King's Evangelical Divinity School

22 December 2010

New Biblical Language Classes at Oxford University

Today's Guardian website reports the interesting story of how Oxford University has begun classes in Aramaic, which have proved very popular and are attended by, among others, leading academics from across the country. Jesus, of course, spoke a version of Aramaic (an Aramaic dialect was used in The Passion movie), while the endangered language was also widely spoken by Jews in Israel during the Second Temple period. The story, which is worth a read, can be found here.

20 December 2010

Some Rather Attention-Seeking Christmas Research

Apparently, scientists in Canada have just released some research exploring how Christmas trees make non-Christians feel excluded. Immediately one can't help but regard such studies as little more than typical academic attempts at sensationalism (better, attention-seeking). Funny how such stories as this always seem to appear during Christmas week (and usually from the same old culprits). In the cutthroat world of original research, all too often mediocre academics floundering to secure tenure do silly things like this in the hope of winning a few media brownie points.

17 December 2010

WikiLeaks, Spielberg and the Arab League

Apparently, one of the latest WikiLeaks cables just released details how blockbuster Hollywood director Steven Spielberg became the target of an Arab League attempt to boycott his films. The Guardian reports on a US embassy memo identifying a $1m donation by Spielberg to Israel in 2006 as a possible motive for their action. But this surely can't be the real reason, can it? After all, plenty of people, companies and indeed countries with whom the League does plenty of business with also trade with (and support) Israel. For that matter, several League members channel far greater sums into supporting anti-Israel terrorist organisations and infrastructure such as Hamas and Hizbollah, so one can't help but think the paltry amount of $1m (in the grand scheme of things), or indeed the donation to a nation regarded as an enemy, was not the real culprit here. (After all, if diplomats responded touchily this way all the time diplomacy would quite literally grind to a halt.) So either the League demonstrated breathtaking hypocrisy and double standards ("It's quite OK, actually, for us to support terrorism on the quiet, but we'll have none of this Jewish Hollywood director giving a few shekels to a worthy cause"), or else something else attracted the ire of the League.

Actually, I can't help but wonder if Spielberg's success in portraying something of the history and plight of modern Jewry - which challenges certain League members' attempts to demonise Israel - is the main issue here. Arguably Spielberg has successfully educated an entire generation concerning the modern plight of the Jewish people. I recall clearly back in the early 1990s when his somewhat powerful Schindler's List was released, as a Sixth Form tutor, being asked by a particularly intelligent student in response to the wide media coverage of the issue, "Sir, what exactly was the Holocaust? I've never really heard of it until now."Of course, the Holocaust wasn't particularly popular as a curricular issue back then (particularly depending on one's school and/or teacher). But Spielberg helped changed that, while future movies such as Munich arguably contribute to an understanding of Israel's sense of isolation and being targeted during the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, Spielberg offers an inconvenient truth for those who automatically demonise Israel, which one can't help but wonder if this had some bearing on the Arab League's motive.

Actually, as I re-read this I'm quite sure I agree with some of you thinking right now, "so what?", that this particular  WikiLeaks cable is a trivial issue, meaningless tittle-tattle that merits little serious attention or comment. I would tend to agree... except it demonstrates how if even someone as trivial as a Hollywood director so works up an entire diplomatic bloc into irrational paranoia, how can countries in the Middle East ever reach meaningful and rational peace accords. It is surely significant that those Arab nations which have signed peace accords with Israel did not attend that particular meeting.