Your Guide to Crazy Claims

You might have noticed a new page on this site.  If not, well, here is your friendly nudge to go check it out.

Guide to Pseudo-Scholarship

This new page presents the most crazy, unfounded, and bizarre claims I’ve come across over the years and includes a multitude of useful links to blog posts and papers which debunk them.   Check them out, enjoy them, use them, and share the page with all your friends.

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Book Review: Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth

I received this book in the mail a few days ago courtesy of Frank Zindler:

Yeah…

Frank Zindler even signed it:

zindler

As much as I appreciate the gracious sentiment from Frank, I am not sure I deserve such an accolade.  He may feel differently after he reads this review.

Let me say that Frank and Bob Price did a decent job as editors.  The book, published through the American Atheist Press (2013) is, at 567 pages, a collection of 21 essays compiled into four sections and  a concluding chapter. The 21 essays are divided, rather unevenly, between seven contributors: Frank Zindler, Bob Price, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, D.M. Murdock (Acharya S), Rene Salm, and Earl Doherty (Zindler has the most with nine essays, Earl Doherty comes in next with five essays).

My only gripe as far as editing goes is that there are no indices.  Having an author index, at least a select bibliography, would have been valuable to the volume and at least added some gloss of academia to the volume.  Instead, the lack of an index of any kind only adds to this book’s woes.  More on this in a moment.

At a stock price of over $30 for a paperback that isn’t published through an academic press, I found it wanting for more (or to use Zindler’s words, ‘left…in a state of stunned perplexity’). While I was not a fan of Ehrman’s recent book Did Jesus Exist? (I even wrote a paper which was published last year in the online journal Bible and Interpretation), he is still a scholar–a professional, in fact–who has produced some extremely valuable resources for students and textual critics.  Even if he is misguided, even if he is wrong (his arguments are flawed, but whether or not his conclusions are wrong has yet to be proven in any respect), he earned the right to be treated in a manner that befits his position in the academy.

Some may disagree; that’s fine.  There are ways to attack an argument with passion without resorting to a personal attack.  Instead this volume is, essentially, nearly 600 pages of polemics and rhetoric.   This book should have been a collection worth taking seriously; the last thing mythicism needs is yet another self-published volume full of venom and disgust.  Even if those emotions are justified (and I’m not saying they are), if the mythicist wants to be taken seriously–should they not approach this polarizing and controversial subject in a manner different than the way Ehrman had?  If Ehrman had done nothing else in his volume but demean and belittle every mythicist, does that mean that the mythicist should do the same?  I don’t think so; especially if one wants to have their arguments considered.

The title of this volume bespeaks the purpose: it is a series of essays with the intent to character assassinate.  Price makes no secret of this; he states in the introduction that this book represents a ‘counter-polemical’ because Ehrman started it (seriously).  And Price’s attempts to link the contributors of the volume, in all, and those who support the so-called ‘Christ Myth Theory’ with minimalism is a void one.  While I do argue that I am a sort of ‘New Testament minimalist’, the difference in all of this is that I’ve not made any anti-academic claims or any statement of certainty.  While Thomas Thompson and Philip Davies may be called minimalists, they don’t agree on everything (from dating texts to who may or may not have been historical); the analogy is flawed as what Bob and others are arguing in this volume is that Jesus is a myth, as in lacking any historical function.  And one cannot simply combine Thompson and Davies (or Lemche and Pfoh, etc…, into a comparable ‘David Myth Theory’, now can we?  To my knowledge there exists no volume published by minimalists arguing against Bill Dever or Gary Rendsburg (as much as they might deserve it).

Price also gives D.M. Murdock too much credit.  He is guilty of inflating her credentials in many respects and, while they are friends, it is distracting.  He writes, for example, that ‘her chief sin in Ehrman’s eyes would appear to be her lack of diplomas on the wall’, but that is an oversimplification of what Ehrman argues.  In fact, her ignorance of modern historical methodologies and current studies in various fields is painfully obvious to any of her readers.  She makes mistakes for which she rarely apologizes and continues to argue in the same flawed manner regardless of whether or not she is wrong.  When she feels threatened, she directs her horde of minions (devoted followers–many who have been spammed or trolled by these minions will know what I mean) against the target in an attempt to dissuade (bully) him/her from arguing against her again.  It is distasteful and unwarranted; I am quite surprised that Ehrman was able to keep his composure while speaking of her work as well as he did–a testament to his professionalism (even if the arguments he makes in the book are not).

Also there is a surprising amount of personal correspondence.  Frank produces some 75 pages for his first contribution and more than half of it consists of various email exchanges between Ehrman and himself.  This troubles me as I am not so sure that such a move is ethical.  Certainly Ehrman is busy, as he has actual scholarly work to do (at a prestigious academic institution no less), like teaching students, chairing committees, being a department head, reviewing grad work from students, appearing on doctoral panels, and so on.   When I respond to emails, I am vague and type quickly, especially when I have a lot of them and other pressing matters on my mind.  I can not imagine what Ehrman’s inbox looks like and I cannot begrudge him for being curt or limited or even appearing confused or disgruntled!  The man has a lot to do.  In my humble opinion, it is wholly unwelcome that Zindler dedicated so much space to these emails and also formulated a polemical argument around them; it is quite unfortunate that this appears in this volume.

Another issue I have is the obvious anti-Christian (pro-Atheist) theme that runs through most of the articles.  I get it: published through the American Atheist Press; Frank Zindler, Bob Price, Acharya S, and so on, are atheists; but the whole point–I would imagine–is to not burn the bridges between you and your potential readers.  Additionally, painting Ehrman has someone who wags his finger while, incidentally, allowing ones polemical paper to include finger-wagging against Christians seems to me to be counter-productive.  Especially since one of Ehrman’s arguments is that mythicists are merely angry atheists hellbent on destroying Christianity.

For those interested in owning this volume, I suppose it has one or two redeeming qualities that make it worth owning.

First, Richard Carrier’s online content has been reedited and is as devastating as ever.  But Carrier makes sure to include the caveat that he disagrees with many of the claims made by the rest of the contributors of the volume–so the one of only two individuals in the lot (Bob Price is the other) who has credibility (according to academic standards) has essentially already buried the hatchet in most of the volume.   Obviously, read it and judge for yourself whether his caveat is appropriate (I think it is).  That said, Carrier’s is one of the best that this collection of essays has to offer–but if you’ve read his blog then you really don’t need to buy this book.

Second, I do appreciate Price’s explanation that mythicism is not so easily definable.  But he is also wrong in some respects.  While ten people may have the same conclusion, it does not mean they all reached that conclusion the same way.  Some may have reached the conclusion based on academic curiosity, but some may just have been curious (and also ignorant), others may be conspiracists, others still educated laypeople who have an interest but no real academic discipline or proficiency with the languages.  So what one has are a few people with legitimate work in the field, and most with zero credible work in the field but with lots of speculation and (dis)organized arguments that don’t always show signs of being self-aware of their own limitations.

Third, Doherty has some rather cleverly-written articles in this volume.  But if you want to read Doherty–read him.

In conclusion, I was disappointed.  This book represents the very thing you should never do, not even if you feel it is justified.  This book lacked everything and what it had in abundance was unnecessary polemics.  It was published through a house owned by (or at least in part) one of the coeditors, most of the articles would not make it into an academic publication (e.g., none would pass peer review) due to the careless language or lack of verifiable claims, and what good was said throughout is lost on the flippancy of the rest of the content.  This book actually makes me want to openly apologize to Bart Ehrman on behalf of the contributors–even though I do not count myself among them.

But these criticisms of mine, while they are harsh, can be corrected.  This is the bright side.  If Frank Zindler, et al, felt slighted by Ehrman, why didn’t they do what I did (or Thomas Thompson)?  One need only write a paper and submit it to a journal.  The goal should be to circulate criticisms of the book, respectfully written with valuable contributions to the institution, to the people who need it–scholars.  This has been my biggest complaint about mythicists: they demand to be taken seriously but refuse to do what is necessary to earn that respect.  Alas, Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth is just the most recent example of such a blatant refusal.

UPDATE:

For those looking for a thorough and more academic treatment of Ehrman’s Did Jesus exist?, see my published article Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship found at the online journal Bible and Interpretation.

Also Philip Davies excellent treatment here: http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/dav368029.shtml

Ralph Ellis is a Liar

I have refrained from coming down too hard on Ralph Ellis personally.  I have tried to keep my arguments focused on his unsubstantiated claims.  Alas, Mr. Ellis will not stop personally attacking me; this has gone beyond libel.  Mr. Ellis has even gone so far as to lie about my credibility on his very public website.  This was sent to me today:

ellismoron

Aside from this little projection of Mr. Ellis’ own insecurities, Mr. Ellis knows this is a flat-out lie.  After all he has emails me directly at my rutgers.edu email address during on of his vulgar, unmedicated (I can only presume) harassment rants:

ellisemailru

While we all know Mr. Ellis wouldn’t know solid research if it bit him in the pants, even a cursory search on the Rutgers Student Search would prove that I’m a current student:

rulist

So either Mr. Ellis is just an outrageously incompetent human being or he is a flat-out deceptive one.  I’m going with a little bit of both at this point.

When Did Josephus Leave Judea? Does it even matter?

Ralph Ellis, in an attempt to defend his claims, has seemed to have misread my argument about Josephus and Abgar bar Ma’nu VI.  He writes, mistakenly, that:

Finally, Verenna also seems to be completely confused about the life of Josephus Flavius, saying he was not in Jerusalem in AD 70. His review says:

Quote:
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).

One hardly know what to make of this assertion. Here is a reviewer of Judaean history, and he does not appear to know that Josephus Flavius was in Judaea in AD 70 – 71. In fact, Josephus says of this very crucifixion event that I mention:

Quote:
as I came back (from Tekoa), I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered. Life 75

So not only was Josephus in Jerusalem at this time, he did indeed come across three of the leaders of the Jewish Revolt being crucified. Since King Izas was one of those leaders, it is axiomatic that King Izas was one of those being crucified. You might also note a similarity with the biblical crucifixion here.

But this speaks of Mr. Ellis’ inability to comprehend what it is that I wrote.  The full quote (taken from here) is:

“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.”

Notice that my point is in fact that Josephus would not have been around during Abgar VI’s reign; this is precisely my argument.  In fact Abgar bar Ma’nu VI didn’t start his reign until 71 CE; when I wrote 70-71 in the quote above, I was giving Mr. Ellis the benefit of the doubt.  Titus and Josephus were on their way back to Rome in 71, as Josephus mentions:

But when Titus had composed the troubles in Judea, and conjectured that the lands which I had in Judea would bring me no profit, because a garrison to guard the country was afterward to pitch there, he gave me another country in the plain. And when he was going away to Rome, he made choice of me to sail along with him, and paid me great respect: and when we were come to Rome, I had great care taken of me by Vespasian; for he gave me an apartment in his own house, which he lived in before he came to the empire. (Vita, 76)

But is this at all relevant? I suppose I was still giving Mr. Ellis the benefit of the doubt.  Here I was presuming that Mr. Ellis was simply confused; I was under the impression that Mr. Ellis had merely moved the crucifixion of Jesus to the period of the first Jewish war.  After all, how could anyone be so delusional as to think otherwise?  How foolish of me to think that Mr. Ellis just made a mistake; instead, it seems, he meant to argue that Jesus had a history beyond a crucifixion–and that he would be king, no less–twice!

Conventional history be damned, if Mr. Ellis had his way.  We already know that Mr. Ellis picks and chooses his own timeline, regardless of whether or not they conflict with facts.  He claims Paul was born in 37 but ignores the fact that Paul claims to have run from Aretas IV (even though he died around 40CE).  He conflates multiple historical figures, which he admits:

In reality, I have conflated only two pairs of different kings.

a. King Abgarus V of Edessa is King Monobazus of Adiabene.
b. King Manu VI of Edessa is King Izas of Adiabene.

Why have I done so? Because King Abgarus and King Monobazus shared a common wife – Queen Helena of Adiabene/Edessa (and thus King Manu and King Izas shared a common mother). So Thomas Verenna has fabricated a complaint about my work, and then failed to explain why I did conflate two pairs of kings.

Actually, he conflates more than two people.  Still, he is somewhat proud of this fact; as if conflating two historical individuals from different times (ruled 13-50, and 57-71 respectively), separated by another king (Manu V who ruled for seven years between these two), is somehow acceptable methodology.  I’ve dealt with this conflation issue extensively here.  He also conflates Paul and Josephus, and he seems pretty proud of that catastrophe.

And what is this about Abgar and Manu having the same wife?  And what is this about Izates and Manu having the same mother (Abgarus and Izas are not found in the past–these are fabricated names that Mr. Ellis has invented to make his connections seem more plausible)?  This is simply false.  And what is this about his fictional Izas character being crucified at Thecoa?  Really?  He believes this?  I guess so.

So how could he possibly have an issue with conflating the dates here?  Why wouldn’t he just say, ‘Oh well Jesus is Abgar VI bar Ma’nu who was taken down from the cross by Josephus in 70, started his reign a year later in Edessa, and after his reign, was exiled to Britain where he became King Arthur.’  That is exactly what he is arguing (or worse, that his version of Jesus, a conflation of the two kings above, was king prior to the Jewish War, but in his 50’s when he was crucified, escaped crucifixion, went back to rule from 70-71, and then ended up in Britain after being exiled, where he became king again).  Every scenario is less and less probable and more and more ridiculous.

Forget that there is zero evidence for any of these assertions, forget that he’s fumbling through the sources, that he chooses the weakest possible arguments to validate his case; it’s a house made of cards.  So shame on me for reading Mr. Ellis’ content too generously.  What he is actually arguing is way worse than what I had originally imagined.

Because he’s a conspiracy theorist and not a historian.

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!

I’m Being Harassed and Threatened by Ralph Ellis

Dear Friends and Family,

Since April 8th, Ralph Ellis has been running around Google searching for my name and sending out hateful and spiteful emails to colleagues and friends (also to me, because he doesn’t realize the sites that he is emailing are run by me) because I wrote negatively about his online work (suggesting Jesus was King Arthur, that his relative was Cleopatra, and that Jesus was King of Edessa–so yes, I wrote some scathing posts about them).  This is completely legal and within my rights under the 1st Amendment and through my experience as a student majoring in the field at a high tier research university.

He has libeled and harassed me and continues to do so however, and I want you to be aware that this individual may be dangerous.  He has threatened to ‘run me off’ and I have been saving all the emails and notifications that many of you have sent along (thank you).  I am compiling a portfolio full of his harassing and threatening messages so I continue to ask you all to send everything to me that he sends out to you.

I want to be clear that this isn’t a minor issue.  If Ralph Ellis were simply an internet troll or someone with whom I just disagreed, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  But he is actively trying to discredit me to people I’ve known for years and while he will not succeed, he is breaking the law and willfully engaging in bullying tactics in order to force me to remove my negative reviews of his work.  I will not bow to this bully and I want you to know that,

This is the stalker:

ralfellis

Here is how Steve Caruso (and here and here), James McGrath (and here), Diglot, and Joel Watts have handled his threats and libel.  Also Aaron Adair (and here) and Rod from Political Jesus have also jumped into the fray to lend their support.

Daniel McClellan has also offered some helpful thoughts on this whole matter; here is a snippet:

Next, the link in the comment takes one to a website entitled “Thomas Verenna Is A Lying Idiot.” Obviously such an insulting and unprofessional attempt to undermine Tom’s credibility does more to expose Mr. Ellis’ own lack of scruples, but it gets worse. Ellis’ accusations of dishonesty are incredibly ironic in light of his rather transparent habit of posting multiple anonymous and/or sock-puppet comments on his and others’ blogs in an attempt to make it seem like his claims have broad support. This kind of childish and petulant behavior flatly undermines any and all claims on his part to objectivity or scholarly erudition. Mr. Ellis is apparently submitting comments like these all over the internet, and as the link above shows, he’s starting blogs to personally attack Tom.

In another post, Dan writes in response to Mr. Ellis’ complaints:

The worst methodological mistake you make throughout all of your texts, however, is your insistance on synthesizing select data from various different disparate sources, while dismissing data that conflict with your preconceptions. You refuse to acknowledge errors where errors are beyond doubt, while asserting errors where the texts are clearly accurate, all in an effort to manipulate the sources in the aid of your presuppositions. Then you bark about people not being in the know, and not understanding because they’re trying to do history instead of acknowledging that the truth is cryptically hidden underneath the surface of the text. This is pseudo-scholarship, pure and simple.

Ralph Ellis is not in his right mind, as you can see.

Courtesy of Steve Caruso

Courtesy of Steve Caruso

Here are some links with more information:

Thanks,

Tom

More Ralph Ellis Conspiracy Nonsense: The Final Debunking

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

On Ellis’ ePub Claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Ellis and His Incredible Shrinking Knowledge of Ancient Languages

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

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

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

Sing.

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

Plur.

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

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

Sing.

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

Plur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Caruso: Follow this with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did that turn into in Greek?

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

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

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

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

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

greekjewishinscription

Like this one…

inscriptionjesusgreek2

…and this one.

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

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

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

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

Mr. Ellis as a Scholar

Let’s examine his scholarship so far.

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

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

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

The stupid!  ZOMG, the stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Ellis’ Delusional World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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