Sneak Peek of “Bible Secrets Revealed” on History, beginning Nov 13, 2013

Dr. Bart Erhman (UNC, Chapel Hill) appears on

Dr. Bart Erhman (UNC, Chapel Hill) appears on “Bible Secrets Revealed” airing on History beginning Nov 11, 2013.

You can sneak a peek at the first teaser/trailer of “Bible Secrets Revealed” on the History web site.

Drs. Bart Ehrman, Candida Moss, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, and Reza Aslan are shown inviting viewers to come and watch.

The series begins airing on Nov 13, 2013 at 10/9c. The series airs every Wednesday for the next six weeks.

I can also reveal a list of some of those scholars who will be appearing in the series. This partial list (in alpha order) includes:

Reza Aslan (University of California, Riverside)
Gary Burge (Wheaton College)
Robert R. Cargill (University of Iowa)
Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Lori Anne Ferrell (Claremont Graduate University)
Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University)
William Fulco (Loyola Marymount University)
Jeffrey C. Geoghegan (Boston College)
Bryan Givens (Pepperdine University)
Mark Goodacre (Duke University)
Bradley Hale (Azusa Pacific University)
James Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
Amir Hussain (Loyola Marymount University)
Alvin Kass (NYPD)
Chris Keith (St. Mary’s University College)
Peter Lanfer (University of California, Los Angeles)
Jodi Magness (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Dale Martin (Yale University)
Candida Moss (University of Notre Dame)
Bob Mullins (Azusa Pacific University)
Elaine Pagels (Princeton University)
Yuval Peleg (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Pnina Shor (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Jordan Smith (University of Iowa)
Daniel L. Smith-Christopher (Loyola Marymount University)
Francesca Stavrakopoulou (University of Exeter, UK)
James Tabor (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)
David Wolpe (Sinai Temple, Los Angeles)
Jennifer Wright-Knust (Boston University)

I invite those of all faith traditions, sects, and denominations, as well as atheists, agnostics, secular humanists to watch the series, as History presents a scholarly look at the difficult texts and traditions within the Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing Spring 2014 Seminar in Syriac at the University of Iowa

Peshitta Gen. 1

Peshitta Gen. 1

I shall be offering a course in Syriac Readings (RELS:4960/7900) open to upper-level undergrads and graduate students in the spring semester of 2014.

Students should have competency in Biblical Hebrew, and the completion of one of my Aramaic courses (Biblical or Targumic) is highly recommended as a prerequisite.

The first part of the course will introduce students to Syriac script and grammar using Thackston’s Introduction supplemented by the Eisenbrauns update of Nöldeke’s Grammar, while the course will conclude with a series of readings.

Texts to be read in the course include the standards (excerpts from the Peshitta and some Doctrine of Addai), as well as a special treat: because I cover the Greek pseudepigraphical story of Joseph and Aseneth in my “Banned from the Bible: Intro to Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha” course (RELS:3247 – with continued thanks to my Pepperdine professor Randall Chesnutt, who wrote his dissertation on Joseph and Aseneth), I thought we’d end the semester reading a less popular, but well-known text located in the British Museum, 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 is often skipped in English translations because it is already known in the Greek.

Joseph and Aseneth (and be sure to visit my colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre’s Aseneth Home Page) 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). This popular ancient love story serves an apology explaining why a righteous Israelite patriarch like Joseph would marry the daughter of a pagan priest. The answer: Joseph and Aseneth explains how Joseph’s wife converted to monotheism and belief in the Hebrew God before she married Joseph (a detail the Bible “left out”).

Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor’s Syriac account of Joseph and Aseneth is of note 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 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. But the employment of symbolism does not an allegory make, and 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 reworking, especially eucharistic interpretations of the meal of bread and wine 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.

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 life – such allegorical interpretations are the height of unsubstantiated speculation.

As Chesnutt concludes:

“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).

Thus, reading the story of Joseph and Aseneth in Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor will allow students to exercise their Syriac skills, hone their Greek comparative skills, engage the vast array of published scholarship on the text, and the seminar should produce contributions that can enhance future offerings of the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha course.

So sign up today for Readings in Syriac, because who knows – knowledge of ancient languages like this may come in handy some day :-)

(And may I offer an eternal tip of my hat to UCLA’s Yona Sabar, who taught me Syriac. Thank you Yona!)

“Simply pretending to hold a watermelon does not validate your argument.”

“Simply pretending to hold a watermelon does not validate your argument.”
– Steve Caruso

So true. And it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. :)

(HT: Tom Verenna)

Digital Humanities Lecture at University of Maryland entitled “Toward an Archaeological Standard for Digital Imagery”

University of MarylandThe University of Maryland’s Department of Art History and Archaeology, in conjunction with the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture, has invited me to speak on the topic of digital imagery. I’ll be giving a lecture entitled, “Toward an Archaeological Standard for Digital Imagery“.

Title: “Toward an Archaeological Standard for Digital Imagery
Place:
Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture (4213A – Art-Sociology Building)
Date: Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Time: 16:00 to 17:30
Abstract:

Photoshopped image of engraving on Jonah ossuary, as reproduced by Dr. Matt Tabor and discussed by Dr. Robert Cargill for its unethical visual manipulation “With the increased use and power of digital imagery tools comes the increasingly frequent manipulation of these images for purposes ranging from humor to advertisement.  Unfortunately, these purposes also include the manufacture of evidence to support revisionist theories of history and religion.

And while fields such as journalism have begun setting standards for acceptable practices concerning the processing of digital imagery, many scholarly fields within the humanities have not yet effectively addressed digital media processing and manipulation.

A rise in frequency of pseudo-archaeological claims made by amateurs employing manipulated digital imagery to support their sensational claims necessitates the immediate establishment of a set of standards and best practices for the use of processed images in academic settings. This talk highlights some recent examples of digital manipulation and offers a set of standards for future use of digital media within the academy that preserves the integrity of the imagery and enhances the credibility of those employing digital media.”

About the Lecturer: Robert Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at The University of Iowa, where he has taught since 2011. He came to Iowa from the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. While at UCLA, he also served as the Instructional Technology Coordinator for UCLA’s Center for Digital Humanities. At Iowa, he is part of the Public Humanities in a Digital World cluster of faculty. He also authors an active blog XKV8R, that covers wide-ranging subjects, chief among them ancient archaeology, and digital manipulation and the hazards therein.

Sponsorship: This talk is made possible through support from The Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies, the Department of Art History and Archaeology and the Department of Classics.

Maryland’s full ad is here.

Archaeologist David Ussishkin responds to the use of mechanical excavators…in 2006!

For Simcha Jacobovici, facts apparently mean nothing. He appears to be making this up as he goes... (Photo www.jpost.com)

For Simcha Jacobovici, facts apparently mean nothing. He appears to be making this up as he goes… (Photo http://www.jpost.com)

The recent exposure of paid employees of Simcha Jacobovici attempting to alter the Wikipedia article on “bulldozer archaeology” was as embarrassing for Simcha as it was shameful.

“John” (User: JohnEUnited) and “Nicole” (User: Naustin1980) were caught red-handed in their attempt to manufacture artificial controversy on Simcha’s behalf by creating single-purpose accounts to pepper the Wikipedia article with references to Robert Deutsch’s (previously) anonymous ad in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review, and Simcha’s bandwagon cheerleading attempts to promote the manufactured controversy.

The publishing of material on Wikipedia for the purposes of self-promoting and/or attacking others is not permitted upon on Wikipedia.

The article has since been restored.

“John” and “Nicole” also attempted to credit Simcha with the neologism “bulldozer archaeology”. That’s right, these champions of “investigative journalism” claimed that bulldozer archaeology was “a term coined by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici”. I kid you not. John McGinley then graciously spammed an email to a number of archaeologists and scholars touting their weasel works on Wikipedia, claiming, “”Bulldozer Archaeology² [sic] is now a recognized term in Wikipedia…The Goren/Deutsch debate is now in Wikipedia.”

Idiots.

It only took about ten seconds to discover who was behind the changes to the Wikipedia page, AND any number of instances (for instance, this one by Ralph Harrington) of the use of the term “bulldozer archaeology” long before Simcha’s PR team claimed he “coined” the phrase.

Once again, investigative journalism at its finest!

But it was upon perusing this Harrington article that I stumbled upon a citation, which led me to yet another article, in which none other than Tel Aviv University Professor Emeritus of Archaeology Dr. David Ussishkin responded to questions about his use of a mechanical excavator.

You’ll recall that Simcha highlighted the fact that Prof. Ussishkin did not sign the Tel Aviv University statement addressing the use of mechanical excavators in the midst of the Simcha/Deutsch campaign of retaliation against Prof. Goren.

Simcha stated:

“More important than who signed the statement, is who did not sign it. Legendary Tel Aviv archaeologist David Ussishkin – excavator of Lachish and Megiddo – never used a Caterpillar and did not sign the statement. Also notable by their absence are Tel Aviv archaeologists Ran Barkai, Avi Gopher and Dr. Mario Martin.”

[Emphasis mine]

As we see, Simcha invoked the name of Dr. Ussishkin just before he cited a deceased archaeologist as having supported him, and then corrected/deleted it from his blog. But he should have also deleted the claim about Dr. Ussishkin.

That is because not only does the above Harrington article prove that Simcha did not coin the phrase “bulldozer archaeology”, but we also note that in footnote 21 of the same article, which references a blog post entitled, “Archaeologist David Ussishkin Responds to El Haj Accusations“,  Dr. Ussishkin states:

“5. I believe the use of a JCB to determine the line of the rock-cut Iron Age moat was justified. It was essential to establish the size of the Iron Age enclosure in order to understand properly the site. In most of the area to the south of the site where this work took place bulldozers had removed and disturbed the debris during development works which had taken place here prior to the beginning of the excavation project. In view of the nature of the debris here it would have been impossible to accomplish the work with the aid of students/volunteers. A JCB with a long arm working delicately under archaeological supervision was the right solution: it can do useful work without damaging ancient remains, and I believe that this was the case here. Some later wall remains were exposed and recorded but were mostly left unexcavated – they probably belong to Byzantine domestic remains in the Iron Age moat or along its inner side. They all remain buried for future excavations.”

With all best wishes,

David Ussishkin

[emphasis mine]

Now I ask you: how many times can Simcha Jacobovici shoot himself in the foot trying to attack professor Yuval Goren? How hard is it to check to see if David Ussishkin ever endorsed the use of a mechanical excavator?

And how long will he rely on his bumbling employees to spam out emails about Wikipedia pages they marked up without even doing a minimal amount of simple research before they go embarrassing Simcha by making claims about him that take ten seconds to debunk?

Today we not only learned that Simcha is not beyond having his employees credit with something he did not do (coin the phrase “bulldozer archaeology,”), but that Simcha was wrong about claiming that Prof. Ussishkin never used mechanical excavators; clearly, David Ussishkin feels that:

“A JCB with a long arm working delicately under archaeological supervision was the right solution.”

Investigative journalism at its finest. lol.

Once again, how can we ever trust ANYTHING Simcha says?

I shake my head.

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