Goodbye for Now?

Many of my readers may have noticed the lack of activity on this blog over the past five months; maybe even the past year. You might even be wondering why I’ve been so quiet.  I’ve been neglecting you all; for that I apologize.  You are owed an explanation and I have been wanting to give one to you.  I just have had a hard time finding the words… so here is my best attempt.

When I started this blog, I was going through a pretty life-altering transitional phase. Believe it or not, that was six years ago; my first post was a Calvin and Hobbes strip on October 10, 2008. I was shedding my younger self the way your body sheds old cells (and trust me, it was just as ugly); I wanted to grow, to expand my potential, to make a better future for myself.

holdit

You see I didn’t like the person I had become and I needed an outlet to express who I wanted to be, and I was fairly certain I knew what that would look like.  I had come to realize that the criticism I had received over the years had gotten to me, because it had been fairly accurate.  I was pretending to be a scholar, pretending to be educated.  I really didn’t have a clue back then (and to a certain extent, I am still learning). My first step towards this better me was enrolling in college; a colleague told me it was a good means of finding my way.

Since that time, I’ve faced a lot of changes; my views on certain subjects have dramatically shifted as well. I don’t know if it is maturity or education or something else entirely, but I know that I don’t have the same goals and beliefs that I had when I started to build up this blog.

I know, I’m beating around the bush. Let me be blunt about it: I need a change in scenery.

I’ve been involved in Biblical Studies for over a decade now, and as far as interest goes I’ve been reading the bible, the church fathers, and the noncanonical books since I was 16 when I first picked up a copy of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologica. Over the last three years I’ve published a handful of academic papers, co-edited a collection of essays, given a few lectures, and co-presented a paper at SBL (though Joel did the presentation, because he’s awesome). All of this I’ve done while working a full time job and going to school part time so I can earn my laurels and gain some credibility.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but it has been one that has tried me. I have been questioning my own motives for a while now; I mean, why am I even studying the bible? I do know how I got involved in it.  Initially, when I was a teenager, I wanted to become a priest. While actually reading the texts, I lost my faith, and then became focused on validating that loss.  I spent my late teens and early twenties doing really stupid, immature things as a part of that validation.  When I got into my mid-late twenties, the bible became all I knew.

When I started to take academia seriously, began working on my academic credentials, it had already started to lose its appeal to me.  I had to focus on my book, or on this project, or on that article. After a while it just became habitual; I was studying for studying’s sake. I was going to school and taking classes in Classics and Ancient History and Biblical Studies because it was all I had known, it was something at which I was good (as indicated by the consistently high marks I received).

But just doing something because I could was starting to feel a bit hollow. Part of me felt as though I was just going through the motions. Worse yet, and I hate to say this but, I was outpacing most of my fellow students when it came to basic biblical knowledge. That isn’t me being full of myself, it was an actual thing. There were students who couldn’t even identify trivial knowledge about Jesus and many of these students had grown up around close-knit church communities. I would sit in class and get annoyed, legitimately annoyed, at the sort of things most of my classmates would say or ask. Deep down I knew that for them, these classes were just an elective or something to get them to their last credit before graduating, but that just bothered me more. I mean, didn’t they care? Didn’t they want to learn about it? Why would you spend all that money, go into debt, if you’re just going to not care?

existence

At the time, I thought I was just mad at them.  To an extent, I suppose I was.  It was more than just simple anger; it was instructive.  It became apparent that I didn’t have answers to the very questions I was asking about my peers.  Did I want to learn about this?  Do I really care?  Slowly it became apparent to me that I was burning myself out.

I began to ask myself if I had it in me to deal with that unease every day for a full semester over multiple facets of different types of classes. If this was the path I stayed on, could I consistently teach about something that I felt less inclined towards, to students who consistently cared less and less? I know this isn’t every student—I befriended a lot of great people who were exceptionally smart and fun to be around—but it does represent a good portion. I remember one student showed up for class maybe three times the whole semester; then for his final exam—essay heavy, I might add—he “finished” it after only a half an hour.  It was demoralizing.

There were also lots of little things that added up after a while.  The intimidation of the loss of tenure-track positions in the field, academic pushback against challenging new concepts, and the amount of pure drivel being published by highly acclaimed, tenured professors—some that passes for academic work these days—also frustrated me. The media’s insistence on ignoring solid, serious scholarship in the field while championing some of the most obvious fakes, frauds, and charlatan’s I’ve come across did not help alleviate my consternation.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the RU Screw (It’s actually in the urban dictionary)—anyone who attends or has attended Rutgers knows what it is I mean.  To say that I’ve become disenchanted with academia is an understatement. I still hold that a college degree is important (which is why I’m still going), and I still think that everyone needs a solid education—those are characteristics I am glad to have found useful and don’t intend on leaving behind. I’m just having a harder time believing the idealistic dream I once had that working hard in academia always yields results and respect. It has for me, so far, but only because I’ve been lucky in my friends (I cannot take any credit for myself).

So where does that leave us, this blog, my future? Well, I don’t know. I’m still very passionate about history, but I think I need to step back and reexamine my choices. The college I am now currently enrolled in does not have a Classics program and so what I’m left with is a basic history degree. That suits me, as it broadens my reach a little bit more while stripping away from the specialization that was becoming a little too suffocating.

There is a surprising amount of good that has come from this. Stepping back from Biblical Studies has also allowed me to reacquaint myself with American history, a subject I’ve always loved.  It has been a welcoming host; I think part of why I have been so unhappy in Biblical Studies is that I have always had a greater love of American history.  After finding personal links to the Revolution through ancestry research, I’ve become even more interested in it.

Incidentally, my schooling has been part time because as a nontraditional student I have to work to pay bills.  I think that if I had been able to go to school full time from the start, I not only would have already graduated, but I would be well on my way in grad school.  So in a way, while slow-going, it has been a benefit to me to be able to shift fields, if it comes to that.

That also means that with two more years left until I graduate, I have time to figure it all out.  In order to find my way, I need to step back from this blog. I need to step aside from Biblical Studies and focus on my work and see where it leads me. Maybe I will find a way to link both fields of American history and Biblical Studies; one friend has suggested combining them into ways to discuss how the bible influenced policies and politics in Colonial America.

nothingmatters

Either way, I’m done for now, here, with this blog.  I leave you in much of the same way I came–with Calvin and Hobbes and a sincere ‘thank you’ to all my readers over the years. I have tried to do right by my readers and the interwebs, for what it is worth, in an attempt to make up for past transgressions. I hope that you don’t think less of me for this new move, and that I will continue to have your support going forward.  This isn’t goodbye forever; however, it is goodbye for now.

Jason and the Argonauts and Lightsabers

Because, let’s face it, every story is more interesting with lightsabers.  You’re welcome.

My first real attempt at lightsaber editing, because Star Wars...d'uh.

My first real attempt at lightsaber editing, because Star Wars…d’uh.

The Con of the Century!

Joel is right, I’ve totally committed the biggest ruse in the history of ruses.  Clearly I’m just making it all up that I attend Rutgers.

First, I got myself a Rutgers.edu email account (because anyone can, apparently).

Next, I got me a student ID and a password (because master thief), which I then used to register for classes (but of course I won’t ever go—muahahahaha!) and pick my majors (I’m so tricksie).

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Then, I hired a Special Effects crew to manufacture a set that looks identical to the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick.  After which, I took crappy iPhone pictures of myself on set so people would think I was going to class.

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But not before buying all of this Rutgers gear so I could look and act the part.

And clearly this is all legit, since this is way more believable for some people than the fact that I actually attend Rutgers (obvi).

UPDATE: Apparently the other question raised is whether or not I went to Montgomery County Community College (I don’t know why this is a thing).  It seems Mr. Ellis doesn’t know how to fact-check even the most basic things.  Here is the note in question.

No, he really doesn't get how college works.

No, he really doesn’t get how college works.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

So what Mr. Ellis doesn’t understand is that I attended MontCo when I was first going back to college.  As many students here in the United States do, I went to a community college first because it is (a) cost effective and (b) it was nearby.  I seriously lived a few blocks away.  It was perfect.  I transferred out of MOntCo to Northampton Community College when I moved away and went there for about two semesters until I transferred again to Rutgers University.  Again, typical of many college students, I transferred into a 4-year institution when I had enough credits and a great GPA (since I had been out of school for six years when I initially started considering college).

But Mr. Ellis doesn’t get that because he has no clue how academics function, or even the basic inclination of how college works or how typical students plan ahead because he has no academic background whatsoever.  He’s also too dense and far too set in his ways to even be bothered to fact-check the most minuscule information.  Of course MontCo has no record of me as a student there right now; I transferred out in 2011.  That was 3 years ago.  But I still have access to my Student Portal:

Here is the Student Portal where I'd go to check on my grades, request transcripts of my classes, and so on.

Here is the Student Portal where I’d go to check on my grades, request transcripts of my classes, and so on.

My name is clearly visible as logged-in; you can get access to this unless you’re a student with a log-in.  But I really don’t expect Mr. Ellis to care.  Since he has his own delusional world view where, in it, I am a deceitful, angry con-man who throws stones at True Academics™ which is how Mr. Ellis sees himself.  And so in order to keep his mental delusion set in stone, he has to fabricate a world where I’m the bad guy and he is the good guy and any information contrary to that must be deleted or destroyed (which is why he deletes comments that contradict his claims on his FB page).  It’s pretty tragic and in a way I really feel bad for Mr. Ellis.  I do, I pity him.  It must be lonely in his closed-in fictional world.

Why I am Leaving Rutgers University (After This Semester)

As some of you already know, after two years at Rutgers, at the end of the current semester, I will be transferring out.  This was a hard decision for me, but one I have had to make out of a growing necessity—which I shall explain below.

This all started in January.  We were already one week into classes; all the books I needed–$100 later—were purchased and on their way to me.  I was prepped for an exciting semester, taking a few courses I was really excited about.  One was ‘God, Sex, and Violence in the Old Testament’ and the other was on the Historical Socrates.  On the former, I had a good grasp of the material already and had developed a good relationship with the instructor, with whom I’ve had several very useful and informative conversations.  The latter course I needed to satisfy a requirement for my Classics program and I was very interested to see how the class was taught in relation to my Historical Jesus class from last semester (were the methods, assumptions, and criterion used in the different fields similar or different, for example?).

I received a rather bizarre email at 7:30 in the evening while I was working on homework.  I was informed that I would have to drop my Gods, Sex, and Violence class because it did not satisfy any of my graduation requirements.  I immediately grew suspicious—a spam email maybe?  It made no sense.  It was offered by Rutgers, I am a Rutgers student, I’m double-majoring and I knew it counted towards my generic ancient history major.  So what gives?

I immediately wrote to the advising office who then informed me that because it was offered by Rutgers Camden (satellite campus) and not Rutgers main (at New Brunswick), it would not meet the criteria necessary to count towards my graduation, so I had to drop it now or they would drop it for me.

So quick recap: 1 week into the semester, books ordered, classes paid for, email ultimatum issued demanding I drop a class.  Got that all?  Okay.

Now I’m in a predicament.  It’s a week into the Spring term, I now have to frantically try to find another class (not an easy task after a week has gone by—most are full, closed, or don’t count towards my degree).  I am doubly-screwed because I am taking the courses online due to the terrible weather in the winter months and commuting over an hour and a half to classes after working a full 8 hours is unbearable normally, but then throw in the winter we’ve had this year (and the fact that Rutgers NEVER, EVER cancels classes—EVER) and it is just more miserable.  So I am extremely limited to what classes I can take (RU does not have a very well developed online program for nontradition students).

So I called—because by this time I was livid—and spoke with someone who seemed to be having a bad day.  I was confused since I had taken a class last semester on the Camden campus through their online program to get a few more credits and I had not received this email or any indication that I should be dropping the class.  Well, she informed me, they let me slide that time—but it still didn’t count.  Full stop.

Yes, you read that right—it isn’t bad enough that they wait until a week into the term to let me know I’m wasting my money, Rutgers didn’t feel a need to inform me that I was taking a class last semester that didn’t count towards my degree (not even electives).  I just threw away $2500.  Seriously, I might as well just go burn my money.

You may be asking–$2500?  Wha?  Yep.  You see, as a nontraditional, out of state, part time student, I am paying $809 per credit hour.  You would think with all that dough I’m shoveling out, Rutgers would have a more helpful administrative staff.  And this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten the infamous RU Screw.

I settled for another class I didn’t want to take, but being a week late meant I was a week behind (two weeks actually, by the time my books came and I had access to the course because, apparently, technology).

Don’t get me wrong, I love Rutgers.  I love the brand.  I enjoyed walking down the sacred path and the lively discussions during class and having professors who get it, and who know what they’re talking about.  But I just can’t afford it anymore—I can’t continue to shovel out that kind of money (or throw it away)—when I don’t feel I’m being treated like a student (more like a commodity).  I pay so much more money per credit hour than an instate, on-campus, 18-something and yet I get thrown under the bus.  And I just can’t take it anymore.

And it’s sad, it really is.  Rutgers has really grown on me.  But the other issue that I had to take into consideration is the travel time and the fact that I’m no spring chicken.  I’m dangerously approaching 31 (which technically isn’t old, but it is when you consider that I’ve got another few years of undergrad work to do and I still have to go to grad school).  I’m actually, literally, wasting time because there is no way I can go to morning or afternoon classes without quitting my job—which won’t happen because bills.

And this isn’t Rutgers fault, per se.  But what is annoying is that they don’t offer any solid online programs.  I mean, being in a class room is fantastic, but you don’t really need to be ‘present’ to be present anymore.  Technology has dated the old-school in-class need, with programs like Skype and Google Hangout, you don’t have to be physically in a room with 30 other kids to have a lively and interactive lecture.  But Rutgers is insanely slow to catch up to this and it is leaving students like me in a bad place financially (because we pay the same rates that other commuters and on-campus students pay) and mentally (because we have a harder work load and less options).

I know I’m not alone in this either.  A lot of my classmates have expressed similar dissatisfaction with Rutgers’ ecollege programs.  I’m pretty sure other nontrad students like me have had (or are having) similar experiences.

The good thing about transferring into another program is that all of my credits have been accepted (so I don’t have to burn all my cash and watch it disintegrate after all).  The school is fully accredited (by a proper accrediting institution—thanks to Chris for looking into it all for me), I can get my whole degree online, and it is way, way less expensive (about $240 per credit hour).  But there are downsides.

For one thing, the brand isn’t as well recognized as Rutgers and I can’t double-major anymore (and they don’t offer a Classics program, only a basic history program).  That’s fine because I can still get into grad school with it, and really it is the grad school that really matters.  But by then I’ll be a bit more ahead, have some money saved (I was blowing through $80 every week on gas commuting to Rutgers 3-4 nights a week last year), and have more publications under my belt.

So here it is.  I am still at Rutgers until the end of the semester.  But before the summer comes, I’ll have to say my goodbyes.  It’s been fun, I had a blast, but I have to get along now (and by ‘now’, I mean in a few months).

Why I Support Pope Francis

Many of my secular friends are having a hard time coping with Pope Francis, and I understand why.  He’s an enigma.  We’ve all borne witness to the likes of Pope Benedict, whose status as a theologian was overshadowed by his callous attitude and many missteps.

Pope Francis is in some ways Benedict’s polar opposite. Being a Jesuit—the first ever to hold a Papal tenure—he is humble, attempts to live a simplified life, and understands the plight of the impoverished.  He goes out at night and takes care of the sickly.  He finds humility to be a worthwhile attribute so much that he refuses to stay in the expensive Papal suite.  He gives up the Pope Mobile for an antique.  He speaks out against Capitalism. He walks the walk… even literally.

Meanwhile, Benedict’s tenure saw scandals galore: money laundering at the hands of the Vatican bank played into the notion of a Vatican City awash in Capitalism rather than the ethical behavior one expects to find at the Holy See.  He fumbled—like Bush did with FEMA during Katrina—when it came to dealing with allegations of pedophilia in the clergy.  We witnessed the proclaimed center of Catholic morality, including god’s chosen witness on earth, fall into corruption.

Rightly the secular masses are somewhat skeptical—why Francis to replace Benedict?  Is this the new face of Catholicism or just the guy they are using to spin the church right before they fall back into corruption once he is gone—like a placeholder for the second coming of Ratzinger?  Frankly, I don’t believe the highly-conservative heads of the College of Cardinals would have cast their votes for someone like Francis if they knew he was going to turn as many heads as he has; they have never cared about public opinion before and I doubt highly that they had a change of heart about it.  So the conspiracy theories that Francis is a Publicity Stunt for a dying church is growing a little tiresome.

But while there are your typical conspiracy nuts out there (especially those who just flat out hate religion, or just Catholicism in general), other secular individuals are just downright impractical.  They want Francis to allow women priests, to open up the doors to gay marriage in catholic churches, and if he doesn’t heed their demands, well, then he’s a terrible nonliberal, who does not belong in his position of authority.

Let me be clear: I’m not an atheist, yet nor am I a Catholic (in the practicing sense, but I do believe in a supreme being).  But I was a Catholic—raised into the faith and traditions and the shame (as every good Catholic, even former Catholics, knows well)—and so I am sympathetic towards Catholicism.  For me, even as an Apostate, Catholicism represents the earliest, most ‘accurate’ variant of what might be considered ‘actual’ Christianity; that is to say, it represents, to the best of its ability, the oldest continuing sect of what came from the Romanization of the dogmatic eschatological traditions of the 4th Century (which had already changed dramatically—perhaps almost entirely—from the initial post-Easter kerygma).  I’ve got a bias and I know it.

However I’m not one to let the church off easy for its many sins.  I’ve written scathing articles against the treatment of women, on confessional institutions that limit academic freedom of thought and research, and on certain conservative interpretations of the Bible.  In this respect, I am as much a Catholic as any other—one who is both reverent of its place in the world but skeptical of its own hierarchical claims to authority (said with only part of my tongue in my cheek).

Yes, I do think that the Magdalene Laundries were horrific.  Yes, I think the Crusades were unfortunate and a tragedy—especially for Muslims and Jews.  And, absolutely, I agree with anyone who thinks that every priest who has sexually assaulted or abused another human being—whether that be a child or a woman or a man—should be tarred and feathered and stuck out in the gallows at which people to throw rotten food.  And yet somehow I can’t think of a reason why I should let these terrible and historic events overshadow the present.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you all not to judge the people, or even people in general, because I think that is unrealistic.  Our world wouldn’t run if people weren’t judged by other people (it makes more sense the longer you think about it).  But maybe I’m just a stickler for judging individuals based upon their circumstances and context rather than taking the whole institution as a whole.  Maybe I don’t want to hold Francis responsible for the sins of his church fathers.

Would it be awesome if women were allowed into a priestly role?  Yes.  Shouldn’t the church allow gay marriages?  It would certainly be great for all those practicing Catholics who are also gay and who love just as deeply as a straight Catholic.  But let us be realistic here.  That isn’t going to happen now.  There are lines drawn in the sand.  It is a glorious thing when a Pope decides that it is time to cross one of those lines, let alone several—but we cannot expect total reform.  The Catholic church is a huge and ancient institution (which is a pleasant way of saying that parts of it are rather dated).  Things must happen slowly in order to take hold.

Granted, Francis is accountable for his own actions, in his own time (presently), in the broader context of the current state of the church.  And right now they are the actions of a decent man trying to desperately to teach his fellow Christians how to ‘Christian’ correctly—at least the way he sees as ‘correct’.  Given his predecessors, that is a tremendous leap forward. We should take that for what it is and be grateful.  Any man who risks his own life to sneak out and feed the poor—especially after angering so many dangerous people—is a man who is heroic.  When was the last time we had such a Pope? That is why I support him. Dimidium facti qui coepit habet.  Given time, it is my thinking that his accomplishments will be the light which shines the path for those who follow.

Biblical Studies Scholars and Their Thoughts on ‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’

Minimalist Scholar: “Meh.”

Dead Sea Scroll Scholar: “I think it is very likely that Tauriel may have existed in a precanonical form of the book, which very well might be lost in a jar in a cave.”

Q-Scholar: “I believe that if we analyze the Jacksonian variant and the Tolkien variant we might come to find a hypothetical original, which we shall designate as the Hypothetical-V (for Valar) Source.”

Confessional Theologian: “It was a fine movie, but absolutely wrong.  Only what is in the Hobbit book is the true word of Tolkien and all other additions are late heresies.”

Gnostic Scholar: “I prefer the additional movie material to the original book.  Honestly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”

Old Testament Theologian: “I can definitely see the influence of the Davidic narratives on the story of Bilbo and the Dwarves.”

New Testament Theologian: “Whaaa…?  David?  I think you mean Jesus.”

Old Testament Theologian: “Same difference.”

Atheist Scholar: “I’m still irritated that Tolkien’s world has a Christian version of heaven and an afterlife in it.  WTF?”

Liberation Theologian: “I really appreciate the character of Bard; his plight is so common among God’s children, and Peter Jackson did such a great job of orchestrating the evils of economic greed and social injustice in the political hierarchy of Lake Town and the downfall of Thorin as his mind is taken by the power of the Arkenstone.”

Conservative Catholic Theologian: “Goodness you talk too much.”

Liberation Theologian: “When I can get a word in, while you’re not yelling over us, I take it.”

Anglican Theologian: “C.S. Lewis beats Tolkien any day.”

Minimalist Scholar: “Meh.”

Progressive Christian Scholar: “I think the love between Tauriel and Kili is a beautiful thing; it shows us that love can happen anywhere between any group of people, regardless of their differences.  It shows us that love is a complicated emotion and, like the love of God, knows no boundaries.”

Confessional Theologian: “Heresy!”

Conservative Catholic Theologian: “Ew.”

Progressive Christian Scholar: “Oh, shut up you two.”

Conservative Baptist Scholar: “Any love that is not between one human man and one human woman is an abomination against the Lord.  Also since all the female Dwarves have beards, we can safely assume that this movie is all part of some grand homosexual agenda.”

Maximalist Scholar: “We’ve discovered the remains of a building which might be an example of an early Gondorian style synagogue.  We’ve finally proved that Middle Earth was a real thing!”

Minimalist Scholar: “That’s…pretty stupid.”

Mormon Scholar: “We have our own version of ‘The Hobbit’ and it is waaayyyy better than yours.  And it is written in a different language–reformed Tolkieneese–so take that all you non-Mormons!”

Confessional Theologian: “Can we all agree to just ignore that guy?”

Methodist Scholar: “Can’t we all just agree that the movie and the book are separate entities and should be judged as such, without muddying the water and acting as if they should all be grouped together in the same category (and therefore hold them to the same standards)?  I mean, we all can usually separate the Gnostic Gospels and the Canonical Ones in this way—can’t we at least make a mental attempt to do the same thing when it comes to Tolkien?”

When Was Acts Written? Joe Tyson and the Acts Seminar Attempt an Answer

I’ve been a fan of Joe Tyson’s work from the first time I read anything by him.  Since then, I continue to grow more impressed with everything he publishes.  This is a book I will have to pick, both because he had a part in its creation and because it is a product of the Acts Seminar as a whole.  Here is a snippet form the blurb:

The dominant view in Acts scholarship places Acts around 85 CE, not because of any special event linking the book of Acts to that date but as a compromise between scholars who believe it was written by an eye-witness to the early Jesus movement and those who don’t. Acts and Christian Beginnings argues for a more rigorous approach to the evidence. The Acts Seminar concluded that Acts was written around 115 CE and used literary models like Homer for inspiration, even exact words and phrases from popular stories. “Among the top ten accomplishments of the Acts Seminar was the formation of a new methodology for Acts,” editors Dennis Smith and Joseph Tyson explained. “The author of Acts is in complete control of his material. He felt no obligation to stick to the sources. He makes them say what he wants them to say.”

via When Was Acts Written? Not in the First Century. « Westar Institute Westar Institute.

Give it a read and then pick up a copy for yourself!

(Fake!) Epitaph to Jesus

For my Historical Jesus class this semester, we were asked to create an obituary for Jesus through the lens of someone from the period.  We were given some examples which I felt were a little anachronistic (Osama bin Laden’s obit from the New York Times was one of them).  So instead of doing a modern obituary, I chose to produce an epitaph like those commonly found in the ANE around Jewish settlements in what was Judaea and also the Diaspora (in Egypt, for example).  I drew heavily upon the translations by Hurbory and Noy and lengthened it considerably; I also added a little academic analysis (though not comprehensive, obviously–I didn’t want to bore the professor).  It was tons of fun to produce and I had fun ‘analyzing’ the ‘inscription’.  Here is the “translation” and analysis (lengthened slightly from the original assignment)–it presumes that no New Testament writing survives:

———————————————

Necropolis near Nazareth: 1st Century CE. Epitaph on tomb; Bilingual (Greek text with Hebrew names).  Unknown scribe, commissioned inscription.

Inscription translation:

Hold! Passers-by!  Weep and mourn for the man in this tomb.  This is the tomb of the good man Jesus, only son of Joseph, of Nazareth.  He was taken down to the underworld in the 19th Year of Caesar Augustus.[1]  Look on this tomb, passersby, and beat with your hands thirty times for the thirty year old that has was snatched by Hades.[2]  For his mother, Mary, grieves for the loss of her son that pleased her, and had caused pain to none.  Grieving also are his companions, with whom he traveled, Peter, Mary, Judas, and John.[3]

For though he spread the news of the Lord, a path of righteousness and salvation, he was harassed by Death and woes![4]  Beset upon by the wicked, he was tempted, yet prevailed only to be met with a senseless end, to be hung on a tree![5]

[…] three days […] he will be raised […] unto the Lord![6]

O! All-subdoer, great Hades, why have you forsaken this man to his fate?  Hear me, wayfarers! Glory be given to the soul of the body with which they have placed in this tomb.  Though he was borne into a humble home, loved by all, and raised by his family to love the Lord, he found strength in the path of righteousness.  Majestically he traveled, never set to one place, teaching about the law as though a prophet.  To the tomb he went, as a man unmarried and chaste unto the Lord.

Weep for the dead Jesus, taken from his elder years by the wickedness of betrayal.  Set to earthly destruction for crimes he did not commit.[7]

Passers-by, speak softly when you go by of this tomb!  Do not disturb the stone walls or the sleeping dead within.  Rest now, Jesus, child of the Lord, untimely dead.  Grieve for those who are left behind. Farewell.

On behalf of Joseph the Arimathean, follower and friend of Jesus, lover of the Lord, who has commissioned this inscription, with those names of the community listed below.  Fortunate was the man, Jesus, who had companions such as these, though unfortunate in his demise.[8]


[1] “19th year of Caesar Augustus”, that likely is the 19th year of his reign, about 33 CE.  Information on 1st Century CE Nazareth is limited; not much archaeological evidence for the type of settlement in this period.  Likely a small village and scarcely populated.

[2] “Hades” (άδης); unlikely to have been incorporated at the behest of the commissioner of the inscription (see below), probably added by the scribe in place of Sheol (שְׁאוֹל). If incorporated by the original commission, it may imply that the group that associated with this figure Jesus wereat least slightly Hellenized, and that their sectarian views were developed, in part, through syncretism (see note 3 below).

[3] Given the rarity with which one includes so many individuals on funerary inscriptions (outside of the family names), it is likely these individuals were part of a sectarian group who held up Jesus as their sect leader.

[4] Death is here personified, similar to the Testament of Abraham in the Pseudepigrapha.

[5] “Hung on a tree”, perhaps indicative of Deut. 21.23, “…his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” This probably implies that he died by crucifixion, which might explain why the inscription bares the statement that his demise was ‘unfortunate’.

[6] This section is very badly damaged.  Unsure what the implications are of the phrase ‘he will be raised’ (ἐγερθήσεται).  Too many words obscured from the original inscription to make any clear indication of its actual meaning, though perhaps the translation is similar to the Hazon Gabriel, if one were to accept Israel Knohl’s translation: ‘to rise from the dead within three days.’

[7] “Crimes…” Possibly indicating that he was falsely accused of something that warranted ‘hanging from a tree”, i.e., crucifixion.  If this was indeed a sectarian leader, possibly associated with his teachings (maybe radical?) or with something he may have done or said against the Romans who occupied Judaea at this time.

[8] The list of names has been destroyed by time.  Likely Joseph of Arimathea was a follower of Jesus or a member of his sect; he must have been wealthy in order to commission such a large inscription.

The Inscription on the Jonah Ossuary Redux and the Shape-Shifting Fish

A lot more has been said on the issue of the Jonah ossuary this week; in fact it has been an interesting few days.  As James McGrath keeps the round-ups alive (here and here; I won’t belabor it by reposting everything here–go to James’ blog for the details), I’ve been contemplating something that has been bothering me that I had completely missed previously.

Dr. James Tabor has made an effort recently to reenforce his belief that there is an inscription in the vessel ‘fish’.  However it seems that every instance a new image is released by his and Simcha’s team, there are startling differences that cause me to raise an eyebrow.  Mark Goodacre blogged about something quite similar last year, but this needs to be demonstrated more thoroughly taking into account more recent events.

1. The Elusive Etruscan Letter and the Stick Man

During the very beginning of the debate over the iconography on the ossuary (fish or vessel?), I wrote a long post in response to Dr. Tabor’s conclusions that the ossuary portrayed the fish spitting out Jonah.  I am sure it still stands up to scrutiny a year later–but it dawned on me recently that I had quoted some pretty interesting dialogue from Dr. Tabor on the part of the fish in which he now claims there exists an inscription.

Back in the first week of March, 2012, Dr. Tabor posted up this bit:

etruscanscreengrab

‘A perfume flask or a fish?’ (http://jamestabor.com/2012/03/03/a-perfume-flask-or-a-fish/) Accessed online: 9-19-13.

And in detail, this specific part of his analysis:

etruscanscreengrab1

Keep this in the back of your mind. That perceived Etruscan letter is a big deal.

To be clear, at this point Dr. Tabor was still using the CGI generated photo as an original photo of the actual ossuary (which turns out was not the case).  In my response to Dr. Tabor, I made note that the misleading image was photoshopped in some way, but I also highlighted the lines of his image:

stickfigure

Image from ‘Some considerations about the iconography on the ossuary’, (https://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/some-considerations-about-the-iconography-on-the-ossuary/) Accessed online: 9-19-13.

I wrote then:

Note how completely ‘unhuman’ the ‘stickfigure’ looks when you isolate the lines (in red) and see what is really there.  Frankly, I’m finding any resemblance to a ‘stickfigure’ to be completely disingenuous.  Also, take note of all the red squares.  Those are repeated notches which indicate to me that this item was not just digitally modified but parts of it were copied and pasted into the image to fill it out.  The left side of one notch in the middle-upper-left of the image has been cut off (and looks like a smudging effect was applied). So how is it that Dr. Tabor expects us to carefully examine this iconography in any detail when the iconography presented is not an accurate representation of what is on the ossuary?

Remember when Simcha and Dr. Tabor were then arguing that this was a stick figure and the ‘head’ of the fish contained an eye?  How adamant were they (specifically Dr. Tabor) about the stick man being spit out of the fish?

jesusdiscstickman

Note the highlighted bit.  Still there as of 9-20-13.

plain stickfigure
So much so did he believe this that it was ‘so plain’! From ‘The fish and the man’ (http://jamestabor.com/2012/03/06/the-fish-and-the-man/); Accessed online: 9-20-13.

I do find it interesting that Dr. Tabor draws attention to the fact that critics “have suddenly move[d] from the ‘tower’ to the perfume flask.”  But then again, the image that had been originally seen by everyone was not oriented correctly–but then, Dr. Tabor can’t really decide if orientation matters or not (Hint: it probably doesn’t if what you want to see is a fish and a stick figure).  Because Dr. Tabor and Simcha have suddenly gone from a “stick man” in a “fish’s head”, and then they said that it was a mix between a “stick man”, “fish’s head” and an “inscription” reading “Jonah”.  How dare they!  But most importantly, that is one impressive shape-shifting fish-stick-man-name!

But this stick figure is so incredibly clear, Dr. Tabor says.  In fact he went to the trouble of posting up a fan drawing of it:

FishJoanImageLined

Again, at this point it was not made clear that this photo was a CGI generated image; probably because at this point in early March, Dr. Tabor and Simcha were still claiming the CGI image was merely “a blowup”. (Refer to evidence here)  It was not until Bob Cargill caught the tells of CGI and called them on it that they made it clear what this was.

Man, just look how clear this is!  So great of Dr. Tabor to highlight the ‘so plainly’ visible stick figure.  Dr. Tabor even makes a point to state the clarity of the stick man a third time:

thirdtimeclaimstickman

Note that Dr. Tabor does not attempt to clarify the fact that this is NOT a real photo of the iconography; he does not qualify that this is just a CGI image. He states, “the stick figure … so clearly has two legs, two arms, with one down and one up….” (ibid)

After this image was exposed as a computer generated image, not an ‘enhancement’, Dr. Tabor produced this image (probably courtesy of his team):

1

Notice what he had inked here and notice what he didn’t have inked at all. The tracing is sloppy and inaccurate. More on this in a moment.

Even in his preliminary report on the subject, he sees a stick figure.

preliminarystickman

The interesting bit is at this point, in early march, no mention of any inscription is found.  Anywhere.  In fact, again, Dr. Tabor doesn’t read anything in Hebrew on this ossuary.  Instead time is given to the Greek inscription on the back of ossuary 5 (not the same ossuary) and that’s it.  Dr. Tabor is thoroughly puzzled by what he initially sees as an Etruscan letter.

A few final notes here:

  1. The original “replica” ossuary and the CGI fabricated image have a connected line well below where it is portrayed as elsewhere or have an unconnected line at the center of the ‘fish head’; this indicates they didn’t see a connection:
    unconnected

    CGI; Green outline and red circle show perfectly that even in their CGI image there is no connection of the “legs”.

    unconnected2

    From “Replica” 1; outline done by Steve Caruso. This replica seems ti highlight the ‘stickman’ with adjoining stick “legs”.

  2. Dr. Tabor especially made note of how “clear” the stick figure was on the ossuary.

But it seems that as time goes on, the fish iconography seems to shift and mold into something that seems remarkably more pliable to Dr. Tabors’ arguments.

2. The Shape-Shifting Fish-na-Man-na-Name-O-Tron!

At the end of March and early April, we see a dynamic shift in argument from the Jesus Discovery team.  A new replica is released (though barely discussed) with very different ‘fish head’ iconography and the startling news that the stick figure was actually serving a double-purpose: he was hiding the inscription YONH (Yonah)!  From Dr. Tabor’s blog:

inscription

How clever! That sneaky little stick figure!  Accessed online: 9-20-13; http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/

And this is the accompanying picture provided by Dr. Tabor:

3

Now notice what he inked and what he didn’t. Note how that Etruscan letter became a hey!

A side by side:

SIDEBYSIDE

The difference one month makes, right? That Etruscan character morphed right into that hey. All of a sudden lines start shifting. Pay close attention to the spots that are circled with no lines present.

These photos are interesting because they demonstrate not only a shift in tactics, but a little misleading information.  Bob Cargill and Steve Caruso have done some excellent work demonstrating the glaring inaccuracies and inconsistencies here.

1239964_10102663721133316_1131951567_n

Click to embiggen. Courtesy of Bob Cargill.

Steve demonstrates the errors here.  The biggest controversy here is the difference between this image and the unedited “raw” image.   Here is what I’ve put together:

553009_10202049267901616_2144798336_n

Click to embiggen!

There is just so much happening between these three photos.  So much is lost, so much added, lines are fusing together left and right.  They move and sway and vanish and reappear.  It’s incredible!

This fish is like Martia, the Cameloid shape-shifter from Undiscovered Country!  “Don’t like the stick man? Oh, well, is this a more pleasant form?  Not everyone keeps their genitals in the same place.”

And wouldn’t you know how Dr. Tabor was defending this?  Why, the same way he defended the stick man of course.

On Steve Caruso’s blog post on April 14, last year, Dr. Tabor wrote:

It [the inscription-ed.] is plain as the Aramaic on your face and I think you surely know it.

It is just so plainSo plain.  It is as plain as the Etruscan letter, the stick man, the ‘half-fish’ with handles.  It’s just, so d’uh!  It’s so plain that Dr. Tabor writes just today:

In fact it was obvious enough that Dr. Tabor missed it for months on end.  He missed it during the few months he was investigating the ossuary, he missed it for a few additional months while reviewing photos, while writing his preliminary report.  He made it through just an entire month of blogging, mistaking such a plain and obvious hey as a letter in the Etruscan alphabet.

There are also sketches done of the “Jonah” ossuary by the Jesus Discovery team and it was so plain to see that they included it!  Oh wait, no they didn’t.

1236809_10151621946246338_1161603819_n

Closeup of this image put out by the Jesus Discovery team. Guess what? No YONH!

And isn’t it interesting that the photos and second “replica” used now (in fact featured on the website) are missing extraneous lines that would otherwise obscure and dilute the inscription?  And isn’t it odd that no one seems to be denying that fact?

Conclusion

So to recap: First it is a fish with a stick man, then it’s a fish with a stick man that is also an inscription.  Stick man is so powerful.

145972_1317841461

I feel like I’m watching this. “Pick your own interpretation of the Jonah ossuary!”

What I find most distracting is that Dr. Tabor seems to again be changing tactics!  While initially the inscription was hidden inside the shape shifting stick man, now Dr. Tabor just wants us to forget about the stick man entirely.  He told Mark Goodacre just a few days ago:

taborrecantingstickfigure

“Let’s forget any stick figure”! But Dr. Tabor, it’s so plain! It’s as plain as the Etruscan on your face! Or the serif in the yod? Or the.. well, you get it.

Honestly, maybe it is time for the Jesus Discovery team to abandon the stick man entirely and focus on the inscription.  Clearly that is where Dr. Tabor’s head is at.  So what do we believe?  A stick man?  Not a stick man?  An Etruscan letter?  A hey?  It is interesting that when Dr. Tabor sees something that contradicts his “rock-solid” plain view of a fish and Jonah or a stick man, well, it is just probably a mistake.  He writes:

A closeup view of this area makes it clear that there is certainly no handle remotely resembling that of a vase or amphora but just a couple of stray lines, unconnected to the image, that the engraver might have even made by mistake.

Wait, you mean it shows up in multiple images and resembles items that we have seen on other ossuaries? Oh… oh my…

Well, this is embarrassing…. I just think we should end this on a positive note.  So… take it away Xzibit!

xzibitag036

Pimp My Ossuary edition!

When is a Replica Not a Replica?

replicadef

Following closely on the heels of Professor Puech’s statement that he had been deceived, a statement which must be a major embarrassment for Simcha Jacobovici, Mark Goodacre let out the news that there are, in fact, two separate “Museum Quality” replicas of the so-called ‘Jonah Ossuary’.

Mark writes:

Throughout the discussions of the Talpiot Tomb, right from the first, Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor and others involved with the “Jesus Discovery” project (website here) have talked about and publicized what they call “the museum quality replica” of ossuary 6 from Talpiot tomb B.  But here’s the curious thing.  It’s not one replica.  There are two different replicas. As far as I am aware — and I think I have read everything — they have never admitted that they produced a second replica to replace the first.  (Please correct me if I am wrong).  And when one notices what changes between the two replicas, there is some cause for concern.

And concludes wth some rather troubling questions:

It may be worth adding that the replica shown to Prof. Puech in the video released last week is clearly Replica 2, which has a version of the “YWNH” inscription that we see above, and not the ambiguous representation of Replica 1…  As we have seen above, it is only Replica 2 that has a representation of the “YWNH” inscription that conforms with the interpretation of those involved in the project.  Did the representation of “YWNH” on Replica 2 influence Prof. Puech’s reading?

But this has led me to question the veracity of the claim that these are even able to be defined as ‘replicas’.  After all, I’ve seen replicas on display.  I even own a replica of a Dead Sea Scroll that I purchased at the Discovery Center a few years ago during their Dead Sea Scroll exhibit.  Replicas represent exactly (to the subtle details) the item they are meant to portray.  Replicas at museums are meant to provide the viewer with an duplicate copy of an item so that the viewer feels like s/he is looking at the actual item, even though it isn’t present.

So when is a replica not a replica?

  • (1) When the “replica” does not exactly match what it is meant to portray.
  • (2) When a “replica” can be changed or altered to fit the subjective interpretations of the owners.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with these “Jonah” ossuary “replicas”.  It seems that the first replica was fabricated to make the fish iconography stand out; but when criticism prevailed against it a new one was manufactured that removed some specific iconography and included an inscription that isn’t present in the first.  So how can there be two replicas that contradict each other?  And how can one really know what the ossuary looks like as it has yet to be removed form the tomb?  We’ve already seen the evidence that someone in Simcha’s and James’s team has provided CGI images in place of actual photos in a misleading or unclear manner.  So where does that leave this?

Check out Mark’s post for further details.  I look forward to the hour when James Tabor and Simcha jacobovici remove the claim that these are “replicas”.  They are nothing of the sort.   Who knows if I’ll see that retraction, however; all I may get is name calling. I highly doubt Simcha will want to label me as a ‘Sleeper Agent’ of Christian theology; however time will tell.

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