The Most Important Discovery in the History of Archeology?

Ziad al-Sadd, the director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, thinks so. Apparently a Bedouin found about 70 books that might reshape the way we think about the life of Jesus and the origin of Christianity. (I think we’ve heard stuff like this before, yeah?) Nevertheless:

[al-Saad] says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.

“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

The texts might have been written in the decades following the crucifixion

They seem almost incredible claims – so what is the evidence?

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.

“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”

BBC News, “Jordan Battles to Regain ‘Priceless’ Christian Relics”

Okay cool. The Christian Dead Sea Scrolls? Wowza.

But really, how legitimate is all this? Apparently, if you’re not al-Zaad or Elkington, slim:

Chill, dude.  Take a breath.  OK, I know that you need to puff public interest in support of your efforts to obtain possession of these items (which he alleges were illegally taken out of Jordan into Israel), and I know that you also want to get as much publicity out of this as possible for your institution, but these comments only make you look silly.

[…]

Finally, the incidence of the forgery of artefacts [ed. sic.] is so great that any responsible scholar must express profound hesitation about making any judgement on such items until they have been properly analysed [sic.].  Especially in light of the “Jesus bone-box” drama, we might all take a few deep breaths and simply call for the items to be put into the public domain for competent study before more rash and pointless claims are proffered.

That’s Larry Hurtado, Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology at the University of Edinburgh. He’s a scholar. Here’s another, Dallas Theological Seminary’s Todd Bolen. He sounds thrilled:

My attempts to avoid this grand discovery have not gone well, to judge from the number of emails I have received suggesting that I must not have seen this story.  It’s foolish to think that I can somehow temper enthusiasm by ignoring the report, so I am succumbing to the requests to note the discovery here.  If I had delayed one more day (April 1), I would have at least felt some measure of justification in spending my time on this.

Haha! No, seriously:

In a nutshell, the problems with this discovery include the facts that (1) we don’t know who owns the artifacts; (2) we don’t know where they were found; (3) the artifacts were not excavated by archaeologists but stolen by thieves; (4) nearly all information about the discovery so far has come from a single source of dubious reliability; (5) claims have been made that this find is more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls; (6) the source of information appears to be positioning himself for fame and fortune.

Bolen also weighs in on this David Elkington fellow, as of yet the only scholar to support al-Zaad’s wild claims:

David Elkington has experience in selling horse dung to gullible audiences.  And it seems to me that he aims to profit off of his role in this affair.  Despite his claims that he “has worked to date entirely on a voluntary basis,” he is smelling the money.  He appears to already be selling photographs of the discoveries (via rexfeatures.com).  He has certainly been careful to watermark with his name the photos he has made available to the media.  More than that, the press release states: “Preparations are being made for a documentary film about the discovery, in conjunction with a leading television network, and the publication of a book.”  If you don’t think he’s planning to cash in, I’d like to talk to you about funding my personal research on international recreational activities.

So, what do you guys think? Legit or what?

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Reading ‘The Hobbit’ Tea Leaves

I’ve had this sitting open in tabs on my browser for two days now. I guess I should finally write something about it, even though it’s probably dated and meaningless by now.


So, this is happening: “The Hobbit” is actually filming and is set to release around Christmas 2012. Most of you probably know all about the strange delays, but if you don’t they’re detailed in the WSJ.com story I linked. Also here. If you want to know why it took nine years to get around to it, check out the Wikipedia page (srsly. This is the blogosphere after all).

Sadly, Peter Jackson is directing it. Not that he didn’t do well with the Lord of the Rings and all, but I would have much preferred the original director—Guillermo Del Toro—to have followed through with it. Instead, the legal catfight between the unions and Warner Bros. dragged on for so long that he eventually just walked, taking my hopes of “Hobbit” being awesome like “Pan’s Labyrinth” with him.*

So old P.J., in his post-King Kong (a.k.a. the worst movie I’ve ever seen) glory, gets paid a bajillion dollars to direct and produce a movie about Middle Earth just like good old times. He got his social media on and wrote a lengthy Facebook note introducing the plot and such. Also, there’s an official blog if you’re into official sorts of things.

The Good.

Bringing Ian McKellen back to play Gandalf. This is obviously good. It’s forever his role, and whole generation of LOTR lovers are going to envision Gandalf as McKellen. This is not bad.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. This is excellent. Yes, this is the same guy who played the main character in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and yes I think he’ll make a fantastic Bilbo.

-It’s split into two parts. I think this was a bad idea for Harry Potter 7, but could be a very good one for “The Hobbit”—provided they have found a natural break in the plot.

Andy Serkis as Gollum. Much like Gandalf, this would have been a severely disappointing change. I’m glad they got Serkis back into the fold for Gollum’s shining moment—the scene he’s most famous for: “Riddles in the Dark.”

The Bad.

-As mentioned, Peter Jackson directing the film. I don’t like it. I thought Del Toro’s ideas were better (see above Wikipedia article) and that after the success of the Lord of the Rings Jackson might assume that the movies are so popular that he can’t mess them up. This, as George Lucas proved, is demonstrably false.

That Orlando Bloom is allowed anywhere near the set. Unfortunately, he’s on the cast list, making me think he’ll make an appearance in Mirkwood. I hope it’s quite brief; I know it almost definitely won’t be. This guy made parts of LOTR unbearable.

The Curious.

No Elrond. Look closely at the cast list—there is no Hugo Weaving and therefore no Elrond character. This is very disappointing and I’m not sure why it apparently didn’t work out.

HOWEVA — these links indicate that Weaving will be in the film, but both are either dated or secondary source material. And then there’s an actual quote:

“And what I’ve heard is that, yeah, they’re interested in me.  I haven’t had any conversations, and I haven’t read any scripts because they’re being closely guarded.  I don’t think the studio has even got the second script yet.”

This was a year ago. He’s not on the cast list, and I can’t find much other news about it. We’ll see.

Elijah Wood making a strange Frodo appearance. Guess they just couldn’t resist throwing a young Frodo into the story. My guess (read: hope) is that he’ll make a cursory appearance toward the end of the second film, but I bet they’re paying him too much money to relegate him to that. I don’t even think Wood makes a good Frodo, but whatever.

Christopher Lee. He’s on the list. Seriously. This is shocking. (a) He’s 89, (b) there’s no way he’ll be able to travel to New Zealand, (c) Saruman isn’t even in “The Hobbit.” How is Saruman in it and not Elrond (who actually appears in the book)?

The only reason I can think of is that parts of the “Hobbit” movies depict some of the things that happen in the silent years between the end of “The Hobbit” and the beginning of “Fellowship.” For example, Gandalf reports during the Council of Elrond that while Bilbo and the dwarves were making their way to the Lonely Mountain, he was seeking Saruman’s council about certain Sauron-related issues (remember, back when Saruman was good and simply curious about the Ring).

But by this reasoning, why isn’t Aragorn in the film? We discover during the Council of Elrond in “Fellowship” that during “Hobbit,” Aragorn actually finds and captures Gollum. How is this not in the film, but a bunch of talking between Saruman, Gandalf, and Galadriel (but not Elrond) is?

Also, on a practical note regarding Christopher Lee, there’s this video:

About New Zealand, he says “It’s too far” like four times. If he actually got pulled into this, I wonder how he was convinced (and I also wonder if they might film his sections in England).

Monday Morning Press 3.21

Michigan basketball. So, Michigan lost to Duke over the weekend in excruciating fashion, with Darius Morris’ last-second runner (which would have sent the game into overtime) clanging off the rim. It was sad. Brian Cook of MGoBlog reflects a bit on the low expectations and subsequent surprising season. As I mentioned on Twitter, Cook has built a reputation as an excellent fan-writer, and this is notable even for him. You should read it.

Five books for journalists. NPR’s Guy Raz offers his five bits of recommended reading for future journalists. The choices are a tad unexpected:

  • Daniel Schorr:  Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism
  • Edward Bliss Jr. and James Hoyt: Writing News for Broadcast
  • George Orwell: Homage to Catalonia
  • George Packer: The Assassin’s Gate
  • Christopher Hitchens: Letters to a Young Contrarian

My Mother’s Basement. Joe Posnanski has no time for idiocy. He rips Bruce Jenkins’ claim that sabermetric-type stuff are “crap” written by “a bunch of nonathletes [sic.] trying to reinvent [baseball].” He even uses the cliche “bloggers in their mother’s basement wearing old underwear” line, prompting the premise for Posnanski’s response. It’s excellent.

E.g.:

I’ve always liked and admired the work of Bruce Jenkins. But the top quote is so annoying and bizarre and convoluted and maddening … how could anyone fighting for the integrity of resplendently crappy stats like batting average, wins and RBIs call ANYONE ELSE a “stat-crazed dunce?” Why are people who hate advanced stats so interested in the underwear bloggers wear?

Read.

Touring Israel. If you’re thinking about going to the Holy Land sometime (and you should be), read about some intriguing trips others have taken.

The Wall. Some good thoughts from various journalists on the New York Times’ upcoming paywall (it goes up March 28).

Just Wondering: Does Theology Matter?

I don’t really defend myself. I don’t find arguments and debates very interesting. But I do find real people’s lives being changed by a real resurrected Jesus terribly compelling.

Rob Bell (about 1:18 in)

Plenty of evangelicals have opined on the Rob Bell book Love Wins in the last month or so. I’ve even written about it on this blog, as have lots and lots of people on lots and lots of blogs. I’m not particularly interested in responding to Bell’s book or offering my opinion on its content; others can and have done a better job than I could.

I’m very interested, however, in the above comment from Bell, which is steeped in a widely-held perception concerning the particulars of theological conviction. It’s commonly thought that Christians should only care about the things that do something, inspire some kind of social action, perhaps. Sure, theology matters — obviously we want Jesus to be God and we want him to die for our sins. But before we talk theology, we think, let’s talk about why it matters. First tell me that it’s practical. I’m not interested in it otherwise.

Some issues fit well — the book of James preaches, yo. So does Proverbs. But what about Leviticus? Or the doctrine of election? Or the genealogies? Or even theology proper (theology about God the Father)?

These categories take a great deal of time and effort to explain, so we leave them to “the academics.” They are only worth discussing when they make a difference in the lives of real people. So, the only practicality of hell — that you’re going to go there if you reject Jesus — is repulsive to most people. This is only preaching to frighten, after all. And good preachers don’t do that sort of thing.*

Notice something very important about Bell’s statement. Argumentation and debate isn’t “very interesting” because it doesn’t relate to “real people’s lives being changed.” Theological precision doesn’t matter to Bell because it exists in the hypothetical and abstract. It isn’t real. It isn’t practical.

This is revealing. Why do we study theology, after all? Does it only matter if it’s practical? If it affects real people’s real lives? Or does understanding something about God himself have inherent value?

Is knowledge itself worth anything? Or is it only actualized by its applicability? Isn’t there something to be said for simply, as Paul prayed in Ephesians 1, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,” etc. etc.?

So I’m just wondering: Does theology matter?

[I’m writing like Rob Bell? Asking questions? Not making statements?**]

*By the way, the same guy who preached that quintessential hellfire-and-brimstone sermon also preached “Heaven is a World of Love.” That could totally be a book today. The first? Not so much.

**Okay, one statement. A story actually.

A couple years ago, I was talking with my pastor uncle about how Christians tend to ignore theological particulars because discussing them would “be a waste of time.” There’s so much else to do, right?

My uncle wisely said something like this: “Talking about God is probably a better use of time than most other things we might do instead.” Indeed — there are lots of problems in the world. Talking about the Bible too much is not one of them.

New C.S. Lewis Manuscript Resurfaces

…but unfortunately it’s not really that interesting: Lewis’ translation of Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” What is interesting is that the text was allegedly pulled out of a bonfire (along with crates filled with other Lewisian literature) by his secretary Walter Hooper, and fifty years later finally discovered after Hooper started “sifting through the material,”  according to the book’s publisher. The Lost Aeneid is coming out next month.

The Independent broke the story last week, and included the fascinating story of how Hooper supposedly came to the work after Lewis’ death:

Another fragment of Lewis’s writing which was published after being thought lost was his abandoned novel The Dark Tower. In the book’s introduction, Hooper describes how Lewis’s brother, Major Warren Lewis, began clearing out The Kilns, Lewis’s former home, “preparatory to moving to a smaller house”.

“Major Lewis, after setting aside those papers which had special significance for him, began disposing of the others,” wrote Hooper. “Thus it was that a great many things which I was never able to identify found their way on to a bonfire which burned steadily for three days.”

According to Hooper, Lewis’s gardener, Fred Paxford, who was instructed to burn the author’s manuscripts, knew that Hooper had “the highest regard for anything in the master’s hand”. The gardener was instructed to burn a number of notebooks, but managed to convince Major Lewis to delay until Hooper could see them.

“By what seems more than coincidence, I appeared at The Kilns that very day and learned that unless I carried the papers away with me that afternoon they would indeed be destroyed,” Hooper wrote. “There were so many that it took all my strength and energy to carry them back to Keble College.” For the past 46 years, Hooper has spent his time sifting through the saved material before it is transported to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Four years ago, he realised that fragments of the famous Aeneid translation, referred to by Tolkien in his own letters, had escaped his attention. Since then he has worked with Reyes to piece together the translation, which exists in fragments spread across several notebooks.

I’m sure Hooper is a well-intended guy, but one has to wonder about some of this. Remember—Hooper is the trustee of Lewis’ literary estate, so he’ll get royalties when the books sell. It seems awfully convenient (and potentially financially rewarding) that Hooper would discover a lost C.S. Lewis manuscript fifty years after the famous author died. How many “lost novels” does Hooper have in those wooden crates?

To be sure, it seems extremely unlikely that this book is a fake, considering (1) that the book is classic literature and isn’t exactly as compelling as, say, an eighth Narnia book would be, and (2) that Lewis apparently read the manuscript to the Inklings during its development. So it’s probably legit.

On the other hand, Hooper has been accused of forging that abandoned novel The Dark Tower, which does not have the historical testimony as the Aeneid translation. He is an ordained clergyman so this conspiracy theory is starting to seem far-fetched. Still…what do you think?

Monday Morning Press 3.14

Only one set of footprints. You have to be a certain kind of person to appreciate this: (1) A Star Wars fan, (2) a Star Wars fan steeped in trite bookstore-Precious Moments evangelicalism. I am, and you won’t laugh at this unless you are too:

HT: 22 Words.

Grammar myths debunked. Today, there are plenty of mountains made out of grammatical molehills (especially among prescriptivists), and people much smarter than me are trying to sort though some of them. On National Grammar Day (March 4th), Motivated Grammar tackled a few of the egregious myths. I often dislike the magisterial AP Stylebook’s perspective (though I concede that news organizations should be allowed to draw intra-organizational grammatical lines), and some of these differ directly with the “journalist’s bible.” So, good by me:

There’s nothing wrong with anyways.Anyway is the more common form, but that’s a historical accident. Related forms always and sometimes are more common than their s-less companions, so clearly anyways isn’t inherently ungrammatical.

[…]

There’s not just one right way to say something. Do you worry if the past tense of dive is dived or dove? Or do you worry about shined and shone? Well, a lot of the time there isn’t a single right or best way of saying it. As it turns out, a lot factors can affect the decision. And often it’s best to go with your gut feeling.

[…]

Non-literal literally is perfectly standard. This one’s a three-fer. Stan Carey,me, and Dominik Lukes all wrote posts, each inspired by the other, about non-literal uses of literally. All of us share the conclusion that non-literal literally has been used for years, by writers good and bad, and is here to stay. But the three of us disagree on whether or not it’s a stylistically good usage. I found this an interesting exercise in seeing how different descriptivists dispense usage advice.

I’ve noted others before, like APS’ claim that “OK” is standard over “Okay” (it’s not, necessarily) and its insistence that the final serial comma be deleted (it shouldn’t be). Check them all out.

Joe Poz offensive stats. Sports are finally starting to pick up now, as we’re looking down the line at the March/April season, and with it the three of the best sporting events of the year in succession: March Madness, the start of baseball season, and the Masters. With baseball upcoming, Joe Posnanski offers a very helpful summary of some critical offensive metrics, and reminds us why batting average isn’t reliable.

Bracket stuff. First draft of my NCAA bracket, up to the Final Four, complete with inexplicable homerism. That will probably change tomorrow. Thoughts?


Monday Morning Press 3.7

Note: Spring Break edition. As in, not serious. And with pictures.

Star Wars on Blu Ray and, soon after, 3D. Somehow I missed this when it broke, but this is kinda nice. But it makes me wonder: Will Star Wars ever stop getting marketed? It’s wild to think how much Lucas has made off three movies he made in the late ’70s.

Also: holy pants the prequels sucked.

Obvious newspaper headlines. Like: “Jobs Remain the Best Insurance Policy Against Unemployment.”

For the record. Jeff Francoeur: sucks. And might be the worst regular player in Major League Baseball. He had the second-worst OBP of any starting outfielder in baseball (and the worst in Mets history since light-hitting shortstop Rey Ordonez, the worst OPS of any right-fielder in baseball and has the worst plate discipline of any major leaguer this side of Vlad Guerrero, who has some upside to offset it (like, a .841 OPS to Frenchy’s .643 plus 29 HRs and 115 RBIs…so yeah, just some upside). Matt Klassen called him the most deluded player of the offseason, Matthew Pouliot criticized the perception that he’s a “good clubhouse guy” by pointing to Francoeur’s agent starting media campaigns about him, and Ted Berg says he’s a “terrible hitter” because he is.

And yet here we are, in March, and reports from Kansas City suggest that Frenchy might be “finally figuring it out,” which we’ve heard before. The guy is a media magnet, apparently always good for a quote, which helps his perception tremendously because all the journalists love him while we normal people hate him.

And Joe Posnanski tries very, very hard to be positive:

This is what I mean when I say that the two big points about Jeff Francoeur crash. His performance demands negativity. His attitude demands hope. The last few springs, you could count on a flurry of stories — from Atlanta, from New York, from a wandering national reporter — about how Jeff Francoeur has made an adjustment, how he has become more patient, how he has shortened his stride, how he has gotten into better shape, anything at all to offer the possibility that Francoeur would turn things around and once again be filled with the promise of photograph on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

…though we all know how this will end.

BCS stuff. If you’re a college football fan and you haven’t read this book, you probably should. Of course, you already know all about how badly the BCS screws up NCAA football, intercollegiate athletics, yea verily all of undergraduate education. Seriously.

Matt Hinton of Yahoo! Sports (a.k.a. “Dr. Saturday”) cites a University of Connecticut student newspaper report, which reveals that UConn lost 1.8 million dollars in order to play in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma last year.

On its face, it appears that school receive hefty paycheck for playing in the biggest bowl games — at least that’s what the conference commissioners, influential athletic directors, et. al. want you to think. So the $17 million dollars is spread in fair measure to each Big East team, leaving UConn with a nice $2.5 million payout…unless you count all the unsold tickets and hotel expenses and marching band expenses and cross-country flight and meals.

Hinton:

That’s some racket: The Fiesta Bowl gets paid, the hotels get paid, ESPN gets paid, guaranteed, while the institution(s) of higher learning fall headlong into the red. Hopefully they got to enjoy a little sun, at least.

The BCS is good for the bowl executives and the people who run it, but it’s a putrid deal for the players, coaches, schools and fans. It can’t fairly determine a national champion, everybody hates it, and it uses a cloak-and-dagger strategy to force even school like Ohio State and Florida to eat money to play in bowl games. It needs to die.

Spring Break!

Yeah.