Great digital modeling work being done on Karnak at UCLA by Dr. Elaine Sullivan

The UCLA Visualization Portal displays a 3D virtual reconstruction of Karnak.

The UCLA Visualization Portal displays a 3D virtual reconstruction of Karnak.

Congratulations to Dr. Elaine Sullivan at UCLA, who was recently featured in the Harvard Gazette regarding her research on a 3D virtual reconstruction of “The Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak: 2000 Years of Rituals and Renovations in 3-D.”

The Karnak model depicts the temple from its earliest hypothesized form in the Middle Kingdom, about 1950 B.C., through the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. It allows the viewer to trace the changes of the temple over time, considering how each new stage of construction was a response to the existing landscape, Sullivan said.

And Harvard’s Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology, Dr. Peter Der Manuelian, understands the power of virtual modeling ancient archaeological sites:

The 3-D models are “terrific tools for teaching and also terrific research tools, because you begin to ask questions that were not possible before.”

Kudos to Dr. Sullivan on her years of work on Digital Karnak, which can be viewed in detail at UCLA’s Digital Karnak website.

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kudos to smithsonian channel for putting “gospel of jesus’ wife” documentary on hold

Smithsonian ChannelWord from the Smithsonian Channel is that they’ve decided to shelve a new documentary on the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” due, in part, to a high degree of scholarly criticism ranging from claims that the fragment is an outright fake to claims that it appears to be a cut-and-paste job of verses taken from the Gospel of Thomas.

This is a good thing! Kudos to Smithsonian for listening to the facts, weighing the evidence, and evaluating the scholarly critique instead of rushing to air a sensationalized documentary that may turn out to be nothing but an hour of strained speculation sold to a cable channel in the hopes of making quick money, archaeology be damned.

I applaud Smithsonian Channel. And I applaud Harvard Divinity School’s Dr. Karen King. Dr. King released this fragment the way it should be released in this new digital era of immediate feedback: first to a group of scholars for review, and then to a professional conference of her peers for review, and only then to the public.

And, when the scholarly experts began to raise doubts and voice their concerns about the authenticity of the object and its interpretation, the planned documentary was put on hold to preserve the credibility of the network and of the scholar making the claim, despite the fact that there was quick money to be made. There is no highly speculative, popular book to recall because Dr. King went through the academy first. And now that the scholarly community has voiced its desire for more research, Dr. King (who has repeatedly expressed her own doubts about the fragment’s authenticity) appears all the more professional and the Smithsonian Channel looks all the more responsible.

It’s a shame that other networks can’t follow Smithsonian’s lead and cancel other documentaries they believe to be highly problematic, factually challenged, speculative, and mere attempts to make a quick buck on potentially pseudoarchaeological claims.


[N.B.: We have yet to hear if the documentary’s producer has decided to sue Joe Zias for millions of dollars because a growing majority of the scholarly community has questioned the validity of the documentary’s claims, causing it to be shelved and potentially canceled. Because obviously, any documentary related to the Bible and archaeology that is shelved due to a growing critique of the sensational claims by a number of scholars must be Joe’s fault alone. ;-)]

Dr. Paul Dilley on the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Announcement

The so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife"

The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”

Here’s a blog post from my University of Iowa Classics and Religious Studies colleague, Paul Dilley, who was at the Coptic conference in Rome when the big announcement was made.

He writes:

Professor Karen King of Harvard presented a tiny, poorly-written portion of a manuscript page, owned by a private collector, which features a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in which he mentions “my wife.”  King, working with Professor AnneMarie Luijendijk of Princeton, has made a draft of their editio princeps, English translation, and study of this “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”, forthcoming in Harvard Theological Review, available for download:

http://www.hds.harvard.edu/faculty-research/research-projects/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife

They suggest that the text was written in the second century, citing denials that Jesus was married by Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian of Carthage, as well as parallels with other apocryphal texts usually dated to this era; this is certainly a plausible hypothesis.  But regardless of the original date of composition, it seems to me that Jesus’s marital status would have been an even more poignant topic for debate among Christians in Late Antiquity, after the rise of the ascetic/monastic movement, with controversies about the relative value of celibacy and marriage occupying center stage.

It will be interesting to see the case made for the authenticity of the fragment and translation of the text, as well as whether the fact that the manuscript is unprovenanced, was acquired from an antiquities dealer, and that the present owner wants to sell the document to Harvard adversely affects the credibility of the discovery.

And check out Dr. Dilley’s blog, Hieroi Logoi: Digital Resources for Religion in Late Antiquity, when you get a chance and add his valuable blog to your blogroll.

u.s. news: harvard is the nation’s top school

US NewsHarvard University is the nation’s top school according to the 2011 U.S. News & World Report rankings released today.

California once again landed the most schools in the top 50 with 9 schools, with 5 of those in the top 25:

Read more here.

harvard courses now on itunes u

Harvard University Crest

harvard university is the latest major university to begin placing their university courses on itunes u. categories include science and health, history, arts and culture, and national and world affairs. and while their offerings are still limited, it will only be a matter of time before harvard’s course offerings are as robust as yale’s ‘open yale‘ courses and itunes u offerings, duke university, and, of course, ucla’s itunes u courses.

progress is a good thing, as is making university-level learning available directly to the public.

notes from ucla lecture by harvard’s harvey cox entitled, ‘the future of faith’

Harvey Cox, Harvard University

Harvey Cox, Harvard University

tuesday evening i attended a lecture by harvard religion professor dr. harvey cox entitled, ‘the future of faith.’ the lecture was sponsored by the ucla center for the study of religion, and introduced dr. ra’anan boustan, who is taking over as director for the outgoing dr. scott bartchy, who has directed the center for 14 years.

professor cox spoke about his new book, ‘the future of faith,’ and made three brief points:

1. religion has not disappeared, it is growing. despite claims in the 60s that religion would disappear with the rise of science, it has not. in fact, religion has grown. pentecostalism is the fastest growing area, probably because of its simplicity and experiential focus. more xns now reside in asia, south america, and africa than in the traditional ‘christian’ areas of europe and north america. religion has not died, but it has transformed.

2. fundamentalism is dying. fundamentalism is not evangelicalism. sectarianism is dying because it requires too much energy in a socially networked world. sectarianism/fundamentalism requires physical and social isolation to thrive, but global communications, travel, and the internet (particularly social networking) puts the thoughts and ideas of all peoples within reach, harming fundamentalism. likewise, sectarianism cannot act politically, only unilaterally, because political success requires working with groups unlike one’s own. evangelicalism is shifting from a movement with a few large litmus issues (like abortion and the role of women or gay rights) to more complex issues of race, poverty, and social justice. evangelicalism is moving away from the ‘infallibility and inerrancy’ of the bible, to a place where the bible plays a role in instruction.

3. there is a change in the nature of religiousness. the change is characterized by a transition from doctrine to experience, from a hierarchical model to a communitarian one. doctrine has given way to issues of social justice. worship is now less geared towards an audience and more towards a participative experience. beliefs have given way to actions and a way of life way. dr. cox pointed out that there was no common creed for the first 300 years of christianity, yet it seemed to thrive. the rise of orthodoxy made christianity into more of an oppressive doctrinal system, one that is only now beginning to reemerge as a force for social justice rather than a political tool.

i agreed with many of the observations that dr. cox made. he noted the perceived rise of fundamentalisms in the muslim world is only the exception to the rule, and that this militancy has more of a nationalistic/tribal basis and less of a religious one (religion being the tool used inappropriately to bring about their desired political order). he was charming, confident, and humble. i enjoyed the lecture.

u.s. news & world report 2010 college rankings released

US News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report

u.s. news & world report has issued its college rankings for best colleges 2010. harvard caught princeton for the #1 ranking. the top 10 are as follows:

1. harvard
1. princeton
3. yale
4. cal tech
4. mit
4. stanford (another california school in the top 10)
4. penn
8. colombia
8. chicago
10. duke

other notables (read: universities i like, attended, or choose to highlight) include:

11. dartmouth (beautiful, and winner of the new category in commitment to undergraduate teaching)
21. uc berkeley
24. ucla (which again beat #26 usc, and was ranked the #2 public university in the country ;-)
26. usc
35. uc san diego
42. uc davis
42. uc santa barbara (tie)
46. uc irvine

58. pepperdine (which when i attended there had climbed into the top 50, sank to 58)

this means 9 california universities (cal tech, stanford, cal berkeley, ucla, usc, uc san diego, uc davis, uc santa barbara, and uc irvine) ranked in the top 50.

of course, many colleges that did not rank as high as they would like are already complaining about the formula used to compute the rankings. an associated press article reports that:

The ranking formula takes account of factors such as SAT scores, peer reputation, selectivity and alumni giving.

critics argue that too much emphasis is placed on library size, alumni giving, and university presidential voting, which can skew the objectivity of the vote (because each university president ranks his or her college higher than it should be), but because everyone most likely inflates their school’s status, it all evens out. other systems of college ranking place more of an emphasis on teaching, student debt upon completion, employability, and affordability.

then again, the schools in the top tier are largely recognized as being the best in the country. likewise, u.s. news and world report remains the standard for college rankings.

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