UPDATE 10/3/13: No, Joe Atwill: Rome Did Not Invent Jesus

Note: Additional updates from 10/9 and 10/10 are below–scroll down to see them.

Apparently Joe Atwill has made a “documentary” of his book Caesar’s Messiah.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Jewish texts discovered in caves in Israel in 1947, give a different picture than the idyllic first century Holy Land of the Gospels. From year one, there were battles and confrontations between the Romans and the Jews, the Scrolls note, and there was no turning of the other cheek by the likes of rebel leader Judah of Galilee. And there was nary a mention in the Scrolls of the peaceable prophet Jesus Christ.

“This is where I came into Christian scholarship,” says Atwill, 63, an investor who lives by the proceeds of a dot-com sell off in the 1990s. “There was supposedly this character, Jesus, wandering around in Galilee. Nobody knew anything about him. Galilee is only 30 miles long. Jesus and other historical figures of the time would have known each other.”

Atwill, an admittedly bookish man, dived in headfirst, digging out whatever historical records he could find, studying the Scrolls, and reading Roman accounts, notably that of a family member of the Flavian dynasty of Caesars named Josephus. He found no historical Jesus in any of those writings. But there were some uncanny connections between the story of Jesus as told in the Gospels and the family of Roman emperors who took power after Nero was forced to commit suicide following a coup d’état.

I mean this is just golden cow scat. Seriously. Why? Because that is what you’re watching.

Let’s start with the blurb itself. Just the little snippet above should put anyone off from even considering this hypothesis.

  1. The Dead Sea Scrolls were not all written in the first century, but spread out over many. There are more than 200 years of texts here, from the terminus a quo of the earliest manuscript to the terminus ad quem of the latest (3rd Century BCE – 1st Century CE). So no, Atwill, you’re not going to find a match to the Gospels because these were written after the Dead Sea Scrolls had been hidden away in the caves of Qumran. In fact the site was probably destroyed by Romans during the First Jewish War–prior to when it is generally believed Mark wrote the first Gospel around 70 CE.
  2. The Gospels follow a pattern of what is called ‘Biblical Rewriting’ which was a common Jewish practice, just as ‘Homeric rewriting’ was common with Greek and Roman writers. So actually the Gospels fit quite well within the scribal framework of the Jewish community at the time.
  3. Why would the Dead Sea Scrolls mention Jesus when the settlement where these scrolls were probably written is over 130km (80 miles) away from Galilee? That is the distance between New York City and Philadelphia. Additionally, the sect at Qumran seems to have kept to themselves, living strict pious lives of obedience to god and to their laws. I do not believe them to have been Essenes–though probably quite close to them.
  4. Who else would have mentioned him? We have no contemporary attestation to anything from the 30′s CE from Galilee beyond archaeological finds (coins, epigraphical evidence, etc…). But that does not mean to suggest none existed from the region. Between the Jewish wars, the passing of time, we’re lucky we have anything from the region. This is a weak argument from silence.
  5. If you’re coming ‘into Christian scholarship’ from this position, you’re doing it wrong.
  6. Your argument that “Nobody knew anything about him” is incredible (Fixed!) since we have Gospels and epistles probably dating to the First Century CE. These may not have been accounts of what Jesus said and did, but they certainly demonstrate that a figure of Jesus was well-known to at least some people in the First Century.
  7. If you’re claiming to have ‘dived headfirst’ into the sources, does that mean you have a grasp of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Nabataean, and Hebrew? What about just Greek–since you predominately use Josephus? I suspect that, given your book only has something like 7 footnotes and almost all of them are from Josephus, you haven’t quite managed to take into account all the sources.

Atwill then suggests the following hypothesis so centric to the thesis of his book:

Sometime in the mid 70s AD, Atwill suggests, Greco-Roman intellectuals wrote the now-well-known stories—in Greek, not the popular Aramaic of the Judaic populace—about the Jewish messiah who defied the Judaic traditions of militancy to preach a sweet, accommodationist message.

I’ll break this down too. What the hell.

  1. You’re not using ‘Greco-Roman’ correctly. (You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means)
  2. Greek was commonly used by Jews in antiquity–Josephus, Philo, some of the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, various Jewish pseudepigrapha, the Maccabees (though maybe from a Hebrew original–uncertainty here), Jesus ben Sira (i.e., Sirach), various apocrypha (Tobit, for example–though maybe originally written in Aramaic, more uncertainty here). It depended upon their education and their level of assimilation which anyone familiar with the socio-cultural period of the Hellenistic-Roman periods would be able to explain easily. Atwill clearly has no grasp of these concepts, probably because he didn’t bother reading anything related to this despite his self-acclaimed ‘bookish-ness’.
  3. Jesus’ message in the Gospel is not new or anti-Judaic. In fact, it is quite Jewish (see anything written by James Crossley, for goodness sake).

All in all, Atwill proves he is incapable of taking this subject seriously–his not being a scholar aside, he completely misses the more logical argument to make from the Josephus-Gospel parallelisms, which also happen to be the same arguments made by Steve Mason in his now-famous work on Josephus and the New Testament: that either the Gospel authors or Josephus were using each other as intertextual references (I think it quite obvious that Luke had copies of Josephus, actually–a point Mason glosses over in a paragraph but never admits fully, but also what Richard Carrier argues here).

If you are planning to go see this movie, please, bring a disposable bag so you can properly rid yourself of the dung that undoubtedly will be thrown at you during the presentation.

**UPDATE 10-9-13**

Since this “documentary” first appeared, it seems that Mr. Atwill is again trying to profit off the ignorance of others. Now, self-styled as an ‘American Biblical scholar”, Mr. Atwill is peddling his book of lies and misleading theories to those in the UK. This nonsense does not deserve another post; but I will update this one because it can’t go along unopposed.

First, and let me be clear, nothing Joe Atwill has written is ‘conclusive’. In order for it to be conclusive, it would have to surmount all arguments against it. Unfortunately for him, he fails to grasp even basic knowledge about the subject. For example, he makes the rather bizarre claim that:

“In fact he [Jesus - ed.] may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. Once those sources are all laid bare, there’s simply nothing left.”

Yet this is simply false. The Hebrew Bible is full of fictional literary characters whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. His hyperbole is bizarre. But even so, is Atwill seriously suggesting that fictional stories cannot be written about historical people or events? Wonder Woman is a highly fictionalized and heroicized literary figure inspired by an actual person, the creator’s wife, Elizabeth Marston. Wonder Woman meets Atwill’s classification as a “fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources.”

So it might be argued that maybe he was referring t ancient literature, but even then he is ignorant of basic figures that anyone with a minutiae of Classical education can speak upon. In ancient literature, the figure and legendary king of Sparta, Lycurgus, is entirely mythicized in literature yet may have been a real person (scholarship is split on this). The mythological tale of Gilgamesh, who we have no actual historical information on, is considered to be a historical figure and ancient king by most leading Sumerologists and yet his entire life story is one of our earliest extant written sources and one of our earliest written myths period. The biographies of Plutarch are propagandist fantasies of his about the lives of historical people like Alexander the Great (mixed in with purely fictional figures like Romulus).

This should be enough to make my point; Atwill makes claims that cannot be supported when those with some basic knowledge of the subject explore the claims further. This is a serious flaw in Atwill’s work. He makes claims but doesn’t seem to realize how ridiculous they actually are; it is that scholars find his work “outlandish”. It is just plain wrong. I mean it is still crazy talk, but it is more that his whole premise is wrong.

For example, like all sensationalist crap-dealers, Mr, Atwill claims to have discovered the secret, super-dooper, hidden code in the text. Amazing! I self-proclaimed “Biblical scholar”, with no formal training in the material, has used his magic decoder ring and stumbled upon a code! How clever of him. He states:

Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus [the only surviving first-person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament. “I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts,” he recounts. “Although it’s been recognised by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more. What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus. This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern. The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.”

First, and let me be clear, are there striking similarities between Josephus and the Gospel of Luke? Yes, there are. Steven Mason, a real scholar, has published an entire volume on the subject called Josephus and the New Testament. Richard Carrier has also written on the subject of the parallels between Josephus and Luke-Acts. Joel Watts, an actual student of Biblical Studies who has done graduate work in the field (unlike Mr. Atwill), has written an academically-published book on some interesting mimetic elements between Mark and Josephus.

The difference between what these scholars have written and what Mr. Atwill have written is threefold: (a) all of them have academic training in Greek, (b) all of them published through an academic press (Carrier is the exception, but he has published academically and is qualified on the subject), (c) None of them make the illogical leap that similarities between Josephus (a Jew) and the Gospels (written by Jewish authors) mean that the Romans did it. In fact it is the same misguided leap that some evangelicals make about God. “We don’t know, ergo ‘God did it’.” Instead, all of these scholars agree that the most rational reason for these similarities is that the Gospel authors had copies of Josephus, or Josephus had copies of the Gospels. This sort of interplay of texts is not new in the ancient world.

Second, notwithstanding this damning evidence against him, Atwill’s premise is quite narrowed and simplistic, demonstrating a critical lack of understanding of the cultural dynamics of Judea in the first century.

"Crap...why didn't we just use psychological warfare against these guys?"

“Crap…why didn’t we just use psychological warfare against these guys?”

There exist over 30 Jewish sects that we know of from the first century, and have some basic understanding of their belief structures. There are some dozens more we just know by name. On top of that, we have to conclude there are perhaps dozens, if not hundreds, more Jewish sects of which we simply have no record. What is so interesting is how incredibly different each sect is from each other.

Despite Atwill’s unlearned claim that the Jewish people were expecting a ‘Warrior messiah’, in truth there is no universal version of a messiah. Even among the same sect, over time, the concept of their messiah would change. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, which Mr. Atwill seems to think he knows so well, the language of the messiah and his purpose changes (in fact at one point, we see two distinct messiahs at once–one a priestly messiah and another a kingly messiah). Some sects did not even expect a messiah at all. Any of the numerous works on messianic expectations published in the last two decades utterly annihilates any claim that Atwill is making about some uniformity in Jewish thought and ritual.

Even logically, his analysis is flawed. If this tactic was used against the Jews, why didn’t the Romans use it against an even greater threat: the Gauls?! The Jewish people were never as serious a threat to the Empire as much as the Gauls were–who sacked Rome twice and destroyed Legions. Atwill never seems to consider how basically incompetent his thesis is in this regard. If the Romans had such success against the Jews using this “psychological warfare” (anachronism alert!! Danger! Danger!), why don’t we see this happening against all of their enemies? It is just so beyond absurd. It really is.

Here is the thing; it may be that Mr. Atwill is completely clueless about this. Maybe he isn’t just trying to scam everyone and sell a bunch of books to a group of gullible people. Maybe he legitimately hasn’t read anything relevant on this subject or any recent scholarship on it.

"What?  'The Romans Invented Jesus'?  What a rip off!"

“What? ‘The Romans Invented Jesus’? What a rip off!”

But that is troubling–would you want to read a science book written by a layperson who hasn’t read a single relevant scientific study? Would you pick up a book on engineering written by someone with a background in computer science, and trust that book enough to build a house based upon its designs? I hope not. I sincerely hope that no one would agree to trust either of these books.

This is the issue with Mr. Atwill. He may sincerely believe he has discovered the secret code off a cereal box with his 3-D glasses he found inside; that doesn’t make him an expert in the subject, it doesn’t make him knowledgeable enough to give lectures on it. It certainly does not make him credible.

Mr. Atwill is just like all the other amateur-Scholar-wannabes who refuse to put in the time and effort to earn a degree in the field, who want to advance their pet theories to sell books and dupe you over. He relies on popular media and the ignorance of the layperson to score points rather than publishing in a credible academic journal or publishing academically. He knows he can’t do that, because he has no clue how academics work, how they think, or what they actually argue on the subject. He might as well claim that Jesus lived on Atlantis, which came from Mars. That theory is about as ridiculous as the notion that Rome invented Jesus.

1383588_10151626530695670_1481117204_n

Image courtesy of Steve Caruso.

*UPDATE 10-10-13*

You’ll want to check out some additional take-downs:

(Shameless plug): For an academically published volume on the historicity of Jesus (which does not contain wild conspiracy theories), consisting of essays from scholars all over the world (the first such book of its kind to my knowledge), consider my co-edited volume ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus (Sheffield: Equinox/Acumen, 2012/2013).

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!

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.

Read Also:

Using the Bible to Support ‘Pro-Life’ Arguments

Bob Cargill shared an interesting verse this morning from Genesis 6, which portrays a frustrated god that so regretted his creation (man) that he sent a flood across the world that swallowed all life–all life, except a remnant that could fit on a relatively small ship comparatively (based on the measurements in Genesis, it would translate to roughly 500 feet long; smaller than the Titanic).  But I think that Bob’s apt point is that if God is ‘pro-life’ then why would he wipe it clean?  It is important to recognize that  those who take the genesis account seriously, those who take the biblical narratives literally, must believe that we’re not just talking about grown men and women with exceptional cognitive abilities to choose right from wrong, we’re talking about infants and disabled individuals who can not always make decisions on their own due to their limitations (you know, since babies really can’t decide where they are born or who their parents are, let alone make any sort of vital cognitive decision beyond whether or not to poop themselves).  Not to mention the perhaps thousands of women who might have been pregnant at that exact moment god decided to wash away the sins of the world (by quite literally washing away everything that had the potential to sin).

“Seriously, you’re all going to die.”

I know some may seek to justify this by making the argument that Jesus’ death had changed everything.  His coming signified the change in god’s personality, or so goes the argument.  God no longer orders the taking of women and children as war plunder, the dashing of children on rocks, or giant she-bears to go terrorizing and mauling mischievous children who don’t believe in resurrections.  It’s like god spent a few months at rehab and emerged a changed deity; he’s a gentler, kinder god on a 12-step plan to happiness.  While this is pleasant enough for me (I’m grateful we’re not still stoning people for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, don’t get me wrong), the idea that ‘all life is sacred’ is not really a big part of the biblical narrative.  How can it be?

Bob says it best:

People of faith must put their faith – and the claims made about their faith – in a real, modern context. Rather than rushing to regurgitate some worn out apologetic claiming, “God cannot tolerate evil,” or “It’s not genocide if God does it,” people of faith must consider that the one they consider to be the “objective moral foundation” for all things ethical at one point in history killed everyone on earth because he regretted creating them! Imagine this same death sentence on the world’s population today. It is nothing less than genocide.

Dude has ninja angels.

Taken in broader sweeps, the Hebrew Bible is far from being ‘pro-life’; indeed it is quite the opposite, portraying god as a sort of vengeful, wrathful warlord who demands the ultimate tribulation while single-handedly destroying his enemies.  At some points he even permits (and actually participates in) the massacre of a whole family of his loyalist servant (Job), and while he may have given Job back twice what he had, he still killed dozens of people who did not deserve to die (that little fact often gets glossed over in Sunday School).  Imagine your wife and children slain before you; don’t worry, you’ll get a whole new wife and more children.  Does that make it better?  Does that justify it?  No sane human being could find any justification in such atrocious (and needless) acts of violence.   And I would seek to remind everyone that Matthew is pretty clear that Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10.24)–nor did he come to abolish the law (Matt 5.17; that is, the Torah, and not one iota is to be removed).  The argument commonly made that none of that matters because he fulfilled the law is a non sequitur; he is specifically portrayed to say he did not come to abolish it, and clearly Matthew believed this was true, as he does all he can to situate Jesus as a priestly Moses figure who makes this very claim!

The fact remains, at the end of the day, that using the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament to justify pro-life positions are doomed to fail.  After the bible portrays god as ordering the slaughtering of the first born children of Egypt, any attempt to portray him as someone who cares a great deal about human suffering and human life falls flat on its face.   I’m sorry, but there is no ‘human value’ that god holds dear–only subservience matters to him.  Those who believe are saved (most of the time) and those who do not god deigns them to misery and destruction and torture and death: whether man, woman, child, or those unborn.  It is horrid and obscene.

Anyone who attempts to use the bible to validate their pro-life position is wrong.  Simply put, they need to find a different argument.  I’m not saying I am all for abortion; I’m pro-choice, but I don’t think abortion would be a decision I would support.  But I’m not everyone and I’m not in everyone’s shoes; I’m only in my own.  Objectively, pro-life is unjustified for that very reason, at least that is my opinion.

The Aramaic Blog on Ralph Ellis and his ‘Izas Manu’ Creation

Steve Caruso, over at Aramaic Designs, weighs in on Ralph Ellis’s bizarre understanding of ancient languages.  Caruso is affiliated with Rutgers University, a librarian by training, and a professional Aramaic consultant and translator, he knows his stuff.  Here is a snippet (along with an excellent graphic he made):

I usually don’t discuss new books here on The Aramaic Blog… but sometimes a work inspires something within me that I cannot contain. One of those books is “King Jesus of Edessa” by Ralph Ellis… and what it inspires (in me) is a bad nervous tic.

It’s the conspiracy to end all conspiracies about who the historical Jesus was. Ralph Ellis claims that he was King “Izas Manu” a patchwork figure that he seems to have cobbled together from a half dozen historical figures spanning two kingdoms (which he assumes are the same) and several hundred years.

via The Aramaic Blog: King Jesus of Edessa by Ralph Ellis — Er.. What?.

Give the rest of it a read.  I did not even quote the meaty morsels of his analysis.  You won’t be disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

abgar x

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

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

Abgar X coins

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

1680214

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

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

abgar compare

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

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

abgar coin taken from

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

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

abgar compare 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Theory That Jesus Was King of Edessa? Not So Fast, Mr. Ellis!

Over the past few months–primarily last year–I have had a hand in debunking all sorts of nonsense relating to Jesus and the Bible. When reports appeared online of a new Markan manuscript fragment, I was quick to demonstrate that the fragment was a bad fake. Prior to that, rumors abounded about the importance of several dozen lead codices, but this proved to also be the product of a modern workshop, probably in Jordan, where fake artifacts and tourist trinkets are manufactured for profit–though it seems someone figured they could get more money with them by generating controversy (and it worked). Last year was a rough year for those who want to keep the field safe from pseudoscholars and fake archaeologists peddling sensational material for money, fame, or worse; frankly I’m a bit worn down.

But this year is shaping up to dominate the past few years, so far as sensational discoveries go. I read an article this morning on Yahoo where a man claims to have uncovered the truth about Jesus. Jesus was…wait for it… wait for it…. the prince/king of Edessa! Oh yes. Someone really went there–but not just any ‘someone’:

Following 25 years of research, Ralph Ellis has discovered that Jesus was a prince of Edessa in northern Syria.

That’s right. Though the article says nothing whatsoever about an academic affiliation, credentials, or if this individual has a grasp of the ancient, original languages. So I decided to do a search and I found his Amazon.com bio page. Here is a screen grab:

Ralph Ellis

Here is where it gets a little hairy. Does he have any noteworthy credibility? Well, apparently not. But should that stop him? I mean, it hasn’t stopped the Elkingtons from claiming they have uncovered the original texts of Jesus on lead tablets, it hasn’t stopped Simcha Jacobovici from claiming that he has found Atlantis, and it hasn’t Joe Atwill from claiming that Jesus was invented–along with Josephus–by the Roman Empire as some sort of practical joke against the Jews in an attempt to gain their loyalty and obedience. Hell, even Giorgio Tsoukalos has his own medium on a major network, spreading his ancient alien theories all over the place. I mean, having credentials or being affiliated academically hasn’t stopped these guys–so why should it stop him? Ellis looks on this whole ‘lacking credibility’ bit as an opportunity, in fact. His bio claims that:

Being independent from theological and educational establishments allows Ralph to tread where others do not dare, and it is through this independence that Ralph has discovered so many new biblical and historical truths.

Now, if by treading ‘where others do not dare’–’others’ being, I suspect, those of us (students, professors) with academic affiliations to ‘theological and educational establishments’–he means he has the freedom (or independence) to ‘ speculate wildly on everything and anything related to the history or historicity of the biblical narratives without a need to justify or support the extraordinary claims he is making with evidence and careful research’ then he is correct. He doesn’t have to worry about supporting any claim he makes, or reporting to the head of his department, or worrying about whether he will receive tenure, or what other colleagues will think of him–all he has to worry about is how well his self-published drivel will sell.

He seems to be in good company as his readers often purchase other brilliant classics (note: sarcasm) such as the works of Zecharia Sitchin (the guy that claims the Sumerian annunaki were ancient alien astronauts, so too the biblical nephilim), Acharya S (Jesus was invented by ancient astrotheologists and based upon earlier astrological figures), Joe Atwill (see above), Joseph P. Farrell (published such pivotal works as Roswell and the Reich: The Nazi Connection–‘published’ through a distributor who specializes in this sort of…stuff), Ahmed Osman (an Egyptian-born author who talks a lot about secret histories of Moses and Jesus and the pharaohs), and the list goes on–many are unaffiliated, interested in extreme, fringe theories (with little or no supporting evidence), and who cannot seem to publish through an academic press (for whatever reason).

Then again, Ellis isn’t sure how long he has been studying the subject (25 years, according to the article, or 30 years, per his Amazon.com bio). But don’t let my words influence your opinion, let Ellis’ words prove his worth as a historian. Here is a snippet from his book Jesus, King of Edessa:

ellis2

Yep. Brilliant.

I mean, why not? Because ‘Barabbas’ just can’t be Aramaic for ‘son of the father’, like every other scholar in the world argues (Barabbas = bar abba). Even though his full name is portrayed as ‘Jesus Barabbas’ in some variants as a play on Jesus the ‘son of man’, and has long been thought of as a metaphor for the Leviticus 16 atonement sacrifice for the sins of Israel (with Jesus as the sacrificial goat, while Barabbas is the scape-goat sent off in the wilderness). But what do other scholars with academic attachments (and credentials) know anyway? They have no independence to do real research; amirite, Ellis?

Well, we’re not done yet. The Yahoo.com article goes on to tell us more about all this Jesus of Edessa:

Readers might imagine that the true history of this region might undermine much of the biblical story that the gospel authors have crafted. But in reality the gospels always did say that Jesus was a Nazarene (Mat 2:23) and a king (Luk 23:38), and so this new analysis changes very little in the gospel story.

But that isn’t true, is it? Ellis has cherry-picked his verses without recognizing their significance. After all, Jesus is called a Nazarene because he is portrayed as being from the town of Nazareth (which is why he was called a Nazarene) which is explicitly states in 2:23, “…and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” In other words, it was because he lived in Nazareth that he was called a Nazarene (i.e., that people from Nazareth were ‘Nazarenes’–not people from Edessa), not to be confused with Nazirites (which also appear in the New Testament). Now, maybe this was a pun by Matthew to signify that Jesus was also a Nazirite as well as a Nazorean, but he does not make the appropriate connections (as Luke seems to do later).

Additionally, the use of ‘King’ in Luke 23 is theologically rooted (i.e., Jesus is the King, in the heavenly sense, but used as satire by the Romans, which contradicts the claim made by Ellis). Ellis might have known this had he attended any sort of credible institution (theological or otherwise). The article goes on (unfortunately):

This is a scholarly study of all the available historical evidence, including the Tanakh, Talmud, Josephus Flavius, the Roman historians, and venerable Syriac historians like Moses of Chorene and Yohannes Drasxanakertci.

Well, I guess that settles it. It states it right there, this is a ‘scholarly study’, whereby ‘scholarly’ now means ’25 years of independent study with no credibility and zero accountability’. Man, what a shame that I’m spending all this money on an education when I could have just self-published this whole time!

But there is some concern here with the name he provides for Jesus in Edessa as well. He calls this king Izas Manu, but that is rather bizarre since the king in the first century was Izates (not Izas) and the two names (Jesus and Izates) do not even come from the same language, nor do they mean the same thing. Yeshua (ישוע) is a derivative of the Hebrew word for ‘savior’ or ‘rescuer’ while Izates (ایزد‎) is Persian for ‘divine being’/’god’. Ellis may want to stretch the meaning of Izates to Jesus by suggesting that Jesus was considered ‘god’ or ‘the son of god’ by his followers, but these are superficial correlations, and only useful to those with no grasp of ancient languages. As a friend noted, it would be like trying to compare modern English to Chinese.

And where exactly does ‘Manu’ come from? Josephus doesn’t refer to him as such, and only ever calls him Izates. Does Ellis link ‘Manu’ (or Emmanuel–the name he really wants) with Izates’ father Monobazus II? Is Ellis seriously attempting to link Izates bar Monobazus with a name like ‘Izas Manu’? Because that is what it seems like he has tried to do here. In his “sample article” (which is absolutely atrocious) he writes:

And when tracking the history of that same infant within the many chronicles of Saul-Josephus, it was apparent that he grew up to become Jesus of Gamala, who is also called King Izas of the Adiabene.

Unfortunately he has missed the mark. Who exactly is ‘Saul-Josephus’ anyway? Does he mean Josephus? And by the way, if you’re wondering who ‘Jesus of Gamala’ is, you’re better off not knowing. But if you really want to know, I suppose you can find information on it here. And yes, there was a guy who tried to sue the Catholic Church for ‘covering up’ the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was really Jesus of Gamala. I guess crazy attracts crazy.

Yeah, this is going to be a long year.

UPDATE 3/6/13:

Ralph Ellis has commented and I have responded to his “proofs” (which are nothing more than reciting the same thing over and over again in crazier ways).  You can read my response to his claims here.

Bill O’Reilly and the Polarizing Political Figure of Jesus

It has come to my attention that Bill O’Reilly will be publishing a book on the life and death of Jesus. This news has been making the rounds on the interwebs and of course I’m concerned. It isn’t necessarily because I don’t like O’Reilly, or because I find his views on generally everything to be atrociously flawed and morally questionable, but I am concerned because the last thing we need to happen is a “Which way would Jesus vote?” debate start dominating the conversation about the figure of Jesus.

Of course I’m aware that Jesus is often called upon by various politicians of all affiliations. But politicians most likely use this rhetoric to reflect what popular culture supports and, unfortunately, sites like Rapture Ready (a website for fundamentalist Christians who believe the world will end within their lifetimes) make the following (generally popular) claims about Jesus found in certain wings of evangelical Christianity:

There is one thing certain we can state, based upon the integrity of Bible truth. Jesus would never endorse or be a member of any party whose platform supports abortion, gay rights, and a general hostility to Bible-believing Christians.

Interestingly, Jesus is portrayed to have spoken thousands of words between all four Gospels, yet not one of those words was about abortion or gay rights. What to do about people who are hostile to Bible-believing Christians? Well, it gets a little hairy in this area, but there is that oft-quoted phrase “turn the other cheek.” So I’m not sure how certain anyone can be about endorsements, for or against, for any particular political party.

When it comes down to it, scholars have enough trouble coming to any sort of consensus on what Jesus may have said and what he might have done, let alone what his political views might have been (in some circles, questions are raised as to whether or not such a figure as Jesus existed at all, or if such a figure existed in a way similar to how he is portrayed in the New Testament).

4611

And now that we’re on the subject, I don’t really hate bankers, or what they do, I just don’t want them doing their business in my house!

And the right side of the aisle are not the only culpable ones. While Jesus spoke of social change in theological terms, he was not the liberal, leftist ideologue that some would suggest (like those at Jesus was a Liberal believe). He did not come to bring class equality, he did not come to preach against the corporate state (‘render unto Caesar’ and all that), he did not bring it to ‘the man’ (‘the man’ crucified him). He did not resolve to rid the world of poverty, he only eased their suffering by promising them a better world when they died (of leprosy, of starvation, of a beating by a slave owner, etc…); he never promised the poor freedom from their current, earthly state of poverty-stricken existence.

And while it may shock some of you, on occasion, he got involved in a little saber rattling. Jesus was not portrayed as a pansy. He had his moments of testosterone (can God have testosterone?) fueled rage and sometimes he was pretty blunt about what to do with those who crossed him (“those who are not with me are against me” and “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” and “these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence”).

Many of these verses were used during the inquisition of heretics and during the crusades by those in power to support (theologically) the violent acts they committed. Whether they were right or wrong (wrong, in my opinion) is just demonstrates how that liberal, hippie (not to be confused with ‘hipster’) Jesus with the ‘anti-war’, pacifist attitude is a myth (in John 2.15, Jesus made a whip out of cord and he whipped the crap out of people for goodness sakes!). But it is a myth in the same sense as the conservative, anti-gay, pro-guns Jesus that the right loves so much.

“I’m saving this one lamb from the evil meat-packing corporations! Huzzah!” said Jesus never.

So am I concerned about O’Reilly’s foray into historical Jesus studies? Oh, god yes. I’m terrified. But I’m terrified because of the way lay people and politicians will continue to construe and deconstruct the Jesus we have–even as unstable and contradictory an individual as he may be–and scholarship will continue to remain within a relatively isolated community of experts. In other words, books by the Bill O’Reillys and the Clint Willises (author of Jesus Is Not a Republican) of the world are the only books on Jesus that anyone will read. Because they will be the only books available and accessible.

Besides, broadcasters and talking heads don’t have the facts straight when it comes to their actual jobs (reporting the news). Bill O’Reilly can’t seem to figure out how what causes the tide, so just how well do you think he’ll do getting the historical Jesus right? Keep in mind, scholars can’t even seem to figure it out entirely–and they’ve spent their professional career trying to find answers. I’m betting that O’Reilly will not produce a very accurate picture.

He is already imaging Jesus much like how he views himself, a “beloved and controversial young revolutionary” who is constantly persecuted, but who fights for what that which he believes. It is a stunning pseudo-autobiographical portrayal of Jesus through O’Reilly’s eyes. And had O’Reilly been trained in the field, he would know that George Tyrrell pointed out this troublesome factor of historical Jesus scholarship decades ago. But O’Reilly isn’t a scholar, nor even an educated layman on the subject; he is a pundit on a news network with an agenda (like all politicians and political-pundits). That is precisely the problem.

url

“I should write a book on Jesus… but also on aliens.”

Jesus’ portrayal in the Gospels is multifaceted because we have at least four portrayals. But the nuance of the figure of Jesus is much greater, and so limiting Jesus to particular synchronic values does nothing but narrow his value to everyone. Even as a secular student of history, I can find value there because the study of these nuances is important to all–not conservatives, not liberals, not any particular sectarian group. So this is my plea to everyone: leave Jesus out of politics. You are not salvaging history, you’re destroying the future (of history).

A Little Doodle to Help You Understand the Nativity

Here is a fun little doodle I drew up today.

479774_4991766560316_740963577_n

Also, I’m refraining from making any comments on the historicity of these narratives (suffice it to say, these events probably never happened).

For additional details, however, check out the following:

Zombie Love? Was the Historical Jesus a Zombie?

Anthony Le Donne directed his readers to Scot McKnight’s interesting analysis of the zombie theme in the resurrection narratives of Jesus.  Like Anthony, I was also amused, though there were some fatal flaws with McKnight’s arguments–mainly because he takes a canonical (re: orthodox) approach to Zombies and any True™ Z-fan will tell you that the Zombie motif is far from stable or stagnant.  In fact, the Zombie motif is constantly shifting with the social currents of the time (much like figure of the historical Jesus, actually).

But let us get on with it.  First and foremost, McKnighly lays out his interpretation of the resurrection:

Resurrection is not a natural process, and it is certainly not something that makes one “the living dead.” Jesus’ resurrection was a total physical renewal. On Easter morning, death and corruption were decisively overrun in this single human person, as every cell of Jesus’ body cast off mortality for immortality.

Resurrection, then, is what it looks like when the affects of sin are removed from a human being.

That is fine; I can respect McKnight’s faith in this regard, but then we have to differentiate the physical and spiritual act of sin-cleansing from the actually event of rising from the dead.  They may be linked, but we cannot discount the fact that Jesus shows the wounds of his crucifixion (“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”, Lk 24.39, NIV; cf. Jn 20.20) and even demands his disciples touch them (“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’”, Jn 20.27, NIV… yuck)!

Though it brings me no joy, I bow to the scholarship of Licona:

“[E]ven if Jesus had somehow managed to survive crucifixion, He would not have inspired His disciples to believe that He had been resurrected. Imagine Jesus, half-dead in the tomb. He revives out of a coma and finds Himself afraid in the dark. He places his nail-pierced hands on the very heavy stone blocking His exit and pushes it out of the way. Then, He is met by the guards who say “Where do you think you’re going, Pal?” He answers, “I’m out of this hole.” He then beats up the guards, after which He walks blocks if not miles on pierced and wounded feet in order to find His disciples. Finally, He comes to the house where they are staying and knocks on the door. Peter opens the door and sees Jesus hunched over in his pathetic and mutilated state and says, “Wow! I can’t wait to have a resurrection body just like yours!”

So if the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ death are to be believed, and if Licona is a trustworthy scholar (I leave those two questions to be answered at the discretion of the reader), then we must accept that Jesus actually died and then came back to life in the flesh (according to two Gospels, at least).  We know that in most narratives, Zombies also come back to life after they die and exhibit the same wounds they had at death and experience no pain–like Licona’s risen Jesus model, Zombies are able to perform amazing athletic feats without suffering from the debilitating effects of their afflictions (death), for example they can climb building or chase after cars or leap in the air or even jump out windows and land on their feet (like cats) without once stopping because of the pain.  And they do all this with super strength and super speed, in a primal fashion, which defies all physical and natural laws and order.

McKnight then tries to find an example of Biblical Zombies and decides, to my surprise, that Adam is the best option: “Looking at other stories, the better biblical example of one with zombie-ism was actually Adam. Adam dies, yet he lives.” But this isn’t so at all.  The best other example of Zombie-ism in the Bible is clearly the case of the saints rising from the grave and walking all over Jerusalem like a pack or horde of Zombies on the prowl (for brains or sins or whatever these zombies crave):

“The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Mt 27.51, NIV)

Both Wright and Licona have argued that this happened (because, after all, who would make up a story like this?) so we are left with multiple examples of dead coming to life and roaming around, eating food in some instances, showing signs of exposed wounds (one must wonder in what state the dead saints must have been!), doing amazing feats (walking along roads with no signs of pain from their afflictions).

This is all just from the narrative bits now, but there is also that cannibalism thing that plays a huge role in the Zombie-ism of Jesus’ death and subsequent rising… (“Take and eat; this is my body.”, Mt 26.26-9, NIV) and the blood drinking.  This ritual cannibalism was performed by all those at the table with Jesus.  I mean, that might as well have been right out of the mind of George A. Romero!

I think we must all come to agreement here.  The historical Jesus, had he risen from the dead as described in at least some of the narratives of his resurrection, must have been a Zombie.

Apologies in advance for causing any offense; this is more of a social commentary on scholarship and some of the bizarre historical Jesuses that some scholars have proposed; as well an attempt at a humorous take on how scholarship can go seriously wrong if not done correctly.  A belated Happy Halloween to you!
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 728 other followers

%d bloggers like this: