New Technology, Books, and the Future of Education

This video here, with the first ever fully-interactive book, is by far the coolest thing I’ve seen with the application of books to a digital media.  It makes the Nook and other eReaders look terribly low-tech.

When I see tech like this, see how it is transforming old media into new media, into a new creative means to obtain information, I can’t help but get a little giddy.  But I also have my concerns.

I remember (and I’m dating myself here) when the History Channel aired its first programs; I used to sit and watch them all (mainly about the Civil War and WWII) but I can recall, even now, thinking back to the early 90’s, the programs about the lives of Pocahontas, or of certain figures in history, which were completely revisionary and countered my young mind’s thoughts about those characters, those cultural myths I held about them (especially the founding fathers of this country).  At one point in my life–before I knew better–the History Channel and networks like it were a large part of the educational background about the past.  I used to put a great deal of weight on their programs.   And I’m sure for most of the lay population, this remains a truism.

In today’s politically-charged, Biblical-history-esque world, where anyone can ‘play at archaeology’ (al la Simcha Jacobovici or Elkington) the programs run on networks like Discovery and History present a troubling consequence primarily for historians, but also to society in general–who risk losing their past through the exploitation of their ignorance of it by these networks.   The rise of technology and the spreading of historical information over these new mediums create historical memes that stick and, unfortunately, don’t go away without a fight.  In other words, what is being portrayed as history is, in fact, history’s antithesis; yet the medium by which this blasphemy is being being peddled is so effective at its job, that countering it is difficult and time consuming and exponentially more work.

What do you think? What potential could this future book hold towards developing better and more interesting ways to educate people about the past? In what ways could it hinder it?

Hernández and De La Torre: Rethinking Satan as Absolute Evil

There is a great article over at Bible and Interpretation by Hernández and De La Torre asking the question many of us have asked at one point or another: What is Satan’s role and what does that role say about God in the Bible?   I know I have asked why Satan gets such a bad dogmatic wrap in Christian theology when, in fact, God is often portrayed in the Bible as the sinister one (Satan takes a role more akin a Satyr in Greek myth rather than evil incarnate).  This article asks the same questions, but in a broader manner, and offering some interesting incite.  Here are some snippets.  Do read the whole thing, it does provide some interesting perspective:

God’s portrayal as a character of absolute goodness is the result of a theology that is read into the Christian Scriptures, yet which is not necessarily supported by a close reading of the texts. Not only is this theology challenged by the Bible, it is also challenged by existentially and morally comparing such a theology of absolute Good versus absolute Evil with the realities of life.

Jesus asks, “What person among you, if asked by their child for a loaf would give a stone? Of if asked for a fish will give a snake? If, then, you, who are evil, know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those that ask?” (Matt 7:9-11). Yet, reading the morning paper, one finds stories about tornadoes that have wiped out good Christian families while they slept peacefully in the middle of the night, or innocent children who perished at the hands of child molesters and murderers, good decent individuals who die in freak accidents, and many others who suffer under moral evils (those actions caused by humans) and natural evils (those actions caused by nature).

One is forced to ask: Where is God? Comparing Jesus’ words with the reality of evil in our global economy seems to indicate that earthly parents, rather than God, know better about how to care for their children.

In a very real way, the search for the historical Satan is an attempt to justify God’s grace while legitimizing the reality and presence of evil in human history. It appears that the development of Satan was to a certain extent, trying to save God from appearing as the source of evil that is so much a part of the reality of human suffering and death. The Scriptures attempt to convince us that God is still worthy of our worship despite the presence of evil, even though the most troubling conclusion derived from the Judeo-Christian biblical text is the discovery of a God who is the cause and author of all that is good—and all that is evil. As the prophet Amos reminds us, “If there is evil in a city, has Yahweh not done it?” (Amos 3:6). The prophet Isaiah understands God to say, “I form light and create darkness, make peace and create evil, I Yahweh do all these things” (45:7). This is a God who sends evil spirits to torment, as in the case of Saul (1 Sam 18:10) or Jeroboam (1 Kgs 14:10). Contrary to popular opinion, the biblical text does not begin by introducing its readers to Satan as the Prince of Darkness and enemy of God whose primordial spiritual warfare continues to manifest itself in our times. Rather, this concept developed over centuries as religious ideals comingled with popular culture and the flow of history.

A simple good versus evil binary understanding of reality leads to an ethical perspective that might cause more evil than good. A world where everyone and everything is either with or against God leads to great atrocities by those “with God” in their defense against the perceived threat of those “against God” (who those on God’s side usually define as Satanic). Because such an ethical framework causes more evil than good, we are in need of a new way of understanding what is satanic, what is Satan.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Rethinking Satan as Absolute Evil.

Lead Codices Watch: Philip Davies Clarifies his Comments

I have been corresponding with Philip about his recent interview with the Sheffield Telegraph.  Since a lot of the conversation has been happening behind the scenes, I asked Philip for a comment to clarify his points, away from media bias, which I could post publicly.  Below are his remarks:

Ok. Clarification:

‘Authentic’ means they are what they pretend to be. In the context of
a hypothesis tat they are ‘early Christian’ that would mean form the
1st or 2nd century CE. This I doubt, though if the scientific tests
continue to point to this timeframe, at least the metal is that old.
Which does not date the images, some of which are undoubtedly much

What is most curious to me is the trouble taken to bind hundred of
sheets into book forms and stack them in a cave (if this story is
true, of course – the place need proper investigating). What has
really been going on?

Since the sheets apparently tell us virtually nothing of value (even
if they are very old), I am really more interested in finding out
just what they are.

As I have said ‘forgery’ is not quite the right term for objects that
are not making any claims to be anything. Maybe they are just trying
to look old. But I can’t see that they are more valuable in book form
than as single sheets. And why have they been hawked around museums
and not gullible tourists or collectors?

The answer may be banal, in the end. But more interesting that the so
called ‘nails’ which is just plain stupid.


Teaching Archaeology to Undergraduates – ASOR

Perhaps we should send Elkington and Simcha on one of these.

Teaching Archaeology to Undergraduates

This Forum stems from the session “Teaching Archaeology to Undergraduates and K-12 Schoolchildren” co-chaired by Ellen D. Bedell and Eric H. Cline at the 2010 ASOR Annual Meeting in Atlanta. The theme of the 2010 session was the use of technology to teach archaeology. Four of the presentations are being made available on Dig-it-al NEA in hopes that these papers inspire others to incorporate similar techniques and technology into their own curriculum.

via Dig-it-al NEA – Publications – ASOR.

Do check this out, it’s quite interesting!

The Inscription from Madaba, Lead Codices, and the Mona Lisa of Galilee

Several new pieces of data have been brought to the attention of the listserv.  One was sent along by David Meadows.  Here (Google translated, since I don’t know Chinese) a blog analyzes the similarities of the Madaba inscription and compares it to the script on the tablet Thonemann looked at.

Dan McClellan takes it a step further and compares the script from that inscription to those Elkington recently has passed around and the inscription from the Madaba tombstone and he has determined that they are indeed by the same hand (and clearly, they are).  Here are some of his comparisons along with those from the Chinese blog:

He also compares the (backwards) yod here (from the lead tablets and the one sent to Thonemann now universally accepted as modern):

And these from the inscription on the tombstone (notice its direction; and Dan also links to a discussion here at Aramaic Designs):

He writes:

It seems the “paleo-Hebrew” script from the codices was also lifted from the tombstone inscription on display in Jordan. There are other letters that clearly share a relationship as well, which I will discuss a bit later. I am hoping to have a photograph of the Madaba inscription itself up shortly. Stay tuned.

The Lead Codices and the Inscription from Madaba « Daniel O. McClellan.

In addition to these, compares the so-called (sensationalized) ‘image of Jesus’ face on one of the tablets to the Mona Lisa of Galilee mosaic.

He does an excellent job comparing the facial features on the cast impression with those of the mosaic.  His case is strong, though I am still not certain it is not from a coin. It is definitely worth pursuing either way.

And one final bit of news, Jim West shares with us another example of why these images and iconography are indeed modern.  Robert Deutsch posted that the image of the chariot and rider in the Thonemann-analyzed tablet (part of the same corpus) was lifted from a modern fake sold to tourists.  Here are the images (click to enlarge).

I had originally thought it was from an ancient chariot on the back of a Tetradrachm (see here) but I now have to admit the fake is a much better analog.

Philip Davies responded yesterday to some comments by Thonemann about the codices.  He reinforces what I’ve known all along, but others have previously fought me on; he writes “I do love a good story and there is one here – not about early Christians, though.”  Anyone who feels he is arguing for their ‘genuineness’ is just not listening (or reading, what have you).  I would argue that this is precisely what the media is guilty of, and we need to be careful that we don’t fall into similar traps.

And perhaps that last comment segues nicely into the tone of a comment I posted yesterday; I think it should be required reading for everyone who is interested in the codices from a lay perspective (so click the link above).

Jim Davila take’s stock:

The Greek is lifted nonsensically from an inscription published in 1958. The forger couldn’t tell the difference between the Greek letters alpha and lambda. The Hebrew script is taken from the same inscription. The Hebrew text is in “code,” i.e., is gibberish. The “Jesus” face is taken from a well-known mosaic. The charioteer is taken from a fake coin. The crocodile has a suspicious resemblance to a plastic toy.

That’s all for this roundup.  More as the information keeps coming in.

Previous Roundups:

Dating Luke-Acts: Joe Tyson on Bible and Interpretation

Joe Tyson has another great article at Bible and Interpretation discussing the various implications for dating Luke-Acts, and argues persuasively in my opinion for a late date.  Please do read the article, entitled ‘When and Why Was the Acts of the Apostles Written?‘.  Here are some snippets:

The range of proposed dates for Acts is quite wide, from c. 60 CE-150 CE. Within this range of dates, three are prominent in the scholarly literature: an early, an intermediate, and a late date.

A growing number of scholars prefer a late date for the composition of Acts, i.e., c. 110-120 CE.3 Three factors support such a date. First, Acts seems to be unknown before the last half of the second century. Second, compelling arguments can be made that the author of Acts was acquainted with some materials written by Josephus, who completed his Antiquities of the Jews in 93-94 CE. If the author of Acts knew of some pieces from this document, he could not have written his book before that date. Third, recent studies have revised the judgment that the author of Acts was unaware of the Pauline letters. Convincing arguments have been made especially in the case of Galatians by scholars who are convinced that the author of Acts not only knew this Pauline letter but regarded it as a problem and wrote to subvert it.4 They especially call attention to the verbal and ideational similarities between Acts 15 and Galatians 2 and show how the dif-ferences may be intended to create a distance between Paul and some of his later interpreters and critics.

A great deal rides on decisions about the date of Acts, which unfortunately cannot be de-termined with certainty. But judgments about the probable time of its composition inevitably af-fect the ways we read the book. If we think it was an early eye-witness account, it may be read as a basically reliable story of the first Christian generation. If we think it was written toward the end of the first century, we might read it with an effort to assess the author’s understanding of Christianity as a Gentile movement with Jewish roots but without Jewish believers. If we think it was a second-century text, we might regard it as an effort to counteract historical and theological teachings that challenged what the author believed to be basic to the Christian movement. This way of reading Acts would show that its author played a central role in the very process of defin-ing Christianity.6

When and Why Was the Acts of the Apostles Written? – The Bible and Interpretation.

Comment About Lead Codices and Media

Someone commented on my blog today about the status of the codices.  I want to highlight this post because I’m sure many laypeople out there are just as confused about the status of these codices as this commenter was.  This is the comment:

On the face of it an extraordinary find – the more reason we should approach with scepticism and ensure only when all possible forensic and academic tests have been satisfied should the lead `codices’ be proclaimed and published as genuine Christian relics.
If genuine they certainly contain extremely controversial content with the possibility of producing profound repercussions throughout Christianity

My response is thus.

  • First, what do you mean by “genuine”? “Genuine” in regards to what, exactly? Compared to which extant artifacts?
  • Second, what “controversial content”? The tablets are in “code” (in reality, they are simply random letters from ancient coins and sections of ancient text taken off tombstones in museums in Amman) and haven’t yet been deciphered into any coherent content whatsoever, so I am not sure to what content you refer.
  • Third, what profound repercussions exactly? There is nothing known about the content of the tablets yet (if there is anything at all to be found); the only repercussions these tablets will produce is to show how easily the media, and the dilettante, fall prey to fake artifacts and conmen looking to make a quick buck off of people’s gullibility and ignorance.

Bibliobloggers and Lead Codices

It seems all this commotion over these lead codices has taken its toll on the Biblioblogging community.  Everyone has snapped.

“It was…it was just too much..” James McGrath spoke to me yesterday, his tone held a mixture of depression and apathy. “I don’t think I can even muster up a good joke about mythicists…”

Joel Watts informed me that his decision to go into ministry was directly a result of the lead codices.  He told me in confidence, “I can’t do this anymore; all this pressure on us to straighten out the media. It’s just not natural, you know?”

Jim West has stopped mowing his lawn (it’s been nearly a week, some sources say) and he has decided to shred his collection (rather large one at that) of overalls.  When I asked him what was the matter, he shrugged, “It’s completely depraved.  I used to mow my lawn for the peace and solitude it brought me.  I could escape the woes of the world, be more in touch with God.”  A tear rolled down his cheek as he smiled and reminisced the good days.  But sorrow took him, “But now I can’t seem to escape these codices!  Everywhere I go, every news source I go to for my daily ‘Totally Depraved’ articles, all of them have something about these derned lead codices!  I can’t find peace anywhere…”

After Jim West sulked away, I ran into a belligerent Mark Goodacre.  At first I thought he might have been mad over the recent Duke loss in the craziness of March Madness.   It soon became clear to me that he was not at all well.  “Mark,” I asked, “What are you doing?”  He quickly informed me through gritting teeth that every undergrad he ran into at Duke would not stop asking him about the codices.  “I can’t escape these pesky students; it is as if they’ve never listened to anything I have said.”  He pushed me aside and stormed off in a hurry, to where I didn’t ask.

Finally I ran into Dan McClellen who I saw rocking uncomfortably back and forth.  “Dan?”  I asked.  He looked up, clearly shaken.  “What is the matter?” I asked.  He looked around in a paranoid fashion, “Wikipedia doesn’t think I’m an expert.  I was discredited by a Wiki editor!  I’m ruined!  I am thinking about dropping out of grad school and running off to some foreign country where no one has the internet.  Maybe there I can start a new life.”  I looked puzzled, of course.  As would anyone!  After all the work Dan has done in exposing the codices, someone should give him a modicum of credit.  I was shocked to hear that his experience in these matters was so easily pushed aside.  “These codices, ” he began, rocking back and forth even faster now, “they’ve completely ruined me!”

I shook my head and started to walk away once more.  And then, I saw Dan shoot off like a rocket towards a small building.  Following closely behind him, I could see Goodacre, Watts, West, McGrath and other bibliobloggers.  In some bizarre twist, all of them had managed to find several brown leather jackets, fedoras, and whips.  And more than one of them had on some khaki Dockers.   As I approached, I realized what had happened.  “We thought, we might as well join them.”  McGrath said, trying his best to imitate Harrison Ford’s smirk.  For the sake of everyone reading this, I snapped a picture.  I don’t know why, but some of the Bibliobloggers had decided to dress as anime characters as well.  They must have really been effected.

Something must be done to stop this madness… or we may all soon end up like them…

Philip Davies on the Thonemann Essay « Zwinglius Redivivus

This will shed some light on Philip Davies’ interest in these codices, especially for all you naysayers out there:

[Peter] Thonemann has been very helpful indeed in pinning down one of these. But I find it more important than he does to find out what has been going on. If he really can point us to a workshop, great. But I am a bit wary of his tone. There are aspects of this whole affair worth the trouble of finding out, especially if a serious deception is being practised on the Jordanian Dept of Antiquities – perhaps not the original purpose of these objects, nor even of those who first hawked them around to various institutions (including the British Museum).

I am really worried that unless we can trace the whole history it will be difficult to prevent something seriously stupid happening. So I would like Thonemann to share what he knows, and not worry so much about scholars wasting their time. I do not think much time is actually being wasted. I am retired and can devote a bit of time and energy to exploring this whole thing. Not too much, though.

But I do love a good story and there is one here – not about early Christians, though.

Philip Davies

Professor Emeritus

Biblical Studies

University of Sheffield

via Philip Davies on the Thonemann Essay « Zwinglius Redivivus.

Were the Lead Codices Just Sold to an Israeli Antiquities Dealer?

According to this source (I am uncertain about the accuracy of the account; it’s as of now unconfirmed–h/t to Dave Meadows for the link) the lead codices might have been sold to an Israeli antiquities dealer.

Jordanian Official: Ancient Manuscripts Discovered In Jordan Sold On Black Market To Israel Dealer

Dr. Ziyad Al-Sa’d, director-general of Jordan’s antiquities authority, yesterday told a press conference that the Jordanian government had information that first-century BC manuscripts discovered in a cave in the north of the country were several years ago sold on the black market to an Israeli antiquities dealer.

The Israeli then showed them to a British archeologist from Cambridge, who notified the Jordanian antiquity authorities.

Al-Sa’d noted that the manuscripts were vitally important, and could shed new light on the source of Christianity and the New Testament. He added that the Jordanian antiquities authority would take all steps to regain its stolen property.

Source: Factjo,com, April 3, 2011; Al-Dustour, Jordan, April 4, 2011

via The MEMRI Blog – Full Blog Entry.

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