Prof. Robert Cargill on Iowa Public Radio to Discuss Issues of Separation of Church and State in Iowa

I’ve been invited to discuss matters pertaining to the separation of church and state on Iowa Public Radio‘s “River to River” with Ben Kieffer tomorrow, Monday, June 2, 2014, from noon to 1pm.

Iowa Public Radio mugWe’ll likely be discussing the recent proclamation signed by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, as well as the use of public Iowa funds to build a Christian themed park in Sioux City, recent court decisions dealing with prayer at government meetings, and my favorite, the placement of religious monuments on government lands and buildings.

You can listen to the discussion live by clicking on the LISTEN LIVE button on the top of the page here.

Tune in tomorrow. Should be fun.

So much for the separation of church and state in Iowa

HOW IN THE NAME OF IOWA could Governor Branstad sign this? How is the even a part of the Governor’s duties?

The governor of our great state of Iowa recently signed a proclamation calling on the people of the state of Iowa to pray and fast and repent according to the text of the Bible.

Again, we’re not talking about the Governor of Kansas or Kentucky, but of Iowa.

Here’s the video.

Hemant Mehta has offered his thoughts on the matter, but allow me to offer a few of my own.

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and 'come together" under the teachings of the deity YHWH so that the deity will "heal our land".

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and unite (lit. “come together”) under the teachings of the deity YHWH so that the deity will “heal our land”.

The Christian equivalent of Sharia law is alive and festering in fundamentalist circles, and those who support the idea of baptizing of our civic administration are scheming increasingly creative ways to sneak religious language and practices into our supposedly secular government.

Read the text of the proclamation here. And note the last paragraph:

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E Branstad, as Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby invite all Iowans who choose to join in the thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014.”

Now I know that some will come to the governor’s defense and point out that this is a non-binding “proclamation” and not a law, and that the text of the proclamation merely “invites” Iowans to pray instead of “requiring” them to do so. But this is still the Governor of a state calling on residents to pray and repent “according to II Chronicles 7:14″.

And it is the second part of the above line – “according to II Chronicles 7:14″ – that should give us an even greater pause. To be sure, it is a problem for the governor of a state to call on his residents (many of whom are not Jewish or Christian) to participate in acts of devotion and worship to the god YHWH. But when we examine the actual context of the verse invoked in this proclamation, it is all the more troublesome.

The Governor of Iowa issued an executive proclamation specifically employing the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to call Iowans to a day of prayer to the Hebrew god YHWH. But please also note that he called on Iowans to participate in “humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14.”

And to what precisely are Iowans repenting? “Repentance” implies the leaving behind of our present ways and the turning or returning to the teachings of the god YHWH. Thus, Governor Branstad just signed a proclamation calling on Iowans to return to the specific teachings of a specific god, so that he will bless our land.

What is troubling is that the context of the verse invoked in his proclamation – that of  2 Chronicles 7:12-18 – specifically states that the reason we should we pray to this deity and do what the deity has commanded, is so the deity will “forgive our sin and heal our land.”

Read it for yourself:

2 Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2 Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2 Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2 Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
2 Chr. 7:17 As for you, if you walk before me, as your father David walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,
2 Chr. 7:18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I made covenant with your father David saying, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’

Does the Governor of Iowa believe that prayer, fasting, and repentance to the teaching of YHWH will “heal the land” of Iowa? Perhaps he does. Should the Governor of Iowa be calling on the residents of Iowa to participate with him in this act of sympathetic magic? Absolutely not!

What is all the more troubling is what specifically the verse invoked in the proclamation is calling upon King Solomon to do. Again, context is key in reading the Bible!

Did the Governor realize that the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the building of the temple to YHWH in Jerusalem?

Again, let us look at the verses that appear on either side of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

2 Chr. 7:11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the LORD and in his own house he successfully accomplished.
2Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem now stands where the Temple in Jerusalem once stood.

Did Governor Branstad realize that this Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem no longer stands, that the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE, and that the Islamic Dome of the Rock stands where the Jewish Temple once stood?

Does the Governor of Iowa realize that invoking the text of 2 Chronicles 7 in an executive proclamation may be seen my some many as a call to re-establish the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which would necessarily involve the destruction of the third holiest shrine in Islam, the Dome of the Rock?

Because this is precisely what many fundamentalist Christian and Jewish organizations want to do: rebuild the Third Temple! And this becomes a much bigger problem when Governor Branstad employs a verse that is regularly employed by religious zealots to call for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the re-establishment of the Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem.

Yet, this is precisely the context of the passage referred to in the proclamation! Is Governor Branstad calling on Iowans to “pray” to YHWH, and to “repent” to his teachings so that the Temple that YHWH has “chosen and consecrated” will stand forever?? That’s what the verse implies. That is the verse’s context.


This is a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state, which was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and made abundantly clear in our US Treaty of Tripoli, which spells out explicitly that:

The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion“.

I discuss this further in posts responding to claims that the United States was “founded as a Christian nation.”

Let me say this once more clearly:

We were NOT founded as a Christian nation. We we founded as a secular nation by many Christians, but we were NOT founded as a “Christian nation”.

And our Founders had the foresight to see the problems that would arise should the civic government ever engage in favoring one religion over another. This is because the same First Amendment that allows the freedom of religion for Christians also allows the worship of other gods – a clear violation of the very teachings not to worship other gods referred to in 2 Chronicles 7:14! (Cf. Deut. 13:12-16; Exod. 20:3-5; Matt. 4:10; Matt. 22:36-38; 1 Cor. 10:14) The hypocrisy is palpable.

Invoking the First Amendment of the US Constitution to defend the signing of an executive proclamation citing 2 Chronicles 7:14 is like invoking the Second Amendment in issuing a proclamation calling for the confiscation of all firearms. It is the epitome of irony.

Allow me to offer a parallel example from a different religion to demonstrate my point that this is not only a violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but why so many Iowans may have such a strong reaction to the Governor’s involvement with this particular religious decree.

What if a Fundamentalist Islamic group, let’s say, the Islamic Family Leader, invoked the same First Amendment of the US Constitution to ask the Governor of Iowa to issue a non-binding proclamation that called Iowans to repentance to God and cited Qur’an Sura 9:3:

So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to God. And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment.

or Qur’an Sura 9:5(b):

But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah (alms), let them [go] on their way. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful.”

Simple enough, right? Same basic message of 2 Chron. 7:14: beautiful holy verses calling on Iowans to “repent” so as not to incur the wrath of God.

So what if Governor Branstad issued a similar non-binding proclamation that invoked these Qur’anic verses? My guess is that this would anger some in the Christian community, who might begin asking questions about the separation of church and state.

And of course, those objecting might actually go and read the larger context of the Qur’anic verses cited in the Governor’s proclamation, and would find that the proclamation deliberately neglected the context of the words coming just before the verse cited in the proclamation, Sura 9:5a:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists (which likely includes Christians who believe in a triune God, which the Qur’an repeatedly derides as polytheism. Cf. Qur’an Sura 4:171) wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush.”

Do you think some people might object to this?? Might Christians object to a Qur’anic verse calling on Muslims to ambush and kill non-believers at least as much as many Muslims might object to Governor Branstad invoking averse that celebrates the establishment of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock now stands? Do you understand how this might make some Iowans unhappy?

This must be the litmus test for invoking religion in state matters. If Christians would object to the Governor of Iowa invoking a Qur’anic verse in an official proclamation, why would they expect others not to object to his invoking a verse from the Bible?

When the elected leader of a secular state calls on citizens of his state to engage in acts of devotion and worship (e.g., prayer, fasting, repentance, etc.) to one god and not to another, the elected leader engages in favoring one religious tradition over another. And while the elected leader may not be “establishing” one religion as the official state religion, by favoring one religion over another, and by calling on citizens to participate in one religion and not another, and by invoking a verse from one sacred book of scripture over another, the elected leader violates the principle of separation of church and state.

Besides, Jesus called on his followers to AVOID large public prayer performances, and instead said,

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:6)

By signing this proclamation, Governor Branstad gains absolutely nothing except a scandal over issues of church and state (and perhaps a sizable campaign contribution or political reconciliation).


In closing, I’d still like to offer Governor Branstad the benefit of the doubt, and believe that he (or at least his advisers) failed to read the “history and purpose” section of the still “under construction” Prayer 7-14-14 website, which is written in the first person by an anonymous author who claims God was speaking to him in visions and dreams.

ScreenCap of the "History and Purpose" page on the prayer7-14-14.com website as of May 30, 2014.

ScreenCap of the “History and Purpose” page on the prayer7-14-14.com website as of May 30, 2014.

Here’s a section from the “History and Purpose” page of the Prayer 7-14-14 website (see screen cap image at right):

“Since 2011 God has been speaking to me through dreams, visions and His word about our NationBelow I have referenced one dream and given two references, in scripture, that show God speaks through dreams and visions and tells us we need to be able to discern the times.. [sic]

Acts 2:17-21
AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS IN THE LAST DAYS, SAYS GOD,  THAT I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH;  YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS…I WILL SHOW WONDERS IN HEAVEN ABOVE AND SIGNS IN THE EARTH BENEATH; …THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE COMING OF THE GREAT AND AWESOME DAY OF THE LORD. AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS THAT WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED!

MATTHEW  16:1-4
WHEN IT IS EVENING YOU SAY, ‘IT WILL BE FOUL WEATHER TODAY, FOR THE SKY IS RED AND THREATENING.’   HYPOCRITES!  YOU KNOW HOW TO DISCERN THE FACE OF THE SKY, BUT YOU CANNOT DISCERN THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES….

ON 4-20-13 God spoke to me through a dream and His word…

In the dream I was writing on a red, white and blue shirt, “Something will start to churn in you today.”  I wanted to change the word to move, but I heard a voice say “NO, it is churn.” I happened to be reading through Hosea again for the third, fourth or fifth time, and I was starting at Chapter 11 that day.  When I got to verse 8, you can see below, it said His heart CHURNS  (just like in the dream)within Him and His sympathy is stirred.

I knew God was is pursuing America to turn back….” (red highlights mine)

Did the Office of the Governor of the State of Iowa really issue a proclamation sponsored by this group??

Sigh.


It is my hope that in the future, elected state officials will refrain from issuing calls for Americans to engage in acts of worship to any god. And if they do persist in this practice, that elected officials would refrain from invoking highly problematic verses from holy books that members of other religious groups might find wholly offensive and alienating.

When the Founders of our nation did mention a deity, they did so in narrowly defined contexts, referring to it, for example, as the “Creator” or as “Nature’s God“, and deliberately refrained from mentioning any specific religion, or from invoking or citing holy scriptures specific to any particular religious tradition.

There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Declaration of Independence. There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Constitution. We were not founded as a Christian nation. God did not write the Constitution. And when a deity was referenced (other than the standard “Year of Our Lord” dating convention), it was in a theistic or Deistic fashion, and not a specifically Christian one. This should serve as a template for those elected leaders who insist on referring to a deity as part of their civic duties.

Calling on citizens to engage in acts of worship to a specific deity and invoking the religious tradition affiliated with that deity only creates problems for the elected official and paints him or her as a tool of fundamentalist religious zealots, who hope to infiltrate our secular government and introduce religious law that our Founders sought to avoid at all costs.


To learn more about the presence of Christianity in our founding documents, take this quiz.

 

What if Everyone Voted? Iowa City panel discussion open to the public, Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

What if...I’ll be speaking on the role of religion in politics as part of the University of Iowa Public Policy Center‘s popular public forum series, “What If…”

This week’s topic: “What if everyone voted?

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center invites you to join us for a series of public forums where our researchers will examine different hypothetical scenarios and their unintended consequences, and present their relevant research.

The last event in this series asks, “What if everyone voted?” Full voter turnout would have myriad consequences for our electoral system, political campaigns, and representation by government officials. Experts will provide thought-provoking reflections on this scenario in order to spur further discussion.

Title: What If…Everyone Voted?
When: Tuesday, April 29th, 2014, 7:00-8:30 PM
Where: Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A

Topics raised will include:

  • questions about campaign contributions and potential changes to campaign strategies
  • election reform
  • presidential nominations (including the Iowa Caucus)
  • election administration, costs, benefits, and other factors
  • the role of religion in politics
  • effects on public policy and the role of political/social inequality

Come for an evening to ponder what really would happen if everyone actually voted.

 

This series of events is co-sponsored in kind by:

 

Today at Iowa Dept. of Classics: Dr. James McKeown (Univ. Wisconsin-Madison) lectures on “Medicine and Superstition in the Ancient World”

Do not miss today’s University of Iowa Department of Classics Colloquium lecture, “Medicine and Superstition in the Ancient World” by James McKeown, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

The lecture will take place on Thursday, April 17, 2014 from 5:00 – 6:00 PM in 302 Schaeffer Hall on the campus of the University of Iowa.

Medicine and Superstition in the Ancient World by James McKeown

“Bible Secrets Revealed” Marathon to Re-Air on Friday, April 18, 2014

"Bible Secrets Revealed" Title Image (Courtesy Prometheus Entertainment)

Bible Secrets Revealed will be re-airing in marathon format on Friday, April 18, 2014 on History.

Here are the titles and times from the schedule:

The Forbidden Scriptures – 08:00-09:00 AM ET
Lost in Translation – 09:00-10:00 AM ET
The Promised Land – 10:00-11:00 AM ET
Mysterious Prophecies – 11:00-12:00 PM ET
Sex and the Scriptures – 12:00-01:00 PM ET
The Real Jesus – 01:00-02:00 PM ET

For the names of the scholars appearing in each of the episodes, and for more information about the program in general, visit the Bible Secrets Revealed IMDB page.

And visit Bible History Daily to read further in-depth discussion about the topics raised in each episode.

On the Christian Need for Relics: Holy Grail Edition

The Holy Grail, à la Monty Python

The Holy Grail, à la Monty Python

In the wake of yesterday’s post, “No, no, you DIDN’T find the Holy Grail,” I thought I’d take a moment to spell out what I believe to be the driving forces behind the constant need on the part of some to hunt for Christian relics.

For the purposes of this article, I define “relics” as both the physical remains of venerated individuals and the objects associated with them.

The reasons people seek out and claim discovery of relics can be boiled down to two general categories: money (including fame) and a confirmation of one’s faith (including hope and healing).

[Note: Much of what I say below was featured in my Inside Edition interview with Megan Alexander (Twitter) yesterday evening, where I responded to the most recent sensational, pseudoarchaeological claims made by a pair of Spanish authors claiming to have found the Holy Grail. And, Inside Edition was kind enough to post an extended version of the interview on their website, where I repeat some of what I say below.]

Let’s deal with the obvious reason first: money.

Religious relics are a HUGE business. Anyone who has ever traveled to Jerusalem or Rome can attest to just how influential religious tourism is in these regions, and how essential it is to their respective local economies. The spectrum of souvenirs sold by local shops ranges from ubiquitous pieces of artwork and religious literature on the one end, to much rarer objects like antiquities (both legal and illicit), and yes, relics and rumored relics on the other end.

But the money isn’t just made by shopkeepers and antiquities dealers; churches and museums (which are often one-in-the-same) bring in HUGE tourism dollars from pilgrims who will fork over large sums of money to view something that confirms their faith. (We’ll deal with confirmation of faith in a moment.) There are tickets to be sold and refurbishments of chapels to be paid for, and possession of a relic is one quick and easy way to attract both pilgrims and profits.

But money made from relics isn’t limited to those who possess the relics; authors of books and producers of television documentaries can make thousands, and sometimes millions of dollars producing literary and video content about the relics, even if they themselves do not possess them. Toss in an effective marketing strategy – one which almost always includes releasing the book or film (or both) on or around Easter or Christmas – and publishers can sell tens of thousands of copies of speculative books, and producers can sell sensationalized, factually-challenged documentaries to ratings-hungry cable networks, who are increasingly replacing substantive history programs with reality adventure fiction.

Thus, the business of relic hunts is one of the main driving forces behind the continued claims of holy relics.

The second reason relics are so popular is due to their role in confirming the faith of believers.

The fact is that people like to give their faith something tangible. In a world increasingly reliant upon evidence and verifiable data, relics offer a form of spiritual “evidence” that confirms one’s beliefs. People of faith crave evidence confirming the person of Jesus as well as the claims made about him.

But the desire for evidence is not a modern phenomenon.

We must remember that there is absolutely zero archaeological evidence that points to the existence of Jesus, and much less so that supports the claims made about him, such as his divinity, his miraculous powers, etc. And as for literary evidence, outside of the biblical text, there are no authentic references to Jesus from the first century CE. None!

Now, I should note that text of Josephus’ Antiquities (18 and 20) as we now have it does possess two references to the Jesus mentioned in the Bible. But, anyone who can read Greek (well) will quickly notice that these references to Jesus – commonly referred to as the “Testimonium Flavianum” – are Christian additions to the original text of Josephus that were added in an attempt to remedy the obvious (and somewhat embarrassing) problem that the best known, most prolific, and most knowledgeable historian of Jewish life from first century CE Palestine that we know of, Flavius Josephus, never once mentions Jesus. In all of his detailed histories of the events surrounding Herod and the Jews and all of the messianic pretenders he mentions, he never once mentioned Jesus of Nazareth. This was obviously a problem for early Christians, whose story of Jesus (with the dead being raised, and the earthquakes, and the eclipses, and healing stories, and the thrashing of the temple, and the crucifixion, and the resurrection, etc.) should have certainly merited mention in Josephus’ exhaustive chronicles had they actually taken place. (For more on this subject, see Richard Carrier’s blog post and JECS article.)

But there is silence about Jesus in the extra-biblical literature from the first century CE. That is, outside of the handful of Christians, who were producing literature about Jesus, there is no mention of him in the first century CE. (It’s also the likely reason for the apocryphal Letters of Paul and Seneca, which seek to elevate Paul to a status of a revered Roman philosopher in order to remedy the fact that he was never mentioned by any of his Jewish or Roman contemporaries. Cf. Bart Ehrman, Forged, 90-92.)

Thus, because of the lack of outside literary and physical evidence of Jesus and of the claims made about him in the biblical texts, early Christians sought out other various forms of “evidence” that could prove, at least to them, that Jesus was who he claimed to be. And this desire to find and confirm relics associated with Jesus was not limited to the poor Christian populace, but was an endeavor undertaken at that highest levels of authority, exemplified perhaps no better than by Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, who made pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the express purpose of acquiring Christian relics and memorializing the locations of significant moments in the life of Jesus by building chapels on them.

For this reason, Christian relics – especially those associated with Jesus like the “nails of the cross“, pieces of the “true cross“, the “holy spear” used to pierce his side, his burial shroud, and even fragments from his supposed tomb, etc. – have been the focus of scrutiny (and many, many books and documentaries) over the years. Relics allow Christians to touch what they believe to be evidence of Jesus, thereby confirming their faith.

Included within this confirmation of faith is the ancient belief that objects associated with Jesus possessed miraculous powers, and principal among them, healing powers. This tradition that objects associated with Jesus possess healing powers may stem from the biblical story of Jesus healing the bleeding woman found in Mark 5:24b-34, and paralleled in Matthew 9:19-22 and Luke 8:43-48.

Mark’s version of the story reads:

Mark 5:24b  And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
Mark 5:25  Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.
Mark 5:26  She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.
Mark 5:27  She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,
Mark 5:28  for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Mark 5:29  Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Mark 5:30  Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”
Mark 5:31  And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
Mark 5:32  He looked all around to see who had done it.
Mark 5:33  But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
Mark 5:34  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Note that the woman in the story merely touched Jesus’ cloak, and that the text says that Jesus felt power go out of him. Luke 11:46 says, “But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.'”

This detail in the text implies that Jesus’ healing power can affect people who merely touch objects that touch him, and can do so even when he’s not consciously intending to perform a miracle. Again, in this story, Jesus is like a statically charged doorknob, whose power can be discharged by anyone wearing Uggs on a shag carpet making contact with him. In the story, the woman receives the healing simply by touching only his clothes, and Jesus confirms the act of touching by acknowledging that he felt power go out of him.

Because of stories like this, people likely began searching for objects, any objects, said to be associated with Jesus, hoping that they too might be the recipients of the unconsciously administered residual miraculous healing powers of Christ contained within the relics, thereby further confirming faith in Christ to them and to all who might witness the healing.

And when we add this story to Old Testament accounts of healing that arise from touching relics, such as the account of a man being resurrected from the dead after coming into contact with the bones of the prophet Elisha as recorded in 2 Kings 13:21, we can begin to understand how the obsession with discovering relics was not just about money, but about a confirmation of a faith that relies on miraculous accounts in the absence of archaeological evidence.

On Claims of the Holy Grail

Specifically addressing the recent claims of the discovery of a Holy Grail, let me remind readers that we know what common and industrial use cups from first century Palestine look like. There have been a number of archaeological discoveries that show us what common cups look like, including cups eligible for ritually pure meals. Such vessels can be found in the remains of the Burnt House in Jerusalem, and at Qumran – the site associated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls – where both stone and ceramic cups have been discovered, and most recently in the Mount Zion excavations in Jerusalem.

Stacked, V-shaped drinking goblets from Qumran made of Pottery dating to between the 1st C. BCE and the 1st C. CE. Height 26.5 cm (10 7/16 in.), diameter 16 cm (6 1/4 in.) Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (65-72). More at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/art2.html

Stacked, V-shaped drinking goblets from Qumran made of Pottery dating to between the 1st C. BCE and the 1st C. CE. Height 26.5 cm (10 7/16 in.), diameter 16 cm (6 1/4 in.) Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (65-72). More at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/art2.html

Limestone cup dating to the 1st C. CE. Cup (A): height 7.5 cm (3 in.), diameter 8 cm (3 1/8 in.) Cup (B): height 12.8 cm (5 in.), diameter 19.4 cm (7 1/2 in.) Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (38,39). Cylindrical cups of this type are frequently found in sites of the Second Temple Period. It is believed that their capacities correspond to the dry and liquid measures mentioned in the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic laws governing all aspects of Jewish life.  The surfaces of these vessels were pared with a knife or adze, and their surface was left un-smoothed. The vertical handles rule out the possibility that they might have been produced on a rotating lathe. More at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/art2.html

Limestone cup from Qumran dating to the 1st C. CE. Cup (A): height 7.5 cm (3 in.), diameter 8 cm (3 1/8 in.) Cup (B): height 12.8 cm (5 in.), diameter 19.4 cm (7 1/2 in.) Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (38,39). Cylindrical cups of this type are frequently found in sites of the Second Temple Period. It is believed that their capacities correspond to the dry and liquid measures mentioned in the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic laws governing all aspects of Jewish life. The surfaces of these vessels were pared with a knife or adze, and their surface was left un-smoothed. The vertical handles rule out the possibility that they might have been produced on a rotating lathe. More at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/art2.html

Large limestone goblet dating to the 1st C. CE from Qumran. Height 72 cm (28 1/4 in.), diameter 38.5 cm (15 1/8 in.) Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (37). This large goblet-shaped vessel was produced on a lathe, probably in Jerusalem, and is extremely well crafted. It is surprising that an ancient lathe was capable of supporting and working such a large and heavy stone block. More at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/art2.html

Large limestone goblet dating to the 1st C. CE from Qumran. Height 72 cm (28 1/4 in.), diameter 38.5 cm (15 1/8 in.) Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (37). This large goblet-shaped vessel was produced on a lathe, probably in Jerusalem, and is extremely well crafted. It is surprising that an ancient lathe was capable of supporting and working such a large and heavy stone block. More at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls/art2.html

Stone cup from the

Stone cup from the “Burnt House” in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 CE. These implements were likely used for industrial purposes. For more: http://www.jewish-quarter.org.il/atar-saruf.asp

A 22-faceted, pared stone cup discovered in the Mt. Zion excavations in Jerusalem, inscribed with cryptic writing. For more: http://www.uhl.ac/en/resources/media/

A 22-faceted, pared stone cup discovered in the Mt. Zion excavations in Jerusalem, inscribed with cryptic writing. For more: http://www.uhl.ac/en/resources/media/

Let us also recall that Jesus and his disciples were poor, and that Jesus taught a renunciation of wealth (cf. Matt. 6:19, 24; 19:21; Mark 6:8-9; Luke 12:33; etc.). Thus, Jesus and his disciples most likely did not carry with them the sort of bling that is often the focus of grail claims.

And let us also remember that the “upper room” mentioned in Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12 was likely a rented room (some even argue a Sukka) for two reasons. First, Passover was a pilgrimage festival in first century Palestine. They needed to find a place because Jesus and most of his disciples were said to have lived in Galilee and were not from Jerusalem.

Second, the Synoptic Gospels all record the story of Jesus instructing his disciples to find a man carrying a jar in Jerusalem who would lead them to an upper room where they were to prepare the Passover meal. Thus, according to the Synoptic Gospels, the room did not belong to Jesus or one of the disciples, but was a room made available to them for the Passover meal during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Thus, the cup that was used during the Last Supper was either provided by the owner of the rental room, or by Jesus’ disciples. The latter is not likely because the disciples were not likely to carry expensive objects as Jesus preached a message of the renunciation of wealth. And the former is unlikely because the owners of rooms rented to poor Passover pilgrims in Jerusalem were not likely to lay out the fine China. Next time you stay in a hotel room, look at the quality of the coffee cup provided to you. I’m guessing it’s not made of agate or gold.

Thus, if we accept a historical Jesus and a historical Last Supper, the cup used by Jesus would most likely be a nondescript stone cup – the likes of which archaeologists have uncovered in Jerusalem and Qumran and other sites throughout Roman Palestine time and again over the years. These stone cups are usually made of limestone (which is ubiquitous throughout Jerusalem), and are usually carved by paring facets in the cup from top to bottom, forming a roundish cup with handles sometimes carved from the stone.

So while gold and silver cups are mentioned in the Bible in connection with the Temple (1 Chron. 28:17) and various palaces (Gen. 44:2), while Roman and Egyptian glass vessels were made at the time, and while expensive precious and semiprecious stone cups were made from onyx, agate, jasper, chalcedony, sardonyx, and carnelian, it is most likely that these expensive cups would not have been used by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. Rather, ceramic, or more likely, limestone cups would have been used for ritually pure meals like the Passover. Mishnaic regulations taught that stone vessels were insusceptible to impurities (m. Kel. 10:1; m. Oh. 5:5, 6:1; m. Par. 5:5; m. Miq. 4:1; m. Yad. 1:2; cf. m. Betz. 2:3), while ceramic vessels could potentially absorb impurities into the bodies of the vessels. Thus, because stone vessels were thought not absorb impurities like ceramic vessels, and were therefore preferable for the storage and pouring of liquids, especially in a ritually pure state, one might suspect that the cup used in a Passover meal in Jerusalem in the first century CE would have been made of common limestone, and not of the semiprecious and precious stones that would have been prohibitively expensive to Jesus and his disciples. Likewise, the cup would have been of simple design like the cups we find in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem and Qumran.

Finally, because the room was a rented room, the cup was either left in the room (if provided by the room’s owner), or taken with the disciples (if provided my them) after the meal. Either way, we have absolutely no record whatsoever of a chain of custody of any cup used in the Last Supper – an essential piece of evidence necessary to prove the provenance of an archaeological object, and therefore to confirm any credible claim of a “Holy Grail”. So even if – and this is a big IF – there were a Holy Grail, we would have absolutely no way of proving a cup was, in fact, the Holy Grail. Thus, the entire endeavor is sheer and unadulterated speculation.

Lest we forget, Easter is approaching. And thus ’tis the season for those who prey on the hopes of the honest faithful to make money by making sensational pseudoarchaeological claims related to Jesus…money made from those eagerly seeking a confirmation of their faith.

 

Upcoming lectures in the Iowa City area

Jerusalem LectureI’ll be speaking giving a few talks in Iowa City over the next few weeks. All are welcome to attend.

March 28, 2014:  “Passover and the Eucharist: Investing New Meaning on the Jewish Meal” (Agudas Achim Congregation, Coralville, IA, 7:30 pm)

March 30, 2014:Passover and the Eucharist: Investing New Meaning on the Jewish Meal” (First Presbyterian Church, Iowa City, IA 11:30 am)

[The above two lectures are part of the 2014 Finn Lecture, which promotes Jewish-Christian dialogue in Iowa City.]

April 4, 2014:A Deluge of Flood Stories: Pre-canonical and Canonical Flood Stories” (Agudas Achim Congregation, Coralville, IA, 7:30 pm)

April 11, 2014:Shabbat Dinner Talk by Prof. Robert Cargill: Archaeological Dig Opportunity in Israel: University of Iowa Tel Azekah Summer Study Abroad Program” (Hillel Foundation, East Market Street, Iowa City, IA, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm)

April 18, 2013:A Deluge of Flood Stories: Noah and the Jewish Interpretative Tradition of the Flood” (Agudas Achim Congregation, Coralville, IA, 7:30 pm)

 

No, no, you DIDN’T find the Holy Grail

I was interviewed as part of a story this morning on Good Morning America (Twitter) about recent sensational claims about the “discovery” of the Holy Grail in Spain. Yes…that Holy Grail.

ABC’s Paula Faris highlighted the claim made by two Spanish historians. Video is here.

Two historians, Margarita Torres and Jose Manuel Ortega del Rio, authors of the book, “Kings of the Grail,” claim a jewel-encrusted goblet, which has been inside the San Isidoro Basilica, in Leon, Spain, for the last 1,000 years, is the Holy Grail. And just in time for Easter (and I’m guessing a planned renovation of the church in which the cup was ‘discovered’).

Because Jesus was all about golden, jewel encrusted bling. Right?

Of course, claiming to find the Holy Grail is as silly as other pseudoarchaeological claims, like purporting to find the nails of the cross, pieces of the true cross, the Ark of the Covenant, Noah’s Ark, the route of the Exodus, Atlantis, and Jesus’ family tomb. These are fools errands and the realm of the sensationalized absurd.

I’ll be appearing tonight on a segment with Megan Alexander (Twitter | Web ) for Inside Edition (Twitter) on this supposed discovery of the Holy Grail. The segment should air tonight. Thanx Megan and Tyler for the smooth setup and interview!

[UPDATE: Here is Megan Alexander's interview with me on the "discovery" of the supposed Holy Grail. And, Inside Edition was good enough to post a 3 min. extended clip from our interview on their website. Thanx to Megan!]

And if you’re interested in doing REAL archaeology, join us at Tel Azekah, where you can dig (and smash) to your heart’s content.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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