Jots & Tittles
Behind the Bible Scenes
Lot’s incestuous daughters ministered to their father in a dark German forest; the libidinous elders approached Susannah beside a marble fountain in an ornamental Italian garden; and Mary and Joseph passed through the Alps on the flight into Egypt. That might be your impression if you only knew the stories from famous paintings.
Landscapes of the Bible: Sacred Scenes in European Master Paintings, a current exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, explores how European artists (and one American, Thomas Cole) have traditionally allowed their own national heritage to dominate their depictions of the Holy Land.
Perhaps this is inevitable, for few of the 16th- to 19th-century artists featured in the show ever visited the Near East. And as museum curator Gill Pesach points out: “The Bible does not abound in detailed descriptions of scenery.” Granted, the Bible’s description of Israel as a land that “flows with milk and honey” is “one of the most striking descriptions of the Promised Land in the Holy Scriptures,” notes Pesach, but “these verses hardly provided painters of the future with a solid basis on which to anchor a visual image.”
Artists also used lush landscape backdrops to emphasize the holiness of the events depicted in the foreground. In the 50 exhibited paintings, which were borrowed from international museum collections, vast skies, verdant trees and gleaming waters hint at the presence of the sacred in nature.
Landscapes of the Bible will remain on exhibit until January 2, 2001. To obtain the catalogue, 011contact the museum shop at email@example.com; phone: 011–972-2–670-8811; the cost is $24 plus shipping of $14 (surface) or $24 (air).
Long Before War and Peace
Archaeologists in Novgorod last summer discovered the oldest book ever found in Russia: a Book of Psalms written in wax.
Dating from the late 10th to early 11th century—the period when Christianity became the state religion of Russia—the book is not a typical codex with vellum pages but a set of three wooden tablets, each with a depression filled with wax. One hundred lines of text were engraved with a stylus on each of the 8- by 7- by 1/2-inch “pages.” The first and third tablets discovered at Novgorod served as covers for the book and are inscribed only on the inside. The middle tablet is inscribed on both sides.
The codex, called the Novgorod Psalter by the excavators, includes two entire psalms: Psalm 75 in Orthodox tradition (=Psalm 76 in the English Bible, “In Judah God is known, his name is great in Israel…”) and Psalm 76 (=75, “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks; your name is near…”), followed by verses 4–6 from Psalm 67 (=68:3–5, “Let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God…”). (Verses 1–3 of Psalm 67 [“Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered…”] have, for unknown reasons, been erased.) Excavator Valentin Janin, who heads the Moscow State University expedition in Novgorod, and noted Russian linguist Andrei Zalizniak suggest that the book is one volume from a series that included the entire Book of Psalms.
Though today writing in wax might seem almost as transient as writing in sand, waxed tablet books do have a long, enduring history. The earliest known example, discovered in 1982 in the Uluburun shipwreck, off the coast of southern Turkey, dates to the Late Bronze Age (c. 1300 B.C.); unfortunately, in this case the wax did not survive the 3,000 years underwater, so we do not know what was written in the book (see Dorit Symington, “Recovered! The World’s Oldest Book,” AO 02:04). Mesopotamian literary references indicate the use of waxed writing tablets in the first millennium B.C.; reliefs from the palace of Sennacherib (640–615 B.C.) at Nineveh show a scribe writing on a hinged wooden diptych; and similar waxed writing tablets have been found at Pompeii.
Since 1932, excavations in Novgorod, located about 125 miles southeast of St. Petersburg, have uncovered a prosperous medieval city, which served as a political, economic, cultural and ecclesiastic center for northwestern Russia. The medieval city is known for being highly literate, based on the earlier discovery of the birch-bark letters of Novgorod: an archive of about 1,000 medieval letters written on the most accessible and least expensive of writing materials—bark. The most recent excavations have uncovered several 10th- and early-11th-century artifacts, including an icon of Saint Barbara.
The newly discovered tablets are the earliest example of a book written in the Old Slavonic language using the Cyrillic alphabet (both of which are still used today). The Cyrillic alphabet was invented in the ninth century by two Greek missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who were summoned to Moravia by a local Christian prince. They invented the Cyrillic script in order to record their translation of the scriptures into Old Slavonic. The alphabet is based heavily on Greek, but includes several additional letters, including a few Hebrew letters for sounds like ts, sh and ch, and some combinations of Greek letters.
Janin and Zalizniak told BR that the tablets provide “an invaluable, unparalleled source for the study of the history of Russian and Old Slavonic languages, as well as the history of the educational system in ancient Russia and its Christian culture.”
Pinning Jesus Down
The matches are conducted in churches, not sports arenas. The wrestlers have the usual catchy names, but with a biblical twist—Jesus Freak, Angel, Apocalypse and the Beast. And every fight night ends with the wrestlers huddled in the ring for prayers. It’s clearly not the World Wrestling Federation—it’s the Christian Wrestling Federation.
The obscenities and sexuality of the World Wrestling Federation offended Rob Vaughn, a former college football player and Sunday school teacher, now known as Jesus Freak. And yet he recognized wrestling’s great appeal to teenagers. So he created the Christian Wrestling Federation, a nonprofit touring group that travels from church to church in northern Texas, trying to attract teens to church. (The group is willing to add new churches to its itinerary. Details appear on its Web site, www.christianwrestling.com.)
“I’ve never seen wrestling at church before,” 16-year-old Stephen Cade told the Dallas Morning News after the opening night fight, held at the Family Cathedral of Praise, a nondenominational church in Mesquite, Texas. “But it’s fun to watch, and it’s for Jesus Christ. It’ll get people to come to church more often.”
Thanks to BR reader Ed Higgins of George Fox University for alerting us to this story.
A New Twist on the Second Coming
A group of enthusiastic end-timers, tired of waiting for the Second Coming, has decided to take the matter into its own hands: “Should we wait around passively for some miracle to happen? Didn’t God give us brains to use as best we can?” the Second Coming Project asks on its Web site. “Yes, the Second Coming will happen because WE WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN.” How? By cloning Jesus, of course.
Noting the proliferation of supposed relics of Jesus’ body in churches throughout the world (some of which claim to have his blood, his hair, even his foreskin), the Second Coming Project plans to obtain just one cell and then let the duplication begin. A “young virginal woman” has volunteered to carry the baby to term; she hopes to go into labor on December 25, 2001. (Details appear on their Web site, www.clonejesus.com.)
The Second Coming Project has attempted to find scriptural justification for its efforts. Jesus’ emphasis on his body and blood at the Last Supper was a clue to later generations that these would someday save the world, the group claims. And didn’t Jesus himself say that “it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30)? What could he be referring to if not cloning?
Paul, too, was in on the secret, the Second Coming Project claims. The apostle dropped a hint when he said, “We have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7).
The group seems undaunted by the fact that every supposed relic of Jesus is surrounded by controversy. (For the latest on the best known—and most hotly disputed—example, the Shroud of Turin, see Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., “Does Pollen Prove the Shroud Authentic?” BAR 26:06.) They are also unfazed by the fact that no human being has ever been cloned (at least not publicly) and that cloning has never been successfully performed on such aged cells (at least not outside of Hollywood).
British evangelical leader David Hilborn has suggested that any such project will fail for theological reasons. “Divinity is what distinguishes Jesus from the rest of us, and divinity is not contained in DNA,” says Hilborn. “There are no genes or chromosomes for God.”
Behind the Bible Scenes