In Support of Christopher Rollston (and a Reply to T.M. Law)

Today, Jim West published an article on Bible and Interpretation calling upon Emmanuel to do what is right, from a Christian perspective–and he makes some very good points.  Jim Davila wrote a well-thought-out piece in support of Chris Rollston.  James McGrath posted an examination of the marginalization of women in the Bible in a very useful way, and yesterday he also published a nice roundup on the current situation involving Chris Rollston and Emmanuel (specifically Dr. Blowers).  And he shares these apt statements with his readers:

But in this case involving Chris Rollston, a direct contravention of the school’s statement of faith doesn’t seem to be the issue. And so I want to avoid all potential side issues, and focus on one central point: If Chris is wrong about the marginalization of women in the Bible, as those who are seeking to have him disciplined or fired surely think, why not just disagree with him? There are plenty of Christians who agree with him, plenty who disagree, and no classic creed of the Christian churches takes a stance on this issue (not that that should matter to an institution connected with the Stone-Campbell tradition). Nor does the position statement of Emmanuel Christian Seminary as found on their web site takes a stance on this particular matter.

If Emmanuel Christian Seminary has failed to communicate to its students, some of its faculty members, and its board of trustees how to disagree constructively as Christians, and that it is possible to disagree as Christians without punishing, firing , expelling or otherwise using authority in an attempt to silence the person you disagree with, then they have failed to engage in the most fundamental mission of any educational institution, and have failed to live up to their identity as a Christian institution.

An action like this can only ever be self-defeating. For surely if your own stance were self-evidently true, a simple correction or pointing out of the error would be sufficient. Resorting to the use of power and exclusion indicates fear, not confidence. Rest assured that the views you fear will get increasingly more attention as you try to silence those who articulate them.

via In Support of Christopher Rollston.

I was not aware of T.M. Law’s recent comments about it until reading this roundup (can be found here) and that is a little disheartening since Law addresses me directly (I would hope Law would just send me a note directing me to his discussion in the future) but, while I am glad to see he is back to blogging, I am not at all persuaded by his position.  In fact it is a little discouraging.

To be clear, I’m all for ‘toning down rhetoric’ but it seems as though Law is not really up to speed on everything.  Also, and I don’t mean to suggest that Law did not read my article carefully, I do find it a little perplexing that he would make criticisms against me that restate exactly the same things I say as if I never said them (more on that in a moment).  But there are more curious oddities in Law’s presentation of my arguments.

I won’t press the issue, but something that deserves some mention is the apparent condescension throughout his piece.  It appeared (from my point of view) to be dripping through his suggestion that I’m somehow ignorant of confessional institutions (but I will say this is neither true nor demonstrable from my article—even when Law takes snippets of my arguments out of context, my words ring of someone who understands confessional theological institutions quite well; but whatever).

I’m also not quite sure why he writes that, had he been an administrator at Emmanuel, he “wouldn’t answer a blogger to begin with” because (a) I’m not just a blogger, but a student at a research institution who is actively engaging scholarship, (b) my article wasn’t written on a ‘blog’ but in a credible online journal (Bible and Interpretation, though as an Op-Ed piece), and (c) Law is also a blogger and I’m sure that had he felt the urge to press a question, published it in an academic forum, would probably not enjoy being called just ‘a blogger’.  This rhetoric seems out of place in an entry meant to encourage a more level-headed approach to this whole mess.  Maybe it was not meant to offend, but then why bother including it?  I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but I hope that in future correspondence, we can make do without such notions.  So let’s move on to the meat of his arguments (which, again, are difficult to address since where he believed we disagreed or where he calls me ignorant, we’re actually on the same page).

(2) Law argues what everyone knows: confessional institutions have different goals than other (secular) institutions and staff at these confessional facilities work under those goals.  But I’m unclear if Law thinks it acceptable to ignore the tenure process at these institutions because they happen to be faith-based, or if he believes it is acceptable for them to fire tenure professors at will, without any reason or cause because a small fraction of the staff are disturbed by what another member of their faculty wrote publicly?  He expresses concern for Chris Rollston, but doesn’t seem to address this.  He spends all his time telling us about confessional institutions but no time at all addressing the crux of the issue (which is what my article was about): academic integrity and intellectual honesty at these institutions.  The ambiguity of his position is rather bizarre.

(3) Law goes on to suggest that because these institutions function differently:

“As far as legality is concerned, confessional institutions also whistle a different tune to the one heard in the universities. They do not have to pinpoint a specific violation of a specific doctrinal point in order to terminate a faculty member. All they must show is that the employee in question has espoused a view that is contrary to the spirit of the confession. The spirit, not the letter. And even if their legal counsel is not satisfied, there are a host of other options on the table.”

But that is the precise function I’m trying to nail down here.  And this is why I believe that Law could have probably read my article more carefully.  The issue is not whether I understand this function (I blatantly talk about *this very function* in my paper), but why this is acceptable and—more directly—why Rollston is being ‘disciplined’.  Now Law might argue on the side of Emmanuel; that Rollston’s article was ‘contrary to the spirit’ of the school.  But he would be wrong, since the self-appointed(?) representative of Emmanuel, Dr. Blowers (he uses ‘we’ a lot, really likes talking in the first-person-plural), has stated over and over that this is not a heresy case (which is precisely what one would need to show in order for the firing to be legal) and that the goals of Emmanuel are in line with open and free dialogue.  So we have the most senior member of faculty, who is also an administrator at the school and Chair of the Area Chairs, and whose parents were high-level donors to Emmanuel subverting Law’s own argument that “[s]ome…confessional institutions would even consider ‘academic freedom’ just as subversive and dangerous as any form of liberal theology”.

But that is the whole point I’m making!  Emmanuel is sayings one thing and doing another.  And while that may be fine to Law, that is unacceptable to me.  You have someone as prominent as Dr. Blowers making offensive and charged public statements about Chris Rollston who also, very publicly, claiming that ‘disciplinary action’ *will be administered* (his words: “We are looking at disciplinary action” which intimates it is already in-motion).  Again, the issue is not about whether or not I understand these sorts of institutions, but about how some will say they are one thing and do another.

As an aside, Law writes that “[t]hey may in fact receive legal counsel not to talk publicly about what they are doing.” But it is too late for that.  The cat is out of the bag.  I’m in agreement with Jim Davila where he writes:

“The real issues, which I have not yet seen either Professor Blowers or Emmanuel Christian Seminary address, are that, first, an academic at this institution has apparently violated fundamental confidentiality principles by disclosing an ongoing disciplinary case against a colleague to someone not involved in the case and, indeed, apparently someone not at the institution at all. That the improper disclosure went public through a misunderstanding of how Facebook works only exacerbates the breach of confidentiality and illustrates why rules of confidentiality exist in the first place. This is arguably an internal matter for the institution, but given that the issue has gone public, it can hardly be kept quiet now. (If Professor Blowers or Emmanuel College have commented substantively on this and I have missed it, I would be grateful for the link.  Apologizing for accidentally making the breach of confidentiality even more public is not addressing it substantively.)”

I would like to remind the reader that this particular issue has nothing to do with what the ‘general faculty and staff’ at Emmanuel think—this inquisition (which is really what it is, despite what Blowers says) is the result of one man’s agenda and nothing else.  This isn’t a matter of the whole of the faculty coming out against Rollston, but one man who has seemingly taken it upon himself to speak out against, and threaten, his job.  We need to be clear on that.  Maybe behind the scenes there are other happenings, maybe the faculty is split, but they aren’t spouting off unforgivable statements, playing defense, or otherwise splitting hairs about the so-called secular agenda on blogs or public forums like Dr. Blowers has done since this all began.   It is clear to anyone with two eyes and a brain that Dr. Blowers has been on some grand crusade since Rollston’s article was published; until other evidence presents itself, we should keep this in mind.

(4) I am not at all convinced by Law that these institutions are somehow removed from the rest of the academy (at least, that is the impression I get from his blog post).  I do not believe that any accredited institution can simply ‘ignore’ the workings of academia and just go on doing its own thing without wanting to engage it or be a part of it.  All institutions of Higher Ed are inexplicably linked and none (mo matter how much they despise it) can remove themselves from it—James Tabor is absolutely right about this. Students of Emmanuel are future scholars–they will interact with and through the academy.  They will publish papers, join faculty, and move through the tenure process elsewhere.  So it is not at all fair to suggest that institutions like Emmanuel should just get a free pass here because this is ‘how they are’ and if we don’t ‘get them’ tough.

While Law may be correct that their “idea of what defines a “successful education” is different than, say, a research institution like Rutgers, he is wrong if he thinks that such a belief excuses them from academic judgment when they state they seek to provide “a rigorous academic experience” but then back-peddle on that very issue.  That is neither fair to the students who pay money to attend Emmanuel, nor fair to the faculty who are trying to educate their students in the best way they can (and now, finding out, they have to tip toe around for fear of losing their jobs over something they might write—as basic and uncontroversial as it might be).

This, along with point (2), cause me to wonder how anyone can ask “But who is pretending, and what are they pretending?”  I can only presume at this point that Law just is not investigating this issue beyond what must have been a cursory glance through my paper.  Who is pretending?  Emmanuel, Dr. Blowers—they have presented themselves as something they are not (and they continue to do so).

(5) Contrary to law, I was careful with my wording, I was measured and level-headed (not reactionary) to the events that have unfolded.  I was also careful with generalizing; I recognize that many confessional institutions are what they claim to be and get along just fine, and I’m fine with these institutions.  But there are certain confessional institutions which are owed judgment for what can only be called ‘lying’.  My issue is not with ‘confessional institutions’ as a whole, but specifically those which preach from the pulpit one way and when the class leaves the pews, do the exact opposite of what they just preached.

Now far be it for me to belabor the issue, but if Law is saying that these institutions are using words incorrectly, or using words to present themselves as ‘scholarly’ while not really agreeing with the true definitions of those words (‘critical’, ‘tenure’, ‘Christian’, ‘academic’, etc…) then that is a problem.  Because students will pay for what they believe to be a challenging education at Emmanuel, and if Law is correct in his interpretation of confessional institutions that “of what defines a “successful education” is different”, then they need to state that clearly.  They need to be directly honest about their positions on critical scholarship, what they think about the way women are treated in the Bible, how they mean to educate their students on their campus about these matters.  At this point, neither Emmanuel, nor Dr. Blowers (who again continues to speak for the school), has stated anywhere that this is the case.  In fact they have argued the exact opposite of this and have instead pushed forward with the notion that Emmanuel, in line with the Stone-Campbell tradition, is all about challenging their students.

I must reiterate my earlier argument here, as I did in the comments under Dr. Blower’s article: Had this been just an academic disagreement, no one would have blinked an eye towards Dr. Blowers, Emmanuel, or this situation. Academic disagreements happen *all the time* and are the staple of credible, critical scholarship of which Dr. Blowers believes to be so vital to his institution and to himself. And this is, after all, how Dr. Blowers continues to present his defense–this isn’t a censorship, but a disagreement over how Rollston’s article was presented.

But this has not been a simple matter of disagreement, or a friendly sparring match between two colleagues over nuance (which it should have been, by all accounts—Dr. Blowers states that *he* feels that Rollston was unprofessional and irresponsible in his presentation of the marginalization of women, again demonstrating that he is behind the charge and he is speaking for Emmanuel). No, Dr. Blowers may be displeased with Dr. Rollston’s HuffPo article, but he took it from a general disagreement to something much more scandalous. He has threatened a colleague with ‘disciplinary action’ and he did so *in the public forum*! This doesn’t come from the blogosphere but Dr. Blowers himself.

One thing is certain; when someone at an institution uses the editorial “we” (in the sense of “We are looking at disciplinary action in the next few days” – Dr. Blowers) because one scholar doesn’t like what another scholar said–we call that censorship. Maybe at Emmanuel, ‘the church’ comes before all else, including the respect deserved of tenure, or of the many loyal years devoted to the institution by the colleague being ‘disciplined’. But let’s be absolutely clear. Dr. Blowers has stated:

“Within our own Stone-Campbell heritage, Emmanuel has been a “moderate” school, trying to avoid the polarizations of liberal and conservative and providing a healthy environment for students to be challenged in their faith, put through the refiner’s fire of tough questioning, and yet given strong theological and spiritual resources to build for future ministry.”

But one must wonder how threatening the job of the most prominent and well-respected member of faculty at your institution with disciplinary action for putting students “through the refiner’s fire of tough questioning” is in line with that *stated* goal. And one has the right to ask, directly of Dr. Blowers and of Emmanuel itself: what sort of standard is being set when they can so easily disregard the tenure process, can disregard its colleagues, and also, quite directly, their student body in the process?

This is a question that I posed to Dr. Blowers directly last week; and over 3,000 words later, Dr. Blowers has not taken the time to answer it.

Law is correct that we need a measured approach to this, and we must be careful in our engagement of the evidence.  But let’s be real here.  There are ways in which a responsible, respectable institution handles itself.  Emmanuel has, in the course of a few weeks, publicly announced disciplinary action against a tenured faculty member about an article he wrote which was neither against the Stone-Campbell heritage nor out of line with any of the current scholarship (that even Emmanuel states it embraces), has seen its most senior faculty member commence with a public heresy trial (on blogs, in comments, on his Facebook) and then state that is *not what he’s doing* (though it is clear to everyone else).  Then that same faculty member refuses to answer any question relating to the matter—after he had already made the issue public (which isn’t conspiracy, but it may be a scandal), and that I take issue with any of this is…what are Law’s objections exactly?  That this is a result of my misunderstanding of the way confessional institutions do business?  Sorry if I don’t find that particular line of reasoning to be very persuasive.

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Roundup of Biblioblogger Comments on the New Jacobovici Claims

I have collected below a list of snippets from various academics and bibliobloggers on the subject of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici’s ‘discovery’.

ASOR

First and foremost, everyone should check out the scholarly articles on the subject at the ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research) blog.

Eric Meyers writes in his review of the new book on the “discovery”:

The book is truly much ado about nothing and is a sensationalist presentation of data that are familiar to anyone with knowledge of first-century Jerusalem. Nothing in the book “revolutionizes our understanding of Jesus or early Christianity” as the authors and publisher claim, and we may regard this book as yet another in a long list of presentations that misuse not only the Bible but also archaeology.

Christopher Rollston also reviews the the find:

Ultimately, therefore, I would suggest that these are fairly standard, mundane Jerusalem tombs of the Late Second Temple period.  The contents are interesting, but there is nothing that is particularly sensational or unique in these tombs.  I wish that it were different.  After all, it would be quite fascinating to find a tomb that could be said to be “Christian” and to hail from the very century that Christianity arose.

Also check out Rollston’s thorough refutation here.  This is a snippet:

Here are the basic claims of James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici: “Talpiyot Tomb B contained several ossuaries, or bone boxes, two of which were carved with an iconic image and a Greek inscription.  Taken together, the image and the inscription constitute the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.”  They go on and state that these ossuaries “also provide the first evidence in Jerusalem of the people who would later be called ‘Christians.’  In fact, it is possible, maybe even likely, that whoever was buried in this tomb knew Jesus and heard him preach.”

In addition, Tabor and Jacobovici claim that because “Talpiyot Tomb B” is within around two hundred feet of “Talpiyot Tomb A” (the tomb Tabor and Jacobovici have also dubbed the ‘Jesus Family Tomb’), “the new discovery [i.e., Talpiyot Tomb B] increases the likelihood that the ‘Jesus Family Tomb’ is, indeed, the real tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.”  Tabor and Jacobovici also believe that “Jesus of Nazareth was married and had a son named Judah,” something which they have been proposing for several years now.  Tabor and Jacobovici also assume that “both tombs appear to have been part of the property of a wealthy individual possibly Joseph of Arimathea, the man who, according to the gospels, buried Jesus.”

At this juncture, I shall turn to a fairly detailed discussion of both tombs and the contents thereof.  Anticipating my conclusions, I am confident that most scholars will not consider the grand claims of Tabor and Jacobovici to be cogent.  The reason is quite elementary: the conclusions they draw do not follow from the extant evidence.

Jodi Magness fires this volley:

As a professional archaeologist, it pains me to see archaeology hijacked in the service of non-scientific interests, whether they are religious, financial, or other. The comparison to Indiana Jones mentioned in the media reports is unfortunate, as those films misrepresented archaeology as much as they popularized it. Archaeologists are scientists; whatever we find is not our personal property but belongs to (and usually must remain in) the host country. Archaeologists seek to understand the past by studying human material remains (that is, whatever humans manufactured and left behind) through the process of excavation and publication. For this reason, professional archaeologists do not search for objects or treasures such as Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy Grail. Usually these sorts of expeditions are led by amateurs (nonspecialists) or academics who are not archaeologists. Archaeology is a scientific process.

Bob Cargill offers a refreshing take on the ‘fish’ iconography:

The initial thought that came to my mind was the so-called Tomb of Absalom (that we coincidentally discussed today in my “Jerusalem from the Bronze to Digital Age” class at Iowa). The shape of the figure resembles the shape of the Tomb of Absalom in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, which is dated to the 1st C. CE. I suggest that the “round” figure at the top of the ossuary image may be an attempted representation of a lotus flower, not unlike that which Kloner and Zissu state is carved into the top of the Absalom monument. (Kloner A. and Zissu B., 2003. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and The Israel Exploration Society. Jerusalem (in Hebrew), pp. 141-43.) The round figure could certainly be interpreted as an attempt at the petals of a flower.

The Tomb of Absalom may not be the exact inspiration for the image on the ossuary, but it is in line with what Drs. Rahmani, Rollston, and Meyers argue above. And it certainly seems more likely than a “fish” spitting out a “human head.”

And Robin Jensen does not like having her words twisted:

Once I knew how my judgments were going to be used, I persistently tried to get my “handlers” to understand the much later Christian art from Rome is of an entirely different style and content than anything from first-century Palestine. There simply is no significant correlation between them. Because of this, my expertise was totally irrelevant. I know very little about ossuary art and could not possibly verify anything related to their authenticity or their iconography.

Therefore, I absolutely refute any claim that I concur with the interpretation of any first-century ossuary iconography as depicting Jonah. Nor do I believe that “first-century visual evidence of Christian belief in the resurrection” has been discovered to date.

Steven Fine offers his apt take on the ‘discovery’:

The interpretation presented by Professor Tabor is not grounded in the evidence, nor in even the most basic rules of art-historical analysis. The image has nothing to do with Jonah, Jesus, or Judea in the first century. Elsewhere I have referred to this genre of media-driven discoveries as the “DaVinci Codification” of our culture—the presentation of odd and associative thinking previously reserved for novels as “truth” to the general public (http://sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=655). The “Jonah Fish” is just the next installment in the Jesus-archaeology franchise—timed, as always, to proceed a major Christian feast.

I, for one, am wearied by the almost yearly “teaching moment” presented by these types of “discoveries.” I am hopeful, however, that—this time—a forceful and quick display of unanimous dissent by the leading members of the academic community will be taken seriously by the media and the public at large.

Bibliobloggers:

Jim West opines:

It’s just more marketing by the Discovery Channel team of ‘biblical archaeologists’ and here, most pertinently, we all need to remember- neither Tabor nor Jacobovici are archaeologists.  They’re marketers and promoters of their own ideas.  That’s all.

If you want to buy the book (that’s the aim of all the publicity- to get you to buy the book), go ahead.  But I recommend you wait a few weeks.  It’ll end up in the dollar bin soon enough, along with its predecessor.

Also see Jim West’s excellent suggestion that we direct media attention towards ASOR.

Bob Cargill aptly writes:

Fascinating how these stories all hit the wires the same day – Feb 28, 2012 – precisely the same day that Jacobovici’s new book gets released?? And, is it coincidence that said media marketing campaign gets kicked off during the Lenten season just before Easter?

This is nothing more than a coordinated press release to sell a book and promote a forthcoming documentary. There is no new discovery here; this has been known for years.

REMEMBER: don’t watch what Simcha says – you know he’s going to try and sell the public on his latest speculation. Rather, watch what the scholars say – or better yet, watch what the scholars don’t say, and you’ll have your answer.

Antonio Lombatti notes on the iconography itself:

The image found by Jacobovici et al. is not unique at all. Similar representaions have been found on Jewish ossuaries (see Rahmani and Figueras). The one over here was taken randomly from Rahmani’s volume. I’m not convinced that the fish shown in The Jesus Discovery book is a whale eating Jonah. It might be, but I’m skeptic. Much more interesting is the fish-like graffito found on ossuary n. 402 (Figueras) on which there’s also the name ישוע (Jesus).

He more recently discussed the probability that the ‘fish’ isn’t a fish at all, but an amphora.

Rollston Epigraphy (Christopher Rollston’s blog) links to an article Rollston wrote some years ago on the statistics of the so-called family tomb:

This (2006) article is methodological in nature and attempted to put the tomb which Tabor and Jacobovici dubbed (in 2006/07) the “Jesus Family Tomb” in its broader context, hence, I first discussed the nature of prosopographic analysis (i.e., attempts to discern familial relationships between ancient peoples, and then the attempt to connect those with people known from ancient literary sources) and then I turned in earnest to the Talpiyot Tomb.

Paleobabble had this to say:

The man who brought us the error-plagued Jesus family tomb, then the nails from the cross, now claims that he has found a tomb which held the remains of at least some of the disciples of Jesus. Granted, the article at the link is just a preliminary news leak to garner interest for an upcoming press conference where the world will get to see what $imcha has discovered.  Still, this announcement isn’t encouraging. Here’s what we learn that supports the new discovery, at least in part:

  • This cave is nearby the alleged Jesus family tomb (I read in another article that the site is considered pre-70 AD; by whom I don’t know).
  • There is a Jonah and the whale symbol in it (a “Christian symbol” the article notes)
  • An inscription with the word “God” in Greek, the Tetragrammaton (the four-consonant sacred name of God: YHWH), and the word “arise” or “resurrected” in Hebrew
  • Apparently the Tetragrammaton is on an ossuary, something that (according to the article) has never been found on an ossuary. That would suggest a Christian, not a Jewish, burial

My first question was whether the site bears any name of a disciple. If not, why conclude it is connected with them?

Fr Stephen Smuts also has an excellent roundup of the news articles (including a new press release from James Tabor) on the subject and some comments.

Joel Watts offers his take on the subject and links to other bloggers.

Mark Goodacre also posted up some comments:

It is difficult to comment until we know a bit more but no doubt that will be forthcoming.  If there is to be a large website on this find, though, I hope that it will be better researched than the error-riddled Jesus Family Tomb Website (Jesus’ Family Tomb Website: Errors and Inaccuracies, 2007, still on the web five years later).  I’ll be on the look-out.

And in case you missed it, James Tabor published a paper on Bible and Interpretation as well on the subject.

David Meadows over at rogueclassicism suggests the transcription done by Tabor, et al, might be completely wrong:

So as I see it, the inscription is a basic transliterated Latin-Greek commemorative inscription to one Gaius Iunius. But what about that mysterious last line? What I see is ΑΓΒ and one of Tabor’s photos seems to show this very nicely — arguably it’s the clearest line of all of them, but also the most puzzling. Tabor gives all sorts of possibilities, ranging from Greek, to backwards Aramaic, to Hebrew transliteration (he eventually settles on a Hebrew imperative which runs parallel to the hypso suggestion). Perhaps it has merit, but it seems to introduce a rather complicated linguistic scheme unnecessarily. If we are dealing with a simple transliterated Latin-style funerary inscription, we’d expect the inscription to end with some reference to the deceased’s age (annos vixit x). Might we suggest that ΑΓΒ is an abbreviation for A(nnos) 3  B(ixit)?  Or if that Gamma is actually a Pi, A(nnos) 80 B(ixit)?

In other words, from a (rogue)classicist perspective, this pre-destruction-of-the-temple-collection-of-ossuaries is interesting not because of some purported early Christian connection, which is tenuous at best and requires an awful lot of argument to make it sound convincing. Nay rather, this collection of ossuaries is interesting because one of the niches includes the remains (possibly) of an obviously-Roman-named Julia and (apparently) of a Gaius Junius, whose ossuary commemorates him Roman-style with Greek letters.

Richard Carrier also writes on the inscription (which I echo elsewhere) and offers this:

The lesson to learn here is never to trust the media, much less the rumor mill, when claims of an amazing new find like this crop up. Wait for the evidence to actually be presented, for many independent experts to actually analyze it. Then see what survives. Usually, nothing.

Archaeologist Gordon Franz writes on this:

One thing that struck me on the ossuary is the orientation of the “fish.” On all the blogs and news articles I have read, the picture of the “fish” is facing the wrong way. Sometimes it is horizontal, either facing left or right, and made to look like a swimming fish. Or the “fish” has the round ball (“Jonah”, according to Simcha) facing upwards, thus making the “fish” look like a funerary monument. Usually pictures of Absalom’s Pillar are shown to bolster the case for this view. The fact of the matter is that the “fish” is facing down! Please see the picture on page 86, fig. 26 of the book. It is clear enough, but a line drawing of the panel on the ossuary should have been included. So, one must understand the correct orientation of the picture in order to appreciate the discussion of the issue.

My initial impression is that the “fish” looks like an ornamental glass vessel, perhaps a pitcher or flask of some sort. The Ennion vessel found by Prof. Avigad in the Jewish Quarter comes to mind (see page 108 in Discovering Jerusalem). Perhaps some glass expert might suggest a better parallel from this period than the Ennion vessel, but this is worthy of consideration.

‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ is at SBL San Francisco!

My forthcoming collection of essays, edited with Thomas L. Thompson (book details here), is being featured at the Equinox Publishers table at SBL this year!  Here are some pictures provided by the estimable Jim West:

And here is Jim West holding the book! He has a chapter in it, so be sure to pick it up (if only for that reason)!

And here it is among other excellent books (Including Roland Boer's excellent edited volume 'Secularism and Biblical Studies')!

UPDATE 11/20/11: Joel Watts Sent along this photo!

Thanks to Joel for sending this along!

 UPDATE 11/22/11: Barnes and Noble is offering this book for pre-order at a discounted price!  This book is available normally for $115.  B&N is offering it for only $71 for a limited time!  Pick up a copy at this discounted price now before it is too late!  Click the link below:

[link removed when sale stopped]

UPDATE 12/2/11: Unfortunate the sale is over, but you can still get pre-order the book for $76 through The Book Depository.

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.

Where is Jim West Now? Well…

…he’s committing depraved acts as a politician…

The 11-year-old learned scholar who became “mayor for a day” of a Dallas-area city knows what her his first major act in office will be: Renaming part of Main Street for teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.

A temporary sign for “Justin Bieber Way” went up Tuesday during a ceremony in Forney, Texas.

City Manager Brian Brooks says the request came from 11-year-old Caroline Gonzalez the pastor and Baptist, Jim West. She He won a contest meant to get young people interested in municipal government. She He‘s active in student council, recycling and community service projects.

Brooks says city officials weren’t able to reach Bieber to invite him to Forney, which is about 15 miles east of Dallas.

via Texas mayor for day, 11, renames street for Bieber – US news – Weird news – msnbc.com.

The horror!

Reactions to the BBC Report on the Lead Codices

For those who don’t know, the BBC has finally put out an article refuting a story they had published a few months ago on the Lead Codices, and for those of us who have been ‘on the case’ since the beginning, we feel it is about time.  There are some very useful parts to the article.  For example, on the lead codices in general, Kevin Connolly writes:

And they are astonishingly heavy. Some are no larger than a credit card but some are the size of large-format modern paperbacks. The largest that I handled probably weighed 4 or 5kg (about 10lbs).

You can see why the publishing industry was eventually won over by the flexibility and portability of paper.

But that is where the supply of undisputable concrete fact about the collection – which some people refer to as the “Lead Codices” – more or less runs out.

Indeed.  But there are some troubling bits.  I am aware that journalists have to give some consideration to bias and attempt to give a ‘balanced’ report when possible, but why does ‘balanced’ have to mean speculation?

Mysticism and magic swirl in the dark air as Mr. Saeda enlarges on the possibilities he sees in the codices.

They might contain the real story of the destruction of the Jewish Second Temple by the Romans, he says.

Or they could fill the gaps in our knowledge of the early Christian movement. They might even hold the key to universal happiness.

But they don’t give us this; no translations have been released to the public by any authority and nobody knows–least of all Mr. Saeda–what the translations will reveal.  But the translations are irrelevant.  Why?  Because these are fakes.  They are poor fakes at that, and many scholars have already noted the signs of this on their own blogs.

Still, Joe Zias makes an appearance in the article, where he remarks:

The golden rule in archaeology, he says, is simple – when you hear extraordinary claims, ask for extraordinary proof.

Mr Zias says the world of archaeology has changed since Hollywood gave us first Indiana Jones and then the Da Vinci code.

No longer is the archaeologist a nerdy toff with a shovel and a Shorter Oxford Dictionary of Latin. Suddenly he or she, is a swashbuckling figure solving the sinister mysteries of antiquity.

They are still searching for the Holy Grail of course – except that now the Holy Grail is not just the find itself but a story of danger and adventure in the process of searching that secures you a deal for a book or a documentary.

Give the whole article a read, but be sure to come back.  Back now?  Good.  Here are some of the reactions from the academic community on the Biblioblogosphere about the article.

Jim West writes:

The BBC may be slow, but when they finally get around to the topic they do a far better job than the Discovery Channel and the History Channel do!

Jim Davila remarks aptly while echoing my own feelings:

The BBC has known for a long time that the codices are fake. It looks to me as though they are trying to squeeze the last dregs out of the story, while laying the groundwork for eventually correcting it with the truth. They should have done that months ago and their conduct has been reprehensible.

Mark Goodacre chimes in:

One of the disappointing things here is the lack of reference to the earlier article by Robert Pigott, which needs explicit correction. After that article appeared on 29 March, I wrote a friendly email to Robert Pigott (5 April) explaining that the consensus among experts was that the codices were fakes, and offering to point him in the direction of some clear, helpful blog posts and articles by experts. He never replied.  Nevertheless, progress is progress even if it is done in this way by a different writer apparently unaware of previous mistakes.

I suspect more reactions will appear as the story circulates.  As for now, I’d like to direct everyone to my article on Bible and Interpretation as it contains all the details and links about this subject: Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History.

Hate Speech, John Loftus, and Jim West

There has been a conversation (of sorts) over whether or not Jim West’s recent comments are hate speech or if they are just humorous comments taken the wrong way.  I have an interesting perspective on this since I’m somewhere in between the epistemological positions of John Loftus and Jim West.  So let me state my position on this.

First, I know Jim and he doesn’t ‘hate’ much.  Yes, certainly what he says can at times be construed as hateful.  It is certainly provocation at its finest (what better way to prove that angry atheists exist than by riling up a bunch of atheists and making them angry?!).  But atheists have certainly had their share of humorous and often tasteless fun at the expense of Christians.  Let’s be honest here, calling all Christians delusional or suggesting they have a mind disorder, or arguing that churches should be wiped from the earth is just as unwarranted as anything Jim West has said.  I’m as guilty as Jim West in that regard as I’ve said some very tasteless things in my past which, now, I regret.  Ann posted a comment over at James McGrath’s blog about something similar happening over comments Richard Dawkins’ has made.  She writes:

I only point this out because humor and any other finely tuned nuanced comment on the internet can turn ugly in a matter of moments without the benefit of face to face contact. I do not think that adding the category “humor” to one’s post gives enough of a heads-up about whether or not something is humorous or just tasteless.

But she is a little misinformed when she writes:

I also think that these feuds should not be surprising since the biblical literalists will always feud with the biblical non-literalists and biblical literalists will especially feud with atheists.

In fact Jim is not a literalist.  He’s a minimalist.  His stance on the Bible is quite reasonable (and one I happen to agree with as a secular individual).  His stance on the Bible though has nothing at all to do with what is happening between him and Loftus, however.  We need to be sure to remember where are the foci of this discussion.  I can promise you it is not about atheism vs. theism, but what constitutes as satire or humor and what is actually hate speech.  And the lines are quite blurry on both sides.

When Loftus put out his collection ‘The Christian Delusion’ and Dawkin’s put out ‘The God Delusion’ and when atheists sent banners to be flown over the beaches on the 4th of July weekend, what are these but deliberate attempts to provoke the religious communities in this country?  Jim West is just as guilty when it comes to provoking atheists, but that is precisely the point, isn’t it?  In context, lots of things are said on TV or on the radio or in movies which, out of context, would be considered hate speech and provocation.  But they are said within a context and those who get the context understand the humor.  Those like John Loftus, who seems to have a very rocky relationship with Jim, are of course going to read it as something depraved and disturbing.   But John says some rather depraved things as wel about the status of Christians and Christianity as a whole.

I personally don’t see Jim’s comment as hateful, but that might be because I know Jim.  Those who know Jim know he is really only teasing, and he doesn’t really want to see people burn.  Still, perhaps in this charged cultural climate, Jim should be more careful about what he posts on his blog–which is public–and keep these sorts of remarks to those in private correspondence or on a closed list.  Though one must wonder why someone who despises Jim so much would bother reading his blog to begin with; Jim west’s position has always been ‘I post what I want on my blog and if you don’t like it, don’t read it.’  That is fair, as far as I’m concerned.   At the same time, however, there is too great a risk these days for people with thin skins to be offended; these sorts of people shouldn’t be involved in anything where their opinions might be criticized, but while that might be true, they can still file a lawsuit.

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