Khirbet et-Tannur: A New Approach

Be sure to check out the fascinating work being done by Cale Staley, a graduate student in Religious Studies at the University of Iowa working in Digital Humanities research. He digs at Tel Azekah in Israel and is doing much of the modeling on Iowa’s Digi-Tel Azekah archaeological model.

Above, he has modeled the Nabataean temple at Khirbet et-Tannur, located in Wadi Hasa built atop Jebel Tannur, about 70km north of Petra.

Larry Hurtado Provides an Excellent Summary of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Results in Harvard Theological Review

The so-called

The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, a Coptic papyrus fragment whose authenticity is in dispute. Harvard Theological Review has recently dedicated an entire issue to the issue of the fragment’s authenticity.

Please make note of Dr. Larry Hurtado’s post, entitled, “Jesus’ Wife” Articles in HTR: Initial Thoughts“, which provides an excellent summary of the recent tests published in Harvard Theological Review.

Do read his post. I’ll provide a few snippets from his post here, specifically those concerning the scientific results, and one summarizing what this all means.

On the scientific tests:

As for the scientific tests, those on the ink produced results consistent with the item being old, not modern.  The two radio-carbon tests, however, are both a bit puzzling and interesting.  The proposed dates of the two tests are out from each other by several hundred years.  The one report (by Hodgins) notes the curious date-result (405-350 BCE and/or 307-209 BCE), about a thousand years earlier than the date from the other carbon-dating test (659-969 CE), and Hodgins suggests some kind of contamination of the sample.  But I’d assume that a contamination would come from something later than the ancient setting, and so skew the date later, not earlier.

Note that in Gregory Hodgins‘ report, the AMS radiocarbon results read:

Accelerated Mass Spectrometry Radiocarbon Determination of Papyrus Samples
Gregory Hodgins,
NSF Arizona AMS Laboratory, University of Arizona

AA-101793
Sample Gospel of John  (for comparison purposes)
δ13C −9.2‰
Fraction of modern carbon: 0.8568±0.0033
Uncalibrated Radiocarbon Age: 1242±31 14C yrs BP
95.4% Calibrated age ranges: 681 cal c.e. to 877 cal c.e.

AA-101794
Gospel of Jesus’s Wife
δ13C −14.3‰
Fraction of modern carbon: 0.7526±0.0035
Uncalibrated Radiocarbon Age: 2283±37 14C yrs BP (before present) 2 sigma,
95.4% Calibrated age ranges: 405 cal b.c.e. to 350 cal b.c.e., OR
95.4% Calibrated age ranges: 307 cal b.c.e. to 209 cal b.c.e.

Thus, the calibrated AND uncalibrated ranges place the sample to 400-200 yrs BCE.

Note that Dr. Hurtado also points out Dr. King’s note on the later, less ancient dating of the fragment.

To come to Prof. King’s article (the main piece in the issue), I think she takes a careful line, seeking to defend her view that the item on balance seems authentic, but trying to take account of data that require some modification of her earlier judgements, and granting in the end that complete certainty is not possible.  Prominent in the modifications of her earlier view is the intriguing statement in the appended note at the end of the article that the carbon-dating (taking the dating by Tuross) now seems to demand a date sometime in the 8th century CE (not the 4th/5th century CE dating in her earlier paper).  As she notes, this takes us well into the Islamic period of Egypt, and so raises the question of whether, in fact, the fragment might reflect in some way the influence of Islamic ideas about Jesus.

And what does this all mean? Hurtado states:

Certainly, as Prof. King has rather consistently emphasized all along, whatever the date and provenance of the item, it has absolutely no significance whatsoever for “historical Jesus” studiesContrary to some of the sensationalized news stories, that is, the fragment has no import for the question of whether Jesus was married.

I’d also draw your attention to Dr. Leo Depuydt’s rebuttal, which was first outlined at Dr. Mark Goodacre’s blog here.

The fact is, the results of the scientific tests are highly inconclusive, and even if the ink and the papyrus are “ancient”, the dates on the scientific tests range from a period from centuries before the time of Christ, written by a poorly trained scribe with a bad hand, all the way to a period “well into the Islamic period of Egypt”, raising “the question of whether, in fact, the fragment might reflect in some way the influence of Islamic ideas about Jesus.”

Add this to the possibility that a forger scraped ink from an ancient inkwell (these things exist – see the final paragraphs of Dr. Jim Davila’s post here) and rehydrated the ink, and wrote it on an ancient fragment of papyrus from a different period, copying onto it text from a pdf of the Gospel of Thomas available online, which preserved errors present in the pdf. (See Francis Watson’s article on Dr. Goodacre’s site.)

See also Dr. Chris Rollston’s post about this process, especially where he states:

Also, it is also possible for someone to scrape off (e.g., from a papyrus) ancient ink from the words of some mundane ancient inscription….and then add a little water to the dried ink which had been scrapped off and then resuse the ink. Some people (including some scholars) assume that modern forgers are not all that bright (and thus would not be that clever in forging something). In contrast, I believe that modern forgers (at least from the final quarter of the 20th century and on) are quite sharp…..and for good reason they try to be very clever: after all, there is much money to be made and modern forgers knows this….so, as for this piece, I remain very suspicious of its authenticity. Perhaps it’s ancient….but I doubt it.

So expect to hear those heavily invested in the authenticity of the fragment (e.g., those who really want Jesus to have been married to Mary Mags for various, often financial reasons) to declare victory and that the fragment was proved “authentic”, and those who have no skin in the game to remain highly skeptical about the highly inconclusive results and the persistent problems with the text.

Happy Easter.

 

Review of Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ by Robert Cargill on ‘Friends of ASOR’ Podcast

Friends of ASORI recently reviewed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie for the first ever American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) “Friends of ASOR” podcast. My thanks to Andy Vaughn for hosting.

Via ASOR:

**WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Listen to Dr. Robert Cargill talk about Noah (yes, the one who built an ark).  We asked him about the biblical and ancient Near Eastern descriptions of Noah, as well as his reactions to the movie (of the same name) released this past weekend.

Dr. Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at The University of Iowa. He is a biblical studies scholar,classicist, archaeologist, author, and digital humanist. His research includes the study of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, literary criticism of the Bible and the Pseudepigrapha, and the ancient Near East. He has appeared as an expert on numerous television documentaries and specials and is an advocate for social justice and public higher education. He previously worked and taught at UCLA. For more information on Dr. Cargill, check out his blog bio.

Stay tuned for a review of the movie Noah by Dr. Cargill.

 

 

Some Old Articles about Noah in Anticipation of the New Movie about Noah

In honor of the nationwide premier of Darren Aronofsky’s new Noah movie, I’m reposting some pieces I’ve written in the past about the subject.

===

===

I’ll actually be providing a review of the movie for ASOR sometime in the next few weeks.

For the time being, allow me a few introductory remarks about some of the reactions we’re beginning to see about the movie.

Religious conservatives always freak out whenever anyone messes with their ancient myths. Well, allow me to clarify: as long as you retell the myth as it is preserved in the Bible, you’re praised as a good and faithful servant and an excellent producer/director/actor.

But should you explain the origins of the myth, or offer your own mythological interpretation of the ancient biblical myth, or vary it in any way, well then you’re a heretic destined for burning flames of hell and the movie is immediately dismissed as the fanciful ravings of a godless atheist.

Remember, a worldwide flood has been disproved time and again. It’s a myth preserved in the Bible, which was based upon much earlier flood myths that were incorporated into the biblical narrative.

So why can’t a modern director offer his own interpretation of the ancient myth? When Baz Luhrmann reinterprets the Descent of Orpheus myth as “Moulin Rouge!“, or the Coen brothers reinterpret Homer’s Odyssey as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?“, everyone cheers (including conservative Christians). But when Darren Aronofsky retells the biblical flood myth as “Noah”, religious conservatives weep and gnash their teeth. And why are biblical myths so sacrosanct?

Because many religious fundamentalists still believe the account of the Flood in the Bible is historical. They believe it really happened, regardless of what science says. The myth is to be believed over science, but only when the myth is preserved in the Bible. If it’s a myth of another religious tradition, then it’s OK to accept science, and even to use science to disprove the myth. But if the myth is in the Bible, science suddenly sucks.

Look, they are myths. And this is modern motion picture art reinterpreting ancient literary art. So relax and enjoy the movie. And trust me, there will be plenty of scholars pointing out the places where the movie deviates from the biblical text and takes artistic liberties. Just please don’t confuse those of us who do this with the religious fundamentalists who criticize the movie because they believe the worldwide flood actually happened.

Cheers.

New History Channel Documentary “Bible Secrets Revealed” Begins Airing November 11

History logoI’m pleased to announce that a new documentary series will begin airing on History beginning Monday, November 11, 2013 at 10:00pm / 9:00 Central.

The series is entitled, Bible Secrets Revealed, and is produced by Prometheus Entertainment for the History channel.

The titles of the six episodes and their schedule of appearance are as follows:

“Lost in Translation” – November 11, 2013
“The Promised Land” – November 18, 2013
“The Forbidden Scriptures” – November 25, 2013
“The Real Jesus” – December 2, 2013
“Mysterious Prophecies” – December 16, 2013
“Sex and the Bible” – December 23, 2013

The documentary features dozens of the world’s top biblical scholars, religious studies scholars, archaeologists, and historians, who offer different points of view while addressing some of the more difficult readings in the biblical and extra-biblical texts.

It is also worth note that portions of the documentary were filmed on site during the 2013 season of archaeological excavation at Tel Azekah.

Please tune in to this documentary, which seeks to address difficult biblical scriptures and teachings in a responsible, academic, yet entertaining manner. The series is certain to be compelling as much for its scholarship as for its examination of secrets buried deep within the biblical texts, that have often traditionally been known only to scholars.

Robert Cargill lectures on Tel Azekah, Digital Archaeological Modeling, and the Digital Humanities at Iowa

I recently gave “Studio Talk” about Tel Azekah and Digital Archaeological Modeling entitled “Digi-Tel Azekah: Digitally Modeling Archaeological Remains on the Judean-Philistine Borderline” at the University of Iowa Digital Studio for Public Arts & Humanities (DSPAH). I presented with my Dept. of Religious Studies graduate student, Cale Staley.

If you have ever asked the following questions:

What is Digital Humanities?
What is Digital Humanities at the University of Iowa?
What is Digital Archaeological Modeling?
Why is the Digital Humanities important?
How do the Digital Humanities help my research?
How do the Digital Humanities help my instruction?

and most importantly,
why should I join Iowa’s archaeological dig in Israel next summer?
(besides losing weight, getting fit, getting a great tan, traveling the Holy Land, and earning 6 units doing undergraduate research)

…then watch this video and all your questions will be answered.

With thanks to Oded Lipschits, Yuval Gadot, and Manfred Oeming for making The Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition possible.

(and of course that’s the picture that YouTube chooses to use as the cover image.)

Lecture by Prof. Oded Lipschits: “The Myth of the Empty Land and the Myth of the Mass Return”

Don’t miss the lecture by my Tel Azekah colleague and Tel Aviv University Professor of Archaeology, Dr. Oded Lipschits, recently given at the University of Chicago entitled, “The Myth of the Empty Land and the Myth of the Mass Return.”

Give it a view.

Big (Literally) News out of Tel Tayinat

Suppiluliuma statue found at the Tayinat Archaeological Project excavation site in southeastern Turkey (Jennifer Jackson)

Suppiluliuma statue found at the Tayinat Archaeological Project excavation site in southeastern Turkey (Jennifer Jackson)

Via Live Science:

An international team of archaeologists has unearthed a beautiful and colossal human sculpture, perhaps of Suppiluliuma, at the Tayinat Archaeological Project excavation site in southeastern Turkey.

Both pieces are from a monumental gate complex that provided access to the upper citadel of Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (1000-738 BC).

“These newly discovered Tayinat sculptures are the product of a vibrant local Neo-Hittite sculptural tradition,” said Prof Tim Harrison, the Tayinat Project director and professor of Near Eastern Archaeology in the University of Toronto’s Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations.

“They provide a vivid glimpse into the innovative character and sophistication of the Iron Age cultures that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the great imperial powers of the Bronze Age at the end of the second millennium BC,” he said.

The head and torso of the human figure, intact to just above its waist, stands approximately 1.5 m in height, suggesting a total body length of 3.5 to 4 m. The figure’s face is bearded, with beautifully preserved inlaid eyes made of white and black stone, and its hair has been coiffed in an elaborate series of curls aligned in linear rows. Both arms are extended forward from the elbow, each with two arm bracelets decorated with lion heads. The figure’s right hand holds a spear, and in its left is a shaft of wheat. A crescent-shaped pectoral adorns its chest.

A lengthy Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription, carved in raised relief across its back, records the campaigns and accomplishments of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of a Syrian-Hittite coalition in 858 BC.

The second sculpture is a large semi-circular column base, approximately 1 m in height and 0.9 m in diameter, lying on its side next to the human figure. A winged bull is carved on the front of the column and it is flanked by a sphinx on its left. The right side of the column is flat and undecorated, an indication that it originally stood against a wall.

Well dug, Tim, well dug!

Remembering Tisha b’Av (The 9th of Av)

Destruction of Jerusalem

The destroyed remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem

We are presently preparing for the Tisha b’Av (9th of Ab) remembrance here in Israel this weekend. The Azekah students have gone to the Dead Sea for a tour and I am alone here at Nes Harim, watching the Shabbat sun set over Bet Shemesh. All is quiet as it should be for a solemn remembrance of this sort.

The religious mourn the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem, along with other tragedies that are said to have taken place on the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av. (The defeat of the Bar Kokhba Rebellion and the subsequent leveling of Jerusalem are also attributed to the 9th of Av.) However, even the non-religious here remember with much solemnity the destruction of Jerusalem and its temples. They were tragic, defining moments for Jews in 586 BCE and 70 CE.

And as the state of Israel winds down for this Sabbath, commemoration, and associated period of fasting, I will read and write and reflect on both tragedy and hope for tomorrow.

Because it is good to remember. And it is good to lament for a time. For those who fail to remember the past tend to repeat it.

For more on the 9th of Ab, see here and here.

Dr. Robert R. Cargill at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

At the Western Wall in Jerusalem

you must buy this book: Portrayals of Economic Exchange in the Book of Kings by Roger Nam

Portrayals of Economic Exchange in the Book of Kings by Roger S. NamThe latest from Brill is “Portrayals of Economic Exchange in the Book of Kings” by my colleague and friend, Dr. Roger S. Nam.

Here’s the blurb:

With the growing proliferation of literature concerning the social world of the Hebrew Bible, scholars continue to face the challenge of a proper understanding of ancient Israel’s economies. Portrayals of Economic Exchange in the Book of Kings is the first monographic study to use an anthropological approach to examine the nature of the economic life behind the biblical text. Through Karl Polanyi’s paradigm of exchange as a methodological control, this book synthesizes Semitic philology with related fields of Levantine archaeology and modern ethnography. With this interdisciplinary frame, Nam articulates a social analysis of economic exchange, and stimulates new understandings of the biblical world.

Few people know this, but people often confuse me with Roger.

Go ye therefore and buy it!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,839 other followers

%d bloggers like this: