Friday, April 11, 2014

GJW latest

THE NEWS ON THE GOSPEL OF JESUS' WIFE is predictably making a splash in the media and the blogosphere. The media coverage is for the most part repeating the line of the Harvard press releases and getting that pretty accurately. I see no need to link to any of the many news articles beyond what I covered yesterday. As for the blogosphere, much the same applies, but I do want to note blog posts by Mark Goodacre here and especially here. The latter publishes a new essay by Professor Watson of Durham University: Jesus’ Wife Attempts a Comeback: Initial Response (pdf file) which gives a preliminary evaluation of the new evidence. Excerpt:
A press release that accurately represented the analyses published in the
Harvard Theological Review might have been entitled: “Testing of Jesus’ Wife Fragment Yields Inconclusive Results”. That would not have attracted much attention, but it would at least be truthful.
I am very busy with my own work in the coming weeks and it will be some time before I can get around to reading the HTR articles, but meanwhile I'll try to keep track of any interesting developments.

Background here and links.

UPDATE: I've been meaning to link to this post by Larry Hurtado, which came out before the GJW test results but is nonetheless relevant: Carbon-14 and Palaeographical Dating of Papyri. Note this in particular:
To summarize results of the tests [on Green Collection manuscripts] reported on in [the conference in] Oklahoma City, the results from the three labs were basically/broadly in agreement, which gives some assurance about the reliability of the process. But also, these results were broadly in agreement with the prior/independent palaeographical dating of these items. And this (as I see it) is the really larger import. It means (contrary to the reported comment by a distinguished papyrologist, who is not himself a palaeographer, that palaeographical dating is “bullshit”), that palaeographical dating (using today’s standards and practices) by competent palaeographers can be treated as broadly reliable.
Contrast this with the test results on the GJW: the two C-14 tests came up with results that differed by many centuries, not overlapping at all, and both results were incompatible with the dating that had already been proposed by paleographers. When lined up against the Green Collection tests, this sounds inconclusive indeed.

UPDATE: New blog posts: Christian Askeland (ETC): Jesus's Wife Resurrected from Dead; Larry Hurtado: “Jesus’ Wife Fragment”: Further Observations.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

GJW test results finally in

HARVARD MAGAZINE: The Jesus's Wife Fragment: The Scientific Evidence. Bottom line: the papyrus and "ink" test as ancient and the results are being published in HTR:
Now the scientific dating of the papyrus and the ink (which is not ink at all, but rather lampblack, a pigment often used in ancient Egypt for writing on papyrus) indicate that both are consistent with an ancient origin.

Because the fragment is so small, carbon-dating it proved troublesome. Researchers at the University of Arizona called into question their own results—which dated the papyrus to several hundred years before the birth of Christ—because they were unable to complete the cleaning process on the small sample of papyrus with which they were working, and felt that might have led to spurious results. A second carbon-dating analysis undertaken by Clay professor of scientific archaeology Noreen Tuross at Harvard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute dated the papyrus, and a separate one (also believed to be of ancient origin) with text from the Gospel of John to approximately A.D. 700 to 800.
The article then mentions the literary context:
Because the text concerning Jesus’s wife is written in Sahidic, a language of ancient Egypt, it may be a transcription of an earlier Coptic text that was based on a Greek copy, as many early Christian gospels are. Given similarities in wording and subject to the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip, the text of the GJW may originate in a time as early as the second half of the second century C.E.
This may be, at least in part, an allusion to the literary-critical arguments by that the text is a forgery based on ancient material published in modern times or even on an online edition of one of the texts. There were also objections to authenticity on paleographic and papyrological grounds.

The article goes on to indicate that the HTR issue contains some dissent, formulated before the test results came in, but not irrelevant to them:
The April 2014 issue of the Harvard Theological Review (HTR) includes King’s article (originally slated to be published in January 2013) discussing the fragment and its importance to understanding early Christian debates about whether wives and mothers could be disciples of Jesus. The issue also contains a counterpoint by professor 
of Egyptology and ancient Western Asian studies Leo Depuydt of Brown University, who writes that he is certain that the text is a modern forgery. Depuydt’s analysis, which predates the scientific findings, points out that a forger could have written with lampblack on ancient papyrus. Infrared microspectroscopic analysis of the ink and papyrus, however, found nothing to suggest that they had been “fabricated or modified at different times.” In a rebuttal, King finds Depuydt’s textual analysis unpersuasive.
One point that does not come up in the Harvard Magazine article is that the date originally proposed for the fragment on paleographic grounds was the fourth century, yet the C14 date for the papyrus is 700-800, some centuries later. Even granting that both kinds of dating are approximate, this is a very large discrepancy. And it took two tries to get a result that was anywhere near the paleographic date or indeed any possible date that involves the text being genuinely ancient. If the C14 dating is correct, either Coptic paleography is a very inexact science (which may well be) or it is not unthinkable that a forger wrote in a fourth-century script on a blank piece of papyrus that was very old, but not quite old enough.

The April 2014 issue of HTR is not yet available online, but I look forward to reading the articles when they come out (and when I have time). But my opinion on this is not particularly important. It will be the evaluations of the Coptologists, paleographers, specialists in radiocarbon dating, and historians of late antique Christianity which matter. I will be looking for clear information on who did the tests (which seems to be given) and replies to the literary, paleographic, and papyrological objections. I would also like to know more about the dating of the lamp black, which is reportedly "ancient" also, but what does that mean? What is the range of possible dates and how does the range compare to the dating of the papyrus?

This round goes to those who think that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment is a genuinely ancient literary artifact. I'm still skeptical, but maybe we did win the lottery on this one. But the really good and important news is that the material is being published in a peer-review journal. Now the discussion can start in earnest.

Background here with many links.

Also, it really doesn't need to be repeated, but I'll repeat it anyway, that if this fragment is genuine, it still tells us nothing about whether Jesus was married or not. At best it preserves speculation from a century or more (perhaps much more) after Jesus' time. That, of course, would be of considerable interest to historians of early Christianity, but not for the study of the Historical Jesus.

UPDATE: More in the NYT: Papyrus Referring to Jesus’s Wife Is More Likely Ancient Than Fake, Scientists Say (LAURIE GOODSTEIN). Regarding the ink:
The “Jesus’s Wife” papyrus was analyzed at Columbia University using micro-Raman spectroscopy to determine the chemical composition of the ink. James T. Yardley, a professor of electrical engineering, said in an interview that the carbon black ink on this fragment was “perfectly consistent with another 35 or 40 manuscripts that we’ve looked at,” that date from 400 B.C. to A.D. 700 or 800.

At M.I.T.’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering, Timothy M. Swager, a chemistry professor, and two students used infrared spectroscopy to determine whether the ink showed any variations or inconsistencies.

“The main thing was to see, did somebody doctor this up?” Dr. Swager said in an interview. “And there is absolutely no evidence for that. It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible.”


A forger could easily create carbon black ink by mixing candle soot and oil, he [Dr. Depuydt] said: “An undergraduate student with one semester of Coptic can make a reed pen and start drawing lines.

But the scientists say that modern carbon black ink looks very different under their instruments. ...”
How about ancient ink recovered from an ancient inkwell and rehydrated with distilled water? One can find inkwells dating to somewhere in the vicinity of the relevant period on eBay, although I don't know if such are ever found with desiccated ink inside.

CORRECTION: The April 2014 issue of HTR is available online here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jodi Magness reports that one of the inkwells discovered at Qumran still "contained the remains of dried ink" (The Archaeology of Qumran and The Dead Sea Scrolls [Eerdmans, 2002], p. 60). So it does happen. (HT private communication from Dan McClellan.)

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: See the blog posts by Christopher Rollston, Larry Hurtado, and Robert Cargill. And further, James McGrath has much linkage.

Volokh on the Golb case

EUGENE VOLOKH: Crime to e-mail your roommate’s girlfriend saying ‘he really is a useless person’? Volokh, who is a Constitutional lawyer Law Professor, seems to think it not unlikely that some or all of the charges in the Raphael Golb identity-theft-case appeal will be upheld, but he also thinks that the prosecutor is reading the criminal harassment statute dangerously broadly.

Background on the Golb case is here and links.

Frogs or crocodiles?

HAARETZ: Word of the Day / Tzefarde'a: A weird word for an unimpressive plague. Could it be that the rabbis have had it wrong all these centuries, and the plague was actually of crocodiles? Short answer: probably not. As the article notes, the evidence for the meaning "frog" goes back to the Septuagint, whereas the suggestion of the meaning "crocodile" is medieval.
The [five-letter-root] Hebraic word is also pretty unique among the Semitic languages, whose words for "frog" are similar – but only slightly so. Arabic has ḍifda, Aramaic has orda’a, Ge'ez has karn’na’at, while old Egyptians called the pop-eyed amphibian the krar.

As this is the case, how can we be sure that the plague of frogs was really a plague of frogs, especially since the word only appears in the Bible in relation to the same plague and in no other context?

The answer is that we can’t be entirely sure. In fact, in the 12th century Rabbi Abraham Ben Meir Ibn Ezra suggested tzefarde'a actually means "crocodile." That would surely have been much worse than a plague of frogs.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Free OUP stuff for a week!

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: National Library Week — All OUP Online products are free April 13-19th.

CLARIFICATION: "Access is available in the United States and Canada only."

JSIJ: Cohen, "'Shmuel said: Hilkheta'"

JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL, has published a new article pertinent to ancient Judaism: Barak S. Cohen, "Shmuel Said: Hilkheta": The Halakhic Rulings of Shmuel in the Two Talmudim (pfd file). The article is in Hebrew. English abstract:
The well-known amora Shmuel was one of the central rabbinic figures in the first generation of Babylonian amoraim. He is known as a sage familiar with Persian culture who brought about the transformation of tannaitic law in Babylonia. This article examines his halakhic methodology by analyzing one of the most significant collections of halakhic rulings found in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds: the more than 130 sources in which Shmuel issues a ruling based on a tannaitic source. These sources employ the literary formula “Shmuel said: Hilkheta.” This analysis reveals important findings about the application of tannaitic law in Babylonia and about Shmuel’s unique Babylonian approach which emerges from these rulings. By analyzing the methodological characteristics that underlie Shmuel's halakhic rulings we can offer a systematic and comprehensive explanation of his rulings, as well as of his disputes with other sages, especially in light of the apodictic phrasing of these rulings. This study contributes to clarification of the important question of the reliability of amoraic statements in the Babylonian Talmud, demonstrating that the study of specific amoraim and their rulings can offer a significant contribution to scholarly exegesis of the Babylonian Talmud.

The Syriac Gazetteer

SYRIAC WATCH: The Syriac Gazetteer is a new online publication of The Syriac Reference Portal.
The Syriac Gazetteer is a geographical reference work of for places relevant to Syriac studies. “Places relevant to Syriac Studies” include places named in Syriac texts (such as Ḥarqel — ܚܪܩܠ), places interesting to historians who work on Syriac texts (such as Dura-Europos), and places where scholarship on Syriac is being produced (such as Japan). There are no temporal or spatial boundaries for the geographic database, which collects places relevant to any period of history useful for Syriac studies, from places mentioned in the Peshitta version of Genesis to places founded recently, and from ancient Edessa to Mongol-era outposts in China and diaspora communities in the United States of America. At least in theory, any type or size of place could be represented in the geographic database, from large empires to single churches or a particular named city gate. Maps are provided for places whose location is known, but the database includes places which are not located or even locatable: each place is a conceptual thing with a mental existence related to, but not reducible to, its physical manifestation. Mythological and other ahistorical places are also included in the database.
Via David Allen Michelson on the Hugoye List.

Apollo of Gaza: more no news as news

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What happened to Gaza's Apollo statue? A precious statue vanished after its discovery in Gaza last summer and many suspect it is now a hostage to politics (Lena Odgaard, AlJazeera). Excerpt:
Bassem Naim, advisor for foreign affairs to Ismail Hanyieh, the prime minister of Gaza's Hamas-led government, told Al Jazeera that the statue is in the custody of the Ministry of Tourism. "They are taking care of the statue and finding out how Gaza can make the maximum benefit of the statue - not only at a financial level, but also culturally," he explained. "When we find a statue like Apollo, I'm sure it will divert the attention of millions around the world toward the small suffering city, and I hope it can help Gaza attract the attention of the international community towards the suffering of Gaza."

But time is precious when it comes to restoration, said Fadel Alotol. He leads the archaeological excavation of the Tel Umm el-Amr site in Gaza, and is one of the few archaeology and restoration experts in the Palestinian territory. To his frustration, he has not been able to see the statue except for the few leaked pictures of it, and said he was the one who identified the statue as depicting Apollo.

Experts, including Alotol, have questioned Jawdat's story, arguing that the colour and apparent excellent condition of the statue contradict the story that it was found in the sea. They speculate it was discovered inland, under the ground, and that the real story has been stifled either to avoid arguments of ownership or to avoid revealing that it was found while digging tunnels to nearby Egypt.

Alotol fears that the government is using the statue as political leverage to engage with European countries. The European Union brands Hamas as a terrorist organisation and will not meet with members of the party at an official level.
We've heard all this before, and the only actual news in the story is that there is still no sign of or word on the Apollo of Gaza.

Background (including concerns about the authenticity of the statue) here and links.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Chickens, eggs, and torch relays

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Which Came First: The Chicken, the Egg, or the Divine Law That Governs Their Use? The apparent abstraction of Talmudic rulings, immune to the vagaries of history, are also a key to Jewish survival. Excerpt:
The tractate has come to be called Beitzah because that is its very first word, and just as advertised, the pages we read this week were entirely devoted to eggs. “An egg that is laid on a holiday,” chapter 1 begins: What is its legal status? As always when the Talmud seems to be focusing on a trivial issue, the rabbis are not interested in eggs per se, but in the concepts that this particular question brings to light. In this case, we are dealing with our old friend muktzeh, a legal category that was dealt with extensively in tractates Shabbat and Eruvin.
Plus torch-relay sabotage.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

The new Patriarch and Teaneck

THE NEW SYRIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH is from Teaneck, New Jersey: Teaneck archbishop is named patriarch of Syriac Orthodox Church (Chris Harris,
Hundreds of enthusiastic well-wishers gathered outside St. Mark’s Cathedral on Saturday afternoon to congratulate and welcome back Cyril Aphrem Karim, the new worldwide patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Karim, 48, who had been serving as archbishop of the church’s Eastern United States Diocese since moving to Teaneck in 1996, was elected March 31 to head one of the world’s oldest Christian sects.

Karim — whose official title will be Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East — returned Saturday from Damascus, where he was installed this week as the 123rd successor to St. Peter the Apostle.

He will reside in Syria.

Teaneck is a scholarly place. It is home to an important Syrian Orthodox community that has ties to the early history of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as to Neo-Aramaic and scholarly Syriac studies. Gorgias Press, the well-known academic press specializing in Syriac studies is located in nearby Piscataway. Other associations of Teaneck with ancient Judaism are noted here and here.

Background on the new Patriarch is here.

Ari Handel interview

NOAH CO-WRITER ARI HANDEL is interviewed by David R. Henson at the Edges of Faith Blog: The Faithfulness of the Noah Film: Writer Ari Handel on God Learning From Humankind, Vitriolic Christians, & Midrash. Excerpt:
Even the parts that were not directly in the Noah story you can find resonances and themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I loved the way you wove in not just the Noah story but themes that you find throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

AH: Wherever possible it was our aim not to contradict Genesis explicitly and our secondary aim that wherever possible draw off of midrash, exegesis and extrabiblical texts to try and pull, because we had to create a world — but also we were taking advantage of the centuries of thinking that has gone into the story by others and bring that stuff in because it makes everything richer.
Much more on Noah here and links.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Random thoughts on the Noah movie

I SAW NOAH THIS WEEKEND. The film more or less met my expectations, which were not high, but it certainly did not exceed them. The CGI was good, of course. Thank you Titanic, Lord of the Rings, and Transformers.

Below are a few random thoughts, most of which I have not seen elsewhere, although I don't doubt that some of them have already appeared in other reviews that I haven't seen. There are some spoilers, so don't keep reading if that matters to you.

• It was a forgettable, shamelessly emotionally manipulative movie which said more about our society (indeed this decade of our society) than anything about the Bible.

• In its favor, it grasped and expressed the full psychotic horror of the Flood story which is only implicit in the biblical narrative.

• Earlier I expressed reservations about the movie functioning as midrash. But in favor of that view, it did make ample use of the midrashic technique of transferring biblical motifs from one story to fill out another one. Notably we have the theme of the barren matriach Ila (cf. Sarah, Rebekah, etc.) made fertile by divine dispensation; the blessing by the aged patriarch Methuselah (cf. Isaac and his sons etc.); and of course, the-binding of-Isaac theme applied to Noah and his granddaughters.

• The oddest departure from the biblical narrative was the matter of the wives of the sons of Noah. Genesis has God telling Noah to bring the sons' wives aboard (6:18) and reports that he did so (7:13). The movie makes up the story of Ila, which is fair enough in that none of the wives is named in Genesis. But then no other wives come aboard and we are left to believe that Ham and Japheth will eventually marry their nieces. Presumably all this was to inject some romance and drama into the story, but I still thought it was weird.

• Incidentally, the name "Naameh" for Noah's wife comes from the name of Tubal-Cain's sister ("Naamah") in Genesis 4:22, who was identified with Noah's wife in Rabbinic midrash.

• The story of the sons of God and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4) was picked up in two different ways in the movie. The Enochic myth of the descent of the Watchers was brought in (where the sons of God are angels), but otherwise the narrative stuck to the Rabbinic and Patristic tradition that the sons of God were the godly line of Seth and the daughters of men were the corrupt line of Cain. The whole episode of the mating of the Watchers with mortal women and the resulting birth of the Nephilim or giants was left out entirely, perhaps to preserve that 12A rating.

• The idea of the Promethean descent of the Watchers to share their knowledge with humanity comes from Jubilees 4:15. The fallen Watchers are eternally damned, not forgiven, in all ancient versions of their story.

• What did Noah and his family eat if they lived in a blasted volcanic landscape with no crops and no eating of animals? Lichen?

• What did that snakeskin heirloom do besides glow?

• Why didn't anybody ever ask what an "Ark" was?

• Why were there only white people before the Flood?

• Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?

• Why didn't someone kill Noah in his sleep during those nine months in the Ark?

• How many extinct species did Tubal-Cain eat during those same nine months? Is that what happened to the unicorns and the saber-toothed cats?

• Speaking of animals and the Ark, what about the dinosaurs?

• The message of the movie seems to be that a feeling of love (or not) should decide the most consequential of moral issues. It's creepy that a lot of people seem to think that's okay.

• I really, really hope that they don't make a sequel.

• Ham comes back in sixteen years and marries Miley Cyrus ...

More reviews of and commentary on Noah are here and links.

Juditha Triumphans

APOCRYPHA WATCH: Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans was performed last week by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Northern California to pretty positive reviews:

Juditha Triumphans a Triumph (Ashley Webb, Stark Insider): "It’s hard to imagine a time when the Philharmonia Baroque ever sounded better."

Philharmonia Baroque review: Uneven but strong 'Juditha' (Joshua Kosman, SFGate): "But it's not until the second half that Vivaldi pulls out all the stops."