I’ll be speaking at Agudas Achim on the Maccabees on Dec. 19

Agudas Achim stained glass

I’ll be speaking at Agudas Achim Congregation on Friday, December 19, 2014 on the Maccabees as part of the synagogue’s fall educational series.

Worship is at 7:45, and my presentation is at 8:30.

See you there.

Address:
Agudas Achim Congregation
401 E. Oakdale Blvd.
Coralville, IA 52241

Review of “The Lost Gospel” by Jacobovici and Wilson

Except it’s NOT lost, and it’s NOT a gospel.

Since I’ve already been bombarded with questions from students and readers about the latest claims made by Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Barrie Wilson in their new book, The Lost Gospel, I thought I’d post a quick response to this latest round of absurdity by repeating and re-posting some of the comments I made over a year ago in a post announcing my spring 2014 University of Iowa course in Syriac – a post that dealt (almost prophetically) with many of the claims made in this new book.

You can read most of Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson’s book online (and search for the parts that interest you) at Google Books here.

Mr. Jacobovici’s new book essentially claims that the 6th century CE Syriac language version of a Greek pseudepigraphical story entitled  Joseph and Aseneth (which I discuss in my class “Banned from the Bible: Intro to Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha” course at Iowa) is a “gospel”, and should be read allegorically, but only after replacing every mention of Joseph with the name “Jesus”, and every mention of Aseneth with “Mary Magdalene”.

Now, if your first thought is, “WTF? This is just as problematic as the Bible Code dude, who attempts to read every passage in the Bible as an allegory for every modern event, from the Invasion of Iraq, to the Wall Street Crash, to President Obama’s election, etc.”, then you’re right on the money. It is precisely that silly – same interpretative technique, same lack of evidence, same wishful speculation. The same guy who claims to have discovered the route of the Exodus, Atlantis, the nails of the cross, the tomb of Jesus (with Jesus still in it!), and another tomb of people celebrating Jesus’ resurrection (with Jesus still in the other tomb), has now written a book claiming “evidence” that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, by swapping out the names of Joseph and Aseneth and replacing them with the names of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

By that same allegorical logic, you could swap out the names of Samson and Delilah and claim that Mary Magdalene cut Jesus’ hair. Or swap out Adam and Eve and conclude that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were the primordial couple. Or read David and Bathsheba allegorically and end up with Jesus having a son named Solomon, who is guarded by the Priory of Sion, and…well, you get the picture.

There is a reason that the scholars of the world are not paying any attention to this latest so-called “discovery”: there’s nothing there.

First things first: Mr. Jacobovici’s The Lost Gospel is neither “lost” nor a “gospel”. Scholars have known about and have studied the Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth, located in the British Museum, for a very long time. Written by an unknown West Syriac writer dating to the late 6th century CE, the author composed an Ecclesiastical History that included a translation of part of a lost Ecclesiastical History by the Greek writer Zacharias Rhetor. The work is commonly referred to as Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor. This Syriac text is of interest because books 1-2 of Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor contain a Syriac translation of the History of Joseph and Aseneth, which was often skipped in English translations because it is already known in the Greek. Keep in mind that the story of Joseph and Aseneth has been well documented over the years, both by my adviser at Pepperdine, Dr. Randy Chesnutt, who wrote his dissertation on Joseph and Aseneth, and by my Duke colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre, who has edited an Aseneth Home Page now for years.

Second: We already know why the story of Joseph and Aseneth was written. The story of Joseph and Aseneth is a well-known, ancient apocryphal expansion of the biblical account of the patriarch Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, the daughter of the Egyptian Priest of On (Heliopolis). The story of Joseph and Aseneth was composed to solve the later theological problem of Joseph, a Hebrew patriarch, marrying a non-Israelite woman (Aseneth), in direct violation of biblical commands (albeit later commands) that prohibit Hebrews/Jews/Israelites from intermarrying with other peoples, for instance, those found in Deut. 7:3; Josh. 23:12; Ezra 9; and Neh. 13:25. As prohibiting intermarriage became a bigger and bigger deal in the Second Temple period, many Jews began to see the problem with Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, as Joseph was said to have not only married an Egyptian, but the daughter of an Egyptian priest!

In Gen. 41:45, the Bible says that Pharaoh gave Joseph one of his daughters as a wife:

“Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Aseneth daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife.”

Gen. 41:50-52 further says that Joseph’s wife Aseneth bore him two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim, whence we get the tribal names:

“Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Aseneth daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’ The second he named Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.'”

As one might imagine, this became a problem for Jews in the Second Temple period. Perhaps many asked, “How can God prohibit us from marrying women of another race when our patriarch Joseph did so?”

Enter Joseph and Aseneth, which was composed like so many pseudepigraphical stories of the Second Temple period and early Christian centuries to “explain away” the problem. We find these same apologetic techniques used in early Rabbinic writings as well as the Aramaic Targums, which clean up the stories of the Jewish Patriarchs by explaining away anything that might be perceived as a misdeed.

The popular ancient love story of Joseph and Aseneth serves an apology explaining why a righteous Israelite patriarch like Joseph would marry the daughter of a pagan priest. And the solution is a simple one: Joseph and Aseneth explains that Joseph’s wife, Aseneth, first converted to monotheism and belief in the Hebrew God before she married Joseph (a detail the Bible obviously “left out”). See? All better.

And that’s basically it. The biblical account says Joseph married an Egyptian woman, so Joseph and Aseneth explains that Aseneth first converted, and therefore was eligible to be married to Joseph.

Third: The Syriac account of Joseph and Aseneth in Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor does not talk about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and simply substituting names does not make it so. However, the Syriac account is still noteworthy because just prior to his retelling of the story, the author writes a letter to a certain Moses of Ingila, asking for a translation and whether there is a deeper allegorical (θεωρία) interpretation of the story beyond the literal narrative. Some have argued that Moses of Ingila’s response attempts to interpret the story of Joseph and Aseneth allegorically, as a gnostic union of the soul (represented by Aseneth) with the divine Logos/Word of God (represented by Joseph). Likewise, there have been many who have argued (largely unsuccessfully) that the text is an allegory, with Joseph symbolizing anything from Jesus to the nation of Israel.

For her part, some scholars have understood Aseneth’s description as the “Bride of God” in 4:2 as representative of a redeemed Israel, or of the matriarchs of the Bible, or perhaps even the practice of voluntary virginity, which was increasingly popular in Christian circles in the late first and early second centuries. The simplest answer is that one who is now a “bride of God” is one who is a “daughter of God”, i.e., “a Hebrew” (and no longer an Egyptian, at least for religious purposes), in much the same way that a “son of God” represents any “child of God” in the Hebrew text. Keep in mind that there are many “sons of God” mentioned in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that appear to be referring to heavenly beings, from Job 1:6: וַיְהִי הַיּוֹם וַיָּבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים לְהִתְיַצֵּב עַל-יְהוָה (“Now it fell upon a day, that the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD”), to Job 38:7: וַיָּרִיעוּ כָּל-בְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים (“and all the sons of God shouted”), to Gen 6:2: וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה (“and the sons of God saw the daughters of men, because they were fair”), as well as in the New Testament, when human peacemakers come to be called “sons of God”: μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God“).

The use of the phrase “son(s) of God” in the Old and New Testaments does not automatically mean “INSERT JESUS’ NAME HERE”.

Fourth: Simply employing symbolism does not an allegory make. So while some scholars have argued that the text is a distinctly Christian text, most scholars conclude that the text is distinctly Jewish, while allowing that the text may possess some evidence of later Christian tampering and reworking, especially those parts of the text involving Eucharistic interpretations of the meal of bread and wine found within the story. However, the attempts by multiple scholars (cf. Chap 1 of Chesnutt) to interpret the story allegorically ultimately fall short, as any allegorical interpretation must be highly selective of particular details, and therefore necessarily ignores many other details within the story that simply do not fit the supposed allegory, relegating claims of allegory to the realm of wishful thinking. The story must ultimately be read as what it is: a Jewish narrative apology for the patriarch Joseph’s mixed marriage, with possible, occasional Christian reworking.

Keep in mind that there are all kinds of allegorical interpretations of biblical texts in the first centuries BCE and CE. Chapter 15 of the pseudepigraphical Epistle of Barnabas offers an allegorical interpretation of the Creation account from Gen. 1. The first century Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria also offered allegorical interpretations of biblical events and figures (including Joseph). The difference here is that Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson are claiming an allegorical interpretation of a pseudepigraphical text, as if the text of Joseph and Aseneth were itself canonical.

When all is said and done, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson offer an allegorical interpretation of a Syriac translation of a (likely originally Greek) pseudepigraphical text, written to “clean up” the fact that the Hebrew patriarch Joseph married a non-Hebrew.

Fifth: The text used as “proof” of Jesus’ marriage dates to the 6th century CE, and only hopeful speculation pushes the Syriac version of this text back to earlier centuries. The fact that the Syriac version is composed long after an established minority tradition that depicts Jesus as Mary Magdalene’s κοινωνός, or “companion” in the Gospel of Philip, or the Gospel of Mary, which states that Jesus “loved [Mary] more than the rest of woman” – a tradition that some modern interpreters and fiction writers have argued is evidence that the Mary mentioned is Mary Magdalene, and that the two were married – does not provide “evidence” that Jesus and Mary were married. It simply means that some later author was making a contribution to this tradition. BUT, because it is written after the others, it CANNOT be used as “evidence” of ANYTHING but a continuation of the already late tradition that Jesus was married.

It would be like citing a favorable book review written by followers of Simcha Jacobovici three centuries after the publication of The Lost Gospel, and citing it as evidence that Simcha knows what he’s talking about. Such a review would contribute nothing to Simcha’s credibility, but would only serve as evidence that someone much later liked the book. Similarly, the Syriac version is a translation of a pseudepigraphical apology, upon which is forced Mr. Jacobovici’s allegorical translation. This is evidence of nothing.

Sixth: (And please remember I originally wrote the following over a year ago.) Anyone attempting an allegorical interpretation of Joseph and Aseneth, and arguing for anything other than an apology for why Joseph married a non-Israelite (and the daughter of a pagan priest at that), is grasping at speculative straws, and attempting (like the author of the Syriac text) to stretch the text into something it was never designed to do. Whether it be a gnostic interpretation of the text, or an attempt to argue something truly ridiculous and sensational, for example, that the story somehow represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene (as “Bride of God”, requiring an appeal to separate Gnostic texts like Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip), and that this allegorical representation from six centuries after the life of Jesus, relying on the weaving together of multiple Gnostic texts composed a full century after the life of Jesus, somehow provides “evidence” of aspects of Jesus’ actual, historical lifesuch allegorical interpretations are the height of unsubstantiated speculation.

My teacher, Randall Chesnutt, said it best in his conclusion:

“While no one doubts the presence of symbolic and allegorical elements, the trend now is toward a method which recognizes those elements of symbolism and allegory which are straightforward and explicit in the narrative of Aseneth’s conversion rather than those supposed to be encoded deep within it.” (Chesnutt, From Death to Life, p. 45).

Finally: The book’s methodology is highly problematic. Scholars won’t reject Mr. Jacobovici’s findings because of some “theological trauma” or a confessional, apologetic desire to preserve the Jesus described in the Bible. I’m an agnostic. I have no dog in the fight of whether Jesus was married or not. He could be married and have 4 kids like me and I wouldn’t care. The problem is not a theological one, it is one of scholarship, methodology, and the (mis)use of evidence. Scholars won’t reject Mr. Jacobovici’s claims because they want to defend Christianity, scholars will reject Mr. Jacobovici’s speculations because he engages in circular reasoning, lacks evidence, breaks any number of rules of textual criticism, and engages in what I’ve described in the past as “speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation” – all of which is designed to sell books and get viewers to watch the accompanying documentary in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

So in my professional opinion as an archaeologist and a tenure-track professor at a major research university (GO HAWKS!), I must recommend against this book. Just don’t bother. Were it a Dan Brown-esque novel, positing a speculative interpretation about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene utilizing a fanciful allegorical interpretation of a document written six centuries after Jesus came and went, I’d say buy it and have fun. Fiction can be so much fun! But the problem with this book is that Mr. Jacobovici believes what he’s writing. He believes his interpretation is true. He wants it to be true. And that hovers somewhere between comical and scary.

I HAVE read the book and it really is worse than you might imagine. The text in question is neither “lost” nor a “gospel”, and the allegorical reading of the Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth is little more than a wishful hope that it would be so, employing little more than name substitution and a desire to prove The DaVinci Code true. Absolutely no scholar will take this book seriously. It will not change Christianity. It will not change biblical scholarship. It’s just Simcha doing what he does best: direct-to-the-public pseudoscholarship just in time for Christmas.

Iowa State University Lecture: A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Dr. Robert Cargill looks at a copy of the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Dr. Robert Cargill looks at a copy of the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Iowa State University has posted online the audio of my Oct 23, 2014 lecture at ISU entitled, “A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Recent Advances and the Future of the Field“, along with the video of my PowerPoint. The video capture of the digital model toward the end is sketchy, but the audio and PPT slides and audio came out OK.

If you want to hear/watch the lecture, simply click the above link, right-click on the “Download Podcast” icon at the bottom of the list on the right, and save it to your computer. (The file is 111 MB total.) After it downloads, add .mp4 to the end of the file name, and then simply double-click to play or open it in QuickTime.

Many thanks to Dr. Hector Avalos for the invitation to speak. It was a beautiful evening on a beautiful campus in Ames, IA

Summary:

Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of Classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, will discuss how recent advances in the fields of archaeology and the digital humanities have enabled scholars to create digital reconstructions of archaeological remains at Qumran, the site associated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He uses 3D and virtual reality to introduce the audience to the ancient sites, proposes various reconstructions, and highlights the process for databasing archaeological data. Cargill was the chief architect and designer of the Qumran Visualization Project at UCLA’s Center for Digital Humanities. He has appeared as an expert on the National Geographic special, Writing the Dead Sea Scrolls, and History’s documentary series Bible Secrets Revealed. He is also the author of the recent book, Qumran through (Real) Time: A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Co-sponsored by:

  • ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society
  • ISU Philosophy Club
  • Philosophy & Religious Studies
  • Committee on Lectures (funded by GSB)

 

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.

 

Full Text of Prof. Robert Cargill’s 2014 University of Iowa Graduation Speech (AKA “The Hashtag Speech”)

The following is the full text of my 2014 Commencement speech to the graduates of the University of Iowa (Twitter: @uiowa) College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Twitter: @UIowaCLAS) at the 1:00pm ceremony on May 17, 2014 in Carver Hawkeye Arena.

Here is just my speech:

Here is the full commencement ceremony:

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Vice President Rocklin,

Dean Djalali,

Members of the Platform Party,

All 10,000 Statues of Herky scattered throughout Iowa City

Families, Friends, Alumni,

and most importantly,

graduates of the University of Iowa Class of 2014.

I am honored to have been invited to give the faculty address, but I only have a few minutes to speak. And since most faculty speeches say the same thing, that is, “Congratulations”, “We’re proud of you”, “Good luck”, etc., I thought I’d use my time instead to give you something a bit more memorable.

Not only is this graduation ceremony being streamed live, but because my speech has to be so short, and because I’m also a professor working in the digital humanities, I’m going to be live tweeting my speech as I speak.

And I’ll be using the hashtag #UIGrad2014.

And I’m going to start with some pictures, but I need your help. I need you to take some pictures with me. And then you can tweet your photos using the hashtag #UIGrad2014 while the other students’ names are being read.

And you can re-tweet this speech and my photos available at my Twitter account: Robert Cargill, which is @XKV8R, that’s at X-K-V-8-R, as well.

So listen to the speeches, and then re-tweet during the reading of the names. Got It?

OK. Let’s start out with the ultimate “Class of 2014” graduation picture. Parents and friends up in the stands, you can play along too. We’ll all take pictures together.

Ready? What’s that? No, I will not take a picture with your camera.

OK, ready? Please, please…do not flash the graduation speaker.

OK, ready? One, two, three.

#UIGrad2014

OK. Now here’s a picture you can’t get. Here’s a picture of the platform party.

#UIGrad2014Platform Party #NotAnACTUALParty

OK, and now for the speech.

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Greetings University of Iowa “Class of 2014”. # Greatest Iowa Graduating Class EVER!

Congratulations! You guys did it! # Some Of You After 5 Years

Soon, you will be University of Iowa graduates and will either enter the workforce, or graduate school. # Either Way You Will Be Underpaid

And what’s even better, you will soon be receiving phone calls from the Alumni Association. # Send Money

Your time at the University of Iowa has been and will forever be remembered as one of the greatest periods of your life

when life was fun! # In Relatively Good Shape # Relatively Thin # Weren’t Bald

[Takes off cap and bows.]

I speak from experience.

In fact, you will soon catch yourselves saying thing like,

“College life was so good“.

“Iowa was awesome.” # Often While Sitting At Your Desk At Work # Or Changing Diapers # Of Twins (True story!)

But I want to give you a quick heads up about what to expect from this day forward.

Because you will also remember your time at the University of Iowa as one of the most transformative periods in your life.

And you will quickly learn that these changes do not stop once you graduate. They actually come faster. # And Become More Expensive

Just ask the people sitting up here.

But your personal transformation as a Hawkeye doesn’t end today.

In fact, in many ways, life as a Hawkeye really begins today.

And for some of you, that life will be spectacular.

You will have tremendous success, you will be happy, and will make lots of money. # The Alumni Association will Definitely Be Calling You.

And be proud! The University of Iowa has prepared you for that success.

But for some of you, life will be very difficult. You will face challenges.

You will lose jobs. Relationships will be strained. Money will be tight.

But believe it or not, the University of Iowa has prepared you for this as well.

Because we the faculty, and your college experience at Iowa didn’t just teach you about math and science,

and most importantly, classics and archaeology # Shameless Plug

But your University of Iowa college experience has prepared you to think on your feet, embrace life,

and yes, deal with disappointments, and deadlines, and challenges.

And this is when you must,  you must, learn to rely on each other, your University of Iowa network

because from this day on, you are all Hawkeye Alumni. AND HAWKEYES ALWAYS, ALWAYS STICK TOGETHER! # And Are Very Nice About It

And part of being a member of the University of Iowa family means looking out for one another and helping each other out wherever life takes you.

Because you will meet Iowa alumni everywhere you go.

I remember the day I was hired to teach here at Iowa.

I was still living in California, and I had bought a University of Iowa sweatshirt when I had interviewed here for the job.

So the day I was hired, I put on my sweatshirt, and, I kid you not, I went hiking out in Yosemite National Park, at 7000 feet,

and was proudly wearing my new Iowa sweatshirt, when some random hiker passes me and yells, “GO HAWKS!”

And I didn’t KNOW the proper response yet! I had just been hired and I didn’t KNOW to say, “GO HAWKS”, back in response, or “ON IOWA”!

So…I hesitated, and was caught off guard and said something like, “Uh…Soarin’ High”.

I didn’t know whether I was supposed to screech like a hawk # Makes Poorly Executed Sound of Hawk

I had no clue! I didn’t know what to say, # Not What A Hawk Actually Sounds Like

but I’ll be damned if there wasn’t an Iowa Hawkeye alum hiking at 7000 feet in the middle of Yosemite National Park screaming “GO HAWKS!”

By the way, # Cargill Did NOT Just Tell Iowa Graduating Class Of 2014 To “SOAR HIGH”. I just want to get that cleared up.

But now I know what it means to be a Hawkeye.

And I also know that your degree from the University of Iowa will prove to be one of the best investments you will have ever made.

In fact, you will never spend money that pays off as much as the money you spent going to the University of Iowa.

Actually, let me say that again: For some, YOUR PARENTS will never spend money that pays off as much,

as the money THEY spent putting YOU through the University of Iowa. # Some For five Years

So be proud! You ARE the University of Iowa.

And if you can handle six-month winters covered in snow, # The Planet Hoth, then you can handle anything!

So take it from a highly educated man wearing a beret and a blue dress. # Fashion PhDiva

Do me three favors today:

First, say thank you to your parents or grandparents or whomever put your through college.

In fact, give them a hand right now. # See Mom, I Love You. Please Send More Money

Second, find a faculty member after the ceremony and say, “Thank you.” Maybe send them an email. # Or Endow Their Chair

And finally, find a student you don’t know, or never really talked to, and say, “Hi”, and give them a hug. # Guys, This Is Your Last Chance. # I’m Trying To Help.

Because you never know when that fellow Hawkeye graduate is going to bail you out. # Of Prison

So…graduates of the University of Iowa Class of 2014,

on behalf of the faculty of the University of Iowa, # Professional Nerds, CONGRATULATIONS on your graduation!

We are very proud of your accomplishment,

because not long ago, we too were graduating just like you. # Except We Are Not Moving Back Into Your Parents’ Basement For The Summer

And you are always welcome to come back to campus and visit us. # Preferably Sometime BEFORE You Ask Us For A Letter Of Recommendation

To Leah DeGrazia and Andrew Deloucas, and to all my students graduating today, I love you. Congratulations and good luck!

Thank you all again. Be safe and have fun tonight! #GO HAWKS

=====

Some other pictures I took from the platform:

Tassel turning ceremony

Pic with University of Iowa Board of Regents student representative Hannah Walsh

And a member of the audience captured the second half of the speech. Thank you!

=====

For more images and tweets from the 2014 University of Iowa commencement ceremony, visit the hashtags #UIGrad2014 and #UIGrad14.

=====

I also want to acknowledge my inspiration behind this speech by thanking Ellen DeGeneres for her Oscar antics that inspired the Twitter pics of the graduates, to Stephen Colbert‘s “The Wørd” segments and Kevin Nealon‘s SNL “Mr. Subliminal” sketches for inspiring the idea behind the hashtag punchlines, and to Conan O’Brien for making graduation speeches fun. And many thanks to Cale Staley for his work behind the scenes. Thanks to all of you!

 

 

NY Court of Appeals Upholds 19 Convictions Against Raphael Golb in Dead Sea Scrolls Case

Raphael Golb had multiple convictions upheld by the NY Court of Appeals. He had appealed the 29 counts on which he was convicted and which the Appellate Division had upheld.

Raphael Golb had multiple convictions upheld by the NY Court of Appeals. He had appealed the 29 counts on which he was initially convicted and which the NY Appellate Division had upheld. The NY Court of Appeals upheld 19 convictions.

The NY Court of Appeals today affirmed and upheld a total of 19 convictions of Raphael Golb, son of Dr. Norman Golb, Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, in a bizarre internet cybercrime case stemming from crimes committed beginning in 2007.

The NY Court of Appeals upheld 9 convictions of criminal impersonation and all 10 forgery convictions in the case of the People of NY v. Raphael Golb, in which the defendant created an army of pseudonymous online sock puppets to criticize, harass, and ultimately impersonate various scholars who disagreed with the academic findings of his father, Dr. Norman Golb, concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The court vacated the top charge of identity theft (felony), 5 criminal impersonation convictions, all aggravated harassment convictions, as well as the conviction on the count of unauthorized use of a computer.

For the reasons that follow, we affirm the convictions for nine counts of criminal impersonation in the second degree and all of the convictions for forgery. We vacate the conviction for identity theft in the second degree; five of the convictions for criminal impersonation in the second degree; all of the convictions for aggravated harassment in the second degree, and the conviction for unauthorized use of a computer.

(For more, visit the NY Court of Appeals “Decisions” page.)

The vacating of the lone felony charge may mean reduced or no jail time for Dr. Golb, but that will be for the NY Supreme Court to decide, as the case has been remitted to them for resentencing:

Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be modified by vacating the convictions for Counts 2, 3, 5, 23, 29, 40, 42, 44, 48, and 51, dismissing those counts of the indictment, and remitting to Supreme Court for resentencing, and, as so modified, affirmed. [emphasis mine]

Keep in mind, however, that while the now vacated felony count carried a sentence of six months and 5 years probation, the misdemeanor counts also carried three month prison sentences and three years probation of their own. So there is a chance that Dr. Golb’s prison sentence may be reduced, but as 19 misdemeanor counts were affirmed, he could still serve time.

(For a list of convictions that were earlier upheld by the Appellate Division, see my earlier post from Jan. 29, 2013 here.)

Reaction

I offered an initial response when Dr. Golb was initially sentenced. I’ll add only the following:

For all those involved, this has been a grueling time. At the end of the day, Dr. Golb has been found guilty on 19 counts in a truly groundbreaking cybercrime case, which I’m sure many future cases will reference.

Raphael Golb is not only an internet troll, but he’s also a criminal and now a convict. A jury of his peers, the NY Appellate Division, and now the NY Court of Appeals have all said so.

And while one might argue that sending pseudonymous letters to multiple supervisors containing speech that is intended to harass and “destroy the career prospects of a really nice guy” is not criminal harassment, it is difficult to argue that forgery and criminal impersonation are “protected” speech. That is where Dr. Golb’s actions became criminal, and that is what the court has upheld.

Throughout this ordeal, we also learned that Raphael Golb’s father, Dr. Norman Golb, not only knew about some of the activities of his son, but participated in informing them.

This is simply a sad case of academic pride run amok, and an example of the lengths to which some scholars will go to defame and injure those scholars who happen to disagree with their theories, including knowledgeably working with one’s children, who have created an army of internet sockpuppets to commit crimes against others.

While I don’t feel any better now that the NY Court of Appeals has determined that I wasn’t harassed (at least not “criminally”), I am satisfied that Dr. Golb was found guilty on multiple counts, and that both the Appellate Division and the NY Court of Appeals have affirmed these convictions.

I should like to think that this will be the end of this mess, but I’m certain that this saga will continue. Dr. Golb has already vowed further appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court if allowed. For now, I take satisfaction in knowing that the wheels of justice, however slow, have once again arrived at a correct decision, and will continue to do so.

DEVELOPING…

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