Upcoming lectures in the Iowa City area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Review of Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ by Robert Cargill on ‘Friends of ASOR’ Podcast

Friends of ASORI recently reviewed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie for the first ever American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) “Friends of ASOR” podcast. My thanks to Andy Vaughn for hosting.

Via ASOR:

**WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Listen to Dr. Robert Cargill talk about Noah (yes, the one who built an ark).  We asked him about the biblical and ancient Near Eastern descriptions of Noah, as well as his reactions to the movie (of the same name) released this past weekend.

Dr. Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at The University of Iowa. He is a biblical studies scholar,classicist, archaeologist, author, and digital humanist. His research includes the study of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, literary criticism of the Bible and the Pseudepigrapha, and the ancient Near East. He has appeared as an expert on numerous television documentaries and specials and is an advocate for social justice and public higher education. He previously worked and taught at UCLA. For more information on Dr. Cargill, check out his blog bio.

Stay tuned for a review of the movie Noah by Dr. Cargill.

 

 

Some Old Articles about Noah in Anticipation of the New Movie about Noah

In honor of the nationwide premier of Darren Aronofsky’s new Noah movie, I’m reposting some pieces I’ve written in the past about the subject.

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I’ll actually be providing a review of the movie for ASOR sometime in the next few weeks.

For the time being, allow me a few introductory remarks about some of the reactions we’re beginning to see about the movie.

Religious conservatives always freak out whenever anyone messes with their ancient myths. Well, allow me to clarify: as long as you retell the myth as it is preserved in the Bible, you’re praised as a good and faithful servant and an excellent producer/director/actor.

But should you explain the origins of the myth, or offer your own mythological interpretation of the ancient biblical myth, or vary it in any way, well then you’re a heretic destined for burning flames of hell and the movie is immediately dismissed as the fanciful ravings of a godless atheist.

Remember, a worldwide flood has been disproved time and again. It’s a myth preserved in the Bible, which was based upon much earlier flood myths that were incorporated into the biblical narrative.

So why can’t a modern director offer his own interpretation of the ancient myth? When Baz Luhrmann reinterprets the Descent of Orpheus myth as “Moulin Rouge!“, or the Coen brothers reinterpret Homer’s Odyssey as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?“, everyone cheers (including conservative Christians). But when Darren Aronofsky retells the biblical flood myth as “Noah”, religious conservatives weep and gnash their teeth. And why are biblical myths so sacrosanct?

Because many religious fundamentalists still believe the account of the Flood in the Bible is historical. They believe it really happened, regardless of what science says. The myth is to be believed over science, but only when the myth is preserved in the Bible. If it’s a myth of another religious tradition, then it’s OK to accept science, and even to use science to disprove the myth. But if the myth is in the Bible, science suddenly sucks.

Look, they are myths. And this is modern motion picture art reinterpreting ancient literary art. So relax and enjoy the movie. And trust me, there will be plenty of scholars pointing out the places where the movie deviates from the biblical text and takes artistic liberties. Just please don’t confuse those of us who do this with the religious fundamentalists who criticize the movie because they believe the worldwide flood actually happened.

Cheers.

Forthcoming Speaking Engagements at Agudas Achim Synagogue

I’ll be speaking on five occasions over the next two months at the Agudas Achim Congregation in Iowa City. I am thankful to Rabbi Portman for the invitations, and invite all who’d like to participate to come, listen to the lectures, and enjoy the congregation’s new facility at 401 E. Oakdale Blvd. in Coralville, IA.

I’ll be speaking on the following:

Date Time Title
Sept. 20 8:30pm “Seeing Double: Twins in the Bible”
(Annual Finn Lecture)
Genesis 25:20-26
Oct.   4 8:30pm “The Flood Tradition after the Rise of Science”
(Noah)
Genesis 6:9-11:32
Oct. 11 8:30pm “Go Forth from Here to Iowa, and I Shall Bless Thee with Tenure”
(Lech-Lecha – Abraham leaving)
Genesis 12:1-17:27
Oct. 18 8:30pm “Looking Back: Scholarly Problems with Sodom and Gomorrah”
(Vayera – Sodom and Gomorrah, Akedah)
Genesis 18:1-22:24
Oct. 26 8:30pm “What is ‘Biblical Marriage’?”
(Chayi Sarah – Wife for Isaac)
Genesis 23:1-25:18

For more information, contact the synagogue at (319) 337-3813.

On Genesis 6:6-7 and Political Claims that God is “Pro-life”

Verse of the Day: Genesis 6:6-7:

Gen. 6:6 And the LORD regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Gen. 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

The Hebrew word מחה translated as “blot out” above means “to wipe out, annihilate, destroy”. Thus, according to the passage above, God regretted that he had created humans, contemplated it, grieved about it, and then after considering the matter thoughtfully with his divine omniscience, came to the decision to annihilate humans (save, of course, for Noah and his family and some animals). He regretted that he had made them. He was sorry that he had created humans because they wouldn’t obey him.

THAT IS IN THE BIBLE! THAT IS SCRIPTURE!

According to Genesis 6:6-7, God admits that he deliberately drowned every human on earth. He INTENTIONALLY KILLED EVERY PERSON ON EARTH (except Noah and his family). He killed children, and babies, and even the unborn. According to his own claim, he killed them all - because he said they were 'evil'. Unborn children and 6-month old babies DELIBERATELY DROWNED because they were 'evil' (according to the Bible).

According to Genesis 6:6-7, God admits that he deliberately drowned every human on earth. He INTENTIONALLY KILLED EVERY PERSON ON EARTH (except Noah and his family). He killed children, and babies, and even the unborn. According to his own claim, he killed them all – because he said they were ‘only evil every day’ (רק רע כל-היום). Unborn children and 6-month old babies DELIBERATELY DROWNED because they were ‘evil’ (according to the Bible).

So here’s my question – and let’s set aside the question of whether mass genocide is ever the answer to disobedience or not being praised enough. (Remember: it doesn’t get more “inhuman” than committing mass genocide and drowning all humans.)

But again, here’s my question:

I’m wondering whether God considered all of the unborn children being carried in their mothers’ wombs when he decided to murder all humans.

I’m wondering how some can claim that God is “pro life”, when God not only committed mass genocide – by his own admission AND after careful consideration of the matter – but when he also destroyed all of those unborn children that necessarily would have been carried around by their mothers as a natural part of daily life on earth.

Again, this is not what some atheist claims about God; this is what God claims about himself. He admits he did this.


People of faith must put their faith – and the claims made about their faith – in a real, modern context. Rather than rushing to regurgitate some worn out apologetic claiming, “God cannot tolerate evil,” or “It’s not genocide if God does it,” people of faith must consider that the one they consider to be the “objective moral foundation” for all things ethical at one point in history killed everyone on earth because he regretted creating them! Imagine this same death sentence on the world’s population today. It is nothing less than genocide.

Likewise, people of faith must THINK about the political claims they are making when they attempt to invoke God for their political causes. How can one claim that God is “pro-life” when he admits that he is personally responsible for the destruction of untold thousands of unborn children…because he regretted he had made them (כי נחמתי כי עשׂיתם)! There is no airbrushing this. This is what he claims he did after thoughtful consideration. God regretted that he had conceived and created life, so he destroyed it! And yet some claim that God is “pro life”??

BY ALL MEANS, let’s have the debate about abortion. Let’s talk about how no one wants abortion, how we should be making every effort to reduce the number of abortions that take place each year, and let’s consider a number of different solutions that will place children in the homes of those who want them.

But for the love of all that is and will be – PLEASE STOP INVOKING THE GOD OF THE BIBLE IN THIS ARGUMENT.

God is NOT the one you want to hold up as an example of a “pro life” advocate when his documented solution to regretting the creation of human life was to destroy itboth the born and the unborn.

We can have a sensible discussion and debate about reducing the number of abortions in this country and around the world without making it a religious argument.

Let’s celebrate life. Let’s talk about health of both mother and child. Let’s talk about birth control and adoption. Let’s talk about sex education and the merits of promoting healthy relationships, rather than the continued sensationalization of sex and continued commercial sexual exploitation of both boys and girls in adolescent culture.

But let’s have this conversation without introducing religious claims into the mix. On both sides of this issue, religious claims only muddy the waters and get in the way of actual progress and real solutions.

nami is back, this time with a movie

Nami Movie 2NAMI is back, and this time they are armed with a movie (so you KNOW it’s real)!

(I and several others have reported on NAMI’s nonsense in the past.)

The movie is being screened at the Fire Church, part of the Fire School of Ministry. The Fire School of Ministry is the product of Dr. Michael Brown, who expounds upon difficult subjects like “Can You Be Gay and a Saved Christian?” (I kid you not: I am not making this up!)

Let me save you the trouble and tell you exactly what the movie will conclude (this is just my guess): “The evidence may be inconclusive (read: it’s NOT Noah’s Ark), but the journey and the expedition has brought many closer to faith in Jesus Christ, so the deception was worth it.” Or something to the effect.

Watch the preview. It really is bad.

no, no it isn’t noah’s winery: how the media screw up archaeology to sell copies

From BAR: Discovery of the earliest known wine-making operation in an Armenian cave near the southern border with Iran. Courtesy Gregory Areshian.

There was no worldwide flood. The human genome does not bottleneck at Noah. And while a legitimate archaeological expedition may have found evidence of wine production in the Areni-1 cave complex, located near the village of Areni in the Vayots Dzor province of Armenia (map), it certainly is not evidence of “Noah’s winery.”

Unfortunately, most people outside of the archaeological field won’t pay much attention to a respected archaeologist like UCLA’s Dr. Hans Barnard arguing for “Chemical Evidence for Wine Production Around 4000 B.C.E. in the Late Chalcolithic Near Eastern Highlands,” in a respected, peer-reviewed journal like the Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 38, Issue 5, May 2011, Pages 977-984). It is also important to point out that at no time in the stellar article are “Noah” or a “flood” ever mentioned. In fact, the article’s conclusion is rather methodologically compelling to archaeologists:

With an improved method to determine the presence of malvidin we obtained positive results, indicating the possible former presence of grape products, for two Late Chalcolithic (around 4000 BCE) potsherds found in the cave complex Areni-1 in present-day Armenia. It is important to note again that the presence of malvidin, the anthocyanin that gives pomegranates, grapes and wine their red color, is not necessarily associated with the former presence of wine, but only indicates the remains of grapes, pomegranates, or both. Fermentation, although likely, can only be assumed and other products (such as defrutum) should not be excluded. The fact that in Armenia the ceramic samples were collected from a context resembling a grape pressing installation with the preserved remains (seeds, stems, skins) of crushed or pressed grapes supports the interpretation that this part of the cave was a site where wine was produced. Another potsherd from Late Akkadian (around 2200 BCE) deposits in an elite context in Tell Mozan in Syria preserved a red interior, initially interpreted as the remnants of red wine, but proved negative for malvidin. Our research thus produced an improved method to identify malvidin in archaeological materials that can, however, only provide supplementary arguments for or against the presence of wine in specific vessels. Like any other scientific technique, biochemical research alone can never create conclusive evidence concerning anthropological issues (Barnard et al., 2007), much like archaeological research alone cannot irrefutably prove wine production. Instead, both should be part of a larger research program, aimed at addressing a specific anthropological or archaeological research question (McGovern, 1995). As the interests, sample materials and experience of analytical chemists and other scientists will always be different from those of archaeologists, a substantial amount of method development should be expected before a viable protocol will be available. We hope to have illustrated this and to have at the same time added to the discussion regarding the presence or absence of wine in the archaeological record. (html of pdf)

That is, there may be evidence for wine making (or at least storage vessels for grape products) in present day Armenia from around 4000 BCE. That is fascinating research brought about by a well-detailed methodology that suggests, “a better chemical indicator for the former presence of red wine is malvidin, the anthocyanin that gives grapes and wines their red color.” This research adds evidence to previous research which concludes that wine making in the Near East may be much older than we previously thought, and we have improved means by which to detect it.

This is excellent archaeology!

Unfortunately, many newspapers and magazines can’t sell copies reporting on improved techniques for indicating the former presence of red wine. So, they take the credible research and attempt to use it to supply evidence for an incredible claim: that the biblical Noah existed and that we can know this because an archaeologist found evidence of ‘his’ winery. Never mind that no such claim was ever made by the researcher. Just mentioning the possibility of Noah and merely asking the question about his biblical winery (Gen. 9:20) will get your story certain media attention and thereby allow the publisher to sell a far greater number of copies than he/she would had Noah’s name not been invoked. And, because publishers can then use this unverifiable, sensational suggestion to sell said newspapers and magazine copies to folks who will actually spend cash on such a speculation, “Is this Noah’s winery?” translates into cash for publishers.

It’s a technique that has been used for decades to make money: use sound archaeology to make unintended, ridiculous claims, and sell it to the public, which wants to believe it and reinforce their preexisting beliefs. It is an example of good archaeology being used by money-hungry publishers to create bad science in the name of faith, and it’s wrong.

the most clever argument thus far against a historical worldwide flood and noah’s ark

i especially enjoyed the rhetorical litany of animals supposedly on the ark, the math on the volume of water necessary (but not available) to flood the earth, the discussion of drones and parasites, their solution for dealing with predatory consumption vs. herbivores, the treatment of animal waste, and the discursus on ‘speciation’ and how creationists must allow for speciation to have occurred for a very short period shortly after the flood, but not in perpetuity and not if that same process is called ‘evolution by natural selection.’

for a textual take on this, read here.

(HT: Scott Bailey. Kudos: NonStampCollector)

the role of archaeology in biblical history (edición español)

Archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson lectures

The Chilean La Tercera recently published an article entitled “Historias bíblicas: lo que la ciencia ya decifró y las preguntas pendientes,” or, “Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and the remaining questions).” La Tercera offers a link to a digital paper copy here.

The Mexican Jewish website Enlace Judio also ran the story, as did Terrae Antiqvae (complete with pictures).

The article discusses the role of archaeology as a science in relation to the Bible and biblical history. The article surveys many of the recent claims and recounts various archaeologists’ interpretations of these discoveries.

Below is an English translation of the story by Marcelo Cordova and Jennifer Abate.


Bible Histories: What Science has Deciphered (and questions pending)

In recent years, a string of findings has been an unprecedented boost to archeology studying characters and events depicted in sacred texts, from the existence of King David to the tomb of Herod the Great.

by MARCELO CORDOVA / JENNIFER ABATE

After a backbreaking day of work under the Israel sun, the team of archaeologists from Union College in Jerusalem was preparing for a break amongst the ruins of Tel Dan, an ancient northern city. But before resting, Gila Cook, one of those in charge of the team, noticed an unusual shadow on a wall that had been exposed after digging what had been the main entrance.

It was July 21, 1993 and, as the explorer relates the story, approaching the spot, she discovered a piece of basalt protruding from the floor and on it was a text written in ancient Aramaic. Excited, she called loudly to Avraham Biran, chief researcher of the group. His surprise was immediate: it was an inscription about a military victory of the king of Damascus from the ninth century BC which mentioned the “King of Israel” and “house of David.”

This news was a historic and scientific success. It was the first time that a non-biblical reference was found that proved the existence of the monarch, the central figure of the Christian scriptures and recognized not only for his great artistic and warrior skills, but also for being an ancestor of Jesus. After centuries of exploration and speculation, which even talked about David having been invented by Hebrew scribes, a text was discovered that had been written by an enemy of the monarch.

That was the starting point for a string of discoveries which in recent years has launched an unprecedented boost to biblical archeology. A discipline that emerged after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947), when scientists stopped considering religious texts as a history that could only be demystified, and started using the Bible as a written compass to guide their excavations.

Recent efforts to search the sacred texts have paid off, achieving the illustration of episodes like the battle of David and Goliath and events related to the life of Jesus, which have been enriched with details that remained lost in time (see graphic). However, in the process scientists have also unearthed and brought to light relics that pose questions to some biblical passages, such as the Gospel of Judas, which seems to show how Jesus asked his apostle to turn him into the authorities. The role of testing and proving and, sometimes of rebuttal, is one of the major challenges of biblical archeology, Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University California, told La Tercera.

“Archaeology helps us improve our understanding of the Bible. In the same way that a site visit helps to understand its historical legacy. Sometimes it provides evidence that contradicts it. For example, there is no evidence of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt or of the Flood. But there are many findings in Jerusalem and other places that do support these texts,” says Cargill. He adds: “The idea is not to completely discard the Bible altogether just because some passages can not be verified. This book is an ancient piece of literature that should be examined for what it is: an ancient collection of documents that do not necessarily give us information about what happened then, but about the beliefs of the people from that ancient world.”

Verifying the Scriptures

If one asks the experts what are the most salient findings of recent years, the names of some places and characters tend to be repeated. One of them is one that stunned the world in 2007 when the explorers, led by archaeologist Ehud Netzer, announced the discovery of the tomb of King Herod the Great, in the Herodium, south of Jerusalem. The monarch, who was appointed by the Romans to govern Judea from 37 BC and 4 BC, is described in the Bible as the instigator of the “slaughter of the innocents” (at the knowledge of the birth of Jesus, he ordered the deaths of children under two years old in Bethlehem).

But apart from this notoriously sad reputation, he was known for his grand architectural vision; he ordered the construction of the walls around the Old City of Jerusalem and the almost mythical fortress of Masada, the last bastion of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 73 AD.  Most archaeologists assumed that he had been buried at the Herodium, but it was the finding of some monumental steps 6.5 m wide, which were built for Herod’s funeral procession, described in detail by the historian Josephus, which eventually led Netzer to a large broken sarcophagus 2.5 meters long. While inside it no human remains were found, the detailed ornamentation and the surrounding buildings of that place causes the experts to claim that the body of the monarch did lie there.

Netzer explained in 2007 that this discovery put an end to 30 years of research and gave support to the legendary ambition of Herod. Herodium is the only site that carries his name and was chosen by the king to immortalize himself, integrating a huge palace located in the desert hilltop. “This finding is significant because it puts into perspective Herod, a key figure in Christianity,” he told The Guardian.

Illustrating how a king produced a majestic tomb helps – Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at the U. Tel Aviv, told La Tercera – the specialists to delve into the economic, social, political and demographic contexts that marked this era in which these texts were written. A view shared by Michael Coogan, a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College (USA), who told La Tercera: “If we take the example of an opera, the Bible is the script and archeology is the setting in which it takes place.”

While in recent years there have discoveries made in various parts of Israel – including a synagogue in the town of Migdal where Jesus would have prayed regularly, and 2,000 year-old houses in Nazareth that reveal a village of just 50 homes of humble lifestyle. The vast majority is concentrated in Jerusalem. Remains of pottery and other objects show that the city was inhabited from 4000 BC, although it was King David who established it as the capital of the united kingdom in 1000 BC.

And it was his son who built the first temple of the city. The Book of Kings recounts how Solomon brought his Egyptian wife to the city of David, where he built his home and a large wall. In 2010, archaeologists found a big wall in Jerusalem from the tenth century BC providing support to the existence of a royal palace and a fortified capital under the control of a king. In addition to an outdoor structure, which is 10 m high and 70 m long, a monumental tower and a large entrance were found.

“This is the first time we’ve run into a structure that conforms to the descriptions of the works of Solomon. This fits into the biblical story and it enhances our ability to establish a link with the wall of Jerusalem. It is very probable that the Bible, as the stories of many dynasties, preserves a core of truth,” said archaeologist Eilat Mazar to Haaretz news group.

The Chapter on Jesus

The evidence found that is tied to the most recent Scripture passages – especially to that of the life of Jesus, his family and apostles – is also coming to light in the form of objects and texts. In 1968 explorers found the remains of a man in his twenties in a cave northeast of Jerusalem. The find was considered unique because although the Romans were known to have crucified thousands of rebels, thieves, and deserters, a victim of this technique had never been found. And his remains corroborated the biblical description of such execution: the man’s left ankle had a nail that went through 11 cm and a small wooden box between the bone and the nail head to prevent release of the cross leg.

This evidence not only corresponds to a similar period as that of the crucifixion of Jesus mentioned in the Bible, but, according to experts, it verifies the description of his funeral. For decades it was believed that the Romans were limited to throwing the corpses into mass graves to be devoured by animals and thus impose fear.  But, this body showed that, on occasion, funeral proceedings were permitted similar to those mentioned in the Scriptures.

Recent explorations in and around Jerusalem have uncovered not only references linked to the death of Christ, but also to the image that his miracles propagated and to the characters that surrounded him, such as John the Baptist.  Seven years ago, works in the neighborhood of Silwan gave the location of a pool where, according to the Bible, Jesus gave sight to a blind man and in 2008; while underwater archaeologists recovered from the Bay of Alexandria (Egypt) a vessel of the late 1st century AD that says Dia chrstou o goistais (“Christ the magician”).

According to Franck Goddio of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, it would be the earliest known reference to Jesus outside the Bible. The words in this inscription further illustrate how Christianity and paganism were intertwined during the first years after the crucifixion. The investigator told Discovery News that it is very likely that some magician had inscribed “Christ” in the bowl to legitimize his own powers by invoking his name: “It is very probable that in Alexandria, where one also found one of Cleopatra’s palaces, the existence of Jesus and his legendary miracles were known.”

In 2004, archaeologists found a clue to the legacy of John the Baptist, when they located a cave in Jerusalem that may have been used by him for some of his ceremonies. The site, 21 meters long, was excavated between 800 and 500 BC and includes a series of carvings from the 5th century A.D. depicting the image of a man with a staff. There is no direct evidence of the link between this place and John, but the British archaeologist Shimon Gibson told Fox News that the carvings, combined with a stone used for foot washing and the proximity to the place where John lived, suggests that the cave was used by him.

“Apparently, this site was adopted by John the Baptist, who wanted a place to bring people to perform his rituals and propagate his ideas about baptism,” added Gibson. Amihai Mazar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told La Tercera that despite the lack of confirmation of the link, such findings illustrate the customs and rituals of that time: “Now we can reconstruct how people lived, how they viewed their settlements and what their economic and social structures were.”

Subject for Dispute

It is clear that these findings have not been without controversy, and they are almost always preceded by sensationalistic media. One of the most iconic episodes in this regard came last year when it was announced that Noah’s Ark had been discovered atop Mount Ararat (Turkey). After a series of criticisms for its inconsistencies in terms of dating, this finding was branded false.

Something similar could be taking place with the announcement a few days ago of the alleged discovery of two nails used to crucify Jesus. The documentary, guided by Simcha Jacobovici (who years ago said he had found the tomb of Jesus), mixed evidence with a series of assumptions to announce the discovery of these objects in a tomb explored in 1990 and which, for some unknown reason, ended up at an anthropologist’s laboratory in Tel Aviv, where they remained forgotten.

The main argument of the filmmaker is that an ossuary was also found in the tomb that has scientific backing and a connection with the death of Jesus: an receptacle with human remains and the inscription “Caiaphas,” the name of the High Priest who organized the capture of Jesus. Robert Cargill, who is part of a committee of U.S. archaeologists that refutes baseless claims, tells La Tercera: “These type of assumptions are made by amateurs, not professional archaeologists. Usually, they are scams to earn money or convince people of a certain faith claim.”

The subject about which scientists have not yet achieved consensus is the Gospel of Judas. The full text, which is 1,700 years old and written in Egyptian Coptic Christian, continues to cause controversy, not because they doubt its authenticity, but for its meaning. While the Bible portrays Judas as a traitor, the initial translation shows the apostle as the closest friend and disciple of Christ, who sacrifices his teacher at his request; this involves a reinterpretation of biblical texts. Another analysis, however, postulates that the text does not say this, but rather that Judas was a “demon” and that he, in fact, betrayed Jesus.

Researchers are divided in their analysis of what remains to be discovered. Some speak of cities or more details of King Solomon, but the same Robert Cargill says the key requirement, such as it has been until now, is discovering more about the daily life of the society in which the writings were produced: “A dream find would be something like the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of documents that opens a new window to understanding how these people thought and interacted thousands of years ago. I’d love to find something written in a new language and decipher it, or find a palace or a temple, because no serious explorer ever says he has found the Ark of the Covenant, the cross of Christ, or the Holy Grail.”

new mythology-based fantasy themepark coming to kentucky

Ark Encounter

Ark Encounter

A new myth-based fantasy theme park is coming to Kentucky. The park, which will be called Ark Encounter, promises to expose visitors to myths and fantasies that will rival those of Disneyland. The park’s main attraction will be a 500-foot long reproduction of the Bible’s Noah’s Ark. The park will also feature an ancient walled city (perhaps bringing to mind Jericho), a petting zoo, live animal shows featuring giraffes and elephants, and a full scale reproduction of the biblical Tower of Babel (as the park developers envision it).

The park has attracted some controversy, however, as some have argued that because it is a religiously-themed park, it should not qualify for state tax breaks and incentives, such as the Enterprise Initiative Act Tax Refund Program for which Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has stated the park has applied. Governor Beshear argues there is nothing “remotely unconstitutional” about the proposal. He said the law does not allow the state to discriminate against a for-profit business based upon the product or subject matter of its products. The Governor compared the Ark park to NASCAR, arguing that not everyone loves NASCAR, but that did not stop him from authorizing tax incentives to help the Kentucky Speedway hold a Sprint Cup race next year.

The developers are cleverly attempting to avoid the church-state argument by establishing the Ark park as a for-profit business. Unlike many other faith-based organizations, establishing a for-profit business means the group will forfeit tax exempt status in the long term in exchange for job-creating tax breaks up front. Essentially, the Ark park is gaming the system to get its tax breaks at the beginning. The Ark Encounter website specifically notes that “the tax incentives do not go to non-profit AiG, but to the for-profit Ark Encounter LLC.”

But there should be no doubt that the Ark Encounter is a faith-based enterprise. Not only is the park centered on Biblical stories, but the park will be managed by fundamentalist Christian Creationist group Answers in Genesis, which also runs a Creation Museum park in Petersburg, Kentucky. The Answers in Genesis jobs website specifically states that in order to be eligible for employment at AiG or the Creation Museum:

“All job applicants need to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG statement of faith.”

As a taxpayer incentivized, for-profit business in Kentucky, the Ark Encounter will not be allowed to discriminate against employees on the basis of testimonies and declarations of faith as Answers in Genesis openly does at the Creation Museum. Only time will tell if the park will “unfortunately” be “forced” to convert to a not-for-profit, faith-based organization after it deals with the inevitable first volleys of discrimination lawsuits. (If it does, will it refund the tax incentives to the state?)

However, if the park’s developers and management are able to avoid employee religion-based discrimination pitfalls, it will most likely be successful in building the park. It will be interesting to observe whether the park declares its purpose as one of attempting to convince visitors of particular faith claims, or if they stick to the mission statements of other theme parks which center around simple entertainment and filing children’s heads with fantastic tales like those Disney productions that would never be physically possible in a world governed by science and physics.

And while Governor Beshear repeatedly touts the benefits of the park – investing $150 million to create jobs in Kentucky, bringing tourism to Kentucky, creating 900 full- and part-time jobs, an estimated annual impact of over $200 million on the state’s economy, and attracting 1.6 million visitors in its first year – I wonder if he’ll go the distance and compare this for-profit theme park to other mythological fantasy parks like Disneyland, Disney World, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As long as the Governor and the park’s developers are on record as stating that this park makes no faith claims about religious truth, and is instead only another fantasy-based theme park like Disneyland, there should be no quarrel.

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