Books to Review

And I have a plethora.

Seriously, though, I do have a lot of them.  I am in the midst of reviewing some I have already started on this blog (but haven’t found the time to finish) and I have a handful I just received that I plan to review this month.  Here is the stack I have waiting for me:

Since I am anxious to start the review process, let me give some first impressions of these books (in the order they are listed in the picture):

Thomas Brodie’s new memoir is interesting.  My first impressions were somewhat skewed in two directions prior to even seeing the book: (1) Richard Carrier’s not-so-positive review and (2) my great respect and admiration for Brodie’s work over the past few decades.   But I’m not at all impressed with Carrier’s review as I feel it takes the genre of Brodie’s work for granted.  Brodie is not writing a ‘mythicist book’, but a memoir about his life, his discoveries, the directions he has taken with his scholarship, and the direction that his scholarship has taken him.  As someone who has read (and enjoyed) the memoir of another Irish Catholic New Testament scholar (John Dominic Crossan’s, A Long Way from Tipperary), Brodie’s book fits perfectly within such a category and shines, in my humble opinion.  The first few chapters I’ve read demonstrate his struggle with the question of Jesus’ historicity through his time in the ministry, living in different parts of the world trying to teach the New Testament critically as a devout Catholic theologian and as a trained historian.  In many ways I’m sympathetic to Brodie’s positions–not because I think Jesus is a fiction, but because I find his reasoning to be justified within the framework of his career as an expert in literary criticism, as someone tested within the field of New Testament.  He could not have reached this conclusion lightly and therefore I am sympathetic, even if I disagree with the strength of his premise (i.e., Jesus never existed).  But I still have more to read and so I will continue to review it as I can find the time.

Mark Goodacre’s work is always a pleasure to read.  It always engages you critically and tends to have a Cartesian quality that challenges those long-held presuppositions of a text about which you never knew you had.  When I first read his Case Against Q, I was instantly persuaded (though, admittedly, I did already have my doubts about Q for some time).  With the Gospel of Thomas, I likewise started from a position of doubt; that is to say, I suspected that the author of Thomas had a familiarity with the synoptics.  Mark Goodacre’s new book does not strengthen my suspicions as much as it forces me to interact intellectually with them.  Thomas and the Gospels takes all my inclinations and lays them out for me to see, with a range of textual criticism and analysis for which Mark Goodacre is known.  He presents each argument, thus far that I’ve seen, with the intent of demonstrating the familiarity he argues for, rather than simply restating his premise over and over as I’ve seen in so many other studies on Thomas.  I anticipate that I will continue to enjoy this volume and the functionally-useful arguments that Goodacre gives throughout.  I can’t wait to continue reading this one!

Candida Moss’s new book The Myth of Persecution looks extremely promising, conceptually.  I hesitate to speak more about it yet because I am participating in a blog tour for this book in March and would much rather share my thoughts on it then.  However, I will say this is on a subject I have blogged about recently.

cpcisChanging Perspectives is a relatively new project under the Copenhagen International Seminar Series.  The goal of this project is to “publish volumes of collected essays and research articles, which have had a significant effect on the methods and scholarly research of its author as well as on the field of Old Testament and its related disciplines in the course of the last 50 years.”  I have received two volumes of the four to review: Thomas Thompson’s volume and Niels Peter Lemche’s volume.  I am confident in saying that both of these volumes are must-owns for anyone who wants to do serious scholarship in the field of Old Testament and literary criticism.  They are exceptionally important.  Some of the articles are known to me through my years of dialog with Thomas, who has on occasion directed me to them prior to the publication of this book.  However, some are new to me and many of which I would have to order through inter-library loan or pay to get my hands on them.  Thankfully, having them in this volume solves all of that as I can easily reference a particular argument, especially over stages of its development, which is very helpful.  I also learned something about NP Lemche that I had not known: he has a history of being a non-minimalist!  Who knew?!  I didn’t.  But now I do!  Thus we see the evolution of his critical mind in action from the 1980’s (where we see a more conservative Lemche) into the present (into the minimalist we all–well, most of us anyway; the smart ones–love).  I cannot recommend these two volumes enough and would quite enjoy reviewing Philip Davies’ forthcoming volume as well as John Van Seters’ volume, so long as Acumen is feeling generous enough.

Paul and Jesus by James Tabor looks to be a thought-provoking book.  I should preface this short introductory review with the fact that James and I do not always see eye-to-eye, but I like him as a person and find him to be a very serious scholar.  And I see both of those attributes reflected in his new tome on Paul.  I also see some not-so-distant (yet still faded) reflections of Hyam Maccoby and Gerd Lüdemann, along with Bultmann in this hypothesis.  The idea that Paul is really the man behind the movement of Christianity, rather than Jesus, is not new in and of itself.  In fact I would agree with this argument, as it seems that Paul’s theological foundation has played a pivotal role in the early Christian movement.  I won’t say much more until I’ve completed the book, but I do believe this title is worth every New Testament scholar’s consideration, as Tabor presents some challenging arguments that must be dealt with in new ways (as the old ways simply do not cut it, as Tabor demonstrates), even if his premise does not convince a whole lot of people (though particularly those in the more conservative wings of scholarship will find his reconstruction of the early Christian movement unpalatable).

Finally, we come to it at last.  But what exactly it is… Well, I am just not sure.   I get the feeling that Douglas Templeton is trying to do something very, shall we say, flamboyant with the literature, make it burst forth from the pages as would a description of a novel as explained by Derrida.  I’m just not sure what is going on and the volume comes across as very pop-culture-meets-anecdotal-meetup-group-esque.  I want to like this book, but it is so weird I just can’t begin to get attached to the discussion (that is, when I find it).  Honestly, I don’t think I have a firm enough grasp on the functionality of the book, if there is such a thing, to appreciate it.  Someone, I’m sure, will love it.  That certain ‘someone’ just isn’t me.

More on the Predisposition to Find Links to Christianity in Talpiot

Thanks to David Meadows for the nudge in this direction.  Following up on Mark Goodacre’s excellent post on Simcha’s predisposition to locate any link whatsoever to Jesus or Christianity, this video has earmarks which might prove to be more nails in the coffin ossuary on this subject.

Now some screen grabs:

Ossuaries 2-4 in Talpiot B

Ossuary 5 (The supposed 'resurrection' ossuary)

Close-up Detail on Ossuary 2

Now listen carefully to the 4-6 minute marks.  Here is the important bit:

“Although we found ourselves in the wrong tomb, perhaps these finely crafted ossuaries so close to the Talpiot tomb are somehow connected to Jesus or his followers.”

Silliness.  But it is evidence that there not only was predisposition to locate evidence linking it to Jesus and Christianity, but also evidence (via Goodacre and Meadows’ various posts on the footage from 2007) which suggests that there was a presupposition to find a fish.

I also wonder if some of these photos on the website were from 2007 and not from this recent investigation.

New Roundup on the ‘Jesus Discovery’ (AKA the ‘Jonah and the Whale’ ossuary)

Since my last roundup, much has transpired.

It seems that there were some predispositions towards finding ‘Jonah and the Whale’ on an ossuary.  Both Mark Goodacre and David Meadows (via Goodacre) found evidence of this and have posted some compelling information.  If this is the case, one should not be so surprised by the ‘discovery’ of precisely what Simcha and his team were looking for.

Most absurd is Simcha’s claim that “NOBODY has been able to poke a hole into our reasoning or our facts or our methodology or our reporting.”  How about Mark Goodacre for starters (and as he points out, these mistakes still remain on the website today)?  And while we’re at it, Antonio Lombatti reports that Oded Golan was dishonest (*gasps and collapses under the weight of the shock*) about Rahmani’s impression of the James ossuary inscription.  Jim West points out the obvious errors in the connection of the tomb to Joseph of Arimathea.  But I also highly recommend Christopher Rollston’s critique of these claims as well.  And James McGrath has quite a lot to say about the subject as well.

But the problems of both tombs don’t start or stop here.  Bob Cargill and I spent a lot of time analyzing the photos and it is pretty clear that there are cases of digital manipulation.  We both agree that it is likely part of the ancient ‘vase-motif’.  In this regard we also both agree with Antonio Lombatti that the type of vase represented in the image doesn’t matter quite as much (though I certainly feel as though it is an unguentarium).

In other news, but related, the date has (finally) been scheduled for a verdict in the case of Oded Golan (whether or not he is dealing in illegal antiquities trade and his connection to the James ossuary).

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’.


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 ( 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.


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.

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.

Why the Criterion of Embarrassment is Inadequate

This is precise my point and one I have said over and over.  This is why the criterion of embarrassment fails to meet even a cursory examination.  I thank Mark Goodacre for highlighting it so well, and so concisely:

I am writing a piece at the moment on the criterion of multiple attestation in Historical Jesus research and I came across this nice piece of wisdom in a quotation in an article by John Lyons:

“I can’t help thinking that one cancels out the other. If everyone, Q, an independent Thomas, Mark, Matthew, Luke all have this same material, who is embarrassed about it? The multiple attestation is itself an argument against embarrassment” (W. J. Lyons, “A Prophet Is Rejected in His Home Town (Mark 6.4 and Parallels): A Study in the Methodological (In)Consistency of the Jesus Seminar”, JSHJ 6 (2008): 59-84 (79).

It turns out that it’s something I once said here on the NT Blog while I was reflecting on an SBL session that used the criteria of multiple attestation and embarrassment side by side. I am grateful to John for drawing attention to the passing comment (and, incidentally, for his article, which is an excellent discussion of the problems with the way that the Jesus seminar uses Historical Jesus criteria) because I think there may be something in it.

What other area of the humanities would manage to come up with something so counter-intuitive as criteria that apparently contradict one another? When we are embarrassed about something, do we keep repeating the information? If members of the early church were seriously embarrassed about John’s baptism of Jesus, for example, why did they keep repeating it, even celebrating it? Would multiple witnesses really begin their accounts of the “good news” by trumpeting something they all found embarrassing?

If a tradition is multiply attested, it is a tradition that on some level the evangelists were proud to repeat. When they were embarrassed about things, they could easily omit them.

via NT Blog.

To quote Richard Carrier on the same subject:

The Criterion of Embarrassment : “Since Christian authors would not invent anything that would embarrass them, anything embarrassing in the tradition must be true.”

Major Premise 1: Christians would not invent anything that would embarrass them.
Minor Premise 1: The crucifixion of Jesus would embarrass Christians.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, Christians did not invent the crucifixion of Jesus.

Major Premise 2: A report is either invented or it is true.
Minor Premise 2 (= Conclusion 1): The crucifixion of Jesus was not invented.
Conclusion 2: Therefore, the crucifixion of Jesus is true.

Another way to test rules of inference is to try them out on contrary cases. For example:

Major Premise 1: Cybeleans would not invent anything that would embarrass them.
Minor Premise 1: The castration of Attis would embarrass Cybeleans.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, Cybeleans did not invent the castration of Attis.

Major Premise 2: A report is either invented or it is true.
Minor Premise 2 (= Conclusion 1): The castration of Attis was not invented.
Conclusion 2: Therefore, the castration of Attis is true.

RESULT: This is obviously not a credible conclusion. We have no good reason to believe there was ever an actual Attis who was castrated and it is commonly assumed the story was invented for some particular symbolic reason. The same, then, could be true of the crucifixion of Jesus. Tacitus reports that the castration of Attis was indeed embarrassing (it is grounds for his disgust at the religion), yet the castration of Attis is not a credible story, therefore the criterion of embarrassment is in some manner fallacious.

An example within the Christian tradition is the astonishing stupidity of the Disciples, especially in the earliest Gospel of Mark. Their depiction is in fact so unrealistic it isn’t credible (real people don’t act like that), which means Mark (or his sources) invented that detail despite its potential embarrassment. Hence the flaw in the criterion of embarrassment is in assuming that historical truth is the only factor that can overcome the potential embarrassment of some reported detail, when in fact moral or doctrinal or symbolic truth can also override such concerns.

For example, Dennis MacDonald argues this attribute emulates the equallyunrealistic stupidity of the crew of Odysseus and thus stands as a marker of the same things that their stupidity represented. That may be true. But I also argue it furthers a literary theme found throughout Mark of the Reversal of Expectation.2 Thus everything that seems embarrassing in Mark might be an intentional fabrication meant to convey a lesson. Mark echoes the gospel theme that “the least shall be first” in his construction of all his stories: although Jesus tells Simon Peter he must take up the cross and follow him, Simon the Cyrenean does this instead; although the pillars James and John debate who will sit at Jesus’ right and left at the end, instead two nameless thieves sit at his right and left at the end; although the lofty male Disciples flee and abandon Jesus, the lowly female followers remain faithful, and as a result the least are the first to discover that Christ is risen; and while Mark begins his Gospel with the “good news” of the “voice crying out” of the lone man who boldly came forward as a “messenger who will prepare our way,” he ends his Gospel with several women, fleeing in fear and silence, and not delivering the good news, exactly the opposite of how his book began. So since details that seem embarrassing in Mark might serve his literary intentions, we can’t be certain they’re true.

This final example exposes the importance of testing criteria by comparing them with alternative theories of the evidence. You must ask yourself, what if I’m wrong? What  other reasons might Christians have for inventing potentially embarrassing stories? And how do those reasons compare with the theory that they reported embarrassing stories because they were true? Bayes’ Theorem suits exactly such an analysis.

Simcha and Goodacre on the Crucifixion Nails of Jesus

Joe Zias was goodly enough to post that Simcha Jacobovici had posted up an article on James Tabor’s blog in response to the critics (really, those ‘critiques’ are the actual academic response to his sensational ‘find’ of the ‘crucifixion nails’ of Jesus.)  You can read Simcha’s response (if you are feeling particularly masochistic or if you feel like throwing up a little in your mouth) here.

Mark Goodacre wrote up a reply on the Biblical Studies message board (cited with permission) in response to this which I feel is quite astute as it is erudite (and polite–more polite than it should be):

Simcha’s response (now published on James Tabor’s blog) illustrates
something quite interesting about strategy, to my regret. Although he
spends much of the essay berating the ad hominem nature of the attacks on
him, the fact is that on this occasion he *has* posted a detailed response
to his critics. And this is the frustration: those of us who have, in the
past, engaged in a kind of patient, calm, detailed response to his claims
have been ignored. It is only now that abuse and ridicule have been
directed towards him that he has responded. To illustrate further: I
listed seventeen errors and inaccuracies on the “Jesus Family Tomb website”
over four years ago on my blog. From time to time, I draw attention again
to the list. They include serious, egregious errors, nonsense,
misstatements and so on. To this day (and I checked again last night),
every single one of them is still there on the site.

I say this with regret because I share that naive belief that academics
sometimes have that non-academics might respond to correct errors when they
are pointed out in a patient and friendly way. Sadly, and on repeated
occasions, this is not the case.


So true, Mark.  SO true.

Must-Read Additional Links:

Quote of the Day – Mark Goodacre

I was explaining to Mark that I had recently been asked to reinput Greek text from the unicode (which I had supplied) to SPIonic because this individual could not see the unicode script.  For those who don’t know, SPIonic is a Greek font that was put out by SBL’s publishing wing (now defunct) known as Scholars Press (hence the ‘SP’), but this was over 12 years ago.  It can still be obtained (for free, though God knows why anyone would want it, here).

Here is Gal. 4.8-9 in SPIonic:

Alla_ to/te me\n ou0k ei0do/tej qeo\n e0douleu/sate toi=j fu/sei mh\ ou]sin qeoi=j: nu=n de\ gno/ntej qeo/n, ma~llon de\ gnwsqe/ntej u9po\ qeou=, pw~j e0pistre/fete pa&lin e0pi\ ta_ a)sqenh= kai\ ptwxa_ stoixei=a oi[j pa&lin a!nwqen douleu/ein qe/lete

And here it is in unicode:

Ἀλλὰ τότε μὲν οὐκ εἰδότες θεὸν ἐδουλεύσατε τοῖς φύσει μὴ οὖσι θεοῖς νῦν δὲ γνὸντες θεόν, μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ, πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχα στοιχεῖα, οἶς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεῦσαι θέλετε

If you cannot see the Greek text (should resemble the unicode above, but look slightly different in style) and only see a bunch of garbled words, that is because (a) you don’t have the font (follow the link above to obtain it, and do so at your own risk to your sanity) and (b) because it is a pain to use and completely unruly.  Unicode works so much better overall and is much more useful.   I was explaining my frustration towards this, to which Mark replied:

 SPIonic is a nightmare….  It’s like being asked to take something from a flashdrive and transfer it to VHS!

So true.  So true.

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…

Lead Codices Updates from Margaret Barker and Philip Davies

Some new emails have come in and I’d like to share them with everyone.  Margaret Barker wrote me this morning with some additional clarification to her previous email which I will post here in its entirety.  I do not believe she has been made aware of the email discussed over at Daniel McClellan’s blog along with the bronze vs. lead plates which look identical, so I sent her a followup with some discussions and links and look forward to hearing back from her.  Here is her email:

I have just read someone quoting yr blog, and what comes over is not what I intended. This was my fault for being so brief.

No known Xn iconography from the first generation is a fact, but there are verbal images which give a good idea what any Xn iconography wd have been.   There is plenty in the lead codices that corresponds to the verbal imagery of the first Christians: they are sealed books for a start, the overall theme of Revelation; there are palm branches; seven branched lamps; patterns of eight pointed ‘stars’  or similar;  and other images that cannot be identified with certainty.   I will not add to the current speculation.

Sorry about this


I believe her last line is most relevant, of course.  I think we all need to be watchful of such things.  I think we need to also be careful that we don’t rush to any hasty conclusions about them (not the least of which because they appear to be fakes after all); especially which where the symbols and imagery are concerned.  Joe Hoffmann remarked in an email:

I fail to see how the iconography will be dispositive for an early date since these would then need to be the earliest known, sine qua non, examples of the images.  So, Huh?  Everyone backing away from preliminary hasty judgements does not bode well for the profession!

Mark Goodacre also brings news from Philip Davies.  Mark left a comment on my blog earlier this morning with the following important information:

I mentioned the Thonemann analysis to Philip Davies over on the Biblical-Studies list and he replied, “Many thanks – I had tried to read ‘Alexander’ but was frustrated by the confusion of letters. This makes very good sense. What is disturbing is that I was not told of this deciphering. But it adds to some evidence I am collating that some at least of these are pretty modern, after all.”

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