Who Was Gedaliah and Why Remember His Murder after 2500 Years?

Ross Nichols has a fascinating article on Gedaliah–a biblical figure whose name would register with very few people today outside of observant Jewish circles. Today marks one of the four “minor” fast days of Judaism, called “the fast of Gedaliah,” commemorating the murder of Gedaliah in the days of Jeremiah following the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in the 6th century BCE. These four fast days (sunrise to sunset) are all associated with the disasters before, during, and after the great Destruction, and they are alluded to in Zechariah 8:18-19. What is particularly fascinating about Gedaliah, which Ross explores in his article, is the connection between him and his family (especially his father and grandfather) with Jeremiah and his priestly family–reaching back to the days of King Josiah when the “book of the Torah” was discovered. Nice Sunday afternoon reading…here is the link to Ross’s article.

Destroying Jerusalem

Rosh Hashanah: The Day of the Blast

Ever since I first began studying Judaism seriously as a young man, I have felt that there is something not quite right about Rosh Hashanah. In particular, there seems to be a complete disconnect between the holiday described in the Torah and the holiday as understood by most Jews. I had been taught that Rosh Hashanah was the Jewish New Year, the anniversary of the creation of the world, and a day of judgment. But the Torah itself mentions none of those three reasons for celebrating the holiday—and does not even call it Rosh Hashanah. Still more perplexing, in contrast to the other seasonal holidays on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah seems to commemorate no important moment in the national history of the Jewish people. Rabbi Nathan Laufer

Today on the Jewish calendar is the holiday called Rosh Hashanah–literally “the head of the year.” Jews wish one another “a sweet, peaceful, and prosperous” New Year and even the non-Jewish world has caught onto the day as the “Jewish New Year.”

ShofarWeb.jpg

In contrast Christians (and thus our “secular culture”) begin the New Year in the dead of winter–as the long dark winter days finally grow longer (marked by December 21st and the Winter Solstice). Ancient Hebrews, as reflected in Exodus 12:1-2, reflecting the ancient Babylonian practice, began the year in the Spring (March/April), which was the “turning of the year,” with the arrival of new life in the Spring (marked by March 20th and the Vernal Equinox). Of course these seasons only make sense in the Northern Hemisphere.

So what is the meaning of Rosh Hashanah? Rabbi Nathan Laufer has a very perceptive piece on the subject titled “Remembrance of Trumpets Past,” in Mosaic on-line magazine, exploring its potential meaning in our oldest texts of the Torah, where this day is called both the “day of the blast,” most likely referring to the sound of the Shofar or ram’s horn, as well as a “a day of remembrance”–but the question is–remembering what? You can read his complete in-depth treatment here. I highly recommend it. It is the most intelligent piece I think I have ever come across on Rosh Hashanah. 

Tisha b’Av/The Ninth Day of the 5th Month: Its Meaning in History and Tradition

As sunset falls on this eighth day of the 5th lunar month, known in Judaism as the month of Av, Tisha b’Av–that is, the 9th of Av–is marked on the calendar. Last Sabbath (August 2nd or 6th of Av) began the reading of Deuteronomy and is called Shabbat Chazon, which means the “Sabbath of Vision,” taken from the first word (חזון) of Isaiah 1:1-27, which is the reading from the Prophets for this day. These opening words of Isaiah set the tone for remembering Israel’s sinfulness that brought about the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem.

Tisha b’Av is mentioned in Zechariah 7:3 and 8:19, as the “fast of the fifth month.” It is a 24 hour fast observed first and foremost to commemorate the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively–first by the Babylonians, the subsequently by the Romans. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who records the history of the latter, and lived through it, makes the connection between the strange coincidence of the Temple going up in flames on the same fateful day on the Jewish calendar (Wars, 6:249–50). ((The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. on the 10th of Av, according to Jeremiah 3:12, whereas in the corresponding record in II Kings 25:8–9, the date is given as the 7th of Av. The Tosefta Ta’anit 4:10 (also Ta’an. 29a) explains this discrepancy by stating that the destruction of the outer walls and of the courtyard started on the 7th of Av while the whole edifice was destroyed on the 10th of Av. R. Johanan declared that he would have fixed the fast on the 10th of Av because it was on that day that the greater part of the calamity happened. The rabbis however decided that it is more fitting to commemorate the “beginning of the calamity.” The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., on the 10th of Av, according to the historian Josephus (Wars, 6:249–50). This day is still observed as a day of mourning by the Karaites. The Talmud (Ta’an. 29a), however, gives the date as the 9th of Av, which became accepted as the anniversary of both destructions. The Jewish Virtual Library)) Those twin destructions marked the day as a time of sorrow and mourning forever after, marked by solemness and fasting without food or drink for 24 hours. The customs associated with Shiva, the Jewish mourning for the death of a close relative are followed, and the book of Lamentations is read in a special mournful chant. Ironically, according to some rabbinic tradition, the Messiah either was or will be born on Tisha b’Av, as a way of affirming that Light comes in the midst of the deepest Darkness and Despair. Those who take this literally, that he has already been born, believe he is hidden away waiting for the time of redemption (y. Berachot 2:4; Eichah Rabbah 1:51). Over the centuries this day has grown large in both history, legend, and tradition, remembered as a dark day of dire news and impending disaster. What follows below is a summary of some of that tradition, compiled by Yoram Etinger and based on many sources:

The Roman Destruction of Jerusalem by David Roberts

1. The 9th Day of (the 11th Jewish month) Av is the most calamitous day in Jewish history. Fasting on that day commemorates national catastrophes, in an attempt to benefit from history by learning from critical moral and strategic missteps, thus preventing future catastrophes. It was first mentioned in the book of Zechariah 7:3.

2.  The Passover holiday of liberty and the fast of the 9th Day of Av are commemorated on the same weekday.  The fast of the 9th day of Av is succeeded by the 15th day of Av – a holiday of love and rapprochement. The 9th Day of Av is treated simultaneously as a day of lamentation and holiday, thus highlighting a cardinal lesson: In order to fortify liberty and advance deliverance, one must commemorate calamities, avoid wishful-thinking and be mentally and physically prepared to face crises, and never lose optimism.  A day of destruction/oblivion is the first day of the path toward construction/deliverance. A problem is an opportunity in disguise. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4), the Messiah is destined to be born on Tisha Be’Av.

3.  Major Jewish calamities occurred on the 9th Day of Av (Tisha B’Av in Hebrew):

*The failed “Ten Spies/tribal presidents” (VS. Joshua & Caleb) –slandered the Land of Israel, preferring immediate convenience and conventional “wisdom” over faith and long term vision, thus prolonging the wandering in the desert for 40 years.

*The destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586BC) produced a massacre of 100,000 and a national exile.

*The destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by Titus of Rome (70CE) was accompanied by a massacre of 1MN and a national exile.

*Bar Kochba (Great) Rebellion was crashed (135CE) with the fall of Beitar (in Judea & Samaria) and the plowing of Jerusalem by Quintus Tinius Rofus, the Roman Governor – 580,000 killed.

*First Crusade Pogroms (1096) – scores of thousands slaughtered.

*Jewish expulsion from Britain (1290).

*Jewish expulsion from Spain (1492).

*WW1 erupted (1914).

*The beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka extermination camp.

4.  The centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history is commemorated on the 9th day of Av.  It is highlighted by Psalm 137:5 – “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” According to the constructive/optimist spirit of Tisha’ Be’Av: “He who laments the destruction of Jerusalem will be privileged to witness its renewal” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30).

5.  The Book of the five Lamentations (The Scroll of Eikhah which was composed by Jeremiah the Prophet, who prophesized destruction, exile and deliverance) is read during the first nine days of Av. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Eikhah (איכה) is 36, which is equal to the traditional number of righteous Jewish persons. The Hebrew meaning of Eikhah could be construed as a reproaching “How Come?!”, as well as “Where are you?”  or “Why have you strayed away?”  The term Eikhah stars in the first chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Isaiah, which are annually studied in conjunction with the book of Lamentations on the 9th day of Av. Thus the 9th day of Av binds together the values of Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah and three critical periods in the history of the Jewish People: deliverance, destruction, renewal.

6.  The 9th Day of Av concludes a series of three Torah readings of Jewish calamities (two by Jeremiah and one by Isaiah), and launches a series of seven Torah readings of consolations, renewal and ingathering (by Isaiah).

7.  Napoleon was walking at night in the streets of Paris, hearing sad voices emanating from a synagogue.  When told that the wailing/lamenting commemorated a 586BC catastrophe – the destruction of the First Temple – he stated: “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future!”

8.  The commemoration of the 9th day of Av constitutes a critical feature of Judaism. It strengthens faith, roots, identity, moral clarity, cohesion and optimism by learning from past errors and immunizing oneself against the lethal disease of forgetfulness. Memory is Deliverance; forgetfulness is oblivion. The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer tradition to the younger generation, thus enhancing realism and avoiding the curse of euphoric or fatalistic mood.

9.  The custom of house-cleaning on the 9th day of Av aims at welcoming deliverance. Fasting expresses the recognition of one’s limitations and fallibility and the constant pursuit of moral enhancement and humility.

10.  The 9th Day of Av is the central of the Four Jewish Days of Fast, commemorating the destruction of the First Temple:  the10th Day of Tevet (the onset of the siege that Nebuchadnezzar laid to Jerusalem), the 17th day of Tamuz (the walls of Jerusalem were breached), the 9th day of Av (destruction of both Temples) and the 3rd day of Tishrey (The murder of Governor Gedalyah, who maintained a level of post-destruction Jewish autonomy, which led to a murder rampage by the Babylonians and to exile).

11.  The 9thDay of Av culminates the Three Weeks of Predicament (ימי בין המצרים), starting on the 17th day of the month of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (1st Temple) and by Titus (2nd Temple).

12.  The month of Av launches the transformation from Curse to Blessing.  The Hebrew spelling of Av (אב) consists of the first two letters of the Hebrew alpha-Beth.  These letters constitute the Hebrew word for “bud” and they are the first two letters of the Hebrew word for “spring” (אביב , which means the father of twelve month).  The first letter, א, stands for ארור (cursed) and the second letter, ,ב stands for ברוך (blessed). The Hebrew letters of Av constitute the letters of Father (אב) and the first two letters of אבל (mourning).  The numerical value of Av (Aleph=1 and Bet=2), which is three, the combination of the basic even and odd numbers (King Solomon: “A triangular string/knot cannot be broken”). The zodiac sign of Av is a lion, which represents the Lion of Judah, rising in the aftermath of destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar, whose symbol was the lion. Moses’ brother, Aharon – the embodiment of human kindness – died on the 1st day of Av.

Jehoash Tablet Returned to its Owner–To Go on Display

An inscribed stone that may be the only remnant of Solomon’s Temple has been returned to its owner after an 11-year legal battle waged by the Israeli government. The Jehoash Tablet, also known as the “Bedek Habayit” inscription, is back in the hands of Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan, who plans to put it on public display in a major museum. Golan finally retrieved the tablet and hundreds of other items more than two years after he was acquitted of forging priceless antiquities in a seven-year criminal trial and nearly a year after the High Court finally rejected a last-ditch appeal by Israel’s state attorney and the Israel Antiquities Authority.Jehoash Tablet

As ever Matthew Kalman does a great job of covering things in this breaking report on the final outcome of the Jehoash tablet lawsuit, see his piece in HaAretz here. I look forward to the day that both this and the James ossuary can be viewed by anyone.

The best archive of materials on this and the James ossuary, both for and against the case for authenticity, is here at Bible&Interpretion and the best coverage of the trials is by Matthew Kalman, see his web site here.

What I find interesting among both colleagues and general readers alike is the tendency to state dogmatic conclusions charging forgery, and greed without reading the full evidence on both sides. Oded’s reputation has been slandered by the forgery charges and it remains the case, despite charges to the contrary, that he has never sold a piece of art or an artifact from his antiquities collection. Anyone charged with a crime or misdeed is entitled to speak but by far the majority of those expressing views have not even bothered to read what Oded has written.  I recommend this overview where Oded provides a very factual and fair of the entire affair from start to finish: http://bibleinterp.com/articles/authjam358012.shtml.

Simcha Jacobovici Featured at 71st Anniversary Meeting of United Israel

The 71st Annual Meeting of United Israel will be held over the weekend of April 25-27, 2014 in Charlotte, NC at the Doubletree Suites Hotel in South Park. The program will run from 5pm on Friday, April 25th through 5pm Sunday, April 27th. Simcha Jacobovici is our featured speaker this year. He will do a screening of his influential film, “Falasha: Exile of the Black Jews,” as well as speak on the topic of “The Archaeology of the Biblical Exodus.” Our complete program, speakers, and topics are below.

Although you can register at the door we encourage you to register on-line here.

The modest registration fee of $20 per person/$30 for couple or family, can be paid when one registers or at the event. When you fill out the registration form you will be given the choice to pay now or later.

UI 71th Program 2014

 

My Bible-Buying Days are Over–The Best Bible on the Market

From the lovely, elegant, and scholarly 1985 JPS translation, to the unparalleled Oxford maps, the extensive scholarly, well-balanced notes (including academic as well as rabbinic perspectives), the s, tables, and charts in the back, with additional maps and charts splashed on the pages throughout, printed on high quality “Bible” paper and with attractive single column layout. This Bible is it!

I could not count the many editions of the Bible I have owned since age 17 when my parents gave me a fine Oxford Leather-bound copy of the King James Version with those wonderful maps. I still have that Bible. Since then I have bought many many more–too many to count. I am not just talking about buying Bibles in order to have all the major translations–that I have done as well. I am thinking here of personal study Bibles–that I purchased because I wanted to finally settle on a single edition and make it my own–for personal study and meditation. I have seldom stayed with one more than a year or two, until another would catch my fancy, or I would change my mind about how to mark the one I was using and begin over again. The joke in our household if any package arrives with my name on it is, “Dad has probably bought another Bible”–and this time he “swears” that this is the one. I will actually admit to “sneaking” new Bibles into the house knowing no one would notice the difference since I have had so many over the years.

Up until about 1986 the Bibles I bought were usually Christian ones–with the New Testament and often as not the Apocrypha. One of my favorites is the older Oxford RSV with Apocrypha–leather bound of course. I used that one for years and I have several hardcover editions of the same that I have worn out in 30 years of teaching. Since around 1986 I have owned just about every “Jewish Bible” on the market–from the old JPS (1917), various editions of the Koren Jerusalem Bible in several editions, the new JPS (1985), the Stone Tanakh, to numerous editions of the Torah and other portions of the Hebrew Bible whether by Kaplan, Fox, Alter, or Friedman.

JPS Study BibleWhat I wanted to report here is that I have finally, at long last, found the ultimate English edition of the Hebrew Bible–the leather-bound Jewish Study Bible (JPS Tanakh) published by Oxford University Press. I am taking a stand here–this will be my last personal Bible–that is how pleased I am with it. From the lovely, elegant, and scholarly 1985 JPS translation, to the unparalleled Oxford maps, the extensive scholarly, well-balanced notes (including academic as well as rabbinic perspectives), the s, tables, and charts in the back, with additional maps and charts splashed on the pages throughout, printed on high quality “Bible” paper and with attractive single column layout. There is simply nothing like it–and it comes in a leather edition that is published, ironically, by Christian Book Distributors–not Oxford or JPS directly. Apparently there is enough interest in the Hebrew Bible and a Jewish translation among DBD customers who are of course overwhelmingly Christian. The retail price is $79.99 but it is on sale in a lovely boxed edition for around $30.00. I also want to give credit to my friend and colleague Ross Nichols who first put me on to both this Bible and the CBD edition at this amazing price.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 5.44.26 PMI know my family, friends, and others who know me will scoff–but I am taking an official stand here–my Bible buying days are over. I can’t imagine a personal study Bible that could ever meet or surpass this one. If you want a Christian Bible there are many choices, both translation and study editions–but for the O.T. (i.e., The Original Testament)–this is it–and it is hard to believe the price. I have to admit–when I ordered a copy I was skeptical that it would turn out to be some kind of “cheap” knock-off edition but it is fully up to Oxford quality. You can “look” inside the hardcover edition on Amazon if you want to browse a bit before buying but I am certain you will not be disappointed if you are looking for an academic study Bible that will stand the test of time.

Bashers of the Noah Film Should Re-Read Their Bibles

Spoiler Alert: This review of the Darren Aronofsky film “Noah” reveals plot details and analysis you may not want to know beforehand if you plan on seeing the film.

Darren Aronofsky’s new $100m blockbuster film “Noah” opened on Friday in 3936 theaters to a huge wave of media attention. Google News lists over 1400 stories on the film this morning and IMDB lists 2217 articles–many of them evaluating its merits or assessing the public reaction. Mainstream reviews are mostly solidly positive (Rotten Tomatoes 73, Metacritic 68) but the film is being blasted, damned, and condemned in many conservative Christian circles. So far it has been banned in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, as well as Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE–but here in the U.S. those objecting most strongly to the film are Christians who find its portrayal of the Noah story “unfaithful” to the Bible.

noah-film-700x464Ken Ham, the self-styled “Creationist” of recent fame for his disastrous debate with Bill Nye on “Evolution,” tells TIME magazine that the film is an insult to Christians, with “barely a hint of biblical fidelity,” and thus “unbiblical” and “pagan.” Glenn Beck, labels the film a “100 million dollar disaster,” objecting, among other things, that it is “pro-animal” and “anti-human.” Erick Erikson, on his “Redstate” blog, concludes his scorching review with the suggestion that “we might should consider burning at the stake any Christian leader who endorses this movie.” His Tweet was picked up by MSNBC and other TV media last night and has now gone viral. Brian Godawa calls the film “Godawful” in the Christian Post, referring to “the sick twisted agenda that seeps through every frame of this movie.”

None of these Christian critics explain why this ancient story, written by Jews, and part of the Hebrew Bible, should fall under Christian purview or guardianship in terms of its interpretation. But that aside, these two Jewish guys, Aronofsky and his former Harvard roommate and writing partner, Ari Handel, in aiming for what they call the “least biblical” of Bible themed films, have ended up in my view producing a film that profoundly reflects biblical themes that have been lost in most common readings of the Noah story in Genesis 6-9. I find myself in agreement with Christopher Orr’s most perceptive review in The Atlantic,

But despite its flamboyant, and at times goofy, fantasy trappings, Noah is firmly anchored by the fierce moral intensity of Aronofsky’s vision, which is, if anything, more Old Testament than the Old Testament itself.

What I want to do here is to touch on just a few of the most common Christian objections that I reference above.

The Film Never Mentions God
I have heard this objection repeatedly this weekend, particularly on FOX news and Talk Radio outlets, and it is blatantly false and ridiculous. The very word translated “God” in Genesis is not a name but a generic reference that might be translated as “The Powers” (Elohim). One can only imagine the uproar had Aronofsky chosen to call the Creator “The Powers”–which would have been quite biblical. In the Noah film this nameless One is constantly referred to as “the Creator,” but used in a very personal way by all the characters in the film–good and bad. According to Exodus 6:3 God did not make Himself known by His personal name Yahweh (YHVH) or “the LORD” until the time of Moses. The references to God as “the LORD” in Genesis 6-9 in the Flood story are accordingly anachronistic—so it turns out, ironically, that Aronofsky’s designation of God as “the Creator,” is more biblical than his critics have imagined.

The Film is Pro-Animal and Promotes Vegetarianism and Environmentalism
Here I would have to say “guilty as charged”–and thus thoroughly biblical.  What few realize is that according to the Bible humans before the Flood were never given permission to hunt, shed blood, or eat the flesh of living creatures. In Genesis 1:29 God says “I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; they shall be yours for good.” It is only after the flood, that permission to “shed blood” and eat meat is given to humans, though it is stipulated that God will hold humans accountable even for the blood of an animal. According to the Rabbis, this means that the life of an animal must be taken without cruelty and with reverence (Genesis 9:3).

Aronofsky portrays the righteous descendants of Seth–through Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah, preserving this “peaceable kingdom” of non-violence and harmony with nature, whereas the murderous descendants of Cain had filled the earth with violence  and “corrupted its ways upon the earth.” God’s decision is to destroy humankind “along with the earth” they have corrupted (Genesis 6:12-13). The barren wasteland, and specifically the abandoned strip-mining scene, is a testimony to what humans have made of the “good Earth” that was the original Creator’s handiwork.

Noah’s family represents the last remnant of hope for humankind’s peaceable ideal in which violence toward humans or beasts is quelled and warfare ceases. This is the vision of Isaiah the prophet for the ideal human future–swords beaten into plowshares and the wolf lying with the lamb with none hurting or destroying. In fact Isaiah pictures a time when “slaying an ox” will be considered as weighty a matter as killing a human being (Isaiah 65:25-66:3).

The Film Devalues Humans
Again, I have to say, “guilty as charged”—and thus thoroughly biblical. There could be no stronger expression of the “devaluing” of humans than we find in the Bible in the time of Noah. The Creator says that He regrets that he has created the human species and that it grieves Him to his heart. The entire species is characterized as hopelessly “wicked” with every thought of the heart only evil continually (Genesis 6:5-7). It is an open question then–as Aronofsky so profoundly portrays in the film–as to whether humankind should continue. This is not a Christian text, with presuppositions about God so loving the world and sending his Son to die for sinners–with infinite love for every wicked person and their eternal salvation. That simply is not the biblical story here in Genesis 6. The issue is whether the Creation itself has been so marred and destroyed by human behavior that it is best wiped away as a failed attempt by God to create creatures in His image–who nonetheless have free will and the “knowledge of good and evil.” The Flood story touches upon the essential existential issue of our own time—our “human all-too-human” role on a planet upon which our dominant place as moral beings with choice is continually being weighed in the balance.

Noah and his family are to be spared–since they have not gone the “way of Cain,” but Noah himself, in the film, wrestles with the central dilemma of the text–should the human race be spared at all? The key point in the film, which I will not explicitly give away, is when Noah sees an evil “Serpent” reflection of himself on one of the Tubal-Cain character’s faces—a kind of flashback to the Garden of Eden–and it suddenly dawns on him that we are all of one species. This means that all of us have the potential for horrible evil manifesting itself in our lives, or in the lives of our descendants. His wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, presents the other side of the conundrum–arguing that “we are good, our children are good,” and thus should be spared to inhabit a new world in which peace and righteousness would prevail and create a new world order.

It is not a matter of Noah favoring a flower over the life of the two newborn infants (again I will not elaborate this plot line here)–but wrestling with the moral dilemma–which is the Creator’s Dilemma–of whether or not the race should continue. Not picking even a flower is the very point. This “environmentalism” represents the “good way” of caring for the earth, for its creatures, and for one another and living in peace—in sharp contrast to the way of power and exploitation of the descendants of Cain.

Tubal-Cain, played by Ray Winstone, represents an ultimately opposite perspective. For him what makes a man truly a man is the complete independence from any Creator or any other moral code–forging his individual way in the earth through his power and his choices.  As he says to Noah just before he dies—“I told you the Creator’s miracles mean nothing to me.” Thus when Ham ends up killing him to save his father he tells him–“Now you have become a man,” just because Ham has finally acted autonomously and thus gone “beyond good and evil.”

The Hebrew Bible, unlike the Christian New Testament, explores this theme of the ultimate fate of humankind and the “good earth” in any number of places. In fact, in the closing book of the Prophets, the book of Malach, which ends the Christian Old Testament, we find the sober warning that if humans do not find peace among themselves the Creator will come and “strike the earth with a curse.” The word translated “curse” (Hebrew cherem) here means an “ban of utter destruction.” So even at the end of the Hebrew Prophets humankind is pictured as standing on the brink of judgment with a choice of death or life before them.

The Film Does Not Follow the Bible
In addition to addressing these various controversial points I should add that the film has lots more–with special effects, bizarre phenomenon, and all sorts of creative and artistic embellishments on the rather “bare” story of Genesis 6-9. One must remember, however, that Genesis is not our only account of the Flood. There are other literary sources such as the Gilgamesh Epic and the mysterious books of 1 Enoch and Jubilees–revered by both ancient Jews and early Christians–but not included in the Bible–but found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. There one does read more of the mysterious heavenly “Watchers,” fallen down to earth, who teach humankind all the skills that the descendants of Cain pervert into selfish ends. There is a wonderful and emerging web site that deals broadly with this whole topic, many of the other texts, and a wide range of insightful commentary and discussion–FloodofNoah.com. I highly recommend this site to my readers. And I hope you will all see the Noah film and decide for yourselves about its value and its merits.

 

 

A Mysterious Missing Link in the Ancient Hebraic Alphabet?

I somehow missed this absolutely fascinating contribution to the discussion of the origins of the Western “Alphabet” by Brian E. Colless posted on the ASOR Blog here. The proposal goes way “over my head” and beyond my expertise, but I find the overall proposal simply brilliant and I am wondering what others with expertise in this area might say about this.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThis also caused me to wonder about our inability so far to decipher the inscribed stone cup found at our Mt Zion excavation site in 2009, see Pfann’s preliminary work report here. I realize there are parallels at Qumran in terms of cryptic “Hebrew Hieratic scripts” of the late 2nd Temple period but Colless’s article, so clearly “thinking outside the box,” got me to thinking something akin to that might be at work with our text.

Close-up of the mysterious cryptic Hebrew script on the stone cup

Close-up of the mysterious cryptic Hebrew script on the stone cup

On the Qeiyafa ostracon more generally see the lovely pictures and report here. What is truly amazing is that this precious artifact was found by a 17-year-old volunteer, Oded Yair, who uncovered a large potsherd on the floor of a room. It was placed in a black plastic bucket with all the other finds unearthed that morning in the same room. Those of us who participate in excavations know this happens quite often–what we least expect to find can be right under our noses–or trowels! Such was the case with our inscribed stone vessel.