More Ralph Ellis Conspiracy Nonsense: The Final Debunking

Ralph Ellis has seemingly fallen off the deep end (or into the rabbit hole).  If you thought his previous rants were crazy–but still masochistic enough to read more of the same (or if you are still curious about his position), then you’ll want to see what Steve Caruso has been dealing with for the past few days.  I repost it here into categories to easily follow with some additional commentary:

On Ellis’ ePub Claims

Mr. Ellis has made several glaring errors in Greek throughout his book.  I have drawn attention to this, as have others.  At one point he has βάρβαρος written out as βαρβαροσ (no accent mark).  For those unfamiliar with Greek, the sigma at the end of the word should be what is known as a final sigma (ς) not a standard sigma (σ).

Mr. Ellis has made the argument that his ePub wouldn’t allow it.  Therefore, he thinks this is an unfair criticism.  But is it?  I believe Steve says it best:

Also, it is not “baseless criticism.” If you are not only author but editor and publisher getting it correct falls squarely upon your shoulders. It is this attention to detail that is *essential* for any kind of publication and what peer review and the traditional publishing process seeks to ensure.

If you couldn’t get it printed in Hebrew or Greek, then the accepted practice is to default to a common transliteration scheme, of which there are several.

To use the wrong script or wrong letter forms in a publication, one might as well submit a paper to an SBL session in l337 $3@k.

But I would like to elaborate.  Ellis originally published his work on the website Lulu.  As someone who has worked with Lulu previously (and am familiar with how publishing works on their site), you have exceptional free-range to do anything you want.  Lulu not only makes you the one fully responsible for your own book (formatting, style, font, script, cover design, cover type, etc…), Lulu allows you to upload your file as a PDF or Word document, where you can embed fonts and use unicode and all that good stuff that one does when they want to get their work right.  Lulu also offers editors to review your work (for a cost), but since you profit upwards of 50% or more on your publications through the site, one should easily be able to afford that option.  Mr. Ellis should be aware of this.  If he isn’t, or if he doesn’t quite understand how Lulu works, then he has no one to blame but himself if he makes a mistake.

Mr. Ellis wants to continually make this the problem of someone other than himself.  But is that fair?  No, of course not.  Anyone who takes their work seriously should strive to make it the best they can; they are essentially working to convince you that their perspectives are correct.  Certainly, mistakes happen.  We’re only human.  But Mr. Ellis does not want to take responsibility for his mistakes–it is telling when one cannot graciously accept criticism when it is deserved; it is more telling when that person actively seeks to blame other people for their mistakes, because being wrong would shatter their frail delusional world views.

But this is also why scholars publish through peer review and academic presses, rather than self-publishing.  This sort of mistake would have been caught prior to publication had Mr. Ellis thought to go through the rigorous review process–though he may not have wanted to do so, as actual scholars (credible people in the field with strong proficiency in the languages) would have to critique his work and suggest numerous corrections which, ultimately, would have made him look (and feel) foolish.

Mr. Ellis and His Incredible Shrinking Knowledge of Ancient Languages

I’ve brought this up before: Mr. Ellis lacks a grasp of even the very basics of the ancient languages of which he purports to have knowledge.  Here is a screen grab from his book (available as a preview online, for free, here).

ellis2As you can see, this snippet includes the amateurish ‘βαρβαροσ’ mishap.  But what’s more, he suggests that the Latin for beard is ‘barbar’ and that this is somehow connected to the Greek βάρβαρος.  But is it?  Again we see Mr. Ellis does not lack the appropriate knowledge of Latin or Greek to tackle this subject.

First and foremost, the Latin for barbarian is barbaria (nominative case, feminine, 1st declension; essentially a cognate of the Greek).  This can be declined as such:

Sing.

Nom: barbaria
Gen: barbaraeDat: barbarae
Acc: barbariam
Abl: barbariā
Voc: barbaria

Plur.

Nom: barbarae
Gen: barbariārum
Dat: barbariīs
Acc: barbariās
Abl: barbariīs
Voc: barbarae

See a ‘barbar’ there?  No?  Me either.  But what about ‘beard’ in Latin?  Well, Mr. Ellis was close; it isn’t barbar, it is barba (nominative, feminine, 1st declension).  But don’t get your hopes up, as ‘barbar’ is not one of the ways to decline this noun.  In fact the same way one declines barbaria is the same way one declines barba (as they are both feminine, 1st declension nouns).

Sing.

Nom: barba
Gen: barbae
Dat: barbae
Acc: barbam
Abl: barbā
Voc: barba

Plur.

Nom: barbae
Gen: barbārum
Dat: barbīs
Acc: barbās
Abl: barbīs
Voc: barbae

So from whence does Mr. Ellis get ‘barbar?’  The odd thing is that 1st declension is basic Latin 101.  I mean you learn this the first week.  Even the Latin authors don’t use βαρβαρ for beard, but to mock  The only thing I can think of is that Mr. Ellis went to Wiktionary and mistook Catalan for Latin.  There is just no excuse for it.  The word ‘barbar’ does not exist in Latin.  It certainly doesn’t mean ‘beard’ in any case.

But it isn’t just Greek and Latin that Mr. Ellis gets wrong.  Here are some mistakes he makes in his interpretations of the Semitic languages (Mr. Ellis is italicized and quoted, Steve Caruso’s responses are indented).

Mr. Ellis: Likewise, there is no obvious relation between Yakob and James, and yet we know that they are the same name. If you did not have the intermediate forms, how would you know that Yakob was James?

Steve Caruso: Actually, we do. Yakov and James are related thusly:

יעקוב – /ya’-qov/ (Hebrew/Aramaic). The initial name. It means transliterated into:

Ἰάκωβος – /ya-kô-bas (Greek); ע dropped due to it lacking in Greek, -ος ending due to Greek nominative grammar. Transliterated into:

Iacobus – /yah-ko-bus/ (Latin); it split here heading towards the French Jacques /zhaq/, however to get to “James” we must follow a prolific LAtin variant:

Iacomus – /ya-kã-mus/ (late Latin); the B nasalized into M lightening the second vowel which stopped next as:

Iames /yeimz/ later, James /zheimz/ – (French); the the C elided and then dropped due to how Old French into later French constructed syllables. The J in later French stopped sounding like Y and took on the sound /zh/. From here we go finally to:

James /dzeimz/ (English) – Direct transliteration, but different pronunciation as in English of the time J was pronounced /dz/, A in that position in a syllable was pronounced /ey/ after the Vowel Shift, and final S when voiced becomes /z/.

Each and every form along the way here is attested in extant manuscripts and their inter-relation is listed in each era via cognates and other means of cross-identification.

Do you have this paper trail for your perturbations with hundreds of examples? :-)

Mr. Ellis: In reality Yeshua is not the original form of Jesus’ name, because Jesus was not a Judaic Jew.

Steve Caruso: Follow this with me:

ישוע /ye-shu-a’/ – (Aramaic). Meaning “He will save.” Cognate to the Hebrew יהושע /ye-ho-shu-a/ meaning “YHWH will save.” Where the Hebrew forms of many Jewish names are theophoric (specifically Yahwistic) Aramaic forms of these names are not. This was transliterated as:

Ἰησοῦς /yê-sus/ – (Greek). What happened here? Greek cannot express ש /sh/, so it became σ /s/. Greek cannot express ע /`/ within this portion of a word (sometimes χ was used, but it wouldn’t work here with how the vowels fall) so it was dropped. The long ו was represented with the diphthong ου /u/, and the nominative ending -ς /-s/ was added. This then became:

Iesus /yê-sus/ – (Latin). A direct transliteration from the Greek. Each letter equivalent (except for the dropping of ο as in Latin the same sound is merely represented by u; to use /ou/ would give a glided diphthong). It sounds the same. From here it became:

Iesus /yê-sus/ and later Jesus /yê-sus/ – (German). Sounds the same as in Latin and Greek. J in German takes on the sound /y/. From here it landed as:

Iesus /yê-zus/ and later Jesus /dzi-zus/ – (English). Identical spelling, completely different rules of pronunciation. The phonetic value of J settled as /dz/ in English. E in this position within a syllable and word goes from /ê/ to /i/. Finally S becomes voices as /z/ when stuck between vowels.

If, as you contend, we’re starting from “Izas” then we start with the Persian ایزد‎ /i-zad/.

What did that turn into in Greek?

Ἰζάτης /i-za-tês/ – The د was transcribed as τ which is common (as opposed to θ which is commonly used to transcribe softer dentals). Plus the nominative ending -ης /-ês/.

Ἰζάτης /Izates/ bears no resemblance (superficial or etymological) to Ἰησοῦς /Iesous/. Even if you were to shorten it to Ἰζάς /Izas/ it would look even further from Ἰησοῦς /Iesous/.

What about in Hebrew and Aramaic? We find in Bereshit Rabba that Izates is referred to as זוטוס /zotus/ (I’ll even perhaps give זוטיס /zotes/). Not even close.

Jesus is only confusable with Izates when working from selective English transliteration and no euphemism or other device can bridge this wide gap.

Bingo.  Aside from Steve’s gracious deconstruction of Mr. Ellis’ lack of knowledge of Hebrew and Greek here, I want to know what a ‘Judaic Jew’ is–does anyone?  I have never heard this term used, so did he just make it up?  The only thing that remotely makes any sense is that Mr. Ellis is implying that Jesus was not from the region of Judea, but then does he falsely presume that Jews living outside of Judea did not use Hebrew names?  If so, that is one hell of a stretch.  He’d also be wrong, since we have many inscriptions which were written by Jews in the Diaspora that contain Jewish names in Aramaic or Hebrew, but also those which contain Jewish names in Greek–including Ἰησοῦς–and Latin.  Again, this is pretty basic stuff.  What is odd is that Mr. Ellis seems to have just jumped to random conclusions without checking the archaeological evidence (which includes these inscriptions).

greekjewishinscription

Like this one…

inscriptionjesusgreek2

…and this one.

And we have plenty of indications that names varied in families.  Some parents bore Hebrew names while their children bore Greek names.  It depended upon location, level of assimilation, level of acculturation, and other socializing factors that Mr. Ellis does not account for in his various speculations and conspiracies.

These are from William Horbury & David Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (Cambridge University Press: 1992).

These screen captures are from William Horbury & David Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 1992).

So I’m not sure what it is that Mr. Ellis is trying to accomplish with his shuffleboard linguistics, but whatever it is, he is completely wrong on all counts.  And keep in mind, this is only from one section of his book; when you look at the rest of his online content, it is all similar to this nonsense.

Mr. Ellis as a Scholar

Let’s examine his scholarship so far.

Language specialty? No.
Logical Argument? No.
Strict Analysis?  No.

What about his knowledge of scholarship in the field?  Well he fails here too.  Mr. Ellis relies upon dated scholarship (over 100 years old in some instances), like Joseph Thayer (died in 1901), whose work is dated. He thinks this is perfectly acceptable.  It isn’t (and here’s why you should trust nothing prior to 1950 that isn’t validated by modern, contemporary scholarship).

Mr. Ellis’ discussion of βαραββας as βάρβαρος is extremely fringe–it is also wrong (even though the similarities are only superficial–Barabbas is a transliteration of the Aramaic Bar Abbas).  Here is another snippet from Mr. Ellis’ online content about the subject:

The stupid!  ZOMG, the stupid!

In other words, Ellis might as well have said, “I’m just going to make a link here that doesn’t exist and base it entirely on speculation and circumstantial presumptions.” Also note: he gets the ‘final sigma’ right here, so his excuses about ePub’s not accepting Greek font seems to fail.

Those ‘many other commentators’ that argue it means ‘barbarian’?  I can think of no one (see the discussion on Bar Abbas here).  Either Mr. Ellis invented this himself or he is drawing from another conspiracist like him, but I found nothing by any leading scholar on the notion that Barabbas means barbaros.  That doth not bode well.  And his conclusion about the Syriac gospels is just silly; Matthew clearly states that Jesus Barabbas was the full name (no need to go the Syriac gospels) and this is supported by textual critics like the late Bruce Metzger:

Snippet from Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2d Rev Ed., Hendrickson Publishers: 2005)

Snippet from Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2d Rev Ed., Hendrickson Publishers, 2005)

Note the fact that some of our earliest witnesses relate Jesus Barabbas as ‘son of the teacher/father’.  Early Christians made this connection as early as the author of the Gos. Matthew, which says they were interpreting it this way–there is absolutely no discussion by any early author or interpreter (let alone modern) who sees Barabbas as ‘barbarian’.  Mr. Ellis is sorely lacking in any supporting evidence–just speculation.  And that ain’t evidence, no matter how you paint it.

Mr. Ellis’ Delusional World

At the end of the day, these are pretty amateurish mistakes at best–at worst they are they ramblings of a conspiracy nut who can’t be bothered to fact-check his own work.  What Mr. Ellis doesn’t seem to realize is that by publishing content online and also publishing a book (much of which is online) he has made himself a public figure.  In other words, Mr. Ellis has openly presented his ideas to the world and as a result, his work is now under scrutiny.  It can be critiqued, reviewed, analyzed, or rebuked.

Yet for some reason, Mr. Ellis does not think he deserves to be criticized, nor does he believe his work should be scrutinized.  And this is problematic.  Here are some examples:

Mr. Ellis:you are reviewing a book without having read it, and that is – well – highly unprofessional.

But the bottom line here, is that this Greek font business is yet another baseless criticism, and yet Verenna refuses to withdraw it even after being advised of his error.

This is not my invention, the venerable theologian Joseph Thayer suggest this. You cannot criticise me for quoting a respected theologian.

Mr. Ellis does not seem to realize (though he has been told repeatedly) that I have not ‘reviewed his book’ but commented entirely on his online content.  I have made this clear in every blog post I’ve written about his work from the very start.  His inability to comprehend this basic point is troubling and leaves me with little question this is part of the reason why so many of his conclusions are unsound–if he were more careful with his source material, maybe he’d not be a conspiracy theorist.

Additionally, yes Mr. Ellis, we can criticize you and your work.  As I’ve stated before, you wrote the book and all the online content (I presume), and so you are entirely responsible for it.  You did not submit this to an editor, blind peer review, or even a collection of essays.  You didn’t submit this to anyone with any knowledge of the subject–even basic knowledge–to fact-check and proof your work.  So you cannot use the excuse and blame others for your mistakes.

Take these criticisms seriously and maybe you’ll get somewhere.  Right now, no one in the field is likely to take you or your work very seriously until you take some personal responsibility for your own failed conclusions and shoddy scholarship.

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3 Responses

  1. [...] More Ralph Ellis Conspiracy Nonsense: The Final Debunking [...]

  2. [...] has been doing the most to show the deficiencies in his work (especially here, here, here, and here), though Steve Caruso from Aramaic Blog has also been rather patient in showing how the etymologies [...]

  3. [...] by Ellis also carry with them even more stretched etymologies. Some of Steve’s remarks are at Tom’s blog. Ellis also has the conversation up at his blog, but Steve states that the conversation has been [...]

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