South Park on the History Channel, Ancient Aliens, and the Public Understanding of History

South Park spoofed the History Channel’s series Ancient Aliens and I have to say, it was both hilarious and scary.  South Park has always been on the front lines (so to speak) of social commentary and satire.  Spoofing silly beliefs is nothing new for the show.  A few years ago it spoofed Scientology and before that it spoofed Mormonism.  Both episodes were extremely entertaining but it showed a side of humanity that frightens me.   In both of these earlier episodes, it explained what these two groups actually believe (and what they believe is just nonsense; see for yourself and watch the videos and then do a little research to verify).  Needless to say, the show Ancient Aliens has decent enough ratings and a large enough following to scare me as well.

But this particular episode is interesting.  As I’ve said before, those who believe that there were ancient astronauts from outer space who came to earth–and that there is evidence for this–are just nuts.  It’s a new form of maximalism, whereby nonexperts pretend as if they know what they are talking about by making up ridiculous conspiracy theories and connecting the dots which can’t exist anywhere but in the fabric of their own imaginations.

To quote from Giorgio A. Tsoukalos (the guy pictured on the left):

“The Great thing about the ancient aliens theory is the fact that we can compare modern acheivements with stories from our ancient past.”  (source)

He goes on to argue quite absurdly that if we can create a two headed dog today, this allows for the possibility that two headed dogs existed in the past, created by ancient aliens.  Yes, that is exactly what he is saying.  Watch the video.

This is either a space suit or a scuba suit. We await the next History Channel series: 'Ancient Deep-Sea Alien Dive Teams'

And then compare this sort of illogical position with that of, say, the Zeitgeisters, who are just as crazy with their theories about astrotheology and the stars.  They say, for example, that the stars line up a certain way and on certain times of the year they do such and such and that is where the ancients get such and such an idea.  It’s all crap.  When you punch in the data to an astronomy program that maps the stars and can tell you about their positions in the past, they just don’t line up the way the Zeitgeist movement claims.  And when you start to factor in that some constellations are fixed and have no bearing whatsoever on the ancient Near East, it collapses the whole argument because the thread of links they correct are so fragile. For example the ‘southern cross’ constellation.  The movie Zeitgeist argues that the southern cross has bearing on the fabrication of the Gospel narratives.  But this just doesn’t work once you do a little fact checking:

The stars of the Southern Cross are just visible above the southern horizon in Alexandria, and in Jerusalem in antiquity although I don’t think it is visible there now. The constellation was, however, not recognized in antiquity, and its four bright stars were included by Ptolemy in Centaurus, which sort of surrounds it11 (bold emphasis is mine).

Why wasn’t the Southern Cross constellation recognized in antiquity? Dr. Swerdlow explains:

That Crux, the Southern Cross, was not recognized as a separate constellation in antiquity is probably because, as seen from the Mediterranean, it is low on the southern horizon and is surrounded on three sides by stars of Centaurus, which is a large, prominent constellation, and the four bright stars of Crux are included as stars of Centaurus in Ptolemy’s star catalogue. It is only when you go farther to the south, so that Crux is higher in the southern sky, that it becomes prominent as a group of stars by itself, so its recognition had to wait until the southern voyages of the sixteenth century.12

In other words, the “Southern Cross” (Crux) constellation could not have served as a basis for the Gospel account of Jesus, because it was not distinct enough for any of the ancient Mediterranean inhabitants to identify it.

(source: read all of it and judge for yourself)

To add to this, the movie tries to suggest that the Crux is visible in April, around the time of Easter.  This is only true, however, for anything at or less than the 25th parallel north.  None of the relevant cultures of the ANE would have been able to witness this (Egypt, Palestine, Italy, Asia Minor, etc…).  Only those locations in the far, far southern hemisphere see the Crux year-round.    But facts mean nothing to the Zeitgeist movement and its most ardent followers (of whom this author has had many encounters and none of them have been remotely interesting or cordial–they don’t take well to dissonant perspectives).  The same can be said for those who believe in ancient aliens.

I’m glad to see that the creators of South Park laid out all the glaring problems of the series Ancient Aliens in an entertaining way.  For those who want to see more about what I and others have to say about this series, check out this link after you watch the clip below.

South Park: Ancient Aliens Thanksgiving

A New Sort of Maximalist: Alien Astronauts

This is absolutely absurd and its a shame I have to waste my time to write this.  But as with all ridiculous conspiracy crap that exists out there, those dilettantes who actually believe in alien astronauts that came to earth and helped mankind are actually getting media attention through the History Channel. I don’t know why; these people are completely delusional.

First, they don’t seem to care (or they simply cannot fathom) the difference between modern history and ancient history.  That is, they haven’t yet figured out that ancient literature is exaggerated, often filled with fictitious tales that were outright fabricated using earlier literature, and often grounded in political and religious idealism.  So when one reads about ancient military victories, one shouldn’t automatically assume that the Greeks actually had a super weapon, or were literally handed gifts from the gods to win.  The same goes for the Romans, the Egyptians, the Israelites, and so forth.

Second, these dilettantes can’t seem to fathom that the ancient mythic mind was not at all concerned with ‘fact’ vs. ‘fiction’.  Those who were able to write the sorts of literature that have survived today (literature, mind you, not personal letters–ancient histories count as literature) cared little whether they were recounting things as they happened.  They didn’t care whether or not Apollo was there with his bow, mowing down Greeks outside the walls of Troy.  To them, it happened and it didn’t happen.  This might be a difficult concept for modern people who have a completely different, rational mindset then those authors from antiquity.

Finally, these alien astronaut ‘experts’ are reading all sorts of things into the text and are fabricating all sorts of nonsense based totally on pseudo-archaeology.  This sounds like something BAR would publish, if we replace “ancient astronaut” with “Biblical Israel”.   Indeed, these alien astronaut supporters are sounding more and more like maximalists.  And frankly, I’m not sure what is worse….

For a full analysis of the Ancient Alien show, I suggest everyone get acquainted with two links:

Steve Caruso Clarifies the Function of the Lead Codices

Steve Caruso responds to a blog comment which asks “if these are fakes, what is the original object they are making facsimiles of?”  The question is one that has been asked before so their function deserves to be highlighted and exposed.  Steve writes:

Whoever fabricated these is not making copies of a genuine artifact, more than producing fake “antiquities” to sell at a significant profit. As we saw on eBay, one was being offered to the tune of $13,000. That’s not a bad markup for $5 worth of ancient Roman lead.

I have seen the same pattern like this before several times only in “golden letters on leather” where a pastiche of re-used iconography is assembled in a pattern that seems authentic enough to someone who doesn’t know what to look for.

When I’ve been approached by individuals trying to fence fakes it was always a matter of presenting something with enough intrigue to make the sale, and then threatening that time is short to complete the transaction.

Within this method, the sealed book angle, given the Apocalyptic reference, is the icing on the proverbial cake, and what seals (no pun intended) the deal for a potential buyer.

via Blogger: The Aramaic Blog – Post a Comment.


Jordan Lead Codices: Palm Tree Iconography

There are two definitive Palm Tree stamps which were used in the production of the iconography on the lead codices.  The first is a 12-branch palm tree (Type A):

Found on these codices, for example:

The second (Type B) is one that has smaller branches (and more of them) which are shaped in a rounded fashion rather than the pyramid-like fashion from the one above:

Found on these codices, for example:

Now onto the analysis of these palm trees, starting with the one with thirteen-branches.  Right away, their authenticity is called into question.  First the number of branches is simply wrong.  Second, the style of the branches are completely inaccurate from what we would expect of iconography from the period in the region.  Palm tree iconography found on coins from the first and second Jewish wars all feature seven branches with the exception being the fourth year prutah during the first Jewish war which features eight branches:

Here are some examples of seven-branch palm trees featured on coins dating to the Bar Kokhba uprising (second Jewish war):

And even those minted by Roman procurators like Antonius Felix also contained similar palm tree iconography:

You can clearly make out the six branches in the image, even with its poor quality.

Marcus Ambivulus’ (prefect of Judea) coin iconography is the closest match one might find to the iconography of Type A found on the lead codices:

As one can see, the branches are in a wave style, that is that each branch–particularly on the top rows–form a wing-shape or a flattened “v” rather than connecting to a central trunk like the other palm tree coin iconography.  It is likely that these coins, found all over Israel and Jordan (and in museums), were the inspiration for the Type A  palm trees on the lead codices.  Although I have also found this ring with a palm tree on it as well:

This ring, said to be a temple offering during the first Jewish war (the iconography is clearly based on the year four, first Jewish war prutah), bears the same number of branches.  The thing is, Joe Zias has told me that this ring is similar to tourist trinkets he has seen in Israel, peddled by workshops as well.  In other words, if this is indeed fake (and I am inclined to believe it might be), it is remarkably similar to the design on the codices.  The difference, again, is the style of the branches.  This ring has the branhces connecting to a central trunk rather than the wave or winged pattern of the Type A palm tree on the codices and the palm tree on the Ambivulus prutah.  So while this is very similar, it is more likely, in this authors opinion, that the palm tree Type A iconography is based on the Ambivulus prutah.  Now on to Type B.

Type B palm trees like very modern in style.  In fact, the palm tree iconography of Type B is unlike anything I’ve seen from antiquity.  Even on Judea Capta coins, where the palm trees look close (but not nearly close enough), the iconography has more differences than similarities:

Clearly not the same iconography.

The only palm tree iconography I could find which resembles the iconography of the Type B palm trees on the lead codices is the Nerva sestertius:

It is this authors opinion that the Type B iconography is loosely based upon this coin, or a modern equivalent.

And just to throw another wrench into the mix, I have included some fake coins in this lot to show that, not only are modern fakes with palm tree iconography are everywhere in our modern world (and the dies easy to come by), but that these dies are extremely close to the real thing.  Fake coins (with their palm tree iconography) are everywhere and more often than not are purchased by a lot of unsuspecting people.  Chances are you probably can’t tell the difference between the real ones and the fake ones, unless you are trained with a keen eye to spot them!

Bible and Interpretation – Update on the Jordan Lead Codices

My new article on Bible and Interpretation is up!  It is a brief update on the status of the investigation into the Jordan lead codices.  Here is a snippet:

None of the codices that have been released thus far for the public have proven to be authentic (including those which Elkington has supported as authentic) and none have shown to be more than the products of workshops, skilled in peddling fakes to tourists at a hefty price. It is also true that the iconography and even some of the script has roots in actual artifacts but these qualities were repurposed, out of context, from items found in museums in Jordan.

Update _Codices4.pdf (application/pdf Object).

Jordan Lead Codices: Exposing the Fakes [Updated]

As of today, the following blogs have posted this video and made very important comments.  Please check them all out and see what they have to say.  Don’t take my word for it!

  • James McGrath
  • Dan McClellan (with further explanations on the manipulated metallurgical report and pictures of the censorship!)
  • Jim Davila
  • David Meadows
  • Jim West
  • Mark Goodacre
  • Fr. Stephen
  • Steve Caruso, who notes:In a bit, I’ll have another post that actually goes over some clarifications that have been made to one of the metallurgical reports by the researcher who compiled it.
  • Joel Watts
  • Dorothy Lobel King also has brought up an excellent point.  According to BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY, LTD. v. COREL CORP., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), Elkington cannot claim copyright on the photos by law!  Unless the photos are of fakes (and if he wishes to pursue the claim that I am stealing copyrighted material, he would have to admit to this), in which case the codices are indeed the property of the workshop and the photos would be his.  However, if these are the real thing, as he is alleging, then pictures of the lead codices, which would be considered artifacts and already in public domain, cannot be copyrighted.  So by attempting to copyright the photos, he has already admitted to guilt!
  • Kerry
  • Bob Cargill has very interesting things to say.  Bob, unlike David Elkington, is a real archaeologist (as is Dorothy Lobel King) and notes:
    Like most unprovenanced “discoveries,” the Jordan Lead Codices are continuing to be exposed for what they are: a book-selling, documentary-pitching, money making, religious profiteering scheme, which uses a hungry media to prey on the faithful and the public, and employs the tried-and-true formula of 1) a sensational press release (without academic peer-review or scholarly evaluation), followed by 2) a pseudoscientific data dump that attempts to dilute and drown out the logic and actual science put forth by scholars responding to and debunking the claim (at least until the book gets released).

    This formula to misuse archaeology to make religious claims for ideological and/or money making purposes works regardless of the faith of the huckster making the claim: Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim – peddlers representing all faiths and even some “alien enthusiasts” (usually amateurs with no formal training in scholarship or archaeology) have used the formula to sell books, sell tickets, pitch documentaries, and attempt to proselytize the public and/or take its money. And, by the time actual scholars respond and debunk the story, the media has usually moved on (and if the media do publish a follow-up story, it is usually no longer a headline). Let’s face it: archaeological hucksters keep using the formula because it works (or at least always has), and it will continue to work in the future as long as scholars fail to respond to the false claims immediately and publicly.

  • Dan McClellan also adds a few more comments on his blog, like this gem:

    As the manipulative nature of this kind of campaign is exposed, “archaeological hucksters” tend to react by appealing to argumentum ad hominem and a sense among laypersons of distrust for putative academic elitism and bias…

Alert the Press! Real Academics Don’t use Facebook or Blog!

According to Elkington (bold and italicized), who we all know is the erudite, scholarly fellow (/sarcasm):

Regarding the omission of academic postings on this site, it was set up to release news into the public sphere (due to significant demand) and not as an academic forum (real academics tend not to use Facebook and are not bloggers! – They respectably keep their counsel, which is why they haven’t participated directly on this site, although they support it).

Someone better alert Bob Cargill, James Crossley, Jim West, Dan McClellan, David Meadows, James McGrath, James Tabor, Mark Goodacre, and many, many others (too many to list)!  Apparently, Elkington feels that Real Academics™ are defined as those people who make sweeping claims and broad accusations behind a pseudonym on a Facebook page (which is exactly what he’s been doing).  This is just as classic as the time he said that Thonemann wasn’t a real Biblical scholar!  He continues on with his ignorant comment:

It takes numerous top level academics to arrive at a reasonable conclusion: not only to translate the text, but to put it into contextual meaning, taking into consideration the cultural, theological and political situation of the time. Some of the direct translation that has already been done would be very open to literalists to have a field day; however, when put into proper context, is exciting, as it largely supports the gospels (what has been translated and contextualized thus far, which isn’t a huge amount – this will take years of study). As you have probably seen from the widespread criticism out there – based on VERY LITTLE information, you can imagine the furore if we let any Tom, Dick or Harry offer their opinion. Of course everyone has a right to their views and opinions; however, we believe that it is the responsible thing to do to let the appropriately skilled individuals put their research out there first – we owe it to the public. Most of what has been published out there by the bloggers has been way off the mark and based on so little given out.

Spoken like a truly naive person.  Of course those who are criticizing the validity and authenticity of these codices are those who have backgrounds in the subject are also top notch scholars (I am not sure what ‘top level academics’ are–does Elkington think this is a game of WoW?  What an absolutely ludicrous thing to say).  Even those who used to initially accept them as ancient have since turned their backs on the idea, or at least expressed a large amount of skepticism towards their antiquity, like Philip Davies.  Like a child pouting in the corner when given a time-out, Elkington is showing everyone his last-ditch effort to establish credibility by stomping is foot, whining, and making faces at his critics rather than engaging them intellectually.

H/T to Dan McClellan for alerting me to this.

Lead Codices Updates: Evidence of Lifted Script from coins and Additional Updates from Dan McClellan

Steve Caruso made a breakthrough today with this image:

He writes:

Going on the coin inscription lead, I came across a sequence of characters lifted nonsensically from the prutot of John Hyrcanus I (135-104 BC).

via The Aramaic Blog: Lead Codices: Sequence Lifted From John Hyrcanus I Prutah.

Also Dan McClellan made this note as well:

It reads as follows with the Facebook admin’s reading:

. . . לגלשאגתלאלגלגבשאגתל . . .
. . . מבתבלאגתלגשבתבלאגתבב . . .
. . . מסרשאלגבבמסרשאלגת . . .

A small collection of letters are simply being nonsensically repeated (with the occasional accidental word appearing). It is difficult to make out in the photo above because of the blurring, but the first roughly half of the bottom three lines are repeated in exactly the same shape and orientation in the second half of the text. Whatever mold or die was used to create the first half of each of the three lines was simply used again for the second half. Philip Davies’ recent PEQ editorial, available for free here, mentions this repetition and calls the lettering “mostly purely decorative.” This rather conflicts with Elkington’s claim to have the world’s top paleo-Hebrew mind reaching a breakthrough in translation (unless, of course, Elkington doesn’t think Davies is one of the five who can read it!).

via A Preliminary Translation of the Jordan Codices is Offered « Daniel O. McClellan.

He also notes earlier today of the dishonesty of the Elkingtons on their Facebook page:

The admin in charge of the Jordan Codices Facebook group has posted four pictures from what it claims are forensic tests of the codices. He states:

This set of photographs are some examples we took during our forensic work on the codices.

It’s my contention that the photos show no such thing. These are publicity photos taken by Elkington himself (or associates) and passed off as scientific.

In the first photo, the vast majority of the codex has been obscured by the portion of torn-off loose leaf notebook paper. What value does this photo have for a researcher? Absolutely none. In the lower picture a smaller piece of loose leaf notebook paper has been torn off to allow for the visibility of the tree image (and the numbering system is different). This is simply not how artifacts are photographed by professionals. Elkington is obscuring those parts of the codices that have text on them so that people who have the ability to analyze the texts for themselves cannot do so. He wants you to see the tree, though, since it’s pretty and it cannot be shown to be unintelligible.

If there is anyone out there who believes these to be authentic or genuinely ancient, they are either deluding themselves or in on the scam.

Searching for Muses: VA Earthquake a Biblical Sign

Yes, someone searched for this earlier:

is virginia earthquake a biblical sign

O ye dilettantes!  No, no the VA earthquake is not a Biblical sign.  Please, for the love of Pete, stop thinking that everything that happens to the planet is a Biblical sign.  It isn’t.

On the Doherty-McGrath-Godfrey Exchange

Perhaps the title of this post should read ‘Why we need to watch our terminology’, but I thought that might have been too vague.  Still, I must wonder why I am seeing so much aggression on both sides.  In my attempt to remain impartial, it seems I have alienated myself from Godfrey.  I’d like to address his criticisms and use this as a tool to highlight the problem with the current position Godfrey takes.  He writes:

Tom Verenna has written (naively, in my view, but that is forgivable) that he equates the scientific method itself with the academic publishing processes. But less forgivable is that, without even having read Rene Salm’s book, he has web-posted the very same sorts of ignorant falsehoods and insults as McGrath has leveled at Doherty and others, also without reading their works or being able to outline their arguments in anything but their own straw man versions.

I’m not sure I’ve equated the scientific method with academic publishing, but I do agree with McGrath, as well as Carrier, that publishing academically is one way in which competency can be judged and tested.  With peer review (especially blind peer review), what you write is subjected to an process whereby other legitimate academics who are certified in the field examine your arguments, your use of the language, the translations you provide, and determine if they meet a level of competency  necessary to publish.  It is not infallible and has at times failed.  I can name a few peer reviewed papers that are quite atrocious, which have the most bizarre arguments, that still make it through.  But doesn’t that make an interesting point?

Doherty and Godfrey have argued that peer review, in an academic setting, is a trend for those who belong to the ‘elite club’ of the white tower of ivory, where those with dissenting perspectives against the status quo of the academy cannot gain access.  Yet many dissenting perspectives not only get through, and published, they get reviewed and they get discussed.  Again, the process isn’t perfect, and at times studies get missed that shouldn’t (like Michael Vines’ great work on the genre of the Gospel of Mark), but overall with continued publishing they will get noticed by the community eventually.  And if the study is good enough, compelling enough, and argued thoroughly enough, the study will prove to change, at least a portion, of the academic community.  And sometimes that is most for which you can ask.  After all, just as any group of people, the community is made up of all sorts from a variety of social backgrounds, with differing opinions, and different politics, and different religious convictions.  You cannot hope to convince everyone, and you’re lucky if you convince anyone.

However, when one resigns themselves to publish without going through this process, they deserve what they get from the community.  Its a part of paying your dues.  You don’t sell a lot of books, but that isn’t the point.  If Doherty had sought an academic publisher for his book, or even if he had sought publication for a chapter or two, in a peer reviewed journal, his ideas and views would be read directly by the academic community.  He would be subjected to their reviews, both good and bad. McGrath would be forced to interact with these reviews, as they come from the community, and he wouldn’t be able to (or at least, he couldn’t be accused of) gloss over points or misrepresent, or ignore certain aspects of Doherty’s thesis.  There would always be another academic review, whether by RBL or some other reviewing house, which countered him, or which held a more impartial perspective.  But since Doherty has chosen instead to throw stones from his glass house, well outside of the academy, why should McGrath, or anyone else, take him seriously?  It is only by luck that I have the friends I do, where sometimes I am taken seriously (and I have an academic publication forthcoming!).

As for Salm, that is an interesting critique.  Salm sent me six tracts (no bigger than small pamphlets) ‘for scholars’ which I felt not only fell short of what was needed to prove his case, but that he neglected to address the criticisms against his position.  I feel his position, that Nazareth didn’t exist when it is said to have existed, is patently ridiculous as he currently argues for it and we have more than sufficient reason to accept its place in the first century landscape.  If Salm wants to prove his case, he should seek to publish his finds in ASOR, present a paper at a conference for ASOR or some other society (and there are more than a few that would find Salm’s position interesting).  I never said there was no way he could be right, but as he has presented it in the past, and his reluctance to present it in an academic setting now, suggests to me that even he realizes he has no case.  If he did he would join ASOR or some other society and present it.  The change he seeks will not come overnight, but it will be heard, examined, and the academic discussion on the subject can happen.  And when it happens, it will either validate or invalidate his position.

The past and youth are forgivable, but quite some time ago I asked Tom if he still holds these views or wishes to retract them and I am still waiting to receive a reply to that particular query.

Well, Neil, there is your answer.

Tom on his blog has more recently given the same excuse as Stephanie Fisher has given for the likes of McGrath and West: that is, in effect, that these are really very nice chaps when you get to know them personally. I am sure they are. So this excuses their public discarding of basic human respect and scholarly standards when targeging those who hold views they detest? And those who just happen to judge them at their public word are at fault for failing to realize that behind those ad hominems and misrepresentions is really a very nice chap?

No, Neil, you are quite wrong.  I am not ‘giving an excuse’ for their behavior.  Nor am I sanctioning McGraths’ misrepresentations.  Had you bothered to read my blog, you would note I have often gone out of my way to check McGraths’ more hyperbolic comments and have, on more than one occasion, warned him about the fallacious distinctions he sometimes makes.  However, you have not helped yourself, Neil.  You’ve become an isolationist and as a result have caused yourself to have spiteful comments directed towards you.  I will give you the same advice I gave John Loftus.  If you want to parlay with the academic community, you need to grow some thicker skin–especially if you’re arguing against consensus.  I know for a fact that the biggest criticism against my forthcoming book is that I am not certified; and it is a valid criticism.  My hope is that many will look past it, and some might find the arguments more worthwhile than my status

My comments towards McGraths’ personality are quite irrelevant and I’m not sure how you came to associate them with my opinion towards James’ position on historicity of the figure of Jesus and his remarks towards those with opposing views.

And Tom’s reply above pointing to certain mythicists (e.g. Zeitgeists) demonstrates my point about his using the same tactic of politician-speak in his response to me earlier. When I spoke about McGrath’s unprofessional attacks on Doherty’s book and even on Doherty personally, Tom avoids (and thereby implicitly excuses) the issue by replying that “mythicists” have given “historicists” as hard a time as they have received themselves.

They are, and they have.  I fail to see how one as smart as you might fail to see the problems associated with your own arguments and the rhetoric you use in your own posts.  You seem to ignore the fact that your argument is really not academic.  It isn’t even credible.  This is a very serious charge in the academic community.  Doherty is in the same position.  Sans his degree, which is noteworthy, he is not published and he is arguing a point which is strongly unsupported in the community.  There are ways of doing things, as there are in any field, and you have both, as well as others, ignored the rules of engagement.  If you have a case, publish it.  It will either stand for itself or crumble under the weight of scholarly examination.  But you can’t expect McGrath, nor anyone, to presume to take you seriously when you don’t event take your own arguments seriously enough to seek to present them in an academic manner.

And this is where McGraths’ point is solidified.  When he compares you to creationists, he isn’t speaking about the idea that Jesus might not have existed historically.  He would not levy such a criticism against those who are agnostic about the historicity of such a figure.  No, he is lobbying against your unrealistic approach.  You complain that scholars don’t take you seriously, but you don’t do anything ‘scholarly’.  You don’t publish, you don’t use caution in your conclusions (you and Doherty state that affirmative that Jesus never existed rather than the more agnostic approach), you don’t appreciate the scholarly process, and then you wonder why scholars ignore you.  McGrath is absolutely correct: this is just the same approach that creationists take.

This is what I meant by remaining silent in the face of clear, demonstrable and unequivocal abuse of one’s status as a public intellectual.

Being a public intellectual doesn’t mean you’re right, or that you automatically deserve respect.  Respect is something to be earned, not given freely.

Tom’s silence when faced directly with this question implies complicity. His apparent failure to renounce his own irresponsible and ignorant attacks on Salm’s book without even having read it is as reprehensible as anything we see from McGrath himself. (Sorry, no it is not as bad as McGrath’s standards. McGrath is a fully qualified academic and professor.)

I’ll ignore the subtle ad hom, but I will not excuse your abuse of my integrity.  I have indeed read Salm’s tracts on Nazareth, which he sent me.  I will gladly upload pictures of the tracts I have.  I remain unconvinced because he refuses to engage scholarship directly.  I can’t accept his conclusions at face value without knowing the other arguments, but I can’t know them since most archaeologists are unaware or simply don’t care because he hasn’t published them where they can read them and examine them as a community.   My criticism of Salm remains the same now as it did when I first pointed a finger at him, which is surprisingly the only argument I still feel compelled to agree with myself on from that period in time.  “I consider … Salm’s book on par with that of Joe Atwill’s book, Caesar’s Messiah. It’s the same sort of poor scholarship and ridiculous misuse of the evidence. Both present extreme theories with little regard for the authorities. Both make claims that are really unbacked by scholarship. Both, to my knowledge, never went through peer review. Both have been confronted by scholars and both refuse to revise their arguments based on those criticisms that cannot be countered.  As I said – they could be right, and … Nazareth [may] never have existed [after all]…. Even worse is that scholarship is against them in almost every regard,… the evidence is stacked in opposition. And it’s not because their position is an impossibility, but simply because there is no good reason to accept their position based on probability. Bluntly, the only conclusion one can draw from the evidence is that Nazareth existed.”  I don’t think I was unclear (even though I believe I write better now than I did then).  I don’t think I’m being unclear now.

I am quite sure Tom, James et al are all very nice people to have a drink and discuss the weather with, and that they are the most congenial of folks at conferences and, by and large, hold themselves to the right professional dealings with one another. But when faced with outside critiques — like people who have one respectable persona in their public lives but have “issues” when back at home — outright intellectual dishonesty and malicious slander are, well, not unknown.

Intellectually dishonest?  Slander?  I haven’t slandered anyone, nor have I been intellectually dishonest.  If you feel that way, Neil, I have to believe you are deluding yourself.

I understand that if one wants to get ahead in a guild one must play the game. Hoffmann has acknowledged that the reason the question of the nonhistoricity of Jesus is not more on the agenda among scholars has more to do with concern for security of academic appointments than “common sense”.

This is quite incorrect.  The reason why the historicity of Jesus is not considered in modern scholarship has nothing to do with ‘playing it safe’ but, rather, has everything to do with there not being a study published which raises the question.  And yes, there is a game to be played.  It’s called the game of method and exposure.  You follow the methods and show them through exposure to the community.  If you are that insecure about your conclusions, then I can’t help you and nobody else can either.

So I understand that to be accepted into the club one must learn to think a certain way.

How naive and ignorant.  Nobody is forced to think a certain way; if that were the case, we would still be uttering church law and dogma at all academic conferences and at the beginning of every paper.  And rather than discussing the intricacies of intertextuality in the Gospels we would be singing hymns and praises towards the miracles of Jesus.  This is a completely fallacious and slanderous statement about the status of current scholarship, and speaks volumes about ones own understanding and misgivings about the academic process.  The whole PhD process is bent around producing a new and unique work in the field.  Quoting the so-called ‘status quo’ is not going to get one anywhere.  It won’t even get them by a PhD board.  They’ll probably be cited for plagiarism.  The ‘status quo’ argument is nothing more than a myth, idealized by those who refuse to do what is necessary to earn respect.

And the only thing one must do to ‘join the club’ is to be realistic.  You’re being ‘anything but realistic’ in your analysis.

But that club is only showing its tribal side when some of its members can crucify certain targeted incorrect outsiders while the rest of its members find excuses to remain silent.

Again, if you believe I’ve been silent, Neil, you’re delusional or just not paying attention.

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