Ancient History: The Undead Edition

Halloween is my favorite time of year for various reasons: Scary movies, costume parties, overloading on tons of sugary goodness.  But I am also reminded about the fact that many of our spooky superstitions–vampires, ghosts, and werewolves–have come to us from thousands of years ago.  That, in and of itself, is a little freakishly cool, don’t you think?  That people, thousands of years ago, living in Athens or Rome or Alexandria, had the same basic fearful ghouls that we shiver over today.  Compiled here in this post are a few examples from Classical, Jewish, and Christian sources that involve tales of the haunted, the horror-ible (See what i did there?  Horror+horrible! I’m so clever), the frighteningly cool.  Enjoy… if you DARE!  Muahahahaha!

The Walking Dead

“If thou dost not give me the Bull of Heaven, I will smash the doors of the Nether World, I will place those above below, I will raise up the dead eating and alive, so that the dead shall outnumber the living! (Ishtar to Anu, Epic of Gilgamesh, VI.94-100)

And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. (Zechariah 14.12)

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27.52-3)

Ghosts and Specters

 Disembodied now, I hover as a wraith over my mother’s head, riding for three long days upon the air, three hopeless days of suffering and fear since she left Troy and came to Chersonese. Here on the shore of Thrace, in sullen idleness beside its ships, the whole Achaean army waits and cannot sail. For Achilles’ ghost appeared, stalking on his tomb, wailing, and stopped the ships as they stood out for sea on the journey home. He demanded my sister Polyxena as a prize, the blood of the living to sweeten a dead man’s grave….On this day destiny shall take my sister down to death. Ah you, poor mother, you must see your two last children dead this day, my sister slaughtered and my unburied body washed up on shore at the feet of a slave. These were the favors I asked of the gods below—to find my mother and be buried by her hands—and they have granted my request. Now I go, for there below I see my mother coming, stumbling from Agamemnon’s tent, still shaken by that dream in which she saw my ghost. (Euripides, Hecuba 30-54)

Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.”He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.”And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day.Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. (1 Samuel 28.11-19)

 Prophets and Curses

 Germanicus’s conviction that he had been put under a spell by Piso aggravated the disease. They dug up the floor and the walls and found remains of human bodies in them, spells and binding curses, and the name of Germanicus inscribed on lead tablets, ashes half-burned and smeared with gore and the other evil devices by which it is believed that souls are devoted to the infernal powers. (Tacitus, Annals 2.69)

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. (1 Kings 2.23-5)

 The Mummies Return

The old [Egyptian] woman, believing that she was now free of hindrance and was not being watched, first dug a pit and then kindled a fire on one side of it. She laid out the body of her son between the two and took a ceramic bowl from an adjacent tripod…. She cut her arm open, wiped up some of the blood with a laurel branch, and threw it into the fire. She did some other strange things in addition to these and then bent over the corpse of her son and sang some incantation into his ear. She roused him and compelled him to stand upright by her [witch]craft…. She was inquiring whether her remaining son, the brother of the dead man, would return home safe and sound.

The corpse made no reply, but just nodded, allowing its mother the insecure hope that the response was favorable. But then all at once he fell headlong onto his face. The woman rolled the corpse onto its back again and would not finish with the interrogation….

While the old woman was doing this Chariclea [the Greek ingenue] earnestly begged Calasiris [the Egyptian priest] that they should approach the scene of action and make an inquiry of their own…. He [Calasiris] declined; it was not holy, he said, even to watch the rite, but he suffered it under the constraint of circumstance. It did not befit a prophet either to attempt or to attend such rites. Prophets derived their divination from lawful sacrifices and pure prayers, but the impure and earthly actually derived their divination from circling around corpses, just as, by accident, they were now seeing the Egyptian woman do.

Calasiris was still speaking when the corpse muttered in a deep, ugly voice as if from a crypt or a craggy cavern. “At first I spared you, mother,” it said, “and I put up with you as you broke the laws of humanity, violated the decrees of the gods, and unfixed with your sorceries what was fixed. For, so far as possible, respect for parents is preserved even among the dead. But you abolish this of your own accord. No longer are you merely dabbling in lawlessness, as at first; now you push it beyond limit…. Hear now these prophecies which I have long been forbearing to reveal to you. Neither will your son return safely to you nor will you yourself escape death from the sword….” (Heliodorus, Aethiopica 6.12-15)

And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet. (2 Kings 13.21)

Demons and Underworldlings

When a plague fell upon the Ephesians, and no defense against it could be found, they sent to Apollonius, and made him their doctor for the disease…. Apollonius assembled the Ephesians and said, “Do not worry, for I will put an end to the disease this day.” Saying this, he led all the people into the theatre, where the statue of the Averter is now sited. there he found what appeared to be an old beggar contriving to squint…. He was dressed in rags and had a squalid face. Apollonius grouped the Ephesians around the beggar and said, “Collect as many stones as you can and throw them at this enemy of the gods.” The Ephesians were taken aback by this instruction, and thought it terrible to kill a stranger in such an unfortunate condition. The beggar himself was beseeching Apollonius and begging for pity, but Apollonius was insistent and urged the Ephesians to get on with the job and not let the man go. When some of the people began to pelt him with stones, the man who had been pretending to be squinting suddenly looked up at them and showed that his eyes were full of fire. The Ephesians then recognized that he was a demon and so they stoned him to death so thoroughly that they built up a heap of stones over him. (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 4.10)

That same day, in the city of Ecbatana in Media, a woman named Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was being insulted by one of her father’s servant women. Sarah had gone through seven wedding ceremonies with seven different husbands, but each time, before she and her new husband had gone to bed on their wedding night, he was killed by the demon Asmodeus. That’s why the servant had told her, “You’ve already been married seven times, and each of those times you have killed your husband before he could give you a son. So why do you strike at us because your husbands have died? Just go where they are! We hope you never have any children!” (Tobit 3.7-9)

 Large Beasts and Monsters

The moon was shining like the midday sun. We arrived among the tombs. My man went [to relieve himself - ed.] against a gravestone. I held back, singing and counting the stones. Then, when I looked back at my companion, he had taken all his clothes off and laid them beside the road. I almost died of fright, and I stood there like a dead man. He urinated a circle around his clothes and suddenly became a wolf. Don’t think I’m joking. No one’s inheritance is so valuable as to make me lie. But, as I’d begin to say, after he had become a wolf, he began to howl and ran into the woods…. But I drew my sword and hacked at shades, until I arrived at my girlfriend’s house. I was like a ghost when I got in, and almost bubbling out my final breath. Melissa expressed amazement that I’d walked there so late and said, “If you’d come earlier, at least you could have helped us. For a wolf got into the estate and among the flocks. He was draining the blood out of them like a butcher. But even if he got away, the last laugh was ours, for our slave managed to get a spear through his neck.” When I heard this, I could not even think of sleep, but when it was fully light I ran off home like the robbed innkeeper. But when I arrived home, my soldier was lying on his bed like an ox, and a doctor was attending to his neck. I realized that he was a werewolf, and I could not thereafter bring myself to break bread with him, not even if you had forced me on pain of death, Others can make up their own mind about this. But if I’m lying, may your guardian spirits exercise their wrath upon me. (Petronius, Satyricon 61-2)

Witches and Their Spell Books

Two friends from Arcadia who were taking a journey together came to Megara, and one traveller put up at an inn and the second went to the home of a friend. After they had eaten supper and retired, the second traveller, in the dead of the night, dreamed that his companion was imploring him to come to his aid, as the innkeeper was planning to kill him. Greatly frightened at first by the dream he arose, and later, regaining his composure, decided that there was nothing to worry about and went back to bed. When he had gone to sleep the same person appeared to him and said: ‘Since you would not help me when I was alive, I beg that you will not allow my dead body to remain unburied. I have been killed by the innkeeper, who has thrown my body into a cart and covered it with dung. I pray you to be at the city gate in the morning before the cart leaves the town,’ Thoroughly convinced by the second dream he met the cart-driver at the gate in the morning, and, when he asked what he had in the cart, the driver fled in terror. The Arcadian then removed his friend’s dead body from the cart, made complaint of the crime to the authorities, and the innkeeper was punished. (Cicero, Div. 1.57)

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.”And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever.And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” (2 Kings 21.1-8)

 Vampirism

 “As such,” replied Apollonius, “you must regard this adornment, for it is not reality but the semblance of reality. And that you may realize the truth of what I say, this fine bride is one of the vampires, that is to say of those beings whom the many regard as lamias and hobgoblins. These beings fall in love, and they are devoted to the delights of Aphrodite, but especially to the flesh of human beings, and they decoy with such delights those whom they mean to devour in their feasts.”

And the lady said: “Cease your ill-omened talk and begone”; and she pretended to be disgusted at what she heard, and in fact she was inclined to rail at philosophers and say that they always talked nonsense. When, however, the goblets of gold and the show of silver were proved as light as air and all fluttered away out of their sight, while the wine-bearers and the cooks and all the retinue of servants vanished before the rebukes of Apollonius, the phantom pretended to weep, and prayed him not to torture her nor to compel her to confess what she really was.

But Apollonius insisted and would not let her off, and then she admitted that she was a vampire, and was fattening up Menippus with pleasures before devouring his body, for it was her habit to feed upon young and beautiful bodies, because their blood is pure and strong. (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 4.25)

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6.53-7; I couldn’t help but to include this!)

Using the Bible to Support ‘Pro-Life’ Arguments

Bob Cargill shared an interesting verse this morning from Genesis 6, which portrays a frustrated god that so regretted his creation (man) that he sent a flood across the world that swallowed all life–all life, except a remnant that could fit on a relatively small ship comparatively (based on the measurements in Genesis, it would translate to roughly 500 feet long; smaller than the Titanic).  But I think that Bob’s apt point is that if God is ‘pro-life’ then why would he wipe it clean?  It is important to recognize that  those who take the genesis account seriously, those who take the biblical narratives literally, must believe that we’re not just talking about grown men and women with exceptional cognitive abilities to choose right from wrong, we’re talking about infants and disabled individuals who can not always make decisions on their own due to their limitations (you know, since babies really can’t decide where they are born or who their parents are, let alone make any sort of vital cognitive decision beyond whether or not to poop themselves).  Not to mention the perhaps thousands of women who might have been pregnant at that exact moment god decided to wash away the sins of the world (by quite literally washing away everything that had the potential to sin).

“Seriously, you’re all going to die.”

I know some may seek to justify this by making the argument that Jesus’ death had changed everything.  His coming signified the change in god’s personality, or so goes the argument.  God no longer orders the taking of women and children as war plunder, the dashing of children on rocks, or giant she-bears to go terrorizing and mauling mischievous children who don’t believe in resurrections.  It’s like god spent a few months at rehab and emerged a changed deity; he’s a gentler, kinder god on a 12-step plan to happiness.  While this is pleasant enough for me (I’m grateful we’re not still stoning people for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, don’t get me wrong), the idea that ‘all life is sacred’ is not really a big part of the biblical narrative.  How can it be?

Bob says it best:

People of faith must put their faith – and the claims made about their faith – in a real, modern context. Rather than rushing to regurgitate some worn out apologetic claiming, “God cannot tolerate evil,” or “It’s not genocide if God does it,” people of faith must consider that the one they consider to be the “objective moral foundation” for all things ethical at one point in history killed everyone on earth because he regretted creating them! Imagine this same death sentence on the world’s population today. It is nothing less than genocide.

Dude has ninja angels.

Taken in broader sweeps, the Hebrew Bible is far from being ‘pro-life'; indeed it is quite the opposite, portraying god as a sort of vengeful, wrathful warlord who demands the ultimate tribulation while single-handedly destroying his enemies.  At some points he even permits (and actually participates in) the massacre of a whole family of his loyalist servant (Job), and while he may have given Job back twice what he had, he still killed dozens of people who did not deserve to die (that little fact often gets glossed over in Sunday School).  Imagine your wife and children slain before you; don’t worry, you’ll get a whole new wife and more children.  Does that make it better?  Does that justify it?  No sane human being could find any justification in such atrocious (and needless) acts of violence.   And I would seek to remind everyone that Matthew is pretty clear that Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10.24)–nor did he come to abolish the law (Matt 5.17; that is, the Torah, and not one iota is to be removed).  The argument commonly made that none of that matters because he fulfilled the law is a non sequitur; he is specifically portrayed to say he did not come to abolish it, and clearly Matthew believed this was true, as he does all he can to situate Jesus as a priestly Moses figure who makes this very claim!

The fact remains, at the end of the day, that using the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament to justify pro-life positions are doomed to fail.  After the bible portrays god as ordering the slaughtering of the first born children of Egypt, any attempt to portray him as someone who cares a great deal about human suffering and human life falls flat on its face.   I’m sorry, but there is no ‘human value’ that god holds dear–only subservience matters to him.  Those who believe are saved (most of the time) and those who do not god deigns them to misery and destruction and torture and death: whether man, woman, child, or those unborn.  It is horrid and obscene.

Anyone who attempts to use the bible to validate their pro-life position is wrong.  Simply put, they need to find a different argument.  I’m not saying I am all for abortion; I’m pro-choice, but I don’t think abortion would be a decision I would support.  But I’m not everyone and I’m not in everyone’s shoes; I’m only in my own.  Objectively, pro-life is unjustified for that very reason, at least that is my opinion.

Returning to (the Question of the Historicity of) Troy

With thanks to David Meadows for directing me to this:

The new expedition will be led by University of Wisconsin-Madison classics Professor William Aylward, an archaeologist with long experience of excavating the ruins of classical antiquity, including what is currently accepted as the site of Troy itself.

In ancient Greek it was called Ἴλιον, Ilion, or Ἴλιος, Ilios; and Τροία, Troia; Latin: Trōia and Īlium; Hittite: Wilusa or Truwisa and still grips the imagination over 3200 years after the events described in Homer’s epic poem the Iliad. Troy VII has been identified as the Hittite Wilusa, which gives the probable origin of the Greek version Ilion and is generally (but not conclusively) accepted to be the Homeric Troy.

via Archaeologists return to Troy : Past Horizons Archaeology.

I’ve written on the question of the historicity of Troy recently, and what I said then remains just as relevant:

That the narrative of the Odyssey fits more in line with the current events of the Archaic-early Persian periods, with the joining of previously warring poleis into alliances and leagues, with the idealization of the Hellenics vs. the Persians, where the narrative takes root and makes a stand.  And even then, these narratives function only within a set of functional guidelines (that is to say, within the setting by which our most current version of the Odyssey comes to us)–as history they fail to meet any guidelines since the narrative no doubt would have changed depending on the patron deities of the individual cities and the role of the heroes (again lending to the fact that what we have isn’t ‘what happened’ but ‘what the Greeks at that time and that place wanted to believe happened).  We’re not dealing with history, but cultural memory.  These tales are the products of the ancient mythic mind, not our modern rationalistic mind.

My understanding is that there are simply too many challenges that the purveyors of a historical Troy must overcome: too many inconsistencies, too much wishful thinking, too great a chance of forcing the data to fit into preconceived notions.  The links between the modern excavations at Wilusa and the Homeric Troy are weak at best.  The dating of the settlements to various periods (i.e., is it Troy VIIa or Troy VI that is supposedly the historical Troy?) and the discussion of a conquest of the region (that the walls show signs of a fire, sure, but also earthquake damage from the same time!) are tentative and perhaps are based on questionable methods (i.e., the pottery dating used by some of the earlier excavators in the beginning of the twentieth century).

The geographical links are drawn from ancient sources, though all of them late and written after the group of texts were collected into what is now known as the Illiad (like Strabo, who lived around the turn of the first century CE–hundreds of years after the composition of the Homeric epics).   And how many ‘Troy’s’ were there in antiquity?  Livy recounts several ‘Troy’s’ popping up after the fall of the ‘original’ (which is not placed geographically) and notes that the settlers (those who escaped the destruction) were called ‘Trojans’ to his day.  So it is highly specious, in my opinion, to trust the accounts of any ancient author on the whereabouts of Troy, since it is clear that it was fashionable at various times and locales to link ones history with that of the Homeric epics.  And why not those who live off the Aegean Sea?  Of course those settlements would be counted amongst the Trojans!  It is all circular.  A settlement along the Aegean Sea region is associated with Homer and considered Trojan because the Trojans were from a settlement along the Aegean Sea region according to Homer.

There are serious implications to doing history in this fashion.  I again direct the readers to read my earlier post on this subject (linked above).

Look! Scientists trying to be Historians Again! Silly Scientists…

Richard Carrier blogged this today:

Scientists prove Beowulf and the Iliad are true stories! Not. Sometimes scientists can be so clueless, you just want to pat them on the head and go “Aw, that’s so sad.”

Bad Science Proves Demigods Exist! | Richard Carrier Blogs.

Overall, I agree with him on the initial point that Scientists are not historians or theologians and don’t generally have a grasp on the function of our texts. We run into this problem on occasion when Scientists claim they can pinpoint the date of the crucifixion through tracking earthquakes because one of the Gospels mentions an earthquake, or we can determine how the Reed Sea was crossed because a gust of wind can sustain itself for a long time and permit the waters to part.

Read the whole thing.  It is worth your time.  And woe to anyone who really thought this scientist was on to something…

 

Defining Mythicism: Parallelomania, Luxor, and Acharya S

This is nothing new for those who read this blog, but Richard Carrier has posted an excellent example of a problem that plagues the case for mythicism: Parallelomania.  I’ve stated over and over (and over and over) again that correlation does not equal causation.  Here is a snippet from his blog on the subject:

Parallelomania is the particular disease of Jesus myth advocates who see “parallels” everywhere between early Christianity and all manner of pagan religions. Many of those parallels are real; don’t get me wrong. Some are even causal (Christianity really is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, which point I will soundly prove in my coming book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). But most parallels are not real, or are not causally related (remember that basic rule in science: correlation is not causation). Some don’t even exist (and here bad scholarship becomes the disease: see my cautionary review of Kersey Graves’ Sixteen Crucified Saviors).

One important example of a “non-parallel” is the Egyptian nativity narrative at Luxor. I reviewed this claim years ago (Brunner’s Gottkoenigs & the Nativity of Jesus: A Brief Communication). Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) responded to that by claiming I was reading the wrong text (and also not reading it right), but she’s mistaken. She also claimed that the meaning of “immaculate conception” is up for debate; it is not. She simply cites other people making the same mistake she did, as if a mistake many people make ceases to be a mistake, which is a non sequitur. It would have been better if she had not doubled down on her error and just corrected herself. But that’s her own look out. What concerns me more is her poor treatment of the details of Egyptian history and the texts in the Luxor case.

That Luxor Thing | Richard Carrier Blogs.

His conclusion is too good to simply quote here out of context.  Do read on.

Review of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit at the Discovery Center

 Where: Discovery Center – New York

 When: January 8, 2012

 Overall Impression of the Exhibit:

Brief Introduction to the Exhibit:

Today I traveled to New York to see the much-acclaimed Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Discovery Center (just off Times Square).  This is one of those exhibits I’ve been looking forward to seeing since I first found out about it when I went to the Discovery Center months ago to see the Pompeii exhibit.  Since they do not allow pictures to be taken of the exhibit, I brought along my Moleskine notepad and jotted down interesting or curious thoughts as I went along.

I arrived in NYC around 10:30 AM and had some time to kill, so I spent a good portion of it just walking around Times Square and taking in the city.  I was pleased to see that the exhibit was well-advertised; one would be blind or oblivious to walk around the area and not see signs for it.  Also, if you get to NYC often (or even if you go once in a while) be sure to stop in and eat at Carmines.  Superb food and service all around.

Banner leading into the exhibit.

Anyway, at around 12:50 PM I made my way to 44th St. and with some luck I managed to get into the exhibit without any problems, which was nice.  Earlier reviewers have complained about the long lines to get into the exhibit, the wait times between showings, and the speed at which one is rushed through the exhibit.  My experience, however, was anything but this; I was able to enter the exhibit quickly and with a small group and, while they did push us through the beginning of the exhibit so the group behind us could have room, I never felt as though I was being shoved along quickly.  In fact I went at my own pace.  One might chalk this up to the day and time I was there; most of the negative reviews seem to be around the holiday season when Times Square is no-doubt packed.

The group of us were corralled into a spacious room with huge projector screens.  The opening of the exhibit is a short burst of fun that plays with your senses.  You’re bombarded (in a good way) by both visual and audio experiences which filled me with excitement.  But even as I was anticipating an excellent exhibit, the hostess who spoke through this opening introduction made some curious, if not questionable, statements about the ancient past.

The First Part of the Exhibit and the Claims of a ‘Biblical Israel':

When it comes to ancient history, ‘fact’ is a term used fast and loose.  Scholars tend to be very cautious when making claims or asserting anything.  There are reasons for this.  Ever make an absolute claim to someone (e.g., ‘The world is only 6,000 years old!’) only to find out later you were wrong?   Well in order to avoid icky embarrassment (among other more important reasons, like remaining open to the possibility of being wrong when all the facts aren’t in yet), scholars will try to avoid making absolute claims about things, whether it be about the interpretation of a particular passage or verse or a translation, etc….  Thus if the scholar is shown to be wrong (usually through the process of peer review or through further research), the scholar maintains credibility and their hypotheses can be easily changed or adjusted to fit the new data (‘beliefs’ are much harder to change; despite all the evidence people still believe the world is 6,000 years old).

First part of the exhibit. Photo from: http://www.discoverytsx.com/exhibitions/dead-sea-scrolls

Unfortunately, this exhibit does not do a very good job at playing the ‘cautious’ game.  Right away the hostess made the claim that the Bible was written 3,000 years ago (c. 1000 BCE).  But while some scholars do in fact believe this to be the case, the question of when certain texts of the Hebrew Bible were written is still hotly debated.  Those who often argue for a 1000 BCE composition of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), for example, are often arguing from a very conservative (if not politically- and/or a religiously-charged) position.  This isn’t always the case, but often it is.  The issues are not as black and white as ‘the Hebrew Bible was composed around 1000 BCE'; there are matters of nuance that cannot simply be pushed aside to favor a conservative dating.

Initially I just assumed that the hostess was generalizing for the lay audience (and it was likely she was a layperson herself) and I wasn’t about to stand up and challenge her (I’m trying to enjoy the exhibit like everyone else).  When she completed her introduction and the fancy projections were through, the group of us were sent through the doors into the first part of the exhibit.  As I walked along and read the notes next to the artifacts, I couldn’t help but feel a little discouraged.

Once more the wool was draped over the eyes of the layperson when direct claims were made about certain stelae–like the Tel Dan and Merneptah stelae–which favored not only an early conservative dating of the Hebrew Bible but also a united monarchy under David and Solomon.  One plaque read of the Merneptah Stele:

[The Merneptah Stele] refers to “Israel” at this time as a people living somewhere in Canaan. 

This is quite the claim.  While yes, there are scholars out there who might argue the stele talks about a ‘people’, others are not so sure and, once more, this issue is contended.   And then there is the matter of what the stele says about Israel; it doesn’t mention anywhere that they were living in Canaan but that they were desolated there (‘their seed is laid waste’).  And even that translation (and its meaning) is contested.

Then there was the sign that that read ‘Birth of a Nation’ and its contents were mainly about another hotly debated subject: the united monarchy.  I’m not making any specific claims about the stele here or about the existence of a ‘Biblical Israel’, but then again neither should the exhibit.  One has to wonder why a whole section of the exhibit which is dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls spends so much time on what many of my colleagues would call ‘Biblical History’ or ‘Biblical Archaeology’.  If anything, ‘nation’ should be the last word used to describe any ancient socio-cultural entity since ‘nation’ is a modern designation for a specific type of state and using it on the ancient ‘Israelites’ is nothing but an anachronistic political move rather than anything proper for an exhibit about the past.

But this part of the exhibit did have some redeeming features.  For one thing they discuss idols and household figurines showing the more diverse cultural dynamic of the Hill Country of Palestine early on in its history.  I am familiar with these votive statues, known as ‘Asherah trees/poles’, and the henotheistic/polytheistic beliefs of the region early on in its history.  But the voice-actor who explained the Asherah votives refrained from calling them what they were, instead refering to them as if they were simple luck charms rather than the cultic objects of worship that they probably were.  That they were there on display at all was good to see.

Actually, despite all the politically-motivated rhetoric, all the pieces on display were fantastic and it is clear they were well taken care of by the IAA.  I have to say that while some perhaps more religious laypeople might enjoy this part of the exhibit, those more critical of the Biblical narratives will find it mind-numbingly annoying.  I was mortified by the rhetoric, but I still enjoyed having a close look at objects I’ve wanted to see in person for some time.

The Main Event: The Dead Sea Scrolls…

Down the stairs from the first half of the exhibit was the main display, the second half I had been waiting for: the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I was looking forward to seeing not just the scrolls (because manuscripts are something I’d like to work with someday as a professional) but loads (oodles and oodles, I believe, is the technical phrasing) of artifacts from the digs at Qumran and surrounding areas.

Down the stairs I went and in the center of the room was a circular display table with the scrolls illuminated around it.  All in all there were ten scrolls on display featuring:

  1. Paleo-Leviticus
  2. Aramaic Levi
  3. Isaiah Commentary
  4. Book of War
  5. Minor Prophets (in Greek)
  6. Apocryphal Lamentations
  7. Psalms
  8. Community Rule
  9. Deuteronomy ‘Song of Moses’
  10. Pseudo-Ezekial

I have to say I found it fascinating.  Being up close to a scroll like that which is also extremely old is really an awesome experience.  I wasn’t just looking at it on a page of a book but I was actively able to review it, see the old etched lines the scribes used to maintain straight writing across the scroll (they ‘hang’ from the lines), follow along with the Greek first hand.  One particular item I found worthy of note is that on the scroll written in Greek (Minor Prophets) every once in a while you come across the paleo-Hebrew word ‘god’.  This suggests, at least to me, that the scribes were likely multilingual.  But while I really enjoyed the scrolls, there were some other issues I found (or thought were missing completely) throughout the second half of the exhibit that I think should be raised.

The round display area featuring the scrolls. Photo: http://www.discoverytsx.com/

First, I was disappointed in the limited amount of artifacts featured from Qumran.  Aside from a few jars (and obviously the scrolls) nothing of any significance that I can remember was on hand for the exhibit.  And I really spent some time looking.  Instead, pieces from Jerusalem, Masada, and other digs were prominent surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls which was upsetting.  I thought I had bought tickets to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and to find out more about the Qumran area. Instead I felt I had been swindled into paying for and listening to a lecture about ‘ancient Israel’ given by William Dever.   It isn’t even that I wouldn’t want to listen to Dever speak (I would, if only because I’ve read him and hear so much about him from colleagues), but at least tell me that beforehand so I know for what I’m paying.

Frankly I wasn’t there to look at Byzantine crosses and menorahs (though I did find them all very interesting regardless) and I certainly didn’t care for the random section of stone from the Western Wall (its a fun tradition, but how does it even begin to fit in with the theme of the Dead Sea?).  I don’t care if the event was sponsored by Hershel Shanks (I don’t think it was, though some of his books were featured at the gift shop)–and believe me when I say some of it felt as though I had walked into a copy of BAR–I wanted to see what I came there to see.  In the end I saw pieces I could just as easily see at UPenn (and for a whole hellova lot less than I paid for my ticket at the Discovery Center).

I was also dismayed to find that they consider the Dead Sea Scrolls to be a part of a sectarian effort (that is to say, that the scrolls were penned by a single sect).  While they never straight out claimed the Essenes wrote the scrolls (as Geza Vermes does, and while he is estimable and learned I respectfully disagree with this conclusion),  the constant reference to a ‘sectarian group’ was, I felt, misleading.  There are too many troubling issues to contend with when one claims all the scrolls came from a singular source.  We can’t know that.  Many scholars feel this is the likely case (I don’t), but I don’t know of many who are so quick to claim with any certainty that it is a fact.  Yet, once again, this exhibit does portray this hypothesis as a fact.  It is an unfortunate and uncritical problem repeated throughout the exhibit.

A Final Subject of Note: Talpiot Ossuaries at the Dead Sea Scroll Exhibit?

Talpiot Ossuaries. Yep, these guys. They were there.

Hell yes they were there.  And why?  What reason could they possibly have been there?  I can’t say.  What I can say is I was in shock when I saw them.  I probably grumbled a few select words that were not very professional.  But needless to say the ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb, including the ‘James ossuary’ currently on trial with a possible (probable) forged inscription, were there.

The inscription issue is a tedious subject to get into on a review post of an exhibit, so I won’t.  But others have written on it and I can at least direct the reader to them:

Mark Goodacre (Duke University) has a great series of posts on this:

Joe Zias (Formerly of the IAA; currently of the Science and Archaeology Group at the Hebrew University):

On the Mariamne inscription:

Thankfully, the exhibit doesn’t claim anything as extravagant or as specious as Simcha Jacobovici.  From the notes next to the ossuaries in the handout:

These six ossuaries, found in a tomb in Jerusalem, have inscriptions
that included the names “Jesus,” “Mary,” “Joseph.” While it might be
tempting to claim this tomb belonged to Jesus and his family, these
names are in fact extremely common in the Second temple period.
The New Testament reports that Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb
of a prominent follower named Joseph of Arimathea. Since the early
fourth century Christians have venerated the site of Jesus’ burial at
the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s old City.

But even this may be more misleading than it needs to; of course this is the Discovery Center and Discovery did produce, with James Cameron, Simcha Jacobovici’s docudrama ‘The Jesus Family Tomb’ from years ago, and to which this ‘discovery’ (i.e. the ossuaries)  is attached.

Conclusions and Rating

I’ve been very critical of this exhibit, but don’t take my criticisms for displeasure on my part.  I had a great time.  It was a fun experience and I’d recommend it to anyone, so long as they take my criticisms to heart (in the sense that they remain skeptical of the assertions made by the exhibit and also fact-check everything they read, including this blog!).  There is nothing quite like exploring the ancient world through archaeology and, aside from going out on a dig yourself, going to these sorts of exhibits make for a fun outing.

Because I enjoyed the people and the pieces, I rated it favorably.  I suspect that others may rate it differently depending on the direction their ideologies sway, but overall I tend to think my review has been more positive (if not more critical) than most.  Some things I found discouraging which is why I took away from points.  Still, if you get the chance, go check out the exhibit and, if you think I’ve erred somewhere or if you think I’m being unfair, I’d love to hear from you.

Edit: Jim West provided this video of Dr. Lawrence Schiffman on the exhibit:

The Transfiguration and the Inclusion of Moses

Ascension was nothing new in antiquity.  Richard Carrier jokingly noted that had there been television in antiquity, stories about people who ascend to heaven (or some variant of this) would have been more popular than crime dramas are today.  And, ironically, the New Testament doesn’t deny this.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Matthew 17.1-8, posted above, is interesting for several reasons.  Those familiar with the Hebrew Bible will take note that Elijah had ascended to heaven in a whirlwind previously in 2 Kings 2.  But many probably don’t know about the tradition of the ascension of Moses.  This is probably due to the fact that in the Hebrew Bible, Moses does not ascend, but goes off to die alone (yet somehow there are those who believe he wrote the Torah–including the part about his death).  But there had been a tradition among some Jewish circles in antiquity, including those in the first century, who believed that Moses had ascended to heaven on a cloud.  Josephus recounts this tradition:

Now as soon as they came to the mountain called Abarim, he dismissed the senate; and as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him suddenly, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he diedwhich was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God (Josephus, Antiquities 4.325-26).

And this is also recounted in the Talmud (Yoma 4a) and also in midrashic literature (Pesikta Rabbati 20:4).  And the apocryphal book–of which is given a terminus a quo of the first century CE–‘The Testament of Moses’ might have also contained an ascension narrative which is now lost from the sixth century Latin narrative.  So it is especially interesting that both Elijah (ascended to heaven) and Moses (ascended to heaven) appear in front of Jesus in the Gospel narratives, seemingly from heaven.  And then just as easily as they appear, they also vanish (presumably they ascended again, a foreshadowing event for what is to come at the end of the book): ‘When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.’.

The author of Luke certainly knew of the narrative and even seems to have interpreted this in the same way, as he has a cloud come down and envelope Elijah and Moses and then take them away (or, rather, they vanish; Lk 9.34).  The cloud is indicative of the legend of the ascension of Moses (and also of Enoch, as in 1 Enoch 39.3 when he is taken up on a cloud into the heaven; cf. Rev. 11.12) and also is for Jesus in Acts 1.9, when he ascends to heaven on a cloud, indicating that Luke might have used the ascension narrative of Moses (most likely taken from Josephus, since it appears likely that the author of Luke had copies of Josephus’ works) as a basis for his ascension narrative of Jesus.  But this is not the last we see of Moses and Elijah in Luke.  One has to wonder if Moses and Elijah are the two men in dazzling apparel who meet the women at the tomb in Lk 24.4.  It would make sense; after all, they were ascended at Jesus’ transfiguration as a foreshadowing and then return again to show that Jesus has done what they have done.

What makes this all so fascinating to me is that the ascension of Moses is not canonical, that is to say, it is not a part of the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament.  This ascension narrative is completely apocryphal according to modern religious doctrine.  But this just goes to show that the sectarianism in antiquity had no such doctrine of canonization.  Their understanding of scripture appears to be different than that of ours today and that inspiration is not defined by an ecumenical council but through the theological message of the text.  That this sort of noncanonical tradition can be found in the Gospels is intriguing.  One has to wonder what the implications for this are for the rest of the canon and what that might mean for inerrantists.

The Walking Undead: Ghost Stories and Hauntings from the Ancient World

In light of this festive part of the year (Halloween is my favorite holiday!), I have decided to make a little post highlighting some of the best scary stories from antiquity into a short post.  Suspend disbelief–these stories are not historically true, but imagine…imagine if they were… how might you find yourself acting in a similar situation?  What if this happens to you?

The Dead Shall Rise from the Graves

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the verse from Matthew 27.52, ‘and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.’  Imagine that; dead rising from the local necropolis, or from the Mount of Olives where where old tombs stand, and–in their skeletal forms they roamed the city of Jerusalem.  And there are those today who still believe this actually happened.  One must wonder what Roman centurions had to have thought?  But there are other stories, far more troubling.

Like the story found in 2 Kgs 13:21, ‘And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.’  The surprise of the fellows!  Imagine you just tossed a dead man into a tomb and, upon his lifeless corpse touching the bones of a dead prophet he opened his eyes, stood, and looked back at you?

And one cannot forget the eerie threats of the Goddess Ishtar…’I will raise up the dead, eating the living, so that the dead will outnumber the living.’  (Ishtar to the gatekeeper of the underworld, ‘Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World’, lines 19-20, trans. E.A. Speiser, ANET, p. 107)  Let us hope that these are idle threats…

Haunted Houses and Haunted Persons

Pliny is the first to offer us a tale of the haunted house.  Athenodorus was not at all prepared…

There was in Athens a house, spacious and open, but with an infamous reputation, as if filled with pestilence. For in the dead of night, a noise like the clashing of iron could be heard. And if one listened carefully, it sounded like the rattling of chains. At first the noise seemed to be at a distance, but then it would approach, nearer, nearer, nearer. Suddenly a phantom would appear, an old man, pale and emaciated, with a long beard, and hair that appeared driven by the wind. The fetters on his feet and hands rattled as he moved them.

Any dwellers in the house passed sleepless nights under the most dismal terrors imaginable. The nights without rest led them to a kind of madness, and as the horrors in their minds increased, onto a path toward death. Even in the daytime–when the phantom did not appear–the memory of the nightmare was so strong that it still passed before their eyes. The terror remained when the cause of it was gone.

Damned as uninhabitable, the house was at last deserted, left to the spectral monster. But in hope that some tenant might be found who was unaware of the malevolence within it, the house was posted for rent or sale.

It happened that a philosopher named Athenodorus came to Athens at that time. Reading the posted bill, he discovered the dwelling’s price. The extraordinary cheapness raised his suspicion, yet when he heard the whole story, he was not in the least put off. Indeed, he was eager to take the place. And did so immediately.

As evening drew near, Athenodorus had a couch prepared for him in the front section of the house. He asked for a light and his writing materials, then dismissed his retainers. To keep his mind from being distracted by vain terrors of imaginary noises and apparitions, he directed all his energy toward his writing.

For a time the night was silent. Then came the rattling of fetters. Athenodorus neither lifted up his eyes, nor laid down his pen. Instead he closed his ears by concentrating on his work. But the noise increased and advanced closer till it seemed to be at the door, and at last in the very chamber. Athenodorus looked round and saw the apparition exactly as it had been described to him. It stood before him, beckoning with one finger.

Athenodorus made a sign with his hand that the visitor should wait a little, and bent over his work. The ghost, however, shook the chains over the philosopher’s head, beckoning as before. Athenodorus now took up his lamp and followed. The ghost moved slowly, as if held back by his chains. Once it reached the courtyard, it suddenly vanished.

Athenodorus, now deserted, carefully marked the spot with a handful of grass and leaves. The next day he asked the magistrate to have the spot dug up. There they found–intertwined with chains–the bones that were all that remained of a body that had long lain in the ground. Carefully, the skeletal relics were collected and given proper burial, at public expense. The tortured ancient was at rest. And the house in Athens was haunted no more.

And Lucian (Philopseudes 30-31) offers another story, similar to this one in many respects, about a house in Corinth:

“Well,” he said, “if you ever go to Corinth, ask where the house of Eubatides is, and when it is pointed out to you beside the Cornel Grove, go there and tell the door-keep Tibeios that you wish to see where the Pythagorean Arignotos bested the spirit and made the house habitable from then on…the house was uninhabitable for a long time…because of a terrifying phenomena, and any person who tried to live there soon fled, panic-stricken, pursued by some fearful and menacing phantom. So the house was starting to collapse, and the roof was falling in, and in short there was no one brave enough to enter it.

When I heard this, I gathered up my books—for I have quite a few Egyptian books about this very subject—and went to the house at the hour when people usually go to sleep. My host tried to turn me back, and all but physically restrained me when he learned where I was going—to face a known evil, he thought. I went in alone, taking a lamp, and put the lamp down in the largest room. Sitting on the ground, I was reading peacefully, when the spirit appeared, thinking he was approaching just any man, and hoping to frighten me just as he had the others. He was filthy and long-haired and blacker than darkness itself. Standing over me, he made an attempt on me, attacking from all sides to see if he could conquer me, changing himself now into a dog, now into a bull or lion. But I had ready the most horrible Egyptian curse, and speaking in the Egyptian tongue I drove him away and bound him in a corner of a dark room. Observing where he sank down, I rested for what was left of the night.

Early in the morning, when everyone had given up hope and expected to find a corpse like the others, I came out entirely unexpected, and went to Eubatides with the good news that he could live once more in the house, which was now purified and freed from fear. Then, taking him and many others—they followed along because the incident was so marvelous—I led them to the place where I had seen the spirit sink into the earth, and I urged them to dig with hoes and shovels. Doing this, they found, buried nearly six feet down, a rotting corpse, with only bones remaining in order. After we dug it up and buried it, the house from then on ceased to be troubled by phantoms.

But haunted houses are not the only place spooky phantoms reside. Some spirits, it seems, have returned for other purposes…

Herodotus recounts a story where the tyrant of Corinth, Periander, hopes of learning about a deposit a friend had given. He inquires of an oracle to bring up his wife to learn about this. The haunting story is recounted below (Histories 5.92g):

 Periander, however, understood what had been done, and perceived that Thrasybulus had counseled him to slay those of his townsmen who were outstanding in influence or ability; with that he began to deal with his citizens in an evil manner. Whatever act of slaughter or banishment Cypselus had left undone, that Periander brought to accomplishment. In a single day he stripped all the women of Corinth naked, because of his own wife Melissa. Periander had sent messengers to the Oracle of the Dead on the river Acheron in Thesprotia to enquire concerning a deposit that a friend had left, but Melissa, in an apparition, said that she would tell him nothing, nor reveal where the deposit lay, for she was cold and naked. The garments, she said, with which Periander had buried with her had never been burnt, and were of no use to her. Then, as evidence for her husband that she spoke the truth, she added that Periander had put his loaves into a cold oven. When this message was brought back to Periander (for he had had intercourse with the dead body of Melissa and knew her token for true), immediately after the message he made a proclamation that all the Corinthian women should come out into the temple of Hera. They then came out as to a festival, wearing their most beautiful garments, and Periander set his guards there and stripped them all alike, ladies and serving-women, and heaped all the clothes in a pit, where, as he prayed to Melissa, he burnt them. When he had done this and sent a second message, the ghost of Melissa told him where the deposit of the friend had been laid.

But not all stories are so benevolent…  In the book of 1 Samuel, Saul is about to lose his kingdom to the Philistines. Knowing that Yahweh has left him, Saul seeks the council of a soothsayer.  The story has been remembered as the Witch of Endor…
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.
Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

“There is one in Endor,” they said.

So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.”

Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”

The woman said, “I see a ghostly figurecoming up out of the earth.”

“What does he look like?” he asked.

“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.”

And with that chilling statement ‘tomorrow you and your sons will be with me’, the spirit of Samuel announced the doom of Israel.  And so it came to pass…

Another fortune telling ghost can be found in Euripides’ play Hecuba, 30-54. The ghost of Priam’s son Polydorus, butchered at the hands of false friends, goes to his mother in a dream, recounting to her the horrors that are to befall her.

Disembodied now, I hover as a wraith over my mother’s head, riding for three long days upon the air, three hopeless days of suffering and fear since she left Troy and came to Chersonese. Here on the shore of Thrace, in sullen idleness beside its ships, the whole Achaean army waits and cannot sail. For Achilles’ ghost appeared, stalking on his tomb, wailing, and stopped the ships as they stood out for sea on the journey home. He demanded my sister Polyxena as a prize, the blood of the living to sweeten a dead man’s grave….On this day destiny shall take my sister down to death. Ah you, poor mother, you must see your two last children dead this day, my sister slaughtered and my unburied body washed up on shore at the feet of a slave. These were the favors I asked of the gods below—to find my mother and be buried by her hands—and they have granted my request. Now I go, for there below I see my mother coming, stumbling from Agamemnon’s tent, still shaken by that dream in which she saw my ghost.

In letter 83, Pliny tells another ghost story… below are his words.

I am extremely desirous therefore to know whether you believe in the existence of ghosts, and that they have a real form, and are a sort of divinities, or only the visionary impressions of a terrified imagination. What particularly inclines me to believe in their existence is a story which I heard of Curtius Rufus. When he was in low circumstances and unknown in the world, he attended the governor of Africa into that province. One evening, as he was walking in the public portico, there appeared to him the figure of a woman, of unusual size and of beauty more than human. And as he stood there, terrified and astonished, she told him she was the tutelary power that presided over Africa, and was come to inform him of the future events of his life: that he should go back to Rome, to enjoy high honors there, and return to that province invested with the proconsular dignity, and there should die. Every circumstance of this prediction actually came to pass. It is said farther that upon his arrival at Carthage, as he was coming out of the ship, the same figure met him upon the shore.

The forgotten dead, buried improperly, are often never at full rest.  Stories abound, like those who haunted the houses in Athens and Corinth, of the spirits of the dead haunting their plots until given proper rites.  It is said of Caligula by Suetonius (Cali., 59)….
His body was carried privately into the Lamian Gardens,1 where it was half burnt upon a pile hastily raised, and then had some earth carelessly thrown over it. It was afterwards disinterred by his sisters, on their return from banishment, burnt to ashes, and buried. Before this was done, it is well-known that the keepers of the gardens were greatly disturbed by apparitions; and that not a night passed without some terrible alarm or other in the house where he was slain, until it was destroyed by fire.
Cicero (Div. 1.57) recounts the following tale of a friend who visited another in a dream to inform him of his death…
Two friends from Arcadia who were taking a journey together came to Megara, and one traveller put up at an inn and the second went to the home of a friend. After they had eaten supper and retired, the second traveller, in the dead of the night, dreamed that his companion was imploring him to come to his aid, as the innkeeper was planning to kill him. Greatly frightened at first by the dream he arose, and later, regaining his composure, decided that there was nothing to worry about and went back to bed. When he had gone to sleep the same person appeared to him and said: ‘Since you would not help me when I was alive, I beg that you will not allow my dead body to remain unburied. I have been killed by the innkeeper, who has thrown my body into a cart and covered it with dung. I pray you to be at the city gate in the morning before the cart leaves the town,’ Thoroughly convinced by the second dream he met the cart-driver at the gate in the morning, and, when he asked what he had in the cart, the driver fled in terror. The Arcadian then removed his friend’s dead body from the cart, made complaint of the crime to the authorities, and the innkeeper was punished.

So remember, readers, that the dead have been reported to have walked the grounds of the living.  Remember…so in case you find yourself walking alone at night, and if by chance you happen upon a specter of the dead, you may just survive it….

Question of the Day: Did the Author(s) of Job Believe in God?

I think this question is important, as the author(s) of Job seem to have a multifaceted approach to theology–one of necessity but also of indifference towards it.   Is it just so easy to lump the author(s) of Job in with the authors of Genesis?  Can we say, wholly, that the authors of the books which make up the Bible had the same strong belief in God?  I don’t think it’s that easy.  So this is my question to my fellow Bibliobloggers: Did the author(s) of Job believe in a God?  If you believe so, in what way do you think they viewed God? What sort of believer would we say the author(s) of Job is (are)?  If not, what drove them to write the narrative?

Defining Mythicism: The Signs Gospel and the Figure of Jesus

James McGrath highlights a post by the blog Synoptic Solutions on the Signs Gospel and the figure of Jesus.  I tend to think the post is a little ridiculous.  Here is the offending snippet:

In the Signs Gospel, Jesus is not being portrayed as a god on earth. Instead, he is portrayed as very human–a miraculous human, but a human nonetheless. Like the rabbis, he is not quite historical, yet he is not mythical, either. Instead, he is legendary. And so I propose that this is the correct model for understanding the historical Jesus. He is a legendary figure–but that does not mean he is an imaginary figure. Indeed, it means just the opposite: it means that he was most certainly historical.

There are several problems with this statement overall (e.g., the so-called Signs Gospel itself, the certainty of the claims being made about the Signs Gospel, portrayal of Jesus, the problems associated with Gos. of John, claims about the historicity of the figure of Jesus, and so on). First, and most importantly, the ‘Signs Gospel’ is hypothetical.  Like the sayings Gospel ‘Q’, the Signs Gospel is little more than a collected group of events (re: miraculous works) compiled by certain scholars (some who fall into line with confessional theology) as to seemingly avoid the problems associated with dependency (that is to say, that the Gospels are not independent traditions based upon eyewitness testimony); and we all know there are several very good (I would say ‘unassailable’) reasons to stop pretending ‘Q’ exists (ahem…).  For those unfamiliar with the Signs Gospel and the proposed value of the Gos. of John in historical Jesus studies, according to D. Moody Smith remarks (Johannine Christianity, p. 63):

“It is now rather widely agreed that the Fourth Evangelist drew upon a miracle tradition or written source(s) substantially independent of the synoptics, whether or not he had any knowledge of one or more of those gospels. Since the epoch-making commentary of Rudolf Bultmann, the hypothesis of a semeia- (or miracle) source has gained rather wide acceptance.”

And:

“Whether such a miracle source can be precisely isolated and identified, as Bultmann and some who follow him think, is a question we need not decide here. The demonstration of the existence of a source (or sources) is not entirely dependent upon the possibility of isolating it with certainty and precision throughout the Gospel.”

The problem with D.M. Smith’s statement is that I am not so sure it is as ‘widely agreed’ that John used the Signs Gospel as he makes it appear (I will also not get into his other apologetic-esque comments here; Crossley does a good job of that in the article mentioned below).   I am not sure what is taking place with the John, Jesus, and History Project (JJH) via the SBL, but just judging from James Crossley’s paper (forthcoming in my volume with Thomas L. Thompson) it seems that suggesting that Jesus was a historical figure based upon this Gospel is a difficult task indeed (if not entirely futile, despite what the JJH project suggests).  One has to make gross presuppositions about the state of the evidence (i.e. you have to start from the conclusion that the Gospels present accurate representations of the historical Jesus first, which is a position that runs rather counter to historical-critical methods).   In addition, the Gos. of John might actually not have been composed until sometime in the early second century (but no later than the p52’s terminus ad quem, c. 150 CE), rather than at the turn of that century as it was once thought.

Though, even if it had been written earlier, like around the turn of the second century CE, it does not follow that one can judge the figure of Jesus, let alone propose a whole new model (!), based solely on a single narrative and hypothetical document.  It seems rather presumptuous, if not downright arrogant, to suggest firmly (and with such certainty!) that Jesus was indeed historical from the most miraculous, ludicrous, and late of the canonical Gospels.  And to top it off, the author begs us to presume the existence of a hypothetical document as secondary evidence for his position!

While it might be that the Gospels are legendary, mythologized narratives about a historical person, it is folly to ignore all existing narratives besides the Gos. of John whilst making the outrageous claim that Jesus was a historical figure, mythologized.  This is nothing more than begging the question: if all of these factors (Signs Gospel did exist as a source for John, John did have source material from an eyewitness, tradition stemmed from a historical core, John is the primary witness to historical tradition, etc…) are true, Jesus was a historical figure, mythologized (essentially amounting to nothing more than the Chewbacca Defense: “Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!”).  But as the song goes, “well, that’s a far cry from the truth.”  We can only say so much from the evidence.  And when one is proposing a hypothetical document, even one that is largely accepted, the proposal can only be hypothetical (as a conclusion can only be as strong as the evidence).  To a large extent, this does prove, quite directly, that there are instances of bias in historical Jesus scholarship and with the question over historical value of the canonical Gospels.

Although there is hardly much need for additional evidence; it is clear that historical Jesus scholarship has its own share of failings.  Crossley notes, for example (and do read the whole article):

[T]he study of the historical Jesus is overwhelmingly concerned with fact finding, description and descriptive interpretation in its various forms, with little concern for questions such as why the Jesus movement emerged when and where it did and why this movement subsequently led to a new religion. By Eric Hobsbawm’s standards (see epigraph) most of these historical Jesus writers would come perilously close to being guilty of ‘antiquarian empiricism’ and more than one historical Jesus scholar might be guilty of writing what Hobsbawm dismissed as the ‘Victorian tome’ so typical of biography.

Aside from these challenges, there are numerous other problematic oversights in the post.  The author blogs the similarities of the miraculous signs from Greco-Jewish traditions but ignores those similar motifs found in the Hebrew Bible.  Where is the discussion or even mention of the same trope found in Ps. 107:23-30?

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

I would note as well that Ps. 107 contains other miraculous forms of redemption, through healing of the sick, and the feeding of the multitude (part of the ‘Signs’ which some believe came from this hypothetical source):

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

And of course, one cannot forget the play of the Elisha/Elijah narratives at work in the miracle scenes.  The calming of the storm also has roots in Elijah’s challenge to the Baal worshipers, where Yahweh is portrayed as a God who has control over the storms, in direct conflict with Baal, another storm God.  The feeding of the multitude motif can also be found in the Elisha/Elijah narratives (2 Kings 4:38-41 with Elisha’s magic flour, and with Elijah 1 Kings 17:8-16), as is the healing of the sick/resurrection of the dead miracle stories (i.e., 1 Kings 17:17-24 where Elijah raised the widow’s son and Elisha and the Shunamite woman’s son in 2 Kings 4:18-37).  These miracle stories need not come from another hypothetical source (as fictional as it might indeed be), but from long-held tropes and motifs found in ancient Jewish literature.  John’s ability to take Mark’s Gospel and build upon it is not unknown.

On the subject of absorbing Mark wholly, the author also uses a bit of hyperbole when he states “since we know the Markan author used SG as a source.”  In fact, since these miracles are found in the Hebrew Bible, Mark’s source is probably also the scriptures.  There is no need to fabricate an entirely hypothetical Gospel just to account for the motifs.  And John need only have a copy of Mark, Matthew, and Luke to build upon the scenes (which many believe he did).  The best example for this is the scene at the tomb of Jesus.  Richard Carrier explains it (go to the link for a footnoted version):

So we start with Mark. It is little known among the laity, but in fact the ending of Mark, everything after verse 16:8, does not actually exist in the earliest versions of that Gospel that survive. It was added some time late in the 2nd century or even later. Before that, as far as we can tell, Mark ended at verse 16:8. But that means his Gospel ended only with an empty tomb, and a pronouncement by a mysterious young man that Jesus would be seen in Galilee–nothing is said of how he would be seen. This was clearly unsatisfactory for the growing powerful arm of the Church a century later, which had staked its claim on a physical resurrection, against competing segments of the Church usually collectively referred to as the Gnostics (though not always accurately). So an ending was added that quickly pinned some physical appearances of Jesus onto the story, and for good measure put in the mouth of Christ rabid condemnations of those who didn’t believe it. But when we consider the original story, it supports the notion that the original belief was of a spiritual rather than a physical event. The empty tomb for Mark was likely meant to be a symbol, not a historical reality, but even if he was repeating what was told him as true, it was not unusual in the ancient world for the bodies of heroes who became gods to vanish from this world: being deified entailed being taken up into heaven, as happened to men as diverse as Hercules and Apollonius of Tyana, and Mark’s story of an empty tomb would simply represent that expectation.

A decade or two passes, and then Matthew appears. As this Gospel tells it, there was a vast earthquake, and instead of a mere boy standing around beside an already-opened tomb, an angel–blazing like lightning–descended from the sky and paralyzed two guards that happened to be there, rolled away the stone single handedly before several witnesses–and then announced that Jesus will appear in Galilee. Obviously we are seeing a clear case of legendary embellishment of the otherwise simple story in Mark. Then in Matthew a report is given (similar to what was later added to Mark), where, contrary to the angel’s announcement, Jesus immediately meets the women that attended to his grave and repeats what the angel said. Matthew is careful to add a hint that this was a physical Jesus, having the women grovel and grab his feet as he speaks.

Then, maybe a little later still, Luke appears, and suddenly what was a vague and perhaps symbolic allusion to an ascension in Mark has now become a bodily appearance, complete with a dramatic reenactment of Peter rushing to the tomb and seeing the empty death shroud for himself. As happened in Matthew, other details have grown. The one young man of Mark, which became a flying angel in Matthew, in this account has suddenly become two men, this time not merely in white, but in dazzling raiment. And to make the new story even more suspicious as a doctrinal invention, Jesus goes out of his way to say he is not a vision, and proves it by asking the Disciples to touch him, and then by eating a fish. And though both Mark and Matthew said the visions would happen in Galilee, Luke changes the story, and places this particular experience in the more populous and prestigious Jerusalem.

Finally along comes John, perhaps after another decade or more. Now the legend has grown full flower, and instead of one boy, or two men, or one angel, now we have two angels at the empty tomb. And outdoing Luke in style, John has Jesus prove he is solid by showing his wounds, and breathing on people, and even obliging the Doubting Thomas by letting him put his fingers into the very wounds themselves. Like Luke, the most grandiose appearances to the Disciples happen in Jerusalem, not Galilee as Mark originally claimed. In all, John devotes more space and detail than either Luke or Matthew to demonstrations of the physicality of the resurrection, details nowhere present or even implied in Mark. It is obvious that John is trying very hard to create proof that the resurrection was the physical raising of a corpse, and at the end of a steady growth of fable, he takes license to make up a lot of details.

I had thought we were moving away from such cut-and-paste mentalities in scholarship; how is the Signs Gospel that much different than Thomas Jefferson’s New Testament?  Sure, we can make Jesus anything we want just by trimming out the miraculous bits and combining all the instances where a particular motif or trope holds sway, calling it the hypothetical ‘Whatever Gospel’, and get people to sign off on the idea.  The problem with this is quite simple: it removes context and as I have shown it allows for the collector of these verses, the redactor of this new hypothetical text, to ignore very important subcontexts, narrative functions, and intertextuality in the original text.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 729 other followers

%d bloggers like this: