Monday, November 20, 2017

Egypt celebrates 200 years since decoding Rosetta Stone - Egypt Today Rosette Stone [Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia] Rosette Stone [Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia]

Egypt celebrates 200 years since decoding Rosetta Stone

Mon, Nov. 20, 2017

CAIRO – 20 November 2017: Egypt celebrates 200 years since the discovery and decoding of the Rosetta Stone in Egypt through several cultural activities held across the country for three consecutive days, starting Sunday.

Carried out under the theme of "Rashid, Egyptian-French Historical Relations Watcher", the celebrations were held at Damanhour University in Beheira, according to a released statement by the Ministry of Antiquities.

The director of the Department of Coptic and Islamic Antiquities Mohamed Abdel Latif has explained during the celebration that the government is focusing on upgrading megaprojects such as developing the area where Rashid is located to a museum for Islamic heritage.

This comes in parallel to the ministry's plans to develop the city into a touristic destination, according to Abdel Latif.

Emphasizing the Ministry of Antiquities' vital role, Abdel Latif reviewed the ministry's efforts in qualifying the city to become an international touristic site. Besides, to commemorate the decoding of the stone, descendants of discoverers and members of the French Campaign have attended the celebration, including that of Francios Champollion, the stone's discoverer Pierre, and the leader of the French Campaign in Egypt General Menou.

Located currently at the British Museum in London since 1802, the stone was found in 1799 by an officer in the French military campaign in Egypt. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic and ancient Greek inscriptions praising King Ptolemy V are carved onto the stone.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

D.C.’s Newest Museum Has a Provenance Problem - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Provenance Problem

Why a cloud hangs over the new Museum of the Bible

November 14, 2017
Michael S. Williamson, The Washington Post via Getty Images
The main entrance of the Museum of the Bible features 40-foot-high bronze panels based on the printing plates used for the Gutenberg Bible.

When visitors enter the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., they'll pass between two 40-foot-tall bronze slabs stamped with verses from the first chapter of Genesis. It's supposed to feel as if you're walking into the Bible itself. Inside they'll find six floors and 430,000 square feet dedicated to emphasizing the importance of the Bible's role in history and its continued relevance in modern culture. There's a 500-seat theater, a Scripture-themed flight simulator, an interactive children's section, an imaginative recreation of Jesus' hometown, a restaurant called "Manna," and a Bible-inspired garden complete with waterfall.

Not to mention biblical artifacts. Lots of them.

The museum is the passion project of Steve Green, the billionaire president of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain store. In 2009, the Green family bought their first biblical manuscript (an English translation of Psalms dating to around 1400), and in the years that followed Green and his emissaries traveled throughout the Middle East and spent millions acquiring artifacts, including Torah scrolls and fragments of New Testament papyri, building a massive private collection estimated at some 40,000 items, most of which are stored in a warehouse in Oklahoma City, where Hobby Lobby is based.

The audacious buying spree drove up prices in the biblical antiquities market and, according to a 2010 New York Times article, "set dealers buzzing in the staid world of rare books."

Biblical scholars took notice as well, and started asking questions, chief among them: What exactly was Green buying, and from whom? The answers weren't forthcoming, because most of the sales happened "out-of-auction and off-book, behind closed doors," Candida Moss and Joel Baden, both biblical scholars, write in their new book, Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby (Princeton University Press), a deep investigative dive into how the family-run corporate giant aims to promote a view of the Bible consistent with evangelical Christianity.

The faith of the Green family became part of the national conversation when Hobby Lobby sued the federal government over certain birth-control provisions in the Affordable Care Act, a case the company took to the Supreme Court and won in 2014.

As the lawsuit was working its way through the courts, Green's biblical collection was growing exponentially. Moss, a professor of theology at the University of Birmingham, in England, and Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible at the Yale Divinity School, document the many stumbles of that effort, and they depict Green as naïve and those around him as unqualified. Rather than reaching out to the "world's leading textual scholars," as the museum's website asserts, Green often tapped Christian academics who hadn't previously worked with ancient texts. This is less of a surprise when you discover that, in the beginning, Green saw the Museum of the Bible as an extension of his evangelical mission — at one point, he even considered passing out cards to visitors encouraging them to accept Jesus as their savior. Over time, he was persuaded that the museum would be more warmly greeted if there was an effort to appear nonsectarian.

"Every time we ask for documented provenance, no piece of paper whatsoever has been provided."
Moss and Baden argue that the Green collection paid little attention to critical issues like provenance — that is, understanding the chain of ownership for a particular artifact in order to ensure that it hadn't been unethically obtained. This is of extra concern in countries like Egypt, where the looting of artifacts is linked to child labor and terrorism. Provenance is a longstanding conundrum for antiquities scholars, who often need previously unexamined items for their research and must decide whether to study an object with a sketchy pedigree. As Moss and Baden put it, publishing on artifacts that do not come with solid provenance "effectively launders potentially illicit antiquities."

That carelessness would come back to haunt the project. In July, the company agreed to return more than 5,000 items and pay a $3-million settlement after the Department of Justice accused Hobby Lobby of smuggling antiquities that had been taken from Iraq. It didn't help Hobby Lobby's reputation that the items, many of them cuneiform tablets, had been placed in boxes marked as tile samples and mailed to the company's headquarters. It was an embarrassment for Green, and a black eye for a half-billion-dollar museum just a few months shy of its opening.

But it was more than a passing public-relations headache. Because the Green collection consistently failed to properly account for the treasures it had purchased, the company couldn't lay its hands on many of the smuggled items. In fact, they might still be in the company's warehouse. And because nearly all the artifacts in the nonprofit museum were transferred from Green's private collection, there's a chance that the Christian Smithsonian, as it's been called, might be showing off essentially pilfered goods.

The Museum of the Bible has tried to distance itself from the debacle, asserting in a statement that the museum "was not a party to either the investigation or the settlement."

That may be technically true, but the museum and the company could hardly be more closely entwined: Steve Green is the chairman of the museum's board, and his plan all along was to purchase artifacts in order to build a Bible museum. In a statement issued after the settlement, Hobby Lobby said that those working on the collection "did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process" and therefore made "regrettable mistakes."

One of those mistakes had to do with the purchase of a fourth-century papyrus fragment, written in Coptic, from the New Testament book of Galatians. That fragment was put on display at the Vatican, along with other Green-owned pieces, as a sort of preview of the yet-to-be-built museum. Among those who saw the 2014 exhibit was Roberta Mazza, a lecturer in classics and ancient history at the University of Manchester. She wasn't impressed. "What I saw in Rome was not exciting from an academic or public point of view," she says. "It was a lot of crap, to be honest."

Scholars who saw this fragment of Galations for sale on eBay suggested that it had been smuggled out of Egypt. It's now in the Green collection.
But she did take notice of the Galatians fragment. She remembered that the fragment had been previously offered for sale by a mysterious eBay seller based in Turkey who went by the handle MixAntik. Brice Jones, a papyrologist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, had blogged about that eBay listing in 2012, pointing out that if the artifact had been smuggled out of Egypt — which seemed likely, given that it was written in Coptic, a language native to Egypt — there would be "sensitive legal issues" involved in any potential purchase. That was a nice way to say it was probably illegally smuggled.

So how did a fragment that two years before was for sale from a dubious dealer on eBay end up in Green's Vatican exhibit?

No one knew. Or at least no one was saying. Mazza asked the company how it obtained the fragment, and she says she's never received a detailed answer. "Every time we ask for documented provenance, no piece of paper whatsoever has been provided," she says. "But you cannot say 'Oh, but I bought these from a trusted dealer' without giving proof."

Along with knotty questions about provenance, there are equally tangled questions related to authenticity. On the fourth floor of the museum, there is an impressively grand section dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient manuscripts, including from books of the Hebrew Bible, that were hidden in caves for centuries until they were stumbled on in 1947 by a Bedouin boy. For Christians, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a chance to see the type of Bible that Jesus himself would have read. The scrolls have been among the most sought-after ancient manuscripts and can fetch millions.

Green owns at least 13 previously unpublished Dead Sea fragments. Last year an analysis of those fragments, Dead Sea Scroll Fragments in the Museum Collection (Brill), was published, becoming the first and so far only scholarly book to result from Green's collection. But a number of biblical scholars believe that most if not all of the Dead Sea fragments sold since 2001 — which would include those purchased by Green — are modern forgeries. In a recent article published in the journal Dead Sea Discoveries, Kipp Davis, a research fellow in Hebrew Bible at Trinity Western University, concluded that at least six of the 13 fragments owned by Green are almost certainly fake. He writes that an "accumulation of puzzling correspondences and alarmingly suspicious features in these fragments should at least disqualify them from discussion" as genuine artifacts.

Davis isn't just a random naysayer: He's a co-editor of the 2016 book on the 13 fragments Green owns, and currently receives research funding from the Museum of the Bible.

Mandel Ngan, AFP, Getty Images
Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and founder of the Museum of the Bible, has been clear about the evangelical purpose of his collection.
He had doubts about the fragments from the beginning, he says, and those doubts have only gotten stronger over time. While he believes that six are clearly forgeries, he's also not sure about the other seven — they may turn out to be nothing more than slightly more clever fakes. And he's been warning the Museum of the Bible for the last year not to try to pass them off as real. "I strongly urged them that, if they intended to include texts that were modern forgeries, that they should be flagged or preferably featured as part of an exhibit on forgeries," he says. "It's disappointing if they chose to ignore the issue or minimize it."

Any questionable fragments will indeed be flagged, according to Michael Holmes, the director of the museum's Scholars Initiative. Holmes, the former chairman of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University, is a widely known scholar with a long publication record. He was brought on by the museum in 2014, according to Moss and Baden, to bring an "added veneer of scholarly credibility," a characterization Holmes doesn't deny. "I didn't have any idea what I was getting into," he says. "I've done what I can to regularize the situation." That's included, Holmes says, stopping the publication of other scholarly volumes based on the collection until issues of provenance and authenticity are resolved.

Resolution has been slow in coming. After museum officials initially assured scholars that there was a clear line of provenance for the disputed Galatians fragment, Holmes says now they're no longer sure. "It was bought from a dealer in good faith, and the dealer provided certain information," says Holmes. "That information turned out to be incorrect." Whether that dealer purchased the fragment from eBay is still unknown, according to Holmes. As a result, he says, it won't be seen in the museum.

Even the most prestigious scholars can get blinded by their eagerness to obtain a rare biblical treasure. Last year Karen King, a professor of divinity at Harvard University, admitted that the fragment dubbed the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" that she touted as a major scholarly discovery in 2012 was almost certainly a forgery, though she did so only after the evidence against its authenticity became impossible to dismiss (the fragment came from a Florida man who, among other pursuits, had previously worked as a pornographer). Scholars have also raised doubts about another Dead Sea Scroll fragment from the book of Leviticus purchased in 2010 by the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. At this month's annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, one panel titled "Avoiding Deception" will be devoted to the topic, a sign that it's become a widespread concern among scholars.

But what sets Green's collection apart is, in part, its size. This isn't about one or two or even a dozen artifacts, but rather tens of thousands. And, as the museum expects millions of visitors to pass through those monumental bronze gates, it seems poised to become a mandatory stop for tourists to the nation's capitol, right alongside the Jefferson Memorial and the Air and Space Museum. Whether, after a ride on the flight simulator and lunch at Manna, any of those visitors will care about arcane issues like provenance remains to be seen.

Holmes doesn't push back against the argument made by Davis and others that some, if not all, of the collection's Dead Sea fragments might turn out to be forgeries. The week before the opening of the museum, he still wasn't sure which fragments, if any, would be displayed, or how exactly they would be marked. What's more, he worries that because the smuggled items the collection probably contains still haven't been identified — and may never be — ethical concerns will linger for years to come. "See how that puts a cloud over us?" he asks.

Tom Bartlett is a senior writer at The Chronicle.

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Celebrating 100 Years of William the Hippo, the Met Museum’s Mascot

Celebrating 100 Years of William the Hippo, the Met Museum's Mascot

The Met honors one of its icons, William the hippo, with a redisplay and dedicated series of events.

Hippopotamus ("William") (ca. 1961-1878 BCE) (Public Domain image)

In 1931, an article appeared in the now defunct British weekly Punch that described the mystique of one small, faience hippo — the ancient Egyptian statuette, decorated with lotus flowers, that is today among the most recognized objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its author, one Captain H. M. Raleigh, detailed how a framed print of the hippo in his drawing room had an effect so powerful on him and his family that they considered the hippo an oracle of sorts: a bright blue beast they consulted before making any major decisions.

"He is described on the back of the frame as 'Hippopotamus with Lotus Flowers, Buds and Leaves, XII. Dynasty (about 1950 B.C.), Series VII., Number 1, Egyptian Faience'; but to us he is simply William," Raleigh wrote. "We have come to love and revere him with an intensity bordering on the pagan."

Hippopotamus ("William") (ca. 1961-1878 BCE) (Public Domain image)

Punch is a satirical magazine, and Raleigh most likely a false byline. But "William," the name seemingly pulled out of nowhere, stuck. Soon after the article was published, the Met circulated a copy through an issue of its quarterly publication, Bulletin, and the museum has since referred to the ancient Egyptian creature by the old Norman name. It's even shown on its display label, printed as "Hippopotamus (William)."

William is now famous as the institution's unofficial mascot, appearing on a variety of its merchandise — tote bags, ties, erasers, and more. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the museum's acquisition of William, and the Met is celebrating the occasion with a small, eight-month-long redisplay. This weekend, it will produce a series of related events, featuring curator talks on ancient Egyptian artworks and special William-themed cookies and cocktails. William also took a trip to the Met's conservation lab last month, where researchers examined and x-rayed the hippo to better understand how he was manufactured from faience paste.

Made around 1961–1878 BCE and originally placed in the tomb chapel of "The Steward, Senbi," William saw light again in 1910. He ended up at the Met just seven years later, donated by philanthropist Edward Harkness. William is actually one of about a dozen faience hippos the museum owns, but the sole anthropomorphized one.

"The quality of this particular statuette and its excellent state of preservation make 'William' the best example of this type of object in our collection, and he is the faience hippo statuette that visitors react to most strongly," Isabel Stünkel, the associate curator of the Department of Egyptian Art told Hyperallergic. "'William' is and always has been very popular with museum visitors, which is why we often refer to him as an 'unofficial mascot.'"

Installation view of Conversation Between Two Hippos at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The ongoing exhibition, Conversation between Two Hippos, is straightforward, placing William in a display case opposite one holding a larger ceramic hippo made by Carl Walters in 1936 that the museum recently acquired. Walters's work, simply named "Hippopotamus," shines a brilliant turquoise because of a glaze Walters developed in the early 1920s known as "Walters blue." Like William, its surface is also decorated, only with leaflike and scroll motifs.

"Carl Walters visited The Met and was inspired by Egyptian art, in particular by the color blue of Egyptian faience,"Stünkel said. "The installation allows our visitors to see an art work that inspired Carl Walters together with this artist's own creation. The resulting conversation of these two hippos depends much on the viewer — is it about size, color, and shape? Or is it about place and time?"

If we heed the words of Raleigh, whoever they were, Walters's hippo will have to seriously assert its presence as it comes head-to-head with its smaller, evocative relative from Egypt. As the mystery author wrote:

If ever animal was in tune with the infinite, William is. His shape is irregular and dumpy, his flanks are decorated with the outline of the lotus flowers, buds and leaves, the pottery has chipped off his near fore-foot, giving the impression, at all events in the colour-print, of a grey woollen sock bursting through a boot … but it is impossible to look at him for long without a feeling of awe and a realisation of the vastness of eternity.

Carl Walters, "Hippopotamus" (1936) (photo courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Conversation between Two Hippos continues through April 1, 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 5th Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan)

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Egypt to retrieve 14 artifacts from Cyprus - Egypt Independent

Egypt to retrieve 14 artifacts from Cyprus

Director General of the Retrieved Antiquities Department of the Antiquities Ministry, Shaaban Abdel Gawad, said on Sunday that Egypt would retrieve from Cyprus 14 artifacts, including a vase bearing the name of Ramesses II, which was smuggled out of Egypt illegally.

The retrieval of the 14 artifacts would be part of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's visit to Cyprus, set for Monday, Gawad said in statements to the Middle East News Agency (MENA).

He explained that upon instructions by Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anany, the Retrieved Antiquities Department has taken all necessary legal measures since October 2016, including contacting Interpol, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cypriot judiciary, which granted Egypt's legal right to the artifacts.

He stressed that his ministry has been exerting considerable efforts in the past years to recover Egyptian artifacts from abroad, especially those smuggled out of the country illegally, in addition to signing several agreements with a number of countries to recover auctioned-off Egyptian antiquities.

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Egypt’s Coptic heritage jeopardized due to lack of funds

Egypt's Coptic heritage jeopardized due to lack of funds

The Coptic Museum, which hosts thousands of treasured items, Cairo, Egypt.

Article Summary
Cairo's Coptic Museum has 18,000 icons, carved stones, frescoes and manuscripts in its 27 halls — but few know about it.

CAIRO — With more than 18,000 icons, carved stones, frescoes and manuscripts in its 27 halls, Cairo's Coptic Museum boasts one of the largest collections of Coptic artifacts in the world. Yet the lack of a sophisticated security system and an adequate budget makes it difficult to preserve and protect this heritage, let alone carry out an assertive marketing campaign to draw more tourists.

Through manuscripts, frescoes and early Bibles, the museum, in Masr al-Qadima district, displays the history of Christianity in Egypt since the Roman persecution of Christians and later the recognition of Christianity by the Roman Empire. The museum also has an extensive collection Coptic art.

Atef Naguib, the general manager of the Coptic Museum, spoke to Al-Monitor about the history of the museum. According to Naguib, some of the artifacts in the museum had been collected by Gaston Maspero, a French Egyptologist. Maspero, the director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service in the 1880s, then created a room devoted to Coptic art at the Egyptian Museum, also known as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.

"As the number of Coptic pieces in this section increased, the idea to build a special Coptic Museum began to shape up. In 1910, the Coptic Museum was founded by Marcus Simaika Pasha using the pieces collected from Egyptian and foreign artifacts collectors," said Naguib. He added that both Pope Kyrillos V and King Fuad I encouraged the idea of building a museum for Coptic artifacts, and they became patrons of the museum.

The museum was under the church administration until 1931 and then under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. "In 1947, a new department was built to include other artifacts, and the museum kept expanding," Naguib said, explaining that it has grown from a single hall near the Hanging Church in Masr al-Qadima district in Cairo to its current 27 halls built in the Coptic style.

The 1992 Cairo earthquake took its toll on the museum, and it was finally closed for repairs in 2001. It did not open until June 26, 2006, when the museum was completely restored and refurbished at a cost of 30 million Egyptian pounds ($5.4 million at the time) under the supervision of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Today, the museum has a total of 18,319 artifacts, Naguib noted.

Yet the museum faces many challenges in terms of budget and security. Naguib said the museum needs an expansion to accommodate the new artifacts and antiquities that were acquired, but it has a very limited budget, which makes further construction, modernization and even maintenance impossible.

"The other problem," Naguib continued, "is the lack of touristic marketing for the museum. Foreign tourists visit historical churches in Masr al-Qadima, but they do not visit the museum despite its historic significance. This museum is not marketed enough, neither in Egypt nor abroad."

On April 18, 2016, former French President Francois Hollande visited the Coptic Museum during his visit to Egypt and commended the museum as well as the Coptic history of Egypt.

Ilham Salah, the head of the ministry's Museums Sector, told Al-Monitor, "The Coptic Museum is the largest collection of Egyptian Coptic artifacts in the country and possibly in the world, but despite its significance, it is still relatively little known by tourists due to poor marketing."

Salah also stressed that the security system needs improvement and maintenance as the closed-circuit TV security cameras and electronic gates have not been changed since its reopening in 2006.

On Sept. 14, a security guard from the Coptic Museum security staff was arrested while trying to leave with artifacts from the museum. He had chopped off a piece from a wooden door panel that had once belonged to the fifth-century church of St. Barbara in Old Cairo.

During prosecution investigations, the security guard said that he was encouraged because he knew the cameras were not recording at all.

"There is a development and maintenance plan for the security system. The reasons behind the burglary are the weak monitoring technologies, and the staff are neither well-selected nor well-trained and well-supervised," Salah said.

Salah also confirmed the inadequacy of the museum budget allocated by the Ministry of Antiquities, which is also in debt and going through a financial crisis. "[These] take their toll on museums such as the Coptic Museum," he added.

Bahgat Fanous, the former director of the Coptic Museum, told Al-Monitor, "The Coptic Museum needs the attention of the Ministry of Tourism and tourism companies because the museum is falling off the marketing map of historical locations in Egypt."

The historic significance of the museum qualifies it to be among the historical tourist attractions, as the museum is located in an area full of historical churches such as the Hanging Church. Although the area attracts tourists, the museum cannot be put in its right place on the map unless its problems are solved," Fanous added.

Found in: Cultural heritage

George Mikhail is a freelance journalist who specializes in minority and political issues. He graduated from Cairo University in 2009 and has worked for a number of Egyptian newspapers.

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