significance.

Send me your favorite (or least favorite) denominal verbs, in any language, and I'll feature them in an update.

UPDATE: Thanks for your comments below. Keep 'em coming! Eliyahu asks a good question about the use of proper nouns in conversion. I think it's the same phenomenon, and happens a lot, as in "to Google." Jim, "to pastor" sounds all right to me; what do others think?

I discovered this website, which has some interesting examples. One of my favorite denominal verbs in English that involves affixation instead of conversion is "posterize"; if you're not an NBA fan you might not be familiar with it.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Attributed to King Alfred

If thou hast a woe,
tell it not to thy foe;
But tell it to thy saddle-bow,
And ride forth singing.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Eggcorns and Belial

The mavens at Language Log have come up (here, here, and here) with the term "eggcorn" to denote "relatively infrequent folk etymologies," such as "eggcorn" for acorn, "reigns of power" (for reins of power), and (I love this one) "star craving mad" for stark raving mad. The Language Loggers apparently limit mondegreen to mis-hearing of a song or poem (although that seems arbitrary to me).

The difference between eggcorn and folk etymology, though, seems to be primarily sociolinguistic: an eggcorn becomes a folk etymology only by being adopted by an entire speech community. And that made me think of a Biblical Hebrew folk etymology that must have begun as an eggcorn: צלמות, tzalmavet, "shadow of death" for tzalmut, "deep darkness." Another eggcorn in the Bible is in Gen. 2:23, where it says "she shall be called Woman (ishah), because she was taken out of Man (ish)." Comparative philology tells us that the etymon of ishah was not related to ish (compare the cognate Aramaic itta). But the folk understanding of ishah in Hebrew as a "man-ess" must have been irresistible.

Some of the etymologies embedded in our lexica may be eggcorns, as well: the old understanding of בליעל, beliyya'al, "Belial," as "without worth" may be such, embedded though it is in the Masoretic pointing; but so may be the modern etymology (proposed, I think, by Frank Cross and David Freedman) *beli ya'al "(place of) no ascent," i.e. the underworld, Sheol. Some of the rabbis took it as beli 'ol, "without yoke, lawless." The Qumran texts take it simply as a personal name for Satan or one of his demons.

In this case, we really don't know what is the acorn and what is the eggcorn. My guess is that any etymology that relies on compounding *beli with something else is wrong, since compounding, as a derivational process, is rare to non-existent in Biblical Hebrew. Still ... from small eggcorns great oaks sometimes grow.

UPDATE: Tim@SansBlogue adds some worthwhile thoughts of his own. And more on eggcorns here.

Friday, January 28, 2005

What Did Jesus Look Like?


In the recently released second volume of his Collected Letters, C.S. Lewis writes to an Anglican nun who had sent him a photograph of the Shroud of Turin:
Thank you so much for the head of Our Lord from the shroud. It has grown upon me wonderfully. I don't commit myself to the genuineness. One can never be quite certain. But the great value is to make one realise that He was a man, and once even a dead man. There is so much difference between a doctrine and a realisation.
He had the picture framed and hung it on his bedroom wall, where it remained until he died.

Personally, I suspect the Shroud of Turin is a medieval creation, and the image itself has no appeal for me. But Lewis's remark about the difference between a doctrine and a realisation captures a feeling I have had recurrently about the figure of Christ. Both as an academic and as a Christian, I sometimes wonder what Jesus looked like: not out of idle curiosity, but because it helps bring me back to his concrete historical situatedness. It sets needed limits both to the devotional and to the historical imagination.

Of course, both religiously and historically, it makes no real difference what he looked like. But religiously, it is all too easy, in prayer, in devotion, in worship, to mentally fabricate a figure whose visage we quite like, and to imagine, despite our best efforts, a benign approval of ourselves and our lives in the lineaments of that Face. And historically, the temptation is similar: to construct a Jesus of the Gospels whose character and opinions are as like our own Anglo-European minds as the traditional depictions are like our own Anglo-European faces.

For this reason, I was greatly disappointed in the Christ of Mel Gibson's Passion: a handsome, long-haired Anglo. I salute the attempt (even if, in my opinion, it was unsuccessful) to create some cultural distance by using Aramaic and Latin, but it was at least partially undermined, for me, by the Hollywood hunk at the center of the story.

Well, what might he have looked like? Of course, we will never know. The recent attempts to reconstruct the physiognomy of a typical first-century Jew (well described by Mark Goodacre here) seem to me misguided; you can't just pick out a skull or two and call it typical. There are some things we can say, I think; Jesus probably had short hair, as Mark insists. Based on the pictorial depictions of Levantine natives of the Greco-Roman period, he probably had a short beard. Like every other male in the ancient Mediterranean area, he wore a tunic next to his body, and a mantle over it, not a long white nightshirt or Bedouin robes.

Mark mentions the Dura-Europas paintings as a possible source for the type, and I agree. I have also thought for years that the encaustic mummy paintings of Egypt provide a remarkably vivid image of what the natives of the Levant looked like. They are geographically close to ancient Palestine and chronologically no more distant than the Dura-Europas paintings. And I think that some of these images (a gallery is found here) may be closer to the countenance of the typical Levantine Jew of the first century than anything else we have. Imagine this face, as the face of Christ, and see what it does to your historical imagination.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II (Harper San Francisco, 2004), pp. 494-495. Jim West provides a link to an attempt to reconstruct the 12-year-old face of Jesus from the Shroud.

UPDATE: This post, originally uploaded on Christmas Eve 2004, may be of more interest due to the renewed interest in the Shroud of Turin (see Paleojudaica's summary here). As noted, I find the Shroud hard to credit as an authentic image of Christ.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Argument from Desire

I wrote this essay 15-20 years ago and only recently copyrighted it, when I thought (wrongly, as it turns out) it would be published on a C. S. Lewis website. I'm not sure if it proves anything, other than that I am not a philosopher.

But I am fascinated with the particular apologetic strategy known as the "argument from desire." And I love the writings of C. S. Lewis. Others dealing less long-windedly with the argument from desire on the web are Peter Kreeft and Gregory Dunn. (See also here.)

George Steiner on the Tower of Babel

Whenever I need to sleep, I read George Steiner. As the relentlessly erudite words march on past my eyes, my brain — after making a a few spasmodic efforts to follow the train of thought — gives it up as a bad job and begins switching off the power. I've never been sure if it was his or my dullness that caused this soporific effect, but it's as dependable as counting sheep.

Sometimes in my waking hours, though, I have wondered, "Is it me? Is Steiner just too smart for me?" I was happy to run across this article by Joseph Epstein wherein he asks, "Whether [Steiner] knows all he claims to know in any genuine depth, or is instead a high-level kibitzer, is difficult to say."

And then just the other day I ran across Steiner's discussion of the Babel episode in Genesis 11. Based on this paragraph alone, I think I can say now that Steiner is, in Epstein's words, "a high-level kibitzer."

He begins by taking up the word migdal, "tower," used in Gen. 11:4 for the Tower of Babel:
Migdal is not, primarily, a "tower." It is a "great" or "exceeding" object with "its head in the heavens." Most likely, the original inference is that of a giant idol.
That's all wrong. In Biblical Hebrew, migdal always means "tower" and nothing else. It is built on the root g-d-l, which carries the meaning "large, big," etc., but this has no more to do with the sense of the word as it is used than, say, the fact that, etymologically, "Lord" is related to "loaf." Plus, rosh "head" can mean the top of anything, not an actual head.

Wait, there's more.

The edge of blasphemy throughout the narrative, moreover, turns on the synonymy between the verb "to make," used for the building of the Tower, and the term of "divine creation."
Huh? The word used for building the tower is just plain old banah, "to build." I don't know if it is ever used with God as the subject. Has Steiner confused banah and bara?
The puns are the crux, and untranslatable: the Hebrew root balal signifies "to mix," "to confound," "to disperse." But it can also be read as another echo of "Babel": as nebelah, meaning destruction!
I don't know about "to disperse," but the other glosses of balal are all right. But where does he get the idea that nebelah means "destruction"? It refers to a dead body; but no one gets killed in this story. And of all the puns in the Hebrew Bible, this one is the most translatable, since English "babble" conveys all that one could wish as an echo of "Babel."
And of the great translators of "Babel," only Luther sees that safah [Genesis 11:1] is not only "language" or "speech," but the actual tongue (einerlei Zunge und Sprache).
Actually, the "actual tongue" is denoted by lashon; safah refers to the "lip." Let me get this straight: a Jewish expert on language and translation does not know the difference between lashon and safah?

Now none of these mistakes are subtle nuances that only specialists could catch; any first-year student of Biblical Hebrew could correct them, or, indeed, anyone who could use a Hebrew dictionary. And yet this paragraph was written by a man whose career is built on discussing the nature of language, the interpretation of texts, the process of translation!

Oh, it's just one paragraph, right? Maybe I should just be grateful to Steiner for providing me with some shut-eye over the years. But mainly I'm just glad to know it's not me.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: George Steiner, "A Preface to the Hebrew Bible," No Passion Spent: Essays 1978-1995, New Haven, 1996.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ride 'Em Jewboy

Over at Jewhoo, there is an interesting article on Jewish pop stars who, then or now, have reaffirmed their Judaism. It amazes me that, in eight pages, they don't mention Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys.

On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it might be fitting for us to remember Friedman's "Ride 'em Jewboy," arguably the greatest (possibly the only) country song about the Holocaust.

Now the smoke from camps are rising
See the helpless creatures on their way
Well, old pal, ain't it surprising
How far you can go before you stay

Do not let the morning blind you
When on your sleeve you wore the yellow star
Old memories still live behind you
Can't you see by your outfit who you are

(That last line, I presume, is a reference to "Streets of Laredo": "I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.")

Also let us not forget the rollicking "They Ain't Makin' Jews like Jesus Anymore":

Ah, they ain't makin' Jews like Jesus anymore,
We don't turn the other cheek the way we done before
You could hear that honky holler as he hit that hardwood floor
Lord, they ain't makin' Jews like Jesus anymore!

Next week Kinky will announce that he is running for Governor of Texas. More information here.


I've learned by reading Siris that the title of this blog is a mondegreen. Don't know what a mondegreen is? The term dates from 1954, when writer Sylvia Wright revealed that she thought the words to a folk song were
They hae slain the Earl of Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
In fact, after slaying the poor Earl, they "laid him on the green." And a wonderful term was born. A terrific site dealing with mondegreens is this one, with links to others. I find by going through some of these links that I have been guilty of at least one more mondegreen. Tell the truth: did you know the correct lyrics to "Brass in Pocket"?
Wrong lyric: Gonna use my sausage
Right lyric: Gonna use my sidestep

Actually, all this time I thought she was saying "gonna use my sassy." It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but it sounded cool.

Here's another. Last year there was some song by Jimmy Eat World constantly on the radio; I don't even remember the name of it. During part of the chorus the singer says:
Right lyric: everything, everything
Lyric as heard by me: Elvis is everything
My kids filled me in; nice little Rorschach test. In fact, I have another mondegreen that I still don't know the correct lyrics to. Please write and tell me. It's a classic rock number by ELO (title forgotten), and this is how I hear it:
Wrong: It's a lemon drink / what a terrible thing to do.
Right: ????
One last mondegreen, and not mine. Back in 1970, Jimi Hendrix had a big hit with Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which contains the line:
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.
Poor Jimi committed a mondegreen when he sang
None of them along the line nobody of it is worth
Which makes no sense at all. Good thing he could play guitar. (Don't believe me? Go listen to it right now. I'll wait..... See?)

UPDATE: Thanks to Stephen Goranson (via e-mail) and Jim Davila (in his comment below) for establishing the correct text of ELO's "Livin' Thing." If I had only known the title, the world would have had one fewer mondegreen.

For Hebraists: Fred Bush of Fuller used to tell this story on himself. When first visiting in Israel, he listened to the radio to try to improve his Modern Hebrew. One word continually stumped him: tabrit. Finally he asked someone what it meant, and was told there was no such word. "But it's on the radio all the time!" he said. "It's in the phrase artzo tabrit!" And that's how he learned that the name of the United States in Modern Hebrew is artzot ha-berit.

UPDATE (1/26): And the mondegreens keep coming in....

Doug Ward of Miami U. asks what the correct line is in "Riders on the Storm": is it "an actor out on loan" or "an actor out alone"? He has seen it both ways.

Danny Frese mentions the case of a friend who wondered what mastomeret in Modern Hebrew meant — ironic, since the misheard phrase was mah zot omeret, "what does it mean"?

Bill Arnold's wife, when a little girl, used to hear the hymn "Lead on, O king eternal," as "Lead on, o kinky turtle."

My wife, along with thousands of others, heard Manfred Mann singing "wrapped up like a douche" in the song "Blinded by the Light" by Bruce Springsteen. This particular line probably has more mondegreens than any other in history, to judge by this site. Probably Manfred was actually singing "revved up like a deuce," itself a mondegreen for the canonical "cut loose like a deuce." None of them make any obvious sense.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Thoughts on the Marzeah Papyrus

As long as we're discussing unprovenanced artifacts, what about the Marzeah Papyrus? The Marzeah Papyrus is currently touring the US as part of a larger exhibition and is touted as either the "earliest Hebrew writing on papyrus" or "the oldest known Hebrew manuscript in the world and the oldest known mention of the name 'Elohim,' a name for God in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible." Taking its cue from this last claim, it is now often called the "Elohim papyrus."

Where was it discovered? No one knows. When was it discovered? No one knows. It was first published in 1990 in the journal Semitica by Pierre Bordreuil and Dennis Pardee, two highly respected experts in the North-West Semitic languages. In their article, the authors describe how photographs of the document came to them from other scholars seeking their views on the authenticity of the papyrus, but the ultimate source of the photographs and the owner of the artifact was not named. They stated only that the text is "now in the hands of persons wishing to sell it at a high price."
We have only had at our disposal two photographic prints of which one, in color, is of excellent quality. It necessarily follows that the test of the document's authenticity cannot be done before an analysis is carried out. However, in the hopes that someday this can be done and in the absence now of external tests, it seems to us that this text shows sufficient internal coherence to dispel the hypothesis of forgery and to present it without prejudice [italics in original] to the attention of specialists.
They base their conclusion of authenticity primarily on the sophistication of the language in the papyrus, concluding that a putative forger must have been a highly trained specialist in the Semitic languages, with a sophisticated understanding of dialectology, as well as a master of paleography. They consider this combination of talents an unlikely one in a forger and conclude in favor of the authenticity of the document.

Recently Bordreuil and Pardee have returned to the papyrus, in another article for Semitica. They announce that they have finally seen the document in person; and they reiterate, "Nothing that we have been able to observe recently leads to a verdict of inauthenticity, and everything that emerges from an examination of the object itself supports our first conviction..." But nothing is said about doing further tests on the papyrus.

Now I am not going to dispute the arguments of Bordreuil & Pardee. As far as the language is concerned, I see nothing in the Marzeah papyrus that raises a major red flag for me. Nevertheless, a philological analysis of such a short text can hardly lead by itself to a verdict of "genuine." There are a host of technical protocols to be carried out on this text, and, as far as I know, they have not been carried out. The original papyrus was said to be discovered sealed with a bulla, which was also published in the first article. Has this bulla been examined for its authenticity? Papyrus can be tested by Carbon-14 dating methods; maybe this text should be. Has a papyrologist, or better, a team of papyrologists, examined this text? What can be learned about its discovery and how did it enter the antiquities market? Can the ink be analyzed? Are there any chemical traces on the surface that help in pinpointing the time and location (whether ancient or modern) of its origin?

Bordreuil & Pardee are maestros in our field, and their opinions on paleography and philology must be heard with respect. Nevertheless, in the opinion of many scholars, even these two were taken in by the alleged forger of the Moussaieff Ostraca, which the same scholars originally published and pronounced to be genuine.

Not only this, the papyrus now forms part of a collection of documents that has had a troubled history. The "Ink and Blood" exhibit, including the Marzeah Papyrus, is soon to open in Knoxville, Tennessee. This exhibit is under the "curatorship" of William Noah, a medical doctor and Bible enthusiast who is said to have originated this "traveling museum." Originally his partners were the antiquities dealers Bruce Ferrini and Lee Biondi. Noah is said to have created the exhibit around the core of Ferrini's private collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments (along with those of collector Craig Lampe), but Noah fell out with his partners after creditors forced the exhibit company to declare bankruptcy and Noah filed suit against Ferrini. The exhibit split into two competing exhibits, one headed by Biondi, the other headed by Noah.

I don't know who the legal owner of the Marzeah papyrus is (Lampe?), and the fact that it is part of a barnstorming traveling circus of ancient Bibles does not count against its authenticity. But its unknown provenance, uncertain history, unavailability for technical protocols, and association with the big-money antiquities trade, especially in the wake of the recent forgery indictments, should make scholars demand a closer examination and more exacting tests before putting any further confidence in the document.

A final note: The nickname "Elohim Papyrus" is peculiarly misconceived. The crucial word is actually אלהן, perhaps "Elohin" or even "Elahin," but definitely not "Elohim"! Not only that, it is far from certain that the reference is to a single god. The full phrase is כה אמרו אלהן, with a plural verb, possibly to be translated "thus said the gods." It is true, though, that in the Hebrew Bible "elohim" meaning "God," singular, can be construed with a plural verb (e.g., Ps. 58:12).

Will those who are charging $15 a ticket for this exhibit convey these uncertainties to their customers?

BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Bordreuil and D. Pardee, "Le papyrus du Marzeah," Semitica 38 (1990): 49-68; F. Cross, "A Papyrus Recording a Divine Legal Decision and the Root rhq in Biblical and Near Eastern Legal Usage," pp. 311-320 in M.V. Fox, V.A. Hurowitz, A. Hurvitz, M.L. Klein, B.J. Schwartz and N. Shupak (eds.) Text, Temples, and Traditions. A Tribute to Menahem Haran, Eisenbrauns, 1996; P. Bordreuil, D. Pardee, "Nouvel examen du papyrus du Marzeah," Semitica 50 (2001): 224-225. A high-res picture of the Marzeah papyrus is available here.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Indictment: The Jehoash Tablet

This is a translation of the second rubric of the forgery indictment document, detailing the indictment of Oded Golan for forging the "Jehoash tablet":
1. In the course of the year 2001 or shortly before, the Accused No. 1 [Oded Golan] planned to forge an inscription on a stone tablet, in order that it should appear to be an inscription from the age of King Jehoash, in which was described the renovation of the First Temple. The accused did this for the purpose of monetary gain and other advantages gained by fraud, as detailed below.

2. For the achievement of his plan, the accused used an ancient tablet of stone (hereinafter: the stone tablet). On the stone tablet the accused engraved, with the help of another, the inscription called today the "temple repair inscription" or the "Jehoash inscription" (hereinafter: the temple repair inscription) containing scores of letters in ancient Hebrew script. In the inscription is described the repair work in the First Temple in the age of King Jehoash, an event described in the Tanak [Hebrew Bible] in II Kings and in the book of Chronicles.

3. After the addition of the inscription to the stone tablet, the accused disguised, with the help of another, the fact that the inscription had been engraved recently, by means of spreading different materials on the tablet, so that on examination the inscription would appear to be one that had been written in the period of the First Temple, because of its being covered by a patina that appeared to be from the era of the First Temple.

4. After he forged the inscription on the tablet, the accused asked experts to examine the inscription, so he could find out if his forgery was good enough to deceive, and in order to receive opinions that would help him in his efforts to sell the inscription. In fact the accused succeeded in deceiving some experts, and obtained opinions that the inscription was ancient. The accused used intermediaries to show the inscription to experts, so that his identity would not be revealed.

5. The accused did the actions described in order to be the possessor of an inscription that was to all appearances the only surviving remnant from the First Temple, one that corresponds to the written description in the Tanak relating to the Temple. The accused did this with the knowledge that he would be able to sell the artifact for millions of dollars.

6. During the years 2001-2002 the accused offered the inscription for sale to the Israel Museum, with the purpose of receiving for it millions of dollars. During the negotiations, the accused maintained the false pretense that the inscription was indeed ancient, and that he had come into possession of it 25 years previously, although he knew that this was not the truth, that in fact the inscription had been incised only recently. The accused approached the Israel Museum through an office of lawyers, so that his identity should not become known. He also attached false documents that stated that the inscription had been in the possession of another well-known and respected collector for a long time.

7. The accused did all the aforesaid with the full knowledge of the enormous religious, scientific, emotional, and economic significance of his actions and of his possession of the tablet, with the purpose of gaining worldwide publicity and the large sum of money that would be paid to the owner of the stone tablet.

8. The negotiations with the Museum were not completed, among other things because of the investigation of the authorities in Israel and the seizure of the stone tablet from the accused.

9. By his actions, the accused forged the Temple Repair Inscription on the stone tablet in order to receive something by means of it under special circumstances, he attempted to receive something by fraud under special circumstances when he maintained the false pretense that the inscription was written in the period of the First Temple, with the knowledge that the inscription was written by his own plan in recent years.

10. The special circumstances are these: that the accused acted in a methodical and premeditated manner for the purpose of creating a forged artifact, and the accused did by these false pretenses cause harmful effects to the division between religions and was liable to deceive millions of believing Jews throughout the world, as well as researchers in history and archaeology throughout the world. In addition to this, the accused by these false pretenses was likely to make a profit by fraud of sums of money estimated at least in the millions of dollars, as well as the realization of other advantages.

There follows an indictment on two counts.

Compared to the previous translation, I've made one change, using the expression "special circumstances" instead of "aggravated circumstances" to translate נסבות מחמירות, nesibbot machmirot, lit. "circumstances that cause severity." Obviously the Hebrew expression is used as the opposite of what would in English be called "extenuating circumstances"; but apparently in American jurisprudence the proper expression for the opposite of "extenuating circumstances" is "special circumstances," so that's what I used.

That fact that the Israeli court mentions the effect on religions in its indictment has raised some eyebrows in the United States, where such effects would lie outside the court's purview. I don't know Israeli law, so I don't know whether this is unusual there as well, but maybe it isn't. (Perhaps some of my readers could enlighten me on this.) But clearly the Israel Ministry of Justice has to invoke special circumstances of some kind; Oded Golan, if he is guilty, is more than just an ordinary con man, and his forgeries are more grave in their potential effect than selling a fake lamp to a tourist for $50. This has to be expressed somehow.

Note again that the indictment names only Golan as being involved in the forgery of the Jehoash tablet.

Death of a Calque

One of the peculiarities of Cincinnati English is the "Cincinnati please." It is (or has been) common for native Cincinnatians, to say "please?" when the rest of us would say "pardon?" or "what?" or "huh?" or (in California) "come again?" This use of please is a calque (loan translation) from German bitte; Cincinnati was heavily populated by German immigrants in the 19th century and "please?" is one of the places where the German substratum of Cincinnati English is still visible.

For a while anyway. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "please?" is on the way out. I'll miss it; anything that differentiates regions in this country is always good, in my book.

At least we still have brats, by which I mean bratwurst, which is a big favorite here. It's pronounced to rhyme with "lots," by the way; John Kerry didn't win any friends last fall when he announced during a campaign stop how much he loved eating "brats," pronounced to rhyme with "cats." Thanks for caring, Senator.

Another Cincinnatism that might be an outcropping of the German substratum has to do with intonation. It is typical of natives here to agree with you and yet sound like they are contradicting you.
A: Dang, it's cold today.
B: YEAH it is.
Most of the rest of us would say "Yeah, it IS." My theory — and I haven't thoroughly researched this — is that the intonation might be a Germanism as well. I really don't know if Germans today say "JA sicher" (please write and tell me) when they are agreeing with you. But I did notice last summer that the Dutch say "jazeker" (certainly) in the exact intonation of "YEAH it is."

Anyway, here's hoping that this peculiar intonation remains. Long live heterogeneity!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Potpourri: Corgis, Zissou, Norrell, Blogs

Last month we went, with some friends, to the annual "Rein-Dog" parade in Cincinnati's historic Mount Adams district. In my opinion, the star of the show was the Hanukkah Hound.


The name of the Hanukkah Hound is Tymbel and he belongs to a professor at Hebrew Union College. He is the only Jewish Welsh corgi of my acquaintance.

Of course, I can't neglect to mention Andy, our own official entry in the parade, and the Chief of Security for the Cook household, also a Welsh corgi:


Last week we went to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on the strength of a laudatory review in the New Yorker. I really like Bill Murray and I wanted to like this movie, but I was disappointed. Murray excels at playing cool, ironic guys with lousy personalities who gradually Learn to be Better Persons — most notably in Groundhog Day. But he may have taken this shtick to the well once too often (is that a mixed metaphor? let it go). His performance seemed just a little too studiedly off-hand and sloppy to be effective. And Anjelica Huston? Yikes. She looks more like Leonard Nimoy as Spock all the time. Scary.

I've been trying to get into the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, since the holidays. I'm a little over 200 pages into it, but I keep finding it depressingly easy to put down. The story is written in an arch, pseudo-Jane Austen style that is maintained with great skill and cleverness, and the fact that the story is intended to be a fantasy about 19th century magicians holds out great possibilities. But I haven't yet gotten into it. For one thing, the characters (so far) are none of them very likable. There's no one to relate to. Not only that, the actual fantasy element (again, so far) is too muted; the author seems more interested in writing a novel of manners than in writing a real fantasy — although when she does rarely get down to business, it's well done. I'll keep plugging away, hoping it gets better.

Adventures in Biblioblogdom: I keep wanting to mention some really good posts, so now is as good a time as any. Siris has become one of my favorite stops, and bibliobloggers might enjoy him. Philosophy is one of those disciplines I could have gone into with enthusiasm, had I not been detained by philology. But now I follow it as an amateur. Siris is a professional.... Michael Pahl has a great post on the genre of blogs. .... Jim Davila meta-analyzes the religious element in Bush's inaugural speech. ... Dr. Cathey has some thoughts on gun control that are satisfyingly non-PC. I've been gradually writing the platform for the political party I (and only I) belong to, the Green Tory party. I might make his suggestion ("arm women") part of it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Indictment: The James Ossuary

The following is the section of the forgery indictment that pertains to the James Ossuary (translated on the fly from Hebrew, so excuse any infelicities). The numbers are those of the document.

1. In the course of the year 2001 or shortly before, the Accused No. 1 [Oded Golan] formed a plan to forge an inscription on an ossuary (ossuary: a stone box for preserving the bones of the dead in ancient times), in order that the ossuary should appear to be the ossuary in which the bones of James, brother of Jesus of Nazareth, were preserved. The accused did this for the purpose of monetary gain and other advantages gained by fraud, as detailed below.

2. For the achievement of his plan, the accused used an ancient ossuary from the time of the first temple on which was incised the inscription "Yaakov bar Yoseph." To this ossuary the accused, either by himself or with the aid of others, added the words "brother of Jesus," in such a way that these words appeared to be part of the original inscription that was written on the ossuary about 2000 years ago. With the addition of the aforesaid words, the inscription on the ossuary read "Yaakov bar Yoseph, brother of Jesus."

3. After the addition of the words "brother of Jesus," the accused disguised, by himself or with the help of others, the fact that part of the inscription had been added later. The accused did this by spreading different materials on the ossuary, so that on examination the inscription would appear to be an inscription that had been wholly written in the time of the Second Temple, in that it was covered with a patina that was, to all appearances, from the era of the Second Temple.

4. After he forged the inscription on the ossuary, the accused took care that the ossuary should be publicized throughout the world. The accused did this by showing the ossuary to experts, some of whom were deceived into thinking that they were looking at an ossuary with an original inscription, and these wrote their opinions on the matter.

5. As a result of the aforesaid activity of the accused, the ossuary was indeed publicized throughout the world, and was considered to be the ossuary in which were preserved the bones of James, brother of Jesus. Articles about the ossuary were published in specialist periodicals, as well as in other media in Israel and the world.

6. After the publicizing of the ossuary, the accused sent it for display in the Royal Museum in Ontario, Canada, where it was displayed before thousands of spectators and the world media.

7. During the months of world interest in the ossuary, the accused kept up a false front, continuing to maintain that the ossuary and the inscription on it were ancient, and that the ossuary was in his possession in the same form for over 25 years, all the while knowing that this was not the truth.

8. During the time in which the accused was in possession of the ossuary, the accused made it known that he possessed pieces of bones which had been in the ossuary, and that it might be possible to perform DNA tests on them.

9. The accused did all the aforesaid in full realization of the enormous religious, emotional, and economic significance of his actions, his possession of the ossuary and the bone remnants in it, with the purpose of gaining international attention and the large sum of money that would be paid to the owner of the ossuary or to the possessor of the bones inside it.

10. The actions of the accused were halted after the investigation by authorities in Israel began and the ossuary was taken from the accused.

11. In his actions the accused falsified the inscription on the ossuary with the intent to receive something by means of it, under aggravated circumstances; he received something fraudulently under aggravated circumstances, and attempted to receive something fraudulently under aggravated circumstances when he maintained, under false pretenses that the inscription was written more than 2000 years ago, all the while knowing that the inscription was written according to his own plan in the year 2001 or shortly before. Likewise the accused damaged an antiquity.

12. The aggravated circumstances are these: that the accused did act in a premeditated and methodical manner for the purpose of creating a forged artifact, and the accused did by these false pretenses cause harmful effects to the fundamental division between different sects in Christianity, and was likely to deceive hundreds of millions of believing Christians worldwide, as well as researchers in history and archaeology. In addition, on account of these false pretenses the accused was likely to make a fraudulent profit of sums estimated in the millions of dollars as well as the realization of other advantages.
The indictments are then specified to be (1) falsification with intent to receive something under aggravated circumstances, (2) receiving something fraudulently under aggravated circumstances, (3) attempt to receive something fraudulently under aggravated circumstances, (4) damaging of an antiquity. Each is an offense under a named statute of Israeli law.

A few comments. One remark above is certainly an inadvertent error, when the unforged ossuary was said to be from the First Temple. Obviously "Second Temple" is meant. Also, I'm not sure exactly how to translate the words nesibbot machmirot, which I translated as "aggravated circumstances." I could well have gotten the legalese wrong. Also note that only Golan was named in this activity; none of the others named in the indictment are accused in connection with the ossuary.

This marks the last translation I will post from the indictment for a while. I'd like to discuss other things!

Stolen Antiquities: Bigger than the Bible

A while back, I talked about my one adventure in the antiquities trade, and stated that I had no reason to believe that the dealer who showed me his ancient weights was involved in anything illegal. Now I discover that he was involved, by his own admission, in smuggling stolen relics out of Turkey. Read all about it here. It made me realize that the forged or stolen biblical antiquities we are all interested in are only part of the problem.
"Maybe these [seized] items are worth a few thousand dollars; that's nothing in the art world," said archeologist Ricardo Elia, editor of the Journal of Field Archeology and associate professor at Boston University, where he has overseen research on stolen and smuggled artifacts. "But the scientific loss is priceless. All over the world--Greece, Turkey, Central and South America, Africa, Southeast Asia--thousands of valuable archeological sites are being literally ripped apart so that artifacts can be dug out and smuggled," he said. "The looting of some sites is so bad, they end up looking like lunar landscapes."
I've made an unsystematic collection of links to writings that broaden our horizons from biblical archaeology to archaeology in general.

This review discusses a book about the market in ancient Greek vases.

This article discusses the problem in a South American context and contains this great quote:
Now everyone wants [pre-Columbian antiquities], including big American museums, which are increasingly in competition with one another for the best objects. But most pieces offered on the market, archeologists note, are not furnished with information as to their origin or prior ownership—an indication they were probably looted. Alva wants to make buying archeological items with no provenance as unacceptable as wearing fur. "My slogan would be 'People who love culture don't buy antiquities.'"
This site has a rich collection of links on the overall ethics of archaeology. Check them out.

From rogueclassicism comes this news story about the smuggling of classical artifacts.

In our own field, Stephen Carlson@Hypotyposeis has an excellent post about "fence-sitting" with regard to the James Ossuary. He says:
Don't get me wrong--I fully appreciate and applaud scholars who have the humility to decline on pontificating on areas outside their expertise. I also recognize that statements in Biblical studies need to be suitably qualified that indicate our confidence in their truth. But sometimes we come a point when choosing to stay on the fence has less to do with the failure of the evidence and more to do with the failure to look at the evidence.

I would submit that enough evidence about the James ossuary inscription has been been developed such that agnosticism about its authenticity--for those wishing to move ahead with it "anyway"--is no longer a responsible position.
He's right. It can't be repeated often enough: the burden of proof lies squarely on those who wish to claim authenticity for an unprovenanced object. And the more significant an object is the heavier that burden becomes. Those who dodge or finesse this burden are not doing their job as scholars.

Finally, Jim Davila@Paleojudaica has a typically insightful discussion of the forgery scandal based on an article from the Guardian, which he links to.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

More from the Forgery Indictment

The following is a translated excerpt from the introduction to the official indictments for forgery of antiquities of Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, and three others:
During the last 20 years, there have been sold or offered for sale in Israel and throughout the world many archeological items that seem to be antiquities. These "antiquities," many of which have great scientific, religious, emotional, political, and economic importance, were created initially for fraudulent purposes. The forgery of these antiquities, some of which have been widely published in the scientific literature, has caused, in addition to the monetary damage, a distortion of historical and archaeological research.

The typical method of the forgery was as follows: In most of the cases, original antiquities were used, and to them were added inscriptions or decorations, which greatly added to their value. These forgeries were carried out on the following antiquities, [list of items follows, which has been given previously in this weblog].

After most of the items described above had been forged, as well as others, the items were coated with a falsified patina (patina: coating formed naturally on an antiquity over the course of years). This patina was created with great expertise, until many experts were fooled into thinking that the antiquities described above were indeed authentic. Among the experts who were deceived in this matter were even experts from the Geological Institute in Jerusalem, and experts in laboratories and museums in Israel and throughout the world.

After completing the process of forgery, the antiquities were given to experts, either to verify that the forgery had indeed succeeded sufficiently to attempt a sale of the item or to obtain opinions concerning the authenticity or importance of the items. After the opinions had been obtained, attempts were made to sell the items or to publicize them worldwide in order to increase their worth for a future sale.

In addition, affidavits and other documents were falsified witnessing, as it were, to the ownership of the antiquities and to the circumstances of their discovery. This false documentation was intended to increase the chance of success of the fraud, and also to circumvent the laws preventing a private person from selling artifacts discovered or excavated after 1978.
The specific indictments follow, case by case. The document does not indicate what evidence will be brought in support, and I suppose (I'm no lawyer) that this is normal for an indictment.

Note: the ivory pomegranate was mentioned in the introductory material (in a portion that I did not render above), but is not mentioned in the detailed indictments that follow. This is confusing, but I take it to mean that that the pomegranate was used as an example only; in any case none of the accused are named as being involved in the forgery of the pomegranate. I still think that the pomegranate was the paradigm case that may have inspired this activity. But we'll have to wait for the trial, I imagine, for more details.

(I was going to list the scholars named as expert witnesses in the indictment, but I decided not to. Anyone who can read the indictment can see the list. Any other mention, I fear, would just amount to gossip, and might bring attention to those who would prefer to keep quiet about it until they are called on.)

For the Hebrew text of the indictment, see the link provided in the previous post.

The Text of the Forgery Indictments

At long last, I have received a copy of the forgery indictments, in Hebrew. As you know, I've had a merry chase trying to get copies. My heartfelt thanks go to Greg Myre of the New York Times, Gil Kleinman of the Israeli police, and the office of Yaakov Galanti of the Ministry of Justice, who e-mailed me the text. Todah rabbah!

Before the end of the day I'll put it up on the public part of my website, in PDF format if possible.

First gleanings. Besides the James Ossuary, Jehoash tablet, and Moussaeiff Ostraca, which have already been mentioned here, 5 other ostraca are named in the indictment as forgeries, all of which were sold or attempted to be sold to Shlomo Moussaieff, including the "Beka Yerushalayim" ostracon, with which I am not familiar; the stone menorah; the "King Menasseh" seal, refused by Moussaieff, and 28 bullae; the "Baruch" bulla; a collection of 162 bullae, refused by Moussaieff; the "Shishak" bowl; the Mattanyahu decanter; and the "Chalcolithic cache," an assemblage of objects put forth as dating from the Chalcolithic period.

Also this factoid, which I had not heard:
During the year 2003, several months after the beginning of the inquiry on the ossuary, Accused No. 1 [Golan] approached Jamil Wazawz [?-EMC] and asked him to approach his father, Ottoman Wazawz, and request that he sign an affidavit that he, Ottoman Wazawz, had sold the ossuary to the Accused No. 1 more than 30 years ago.

The Accused No. 1 offered to pay for the signature on the affidavit between $5,000 and $10,000 US dollars.

The Accused No. 1 suggested this while knowing that Ottoman had not sold to the Accused the ossuary at all, that the content of the affidavit would be false, and that in the inquiry by the police Ottoman would swear to the false affidavit.
I can't undertake to translate the whole indictment — it's too long — but as I go through it, I'll try to include interesting excerpts in this weblog.

UPDATE: The Hebrew text in PDF format is available here (download will start immediately).

Some Lines from Milosz

I'm too busy to blog today; in lieu of my own thoughts, I'll give you the much better voice of Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, who began to study Hebrew and Greek at the age of 60 in order to read the Bible in the original languages. He wrote a poem about it, and this is how it begins:

You asked me what is the good of reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
UPDATE: The rest of the poem, as demanded by readers:
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday, though the heads of caesars
On coins are different today. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There were plenty of persons whom the text calls
Daimonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, the bedeviled (as for "the possessed"
It's no more than the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print and screens,
Rarely engaging in arts and literature.
But the Gospel parable remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which, exasperated by such a sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.

Czeslaw Milosz
(Berkeley, 1969)
The full text was provided by Rev. Charlie Brumbaugh, lover of poetry and associate rector of the church I go to. Thanks, Charlie!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Translating Ebenezer

One of the loveliest hymns to come out of the First Great Awakening is "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (1758), by Robert Robinson. It contains the lines
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
here by thy great help I've come
When I was growing up in the Southern Baptist church, we always sang it as
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I've come.
I don't know which words are original. The lines always puzzled me, but that's all right. Not every thing said in church has to be comprehensible to a child; in fact, many things said in church should be beyond the grasp of a child.

Later on, when I learned more about the Bible, I realized that Robinson was referring to the story of Israel's victory in I Sam. 7:12: "Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us." In the biblical/Israelite context, "Eben-ezer" (Hebrew אבן העזר, eben ha-ezer, "stone of help") is a victory stele; in the context of Robinson's verse, "Eben-ezer" is the poem itself, which commemorates God's grace.

However, the reference is now apparently deemed too obscure for today's congregations. The line "here I raise mine Ebenezer" is variously changed to:
Here I find my greatest treasure

Here I pause in my sojourning

This my glad commemoration
Only the last preserves an echo of Robinson's original meaning. It's too bad that biblical literacy has declined to the point that a scriptural metaphor is written out of the hymnbooks.

It's also interesting to check back and see how the ancient versions dealt with Hebrew eben ha-ezer.
  • The Septuagint both transliterates Αβενεζερ and translates it λίθος τοῦ βοηθοῦ, "stone of the helper."
  • Jerome just translates as lapis adiutorii, "stone of help" ("stone of the helper" would presumably have been lapis adiutoris).
  • The Targum translates as does the Septuagint אַבַן סָעְדָא, aban sa'ada "stone of the helper," vocalized as a participle. The Aramaic Bible volume by Harrington & Saldarini, by the way, mistranslates the targum as "stone of help."
  • The Peshitta translates as kepha d'udrana, "stone of help."

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The full text of the hymn as well as a MIDI file of the tune most often used with it ("Nettleton," by John Wyeth) can be found here and here. D. J. Harrington and A. J. Saldarini, Targum Jonathan of the Former Prophets (Aramaic Bible vol. 10; Wilmington, 1987) must be used with great caution; it contains many inaccuracies.

UPDATE: The connection of this post with Martin Luther King Day is so subtle, I have been advised to make it explicit. MLK began his ministry at his father's church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Ralph Luker writes:
As we look to the new millennium, King would wish for us an Ebenezer, a stone of help, a "beloved community." There, rather than exploiting each other, modest folk make modest sacrifices to help each other along the way, like the cleaning lady who gave her mite during the Depression to save the church from foreclosure or those who walked rather than ride a segregated bus in service to the common good. "Here I raise mine Ebenezer," I can hear them sing:

Hither by thy help I've come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Read the whole thing.

UPDATE (1/18): I've continued to look at this verse and there's even more of interest in it than I at first thought.

First of all, I notice that the Old Latin, as quoted in Augustine, City of God, reads with the Septuagint (and Targum) "stone of the helper":
Assumpsit lapidem unum et statuit illum inter Massephat novam et veterem, et vocavit nomen eius Abennezer, quod est latine Lapis adiutoris, et dixit: Usque hoc adiuvit nos Dominus.... Lapis ille adiutoris medietas est Salvatoris.

He took one stone and set it up between the old and new Massephat [Mizpeh], and called its name Ebenezer, which means "the stone of the helper," and said, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." ... That stone of the helper is the mediation of the Saviour.

Second, the OL Massephat novam et veterem, "old and new Massephat," is based on the LXX ἀνὰ μέσον Μασσηφαθ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῆς παλαιᾶς, "between Massephat and the old [city?]." This implies that the Greek translator, instead of השׁן, "ha-Shen," had something like ישׁנה, "Jeshanah" (which looks like the word for "old"), and that is in fact what the NRSV has: "between Mizpah and Jeshanah."

Third, I find that two major reference works have made mistakes about this verse. First of all, HALOT (the new Koehler Baumgartner) refers (s.v. שׁן II) to the Peshitta reading for the place name as bet yashan, which implies an original "Jeshanah," with the LXX and OL. Their inference is correct, but they misstate the evidence: the consonants byt in the Peshitta are not part of the place name but are the Syriac word "between." The text reads beit Mispya le-beit y-sh-n, "between Mizpeh and between Y-sh-n." (The BHS apparatus gets this right.)

Also, in the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on "Jeshanah," we read that I Sam 7:12 should "read 'Jeshanah' on the basis of the Targum, which has y-sh-n." As we have seen, it is the Peshitta that supports that reading, not the Targum, which reads with the Masoretic text.

One of my professors at Fuller, W. S. LaSor, used to tell us all the time: "Anyone can make a mistake, even major scholars. If it's important, check it for yourself." Guess he was right.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Puritan's "Sad" Colors

I've begun reading, with great pleasure, David Fischer's Albion's Seed, which is about the four main waves of British immigration to the thirteen colonies, and how native folkways survived, in their different modes, in different parts of the country.

The four waves of settlement, according to Fischer, are (1) East Anglia to Massachusetts (the Puritans), (2) southern England to Virginia, (3) North Midlands to Delaware (mainly Quakers), and (4) the borderlands of North Britain and Ireland to the Appalachian backcountry (the so-called "Scotch-Irish"). My own ancestors were largely part of the fourth, and biggest, wave (the surnames includes Cook, Morgan, Kincannon, McManus, etc.). Anyone interested in the complicated historical and cultural linkages of the UK and the US would enjoy this book.

I did come across one questionable detail in the discussion of the first wave. One of the "folkways" Fischer discusses for each section is called "Dress Ways." Here he refers to the Puritans' preference for what they call "sadd colors." It is clear from his discussion that Fischer takes the word "sad" here to mean morose, gloomy, and melancholy; and this becomes a symbol of the dreary melancholy of the Puritan lifestyle.

But Fischer should know that the word "sad" originally meant "serious, grave, sober, thoughtful, not frivolous," and this usage continues by the time the word acquired the additional meaning "morose, melancholy." You can see the older usage in Shakespeare:
"The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum" (Henry V, 1), i.e. the serious judge

But, mighty lord, this merry inclination
Accords not with the sadness of my suit (Henry VI, Part 3)
And here's one from Spenser:
And by his belt his booke he hanging had;
Sober he seemde, and very sagely sad (Fairy Queene, I.1)
In Romeo and Juliet, it looks like Shakespeare is playing on the two senses of the word:
Tell me in sadness, who is that you love?

What, shall I groan and tell thee?

Groan? why, no;
But sadly tell me, who?

Bid a sick man in sadness make his will--
A word ill urged to one that is so ill:
In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman.
Benvolio wants Romeo to tell him, in all "sadness" (=without joking), who he loves; but Romeo takes it, playfully, as "moroseness."

I think the Puritans' preference for "sadd colors" just meant they wanted people to dress soberly and modestly, not gaudily or ostentatiously. They were not to dress in mourning, but were to avoid fancy or flashy clothes. Fischer quotes from a contemporary source some of the "sadd colors": "Sadd-colours the following; liver colour, De Boys, tawney, russet, purple, French green, ginger-lyne [a shade of brown], deere colour, orange colour." Imagine a Puritan dressed in "French green," if you can! Have the Puritans gotten a bad press, through ignorance of their language?

I'll post some more about Fischer in the weeks to come. Albion's Seed is tremendously informative and entertaining, even if I think he got this one nuance wrong.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford, 1989), pp. 139ff. For the history of "sad," see C. S. Lewis, Studies in Words (Cambridge, 1960), pp. 75ff.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The God of "Joan of Arcadia"

In about an hour, "Joan of Arcadia" comes on. I've taken to watching it with some regularity — not just because of the good acting or the (by-and-large) realistic presentation. The main reason is because I like "Joan of Arcadia"'s God.

If you're not familiar with the premise, God — in several different human guises — appears to teenaged Joan every week with an enigmatic task that she must complete. She doesn't always understand God's commands, often gets it wrong, but most of the time, by the end of the hour, she comes to understand what God was trying to accomplish, which is often pretty different from her own theory of what He (or She) was up to.

That's similar, in a lot of ways, to the way the life of faith really works. And I think that's kind of a departure for popular culture: a God who demands obedience. The "God of TV," if there is such a thing, is usually (1) a joke, (2) an elderly Benevolence, "Our Grandfather Who Art in Heaven," or (3) the Pantheistic Semi-nonentity. Of the last option, C.S. Lewis wrote:
The Pantheist's God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you.
But the God of "Joan" does pursue her. He won't leave her alone. He's constantly bugging her, he makes a pest of Himself. He's a noodge. He drives her crazy. That's a step away from the God of TV and a step towards the living God.

But, of course, he's not the living God. For one thing, Joan's God's incarnations are all docetic — He (or She) is not really any of those people that He appears to be. It's just a trick that He plays; he hasn't become flesh and dwelt among us. This God won't take that risk.

Not only that, but Joan's God offers no sense of the numinous. In the quotation above, Lewis continues: "There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance." And there is no danger in this show, I believe, of Joan ever falling down on her face and worshipping; no chance that she will ever say, "How awful is this place!" No chance that she will ever strike her chest and repent in dust and ashes. There is no hint of the mysterium tremendum.

Still ... it's the only TV show I know of that offers even a remote image of what a meaningful consciousness of a meaningful God might be like in the 21st century. For that I honor it.

And now it's time to watch it.

Thoughts on the Survey from the Society of Biblical Literature

The Society of Biblical Literature is circulating a survey among its members. Here is its text:
The United States election of 2004 witnessed the emergence of values, often referred to as Christian values or biblical values, as key political issues. The values most commonly identified in public debates were the issues of gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research.

The Society of Biblical Literature, which is the largest international, professional association of teachers and scholars of the Bible, calls attention to the fact that the values so prominently and divisively raised in this 2004 U.S. election are not major concerns in the Bible, and in fact are not even directly addressed in the Bible. Rather, they tend to reflect the underlying problems of homophobia, misogyny, control of reproductive rights, and restraint of expression (including scientific research) in U.S. society today.

With over 7,000 members representing a broad range of political and religious leanings, the Society of Biblical Literature has fostered discussions of such fundamental problems against the background of biblical ethics and respect for all human beings. As many of our members have indicated in publications and lectures, the moral issues dominating the biblical texts focus instead on concerns such as the well-being of individuals, the integrity of community, care for the powerless and the vulnerable, economic justice, the establishment of peace, and the stewardship of the environment.

The Society of Biblical Literature urges citizens and political agencies to direct their energies toward securing these goals and values of well-being and responsibility.
I voted DISAGREE and submitted the following comment:
This survey is an effort to coopt what should be an apolitical organization for political purposes. It suggests that a particular angle or perspective on the biblical texts is or should be typical and that other views or uses of the Bible are problematic or illegitimate. I reject this kind of totalizing discourse, and I further suggest that the SBL should in the future resist any temptation to use its name as a symbol for what may or may not be said politically on the basis of biblical texts. Succumbing to such a temptation is the shortest way to making itself irrelevant in the public square by alienating many of its own.
This survey is the most depressing thing I have read for many days, especially since at the present moment, over 70% of the members voted AGREE.

I'm very much afraid this will fracture the SBL's membership at a key moment in its history.

[I deleted the illustrative comments I quoted from the other members. ]

UPDATE (1/14): Many thanks to all of you, for your comments below, and for the e-mails I've received. I'm particularly thankful to Christopher Brady (see his comment [UPDATE: regrettably now unavailable, see below]) for the information that this survey is an attempt to test the waters and will likely be discussed at the next annual meeting. I hope this resolution will meet there with the rejection it so richly deserves.

When I discussed this with my wife, a historian, she characteristically saw exactly what was at stake. "They're trying to commit the SBL to a particular interpretation of the Bible," she said. "Even if you agree with that interpretation, that's just wrong. It's not about politics, it's about academic freedom." Yep.

UPDATE (1/14, 1:50 pm): I have hidden all the comments on this post. I regret doing this, since most of the comments were thoughtful and worthwhile, but some anonymous commenters have been abusing the privilege. From now on, this weblog will accept comments only from those registered with Blogger; others who wish to comment must e-mail me.

ANOTHER UPDATE (1/14): I referred above to the comment of "Christopher Brady." Sorry, senior moment. I knew better: Chris Brady is Christian M. M. Brady, author of The Rabbinic Targum of Lamentations, published by Brill.

LAST UPDATE (1/16): Other discussions can be found at Apikorsus Online, Biblical Theology, The Coding Humanist (here, here, and here),, Hypotyposeis, Paleojudaica (here and here), and SansBlogue. If I missed linking anyone, please let me know. Thanks to all for a most interesting discussion!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

James Harrell on Forgeries

The Biblical Archaeology Society website has a few new additions to its coverage of the James Ossuary controversy. Although Hershel Shanks still has no comment posted on the forgery indictments or any expression of remorse for his own role in relentlessly publicizing highly questionable artifacts in his magazine, there are some new articles available in PDF form at this site.

A very interesting one is the one entitled "James Harrell on Forgeries." Harrell is the specialist in ancient stone that has been attacking the methods and conclusions of the Israel Antiquities Authority on the James Ossuary. Although I disagree with some of his fundamental attitudes, his paper is well worth reading (scroll down to find the title).

First of all, he is unambiguously in favor of studying unprovenanced artifacts.
I believe that unprovenanced artifacts should be studied. It may well be that publicizing such objects, and thereby giving them value, only encourages thieves to steal more of them. The resulting loss of archaeological context is certainly lamentable; however, I do not think we should compound the tragedy by ignoring real artifacts just because we do not know where they come from. Given that some of these artifacts can be historically significant, I believe it is our duty as students of the past to study them. It is, of course, the potential historical significance of unprovenanced artifacts that is fueling a large forgery industry.
He then goes on to ask how unprovenanced artifacts can be authenticated and proposes convening expert panels following a set of specified analytical protocols, before any conclusion of authenticity is reached. This suggestion seems to me to be a good one; if it is followed, it would pull the rug out from under sensationalizing reports of "exciting finds" like the ones appearing regularly in BAR. I would also add two things: (1) Museums should pledge themselves not to display or charge admission to see any artifacts that are unprovenanced and that have not been analyzed in accordance with the proposed technical protocols; and (2) scholars, experts, and dealers should communicate to the dealers that uncleaned and unrestored artifacts are far more important than those that are treated, cleaned, or restored — as any one who watches "Antiques Roadshow" should know!

Unfortunately, Harrell makes no suggestions on how the trade in unprovenanced artifacts, which he admits is a problem, can be reduced. And it seems clear to me that the more spectacular the find (that is the more it seems to either confirm or deny a sacred text), the heavier the burden of proof must be for the panel and its protocols. For an unprovenanced artifact, the onus probandi lies all on the side of those who claim authenticity — not, as Shanks and his cronies seem to think, with those who deny it.

The Antiquities Trade: My Big Adventure

Back in the '80's, when I was a newly-minted Ph.D., I had my one and only encounter with the antiquities market. It was pretty innocent, very interesting and — to be frank — a lot of fun.

A professor that I knew offered to put me in touch with a man in Los Angeles (where I then lived) who sold ancient artifacts in his gallery and who had an interesting collection of ancient Judean weights. Since I had just finished working on an article on "Weights and Measures" for the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, I jumped at the chance to examine some actual examples of inscribed shekels, bekas, pims, nesephs, and gerahs.

The dealer, who was perfectly nice, left me alone in his office with the 12-piece collection and a jeweler's scale and other instruments so that I could weigh and measure the pieces and take notes. When I finished, he asked if I would like to write up this collection for his collectors' journal. I don't remember if I hesitated — very likely not — but I think even then I knew that I would never be able to list an article about unprovenanced artifacts seen at a dealer's shop in my curriculum vitae.

But I wanted to thank him for giving me such unfettered access to his weights, which were very interesting (and which, if memory serves, he was not putting up for sale). So I wrote it and it was published in his magazine; I never have included it in any list of my writings.

Recently, with all the hoopla about the forgeries going on, I dug the article up and re-read it. I was pleased to see that, for all my youthful enthusiasm, I had not forgotten to be critical. One entry reads:
No. 7. Weight: 6.01 g; [description follows]. The stone is clearly marked to be one shekel. However, its weight places it among the beka-class of weights, whose average weight is 6.112 g. It is possible that an original shekel was ground down to a beka after wear and abrasion had made it unsuitable for use as a shekel... On the other hand, the peculiar placement of the numeral — to the right of the shekel-sign, instead of to the left, as is normally the case — might mean this stone is inauthentic.
We probably know more about both shekels and bekas than we knew then, and maybe the placement of the numeral actually means "half a shekel." I don't know. But I'm relieved that I was aware of the possibility of forgery.

I don't remember when I learned that being involved with unprovenanced artifacts was fun but slightly disreputable, and that the information they provide is possibly tainted. It seems to be a hard lesson to learn for many people in our profession.

(I'm not going to name the dealer, whom I have no reason to suspect of any kind of illegal activity; but he might be embarrassed at being mentioned in this context on this weblog.)

BIBLIOGRAPHY: If you want to learn more about shekels, bekas, pims, nesephs, and gerahs, I unblushingly recommend my own "Weights and Measures," in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 4 (revised edition), 1988.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Ossuary and the Need for Skepticism

An interesting and cogent article appears today on, taken from the Skeptical Enquirer. The whole article is of interest to those following the forgery scandal, but this paragraph is especially apt:
Another example of rushing to judgment and stonewalling against later evidence is Herschel Shanks, who has ardently promoted the James Ossuary and defended Oded Golan. He has engaged in personal attacks on IAA staff and attempted to cast doubt on IAA reports. Shanks has only grudgingly acknowledge[d] the possibility that the James Ossuary inscription is a forgery and that Oded Golan forged it and many other artifacts. While his magazine touted the James Ossuary as a great archeological find in 2002, its position now is that it does not know whether the artifact is forged or Golan is a forger.

A responsible approach to the James Ossuary would have been to start with skepticism and wait for a consensus of several independent experts. Instead, Shanks, BAR, and the ROM [Royal Ontario Museum]jumped at their opportunity for publicity before giving science its opportunity to arrive at the truth.
Read the whole thing.

Down in the Flood

Well, that high tide's risin',
Mama, don't you let me down.
Pack up your suitcase,
Mama, don't you make a sound.
Now, it's king for king,
Queen for queen,
It's gonna be the meanest flood
That anybody's seen.
— Bob Dylan, "Down in the Flood"

It's raining in Ohio, and the river is rising. That's causing some problems in Cincinnati, which (in case you didn't know) is right on the river. We're not in any peril; we live in the College Hill area, highly elevated with reference to the river. It would take a flood of truly Noachian proportions to threaten us. But many are hampered today, at least, and some are in danger.

I'm mainly worried about Marietta, though. Marietta is a beautiful little town in south-east Ohio, and one of the oldest towns in the US outside of the thirteen original colonies. It's been slammed twice this season by floods, as this picture shows. Wherever you see brown, that's where the river went:

Last June Amy and I spent a few days in Marietta, soaking in the historical ambience (Lafayette once visited there) and looking for 19th century gravesites (but that's another story). We stayed in the Lafayette Hotel, which is this building in the above picture:

It's right there next to the river, and I mean just a few yards. Right now the river has closed the gap and is moving up Pike Street. Here's wishing them the best and a full recovery.

By the way, the Lafayette Hotel is supposed to be haunted, as we found out after we stayed there. Fortunately, we didn't stay on the floor where the apparitions are supposed to appear.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Browne and the Mandrakes

Recently I was delighted to encounter in the writings of one old friend — Sir Thomas Browne, the subject of a past blogging — a discussion of Rachel's mandrakes, also the subject of an earlier post. Not only does Brown discuss the same issues I raised in that post, but he anticipated one of my points, that Rachel did not want the mandrakes in order to conceive:
Againe, it is not deducible from the Text or concurrent sentence of Comments, that Rachel had any such intention, and most do rest in the determination of Austine [i.e. St. Augustine], that she desired them for rarity, pulchritude or suavity; nor is it probable she would have resigned her bed unto Leah, when at the same time she had obtained a medicine to fructifie her selfe, and therefore Drusius who hath expressely and favourably treated hereof, is so farre from conceding this intention, that he plainly concludeth, Hoc quo modo illic in mentem venerit conjicere nequeo; how this conceit fell into mens minds it cannot fall into mine, for the Scripture delivereth it not, nor can it be clearely deduced from the Text.
Not only that, but Browne also points out something I missed, that in the "Chaldy paraphrase" — that is the Targum — to the Song of Songs the word "mandrake" is rendered as "balsam." That strengthens another point I made, namely that Rachel might have wanted the mandrakes for their fragrance.

Of course, I'm mainly interested in Browne's citation of the Targum. In the Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646), from which this quotation is taken, Browne quotes from the "Chaldee paraphrase" a number of times, but never in such as way as to indicate that he read the original Aramaic. Evidently his knowledge of the Targum was derived from one or more Latin translations.

Will Hershel Replace Dan Rather?

I imagine everyone has heard about the action of CBS News took yesterday, firing 4 of its employees because of their role in rushing forged documents on the air during the 2004 Presidential campaign. It's nice to see someone held accountable for poor reporting and low journalistic standards.

Speaking of Hershel Shanks, has anyone heard from him yet? While we're waiting to hear from Hershel concerning the cascade of possible forged antiquities that first reached the public eye through Biblical Archaeology Review, here's a couple quotes from the New York Times concerning CBS's actions yesterday. See if you can tell which one could also apply to Hershel Shanks:
"It appears to the panel that a crash to air the story was under way without effective consideration of the chain of custody" of the memorandums, Mr. Boccardi and Mr. Thornburgh wrote.

"These problems were caused primarily by a myopic zeal to be the first news organization to broadcast what was believed to be a new story ..., and the rigid and blind defense of the segment after it aired despite numerous indications of its shortcomings."
Why, that's right! Both of them could conceivably apply to Hershel Shanks and BAR!

Hey, I'm just kidding. We all know that Shanks is not a real journalist, and therefore can't be held accountable to journalistic standards.

Speaking of accountability, why won't museums offer even the barest of apologies for charging admission to see possibly forged antiquities? From MacLeans, we hear that one museum displayed the ivory pomegranate despite being warned that it was a possible fake:
The Canadian Museum of Civilization went ahead with displaying it as a highlight of the biblical archaeology show from late 2003 to the spring of 2004. Then, just before Christmas, the Israel Museum made world headlines by announcing it had determined that the inscription on the thumb-sized carving is a recent addition -- just as [Frank Moore] Cross had suspected. The object itself is now dated to the 13th or 14th century BCE, far older than Solomon's time, around the 8th century BCE. Israeli police have charged four antiquities collectors with altering artifacts so they appear to be connected to Bible stories, a linkage that makes them much more valuable. Other fakes could come to light as a result of the investigation. Still, Victor Rabinovitch, president of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, has defended the federal institution's handling of the exhibition, claiming no one suspected the pomegranate was fake at the time it hosted the show.
That last sentence is untrue; MacLeans ran a story on Cross's suspicions in October of 2003. All the museum now has to say is, "I'm sorry, we weren't careful enough. From now on, we're going to really pay attention to experts and avoid questionable artifacts, especially when we're taking money from people who think they're seeing a bit of biblical history." But, for some reason, they won't say it.

By the way, there is some confusion in the story from MacLean's. The inscription on the pomegranate was thought to be from the 8th century BCE and to refer to Solomon's temple — but Solomon himself, assuming he existed, belongs to the 10th century BCE.

UPDATE: Jim West chimes in with a "Hear, hear!" Danny Zacharias assumes, correctly, that I now think the James Ossuary is a forgery. I base this on the testimony of experts in fields in which I am not competent (e.g. chemists and geologists), as well as the highly suspicious circumstances of its coming to light, the unsatisfactory answers given by Oded Golan concerning its acquisition, and the involvement of Golan in the acquisition and sale of other antiquities that are arguably forgeries. As far as the Ossuary goes, my "expert" knowledge is limited to its language, and its language does not disqualify it or authenticate it (see my online article linked to the right). In this respect, it is different from the Jehoash tablet, the language of which points (IMHO) clearly to forgery.

UPDATE: I deleted an Anonymous comment added to this page because I considered it to be possibly libelous. If the commenter will re-write his comment, e-mail it to me, and allow me to remove libelous accusations, I will consider reposting it in the future.

Dead Sea Scroll Fact Sheet

When speaking to lay audiences about the Dead Sea Scrolls, I've learned that, although interest is typically very high in the Scrolls, background knowledge about what they are is very low. I've learned never to give a talk to a group of non-specialists without some very elementary prolegomena: What are the Scrolls? When were they discovered? and so on.

To streamline this necessary process, I developed a "Dead Sea Scroll Fact Sheet" that is meant to orient people rapidly to the Scrolls. It is intentionally very simple and "non-denominational": that is, I tried to stay away from presenting any positions as "facts" that are still subjects of debate within the guild — even positions that I personally hold to.

Anyway, now I'm putting it online for any of you to use. Feel free to download it, distribute it, or modify it as you see fit, either with or without attribution to me. It's just a little something that I've found helpful; my hope is that others will as well.

UPDATE: Now available on as well. Super!

Monday, January 10, 2005

William Safire on Job 13:15

William Safire is always worth a read, no matter what his opinions are. And today is no different; he takes up the question of the tsunamis and theodicy, a topic already dealt with, glancingly, on "Ralph."

I'll let you read the whole thing for yourself; but he does say one thing that needs correction:
Job's famous expression of meek acceptance in the 1611 King James Version - "though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" - was a blatant misreading by nervous translators. Modern scholarship offers a much different translation: "He may slay me, I'll not quaver."
The reference is to Job 13:15, which reads in the Masoretic text: הן יקטלני לא איחל, which looks like it should mean "behold, he will slay me, I have no hope"--which is pretty much what most of the modern translations say, in their various ways (e.g., the NRSV, JPS, etc.). So was Safire right, was it the King James translators who couldn't face up to the reality of the text?

Actually there is a Ketiv/Qere alternation in this verse: the Ketiv, the written text, does read as I described it above; but the Qere, the text as read, has לו ("to him") for לא ("no, not") so that the sentence reads, הן יקטלני לו איחל, "behold (or if) he kills me, I will hope in him." Now: who was it who lost their nerve? Was it the Masoretes? The apparatus in BHS reads "mlt Mss Vrs ut Q" = "many manuscripts and versions read as the Qere" – including the Vulgate, Targum, and Peshitta. This suggests that the reading may have been ancient.

The modern consensus seems to be to reject the Qere and accept the Ketiv; only the NIV among modern versions reads with the Qere. But maybe the more popular choice reflects the prevailing mood, which is more questioning. Can one really say that this choice between ancient alternatives is the product of "modern scholarship" – or modern sensibilities? In any case, the KJV translators are innocent.

One final question: Where does Safire get "quaver" for the verb יחל?!

UPDATE: Bruce Zuckerman e-mails that the source of Safire's translation is Marvin Pope's rendering in the Anchor Bible commentary series. Bruce says, "At least we know what Job text Safire reaches for first!" I presume that Pope (who does not explain his rendering in my edition of the commentary) emended the text on the basis of the root חיל, "to writhe, tremble, shake."