A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

Davila (St. Andrews) Reviews Facts on the Ground by Nadia El Haj (Barnard)

Jim Davila of U. St. Andrews–owner of among the most important biblioblogs in existence–has written a review of Nadia El Haj’s book Facts on the Ground:  a book whose content has threatened her elevation to tenure at Barnard College.  As to whether she should be denied tenure I withhold judgment–I’ve not read the book and it’s not my place to say. But read Davila’s review–this paragraph I think encapsulates it well: 

To conclude, Facts on the Ground makes some interesting observations about how nationalism and politics have fed into and fed off of Israeli archaeology. But these observations are offered in the context of an extreme perception of Israel as a colonial state, and I suspect that, whatever readers think of this viewpoint, the book’s tendenz is so transparent that no one’s mind will be changed one way or another by reading it. When it talks about things I know about, it consistently slants the presentation of the evidence according to this tendenz so that the conclusions are predictable and not very interesting. This book makes no contribution to the archaeology of ancient Palestine or what it can tell us about the history of ancient Israel. Others can decide whether the book makes a contribution in some other area.


September 28, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I saw it


My wife and I finally went on a day-long date last week, which culminated in watching the Transformers in IMAX.  The IMAX part wasn’t intentional–we thought we were going to the regular theater–and ordinarily I wouldn’t have chosen it if I had the option.  The screen is too big and it gives me a headache and the pictures are often pretty fuzzy.  But I’m glad I did with this one–it really enhanced the experience.  I felt like I was there. 

The movie shattered my expectations.  It was awesome.  It’s probably the only movie I’ve seen in the past 5 years I’d actually pay to see again.  Apart from the fact that watching it was like living a boyhood fantasy, the plot, characters, cinematography, and everything were put together exquisitely.  After thinking about it for a week, I have a few other reflections too:

1) It was essential that the guy who played Optimus Prime in the cartoon do this one as well.  If it were another voice, I think I and many others would have cried foul.  Smart decision on Bay’s part. 

2) The only thing I didn’t like about Optimus Prime was that he went into too many quasi-moral grandfatherly reflections on the world.  It got a little old. 

3) Megatron was probably a little too “big.”  He was gigantic.  Not so in the cartoon.  He shouldn’t have been able to just rip Jazz in half.  But I was pleased that he was an even match for Prime.  Megatron’s lines in the movie were great though.  Whoever wrote that character deserves some kind of award. 

4) I think it’s a mistake that Megatron died and the Allspark was destroyed in this movie.  The cartoons would have left many possibly sequels that folks like me probably would’ve watched.  Two come to mind:  those construction bots and the dinobots are still out there.  Granted, if they couldn’t be credibly integrated into the Transformers’ cinema-world, then it could be bad.  People would say that they should’ve stopped with the first movie.  But if they could, it would be pretty cool.  But you can’t do it with Megatron dead and no Allspark.  And you can’t resurrect him.  Wouldn’t make sense. 

5) The last point notwithstanding, if they were going to only make one Transformers movie, they did a phenomenal job. 

I think I’ll probably buy it–I’m not sure my childhood can be complete without it.  I’m sure, if I have kids someday, they’ll think I’m an idiot. 

September 28, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The New OCTs


In classics departments, when you study Greek and Latin literature, ordinarily you do it from one text and one text only:  the Oxford Classical Texts (OCT), or “Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis.”  Sometimes we use Teubners, a German equivalent, but what that means is that you’re instructed to stay away from Loebs because they can reinforce bad translation (though sometimes I still use them).

One of the neatest things about the old OCTs is that all the introductions were written in Latin. Not English, German, or French.  Latin.  Which means you need to already know Latin in order to even begin to access the texts.  I always thought that was pretty cool–kinda made be feel a bit “elite,” like I’d finally “arrived,” even if my Latin is only a few notches above infantile.  I also like that it was “traditional.” 

However, I bought a recently published edition of Plato’s Opera, and much to my dismay I learned that they started doing the intros in English.  Eh.  I felt cheapened.  A bit disgusted.  I guess I felt that way because there is a general trend among scholars toward lowering the standard of linguistic knowledge, and that really bothers me.  Personally, I’d rather squirm through the Latin than have English there.  There’s something really cool about that. 

September 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Everything You’ve Ever Learned about the Dead Sea Scrolls is Wrong

…or so says Neil Altman, who has yet again managed to persuade (bribe?) a newspaper to publish another article revising both scholarly consensus and the data. 

According to the editor’s note: 

While [Altman’s] conclusions are not accepted by everyone in the field, they bring up compelling questions surrounding some of the most famed group of documents in human history.

This is only slightly generous:  Last I checked nobody agreed with Altman.  Why? 

“Now, there is accumulating and compelling evidence that undermines everything we originally thought about the scrolls – including an explosive finding in China that suggests these historic texts date from medieval times.”

Part of that evidence is a new scroll, the Moshe Leah Scroll. Leo Gabow, the late president of the Sino-Judaic Institute in California, recalled in his institute’s journal: “In July of 1983, a curious article appeared in the Israeli newspaper Maariv. … ‘A Jew Looking for Correspondents.’ His name is Moshe Leah. He is 35 years old. … He lives in Taiwan.”

The key to the string of revelations was the Moshe Leah Scroll. Its mere existence suggested that the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls was wrong. Unless the Moshe Leah Scroll was a well-done forgery. Its authenticity was investigated in the 1980s, but further details were apparently stowed  away. It was not until March of last year that the Sino-Judaic Institute found and revealed documentation of the investigation and correspondence. As others had found, the research showed parallels.  Continued From Page 8 between the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Moshe Leah Scroll and other texts. As one document significantly states, “at least four paleographers have independently identified the calligraphy in the available passages (of the Moshe Leah Scroll) as closely akin to that of the Dead Sea Scroll era.”

The research also indicated that the scribe of the Moshe Leah Scroll was interested only in the prophetic passages of Isaiah and omitted the “prose” and “chronological” verses. According to the reports, those verses were intentionally “left out by design” by the scribe.  On the same token, the Isaiah scroll in the Moshe Leah contains Aramaic words that are lacking in the Qumran Isaiah Scroll. On the other hand, the Qumran Isaiah Scroll contains Western numbers and Tiberian Masoretic vowels (both of which started somewhere between 10th and 12th century A.D.) that are lacking in the Moshe Leah Scroll.

What did it mean? The Moshe Leah could very well predate the Dead Sea Scrolls. No ordinary forger (and certainly not Moshe Leah, who didn’t even know Hebrew, according to Pollak) could have so expertly lifted out such specific passages and elements from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scroll wasn’t a fake.

Wow–the level of misunderstanding is astounding.  I can’t imaging why scholars might disagree.  My guess is that this guy’s ever seen the Qumran Isaiah Scroll before and doesn’t read Hebrew. 

Major HT to Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica.

September 22, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Funniest Line in Greek Literature

…or it’s pretty close.  I learned it in my Greek Prose Composition course, which is one of those courses that *could* be as boring as…the most boring thing you can think of, but our prof. makes a strong (and successful) effort to keep the course interesting.  


πρωκτος και χρυσος την αυτην ψηφον εχουσιν.

ψηφιζων δ’ αφελως τουτο ποθ’ ευρον εγω.  

“[The words] ‘asshole’ and ‘gold’ have the same numerical value.  

This I discovered effortlessly while counting“


You can guess why he knows this and why this unobvious conclusion was “effortless” (use your imagination).  What makes it even better is that it’s written in metrical verse—it’s a poem.  These are the kinds of things that make reading hundreds of lines of Horace worth being a classicist 🙂

You’re probably wondering how in the world this line came up in a Greek Comp class.  The answer is we were discussing numbers in Greek; it turns out if you add up the numbers represented by the words “proktos” and “churos” they’re equivalent. 

September 19, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sunday Sept 30: "Rome in Extremis: Outsiders and Incendiaries in the Greco-Roman World"




For any of those local to New York City, Columbia University’s Classics and History departments are hosting an interdisciplinary graduate student conference on the concept and expression of periphery in the ancient world.  Prof. Susanna Elm of U.C. Berkeley is our keynote speaker.  Please come to whatever you can (you need not be present for the whole thing)! 



8:30 a.m.

9-10:20 a.m.
Simon Ford (Oxford): “Quiet Riot, Imperial Responses to the ‘Religious’ Riots following the Council of Chalcedon”
Stephanie Bolz (Michigan): “The Christianization of Magic in the Legal Discourse of the Theodosian Code”

10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Joshua Ezra Burns (Yale): “Jewish Ethnicity, Christian Belief, and the Negotiation of Roman Civic Identity in the Provincial Near East”
Jenny Labendz (JTS): “Aquila and Bible Translation Among Jews and Christians”
Adam Gregerman (Columbia): “The Polemical Construction of the Jews as Outsiders in Early Christian Interpretations of the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple”

1:30-2:50 p.m.
Gus Grissom (U. Maryland): “Romanitas on the Red Sea: How a Legion ‘Romanized’ Ancient Ayla”
Justin Dombrowski (Columbia): “Were Rabbis Behind the Babatha’s Date-Crop Sale? A Re-examination in Light of Papyrological Data”

3-4:20 p.m.
Elizabeth Greene (UNC): “Between Romans and Barbarians” Representations of Auxiliary Soldiers in Rome”
Loren Spielman (JTS): “Playing Roman: Jewish Identity and Roman Games in Herodian Jerusalem”

Susanna Elm (UC Berkeley): Keynote Address

September 7, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

"Justified in Christ," K. Scott Oliphint ed.


Many Westminster Theological Seminary graduates are receiving this book in the mail; I received mine a couple weeks ago, and probably against my better judgment started reading it.  It’s an edited volume with contributions from some of the seminary’s current faculty (excluding the current Biblical Studies department).  Sending it seems to have 2 purposes: (1) show you how Westminster bridges the past with the present by engaging a difficult (though rather passe) subject; (2) reaffirm the seminary’s commitment to “the historic reformed teaching on justification” (or rather, how it interprets it).

In my opinion, it falls short of either of these.  The intention of the book “#1” is given in Sinclair Ferguson’s introduction, the target being primarily pastoral and theological concerns arisen from the not-so-New Perspective on Paul and “Federal Vision,” two movements perceived as a threat in certain protestant circles.  However IMO only 2 of the articles arguably deal with related topics:  Jeff Jue’s on whether the Westminster Divines believed both Christ’s whole-life obedience (=”active obedience”) and his death on the cross (=”passive obedience”) availed for the sinner’s justification, or just the latter; and Lane Tipton’s which is an attempt present a more distinctive Westminsterian perspective on justification over against alleged views of NT Wright.  Jue’s essay is good in its own right, though the topic is not very relevant to current Pauline debates, particularly since it doesn’t engage in the exegesis; Tipton’s topic is more relevant, though it contains numerous inaccuracies, many of which have been made by others before.  The more “practical” essays by Bill Edgar and Stafford Carson are also pretty good in their own right in taking historic insights and applying them to the present circumstances, though those circumstances are not all that contemporary.  The strangest aspect of this book is that it includes a full reproduction of John Murray’s Imputation of Adam’s Sin appended as the last 100pgs(!!) of this 300-pg book.   

It fails on #2 for one reason:  half the faculty are not represented (Biblical Studies).  There have been plenty of rumors of intra-seminary strife circulating among graduates for years now, yet the seminary has continued to avoid confronting them directly.  This certainly seems to substantiate the rumors.  Of course, privacy is good to an extent, but it looks suspicious if it continues when everyone else already knows something’s up; it makes it look like one’s hiding something one doesn’t want others to know.  Moreover, given that (a) Westminster has had a history of collaborative faculty volumes (Innerrancy and Hermeneutic, etc.) and that (b) the seminary president Peter Lilback contributed signals something fishy.  I might recommend that if any graduates or donors have serious questions about the current trajectory of the faculty, make them known and don’t back down until you’re satisfied with the answers received.  In the past the seminary has stiff-armed inquiry about internal affairs, and that’s certainly fair to a point, but it’s unethical to tell us to check our consciences at the door while being told to send it our money and our students.  Personally, I don’t care if there’s some disagreement among them.  Issues like these which do cut against some traditionally held views of protestants are going to evoke disagreements, and given that the npp particularly is ~30 yrs running, they shouldn’t expect to resolve the issues in, say, 1-2 years of even the most heated debate–that’s ludicrous. Charitable disagreement is healthy and a normal part of a healthy academic environment–including an evangelical one–; strife and secrecy are signs of a degenerative one. 

Finally, I mist say that reading the book was also a deja vu experience.  There are many goals Ferguson set for this book on which it simply didn’t deliver.  It reminded me a lot of Don Carson’s intro and conclusion to Justification and Variegated Nomism vol 1. 

September 5, 2007 Posted by | Theology | 2 Comments