The gospel of Judas: mistranslated?

Last December you read about the controversy regarding the translation of the gospel of Judas. Were there serious errors in the translation? Here’s more on that story from The Chronicle: The Betrayal of Judas: Did a ‘dream team’ of biblical scholars mislead millions?

When the Gospel of Judas was unveiled at a news conference in April 2006, it made headlines around the world — with nearly all of those articles touting the new and improved Judas. "In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal," read the headline in The New York Times. The British paper The Guardian called it "a radical makeover for one of the worst reputations in history." A documentary that aired a few days later on National Geographic’s cable channel also pushed the Judas-as-hero theme. The premiere attracted four million viewers, making it the second-highest-rated program in the channel’s history, behind only a documentary on September 11.

But almost immediately, other scholars began to take issue with the interpretation of Meyer and the rest of the National Geographic team. They didn’t see a good Judas at all. In fact, this Judas seemed more evil than ever. Those early voices of dissent have since grown into a chorus, some of whom argue that National Geographic’s handling of the project amounts to scholarly malpractice. It’s a perfect example, critics argue, of what can happen when commercial considerations are allowed to ride roughshod over careful research. What’s more, the controversy has strained friendships in this small community of religion scholars — causing some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed. [continue]

A Wojtyla story

I just happened to read an interview with Eamon Duffy at tonight, and loved this bit:

Can you help us bring Wojtyla alive with a story about the future Pope?

…Shortly after he was elected…the Archbishop of Liverpool and a rather gray, austere man who’d been a career cleric…told me at dinner that he was absolutely entranced by the election of Wojtyla. And I said, "Why does he impress you so much?" And he said they had sat together on the proprietary commission for the bishops in the early 1970. And a number of meetings had been in Rome in the winter and the weather was terrible. And…it was rather austere, a meeting of people who didn’t really know each other very well from different countries.

And the key figure was Wojtyla. And he would tramp into the meetings, always just before they started, and on one occasion, he marched in (he walked all the way from wherever it was in Rome he was staying), and his cassock and his feet and his socks were sopping wet, skirted up his sock, took his shoes and socks off, squeezed the water from the socks and hung them on the radiator and he said, "Gentlemen, should we get down to business?" And they were just so entranced by a bishop with balls. You know, a man who was rugged and the energy and the lack of self importance. And so people suddenly felt here was somebody who wasn’t tired, somebody who had vigor who was absolutely sure of himself. He could take his socks off in public.

There’s more to the interview, of course, but that’s the best bit right there.

Jewish leader revives Shanghai synagogue

From Jewish leader revives Shanghai synagogue.

A glass was smashed, and a cheer went up.

After months of careful negotiations with the Chinese government, Shanghai’s Jewish community celebrated a revival last month as a historic synagogue opened for its first wedding in about 60 years.

For decades, the practice of religion was discouraged, and places of worship were torn down or given secular uses, such as storage spaces for grain. But China’s largest city is regaining its cosmopolitan reputation as the country continues its dramatic rise, and the Jewish community of foreigners now numbers more than 2,000.

Maurice Ohana, the president of the current community, still knew, however, it would be hard to get access to the Ohel Rachel synagogue for his daughter’s wedding. Judaism isn’t one of China’s five officially recognized religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism) because of the lack of native Jews, and the community worships quietly, in [continue]

Shroud of Turin’s authenticity probed anew

From Shroud of Turin’s Authenticity Probed Anew.

The Shroud of Turin, the 14- by 4-foot linen believed by some to have been wrapped around Jesus after the crucifixion, might not be a fake after all, according to new research.

The director of one of three laboratories that dismissed the shroud as a medieval artifact 20 years ago has called for the science community to reinvestigate the linen’s authenticity.

"With the radiocarbon measurements and with all of the other evidence which we have about the shroud, there does seem to be a conflict in the interpretation of the different evidence," said Christopher Ramsey, director of England’s Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, which carried out radiocarbon dating tests on the cloth in 1988.

Venerated by many Catholics as proof that Christ was resurrected from the grave, the yellowing cloth is kept rolled up in a silver casket in Turin’s Cathedral.

Scientific interest in the linen, which has survived several blazes since it was discovered, began in 1898, when it was photographed by lawyer Secondo Pia. The negatives revealed the image of a bearded man with pierced wrists and feet and a bloodstained head. [continue]

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If you reject Christianity, don’t join the church

Ah, now this I find refreshing. From the Ottawa Citizen: If you reject Christianity, don’t join the church.

It’s Easter and time for the annual journalistic display of baffled hostility to Christianity. On cue the Roman Catholic archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, pops up with the suggestion that adherents to his church who don’t actually observe its rules should not expect to enjoy all the benefits of membership. A predictable chorus of howls erupted.

The archbishop might be forgiven for wondering why. No one would think themselves entitled to join a chess club but refuse to move bits of plastic around an 8×8 square board. If they insisted on denouncing the game as a colossal waste of time for losers who couldn’t get a date using the Benoni counter-gambit (purely hypothetically, you understand), or showed up and played trumpet instead of chess, club officials would try to reason with them but, if that failed, would insist that they depart. And no one would think it odd. What, then, is so hard to grasp about the Catholic Church being a voluntary organization with rules that are meant to be enforced?

Remember, people who say they are Roman Catholics necessarily claim to believe the Pope is the heir of St. Peter to whom Christ gave the keys of the kingdom. This belief may be false or even foolish. But it’s no secret. And Canada is a free country so you are free to reject it. The one thing you can’t do is reject the authority of the Bishop of Rome yet remain in his Church, any more than you can go to a chess club and deny that its bishops move diagonally. [continue]

Half-shekel coin found

From the Israel Antiquities Authority: A Silver Coin That Was Used To Pay The Half Shekel Head-Tax To The Temple Was Found In Jerusalem.

This coming Thursday, before reading the Scroll of Esther, all devout Jews will contribute a sum of money — "a reminder of the half shekel" — which is a tradition that took root in the wake of the ancient virtuous deed of paying a tax of one half shekel to the Temple. This sum, which was used in the past for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the temple, is translated into a contemporary amount and donated to the needy.

In an archaeological excavation that is being conducted in the main drainage channel of Jerusalem from the time of the Second Temple, in the City of David, in the Walls around Jerusalem National Park, an ancient rare silver coin was recently discovered. This coin is a shekel denomination that was customarily used to pay a half shekel head-tax in the Second Temple period. [continue, see photo]

A lead on the ark of the covenant

From A Lead on the Ark of the Covenant.

When last we saw the lost Ark of the Covenant in action, it had been dug up by Indiana Jones in Egypt and ark-napped by Nazis, whom the Ark proceeded to incinerate amidst a tempest of terrifying apparitions. But according to Tudor Parfitt, a real life scholar-adventurer, Raiders of the Lost Ark had it wrong, and the Ark is actually nowhere near Egypt. In fact, Parfitt claims he has traced it (or a replacement container for the original Ark), to a dusty bottom shelf in a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe. [continue].

Found at last: the world’s oldest missing page

From The Independent: Found at last: the world’s oldest missing page.

A year after the Romans packed up their shields in AD410 and left Britain to the mercy of the Anglo-Saxons, a scribe in Edessa, in what is modern day Turkey, was preparing a list of martyrs who had perished in defence of the relatively new Christian faith in Persia.

In a margin he dated the list November 411. Unfortunately for the martyrs, history forgot them. At some point, this page became detached from the book it belonged to. Since 1840, the volume has been one of the treasures of the British Library. It is known only by its catalogue code: ADD 12-150.

The missing page has always been a fascinating mystery for scholars and historians. Now, after an extraordinary piece of detective work, that page has been rediscovered among ancient fragments in the Deir al-Surian monastery in Egypt. It is, according to Oxford University’s Dr Sebastian Brock, the leading Syriac scholar who identified the fragments, the oldest dated Christian text in existence. [continue, see photos]

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Noah’s Ark in the desert

From The Art Newspaper: Noah’s Ark in the desert.

The ancient Egyptian monastery of Deir al-Surian is traditionally said to have been modelled on Noah’s Ark, since the outline of its walled buildings looks like a ship.

But Deir al-Surian resembles the Ark in another sense, as it has preserved unique examples of very early Christian art, dating back 1,600 years. Its isolation, together with its 12-metre-high walls, has helped protect this little oasis and its precious contents. [continue]

No Quasimodo, he brings music to Notre-Dame bells

From the New York Times: No Quasimodo, He Brings Music to Notre-Dame Bells.

Stéphane Urbain stood leaning against a heavy wood frame high in the north tower of Notre-Dame, wrapped in a navy blue woolen cape against the wind, as he waited for the bells to sound.

Then three of the four immense bells tolled, shaking the massive oak frame, which weighs more than 187 tons.

"C-sharp, D-sharp twice, F," Mr. Urbain said, a broad smile lighting up his face, even in the darkness of the bell cage.

Mr. Urbain, a 40-year-old chemist by training, is the chief sacristan of the cathedral. As such, he is also the chief bell ringer. His role often brings mention of Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s misshapen "Hunchback of Notre-Dame," who as the bell ringer was deafened by the volume. [continue]

An altar beyond Olympus for a deity predating Zeus

From the New York Times: An Altar Beyond Olympus for a Deity Predating Zeus

Before Zeus hurled his first thunderbolt from Olympus, the pre-Greek people occupying the land presumably paid homage and
offered sacrifices to their own gods and goddesses, whose nature and identities are unknown to scholars today.

But archaeologists say they have now found the ashes, bones and other evidence of animal sacrifices to some pre-Zeus deity on the summit of Mount Lykaion, in the region of Greece known as Arcadia. The remains were uncovered last summer at an altar later devoted to Zeus. [continue]

First Temple seal found in Jerusalem

From the Jerusalem Post: First Temple seal found in Jerusalem.

A stone seal bearing the name of one of the families who acted as servants in the First Temple and then returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylonia has been uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem’s City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.

The 2,500-year-old black stone seal, which has the name "Temech" engraved on it, was found earlier this week amid stratified debris in the excavation under way just outside the Old City walls near the Dung Gate, said archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig.

According to the Book of Nehemiah, the Temech family were servants of the First Temple and were sent into exile to Babylon following its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

The family was among those who later returned to Jerusalem, the Bible recounts. [continue]

The Lost Archive

From the Wall Street Journal: The Lost Archive.

On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God’s word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars — and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave. [continue]

Ancient church awaits restoration in Iraq desert

From Middle East Online: Ancient church awaits restoration in Iraq desert.

No-one celebrated Christmas in Al-Aqiser church on Tuesday, for what many consider to be the oldest eastern Christian house of worship lies in ruins in a windswept Iraqi desert.

But 1,500 years ago, the first eastern Christians knelt and prayed in this barren land, their faces turned towards Jerusalem.

The remains of Al-Aqiser church lie in the windswept sand dunes of Ain Tamur, around 70 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, forgotten by most.

But some Iraqis are determined to restore the ancient edifice to its past glory. [continue, see photo]

The Mount Athos diet

Why settle for the Atkins diet when you can go for the Mount Athos diet instead? Yeah, just eat the way the monks do. From the Times Online: A foolproof anti-cancer diet… with just one or two drawbacks.

If you want to avoid cancer, live like a monk. That is the inescapable conclusion from research into one of the world’s most renowned monastic communities.

The austere regime of the 1,500 monks on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, begins with an hour’s pre-dawn prayers and is designed to protect their souls.

Their low-stress existence and simple diet (no meat, occasional fish, home-grown vegetables and fruit) may, however, also protect them from more worldly troubles.

The monks, who inhabit a peninsula from which women are banned, enjoy astonishingly low rates of cancer.

Since 1994, the monks have been regularly tested, and only 11 have developed prostate cancer, a rate less than one quarter of the international average. In one study, their rate of lung and bladder cancer was found to be zero.

Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, said that the monks’ diet, which calls on them to avoid olive oil, dairy products and wine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, helped to explain the statistics. "What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and nonolive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins," he said. "It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Small simple meals at regular intervals are very important." [continue]

Gospel truth

Here’s an article about the "Gospel of Judas" from the New York Times.

Amid much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas’s reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

Several of the translation choices made by the society’s scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a "daimon," which the society’s experts have translated as "spirit." Actually, the universally accepted word for "spirit" is "pneuma" — in Gnostic literature "daimon" is always taken to mean "demon." [continue]

One more piece of famed ancient Bible comes to Jerusalem

From A fragment of history squirreled away / One more piece of famed ancient Bible comes to Jerusalem.

For 18 years businessman Sam Sabbagh resisted pressures from Israeli scholars to let them have the small piece of parchment that had been his good luck charm for six decades.

Sabbagh was convinced that thanks to the parchment, which he kept with him always in a transparent plastic container, he had been saved from riots in his hometown of Aleppo during Israel’s War of Independence, and he had managed to immigrate from Syria to the United States in 1968 and start a new life in Brooklyn and make a living. The charm was with him when he underwent complicated surgery.

Just two years ago, it completed its task, when Sabbagh passed away.

On Thursday, his family will present the parchment, an 8-centimeter-square piece of the 1087-year-old Aleppo Codex, to a representative of the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem. Inscribed on both sides, it is one of the lost fragments of the codex, a copy of the Bible written in 920 C.E. in Tiberias by the scribe Shlomo Ben Buya’a. The fragment Sabbagh had bears verses of Exodus chapter 8, including the words of Moses to Pharaoh: "Let my people go, that they may serve me…" [continue]

Another Haaretz article has more details, and a photo: Fragment of ancient parchment from Bible given to Jerusalem scholars.

Archaeologists discover portable altar

From The Local (Sweden): Archaeologists discover portable altar.

Archaeologists have uncovered a one thousand-year-old portable altar at an excavation site in Varnhem in western Sweden.

The stone object was found resting on the skeleton of a heavy set man believed to have been a priest.

Archaeologist Maria Vretemark from Västergötland’s Museum describes the miniature altar as "a fabulous find".

"When a priest travelled around to say mass in areas where there weren’t many sacred altars, he would bring with him this little stone. [continue]

The Year of Living Biblically

Amazon sells it: The Year of Living Biblically : One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. It’s A.J. Jacob’s new book, which describes his attempt to follow every rule in the Bible for a year.

Here, this is from a Newsweek interview:

NEWSWEEK: It’s been a little over a year since your experiment ended and you shaved your beard. How’s the life of sin?

A. J. Jacobs: It’s all right. I miss my sin-free life, but I guess I was never sin free. I was able to cut down on my coveting maybe 40 percent, but I was still a coveter. Flat-screen TVs, the front yard of my friend in the suburbs, a better cell phone, higher Amazon rankings. And that’s not to mention coveting my neighbor’s wife. I live in New York, I work in publishing, so there’s a lot of coveting, lying and gossiping.

What, if any, rules are you still following?

I’m not Ghandi or Angelina Jolie, but I made some strides. The experience changed me in big ways and small ways. There’s a lot about gratefulness in the Bible, and I would say I’m more thankful. I focus on the hundred little things that go right in a day, instead of the three or four things that go wrong. And I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a forced day of rest. Also, during the experiment I wore a lot of white clothes, because Ecclesiastes says let your garments always be white, and I loved it, so I look like Tom Wolfe now. Wearing white just made me happier. I couldn’t be in a bad mood walking down the street looking like I was about to play in the semifinals at Wimbledon. One thing I learned is that the outside affects the inside, your behavior shapes your thoughts. I also really liked what one of my spiritual advisers said, which was that you can view life as a series of rights and entitlements, or a series of responsibilities. I like seeing my life as a series of responsibilities. It’s sort of, "Ask not what God can do for you, ask what you can do for God." [continue]

Preserving the language Of Jesus

From CBS News: Preserving The Language Of Jesus.

For thousands of years, a tiny Syrian village has kept a well-guarded treasure: the language of Jesus. Tucked away in the Qalamoun Mountains, just north of Damascus, Syria, is Malula — one of the last places on earth where Aramaic is still spoken.

Aramaic was a thriving language during the time of Jesus and his disciples. Many of the gospels were written in the Semitic language, along with sections of the Talmud and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

People who come to Malula take in a piece of history and hear in its purest tones the 3,000-year-old language closely related to Hebrew. For the religious here, keeping Aramaic alive is nothing less than a calling.

"Of course we are interested to maintain this language, because at the end, this is the language of Jesus Christ," says Father Toufic Eid of St. Sergius Church. [continue]

Vatican flight service launches

From the BBC: Vatican flight service launches.

A senior Vatican cardinal has inaugurated a low-cost charter flight service which aims to transport Catholic pilgrims to holy sites.

The first flight from Rome to Lourdes in France took off at 1130 (0930 GMT), using a small charter airline owned by the Italian post office.

The airline expects to transport around 150,000 pilgrims in its first year.

Flights will initially go to Catholic shrines in France, Poland, Spain as well as the Middle East. [continue]

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Tisha Be’Av: The Third Temple that wasn’t

From the Jerusalem Post: Tisha Be’Av: The Third Temple that wasn’t.

On this day, as we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, it seems fitting to recall a little-known story of how a Roman emperor stood ready to rebuild the third temple. He acted not out of love for the Jewish people, but because he was a pagan who — despite its ascendency — despised Christianity.

The Roman Emperor Julian, who ruled 361-363 CE, called on the Jews to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. [continue]

Jesuits say take word of God to Second Life

From Reuters: Jesuits say take word of God to Second Life.

Catholic missionaries have always trekked to dangerous parts of the Earth to spread the word of God — now they are being encouraged to go into the virtual realm of Second Life to save virtual souls.

In an article in Rome-based Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, academic Antonio Spadaro urged fellow Catholics not to be scared of entering the virtual world which may be fertile ground for new converts wishing to better themselves.

"It’s not possible to close our eyes to this phenomenon or rush to judge it," Spadaro said. "Instead it needs to be understood … the best way to understand it is to enter it." [continue]

(Jesuits aren’t the only ones planning to use Second Life for real-world purposes. The Vancouver Police are using Second Life as a recruiting tool.)

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Shrine of false messiah in Turkey may re razed

From the Jewish Daily Forward: Shrine of False Messiah in Turkey May Be Razed.

Far away from the eyes of the Jewish mainstream, in modern-day Turkey there live hundreds, if not thousands, of crypto-Jews — and today, one of their most sacred shrines is in danger.

This is the hidden, fascinating tale of the doenmeh, descendants of the faithful followers of the 17th-century false messiah Sabbetai Tzvi, who converted to Islam in 1666. Tzvi’s own conversion came under duress: The Ottoman sultan demanded that he don the turban or die after nearly one-third of European Jewry had come to believe he was the messiah and had begun swarming into Turkey, expecting the long-awaited triumph of the Jews.

Tzvi chose to convert, and most of his followers lost hope — but not all of them. Many saw the conversion as a heroic act of tikkun, or repair, and followed their messiah’s lead by outwardly becoming Muslims while secretly maintaining their messianic Jewish faith. They were calleddoenmeh, meaning "turncoats" — a pejorative term not unlike marrano ("pig.") Among themselves, they were called ma’aminim, "believers." Sabbateanism did not die out in 1666, or even 10 years later when Tzvi himself died. There were subsequent messiahs — largely forgotten men like Baruchiah Russo and Jacob Frank — and, as recent scholarship has shown, Sabbateanism greatly influenced the 18th-century emergence of Hasidism. And then there are the doenmeh, who live on until the present day, in secretive communities, at first primarily in Salonika and today almost entirely in present-day Turkey.

A move to tear down the Turkish home where Tzvi is said to have lived, however, may now disturb the balance the community has cultivated for centuries. [continue]