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

The so-called

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

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

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

On the scientific tests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what does this all mean? Hurtado states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter.

 

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why the so-called ‘jonah ossuary’ does not contain the name of jonah

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the image that Dr. Tabor and Dr. Charlesworth both claimed yesterday morning contained the “name of Jonah.”

I disagree. I have argued against this here and here.

I have marked up the image below. (The original is here.) I have placed a marked-up image next to the original so that viewers can see that the color-stroked lines correspond to the actual engraved lines. (Click for larger image.)

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Dr. Charlesworth has claimed that red line forms a yod (“Y”), the aqua line forms a waw (“O”), the lime and yellow lines constitute a nun (“N”), and the orange, black, and pink lines form a heh (“H”). Dr. Charlesworth proposes that these lines form the name יונה (“YONH,” or “Jonah”).

There are a number of problems with this reading. Jim Davila, Antonio Lombatti, Mark Goodacre, Steven Goranson, and Steve Caruso have all already addressed many of the problems. Below is a summary with illustrations.

1. There is a space between the lines that comprise the supposed nun (yellow and lime lines), meaning it is likely not a nun. NOTE that given the present lighting, there are visible horizontal lines (to the left) and angled lines (above and to the right). Thus, were the yellow and lime lines connected, we should expect to see a quite visible horizontal connection between the two lines. However, this is lacking even though the same angles are visible in the same lighting elsewhere in the same photograph.

There is a space between the lines that make up the supposed 'nun'. Thus, this is not likely a 'nun'.

An over-under comparison of the original image (above, available here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1) and the same image with the contrast and levels increased for clarity. The red arrow points to a space between the lines that make up the supposed 'nun'. Thus, this is not likely a 'nun'.

We must also ask if there is a line (that I have not highlighted) at the bottom of the lime green line running from northwest to southeast, that intersects the center white line at the space where the lime green and yellow lines approach one another. We might also ask whether the dark green line is a continuation of the lime green line.

2. The line above the supposed yod (blue line) is completely overlooked or intentionally ignored.

Side-by-side images of the original image (left) of a supposed 'yod' and a line above it. The line above the supposed 'yod' is completely ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side images of the original image (left) of a supposed 'yod' and a line above it. The line above the supposed 'yod' is completely ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

3. The line making up the supposed waw (aqua line) is bent the wrong way.

Side-by-side image of the supposed 'waw' from the so-called 'Jonah ossuary'. The waw is bent the wrong way. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side image of the supposed 'waw' from the so-called 'Jonah ossuary'. The supposed 'waw' is bent the wrong way. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

4. The faint line to the bottom left of the left leg of the supposed heh (purple line) is completely overlooked or intentionally ignored.

Side-by-side of an ignored line to the left of the left leg of the supposed 'heh'. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side of an ignored line to the left of the left leg of the supposed 'heh'. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

5. The line that provides the top of the supposed heh (pink line) is far too long in relation to the lines of the other supposed ‘letters.’

Side-by-side image of a supposed 'heh.' The top of the supposed letter is far too long in relation to the lines that would comprise the other supposed letters. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side image of a supposed 'heh.' The top of the supposed letter is far too long in relation to the lines that would comprise the other supposed letters. (Original image: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

6. The faint, but definitely present line toward the bottom on the left side (the green line) is completely overlooked or intentionally ignored.

Side-by-side illustration of a faint line (green line above) that has been missed or ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side illustration of a faint line (green line above) that has been missed or ignored. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

7. There is no base line. The supposed yod should not be lower than the supposed waw, and the supposed nun should not extend that far above the supposed heh, etc. In the graphic below, I have isolated the lines that supposedly make up the name of Jonah (and have ignored and not highlighted the lines that have been missed or intentionally ignored, just for argument’s sake).

No baseline exists for the supposed letters. We should expect the letters to hang from a baseline like on nearly all other ossuary inscriptions.

Side-by side image with lines that were missed or ignored removed. This image therefore consists only of the lines that some believe to make up the name of Jonah. No baseline exists for the supposed letters. We should expect the letters to hang from a baseline or show some attempt at some linear alignment like on nearly all other ossuary inscriptions.

Thus, in order for the name of Jonah to be present on the bottom of this vessel (or proposed “Jonah’s Great fish”), Dr. Charlesworth and Dr. Tabor must claim the following:

1) that two strokes that are not connected can count as a letter typically made with a single stroke (see the nun in #1 above)
2) that lines that clearly appear among the other lines can be simply ignored and disregarded because they do not fit the desired outcome (see #2, #4, and #6 above)
3) that letters can bend over backward to become something they’re not (see the waw in #3 above)
4) that lines of letters can be disproportionately lengthy compared to others (see #5 above)
5) the letters lack any semblance of a linear alignment (see #7 above)

If the above rules are permitted, that there may be no end to the ways in which we can interpret a random set of lines at the bottom of a vessel (complete with handles).

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Side-by-side images of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. (Original image here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/press-kit-photos/?wppa-album=3&wppa-photo=15&wppa-occur=1)

Because yods, waws, and nuns, are essentially straight or slightly curved lines of varying lengths, if we eliminate linear alignment, we can make a chicken scratch patch of lines of various lengths say just about anything that contains the letters Y, W, O, or N. And if we add the lines that were missed or deliberately ignored, we can introduce the letter Z, and perhaps L.

It is far more likely that the graffito artist made a poorly executed attempt (like the rest of the graffito vessel) at representing the geometry we find at the bottom of many amphoras, kraters, and hydrias, just above their half-spherical bases.

This interpretation seems far more likely that taking a Rorschach Test / word search approach to epigraphy.

on seeing the name of “Jonah” in the “Jonah Fish” ossuary

This really is Rorschach Test archaeology.

News from Simcha, Dr. Tabor, and Dr. Charlesworth claim to have ‘discovered’ the ‘name of Jonah’ inscribed in a jumbled mess of lines at the bottom of the so-called “Jonah fish” ossuary.

I addressed this yesterday in a YouTube video. There is no ‘Jonah.’ Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor had been arguing that the half-spherical base of the vessel was, (I kid you not), the ‘seaweed wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah.’

But, this was SO patently absurd, that just last night, they’ve changed their position and are now arguing that a bunch of randomly etched-in lines spell out the Hebrew name of ‘Jonah.’ (Think about it: Jonah loses his legs and arms if they are now ‘letters.’)

The problem with this is that the first three letters of the name of Jonah in Hebrew, yod, waw, and nun, are essentially differing lengths of straight or slightly curved lines. They are looking at these simple lines and trying to make letters out of them like one would look at a Rorschach Test and make into whatever their imagination tells them.

Jim Davila, Antonio Lombatti, and Mark Goodacre have already addressed this new ‘discovery.’

Apparently, their previous ‘stick figure Jonah’s head’ argument was so weak, they appear to have already ‘cut bait’ (all pun intended) and have moved on to “Rorschach Test Archaeology.”

So, if that’s how we’re going to do it, then I have a (quite satirical) ‘discovery’ of a name of my own:

If a bunch of random lines is "Yonah," then I've discovered "Yo Yo Ma." The argument of "Jonah's seaweed wrapped stick figure head" is so weak, Simcha and his team have cut bait and moved on to "Rorschach Test archaeology."

If a bunch of random lines is "Yonah," then I've discovered "Yo Yo Ma." The argument of "Jonah's seaweed wrapped stick figure head" is so weak, Simcha and his team have cut bait and moved on to "Rorschach Test archaeology."

happy pi day (3.14) to all fellow nerds

enjoy this!

pi

and remember, it’s always in the numbers, even when you think it’s not. happy pi day.

HT: Jim Davila

enough of this! we need a bcs (blog championship series) to determine the best biblioblogs

College Football Bowl Championship Series

College Football Bowl Championship Series

I despise the Bowl Championship Series. Hate it! Why aren’t #4 Stanford (PAC-10) and #5 Wisconsin (Big Ten) playing in the Rose Bowl where a PAC-10 representative traditionally plays a Big Ten team? What is Stanford doing playing AP #12 Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl? If a PAC-10 team, Oregon, is playing in the national championship game, why wouldn’t the Rose Bowl folks choose the next best PAC-10 (and coincidentally, the #4 team in the nation) team for the Rose Bowl? Why isn’t #3 TCU playing BCS #6 Ohio State or BCS #7 Oklahoma? In fact, why doesn’t undefeated TCU have a shot at the title game like undefeated Oregon and Auburn? And why must I watch Oklahoma destroy play unranked Connecticut? (Yes, I know about the guaranteed BCS bowl games for certain conference champions, but that’s another problem entirely.)

Here’s my idea. The top four teams should play in a playoff using existing bowl games. This keeps the existing bowl boards happy because they each get their local advertising and revenue bowl, yet it allows for a playoff that could eliminate problems like we have this year with 3 undefeated teams.

For instance, the Fiesta Bowl could pit BCS #1 Auburn vs. BCS #4 Wisconsin, and the Orange Bowl could pit BCS #2 Oregon vs. BCS #3 TCU. Then, and only then, would the two winners of the two BCS bowl games play in a real BCS championship game. The other bowls could continue to do their own thing and make their money. This simple addition of a mini-playoff to the existing BCS system would at least allow us to clear up things like TCU being undefeated, but not playing in the championship game, while adding a minimum of extra games (precisely one!).

Biblioblogger Championship Series

Biblioblogger Championship Series (Mashup by Robert R. Cargill)

But all of this got me thinking about the recent barrage of polls attempting to rank the top biblioblogs on the web. There’s the Biblioblogger 10, the Biblioblog Top 20, the Biblioblog Top 50, the Jouissance-meter, the West Poll, the Linville Method, the Rhythm Method, and so on. I got to thinking that we have the same problem that college football had before the creation of the BCS. Then it struck me: we should create our own BCS (Blogger or Biblioblogger Championship Series).

I mean, if we’re going to have a number of completely arbitrary polls and rankings with different criteria and methodologies to produce a dozen different top blogger rankings, we might as well have a BCS (Blogger Championship Series) of our own to blame it on. That way, we can at least have an argument over how to determine the top blogs instead of arguing which blog is better. Like the BCS, we’ll be no closer to determining an actual number one, but we’ll at least have something to blame for it.

The BCS computation is based upon the Harris Poll, the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, and a number of other polls. Therefore, we’d, of course, need all of the polls listed above. Some polls can be rankings as voted by other bloggers. Other polls can be the results of readers and critics. Additionally, we’ll need a metric to measure best W-L record (number of blog posts), strength of schedule (quality of blog posts), and some magic constant multiplier to make everything come out just right. (My vote is for 42.)

Blog Championship Series

Blog Championship Series (Mashup by Robert R. Cargill)

I believe if we do this right, we can have the same amount of disagreement and confusion we have now, but we could blame it on the system and not on each other.

I need help, however, putting together the proper formula for determining the best blog. Any ideas can be left in the comments below.

on the cuneiform text recently discovered in jerusalem

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

Dr. Christopher Rollston has published an excellent examination of the small cuneiform text that was recently discovered in the Jerusalem Ophel, and a critique of some of the claims made by its discoverer, Eilat Mazar, who recently published the findings with others in Israel Exploration Journal (Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima, and Yuval Goren, “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem,” IEJ 60:1 (2010), 4-21.)

Rollston’s “Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel” is a careful, reasoned analysis of the inscription and a much needed cautionary response to some of the sensational claims that we’ve begun to hear regarding this fragmentary text.

The Jerusalem Post’s Ben Hartman reported the story here.

Voice of America’s David Byrd has a nice article and audio report on the find here.

Ferrell Jenkins and Bible Places Blog have posted about the tablet.

Jim Davila has offered reflections on the discovery and the reporting of it here.

I’ll make only a few summary notes regarding the discovery of this inscription.

  • It is an administrative text, very fragmentary in nature, and wholly non-descriptive.
  • While one could understand it as a part of a correspondence between Amarna and Jerusalem, there is nothing other than the approximate date of the fragment and the location of its discovery that supports this. As Rollston points out, “There are no personal names that are preserved on this tablet… There are no titles (e.g., “king”) preserved on this tablet… There are no place names (e.g., “Egypt”) preserved on this tablet.” It could have been written to another administrator in Jerusalem. This is contra Horowitz, who argues that the high quality of the writing and the object suggests that it was a message sent from an early king of Jerusalem to a Pharaoh in Egypt.
  • This fragment demonstrated that there was someone capable of writing and giving orders in Jerusalem long before the rise of Israel.
  • It proves that someone (we don’t know who) was writing to someone (to whom we don’t know) in Akkadian in Jerusalem in the 14th century BCE. That’s about it.
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