Tim’s Online Book Launch

You’ll want to check out Tim’s book launch:

Do please participate in helping me to make my latest experiment in online publication work better. I want to explore how authors and readers can engage more and at greater depth through using online communications. My book Not Only a Father is not only available as a paperback on Amazon, but also the full text is online at http://bigbible.org/mothergod/ using a WordPress plugin that allows commenting and discussion at paragraph rather than post level.

Tim’s Online Book Launch.

I’m sure it will be great!  Jim West also blogged this.

Review of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Part 1 | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

Aaron Adair takes a look at my chapter and James Crossley’s chapter for Part 1 of his review of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’!  Here is a snippet:

To mix it up, Tom’s chapter has an opposing conclusion as the previous chapter in the volume by Mogens Mueller who calls Paul the oldest witness to the historical Jesus. So there is dialogue to be had just from this volume. I would also point to the complimentary work from Gerd Luedemann in Sources of the Jesus Tradition who also considers the value of Paul in knowing anything about the historical Jesus (or even his existence). I should point out that Tom does not argue that Jesus didn’t exist, just that for Paul Jesus was a mythical being known through revelation and scripture. That’s a more modest proposal, but it certainly will affect the probability of historicity. How that plays out will need further argument.

Nonetheless, I think Paul scholars need to seriously consider the approach Tom has brought to the letters; it seems very fruitful, and it will probably help uncover more about the intellectual context of the first Christians than previous methods. Maybe it means we loose sight of the ‘real’ Jesus, but we should not bias our results to make sure our favorite historical figure turns out as expected.

Moving on to James’ chapter on the Gospel of John, it has what first got me as a clever title. When he says he will defend a “traditional view”, it made me realize there was a bit of a pun here, since James is actually talking about the traditional view of G.John not being useful to understanding the historical Jesus. In many ways the chapter is an examination of the efforts of Richard Bauckham about eyewitness testimony and the Gospels. James also gets to the heart of the push for making John part of the quest for Jesus, that there appears to be a drive for having our miraculous cake and eating it too. The chapter is useful for summarizing Bauckham’s main points, especially about getting the ‘gist’ of a story from witnesses (something that also seems to come up recently in Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus).

via Review of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Part 1 | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars.

Go there to read the rest.

UPDATE: See Part 2 here.

New (sort of) Blog on WordPress: Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

Fellow skeptic and blogger, Aaron Adair–a grad student at (the) Ohio State University–has finally switched from blogspot to wordpress!  And aren’t we happy he did?  Makes it much easier to report and share his awesome work on various subjects ranging from history to science (predominantly science).  Here is his inaugural wordpress post:

I received some advice about posting at WordPress instead of Blogspot, so here is the start of a new beginning. I have brought over all my content from my original blog, and I’ll see which is best for me.

via Now Posting at WordPress | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars.

And here are some links to some blogs of his you’re going to want to read:

Honestly, you will want to just go there and read his stuff.  Also, add him to your blogroll and start following him so he stays on wordpress!

Even for the Civil War Historian, Facts are Hard to Nail Down

As a fan of American Civil War history (for a while in my early 20’s I was unsure which direction in the field of history I would head), I have always found it interesting that, despite the high literacy of the troops and the amount of letters and correspondence we have from both armies, how incredibly complicated it is to narrow down ‘what happened’.  Even something such as figuring out how many Confederate casualties there had been during the Gettysburg Campaign seems to be a troubling challenge.  D. Scott Hartwig had this to say:

A further drain on the army’s manpower was the high number of desertions it experienced through July and into September. Using a variety of methods General Lee managed to staunch the flow of desertions that early fall. And in a testament to his administrative and organizational skills, he reorganized and rebuilt his army so that it was ready for the spring campaign of 1864. Yet good as that army was it never again approached the army Lee led to Gettysburg in size or offensive capability.

via “. . . in my opinion the army will never be made up of such material again” – Confederate Losses at Gettysburg | From the Fields of Gettysburg.

You’ll want to read the whole post to see why he says what he says.

Two Days Later: Another Evaluation of the ‘Jesus Wife’ Papyrus

Yesterday I posted several suspicions about the authenticity of the papyrus, but some of those suspicions may not be immediate cause to doubt.  After speaking with Richard Carrier (who, by the way, trained in papyrology under Roger Bagnall), I have to revise some of my earlier criticisms.  I’m still very skeptical about the antiquity of the papyrus, but I’m feeling a little less hostile towards the notion that it might be genuine (plus I am still waiting for the analysis of other experts like Alin Suciu to weigh in).

1. The ‘Fresh look’

There are some serious concerns here about provenance.  We just don’t know whence it came.  So why the condition appears to be very clean, I cannot say.  Also, it appears that it has been cut up (i.e., antiquities dealers will cut up papyrus sheets as a way to make more money) and, since we lack context, it is feasible that this just happens to be a part of the leaf of papyrus that turned out to be the cleanest.

But even if it turned out this was the case, it wouldn’t automatically mean that this leaf is authentic and even testing the papyrus sheet itself won’t necessarily yield a conclusive answer.  Since smart forgers can use ancient papyrus just as workshops that produce fake codices will use ancient lead; the only way to dissolve most doubt about the fragment would be to verify the antiquity of the ink (but even with ink, I’m told, a smart forger would know how to manipulate that).  Is your head spinning yet?  This is the trouble with unprovenanced artifacts and manuscripts, there is just no way to remove reasonable doubt completely.  Moving on…

2. The Laying, Inking, Blotching, and Misalignment of the Script and

I’ve been working off the assumption that any scribe copying a narrative text (like a Testament, a Wisdom book, a Gospel, etc…) would be a professional; that is to say, such a scribe would be meticulous and produce a script that looks like this:

Fragment of the Gnostic text ‘Dialogue of the Savior’

These are the type of manuscript fragments that I’ve seen predominantly.  They make up the majority of Gnostic manuscripts we have from the 3rd-4th Centuries CE (e.g., like those from the Nag Hammadi codices).  However, there are tons of manuscripts that are not written by professionals.  And some of them look like our ‘Jesus Wife’ fragment:

This manuscript has the blotching, the light script and the darker script, which I’ll explain below.

Here is a closer analysis:

This effect can be the result of a scribe, using a thicker reed, who is continuously running low on ink (and thus needing to re-apply fresh ink after a few lines; so the result is lighter script and then darker script and then lighter script again, the result of the ink running low and then requiring an additional application).  So this is why this type of blotching is found on other ancient manuscripts and may be the reason why there is similar blotching on the ‘Jesus Wife’ fragment.

Of course, it is possible that a smart forger would be able to do the same thing, given time.  Once more we see that without a proper context it is impossible to know with any certainty that this fragment is genuine, but it is becoming less likely (though still in the realm of ‘possible’).

Also, I made the note also of how the script failed to remain in any sort of straight line and there even appeared to be examples of script getting smaller (like with what we saw on the fake Gos. Mark fragment).  But this is apparently also a phenomena that occurs with nonprofessional scribes who probably did not use lines to produce straight script.

So this is still seen in some manuscripts where the scribe was simply untrained or just didn’t care or perhaps was in a hurry.  Either way, what we find is that in many cases it depends on the scribe who copied the text.

Important Caveat:

Just a quick note, however.  While these sorts of script variations exist, I’m not sure I’ve seen, or know of a case where, blotching and misalignment are occurring on the same manuscript.  In other words, if a scribe has enough time to reapply coats of ink to a reed and papyrus, I imagine he has enough time to make his work neat–and the script on the ‘Jesus Wife’ fragment is very neat (that is, the script appears to be written in the same style as some of our other Coptic codices–something King also makes note of in her published article), and this is indicative–in my opinion–of some ample scribal training.  So there should be no reason why a trained scribe (someone who would be educated enough to know better) would produce these sorts of lackadaisical lines of script that appear to follow no line order.  So this does cause me to pause.  Also the darkening of the line specifically dealing with ‘my wife’ does bother me as well.  More on this below.

3. Conclusion with Discussion

These details definitely forced me to rethink my original impressions of the fragment, but some items of note still trouble me a great deal.  Many leading experts in Coptic manuscripts doubt its authenticity–including those who were present at King’s presentation of the paper at a conference in Rome (among them Alin Suciu, who I respect a great deal).  But Bagnall actually saw the fragment and Bagnall is quite a force to reckon with in the world of papyrology.

However, a good forger can produce a good fake.  What also concerns me, more so than the manuscript, is the money changing hands.  The anonymous owner of the fragment (again, ALWAYS a specious matter when anonymous dealers are involved) is looking for financial gain in all of this (he wants to sell it to Harvard) and there apparently is a movie/documentary in the works about this piece.  That means that there is a financial gain for faking such a manuscript.

That isn’t to say it is fake, but it does raise some eyebrows.  And in a community where fakes are commonplace–especially when you factor in anonymous dealers and lack of provenance–this is no idle matter.  Certainly there is reason to be concerned and reason to doubt this fragment’s genuineness.  As for me, I don’t think this is a genuine fragment.  It will take some more than circumstantial possibilities to change my mind on this.

The ‘Wife of Jesus’ Fragment a Day Later: Some Concerns About Authenticity

I neglected to blog this yesterday (for background go here); with my busy schedule and limited time, I felt it best to give the whole story a day to run through the paces before discussing it at any length.  I’ve taken some time to seriously contemplate this new find and thought I might offer some additional perspective (though in the end it will probably imitate what others have already said).

First and foremost, the things that interests me about this is the ‘freshness’ of the manuscript.  It looks ‘clean’.  In fact it reminds me a lot of the ‘freshness’ I noted with the so-called Markan fragment that hit the blogs a few months back–though admittedly that one looks *very* suspect.  This fragment, however, is quite fascinating.

Frayed edges, definitely papyrus. Coptic looks dense.

It is fascinating to me precisely because I can’t shake the feeling that something is off about it.  Granted, I’m no papyrologist, so perhaps Alin Suciu or even Richard Carrier (who is actually trained in papyrology) can correct me if I’m wrong on any of these points.

Here are some concerns.

  1. The papyrus itself looks ‘fresh’; it reminds me of the sort of papyrus one would find on eBay with some neat little Egyptian iconography on it–the fraying looks like something I’ve seen before:

    Modern papyrus sheet selling for $15.

    Besides the fraying on the side, which I still feel looks too ‘fresh’, there is the subtle issue that the papyrus shows no addition signs of wear that I’ve seen elsewhere–no deterioration is obviously noticeable anywhere around the central portion of the papyrus?

  2. Ink is another big concern.  The Coptic looks like it has been ‘layered’ on (for a lack of a better word).  As if someone went over the letters more than once to give it a blotched appearance that I’m not very familiar with.  This may be due to my lack of experience, but it seems that some words have been ’emboldened’ to make them more obvious to readers or observers.
  3. Spacing.  There is no amount of real spacing between the lines of script.  It seems as if, to me, someone tried to fit a lot of information in a small amount of space.  But it has been my understanding that enough spaces were given between lines of script to allow for marginal or scribal notes to be added.  I see no indication that such spaces exist on this fragment.

    Compare the Jesus Wife fragment with this papyrus, for example, to see the spacing between lines.

  4. Line disarray.  The script appears not to follow any lines; in the center the Coptic script dips down and then travels back up, as if someone forgot to include lines for the script to follow.

    Notice how the lines seem all disarrayed. This seems abnormal to me.

These are just some of my concerns, but I think they might be important ones.  When I first saw the fragment yesterday I didn’t say much, other than that the translation looked interesting and that there were no real causes for alarm (a 4th century manuscript that mentions a wife of Jesus is really nothing to freak out about; no real controversy involved).

I am especially interested to hear from anyone else who might have concerns about this fragment.  The fact that it is unprovenanced is very telling, in my opinion, though that doesn’t necessarily make it a fake.  Also I would like to be clear that none of this criticism is directed at Karen King, whose work is otherwise very exceptional and should be considered a model for those looking to publicize a new discovery.

  • See also Mark Goodacre’s analysis here (he raises some of the same issues)
  • UPDATE: Jim West provides additional details on the motivation behind the release of this fragment.  You’ll want to check it out.
  • UPDATE 2: See James McGrath’s roundup of the current conversation about the fragment here.
  • UPDATE 3: My impressions have changed based upon new information.  Read the new article here.


Bart Ehrman on his Mythicist Opposition and Historical Jesus Fatigue

In yet another stunning example of how Ehrman fails to grasp the arguments of his opponents, he states:

“Mythicists are quite angry at what I’ve said and are attacking me mercilessly on the Internet,” he said. “They think I’m a terrible scholar and have no idea what I’m talking about.”

While certainly there are examples of mythicists being utterly merciless with personal attacks.  After all, I have a whole thread dedicated to me, started by none other than Acharya S fans who hate that I don’t find much of what she says useful or interesting or even remotely academic–some of that these sorts say about me borders on libel, but I think its all pretty amusing.  Clearly some people who really, really (really) like Acharya S can’t grasp why I’m able to engage with other scholars and publish academically while their cult leader favorite author cannot.

In all honesty, however, let’s face facts: Ehrman is a scholar of textual criticism.  Writing on the historical Jesus is what he writes about to make money (and by his own criteria, perhaps he shouldn’t be publishing on it?).  So should we really be surprised that he can’t even cite Pliny correctly?  And should he really be surprised that others are calling him out on his mistakes?  Does he now think he is perfect?

But let me be clear; Ehrman is a scholar, he knows what he is talking about–he made a few mistakes, so be it.  He should not be dismissed wholesale because of it and certainly no one should be suggesting he is somehow an incompetent New Testament scholar.   It is one thing to suggest that a scholar has written a bad book, but it is quite another to suggest that they are incapable of dealing with the subject matter.

This is why I am wholly unimpressed by the (lack of) dialogue on both sides at the moment.    Everyone just seems content to mud-sling instead of engaging the important issues.   Instead of engaging mythicist arguments, certain historicists are content to just pretend as if they never made any and lump all mythicists into the same propagandist label categorically making any individually nuanced, credible arguments practically obsolete (as Ehrman does above).   And certain mythicists would rather use crappily-researched arguments about the cosmos (aka: astrotheology) or about some parallelism that is incredibly fictional.

Frankly, I’m developing a case of ‘historical Jesus fatigue’.  The arguments are just getting a bit outlandish for me.   When scholars start to suggest that because a narrative is fiction, that makes it more historical, I think it is safe to say that everyone has gone completely mad.  Everyone is missing the point.  No one is listening to anyone else.  And the well of the figure of Jesus has just overflowed with the filth of the septic system that backed up from the 1990’s.

James Crossley, please save us from this mess!


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