Sunday, July 31, 2005

Scroll Matters

Last week I was contacted via e-mail by Dutch journalist Henk Schutten, who sought my opinion on four Dead Sea Scrolls fragments that had shown up on the antiquities market in Holland, and who wondered if I knew of other scrolls recently being offered for sale. I told him that I was aware of no recent sales or discoveries other than the Leviticus fragments recently purchased in Israel by Hanan Eshel.

I was also able to tell him that the four fragments he mentioned (and pictured in photographs that he sent me) were included in a recent presentation by Hanan and Esther Eshel at the SBL meeting in November of 2004 and published in the journal Dead Sea Discoveries in 2005. (The four fragments were two pieces of Isaiah, which belong to IQIsa-b, and two fragments of an apocryphon, evidently 4Q226.) These fragments, according to public statements made by the Eshels, were sold by the Kando family to American collectors Bruce Ferrini and Lee Biondi, and examined by Eshel in the US in 2004.

In his recent article in Het Parool, Mr. Schutten has evidently misunderstood my information on the 4 fragments as applying to the Leviticus fragment as well.

His first quote mentioning my name is as follows:

[Edward] Cook has nothing but harsh words for the dealers and collectors, and the additional fragments now on offer.

"Apart from anything else, it is illegal". He does not even discount the possibility that some of the larger scrolls have been cut into small fragments both to increase their profitability and to conceal their origins.

My one use of the word "illegal" in our correspondence was in reference to the possible looting of the archeological sites of Khirbet Qumran and Khirbet Mird, in response to Schutten's inquiry about the supposed offer for sale of amulets discovered there. (See Letter 3 in the Appendix below.) As far as I know, the possession (or sale) of antiquities in Israel acquired before 1978 is not illegal, although it may be unethical and is certainly deplorable.

The second quote mentioning me goes like this:

[Cook] states that the involvement of the Kando family is a virtual certainty in the new finds. He adds, "More than likely that the Kando family have had the scrolls or fragments for a long time". "It is known that in the 50s many Bedouins first offered their finds to Kando. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Kando did not keep part of the material for himself. Everything indicates that the family are trying to market the fragments".

For the record, I did not say, nor do I believe, that the Leviticus fragments allegedly found in the Nahal Arugot actually come from manuscripts in the possession of the Kando family. And I can't imagine why anyone would believe, or publish, a scenario in which a manuscript is taken from a legally held collection in order to pass it off as the product of an illegal looting! What I did say to Schutten is contained in Letter 2 below. Letters 1-3 below comprise all the significant statements made by me to Schutten; Letter 4 is from Schutten and speaks for itself.

With reference to the Nahal Arugot find, I continue to believe that Hanan Eshel was guilty of nothing more (or less) than poor judgment by entering into negotiations with someone who had illegally looted an archeological site and neglecting to notify the Israel Antiquities Authority until the sale had been made. I also have read no convincing evidence that the cave Eshel was told was the find-spot was in fact the cave where the fragments were discovered. Apparently no other fragments were discovered there in situ, which would be the necessary proof. These Leviticus fragments must still, in my opinion, be considered unprovenanced.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The fragments that initially aroused Mr. Schutten's curiosity have been published: Esther Eshel and Hanan Eshel, "New Fragments from Qumran: 4QGenf, 4QIsab, 4Q226, 8QGen, and XQpapEnoch," Dead Sea Discoveries 12/2 (2005) 134-157.

Appendix: Correspondence with Henk Schutten

1. (My first reply):

Thank you for your letter and kind words about "Ralph."

I am not aware of any specific incidents of DSS fragments suddenly appearing on the market, aside from the recent acquisition in Israel of 4 small fragments of the Book of Leviticus. The scholar who bought them did so because he was afraid the fragments would be smuggled out of Israel. Possibly the fragments that you mention are part of the same cache of manuscripts.

I would be very interested in hearing more details and receiving pictures of the fragments. I also recommend that you get in touch with two Dead Sea Scrolls experts at the University of Groningen, E. J. C. Tigchelaar and Florentino Garcia-Martinez, who may be better informed about the possible sale of recent manuscripts than I am.

2. (My second letter, after I ascertained that the scrolls pictured in Schutten's photographs were those made public by the Eshels in the SBL in November):

Many thanks for the pictures, which I hope to examine more closely later on.

Last year in the USA, a fragmentary papyrus of the Book of Enoch was presented at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and was described as belonging to the Kando family. The scholars making the presentation (Hanan and Esther Eshel) also mentioned 12 other fragmentary manuscripts in the possession of the Kando family. It seems likely that the manuscripts you mention are the same ones described by the Eshels and [another scholar].

Judging by all these lines of evidence, I think it is very likely that the Kando family has had scrolls or scroll fragments in their possession for many years. It is known that in the 1950's, many Bedouin brought their discoveries to Kando before they were shown to the authorities, and there is certainly no guarantee that Kando did not keep a lot of material. It seems now that he did, and his family is now trying to sell these fragments via the antiquities trade.

There are persistent rumors of a large scroll of Enoch in private hands. I don't know whether there is any substance to these rumors at all. My concern as a scholar is that the Kando family or private collectors are possibly destroying large scrolls in order to sell smaller pieces one at a time. This would be a tremendous loss.

3. (In answer to an inquiry about copper amulets allegedly offered by the Kando estate for sale):

Jewish Amulets on metal (silver, copper, lead, bronze, gold) from the early centuries A.D. are known, but they are rare; I only know of about 20 in existence. Another one in copper would be a very interesting find. The name of the angel seems to be Uriel. If the amulet was in fact found in or near Khirbet Qumran, that would be very significant.

The second one mentioned seems to be of the same general type, but apparently written in a dialect of Aramaic called Christian Palestinian Aramaic, or sometimes Palestinian Syriac. The site known as Khirbet Mird in Israel contains the ruins of a Melkite Christian monastery from the first millennium A.D. and a number of papryi and other texts written in Christian Palestinian Aramaic were found there. Possibly this second amulet was found in or near Khirbet Mird.

It is a great pity that these interesting pieces are being advertised to collectors instead of being made available to scholars and museums. It's also illegal, of course.

4. (from Schutten, in response to my Letter 2):

That's a coincidence, Hanan Eshel presenting DSS-fragments from the Kando family. It makes his recent discovery of the new Leviticus-fragments a bit suspicious, don't you think? Can you tell me where I can find more information about this presentation last year for the Society of Biblical Literature? (I tried Google but that didn't work out)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Tagged Pseudepigrapha

I see that Logos is planning a Greek pseudepigrapha module that is fully tagged. That's great! However, I would like to point out that Accordance Bible Software has a fully tagged Greek Pseudepigrapha module available right now. I'm looking at it as I write. But it's nice that Logos is trying to catch up. :)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Latin for the Judgin': A critical edition

According to this tidbit from Rogue Classicism, John Roberts "has the Latin for the judgin'." As many people know, the judgin' exams are rigorous, and you need to have the Latin to pass.

Don't know what I'm talking about? I am channeling a comedy bit from the British review "Beyond the Fringe," from the 'sixties I believe, that Peter Cook (no relation) used to do. His character, a working-class man, says:

Yes, I could have been a judge but I never had the Latin, never had the Latin for the judgin', I never had it, so I'd had it, as far as bein' a judge was concerned. I just never had sufficient of it to get through the rigourous judging exams. They're noted for their rigour. People come out staggering and saying "My God, what a rigourous exam!" - and so I became a miner instead. A coal miner. I managed to get through the mining exams--they're not rigourous, they only ask one question, they say, "Who are you", and I got 75 per cent on that. I'd rather have been a judge than a miner. Being a miner, as soon as you are too old and tired and sick and stupid to do the job properly, you have to go. Well, the very opposite applies with judges.
Believe me, it's a lot funnier when Peter Cook delivers it. (Is the record still in print, or available on CD?)

However, I should point out that the excerpt I have given above was put together by me and does not occur, as far as I can tell, on the web. In short, it is a harmonizing text. Below I give a critical diplomatic text, with apparatus, based on the following five witnesses: A, B, C, D, and E. For my base text, I use B, which is closely allied to C, but C was copied by a rather careless scribe. Both A and D are defective, in that their text is incomplete. E has some affinities with A, but both represent a different tradition than BC.

B: "Yes, I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin, never had the Latin for the judging, I just never had sufficient of it to get through the rigorous judging exams. They’re noted for their rigour. People come out staggering and saying ‘My God what a rigorous exam' – and so I became a miner instead. I’d rather have been a judge than a miner. Being a miner, as soon as you are too old and tired and sick and stupid to do the job properly, well you have to go. Well the opposite applies with judges."

Yes] ABCE; D om. || never had the Latin, never had the Latin] ABCE; D never had the Latin [one occurrence] || for the judging] ABCE; D adds. I never had it, so I'd had it, as far as being a judge was concerned || just never had sufficient of it] BCE; A didn't have sufficient || out staggering and saying] BC; E out saying || I became a miner instead] BCE; A I managed to become a miner || instead] AE add a coal miner. I managed to get through the mining exams--they're not (A adds: very) rigourous, they only ask (A adds: you) one question, they say, "Who are you", and I got 75 per cent on that || I'd rather ... with judges] BC; AE om. || well you have] B; C om. well || opposite] B; C very opposite

From the apparatus it emerges that AE and BC are mainly differentiated textually by the fact that AE has a joke about miners where BC has a joke about judges; D is quite short and has neither, but has a third joke that only amounts to a pun. An Old Testament scholar would talk about doublets, perhaps hypothesizing an Anti-Judge source (J) and an Anti-Miner source (M) and perhaps a Pun source (P), which built on a now-lost piece of folklore about failing a Latin test. (And a minimalist would deny that Peter Cook ever existed.) New Testament scholars would postulate some complicated redaction-critical business, and divide on whether the anti-judge or the anti-miner version was the most authentic, depending on which group the historical Peter Cook was believed to be in conflict with. The "Peter Cook Seminar" would assert that the "anti-judge" version was authentic, on the grounds that Peter Cook would have been in opposition to the establishment and in favor of the working man. (And a radical NT scholar would deny that Peter Cook ever existed.)

One thing no one would do is what I did at the beginning and produce a harmonized text. This is considered to be anti-historical and disrespectful of the sources, which must each be allowed to speak for themselves. However, I can assure you, based on oral memory (I listened to the record about 500 times when I was in seminary), that the pun, the anti-judge joke, and the anti-miner joke all occurred in Cook's original comedy routine. I can even tell you that none of the versions I have read have quite captured the dialect. The character tended to drop his aitches, yielding I never 'ad it, so I'd 'ad it as far as judgin' was concerned. And judging was always judgin', to form an assonance with Latin.

Therefore, after all the critical sifting work has been done, I still think that in some cases one should be allowed to hypothesize an original text or tradition that is a harmony or combination of all the witnesses, since in some cases (as illustrated here) all our witnesses are incomplete versions of a larger original.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


I'm not that old (53). My wife tells me "50 is the new 40" — whatever that means. And I don't feel old (when there are no mirrors around). I can still dunk shoot a basketball, I still watch VH1, read Uncut, keep up with the latest pop culture crapola. I still have my hair (that's not a receding hairline, I just have a big forehead, OK?).

But there are things going on. Shaving seems increasingly complicated for some reason. I'm sore after a long walk. An afternoon nap gets me through the day. I see strangers my age at the grocery store and I feel like hailing them as long-lost friends, as if we are both members of a minority group. And the kid bagging the groceries looks right through me like I'm not there. It all adds up to one thing: winter is coming; it ain't here yet, but it will be before you know it.

So naturally I want to know how the musical artists who have gotten me through my life so far are doing with the same experience. Poor Pete Townshend. I bet he can't go to the pub or the corner store without someone asking, "Hey Pete! I thought you said you hoped you'd die before you got old! Well, now you're old! Huh? Huh?" But I don't know, because I haven't listened to his stuff for years. Is he even writing new stuff?

There's Paul Simon, who wrote a song not too long ago called "Old":

Down the decades every year
Summer leaves and my birthday’s here
And all my friends stand up and cheer
And say man you’re old
Getting old

Now there's a guy who's always got aging on his mind. About 40 years ago he said in a song, "I was 21 years when I wrote this song / I'm 22 now but I won't be for long." And in "Old Friends" he said, "How terribly strange to be 70." Well, Paul, pretty soon you'll be 70 and you can tell us if it's strange or not. My guess is it will seem pretty normal.

What about Dylan? It struck me last year when I saw him in Columbus, in fact, while he was in the middle of singing it, that "Mr. Tambourine Man" is an old man's song:

My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming.

My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip,
My toes too numb to step ...
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way,
I promise to go under it.

But he didn't sing it like he was still connected to it. There was a lot more fire in his more recent material, like "Floater":

The old men 'round here, sometimes they get
On bad terms with the younger men
But old, young, age don't carry weight
It doesn't matter in the end

Then there's Neil Young. I love the Neilster, but I haven't gotten his last few albums, so I don't know how he's doing with the aging thing. Could he still sing "Old Man"?

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
the whole day through

There's the wonderful and underrated Jonathan Richman, who's just about exactly my age. Is he still singing "Dignified and Old"?

Someday we'll be dignified (Hey kids, Hey kids)
Someday we will be dignified and old

Actually, I don't think pop artists, when they get old, write songs about it. It's the young men who do that. The old guys just don't feel like they are old. (Exhibit 1: The Rolling Stones.) It reminds me of a discussion I had years ago at Hebrew Union College with a really old professor (now deceased). I mentioned to him the hoary idea the Solomon had written the Song of Solomon when he was young and Koheleth when he was old. He said, "It's exactly the opposite. He wrote Koheleth when he was young, because it's typical of the young to put on an image of self-conscious world-weary disillusionment. And he wrote the Song when he was old and could think of nothing but sex."

Maybe that is the way of the world. The young write songs about being old, because they fear it. The old don't write about it, because they don't feel like they are old. It seems to be true of my generation anyway. In a few years, you can walk down the hallway of a nursing home — past the bedpans, the walkers, and the wheelchairs — and hear the stereos playing "Blitzkrieg Bop" or "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" or "Walk on the Wild Side," and there will be black light posters hanging on the walls, and peace signs next to the trays of pills.

Getting old? Not for a while yet. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my nap.

UPDATE (7/28): Follow-up posts from Tim Bulkeley and Gordon Govier. BTW, Gordon is the host of the excellent radio program The Book & The Spade.

Friday, July 22, 2005


If you're tired of summer blockbusters (super heroes, car chases, explosions, Sith Lords), or even if you're just tired of the heat, or the headlines, I recommend going to see March of the Penguins. It's not a run-of-the-mill National Geographic-type documentary; no talking heads, no scientific interviews. Just hordes of beautiful penguins as far as the eye can see.

At first I thought the penguins were cute, in a waddling, anthropomorphic way; but during the movie they assume an animalic dignity that I didn't expect. When we left the theater, it was the human beings around us who looked strange.

It was a refreshing experience for the soul. And for a week now, Amy and I have occasionally been imitating the penguin waddle around the house, just to see if we could do it (we can't). That really puts the quizzical look on the dogs' faces: What are they up to now? Are we still getting dinner?

Take the kiddies, although I should warn you that there is some (tasteful) penguin sex. (Google that, you perverts!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Rocky Bolt from the Heavenly Blue

When I was in seminary, I remember hearing George Ladd refer to Matt. 11:27 par. Luke 10:22 as "a solid block of Johannine rock," because, although the saying is Synoptic, it reminds one of the style of the discourses of Christ in the Gospel of John.

Since then, I've also heard it referred to as "a bolt from the Johannine blue." Interestingly, there are all kinds of variations. Here are a few, courtesy of Google and Google Print:

a thunderbolt from the Johannine heaven
a meteorite from the Johannine heaven
an aerolite from the Johannine heaven
an aerolite from the Johannean heaven
a boulder from the Johannine moraine
the bolt from the Johannine blue
an erratic block of Johannine rock
a solid block of Johannine rock
a bolt from the Johannine heaven
a bolt from the Johannine sky
the synoptic thunderbolt from the Johannine sky
a meteor from the Johannine sky
the Johannine aerolite

The phrase is most often attributed to Karl von Hase, a 19th century German historian of Christianity in the form "an aerolite from the Johannine heaven." But I don't know what the original German was. I imagine the "bolt ... blue" variant is an accommodation to English idiom; but I don't know where the "block ... rock" variant comes from. Does anybody else?

UPDATE (7/24): Reader Kevin Snapp emailed me the original quotation from von Hase:

Die einzige synoptische Stelle, darnach `Niemand den Sohn erkennt ausser der Vater, und Niemand den Vater erkennt ausser der Sohn und wem irgend der Sohn es offenbaren wolle,' macht den Eindruck wie ein Aerolith aus dem johanneischen [sic] Himmel gefallen, allenfalls auch aus dem Gesichtskreise des Paulus.

The reference is Karl von Hase, Geschichte Jesu, nach akademischen Vorlesungen (2te Aufl. Leipzig 1891), 527. Many thanks, Kevin; also thanks to Pilgrim in the comments for attempting a back-translation.

It's interesting that some of the versions of the phrase preserve the rare word aerolith or aerolite, although the more recent versions abandon it for words more readily understandable (like meteor) or idiomatic (bolt), even if the image is slightly changed. And some scholars have obviously recast the image in terms they like better or that are more euphonious ("rock ... block"). There's a lesson here for biblical criticism, not least in the fact that the underlying meaning remains unchanged throughout all the permutations.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An Aramaism in Matt. 11:26 par. Lk. 10:21

Although I've spent some time lately debunking various attempts to find Aramaic wordplay in the gospels, I do think that Aramaisms are to be found in them, and that New Testament scholars need to be aware of them.

A simple and very clear example is the idiom in Matt. 11:26 par. Luke 10:21, where Jesus in his prayer says to God, that He had revealed hidden things to babes, because "thus it was well-pleasing in thy sight" (Gk. houtos eudokia egeneto emprosthen sou), literally, "such was will/pleasure before you."

This particular idiom does not appear in the Septuagint, in the Greek Pseudepigrapha, or in any other place in the New Testament (except one, Mt. 18:14, see below). The best parallels elsewhere are in Aramaic, especially the targums.

In these examples, a translation of the Hebrew is given first, then a translation of the Targum:

Deut 10:10: "the Lord did not want to destroy you" = Targ. Neof. "there was no pleasure before the Lord to destroy you"

Judg. 13:23 "if the Lord wanted (to kill us)" = Targ. Jon. "if there was will/pleasure before the Lord (that we should die)"

I Sam. 12:22 "the Lord wanted to make you a people for himself" = Targ. Jon. "there was pleasure before the Lord to make you a people before him"

I Sam. 16:8 "the Lord has not chosen this one" = Targ. Jon. "there is no pleasure before the Lord in this one"

Isa. 1:11 "what is the multitude of your sacrifices to me?" = Targ. Jon. "there is no pleasure before me in the multitude of your holy sacrifices"

Jer. 44:22 "the Lord cannot bear any more" = Targ. Jon. "there was no longer pleasure before the Lord to forgive"

Jonah 1:4 "you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you" = "you, O Lord, have done as there was pleasure before you"

There are quite a few other examples.

The word translated "will, pleasure" is רעוא ra'awa, which corresponds very closely to Greek. eudokia. The Aramaic of the Gospel phrase would be something like ken hewat ra'awa qodamak, "such was will/pleasure before you" = "that is what you wanted to do."

A similar instance in the Gospels is Matt. 18:14: "it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven" (Gk. ouk estin thelema emprosthen tou patros humon tou en ouraniois), which in Aramaic would be la ra'awa qodam abukon di bi-shmayya. Here thelema is used instead of eudokia, but the underlying idiom is clearly the same.

Is this definitely Aramaic and not Hebrew? There are examples of the equivalent Hebrew phrase, the oldest of which is in Pirke Avoth 5:20: "May there be pleasure before you, O Lord our God (that the Temple be built)" = yehi ratzon millephaneykha YY eloheinu. Therefore it is possible that the Aramaism in Mat. 11:26 par., 18:14 is actually a Hebraism. However, the use of "before" (Aram. qodam, Gk. emprosthen) as a mark of respect, in this idiom and others, seems to have its origin in Aramaic, not Hebrew, usage. Therefore I opt for Aramaic.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: These are long-known examples of Semitic influence; of many references, the best discussion is probably in Gustav Dalman, Die Wörte Jesu.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The New Scroll

The new scroll fragments of Leviticus from the Wilderness of Judea provide a good opportunity for comments on the antiquities scene in Israel. Here's a quote from the AP story:

[Hanan] Eshel said he was first shown the fragments last year during a meeting in an abandoned police station near the Dead Sea.

A Bedouin said he had been offered $20,000 for the fragments on the black market and wanted an evaluation.

The encounter that both excited and dismayed the archaeologist who has worked in the Judean Desert since 1986.

"I was jealous he had found it, not me. I was also very excited. I didn't believe I would see them again," said Eshel, who took photographs of the pieces he feared would soon be smuggled out of the country.

But in March 2005, he discovered the Bedouin still had the scroll fragments. Eshel bought them with $3,000 provided by Bar Ilan University and handed them over to the Antiquities Authority, he said.

"Scholars do not buy antiquities. I did it because I could not see it fall apart," Eshel said.

Scattered thoughts: It's too bad the IAA or the Hebrew University or somebody doesn't offer a reward saying: "$1 MILLION TO THE FIRST PERSON TO DISCOVER A CAVE CONTAINING UNDISTURBED SCROLLS." A new bibliophorous (scroll bearing) cave would be worth more than any number of scraps.

It's too bad that the discoverer wanted the scholar's opinion only for authentication to make an illegal sale.

This scroll is not very sexy (c'mon — Leviticus?), and therefore it is probably authentic. A fake scroll would have mentioned Jesus or Paul and been offered for sale to the Israel Museum for $5 million, after a breathless article touting its importance had been published in BAR. But I'm glad they're doing tests on this one.

Where — and I mean exactly what cave? — was this discovered in? Why didn't Eshel just say, "Nice scroll. I'll give you your asking price if you can show me exactly where you discovered it. If not, hey, enjoy your Leviticus!"

How many other scrolls are being sold to collectors all the time by the Bedouin without publicity? Rumors abound.

UPDATE (7/17): Jim Davila asserts that Leviticus is indeed sexy, as anything biblical is sexy. Fair enough, and of course in the present state of biblical archaeology any unprovenanced article must be ipso facto under suspicion. I am wondering, though, if ancient animal skin suitable for forgery can be easily found. Other forgeries on stone, ceramic, or papyrus are less easily detectable since uninscribed ancient pieces of these materials are common. But truly ancient animal skin suitable for forgery must be rare (but I speak under correction). I agree that we should be cautious.

Speaking of unauthenticated scrolls, whatever happened to the so-called "Angel Scroll"?

Thursday, July 14, 2005


An interesting discussion among Jim West, Jim Davila, and Michael Pahl on the meaning of "consensus," summarized here by Michael.

I would only add that there seem to be at least two kinds of consensus. One we might call a hard consensus, wherein the facts of the matter are so well-known to specialists or professionals that there is no serious doubt among them.

Another kind is the "soft" consensus, which is the result of a kind of scholarly flocking behavior. One view becomes fashionable, or famous, or is espoused by a particularly influential scholar, or just gets repeated a lot and everyone starts jumping on the bandwagon. Although a vote would reveal a "consensus," there is in fact a lot of room for opposition and contradiction, and little hard core of indisputable fact.

This presents a problem for outsiders: How can you tell if a particular consensus of specialists is hard or soft? I think the debate about global warming is an example of this kind of problem. As an outsider, I've become convinced that there is a hard consensus among scientists about global warming, although many politicians still want to portray it as soft, with room for reasonable doubt.

I take it that the question of the dating of the gospels, about which the question of consensus originally arose, is inevitably a matter of "soft" consensus. Of course, all of us want to treat our own ideas as a matter of "hard" consensus, "accepted scholarly opinion." I think that in our field there are relatively few matters of hard consensus. But soft consensuses (?) usually erode over time, or diminish when we scholarly sheep follow a new bellwether.

Monday, July 11, 2005

More on the Marzeah Papyrus

Stephen Goranson forwards this link to a site claiming that Raffi Brown (one of the indicted co-conspirators in the forgery scandal) was the forger of the Marzeah Papyrus and the Ivory Pomegranate. I have no idea whether the information on the site is good or bad — the wild writing style does not inspire confidence — but since the Marzeah Papyrus has been previously discussed here, I pass the link along for readers to sift through on their own. (I also feel that there are other incautious statements on that site that may be libelous. Caveat emptor.)

If any readers have independent knowledge of these claims, I'd be interested in hearing from you.

UPDATE: Joe Cathey summarizes a recent report in the Israel Exploration Journal on the Ivory Pomegranate.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Blogging and Academic Job Hunting

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education may provide a good reality check for bloggers, both in Biblioblogdom and elsewhere. Read the whole thing. Here's an excerpt:

Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.

Personally, I try not to rant, bitch, moan, talk trash, or get personal on "Ralph." And I try to stay pretty much within the broad topics I've established herein, while still maintaining enough variety to keep myself, my family, and my friends, both lay and professional, interested.

But I must admit that I didn't think about blogging being a barrier to future employment. I think it's a pity that the committee described in the article was suspicious of blogging as such. However, all of us should probably remind ourselves that the dashed-off tripe we ladle into the bitstream is going to be cached and available for reading for a long time. "Every idle word ..." (There's a spiritual lesson here, too.)

Maybe this issue can be taken up at the Biblioblogging session in November at Philadelphia. I'd be interested in hearing what others think in the meantime, especially those with faculty positions. If you were on a search committee, would you check a candidate's blog? If you did, what would you look for?

UPDATE (7/10): Thanks for all your comments, although nobody answered my question.

AKMA responds to the same article here, and Ann Althouse here, and she links to this Metafilter discussion. She also says, "But, for me, blogging is so phenomenally satisfying that I would find the possible career advancement sacrifices worth it." Wow. Spoken like a woman with tenure and an endowed chair.

I suppose the moral of the story is this: If you want to know if a critique of blogging is valid or not, don't ask bloggers.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Spielberg's War

"War of the Worlds" was better than I expected, which was something on the pedestrian level of "Batman Begins." It transcended its own blockbuster hype and really made me belatedly begin to think of Steven Spielberg as a real auteur.

Of course, Spielberg is not really interested in aliens or spaceships or any other sci-fi stuff. In this respect he could not differ more from George Lucas, who really thinks aliens and spaceships are cool and interesting and worth forging a story around.

What Spielberg really likes more than anything else is showing people under pressure; what do people act like in dire straits? The crisis is different — sharks, combat, the Holocaust, dinosaurs, aliens — but the focus is always on characters in crisis, not on what is causing the crisis. (Raiders of the Lost Ark is an exception, but doesn't really count, since the whole conception was Lucas's, not Spielberg's.) This really comes out clearly in "War of the Worlds" when Ray's car is attacked by other refugees: this is the scariest scene in the movie, and it could take place in a war movie or a dinosaur movie or a movie about a big storm a-comin'. The people are just as scary as the aliens, if not more so. Spielberg excels at this kind of film.

(Compare the superficially similar Twister; there is a plot about men, women, relationships and competition, etc., but it's just machinery to keep people encountering those awesome tornadoes. If Spielberg had made it, the tornadoes would just be machinery to put these people in extreme situations and see what happens to them.)

There were what seemed to me some references to other Spielberg movies. The burgeoning cloud with lightning flashing within, which conceals aliens, reminded me of Close Encounters, as does a later scene when characters are transfixed in an alien spotlight; the basement scene was a lot like the one in Jurassic Park when the raptors attack in the hotel kitchen; the combat scenes are inevitably like those in Saving Private Ryan; an alien who is first noticed as a grasping hand is reminiscent of certain parts of E.T. I don't know if Spielberg is repeating himself or not, but maybe the references to his other movies with aliens are intentional and ironic. The aliens are E.T.'s evil twins.

Visual references to 9/11 are sprinkled throughout, yet another sign that Spielberg is not really thinking about extra-terrestrials. His message for us in this movie is not unlike the messages in his other movies: "Don't give up, you can get through this." It's not deep, but it's timely.

The previews were also interesting. Every movie looks good in trailers, but I was pleased at the overall look of the Narnia movie, and even "King Kong" looks like it might be worthwhile.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Learning in War-Time

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the London bombings and their families.

At times like these, I am often tempted to think, Why work? Why should I write, study, blog, catalog, parse verbs, or do research, when there is so much suffering in the world, so much of "real" importance to be done, besides which my activities pale into insignificance?

I find C. S. Lewis's sermon "Learning in War-Time," delivered in Oxford as the Second World War broke out, a bracing tonic for these feelings. Read it all, if you can find it. A few quotes:

Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. . . . [Men] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing on the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.
If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.

So ... back to work.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My Chat with Hershel

A few weeks ago, Hershel Shanks called me up. Our discussion was both cordial and frank, as one might say of a summit between Bush and Chirac. I didn't take notes, but some of the highlights, as I remember them:

His call, as it turns out, was prompted by the post "The Latest News from Hershel Shanks." He began the conversation saying that he had read the post on my blog criticizing him. ME: A post criticizing you? Which one? HS: You mean there's more than one? ME: Actually, there are quite a few.

He asked why I didn't just send a letter to the editor at BAR. I told him that these days I would rather blog than write a letter to the editor.

If you've been reading "Ralph," then you know my differences with Hershel. I would like to see certain changes in Biblical Archaeology Review, and I would like to see — at least — unprovenanced artifacts treated with suspicion instead of good will, not just in BAR, but throughout the guild. Hershel told me I didn't live in the real world, that these items would continue to be discussed, and the field could only benefit by full discussion and complete openness of debate.

I responded that unprovenanced artifacts would always have a cloud over them, and that this cloud would prevent the unfettered use of epigraphic material we all find interesting. I want to see Biblical archaeology placed on a sound footing, not undermined by the antiquities market and by forgers.

Hershel said that people have a right to know, and that interesting discoveries can't be kept a secret. The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a case in point. I said that scholars should not be in the business of providing authentication of artifacts for the benefit of collectors; epigraphs appearing on the antiquities market should not be for sale, and unprovenanced epigraphs, after having been handed over to the authorities, should be examined by experts before being published. Hershel says that such rules will just drive the market underground.

Hershel accused me of thinking that he was "immoral ... a bad guy." I said I preferred to use the words "unwise" or "incautious" or "overeager." (And I don't think I've ever said on "Ralph" or elsewhere that Hershel is personally a bad guy, which he certainly is not.)

More was said, which I can't now recall with exactness; if memory serves, among other things, Hershel said or implied that the looting of antiquities would not stop until the Israeli-Palestinian problem was solved; that the banned antiquities trade in Egypt continued to flourish underground; and that Kyle McCarter thinks the Ivory Pomegranate is authentic. I declined to discuss the Pomegranate further until a full report comes out; I'm a philologist, not a paleographic expert.

We ended by agreeing that such discussions as we had on the phone were good, and wishing that others could have overheard. He encouraged me to blog on our conversation, which I am now doing. I didn't change his mind, he didn't change mine.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Does "Iscariot" Mean "the Liar"?

The etymology of Judas's surname Iscariot has been much discussed. I am surprised to see a theory gaining ground that, in my opinion, has little to recommend it. I refer to the proposal that the Aramaic word sheqar, "lie," is the basis of the name. M. Limbeck writes in the Exegetical Dictionary of the NT:
Starting from Aram. sheqar and shiqray/sheqarya, "liar," which with the ending -a and with aleph prostheticum becomes ishqarya, Iscariot can be taken as "the liar, the false one" ...
I have a number of problems with this proposal. First of all, there is not, as far as I can tell, any Aramaic word shiqray, sheqarya that means "liar." The idea that there is apparently comes from an error in Jastrow's Dictionary (p. 1626, s.v. שׁקרא), where he misinterprets a verbal form in b.Yev. 55b שׁקרי , "I lied" — as an adjective. That is the only "attested" use of this otherwise non-existent word. The normal Aramaic word for "liar" would be shaqqar, which cannot be made to yield "Iscariot."

Secondly, you can't just tack on a prosthetic aleph any place you want to; it occurs primarily on words that begin with consonant clusters (which shiqray does not). As far as I can determine, prosthetic aleph is not attested with this root at all in Aramaic. So what we have here is an arbitrary syllable added to a word that does not exist; and this is proposed in a widely used lexical tool as the most probable etymology! (I. Howard Marshall, in his commentary on Luke, also refers to this as the "most plausible" etymology.)

The old idea that Iscariot means "man of (the town) Kerioth" (Hebrew ish qeriyot) is still the best. Limbeck objects that a Hebrew surname would not be used, but I think this is not true; tombstones and ossuaries from the first century CE bear names in both Hebrew and Aramaic. Plus, names with ish + city name are quite common in the Mishnah. Here's a few:

Natai Ish Tekoa (Hal. 4:10)
Yosi ben Yoezer Ish Zereda
Yosi ben Yohanan Ish Yerushalaim (Sota 9:9)
Yakim Ish Hadar (Eduy. 7:5)
Antigonus Ish Sokho (Avot. 1:3)
Halaphta Ish Kefar-hanania (Avot 3:6)
Levitas Ish Yabneh (Avot 4:4)
Eliezer Ben Yehudah Ish Bartota (Tev. Y. 3:4)

Judas's full designation in Hebrew would likely have been Yehudah ben Shimon Ish Qeriyot (cp. John 6:71, "Judas son of Simon Iscariot," which also has the variant reading "from Kariot" for "Iscariot").

BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Limbeck, "Iscariotes," Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Horst Balz, Gerhard Schneider, p. 201.