Monday, 9 March 2015

Alex Left Some Stuff Lying Around in the Holy Land

(CNN) Hen Zakai loves exploring darkness. In his spare time, he lowers himself into the underground world of hidden caves to navigate the nooks and crevasses of a very different environment. 

Zakai was recently spelunking with his father and a friend, all of whom are members of the Israeli Caving Club, when Zakai spotted a shiny silver object in one of the most well-hidden stalactite caves in northern Israel.

Full article here.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Early Copy of Gospel Found in Mummy's Mask

A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist - a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 - is set to be published.

At present, the oldest surviving copies of the gospel texts date to the second century (the years 101 to 200).

Full article here.

Many thanks to Al for showing this to me.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Lost Egyptian Queen Found

(CNN) - A Czech archeology team in Egypt has uncovered an intriguing find: the tomb of a previously unknown queen.

The discovery was made in an Old Kingdom necropolis southwest of Cairo in Abusir, home to the pyramid of Pharaoh Neferefre, who ruled 4,500 years ago. The tomb was found in Neferefre's funeral complex, and it's believed that the queen was Neferefre's wife.

Full article here.

Many thanks to Al for sending this to me.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Meaning of Animal Mummies

Millions of animal mummies — some elaborately dressed, others plainly wrapped — were buried by ancient Egyptians and the exact reason for the death ritual is an ongoing archaeological mystery.

Full article here.

Many thanks to Al for showing this to me.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Last month, my husband and I went to see the much anticipated Exodus: Gods and Kings, the final offering of 2014's Biblical movie line-up.
Both of us, it seems, left it with mixed reactions.

For me, it wasn't as awful as Noah, but neither was it as reverent as Son of God (the best of the three). It deviated quite a bit from the Biblical account.
Though I must say, the scene of the parting of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds?) was... interesting. To be honest, I was initially baffled with it until my husband, who is a well-read man, explained it to me.

On another factor, the Egyptology is done very well. Seeing the film in 3D was greatly enriching.

For sure, this is certainly a different kind of Moses retelling. For one thing, it does not begin with him as an infant in the basket. They also left out the dramatic line, "Let my people go!"

On an amusing note, Joel Edgerton looked too - well - tame to play Pharaoh Ramses II. Ramses was supposed to be intimidating and domineering, but Edgerton had a rather friendly face.
(By the way, I later discovered that he is Australian.)

My husband says more of this in his review, which is very knowledgeable and insightful. Without further ado, here it is.


A Review of Exodus: Gods and Kings
by Alfred D. Byrd

Anna's and my first reaction to Exodus: Gods and Kings was, "This is a gorgeous movie!" The parts of it set in Egypt filled the screen with lovingly rendered, detailed, authentic Egyptian outfits, furniture, chariots, buildings, etc., that made the characters who moved amid them come to life. The impression of gorgeousness remained with us throughout the movie. It was also fast-paced, engrossing, and dark -- something like The Ten Commandments meets The Lord of the Rings. Exodus: Gods and Kings made me wonder what kind of LOTR we would have gotten had Ridley Scott made it.

Any live-action movie that revisits the subject matter of The Ten Commandments must take the "Charlton Heston" and "Yul Brynner" tests. Christian Bale, as Moses, passed the "Charlton Heston" test with a less stagy, but more human performance than the trumpter of "Let my people go!" gave us. Perhaps to set Bale's performance off from Heston's, the actual words "Let my people go" never occur in Gods and Kings. Joel Edgerton flunked the "Yul Brenner Test," but was still an intriguing character, a lovable Teddy Bear forced to rule a kingdom. I don't know what statement Ridley Scott was making in directing Edgerton as Ramses the Not-So-Great -- maybe that no great man in real life is what partisan history makes of him.

Before I go further, let me praise Ridley Scott for something subtle, but clever, that he did. In the aftermath of an amazingly staged Battle of Kadesh, Ramses deliberately omits Moses' heroic role in it from the official history that we can still read today. Ridley Scott thereby shows us how the entire account of Exodus could have been cut out of Egyptian history.

Let me next air pet peeves. First, the Egyptians didn't hang criminals by the neck until dead; the Egyptians impaled them. Given the obvious depth of Ridley Scott's research as shown in the movie, he must have made the anachronistic choice of hanging by a noose as a concession to modern audiences (or perhaps the rating board). Anachronistic, too, was the "economics" talk between Moses and Ramses in the royal stable. As a student of the American Civil War, I must say that Ramses' justification for not freeing the slaves -- economic dislocation for Egypt and unreadiness for freedom of the Children of Israel -- could have come almost verbatim from a Southern gradual emancipationist on Fort Sumter's eve. The speech by Moses and Ramses was jarringly modern in its Ancient Egyptian setting, as as an earlier talk between Moses and Pharaoh Seti on skepticism and religious toerance.

The movie had many omissions from, additions to, and revisions of the original account in Exodus, but the core of the Biblical account was there. If you haven't yet watched the movie and plan to, get used to not seeing most of the recorded confrontations of Moses and Pharaoh, and the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night appears nowhere. Disappointingly for Anna, Moses never turns his staff into a serpent, and missed out on the always entertaining duel with Pharaoh's magicians. On the additions front, Moses as a Che Guevaraesque resistance fighter is a stretch, to say the least, though the guerrilla battle scenes were well done, in more than one sense of the word.

Oh, and don't expect the Red Sea to part. What it does do, however, is dramatic and even apocalyptic. If you just go with the flow of the movie's ending, as it were, I think that you'll be entertained, if not enlightened. And what was I saying? There were certainly pillars of cloud in Gods and Kings' Crossing of the Red Sea. Out of fear of spoilers, I'll leave out my biggest cavil with the scene. I expect you to notice it yourself.

One part of the movie that may give you real problems is God. In the movie, if he's real at all (Ridley Scott always leaves the door open to naturalistic interpretations) he's a little boy, identical in appearance to Moses' son Gershom. Only Moses can see God and fights with Him continually. I've seen the "God as a little boy" trope done before, and done well, in the Bible Collection Jeremiah, in which the trope stressed God's innocence. In Gods and Kings, I don't know what the trope represents, unless it's God's identification with the suffering of children under oppressive regimes. Yes, that interpretation might work. Still, Moses and God develop a quirky interesting relationship over time. It's good entertainment, even if it's shaky theology. Take it with a grain of salt -- maybe, a shaker.

Like most of Hollywood's Bible epics (think Noah), Exodus: Gods and Kings is better as entertainment than it is as a Sunday-school lesson. In the end, here's the highest praise that I can give the movie: it seemed to me far shorter than it was. If you can get past its omissions, additions, and revisions, you can watch an engaging film. Did I mention that it's gorgeous?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Jerusalem Archaeology

It started 15 years ago with plans to expand the Tower of David Museum. But the story took a strange turn when archaeologists started peeling away layers under the floor in an old abandoned building adjacent to the museum in Jerusalem’s Old City.

They knew it had been used as a prison when the Ottoman Turks and then the British ruled these parts. But, as they carefully dug down, they eventually uncovered something extraordinary: the suspected remains of the palace where one of the more famous scenes of the New Testament may have taken place - the trial of Jesus.

Full article here.

Many thanks to Al for showing this to me.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Akhenaton's Dad

(CNN) -- A massive statue of Pharaoh Amenhotep III was toppled in an earthquake some 3,000 years ago.

It has risen again.

The 50-ton, 13-meter (42-foot) statue was unveiled on Sunday at the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt, restored to its former grandeur due to the hard work of Egyptian and German archaeologists.

The same team, including noted German archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian, unveiled two other massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in March. Sourouzian heads the temple of Amenhotep III conservation project.

Full article here.

Many thanks to Al for showing this to me.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A Million Mummies

TORONTO — She's literally one in a million.

The remains of a child, laid to rest more than 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, was found in an ancient cemetery that contains more than 1 million mummies, according to a team of archaeologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Full article here.

Many thanks to Al for showing this to me.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Joseph and His Brethren

Back when Al and I first met, he informed me about this movie called Joseph and His Brethren which his friend described as "the worst Biblical movie ever."

At that time, neither of us had seen it. Yet, despite the review, our curiosities were piqued.
When we finally got to see it, well...

I suppose the film is worth watching for a lesson on how not to depict the Joseph narrative. I have to admit too that the movie is fun in a campy way, as Al would say.
I am just relieved we did not have to pay a single cent to see it.

My husband described the movie best. With his permission, I have reprinted his review here.


Campy Fun, Scriptural Travesty
A Review of Joseph and His Brethren by Alfred D. Byrd

Sometimes something that you expected to be bad turns out to be worse than you imagined. A case in point is the movie Joseph and His Brethren, which a theologian friend of mine told me was "the worst Biblical movie that I've seen." His comment did not prepare me for what I saw.

Let me put the film into its proper perspective: Joseph and His Brethren is a low-budget Italian sword-and-sandals epic from a time of innocence when we were young, and as such has all the excesses of such films, including the obligatory scene with dancing girls. Seen as such, the movie is fun in a campy way, especially if one is in the mood for some Mystery Science Theater 3000 dialog with the screen. As an enactment of one of the most beloved accounts of the Bible, though -- well, judge for yourself.

The movie starts out well enough with some strong chemistry between Joseph (Geoffrey Horne) and his little brother, Benjamin, and a cleverly done scene in which Joseph sorts out a dispute over the ownership of sheep by enacting a Martin Gardner mind-teaser on screen. The scenes in which Joseph excites his older brothers' jealousy are serviceable, if not great.

Things start to take a turn for the strange, though, when the brothers sell Joseph to Ishmaelite traders named Muhammad and Ali, forsooth! In Egypt, though, Joseph rises at once in the world as in the slave market he saves the life of his future master, Potiphar, with arcane knowledge of the medical practice of bloodletting. In Potiphar's house Joseph becomes even more valued for his ability to make the best wine in Egpyt and his innovative practice of making his masters feel better by flogging them with branches. I guess that I've missed these abilities every time I've read Genesis through, but, oh, well.

Potiphar, as played by Robert Morley, is an amazing take on the Biblical character. Vain, snooty, suspicious, yet trusting, scatterbrained, and challenging a turnip in the IQ department, he provides some great comic relief, as unlikely as such a thing is in a Joseph epic. One can understand why his much younger wife Heneth (Belinda Lee, who wins the best-actor award for the movie) is unhappy with her husband. After an unintentionally comic entrance in which she calls out "Potiphar!" in exactly the same tone in which Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) called out "Oli-vah!" in Green Acres, Heneth becomes the movie's high point. Vain and petulant, yet charming and intelligent (by this movie's standards), she cleverly manipulates the men around her so that she can be with Joseph, who has an unfortunate tendency to look like a deer in the headlights around her. Alas, my copy of the movie deleted the scene in which she tries to seduce Joseph, so I likely missed the movie's best acting.

Joseph goes off to the mines, and it's sad that "The Song of the Volga Boatmen" wasn't playing in the background for the cartoonish scenes set there. In a remarkably offhand way, Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker, and eventually gets to Pharaoh's court. Potiphar and Heneth, in the meantime, exit the story in one the most over-the-top scenes that I've seen, even in a sword-and-sandal epic. It's a scene worth seeing all for itself.

As the author of Asenath's Tale, I want to mention this movie's Asenath (Vira Silenti). As a fiery street revolutionary, the baker's bitterly grieving daughter, and a reproachful wife taking Joseph to task for mistreating his brother Simeon, she stole every scene in which she appeared with word-and-sandals overacting. She at least made the film come alive in its later stages, and I wish that there'd been more of her.

Sad to say, it wasn't hard to steal scenes from this movie's Joseph, who, after a promising start, basically sleepwalked through the rest of the movie. There was some good acting when a dignified, but self-pitying Jacob was on stage, but the resolution of the movie was perfunctory, not to mention conflated. The same could be said of most of the movie's Biblical elements: they were touched on, but overshadowed by bizarre inventions, such as Joseph's defeating the Syrian army in battle with a Great Flood. It helped matters little that none of Joseph's older brothers stood out from one another. They were all the generic scruffy, bearded extras of all of the other sword-and-sandals epics.

Over all, I'd say that you might find Joseph and His Brethren enjoyable if you watch it as campy fun, in the manner of Plan Nine from Outer Space. Just don't expect much in the way of Biblical accuracy, or serious story. (All right, I could've stopped that last sentence after, "Just don't expect much.") If you want to see a truly good treatment of the Joseph story, though, run, don't walk, for the Bible Collection Joseph.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Mystery of the Pyramids

How ancient Egyptians constructed the pyramids is still somewhat of an archeological mystery. Everything from cranes and ramps to oil-slicked slipways to aliens (naturally) have been put forward as possible mechanisms. A group of Dutch physicists has a new hypothesis on how ancient Egyptians managed to drag the colossal stones necessary to build pyramids across the desert. The answer: wet sand.

Full article here.

Many thanks to Al for showing this to me.