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.

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.

 

“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.

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!)

The Rhetoric of Simcha Jacobovici: A Quick Study

Mr. Simcha Jacobovici.

Mr. Simcha Jacobovici.

It occurs to me that those not familiar with my history with Simcha Jacobovici may not completely comprehend the fanciful rhetoric employed by Mr. Jacobovici in his recent comments, which he wrote in response to being criticized over any number of recent claims regarding the so-called Talpiyot Tombs in East Jerusalem, which he claims contains the dead and buried remains of Jesus, and next to which contains an ossuary with a picture of “Jonah’s Fish” on it, created by Christians who knew Jesus was dead and buried next door, but who celebrated his spiritual, not physical resurrection from the dead.

Simcha recently made three claims and a summary regarding exchanges we’ve had over the past few years. And yet, he cited or linked to none of them. I believe this is because the last thing Mr. Jacobovici wants is for people to read what I actually wrote and discover that Simcha is either highly misrepresenting what I said, or telling outright lies.

His three claims are as follows:

  1. “Dr. Robert Cargill made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”
  2. “He accused me of faking a Jerusalem mailbox in order to argue that a family named “Arimathea” lives in an apartment over the tomb.”
  3. “Dr. Cargill incited his blog readers to treat me like a piece of “basalt” and “sledge” me with a hammer.”

This was followed by a summary that stated I was “making fun of [his] religion”.

Therefore, I thought I’d use this opportunity as a teachable moment to illustrate to my readers precisely how Simcha Jacobovici utilizes rhetoric and lies to twist the words of those who may criticize his pseudoarchaeological claims.

1. Let’s begin with the first claim.

Mr. Jacobovici stated:

“A few years ago, Dr. Robert Cargill made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”

Jacobovici, Simcha,

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.
http://www.simchajtv.com/pants-on-fire/

But is that true? And why didn’t Simcha provide any evidence of this claim?

Mr. Jacobovici is referring to a paragraph in an article I wrote for Bible and Interpretation entitled, “A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross“, in May 2011.

Simcha’s “offending quote”, to which he didn’t bother to link, is as follows:

“Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Simcha Jacobovici’s claim of the discovery of the “Lost Nails of the Crucifixion” is speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation and topped with a colorful hat.”

Cargill, Robert R.,

Cargill, Robert R., “A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross”, Bible and Interpretation, May 2011. http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/simcha358005.shtml

Simcha responded with a lengthy defense of his pseudoarchaeological claims, which was posted by Dr. James Tabor (his Jesus Discovery partner) on his blog, in which he accused me of anti-Semitism (cf. pp. 41-42).

I did mention Simcha’s hat. This is not in question. But why did I mention Simcha’s hat? And does that constitute “anti-Semitism”?

My mentioning of Mr. Jacobovici’s hat was in response to a promotional fluff piece written by Ari Rabinovitch for Reuters, which referred to Simcha’s “trademark traditional knitted cap”.

Rabinovitch, Ari, “Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus's cross,” Reuters, April 12, 2011. http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/topNews/idINIndia-56286220110412

Rabinovitch, Ari, “Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus’s cross,” Reuters, April 12, 2011. http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/topNews/idINIndia-56286220110412

But note how there was NO outrage whatsoever from Mr. Jacobovici when a promotional article mentioned his hat. BUT, when my critical article did the exact same thing and simply mentioned his hat in passing, Simcha considers this as “he made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”

That’s it. “Colorful hat”. That’s what I said. Just like Ari Rabinovitch, I made a reference to his hat. Note that neither of us called it a kippah or yarmulke. There was no religious overtone whatsoever. I made a passing reference to his hat. When Ari Rabinovitch does it, no problem. But when I do it, Simcha interprets it as “making fun of my religion”.

Jacobovici, Simcha,

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.

I’ve never made fun of Mr. Jacobovici’s religion. Rather, I’ve spent my lifetime and career studying Judaism, understanding Judaism, teaching about Judaism, lecturing about Judaism, and publishing about Judaism. But Mr. Jacobovici wants to see it as “making fun” because it helps him rhetorically.

Go figure.

Of course, if I wanted to mirror Mr. Rabinovitch’s quote precisely, I could have replaced “colorful” with “his trademark traditional knitted cap”. However, since I’ve frequently described both Simcha’s personality and imagination as colorful, I chose the word “colorful”. And his hat is colorful. But this doesn’t matter. Simcha sought out an opportunity to be offended, and did so.

But note that this offense is completely hypocritical: when a promotional article mentions Simcha’s hat, there is no outrage. BUT when a critical article mentions Simcha’s hat, all of a sudden it’s “Dr. Robert Cargill made fun of my kippah/yarmulke.”

There was no “making fun”. Such a claim is obviously out of place and absurd, and is again likely why Simcha didn’t link to the actual comment: he didn’t want his readers to actually SEE the evidence/quote.

Likewise, there was no “mock[ing of] his religious head covering” as Simcha’s paid employee, Nicole Austin rhetorically claimed this morning.

nicole_mock2

No such thing ever happened. But facts and truth are secondary to the rhetorical tale that must be spun by Simcha and his employees.

Never mind that more than one of my children have Semitic names. Never mind that I have Hebrew tattooed to my arm. (The fact that Simcha can’t read it is irrelevant.) Never mind that I am invited to speak at the Iowa City synagogue on a regular basis. None of this matters. If you criticize Simcha, he may call you anti-Semitic, no matter how much of your life and career you give to studying Semitic languages or studying ancient Israel archaeologically; it is my experience that Simcha will resort to calling his opponents “anti-Semitic” if it helps him rhetorically. It’s an absurd charge, but he knows it carries weight in circles that don’t bother to check the facts, and so he plays the anti-Semite card when he thinks it will damage his opponent and earn him sympathy.

But this is how Simcha operates. This is how his mind works.

And THIS is the narrative Simcha NEEDS in order to play the victim, and recast his critics’ academic observations as “personal attacks”. Mentioning a hat is not “making fun of a religion.” But to Simcha, who has repeatedly demonstrated an inability, or lack of desire, to argue on the merits of the claim and the archaeological facts, he MUST try and turn it into a personal smear, so that he can, at the very least, claim that those scholars who are critiquing him are somehow smearing him personally.

It’s all rhetorically feigned outrage. But it’s part of dealing with Simcha.

2. Let’s now turn to the second claim made by Simcha in his rhetorical rant.

Simcha stated:

“Last year, he accused me of faking a Jerusalem mailbox in order to argue that a family named “Arimathea” lives in an apartment over the tomb. They do live there and it’s a curious coincidence because we believe that the tomb under the building belongs to Joseph of Arimathea, the man who buried Jesus. Cargill said that no such family lives over the tomb and that I manipulated the evidence so as to create a coincidence of metaphysical proportions. All he had to do is look in the Israeli telephone book to ascertain whether I was reporting truthfully. Instead, he implied that I planted the names on the mailbox. When I sent him the relevant page from the phonebook, he refused to apologize or to report the truth to his readers.”

Jacobovici, Simcha,

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.

But is this entirely true? In fact, is it even remotely true?

Again, Simcha didn’t bother to cite or link to my supposed “accusation” because he fears that readers will actually read what I wrote and see for themselves that I said no such thing!

In fact, I said entirely the opposite:

Now, it could very well be the case that a new family coincidentally named “Arimathea” moved into the apartment after everyone else (which would explain the replaced, slightly lighter green signs), but I would consider this to be highly coincidental, and certainly would not be evidence that the tomb beneath the apartment has been in the “Arimathea” family since the first century.” [Emphasis mine!]

Cargill, Robert R.,

Cargill, Robert R., ““Joseph of Arimathea,” mailboxes, close-ups, camera tricks, and the integrity of digital images”, XKV8R, April 26, 2012. https://robertcargill.com/2012/04/26/joseph-of-arimathea-mailboxes-close-ups-camera-tricks-and-the-integrity-of-digital-images/

Do you see it? Either Simcha is lying, or he’s not a very careful reader.

I never said that there was no family named “Arimathea” or “הרמתי” living there! Read it!

In fact, I said, “It could very well be the case that a new family coincidentally named “Arimathea” moved into the apartment after everyone else“!!!

So where does Simcha get such a preposterous lie? And why would he lie in such a contradictory fashion?

Simcha is upset because Joe Zias used the above post as evidence in court in his own defense against a lawsuit that none other than Simcha Jacobovici brought against him. Now, what Joe Zias may or may not have said about my post regarding whether or not a family named Arimathea or הרמתי actually lived there is Mr. Zias’ business, not mine. Yet, Simcha deliberately misattributes what Joe Zias may have said to my blog post!

In his post, Simcha acknowledges emailing me repeatedly on July 22, 2013 asking for a public apology for:

“thinking that there was no Arimathea family living in that building. The uncontestable [sic] fact is that there is. I would very much appreciate an apology and a correction”.

(Note: this is also the same series of email exchanges where Simcha feigned outrage after misreading my tattoo.)

Now, I want to spend a moment examining the email that Simcha sent to me, as it is very telling about how he is manipulating the words of my post.

Simcha’s email opens:

On April 26, 2012 you wrote a long piece suggesting that I “added/replaced” signs on the mailbox in the apartment over the patio tomb. According to this view, I perpetrated this act of fraud in order to imply that an Aramati/Arimathea family lives there today. The implication of your piece was that there was no such family living there today.

Small excerpt from email sent by Simcha Jacobovici to Robert Cargill on July 22, 2013.

Small excerpt from email sent by Simcha Jacobovici to Robert Cargill on July 22, 2013.

But note that Simcha jumps to three separate incorrect conclusions.

  1. First he says, “suggesting that I “added/replaced” signs on the mailbox“. This is not true. Read it carefully. I said “someone” replaced them. And according to records of ownership that Mr. Jacobovici sent me (which he mentions in his post), it appears that someone, in fact, DID replace the signs. I never said Simcha did it. But in his mind, I did.
  2. Then he continues, “According to this view, I perpetrated this act of fraud in order to imply that an Aramati/Arimathea family lives there today.” Notice Simcha’s very careful rhetorical qualification here: “According to this view, I perpetrated this act of fraud…” What view? According to whom? I just demonstrated that the preceding underlying premise is false. So the subsequent “view” is also false. Simcha attempts to use his initial falsehood to imply a rhetorical accusation, but this is merely rhetoric compounded upon a false premise, and his underlying logic is fundamentally flawed. Thus, I did not imply that Simcha perpetrated an act of fraud. But in his mind, I did.
  3. Finally, he concludes, “The implication of your piece was that there was no such family living there today“. Once again, Simcha’s conclusion is fraught with logical fallacies. First, Simcha assumes an “implication” that is not only based on the above demonstrated underlying falsehoods, but it is also his implication, not mine. Second, Simcha continues with the fallacious logic by concluding, “there was no such family living there today”. In reality, I explicitly stated the exact opposite! I said there very well could be an Arimathea family living there today, BUT that it doesn’t matter and is irrelevant to the argument.

Thus the opening paragraph of Simcha’s email is based upon an underlying falsehood, which is followed by logical assumption after logical fallacy after factual inaccuracy. And this is the basis of his accusation toward me. The problem is, as I’ve thoroughly demonstrated above with the actual words to which Simcha claims to have been responding, it’s all false!

QED

Simcha’s memory has either completely failed him and he made a mistake, or he’s deliberately lying. It’s one or the other.

I have no business with his lawsuit against Joe Zias, nor Mr. Zias’ defense against Simcha. What materials Mr. Zias brings to court in his own defense and how he uses them is entirely none of my business. All I said was that arguing that a family named Arimathea moving into an apartment above an ancient tomb is somehow evidence that the ancient tomb was owned by Joseph of Arimathea is just as patently absurd as arguing that a modern family named Cohen moving into that same apartment is somehow evidence that the tomb belonged to the High Priest Caiaphas.

It’s sheer ridiculous logic, but this is how Simcha’s mind works. The “curious coincidence” of a family named “Arimathea” living in a modern apartment has no bearing whatsoever on the ownership of a tomb that predates the apartment by 2000 years! And yet, Simcha will deliberately misrepresent my words lie just to score cheap rhetorical points and hopefully win some money in court.

3. Let’s now turn to the third and final claim made by Mr. Jacobovici.

He states:

“Dr. Cargill incited his blog readers to treat me like a piece of “basalt” and “sledge” me with a hammer.”

Jacobovici, Simcha,

Jacobovici, Simcha, “Pants on Fire”, Sept. 17, 2013.

Note once again that Mr. Jacobovici cites no evidence, and offers no context. I must assume that the reason for this is that this third claim is so easily debunked, and is such a ridiculously obvious rhetorical attempt to read an explicit analogy literally for the express purpose of deliberately misrepresenting the metaphor as violence toward an individual, that it’s patently absurd.

The statement to which Mr. Jacobovici is referring is a blog post I wrote in response to a manufactured controversy kindled by Dr. Robert Deutsch toward my Tel Aviv University colleague, Dr. Yuval Goren – a balagan into which Mr. Jacobovici has been one of the only individuals siding with Dr. Deutsch.

The title of the article is, “One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren“. I conclude the article with a metaphor, and it is to this metaphor that Simcha is referring on his blog.

The metaphor reads:

“So, to what shall I compare the archaeological credibility of Mr. Jacobovici and Mr. Deutsch following this entire balagan perpetrated by their own self interests? They are not unlike a piece of basalt, which at first appeared shiny and impressive in the archaeological square. But after archaeologists and scholars dug a little deeper, they soon realized the basalt was a hard, stubborn, intrusive nuisance to the remainder of the archaeological activity being done all around it. So what did they do? And what became of the piece of intrusive basalt? The archaeologists sledged it repeatedly (with logic, of course) until it was broken it into multiple fragments (of debunked rhetoric, of course), and safely removed it from the archaeological square…with a JCB, of course.” [Emphasis mine]

Cargill, Robert R.,

Cargill, Robert R., “One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren”, XKV8R, Aug. 26, 2013. https://robertcargill.com/2013/08/26/one-big-balagan-robert-deutsch-simcha-jacobovici-and-their-campaign-of-misinformation-against-prof-yuval-goren/

The problem with Simcha’s misrepresentation of this analogy is twofold:

First, This is actually a simple case of Simcha attempting to interpret literally what is plainly meant metaphorically. In fact, I even began the analogy with the common biblical line, “To what shall I compare…” (cf. Matt. 11:16).

Second, the analogy clearly states in the opening line that it is not about Mr. Jacobovici, but about his and Dr. Deutsch’s “archaeological credibility“. Of course, this point is deliberately overlooked by Mr. Jacobovici, because he wants the “Parable of the Basalt” to be about him, personally, and literally, and not about his archaeological credibility. So, he retells my parable by altering it (SHOCKER! that he’d alter something!) rhetorically to his advantage, and summarizing it as, “Dr. Cargill incited his blog readers to treat me like a piece of “basalt” and “sledge” me with a hammer.”

The only problem is I never said any such thing!! But, once again, evidence and facts and words and truth only get in the way of what Simcha wants me to have said, so that he can once again feign outrage, play the victim, and accuse those academics who are critical of him of goading others to “sledge me [Simcha] with a hammer”, rather than what it is: a metaphorical analogy about Simcha’s archaeological credibility.

Thus, I have thoroughly demonstrated above that Simcha is either conveniently forgetful, he cannot read (which is a distinct possibility given his translation of my tattoo), or he is an outright liar. I’ll let my readers decide which it is.

But this should serve as a lesson in dealing with Mr. Jacobovici: In my professional opinion, his entire pseudoarchaeological campaign is one big exercise in spin and rhetoric. When you read what Mr. Jacobovici writes, you must read it as you would words from a dishonest salesman or a politician; examine very carefully what he says, and what he does not say, and how he says it. Mr. Jacobovici is not dumb; every claim is carefully worded to project maximum credibility, while maintaining maximum deniability. Likewise, he ignores data that clearly refutes his claims, and has shown a tendency to manipulate data to fit other claims. (In fact, in the case of the instance I cite here, Mr. Jacobovici actually took steps to correct his earlier digital manipulation by uploading previously unpublished photos of the “Fish in the Margins” without the digital manipulation, and even took the extraordinary step, as illustrated by my Duke University colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre, to create a new museum quality replica, different from the first, with the digitally manipulated fish in the margins corrected to something closer to reality.)

Photos of Jacobovici and Tabor's

Photos of Jacobovici and Tabor’s “Replica 1” (top) and “Replica 2”. Photos available at: http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-tale-of-two-replicas.html

Given the rhetorical misrepresentation above, and digital manipulation of data that has been documented, and to which Mr. Jacobovici has taken steps to correct (thereby acknowledging the earlier manipulation of data), how can anyone trust anything he says about anything ever? If in a single blog post, I can refute with hard evidence three separate instances of deliberate rhetorical misrepresentation from a single paragraph of Mr. Jacobovici’s blog – qal v’homer! – how many more instances of deception and misrepresentation are the in everything else he’s said?

In the end, one statement by Mr. Jacobovici – in his own words remains perhaps the truest thing he’s ever said:

“For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic.” – Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the
Criticisms of the Film,” jamestabor.com, June 22, 2011, p. 45.

“For the record, I am not an archaeologist, nor am I an academic.”
– Simcha Jacobovici, “The Nails of the Cross: A Response to the Criticisms of the Film,” jamestabor.com, June 22, 2011, p. 45.

This statement speaks volumes regarding the trustworthiness of Mr. Jacobovici’s rhetorical claims. He states himself that he is not an academic. Perhaps we should stop expecting him to argue like one.

The Latest on the So-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” and the Benefits of Scholars Blogging

So-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Appears to be a forgery, in which the forger accidentally copied a typo from an online PDF translation of the Gospel of Thomas.

Jeremy Hsu at FoxNews has published an article entitled, “Did Jesus have a wife? Scholar calls parchment ‘forgery’“, that highlights the benefit of university professors, trained graduate students, and professional scholars using online resources like blogs and Facebook to share their research and findings regarding archaeological claims to craft together viable theories based in evidence.

This account was impressive:

The smoking gun
All the grammatical anomalies in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife suggest the writer was not a native speaker or even an academic expert in Coptic — the ancient, dead language of early Christians living in Egypt. Instead, Bernhard says that the pattern of errors and suspiciously similar line breaks suggests an amateur might have forged the “patchwork” text using individual words and phrases taken from Michael Grondin’s Interlinear Coptic-English Translation of the Gospel of Thomas. [Most European Languages Unlikely to Survive Online]

“There’s this general pattern in that everywhere the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife could diverge from gospel of Thomas, it doesn’t, and in places where it does [diverge], it appears it’s following Mike’s Interlinear,” Bernhard told TechNewsDaily.

One the most suspicious grammatical errors in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife appeared to be a direct copy of a typo in the PDF file version of the Interlinear translation — a connection that Grondin himself made when he was examining his translation. He shared that knowledge with Mark Goodacre, an associate professor of New Testament at Duke University, who had been writing up a blog post independently about the possibility of the “Jesus’ Wife fragment” being a forgery.

Goodacre and Bernhard eventually got in touch and agreed to coordinate the online publishing of their respective blog post and paper. Goodacre credits Bernhard with first making the connection between the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the online version of the Gospel of Thomas.

“I would have already put money on this thing being problematic, given the links between the fragment and the Coptic Gospel of Thomas,” Goodacre explained. “But the link with the online Interlinear version of the Gospel of Thomas really makes, for me, the case of authenticity a very difficult one.”

It is amazing how the internet is evolving with scholarship, and how scholars are beginning to harness the power of social media to share preliminary research. Of course, these results must still be subject to academic peer review, but because social media allows many more scholars to provide initial feedback (either making additional contributions by highlighting potentially overlooked evidence, or by encouraging the discard of poorer arguments through scholarly criticism and refutation), the arguments are usually much stronger by the time they reach the publisher’s desk. This is a good thing.

Check out the article. And read the summaries of the scholarly consensus, which appear to be leaning toward declaring the unprovenanced document, acquried from an anonymous antiquities dealer, as some sort of forgery. Of course there are some amateurs and pseudoscientists and pretend scholars who, for reasons of their own financial gain, attention, or conspiracy mongering, really really want this to be authentic. But those scholars who use scholarship to share evidence and debate claims and craft together a working theory based in fact are trending toward forgery.

And kudos to my colleague, Mark Goodacre!!

More:
http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/jesus-wife-fragment-further-evidence-of.html
http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/divorcing-mrs-jesus-leo-depuydts-report.html
http://www.ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-gospel-of-jesus-wife-latest.html
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/10/jesus-wife-an-egyptologists-perspective.html

Next Stop: The “Sign of Jonah” Corporate Logo

The "Sign of Jonah Corporate Logo" (based upon the image publicly available here: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/) is one possible design for the hypothetical argument that a graffito artist INTENTIONALLY attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of "Yonah" vertically and without a standardized linear guideline into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed wrapped stick man image with the DELIBERATE purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection.

The "'Sign of Jonah' corporate logo" (satirically based upon the image publicly available here: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/11/name-of-jonah-encrypted-on-the-jonah-and-the-fish-image/) is one possible design for the hypothetical argument that a graffito artist INTENTIONALLY attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of "Yonah" vertically and without a standardized linear guideline into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed-wrapped stick man image with the DELIBERATE purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection.

I’d like to make a prediction: the next argument we’re going to hear from Dr. James Tabor is what I’m referring to as the “Sign of Jonah” corporate logo theory.

Simply put, the theory will sound something like this:

A graffito artist intentionally attempted to incorporate a typographically hidden name of “Yonah” (vertically and without a standardized linear topline) into the arms and legs of an upside-down anthropomorphic seaweed-wrapped stick man image with the deliberate purpose creating a symbol that represented early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

That’s my prediction. Here’s my rationale:

In the beginning, Dr. Tabor saw a “stick man Jonah” with a “seaweed-wrapped head” coming down and out of the closed mouth of “Jonah’s great fish.” (Other scholars have called this a depiction of a vessel of some sort (complete with handles), complete with a base and decorative motifs. Other scholars have suggested the image is the representation of a nephesh.)

Dr. Tabor and his partner, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, went to press with a book (The Jesus Discovery) and broadcast a documentary (The Resurrection Tomb Mystery) making this claim.

However, a few days before the airing of the The Resurrection Tomb Mystery documentary (and six weeks after withering critiques of their The Jesus Discovery book, much of which focused upon their iconographic interpretations including the claim of a “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah“), attention turned to a new discovery credited by Dr. Tabor to Dr. James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, who purportedly noticed an inscription made up of the letters yod (“Y”), waw (“O”), nun (“N”), and heh (“H”), spelling יונה (“YONH,” or “Jonah”). (I critiqued this claim earlier.)

The problem was that this discovery came long after the publication of the book, and after the final cut of Mr. Jacobovici’s documentary had been sent to Discovery Channel for broadcast. However, Dr. Tabor quickly came to favor Dr. Charlesworth’s observation, perhaps assuming that it was more likely to be adopted by others as a credible possibility. However, because Dr. Tabor had already published the “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah” argument and wasn’t ready to jettison it in favor of Dr. Charlesworth’s “Jonah Inscription” theory, he needs a plan to integrate them together into a single Jonah Fish Grand Unifying Theory (AKA Jonah Fish GUT).

Thus, I predict, Dr. Tabor will attempt to incorporate both theories, blending Dr. Charlesworth’s “Jonah Inscription” theory into his existing “seaweed-wrapped head of a stick figure Jonah” argument. Dr. Tabor has already argued in response to Dr. Mark Goodacre’s critique of some migrating arms and legs, arguing that although he now assigns different lines to the stick figure’s arms and legs, this is not incompatible with his original “stick man Jonah” theory. I argue that this tactic would be better named the “Mr. Potato Head Jonah,” and one can rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

Mr. Potato Head Jonah. Simply rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

Mr. Potato Head Jonah. Simply rearrange arms and legs as needed to fit whatever theory is being argued this week.

I am also guessing that Dr. Tabor will, no doubt, attempt to call it, “yet one more piece of evidence all pointing to their original conclusion…”

So, because Dr. Tabor can’t claim that he saw the purported “Jonah inscription” or knew about it beforehand, they’ll attempt to accept the new “Jonah inscription” theory while retaining the original “stick man Jonah” theory using the same technique that apologists have used for years: harmonization. In fact, Dr. Tabor has already hinted at this tactic in an earlier blog post.

I believe the next logical step for the Jesus Discovery/Resurrection Tomb Mystery folks will be to claim that the ancient graffito artist deliberately intended to craft together an anthropomorphic / typographic logo or symbol of letters that incorporates both theories: a stick-man anthropomorphic image made of poorly executed, misaligned letters spelling out the name of Jonah.

I believe this is where they’re headed, and Dr. Charlesworth himself may argue this harmonization in his forthcoming article.

Of course, this will leave us with a few questions:

1) Why would the graffito artist choose to hide a poorly executed and misaligned name in the base of the image, when he took the time to create a rather well planned horizontal area in the center of the image where he could inscribe letters? (Note: The artist chose to fill this area with additional geometric design motifs.)

Why would the artist hide a name at the bottom of the image using very poorly executed and misaligned letters when he demonstrates he is perfectly capable of inscribing a linear area in the middle of the image far better suited for an inscription?

Why would the artist hide a name at the bottom of the image using very poorly executed and misaligned letters when he demonstrates he is perfectly capable of inscribing a linear area in the middle of the image far better suited for an inscription?

2) If we are going to engage in Rorschach Test archaeology and try to make decorative lines into a name with little care for letter shape, rotation, and linear guidelines, then why can’t we find other lines that spell other names like “Yo Yo Ma“? (In fact, I’m almost tempted to start a contest where viewers can send in their best “THE JONAH CODE” hidden inscriptions…)

Inscribed name of Yo Yo Ma "discovered" in so-called "Jonah Ossuary." This is obviously a prophetic motif symbolizing the spread of Christianity as Yo Yo Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents before moving to the United States.

Inscribed name of Yo Yo Ma "discovered" in so-called "Jonah Ossuary." This is obviously a prophetic motif symbolizing the multicultural spread of Christianity as Yo Yo Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents before moving to the United States.

Thus, much like the typographic/anthropomorphic elements used in making the famed letters of YMCA, I predict this argument will gravitate toward a Y-O-N-A explanation – where arms and legs form the shape of letters – and linger there for a little while longer.

YMCA of the Rockies statue

YMCA of the Rockies statue

when is a nun not a nun?

My friend and colleague Dr. Mark Goodacre made a keen observation last evening that is worthy of repeating. It relates to recent claims made by Dr. James Tabor that Dr. James Charlesworth has found the letters of the name of Jonah in the image inscribed on the front of Ossuary 6 from the so-called “Patio Tomb” from Talpiot, Jerusalem. The specific issue has to do with the fact that Dr. Tabor wants to interpret a pair of lines on the image as a single line, so that he can interpret them as the Hebrew letter nun, and thereby produce a necessary element of the name of Jonah. The problem (as Dr. Goodacre has pointed out) is that the supposed letter nun is drawn as two separate lines in their own reproduced images!

Indeed, one can test for the clarity of the lines here by returning to the CGI composite image of what is depicted on ossuary 6.  This image aims to represent what the authors of the project used to regard as clear and self-evident and yet it is quite clear that before this new “Jonah” reading had been proposed, they too saw a break in the line that is now held to be a nun.  In other words, before the “Jonah” inscription interpretation, they too could not see the continuous line of a letter “nun”.

That is, Jacobovici and Tabor’s own Photoshopped composite CGI image clearly treats the lines of the desired nun as two separate lines! I’ve dealt with this before, but see below how Dr. Goodacre has refuted Dr. Tabor’s claim with Dr. Tabor’s own published rendering of the image!

Lines from the CGI composite image from Ossuary 6 are depicted as TWO lines, not ONE.

Lines from the CGI composite image from Ossuary 6 are depicted as TWO lines, not ONE.

Once Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor found something they felt would make a better argument, they jettisoned the ‘stick man Jonah’ argument (or at least rearranged / eliminated his arms and legs), and are now resorting to redrawing (or at least reinterpreting) the image in a more favorable light and angle in order to produce an ‘inscription’ that doesn’t exist. As I stated in my live CNN interview with Carol Costello, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Tabor (and reportedly Dr. Charlesworth) have resorted to “Rorschach Test archeology” to salvage something – anything – that relates to Jonah.

So, my friend and colleague, Dr. James Tabor, has recently announced that Dr. James Charlesworth has discovered the name of Jonah at the bottom of an image inscribed on the face of an ossuary that was re-discovered in the so-called “Patio Tomb” in Talpiot, Jerusalem.

While Dr. Charlesworth has yet to publish anything on the matter (the only report we have is from Toronto’s finest news source, The Globe and Mail), Dr. Tabor has released a new image on his post from yesterday, which he has captioned: “Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera.” The image is below:

Image of "Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera" of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem, supposedly containing letters forming the name of "Jonah."   (Original image available at: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/19/inscription-on-the-jonah-image-says-yonah/)

Image of "Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera" of the bottom of the image inscribed on Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem, supposedly containing letters forming the name of "Jonah." (Original image available at: http://jamestabor.com/2012/04/19/inscription-on-the-jonah-image-says-yonah/)

First of all, I am quite curious to know what has caused the blurred out areas on each side of this ‘untouched’ image. The blurred out and shadowed area to the right may be caused by Ossuary 5. However, I know of no known obstructions on the left of the image, unless the blurred area is caused by a part of the camera itself.

Second, notice how FLAT “Jonah’s seaweed-wrapped head” suddenly appears in HiDef. From this straight-on angle it appears to be a nearly symmetrical attempt at representing a half-spherical (or hemispherical, or echinus – HT: compsciphi ;-) base of a vessel. Note the difference in shape between the CGI composite representation above and the “Untouched Photo from HiDef Camera” immediately above. Note how distorted the base of the vessel is in the CGI composite, while the actual image is nearly symmetrical, as Steve Caruso has pointed out here and here. Again, Dr. Tabor’s own new images refute his previous claims.

Finally, while this one photo that Dr. Tabor has produced above appears to show lighting and an angle favorable to Dr. Tabor’s argument, other images on their own thejesusdiscovery.org website clearly show that from multiple different angles with different lighting, the lines that form the supposed nun are, in fact, two separate strokes. Additionally, the would-be vertical stroke of the supposed nun clearly extends well beneath the angled, would-be bottom stroke of the supposed nun, clearly indicating that the nun is little more than wishful thinking.

An image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website showing the bottom of the image inscribed on the face of Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. Note that the lines which Dr. Tabor explicitly (and Dr. Charlesworth reportedly) claim to form the Hebrew letter nun are clearly two separate lines, with the vertical down stroke extending well beyond the angled bottom stroke. The traced strokes are highlighted in an inset. (Original image available here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/wppa/50.jpg)

An image from the thejesusdiscovery.org website showing the bottom of the image inscribed on the face of Ossuary 6 from the so-called "Patio Tomb" in Talpiot, Jerusalem. Note that the lines which Dr. Tabor explicitly (and Dr. Charlesworth reportedly) claim to form the Hebrew letter nun are clearly two separate lines, with the vertical down stroke extending well beyond the angled bottom stroke. The traced strokes are highlighted in an inset. (Original image available here: http://thejesusdiscovery.org/wp-content/uploads/wppa/50.jpg)

See also this close-up from a previous post:

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'.

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'.

I believe I speak for many when I say that I am certainly awaiting Dr. Charlesworth’s treatment of this inscribed area. I have stated earlier that one must do some rather strenuous mental gymnastics to arrive at the letters for the name of Jonah in this image, including ignoring lines that are clearly present but do not fit the desired inscription, joining together lines that are clearly not conjoined, reshaping letters, and eliminating any semblance of linear alignment. Again, if these are the epigraphical rules we are following, then my ‘discovery‘ of the name of ‘Yo Yo Ma‘ is not as comical as it is intended to be…

Then again, if Antonio Lombatti’s recent post listing various scholars and their readings of the supposed inscription is any hint, it appears that, yet again, the scholarly consensus (of at least those not working with Simcha on this or another of his film projects) is leaning away from reading “Jonah” the base of the vessel.

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