May/June Issue of Biblical Archaeology Review–Don’t Miss It!

As the leafy trees outside become green and lush, the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review is ripe with stories that deal with some much older, drier trees. As a result of earthquakes, Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount had to be dismantled and reconstructed in the 1930s and 1940s. Massive Cedar of Lebanon and cypress beams were reused, and others were simply removed. Some of these beams are significantly older than the mosque itself. Peretz Reuven asks in “Wooden Beams from Herod’s Temple Mount: Do They Still Exist?: Were these timbers from Al-Aqsa once part of Herod’s Temple Mount architecture?”

There is also a fascinating article about Pella by Stephen Bourke dealing with the question of whether the tradition that the early Christians fled to that area before the 70 CE Jewish Roman revolt has any historical validity. I have dealt with this topic on my blog here.

Read more about the fascinating May/June issue here. You can pick up a copy at any good newsstand or better yet, sign up for either a print or digital subscription, or better yet, sign up for the Biblical Archaeology Society Library and get access to everything–past and present. No, I don’t work for BAR nor am I paid to endorse them, I just think there is no value like this anywhere for those interested in this wide range of materials.[1]

  1. Browse or search over 6,600 articles from 35 years of Biblical Archaeology Review (1975 to present), 20 years of Bible Review (1985 to 2005 complete) and 8 years of Archaeology Odyssey (1998 to 2006 complete). []

Adolf Hitler and his Paintings: The Making of a Tyrant

Adolf Hitler lived in Vienna from 1908-1913, basically homeless and poor. He fancied himself a painter and his ambition was to be accepted into the Vienna Academy of Art for which he was turned down twice. Since he had dropped out of secondary school he was judged unqualified for entrance. He sold his paintings on the street, lived in a cheap boarding house, and almost froze to death in the winter.  After being rejected by the school he went into a depression, deciding that the Jews were running everything and thus would not accept him. Here are some of his paintings, showing he had a fair amount of talent, though some would find them “soulless,” with a sense of light, color, and form but little emotion or individual expression. One can only wonder how different would have been the history of the 20th century had he been accepted into the Art Academy, but one never knows. I highly recommend Ron Rosenbaum’s book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (Harper Collins, 1998), in which he deals with this very question–the “making of a tyrant,” and how various historians have striven somehow to explain Hitler the person and what he became. For more on this formative period of Hitler’s life, and thus of the history of our modern era, see also Brigitte Hamann, Hitler’s Wein: Lehrjahre Eines Diktators (Piper, 1998).

Click on individual images to enlarge:

Happy Valentine’s Day–and Who Was that Saint Again?

Valentine if he existed was a third century martyr who died on the date associated with his feast on the Via Flamina outside Rome.  Because the Church exaggerated both the number and the style of martyr-deaths, his name was removed from the official calendar of the Roman church in 1969, but his feast is still kept as a regional festival.

St. Valentine’s Day and some thoughts on “Charity” from the Apostle Paul via Joseph Hoffmann…

Don’t Miss My University Web Site: “The Jewish Roman World of Jesus”

My university Web site called “The Jewish Roman World of Jesus” contains a world of resources, mostly primary texts, that I use in my various classes on Christian origins, both graduate and undergraduate. One of my more ambitious students printed out the entire web site and I think it ended up running over 500 pages! Various professors, colleagues, and students have linked to it in their courses and it has a very high traffic volume. I think we quit counting after a million visitors some years ago.

This is the kind of site you can browse endlessly and I invite my blog readers to dip in as you wish and link as you will. Any of these materials can be freely used so long as proper credit is given. Thanks to Michael McKinney of Century One Bookstore, who designed this site for me nearly two decades ago. And while I am on this subject, be sure and browse the Century One site for a well chosen selection of biblical and archaeological resources at discount prices.

Remembering Olof James Ribb: Seven Year Ago Today

In my more resigned moments I figure this thing is going to get me sooner or later — it wasn’t exactly caught in the early stages–but all I really want is what I’ve always wanted even before this happened: some good days (without pain) and the opportunity to put things in order, providing for a minimum of fuss after I’m gone. If I can have that, I’ll be happy. It’s quality, not quantity.

Olof James Ribb died seven years ago today on January 16, 2006 of a very aggressive form of bone cancer. Olof was one of those rare friends of a lifetime that some of us are fortunate enough to have. He was one of the truest people I have ever known, a “man in whom there was no guile,” and one of the most brilliant and honest human beings I have ever known. When I think of sterling impeccable character I think of Olof. All who knew him say the same. He had some rare combination of intelligence, brutal honesty, kindness, keen insight, a quest for truth, and a passionate sense of justice. I miss him immensely and think of him every day.

Today, in memory of Olof, we have just posted the draft of a manuscript he finished in 1994 but never published: Excerpts: A Collection of Thoughts, Quotations, and Observations.[1] Olof was exceedingly modest about this work and during his lifetime only shared it with a few friends, though he and I talked about publishing it someday and he seemed quite willing but said it would “need a lot of work.” I invite my readers to delve into this rather remarkable collection of random observations on “People, Books and Ideas, Death, Tradition, Politics, Reason and the Mind, Women, Gender, Sex, Morality, and Superstition,” as well as to browse the web site for the many photos, tributes, and memories of Olof Ribb–especially by his students. The section on “Olof’s Thoughts” is particularly fascinating.

Olof was preeminently a linguist, a reader, a thinker–but most of all a teacher, par excellence. He was reluctant to write much formally given his conviction that most of what needed to be said about la condition humaine had already been said far better than he felt he could express things–hence the many quotations in his little book. He was a high school teacher of German and Latin much beloved of students, family, and friends. He could have easily had a Ph.D. and taught at the university level but he felt strongly that high school was the best and most critical place to serve in our culture so he was content with his M.A. in German and Latin. When he won the “Teacher of the Year” award at Western Alamance High School in Burlington, NC, where he was teaching when he died, he commented to a friend who congratulated him, “Thanks, Joy, for your card and congratulations. I certainly bamboozled them!” Olof lived in Greensboro, not far from the UNC campus and spent much time at Chapel Hill as well, both in the libraries and taking post-graduate classes in philosophy, literature, and Classics. Beginning in January, 1973 Olof and I exchanged letters in the good old-fashioned way, three to five page typed single-spaced, mailed back and forth every week to ten days for over 20 years. The last decade or so we turned to e-mail. I have copies of all our correspondence filling several storage boxes.  Those files are among my most precious possessions, next to family pictures and movies. Someday I hope to publish excerpts–mostly his not mine–as this weekly record of his intellectual and spiritual development over the 33 years of our friendship is truly an impressive legacy.

Olof made a profound difference in countless thousands of lives over the years. German was Olof’s main academic expertise, though he had learned Italian and Spanish quite well, and was a master of Latin. His great loves were history, philosophy, religion, and literature, though he maintained a curiosity about almost everything, including the latest in science. He had read the complete works of Nietzsche and dozens of others German philosophers and writers, not to mention his deep love of Classics.  Because of his family “roots” he plunged into Swedish with a special passion the last decades of his life. I remember asking him once, since I knew his Germany was so fluent, if his Swedish would compare, and he answered simply “Yes.”  He had become over 20 years as comfortable in Swedish as in English or German.

I don’t know of anyone inside or outside my academic field who had followed my work and research on the historical Jesus more avidly than Olof. But he was much more of a dialog partner and a critic than a fan. He had studied the Bible line-by-line in his youth and I have his old worn copy with markings and notations on every page–no exaggeration here. Over the years he read and thought himself “out of Christianity,” and in the end even the more Hebraic “process theism” that I find appealing failed to grip him. In the oddest way his “skepticism” and even “agnosticism” seemed to have more integrity to it than the creedal statements of so many. He was neither contentious nor pretentious, and was perfectly willing to patiently listen to my own expositions but just found himself unconvinced of what he considered to be the naive assumptions of “certainty” in any sort of biblically oriented faith.  I benefited immensely from his input and we differed sharply on some of these issues.

Olof read every word of my Jesus Dynasty manuscript along the way and gave me helpful feedback on nearly every page. I still have his MS Word “markup” copies of each chapter, filled with his notes.  He traveled with me to Germany when I was doing the Pantera research in October, 2005, just a few months before he died. We had no idea he was even sick but he complained on that trip of a pain in his shoulder that turned out to be a malignant bone tumor. I mention him in the Acknowledgments of that book that was published in April of 2006. Olof never lived to hold a printed copy of the book in his hands but I flew up to Minneapolis the weekend before he died and showed him the final page proofs which pleased him immensely.

I hope all of you will both enjoy and be stimulated by Olof’s thoughts on this seventh anniversary of his death. You may click on these photos to enlarge for viewing.



  1. I want to thank my dear and mutual friend of Olof–Stephen Estes–for scanning and preparing this original manuscript for posting and Olof’s nephew Erick Mortensen who maintains the web site []