Joel on McGrath and Mythicism

Joel writes the following:

Tom didn’t like that. He suggests that because McGrath doesn’t believe Thompson and then sees that Thompson is indeed a mythicist that somehow McGrath has failed to read his book.

Here is my problem, however.  The question is about respect for ones own words. If you aren’t reading the arguments in the book, and you fabricate a strawman to attack instead of the actual arguments, you fail as a researcher, as a scholar. I’m not saying James is not competent or that he is in someway a bad scholar (quite the opposite is true), but when you make a claim like ‘what does this point have to do with historicity?’ when clearly Thompson is asking THAT SAME QUESTION about Ehrman’s misreading of his work, then there is a problem there.  Joel continues:

I’m trying not to comment too much on Thompson’s article, finding some personal flaws in it, but it is rather clear that Thompson is a mythicist.

Whether or not Thompson considers himself a mythicist is irrelevant to what McGrath is doing or what I am arguing.  If Thompson writes a book against Q, is his book then a ‘mythicist book’? Or is it a book against the case for Q?  That is the point here. James seems to want to create this false umbrella over Thompson’s The Messiah Myth and label it mythicism. THAT is wrong. That is an example of someone not being true to the sources, not being accurate in their presentation of the data. And if someone just parrots the same mistake, they’re guilty of it too. It has nothing to do about disagreements; it is about being competent as a scholar. Let’s just be clear on that.

Finally, Joel makes this statement:

That’s the problem, ain’t it. Mythicism is being redefined merely as a healthy dose of doubt. I would say that if we are redefining the word, then we should see that it is a healthy dose of the loss of reality…

But this isn’t the case.  I’m not sure Thompson has ever really defined himself as a mythicist.  If anything, it may be that others have hoisted that label upon him, much in the way that others hoisted the label ‘minimalist’ on him decades ago, and he just sort of adopted it.  And that is fine.  All derogatory phrases are, at some point or another, redefined because there is the err of stereotyping and labeling people, while simultaneously fabricating a mythos about them.  And that seems to be what is happening here.

Thompson is no fringe scholar, but it pains me to see James McGrath treating him as if he were, while at the same time ignoring the rather glaring and irresponsible problems with Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist.  In my opinion, Thompson’s work has been far superior to anything that Ehrman has written.  Some may disagree, but frankly, I just don’t care enough to debate it.

People are so quick to jump on the ‘mythicist’ bandwagon anymore, and that is problematic both because it perpetuates stereotypes and stalls any sort of real conversation about the issues–and I’m not talking about historicity, here.  I’m talking about the issues.  Like the value of literary criticism over historical criticism, or the value of the arguments against Q, or arguments over genre criticism, or the function of syncretism, because people are so quick to lump them into categories like ‘parallelomania’ or ‘mythicism’.

And that is what is happening here.  Thompson is explaining, quite directly, that his book The Messiah Myth had nothing to do with the question of historicity.  Even his chapter in our collection of essays doesn’t address the question–it doesn’t bother with it.  Because Thompson finds no use for it.  And neither do I.  And whenever someone talks about it as if it were a book on mythicism, or about historicity, it only proves to me, above all else, that they haven’t read it.  It is as simple as that.

Agnosticism and Jesus and What it Means

Joel Watts recently wrote:

One cannot easily deny their association with a group if they spend all of their time defending the ‘quality’, ‘truth’ claims, or ‘validity’ of said group.

Pick a side, Tom.

via Pick a side, Tom | Unsettled Christianity.

But I refuse to do so.  The only honest position in this whole debate is on the side of doubt and agnosticism.  Does he not know that the reason I am agnostic is because I am not convinced by arguments for historicity?  It just so happens I think that some (please note: some–not all, not most) mythicists have sounder arguments about the state of the evidence (because historicists will often take that evidence for granted).  That doesn’t mean I agree with their conclusion about historicity.  Has Joel never cited a work or spoke praise of an argument from someone whom he didn’t agree with on everything?   Or does he only cite someone with whom he completely agrees with on every point?

I think this is a logical fallacy latent in certain parts of scholarship.   Just because I agree with certain arguments about the status of the evidence does not mean I agree with other conclusions.  I don’t believe all the evidence is in and thus I remain unconvinced that Jesus did not exist.  I also remain unconvinced that Jesus did exist.  Frankly I find the whole question useless and currently unanswerable.

However, I do think that Ehrman makes a ton of mistakes and ignores a lot of relevant scholarship and as a result Carrier comes out looking the better because he doesn’t ignore that scholarship.  I do not like ANY position based in presupposition.  And frankly Carrier is more agnostic about historicity than any other mythicist I know.

Finally, I agree with a lot of historicists on subjects unrelated to historicity (like with mythicists).  I like Crossley’s work, I like Crossan’s work (I really, really love Crossan’s work) and I think that Thomas Brodie’s arguments are outstanding.  And all of these individuals are historicists.  I also find a lot of what James McGrath says to be on the money about the socio-cultural world of second temple Judaism.

So Joel’s assertion that I disagree with historicists is just silly.  I don’t agree with them on historicity–and I don’t agree with mythicists on that point either.  But I have yet to see a historicist make a sound and reasoned argument without drawing on very crappy criteria and old data.  I am hoping that Casey’s forthcoming work is better and more sound and from what I hear it will be.  But Ehrman’s book is anything about good work.

Finally, I am surprised by Joel’s hypocritical suggestion that I ‘pick a side’ since he agrees with me!  He finds the whole question unanswerable and irrelevant (though he believes in a historical Jesus, he argues we can never find that individual).  And I say hypocritical since he sides with tons of historicists and never once makes even a passing agreeable comment about an argument from a mythicist!  if his response is ‘well I just don’t find them convincing’, then he knows why I am not in agreement with historicists currently.  That doesn’t make me a mythicist, however.

Where Have James McGrath and Joel Watts Been Lately?

Fighting off zombies, of course.  See the video of their exploits here:

 

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.

A Dead Liturgical 4-day Giveaway – James R. Davila | Unsettled Christianity

I’m passing this along because I really want this book.  But you should do this anyway; promoting top notch scholarship is quite important since, as Joel notes, there are more books by Joel Olsteen than actual scholars in most public libraries.  Follow these steps to get in the lineup!

1.) Contact your local library and ask them to get a copy of this book in. Note, I cannot and will not actually check on this, so you know, send an email to them or call them or something asking them to get the book.

This is important. Look, I’ll be honest, I won’t know if you don’t, but contacting your local library helps to get scholarship into the library system replacing the likes of Joel Osteen and others whom I know you dislike as well. Putting real scholarship into local libraries is a push for me because I’ve seen what a bad religion/theology section is and I don’t like it. I would rather you contact your county library (or parish) and get them to get a few copies.

2.) Leave a comment – as many comments as you want. Each comment is an entry. That’s right. Leave as many, throughout the month, as you want. Leave one…leave one hundred. No biggie. I don’t care about the substance…

Since some had confusion last time… it could be one word or couple of words in German for all I care. The point of this is to annoy me with pithy or silly comments. You could post the Republican Party platform for all I care or the Libertarian…

3.) The point of this is to get the word out about these books, so post it on your blog for a pingback/trackback. Those count too.

4.) As a side note, if you could, once you’ve read the book, leave a review on Amazon.com or at the very least, your blog.

via A Dead Liturgical 4-day Giveaway – James R. Davila | Unsettled Christianity.

Bibliobloggers and Lead Codices

It seems all this commotion over these lead codices has taken its toll on the Biblioblogging community.  Everyone has snapped.

“It was…it was just too much..” James McGrath spoke to me yesterday, his tone held a mixture of depression and apathy. “I don’t think I can even muster up a good joke about mythicists…”

Joel Watts informed me that his decision to go into ministry was directly a result of the lead codices.  He told me in confidence, “I can’t do this anymore; all this pressure on us to straighten out the media. It’s just not natural, you know?”

Jim West has stopped mowing his lawn (it’s been nearly a week, some sources say) and he has decided to shred his collection (rather large one at that) of overalls.  When I asked him what was the matter, he shrugged, “It’s completely depraved.  I used to mow my lawn for the peace and solitude it brought me.  I could escape the woes of the world, be more in touch with God.”  A tear rolled down his cheek as he smiled and reminisced the good days.  But sorrow took him, “But now I can’t seem to escape these codices!  Everywhere I go, every news source I go to for my daily ‘Totally Depraved’ articles, all of them have something about these derned lead codices!  I can’t find peace anywhere…”

After Jim West sulked away, I ran into a belligerent Mark Goodacre.  At first I thought he might have been mad over the recent Duke loss in the craziness of March Madness.   It soon became clear to me that he was not at all well.  “Mark,” I asked, “What are you doing?”  He quickly informed me through gritting teeth that every undergrad he ran into at Duke would not stop asking him about the codices.  “I can’t escape these pesky students; it is as if they’ve never listened to anything I have said.”  He pushed me aside and stormed off in a hurry, to where I didn’t ask.

Finally I ran into Dan McClellen who I saw rocking uncomfortably back and forth.  “Dan?”  I asked.  He looked up, clearly shaken.  “What is the matter?” I asked.  He looked around in a paranoid fashion, “Wikipedia doesn’t think I’m an expert.  I was discredited by a Wiki editor!  I’m ruined!  I am thinking about dropping out of grad school and running off to some foreign country where no one has the internet.  Maybe there I can start a new life.”  I looked puzzled, of course.  As would anyone!  After all the work Dan has done in exposing the codices, someone should give him a modicum of credit.  I was shocked to hear that his experience in these matters was so easily pushed aside.  “These codices, ” he began, rocking back and forth even faster now, “they’ve completely ruined me!”

I shook my head and started to walk away once more.  And then, I saw Dan shoot off like a rocket towards a small building.  Following closely behind him, I could see Goodacre, Watts, West, McGrath and other bibliobloggers.  In some bizarre twist, all of them had managed to find several brown leather jackets, fedoras, and whips.  And more than one of them had on some khaki Dockers.   As I approached, I realized what had happened.  “We thought, we might as well join them.”  McGrath said, trying his best to imitate Harrison Ford’s smirk.  For the sake of everyone reading this, I snapped a picture.  I don’t know why, but some of the Bibliobloggers had decided to dress as anime characters as well.  They must have really been effected.

Something must be done to stop this madness… or we may all soon end up like them…

Conspiracy Theorists, Legitimate Scholarship, and Lead Tablets

(Updates at the bottom)

The Biblioblog-o-sphere is run amok with talk over the lead tablets recently publicized by sensational media.  (There is also a Wiki page here, though it has not been updated to include today’s new updates, particularly the note from Margaret Barker about her misquotes by the Media) Unfortunately the reports so far have been pretty terrible.  Aside from being generally confusing, vague, and full of false claims (which we shall see below), we have a few people standing tall behind these tablets who, probably, ought to sit down and let the experts handle them.  In this post I wish to address the subject as a whole while engaging with many of the already brilliant posts made by those throughout the Biblioblogging community and also offer some additional thoughts which seem to have been overlooked by many in their analyses.  But first, let’s discuss the main players behind the “discovery”.

David Elkington, though I do not know him personally, seems to me a bit dubious in character (doctorate in what, exactly?).  Perhaps I’m the last person to suggest that an uncredentialed individual can’t bring something useful to the academic table, and I would be a hypocrite if I did.  So don’t get me wrong, that is not my argument.   However his situation is much different than mine.  First, he is labeled as an scholar, expert, and archeologist who has, himself, been portrayed as someone who deciphered the script (“but experts like David have deciphered images, symbols and a few words.. .”) rather than the actual scholars and experts who were sent unclear, foggy pictures of the tablets and of the script.  And none of them are saying much, other than expressing extreme caution and care in how we frame these tablets which is the appropriate measure everyone should be taking.

Second, his background is in art, not history.  He calls himself an Egyptologist…what?   Then someone posted a comment up over at Unsettled Christianity (Joel Watt’s blog) about David Elkington, calling him ‘Paul’ (apparently his real name) and saying he is a “conman” and “needs medical attention.”  I do not know if this is true, since I’ve never met him (and to be frank, I have no desire to meet anyone with an association with the likes of Andrew Collins or Colin Andrews), but I will say that, upon some investigating, I did find that David Elkington and Paul Elkington are one in the same:

Name: (Paul) David Elkington

Email: (Email Removed)

Subject: Graphics

Dates: 1980 – 1983

Date: 17 May, 2004

Comments:

BAA was a real inspiration and I’d love to get back in touch with some of the guys I knew there. It was a whole experience that successfully broke my conformist conditioning, even to the degree of finding myself on a lone streak through Corsham town at dead of night!

I’m now a writer/egyptologist and have a few books out at the moment, but studying at Corsham was a great foundation, even though I didn’t finish the course and left somewhat under a cloud which was later identified as ill-health, now cleared, thank goodness. After leaving I had various jobs in film and TV until I got the ‘egypt’ bug and pursued a new career in the field of ancient history and linguistics. I occasionally saw some of the guys in the years immediately after leaving, but I left the country for a couple of years and I’ve seen no one since returning. I particularly remember my room mate at Church Street, Paul Bridger who was a painter. Paul was best man at my wedding in 1986 – I’d love to get back in touch with him again. We had some extraordinary adventures, but who at Corsham didn’t? (Alas, the marriage didn’t last!) I also remember Cathy Humpries and Sheran Hemmings, also painters, John Woodhouse – a year above me in graphics and Mike Smith from the Corsham DIY shop. Can anybody tell me what happened to Bob Craven lately of ‘The Pack Horse’? I can remember having a temporary job back in 1987 as a gardener. One night there was a call for a gardening team to go to the old Beechfield site and ‘tidy things up’. I wish that I had never gone – it was like the opening to Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: mournful and sad now that it was empty of all presence, an echo of the past. Memory flooded into my skull – it was very upsetting, one really grew very fond of the place! I remember my room mates in my first year, Karen Kinton, ceramics and Anthony Parker, Graphics, from Nottingham. Whatever happened to Kate Luck, our Art History tutor? And Robin Whalley? And Julia Garrett? Tutors all.

I fell in love at Corsham and the feeling of it has never left me, I often raid the memory of it all for ideas in my writing and I am sure that some people out there will recognise themselves as characters in certain of my forthcoming books. Long live Corsham, it was a great privilege and it was a joy.

So to some extent, the poster was correct.  Granted, we must be careful when it comes to anonymous posters since they have intentions of their own, and one can never be certain of that agenda.

Now the other individual, Robert Feather (whom Rogueclassicism rightly points out is metallurgist and not a scholar either), of so-called ‘Holy Lance‘ fame, who is championed in these reports is also portrayed as an expert.  Bob Cargill called Feather out on Bible and Interpretation not too long ago:

Others, like author Robert Feather, have written several books touting the Copper Scroll’s connection to treasures from Egypt. The fact that most scholars have wholly dismissed claims by the Barfields, Golbs, and Feathers of the world has not stopped the latter from publishing books and raking in money from a public more than willing to entertain speculation and sensationalist claims over scholarly consensus and sound academic research.

While Feather might be a great metallurgist, he does not have a background in history (he writes technical manuals).  So the fact that he and Elkington have bizarre, if not outright tragic, beliefs about the past (see Elkington’s odd beliefs here and here) which are more “New Age-y” than real scholarship leads me to automatically wonder on the authenticity of these tablets.  In other words, we’re talking about dilettantes and I’m sure Jim West agrees.

Now, the only thing keeping my interest at all is the involvement of legitimate scholars (like Philip Davies and Margaret Barker) whom I respect; but while Philip has admitted to seeing only pictures and one tablet slab, he is urging caution until a more thorough investigation beyond his (seemingly) cursory involvement–and rightly so.  He writes:

I have seen images and also seen one actual lead sheet. I have said nothing publicly yet, but privately I have said only that I think they are unlikely to be forgeries, but I did not use the word ‘genuine’ because it’s not clear what that would mean.

I do not know what these are are, or exactly how old. Like everyone else, I am waiting to see what further scientific tests show.

I am not so sure I agree with Margaret Barker’s assessment that these are evidence of Christian teachings as early as 33 CE, since that is rather specific for something that has not yet been dated and presented to the Academe.

But that is part of the problem, isn’t it?  There are all these absurd claims being made by the media and it is impossible to know which is true and which is false; we already know Philip Davies was misquoted in one of the earlier press articles as saying the tablets were “genuine”, a statement rather unlike Philip to those of us who have the pleasure of knowing him.  So what can really be gleaned from all of these sensational news articles?

As April DeConick pointed out, there is a lot of confusion here.  An example she uses is the claim to the number of codices found–is it 70 or 20?  But there are so many other discrepancies.  When were these plates discovered?  Was it 5 years ago or 2 years ago?  Is the provenance known or were they found by a Bedouin and kept for years?  Were they smuggled out of Jordan or were they there the whole time?  And what’s up with the code?

That is something odd.  Why is this script in odd forms and code?  And why is there more than one type of script (paleoHebraic and Greek, some have said)?  “Coded script” has meant “spellbook” for many scholars studying magic and mysticism in antiquity, even for early Christians, particularly in the second and third centuries, which raises another problematic aspect of the date of composition given by Barker.  Philip has said there is a “T” shaped cross which he felt was especially “Christian”.  But the cross was not a Christian symbol until, at the earliest possible dating, the second century (Hershel Shanks, one of the individuals who got behind the James ossuary–also proved to be a forgery–actually is less forgiving about the date than I am, suggesting that the cross was not used until the fourth century); it would make no sense for the first Christians to have used the cross as a symbol only to abandon it and then bring it back two hundred years later.  So are these Christian spellbooks from the second century?

And why is it made out of lead?  Lead?  Really?  While some have pointed out the irregularity of lead tablets (April DeConick and David Meadows, as well as others), lead curse tablets are well known to classicists (see also Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World by John G. Gager for Christian examples from the second-sixth centuries; cf. Night’s Black Agents by Daniel Ogden, 138-145, and Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook by Ogden, particularly Ch. 10, 210-226 for a great deal of translated tablets).  Ogden remarks that often in tablets from Egypt and the Near East, even if written in Greek, Hebrew names and words were used, though garbled, as well as images (not unlike those found on other lead tablets).  And these do not have to be curses in a negative sense, but binding spells and prayers have been found on lead slabs as well.  This practice goes back 2400 years.

And what of this supposed talk of resurrections?  I have not read anything from either Philip or Barker of ‘resurrection’ language.  I have to wonder if, these are indeed curse or binding tablets, this language refers to the same sorts of language about the resurrected spirit (rather than a body) which is meant to read the tablets after they cross over.  After all, we know from other lead curse tablets that the spells or prayers are meant to be enacted by those who have crossed over (i.e. ghosts or those from the underworld, or those in heaven or by angels or God, etc…) beyond life.

So is it possible these tablets are not necessarily ‘forged’ (though apparently it is possible that some scholars have already staked their career on them being forged–and Daniel O. McClellan has posted photos of the tablets from the emails which do indeed look to be faked) but are simply being hyped as something they aren’t (i.e. early Christian texts dating to the life of Jesus instead of being lead spellbooks or curse scrolls from late Antiquity)?  I don’t know if either are the case here.  Of course I can only speculate with everyone else since nothing of substance is known.  Even if there are only 20 codices and all of them have several lead tablets in each, the press and those involved have only given the description of perhaps a handful.  So for those who want answers directly, the news is pretty bleak–and bleaker still if there in fact 70 books, since that would greatly increase the amount of information we don’t have.

And of the information we do have, I don’t even think we can say with certainty these are Christian tablets–something I have been saying since the very beginning.  Even with the inclusion of a “T’ symbol and certain messianic images, I’m certain that most scholars (not the rag-tag band of pseudoscholars discussed at the beginning of this article) recognize that these sorts of symbols predate Christianity and there are more sects of Jews from the second temple period than for what we have records (we know of at least 33 sects by name, but there were many, many more we don’t have names for and probably more we don’t even know about).

So it is quite possible that these are easily Jewish rather than Christian, and I’m not so sure that the verdict is easily drawn at all from the evidence.  I highly doubt that the media has more information than the scholars and experts out there, so the seasonal (Easter is around the corner!) drive to promote Christian artifacts is quite strong, it seems, since the first claims made by BBC and others were that these were the “secret writings of the last years of Jesus”–yet Jesus is not even discussed in any of the press releases!  And then there is the claim that these are indeed Christian documents and are probably the earliest yet found!  Again, it’s rubbish.  And unfortunately those most likely to fall prey to these sorts of bogus claims are those without any knowledge of the historical background and information–so everyday laypeople which make up most of the population.

And now on top of that you have the conspiracy of it all, so eloquently pointed out by David Meadows:

Of course, it wouldn’t be for a metallurgist dabbling in a field he seems to have no real credentials in, and once again we are presented with the ‘outsider taking on the establishment’, which the press seems to love so very much.

And it is one that laypeople seem to love as well.  Now add this kook’s crazy story about violence and threats, and you might as well be reading a Dan Brown novel:

I met with British Archeologist David Elkington who heads the British research team investigating the find during early March 2010 and was sworn to secrecy about this discovery and the huge implications that could follow. There is still much more going on behind the scenes than has so far been disclosed. David and his wife, whom I also met had been given armed protection which was the result of both of them being shot at during this investigation and also receiving more death threats. Someone it seems does not want the information on these tablets released.

I must again restate that David/Paul is not an archaeologist.  That aside, this is beyond dubious.  I feel like this is all one big April Fools prank.  When will Philip come out and say “Surprise, I got you!”

In conclusion, I will again stress caution and agree with Larry Hurtado and what he recommends: “Chill, dude.  Take a breath.”  But not only must we be cautious in our speculations and our excitement with this very odd, rather specious find that seems to reflect a tabloid newsreel rather than scholarship, but we must also be careful with our language.  These are not Jesus scrolls, or messianic tablets, or anything really–they’re nothing but inscribed lead tablets until the whole of the Academe can examine and weigh in on them.  They might be elaborate forgeries by two dilettantes or they might be legitimate finds but dated much later than what the dilettantes and newsreels are claiming.

**UPDATE 4/1/11**

The email from Peter Thonemann, posted over at Daniel O. McClellan’s blog is indeed authentic.  This severely hurts the case for the tablets authenticity and makes Elkington look even more suspect.

Also Margaret Barker responds to my inquiry about her statements about the tablets here.

** UPDATE 4/4/11 **

I have posted a new roundup from the weekend, including picture-comparisons from where some of the images on the tablets might have come.  I believe we can now say that the tablets we have been allowed to see are indeed fakes.

 

Why We Can’t Invite Joel Watts Over for Dinner

It’s not the Apocalypse, it’s the Pacific Ring of Fire >> Unsettled Christianity

Well said, Joel.  Well said.

Before the dilettantes (the real ones and not the people which we disagree with) react to the earthquake and try to draw comparisons between it and the mini-Apocalypse in Matthew 25, let me just, you know, draw a picture for you…

Cough, cough… start with Haiti, then Chili, New Zealand and… Japan.

Before you go start assuming that we are at the end of the world, remember, this happens and has happened throughout history.

Oh wait, some dilettante already has. If only he knew what current scholarship has already said about the Mayan calender and how we have mistranslated it, missing the mark by about 300 to 400 years.

via It’s not the Apocalypse, it’s the Pacific Ring of Fire | Unsettled Christianity.

Those Bibliobloggers Must Have Been Hungry…

What happens when Bibliobloggers get hungry?  Well, just look what Joel Watts, Jim West, and Mark Goodacre were caught doing:

Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but that doesn’t mean you should break into a school to get it.

Four men have been arrested after they were caught roaming the halls of John Ferguson High School in Miami with some interesting stolen loot.

Along with a computer and an iPod headset, the men were also carrying two trays of French toast.

Delicious choice, but bad execution.

Edel Garcia, 21, Jonathan Alexander Swadener, 18, and 20-year-olds Steven Fabian Gonzalez and Omar Antonio Jiminez were caught early Monday morning after they tripped silent alarms at the school, police said.

Police believe the bandits would have stolen more if not for speedy response and the crooks’ cavalier approach.

The group is charged with burglary, and they can kiss their choices to satisfy their appetites goodbye in jail.

via Burglars rob high school of computer, French toast – U.S. news – Weird news – msnbc.com.

Good job.  Do any of you know shame?  ;-)

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