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!)

Aaron Adair on Ralph Ellis and Jesus as King Arthur

In an excellent discussion of some of Mr. Ellis’ bizarre claims, Aaron Adair writes:

In his King Jesus (p. 120), Ellis is trying to connect a bunch of names together etymologically and then connect that to stars and star worship. He wants to related the Egyptian word for star with not only a 3rd century Syrian queen, but also to god names like Ishtar (whom I mentioned before), Astarte, Ashtroreth, and “Zoroastra” (not a misspelling on my part, and one that Ellis uses two in his book plus in the index). He also claims these all derive from ester (אסתר) or aster (αστηρ), again having the meaning of ‘star’. There is so much wrong in just this one paragraph, I need to space it out.

First, his use of the word ‘star’ in Egyptian seems off. According to Hieroglyphs.net, here is the word for star (sba, and not saba)…

This is the paragraph in question:

barkokhbar

It’s ‘Zoroaster‘, chief.

About which he continues:

But Ellis isn’t done failing yet. He also claims that all these names are derived from ester, better known probably as the Jewish beauty Esther from the Bible. Her name is more likely derived from or a cognate to the goddess Ishtar mentioned above rather than the other way around. But even this connection is not certain; I would guess in favor of the Ishtar/Esther connection because another figure in the Book of Esther, Mordecai, is almost certainly related to Marduk (Marduka), a major Babylonian deity as was Ishtar, so the parallelism is suggestive. But the real problem is that ester is not the Hebrew word for ‘star’; what would be kokab (כוכב), which in Aramaic becomes kokhba, hence the name of the famous 2nd century Jewish rebel leader bar Kokhba (Son of the Star), a figure Ellis even mentions in this same paragraph. So, quite literally, his lack of knowledge about these words are calling him out in the very paragraph he used them (though he has some weird spelling I haven’t seen before [bar Kokhbar]).

via Jesus was King Arthur, and a Pharaoh, and King of Edessa–The “Scholarship” of Ralph Ellis | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars.

There is much I do not quote from him, so go read what he has to say.  You’ll enjoy it, trust me.  That bar Kokhba spelling is really odd, though; talk about a blunder (and in his indices he lists it as ‘bar Kokhbar’ as well, so this isn’t a typo–he actually spells it with an ‘r’)!  Maybe he is thinking of Admiral Akbar?

36927292

It’s a trap!

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.

Atheists Need to Fact-Check Better

I’ve said this over and over again; around this time of year, some internet meme will develop about Jesus or Easter or the resurrection and produce some lame fabrication full of untruths and atheists and skeptics  will spread it around social media without doing a shred of fact-checking.  This year, it is this atrocity:

562304_10151521973955155_571208390_n

This image contains many inaccuracies.  Do not rely upon a simple internet search, which yields additional misinformation (indeed, it seems that the creator of this meme is merely copying, almost verbatim, from these websites which are just as clueless).

  • Easter was not ‘originally the celebration of Ishtar’; Easter has always been associated with the equinox, with the dawning of spring; it signifies a change–not in fertility and sex–of seasons and the hope of new beginnings.
  • Despite the images intimations, the name ‘Easter’ did not originate from ‘Ishtar’.  This is a subtle, yet effectively deceptive tactic to get you to think there are similarities between the two due to the similar sounds in English. But comparing two words from different language groups is about as useful as comparing a word in German to a word in Korean for the same reason.
  • The word ‘Easter’ most probably originated from an Anglo-Saxon word Eostre, the name of a goddess of spring and of dawn.
  • The background of the hares are not associated with fertility (which seems to be an association based upon popular belief–not evidence), but may have been associated also with Eostre.
  • Ishtar is also considered a goddess of war; the problem with memes like this is they neglect important information.  In this manner, Ishtar has zero relevance to the Easter tradition–not in name, not in her communal functions.  Certainly this would not have been a good choice for Christians from late antiquity who were arguing for abstinence and celibacy, even in marriages!

The real irony here is that Ishtar is actually somewhat relevant to the Christian tradition of Easter for a completely different reason (i.e., Jesus’s resurrection).  Indeed, the narrative known as the ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World’ is an excellent superficial (key word) comparison of the death and resurrection of a Jesus from antiquity–one that would have been somewhat familiar to Jews living in the region of ANE:

The pure Ereckigala seated herself upon her throne, The Anunnaki, the seven judges, pronounced judgment before her. They fastened her eyes upon her, the eyes of death. At their word, the word that tortures the spirit. The sick “woman” was turned into a corpse. The corpse was hung from a stake.  After three days and three nights had passed, her minister Nincubur…fills the heavens with complaints for her…. Before Enki he weeps: “O Father Enki, let not thy daughter be put to death in the nether world….” Father Enki answers Ninshubur: “What has happened to my daughter!  I am troubled, what has happened to Inanna…! What has happened to the hierodule of heaven! …Surely Inanna will arise.”  …Inanna arose.  Inanna ascends from the nether world. (Trans. Samuel N. Kramer, ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World,’ in James B. Prichard, ed., ANET, pp. 52-57)

Some important questions need to be asked:

1.Who would have had access to these myths?
2.Who would have been able to read them?
3.Who would have understood them?

It is easy for someone to claim that Inanna is the precursor to the resurrection narrative of Jesus, but such claims are unfounded.  Without any evidence, these are simply correlations–but correlations aren’t causations.  Proving links between two texts can be an almost impossible task (though conspiracy theorists seem to do it anyway).  Even strong cases are sometimes proved irrelevant simply because one text could not have been accessible to the authors of the other text.  So similarities alone do not prove a link. The only thing that can be said is that the motif of a dying and rising deity had existed prior to the figure of Jesus and would have been known by at least some Jewish communities (Inanna cursed Tammuz to the underworld, of whom the author of Ezekiel 8.14 speaks).

So enough of these crazy conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated memes.  There is no basis for these sorts of claims.

Edit: Of course I think everyone needs to fact-check; But so far only atheists have been bold enough to post this image on social media without doing any additional fact-checking. And then when I would challenge these atheists, they would do only a meager Google search and post up whatever results fit the image without checking those results against legitimate sources (like the ODoCC).  So yes, I’m calling them out. You can’t sit there and arrogantly claim enlightened status if you’re just going to forward along dumb memes without making sure they’re accurate first. That is just not right.  You berate Christians for taking things at face value, after all.  Take heed.

Ralph Ellis, Jesus, and his Myth of the King Jesus of Edessa

(This is Part II of the discussion.  For background and Part I, see here)

Mr. Ellis, thanks for responding to my article criticizing your online content and free online chapter of your new edition of your self-published book. I appreciate you supplying me and my readers with more of your superficial “links” between the lay construct you’ve created, an ‘Izas Manu’, and the figure of Jesus. I’ve decided to break down your comment in a post of its own. Frankly, your ignorant misconceptions and amateurish mistakes don’t impress me, but they may mislead people who don’t know any better; one can hardly call this ‘scholarly’ and I’d like to demonstrate exactly why your conclusions are terrible.

You write (and I’m limiting it to this selection because the rest of your conclusions follow from these basic premises):

The historical Izas was called King Izas Manu(el) VI of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews).

The historical Izas-Manu’s father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a revolutionary who fought the Jerusalem authorities and the Romans.

First of all, your primary argument–that Jesus is actually Izas Manu (a creation whom you equate with three different people)–is patently ridiculous. You are basically suggesting that at least four historical kings (Izates bar Monobaz, Abgar V the Black, Abgar Ma’nu VI, and Abgar bar Manu VIII the Great) from two distinct provinces with separate kings (Edessa in the province of Osroene vs. Arbela in the province of Adiabene) are one and the same person and place respectively. You seem to completely ignore the fact that both of these places exist miles apart (roughly 360 miles/579 km apart, actually). The Tigris river flows between them. The modern town of Edessa (Şanlıurfa) is in Turkey while Arbela (Arbil) is in Iraq. Additionally, these individuals are not one and the same. Abgar bar Manu lived about 200 years after Abgar V and over 120 years after Abgar VI. Your attempt to squeeze these individuals into one figure is beyond questionable. This bizarre conflation dooms your whole argument. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Here is where your fabricated ‘Izas Manu’ falls apart. You see, Queen Helena was the mother of Izates bar Monobaz–not Abgar VI (again, we’re talking about two different locations separated by 300 miles) and not Abgar bar Manu (two-hundred years separate the two). Let’s break this down together, historical king by historical king, so you can see just how deluded are your conclusions:

  • Helena was not ‘Queen of the Jews’ (also use ‘de facto’ properly next time). She was a Queen and she converted into Judaism. Her son, Izates, converted soon after, but neither of them were Jews by birth, but Persians who became Jewish. So your claim that he was ‘King of the Jews’ is not just wrong, it is absurd. The ‘king’ at this time was Herod Antipas, and that was only in the North, in the region of Galilee–Pontius Pilate ran the southern region of Judea, including Jerusalem; and even Herod wasn’t really a ‘king’, but more of a de facto (see how it is used there?) king–anyone with a basic grasp of the political dynamics of the period could tell you that.
  • Now, Abgar V (note: that says V as in 5, not VI as in 6) reigned in Edessa for a while, but was not crucified. He was a contemporary of when Jesus was supposed to have lived (between the turn of the first century to the middle of the first century, dying around 50-ish) and a very late fictional, pseudepigraphic tradition claims that he called Jesus to him for a conversation after hearing of his deeds and miracles. Also the father of Abgar V was not ‘Abgarus’. Additionally, Moses of Chorene tells a tale of Abgar V going to war with Herod, but this story is late (c. 5th century) and is a fiction (Josephus would have mentioned it, having not been a fan of Herod himself). Additionally, Abgar V does not go to war with Rome.
  • Abgar Ma’nu VI could not be the individual you claim when you state that “The historical Izas was crucified…[and] taken down [from the cross] by Josephus Flavius” since Josephus was living in Rome, as a court historian, probably on the Palatine Hill–far, far away from Edessa (and Palestine, for that matter). In 70-71, when Abgar Ma’nu VI became king, Josephus was on his way to Rome. And in 90-91 when Abgar VI’s rule ended, Josephus was sitting comfortably (probably–chairs back then and all) in his house, paid for by the empire, in Rome, writing his histories and autobiography. He died ten years later. So, no, Abgar VI could not have been crucified and taken down by Josephus–by the way, ‘Flavian’ is the name Josephus adopted after the Jewish War in 70, after he had been granted full citizenship by Titus. Abgar had not yet started his reign when this occurred.
  • Abgar VII is important as he is the one who went to war with Rome, but he did so in the second century, long after Josephus had died and some 40 years after the first Jewish War. This is not the Abgar you’re looking for.
  • Finally, the one Abgar who is alleged to have been killed because of his beliefs, Abgar VIII the Great, was not even a contemporary of Josephus or Jesus. As I said, he lived in the third century and was the first from the Abgar dynasty to become a Christian (and he is remembered as such). His mother was not Helena, he was not the son of Abgarus, he was not crucified and taken down by Josephus, and he never launched a war against Jerusalem.

Now none of this is idle speculation on my part. We have tons of early source material and contemporary attestation, including a discussion from Josephus on Izates and Helena (who died c. 100 CE) and the sarcophagus of Helena herself (with an inscription calling her Sadan–probably a Persian name–dated to the first century CE).

abgar x

The coin image on the cover of Mr. Ellis’ book.

Interestingly, you make a fatal error on the cover of your book, illustrating further your incompetence and your lack of understanding of the distinctions between these individuals. The coin you so boldly declare to be “the coin image of Jesus” is not Abgar the V (the first century Abgar), nor is it Abgar Ma’nu VI (whose VI you use for your Izas creation), nor is it Abgar the Great (Abgar the VIII who is said to have converted to Christianity in the third century)–all of these are the ones who you are conflating, but alas, it is none of them. No, this coin you present on your cover is none other than Abgar the X. Finally! We found an Abgar you don’t intentionally conflate with the rest! This Abgar the X came to the throne following the assassination of Gordian the III; this all occurs decades after the death of Abgar the Great. Your mistake is confusing the two–probably after doing a Google image search for ‘Abgar’ without realizing that there had been more than one (something an amateur might do, but not someone trained in the field by those pesky academic institutions you find so limiting). Let me draw it out for you with pictures:

Abgar X coins

This is the coin minted under Abgar X (242 – 243 CE). On the left is Gordian III and on the right is Abgar X.

1680214

Abgar VIII the Great is on the right holding a scepter, Septimius Severus on the left (197 – 212).

The differences may be subtle to those like you who are untrained (or who lack sense). Abgar VIII holds a scepter in his coin, also there is no star present. Septimius Serverus has a full beard. Your coin from your cover, along with the Abgar X coin, both depict Abgar X without a scepter, star behind his shoulder. Notice also the style of clothing Abgar X is portrayed wearing? A necklace or collar followed by a row of buttons clearly distinguishes this Abgar from the other. Likewise, Gordian III is depicted without facial hair. Additionally, a star is present in front of Gordian III on this coin. So the coin you currently have on your cover does not, in any way, present Abgar VIII (who you probably want–though who can know with this twisted cacophony of kings you’ve molded together into the one you’ve fabricated). Here is a closeup of your coin and an Abgar X coin:

abgar compare

Notice it is an attempt at the exact same design as the Abgar X coin. Stars are there, but no scepter–a dead giveaway.

But you should know all this, shouldn’t you? With your supposed 25+ years of study? Especially since I found the website where you snagged that image of the Abgar X coin:

abgar coin taken from

Also, I’m fairly certain this is a modern reproduction of a real Abgar X coin (i.e., it’s a fake). So not only did you snag the wrong Abgar, but you also used a fake coin. Good job, Mr. Ellis.

And if you bothered to read (or do any research whatsoever), you’d see even the listing for this coin suggests that it is Abgar X, not Abgar the VIII (though maybe you didn’t know the difference until you read this post). Just in case you want to claim that isn’t the same coin, here is a side-by-side comparison:

abgar compare 2

Even the ‘wear’ on the coin is identical. The placing of certain letters with the star, the criss-crossing pattern on the crown, etc… this is the coin.

This is what happens when you fabricate something by meshing multiple historical figures together. ‘Izas Manu’ never existed in history, Mr. Ellis. He is a figment of your imagination. You simply cannot take four separate individuals, over the span of hundreds of years, and lump them together into one without someone calling your bluff.

What have you really done here? Let me quote you again, this time breaking down the different figures in your claims:

The historical Izas (Izates II) was called King Izas (Izates II) Manu(el) (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII) VI of Edessa (not Izates II).

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews) (not any from the Abgar dynasty).

The historical Izas (Izates II)-Manu’s (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII)father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa. (No one. Ever.)

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a revolutionary (no one) who fought the Jerusalem authorities (Abgar V) and the Romans (Abgar the VII).

Do you see what I’m saying? Of course you do. You have to know this already. There is absolutely no way you can really be this clueless; no one with a brain would dare believe that taking a whole group of people and lumping them into one fictional persona is an innocent endeavor. No one would call that travesty a ‘scholarly book’. It has to be a gimmick; something fraudulent is happening here with what you’re doing. And I’ll gladly expose it for the world to see. It has to be a stunt to sell books and con people out of their hard earned cash or, simply put, you have to be certifiably crazy.

I’ll put it to the reader in an analogy. This is akin to me saying that there was a real guy named Herod Caligula(rus) and then stated that Herod Caligula(rus) went on a vicious rampage in Jerusalem and called upon Jupiter Maximus ten plagues to wipe out the first born sons of Israel, only later to repent after getting drunk off blood-wine and taking his place as King of the Roman Empire.

See how crazy that is? That is exactly how crazy Mr. Ellis’ claims are and, as such, they can be dismissed.

Hector Avalos: ‘The New Holocaust Denialists: The Need for a Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship’

How did I miss this?  Hector Avalos’ recent publication over at Bible and Interpretation:

There is a new movement of holocaust denialists, and the prime architects of this movement are biblical scholars. I am speaking not of the Jewish Holocaust under the Nazi regime, but of the Canaanite holocaust reported in biblical texts.

These Canaanite holocaust denialists argue that the Canaanite holocaust did not really happen. And if it did happen, then it was justified and not analogous to the Nazi holocaust.

via The Bible and Interpretation – The New Holocaust Denialists: The Need for a Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship.

Go give it a read and check the comments (particularly Thomas L. Thompson’s comment).

Fallout Shelters: A Sober Reminder

The other day while walking through a nearby town window shopping, I came across this rather iconic image.

Faded with age, bent by means unknown, this image–one that you have probably seen in your own town–clarifies for me the distinct changes that occur within a generation of society.  Our contemporary world is quite a different one from the world of 60 years ago.  My generation has no understanding of the nuclear attack drills students used to have to endure, or the terror of the ‘reds’.

While I’m sure most of my readers understand this difference, have we really stopped to think about it?  How this has impacted our politics?  The politics of the younger generations versus those of the older generations?  And how might this impact our sense of ‘apocalypse’ and our sense of ‘salvation’?  How does this difference in aeon alter our perceptions of other life factors?

I guess that, while I recognize these fallout shelter signs as being vintage indicators of a world wrought with fear and uncertainty, I don’t really understand them.  I can’t really grasp that sort of terror; the thought that at any moment another country thousands of miles away could ever consider just…vaporizing everyone..just doesn’t really compute.  And at the same time we live in a world where fears are focused on ‘cells’ or ‘splinter organizations’ or ‘religious extremists’ who attack smaller targets for psychological effects (smaller as in ‘area’ or ‘size in relation to country’).   Shelters like this one would serve little use in such a war.

How does this relate to Classics or the second temple period?  I guess I just wonder about the differences 60 years could have made in antiquity–how might the opinions of third or fourth generation Romano-Jewish citizens of Palestine felt towards Rome?  How different would there perceptions of the Romans have been?  How different would the Romans have felt towards the Jewish populations?

Christopher Rollston: The Marginalization of Women in Ancient and Modern Times

I strongly believe this article should be read by everyone.  Chris Rollston knows what he is talking about.  Here is a snippet:

Augusta National Golf Club finally accepts its first women members, and so a Leviathan of gender discrimination at long last makes a move in the right direction. Conversely, Todd Akin falsely states that a woman’s body has biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy in cases of something he refers to as “legitimate rape.” One step forward, two steps back in our battle for women’s rights. Sadly though, the marginalization of women has been going on for a long time. Some 2,000 years ago, a Hebrew sage named Ben Sira wrote “the birth of a daughter is a loss” and “better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good.” Modern readers rightly label such words misogynistic. But they’re part of the historical record and Ben Sira wasn’t alone.

via Christopher Rollston: The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About.

Religion and Politics in the Blogosphere and Beyond

This is the blog post you deserve, but not the one you need right now.

Lately there is a lot of commotion in the community concerning a plethora of subjects.  First, some Tea-Party-Backed-Republicans are making some rather obnoxious claims about rape and abortion which are beyond ignorant.  These claims stem from their particular religious convictions and clearly even god is mad at them because he is sending a hurricane named after the son of Abraham (who incidentally was blind and a deceiver and was fond of digging holes for himself) to soak the region where they plan to have their convention.

Also, it seems that some evangelical Christians have become the victims of a ponzi scheme, like this one, where a man took them for over $2 million.  This isn’t new and for some reason Christian evangelicals seem to be the most susceptible towards these sorts of schemes.

In related news but not necessarily to that of Biblical Studies, Sioux tribes are trying to raise money to buy back land that is a part of their creation story.  Before you ask, no, there is no expedition to locate the shell of Turtle like there is for Noah’s Ark.  However, someone on eBay thinks that the Hebrew word chai is a “Vintage Navajo Moose” as reported by John Byron.

Chris Rollston shared this amusing video today comparing archaeology and paleontology.

A(nother) Roman lead curse tablet has been found.  These are the real deal, unlike those fakes peddled by the Elkington and others.  Speaking of curses, Cracked.com has a great roundup of some of the odder curses in the Bible.

Also, donkey’s with fricken WiFi attached to their backs!

Thomas L. Thompson: Is This Not the Carpenter’s Son? A Reply to Bart Ehrman

Thomas Thompson has written a response to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? over at Bible and Interpretation.  Below I have included three snippets:

Bart Ehrman has recently dismissed what he calls mythicist scholarship, my Messiah Myth from 2005 among them, as anti-religious motivated denials of a historical Jesus and has attributed to my book arguments and principles which I had never presented, certainly not that Jesus had never existed…. Rather than dealing with the historicity of the figure of Jesus, my book had argued a considerably different issue, which, however, might well raise problems for many American New Testament scholars who historicize what was better understood as allegorical.

And

Ehrman pompously ignores my considerable analytical discussion, which was rooted in a wide-ranging, comparative literary classification and analysis of the Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. Apparently to him, the more than 40 years I have devoted to research in my study of the primary fields of Old Testament exegesis, ancient Near Eastern literature and ancient history—not least in regards to questions of historicity—leaves me unqualified and lacking the essential competence to address such questions because they also come to include a comparison of such an analysis with these same stereotypical literary tropes as they occur in the Gospels.

And:

Ehrman has asserted that the present state of New Testament scholarship is such that an established scholar should present his Life of Jesus, without considering whether this figure, in fact, lived as a historical person. The assumptions implied reflect a serious problem regarding the historical quality of scholarship in biblical studies—not least that which presents itself as self-evidently historical-critical. I wrote my monograph of 2005 in an effort to explore the continuity of a limited number of themes which were rooted in ancient Near Eastern royal ideology—an issue which is not only marginally related to questions of historicity, but one which also has much to say about the perception of history and historical method among modern scholars. I am, accordingly, very pleased that Thomas Verenna and I can offer this response to Ehrman’s unconscionable attack on critical scholarship in so timely a manner. It is a small book, and its ambitions are few: hardly more than to point out that our warrant for assuming the existence of a historical Jesus has important limits. In the course of that statement, I hope that readers will find some very interesting, new avenues of research being explored.

(via)  You’ll want to read the whole thing.  For my more detailed refutation, see my article, published there as well, entitled ‘Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship‘.

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