Over the past few months–primarily last year–I have had a hand in debunking all sorts of nonsense relating to Jesus and the Bible. When reports appeared online of a new Markan manuscript fragment, I was quick to demonstrate that the fragment was a bad fake. Prior to that, rumors abounded about the importance of several dozen lead codices, but this proved to also be the product of a modern workshop, probably in Jordan, where fake artifacts and tourist trinkets are manufactured for profit–though it seems someone figured they could get more money with them by generating controversy (and it worked). Last year was a rough year for those who want to keep the field safe from pseudoscholars and fake archaeologists peddling sensational material for money, fame, or worse; frankly I’m a bit worn down.
But this year is shaping up to dominate the past few years, so far as sensational discoveries go. I read an article this morning on Yahoo where a man claims to have uncovered the truth about Jesus. Jesus was…wait for it… wait for it…. the prince/king of Edessa! Oh yes. Someone really went there–but not just any ‘someone’:
Following 25 years of research, Ralph Ellis has discovered that Jesus was a prince of Edessa in northern Syria.
That’s right. Though the article says nothing whatsoever about an academic affiliation, credentials, or if this individual has a grasp of the ancient, original languages. So I decided to do a search and I found his Amazon.com bio page. Here is a screen grab:
Here is where it gets a little hairy. Does he have any noteworthy credibility? Well, apparently not. But should that stop him? I mean, it hasn’t stopped the Elkingtons from claiming they have uncovered the original texts of Jesus on lead tablets, it hasn’t stopped Simcha Jacobovici from claiming that he has found Atlantis, and it hasn’t Joe Atwill from claiming that Jesus was invented–along with Josephus–by the Roman Empire as some sort of practical joke against the Jews in an attempt to gain their loyalty and obedience. Hell, even Giorgio Tsoukalos has his own medium on a major network, spreading his ancient alien theories all over the place. I mean, having credentials or being affiliated academically hasn’t stopped these guys–so why should it stop him? Ellis looks on this whole ‘lacking credibility’ bit as an opportunity, in fact. His bio claims that:
Being independent from theological and educational establishments allows Ralph to tread where others do not dare, and it is through this independence that Ralph has discovered so many new biblical and historical truths.
Now, if by treading ‘where others do not dare’–’others’ being, I suspect, those of us (students, professors) with academic affiliations to ‘theological and educational establishments’–he means he has the freedom (or independence) to ‘ speculate wildly on everything and anything related to the history or historicity of the biblical narratives without a need to justify or support the extraordinary claims he is making with evidence and careful research’ then he is correct. He doesn’t have to worry about supporting any claim he makes, or reporting to the head of his department, or worrying about whether he will receive tenure, or what other colleagues will think of him–all he has to worry about is how well his self-published drivel will sell.
He seems to be in good company as his readers often purchase other brilliant classics (note: sarcasm) such as the works of Zecharia Sitchin (the guy that claims the Sumerian annunaki were ancient alien astronauts, so too the biblical nephilim), Acharya S (Jesus was invented by ancient astrotheologists and based upon earlier astrological figures), Joe Atwill (see above), Joseph P. Farrell (published such pivotal works as Roswell and the Reich: The Nazi Connection–‘published’ through a distributor who specializes in this sort of…stuff), Ahmed Osman (an Egyptian-born author who talks a lot about secret histories of Moses and Jesus and the pharaohs), and the list goes on–many are unaffiliated, interested in extreme, fringe theories (with little or no supporting evidence), and who cannot seem to publish through an academic press (for whatever reason).
Then again, Ellis isn’t sure how long he has been studying the subject (25 years, according to the article, or 30 years, per his Amazon.com bio). But don’t let my words influence your opinion, let Ellis’ words prove his worth as a historian. Here is a snippet from his book Jesus, King of Edessa:
I mean, why not? Because ‘Barabbas’ just can’t be Aramaic for ‘son of the father’, like every other scholar in the world argues (Barabbas = bar abba). Even though his full name is portrayed as ‘Jesus Barabbas’ in some variants as a play on Jesus the ‘son of man’, and has long been thought of as a metaphor for the Leviticus 16 atonement sacrifice for the sins of Israel (with Jesus as the sacrificial goat, while Barabbas is the scape-goat sent off in the wilderness). But what do other scholars with academic attachments (and credentials) know anyway? They have no independence to do real research; amirite, Ellis?
Well, we’re not done yet. The Yahoo.com article goes on to tell us more about all this Jesus of Edessa:
Readers might imagine that the true history of this region might undermine much of the biblical story that the gospel authors have crafted. But in reality the gospels always did say that Jesus was a Nazarene (Mat 2:23) and a king (Luk 23:38), and so this new analysis changes very little in the gospel story.
But that isn’t true, is it? Ellis has cherry-picked his verses without recognizing their significance. After all, Jesus is called a Nazarene because he is portrayed as being from the town of Nazareth (which is why he was called a Nazarene) which is explicitly states in 2:23, “…and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” In other words, it was because he lived in Nazareth that he was called a Nazarene (i.e., that people from Nazareth were ‘Nazarenes’–not people from Edessa), not to be confused with Nazirites (which also appear in the New Testament). Now, maybe this was a pun by Matthew to signify that Jesus was also a Nazirite as well as a Nazorean, but he does not make the appropriate connections (as Luke seems to do later).
Additionally, the use of ‘King’ in Luke 23 is theologically rooted (i.e., Jesus is the King, in the heavenly sense, but used as satire by the Romans, which contradicts the claim made by Ellis). Ellis might have known this had he attended any sort of credible institution (theological or otherwise). The article goes on (unfortunately):
This is a scholarly study of all the available historical evidence, including the Tanakh, Talmud, Josephus Flavius, the Roman historians, and venerable Syriac historians like Moses of Chorene and Yohannes Drasxanakertci.
Well, I guess that settles it. It states it right there, this is a ‘scholarly study’, whereby ‘scholarly’ now means ’25 years of independent study with no credibility and zero accountability’. Man, what a shame that I’m spending all this money on an education when I could have just self-published this whole time!
But there is some concern here with the name he provides for Jesus in Edessa as well. He calls this king Izas Manu, but that is rather bizarre since the king in the first century was Izates (not Izas) and the two names (Jesus and Izates) do not even come from the same language, nor do they mean the same thing. Yeshua (ישוע) is a derivative of the Hebrew word for ‘savior’ or ‘rescuer’ while Izates (ایزد) is Persian for ‘divine being’/'god’. Ellis may want to stretch the meaning of Izates to Jesus by suggesting that Jesus was considered ‘god’ or ‘the son of god’ by his followers, but these are superficial correlations, and only useful to those with no grasp of ancient languages. As a friend noted, it would be like trying to compare modern English to Chinese.
And where exactly does ‘Manu’ come from? Josephus doesn’t refer to him as such, and only ever calls him Izates. Does Ellis link ‘Manu’ (or Emmanuel–the name he really wants) with Izates’ father Monobazus II? Is Ellis seriously attempting to link Izates bar Monobazus with a name like ‘Izas Manu’? Because that is what it seems like he has tried to do here. In his “sample article” (which is absolutely atrocious) he writes:
And when tracking the history of that same infant within the many chronicles of Saul-Josephus, it was apparent that he grew up to become Jesus of Gamala, who is also called King Izas of the Adiabene.
Unfortunately he has missed the mark. Who exactly is ‘Saul-Josephus’ anyway? Does he mean Josephus? And by the way, if you’re wondering who ‘Jesus of Gamala’ is, you’re better off not knowing. But if you really want to know, I suppose you can find information on it here. And yes, there was a guy who tried to sue the Catholic Church for ‘covering up’ the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was really Jesus of Gamala. I guess crazy attracts crazy.
Yeah, this is going to be a long year.
Ralph Ellis has commented and I have responded to his “proofs” (which are nothing more than reciting the same thing over and over again in crazier ways). You can read my response to his claims here.