Your antidote to cyber-twaddle and misguided research about the ancient world. Lots of people do research on the mysteries of antiquity. Some insights are valuable; others are insanely stupid. PaleoBabble exists because insisting that conclusions be drawn from data is a coherent idea, because conjecture isn’t evidence, and because appealing to conspiracy to validate ideas is intellectually lazy.Paleobabble RSS
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Well, the blood moon tetrad season is upon us. Woe unto us.
In Matthew 24:3 the disciples of Jesus asked him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” Jesus told them there would be signs, but “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36).
If only Jesus would have had astronomy software. Then he could have answered the disciples more precisely.1
And so here we are again. I get to open Twitter and my blog reader and have it spew dozens of stories about how Mark Blitz and John Hagee know something Jesus didn’t. And multitudes of “the faithful” buy it. I’d say it’s hard to believe Christians can be this gullible, but I’m past that. I’ll believe almost anything now.
And for the person reading this that says, “You’re not being fair, Mike — Matthew 24 has Jesus mentioning all sorts of signs, even the moon darkening.”
No kidding. Really? I’d never read that before. Riddle me this, Batman. Can you explain why (other than your pre-conceived theological system) the signs of Joel and Matt 24 couldn’t have been referring only to events prior to 70 A.D.? (And no, I’m not a preterist). Can you point out the verse that tells me that “the sign of the son of man” (Matt 24:30) mirrors the signs of Jesus’ birth? After all, that’s why this particular set of blood moon tetrads have people fired up (though that isn’t as well-publicized). The reality is that the “sign of the son of man” is never identified specifically. We have no biblical warrant to argue that it is the set of astronomical conditions associated with the Magi and Revelation 12. Zero. Would Jesus have missed that? Why would God have kept that information from him — and us — until Blitz and Hagee installed their astronomy software? What happened to computers being the sign of the beast? (That faded in the prophecy wave of the 70s).
There are quantifiable reasons to just chalk this up to another Bible scam. (One wonders how the Bible code books of years passed missed this). A lot of what Blitz and Hagee claim about the importance of blood moons for Israelite and Jewish history just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The same can be said for the astronomy. Here are two sources for those who actually want to probe the issue.
The Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast: Episode 85: Blood Moons, Jewish Holidays, and the End of All Things
But Mike, Stuart Robbins, the host of that podcast, isn’t a Christian! (Cue dramatic music).
Okay, here are some debunkings from Christians who are into Bible prophecy. They ain’t buyin’ it, for good reasons:
Mark Blitz Theory Debunked (this fellow at first believed it years ago, then came to see it was bogus).
Here’s a YouTube debunking that shows the basic idea is a fine illustration of non-sequitur thinking (and outright deception):
And, finally, another YouTube debunking by my friend Chris White, the same guy who made the 3-hour debunkumentary (in which I appeared) on the Ancient Aliens nonsense.
- I’m aware that Blitz is the one who’s given a precise date for Jesus’ return, not Hagee. Hagee’s just getting a piece of the pie. His sufficiently vague prediction about some world-changing events qualifies him only for writing horoscopes. ↩
This past weekend I spent some time revisiting Stuart Robbins’ excellent Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast. On of his May 2012 episodes was on the alleged “Orion Correlation” promoted in print and online by Robert Bauval. The basic idea is that the three Giza pyramids were deliberately planned and constructed so that their orientation matches the constellation Orion. Bauval published a book entitled The Orion Mystery back in 1984 that popularized the idea. Graham Hancock later got on the bandwagon, supplementing the idea with his own unique brand of paleobabble.
Stuart’s podcast on the alleged correlation is short (about 20) minutes and is basically devoted to the fact that the “perfect alignment” of the pyramids and the belt stars of Orion is far from perfect. You can listen to the episode here.
One of the links Stuart provides for further research is a summary by John Legon of his peer-reviewed article (in the Journal Discussions in Egyptology) that refutes the correlation. 1 That’s important because Bauval first proposed his theory in a published article in the same journal. (Hint: this is how peer-review works – ideas are submitted for review, published, and then exposed to scholars – not put on the internet along with claims of how persecuted you are for your views).
Bauval therefore began his journey the right way. He’s since ignored a lot of the criticism from reviewers. Legon’s work (and Stuart’s) are just samples.
I just came across this awesome online database.
Why would you be interested? Go to the link and search for “Thomas” in the title field. Church tradition has Thomas going east in the apostolic age. Eastern (Syriac) Christianity is a field / era that figures in both scholarly and wacky discussions about the Gospel of Thomas.
I got 339 hits for that search. Among them were things like:
Farquhar, John Nicol, ”The Apostle Thomas in North India”, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 10:1 (1926): 80-111.
Farquhar, John Nicol, The Apostle Thomas in North India. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1926.
Perrin, Nicholas, ”Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the ‘Gospel of Thomas’ and the ‘Diatessaron’”. Ph.D. dissertation, Marquette University, 2001.
Perrin, Nicholas, Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron. Academia Biblica 5. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2002.
Perrin, Nicholas, ”NHC II, 2 and the Oxyrhynchus Fragments (P.Oxy 1, 654, 655): Overlooked Evidence for a Syriac Gospel of Thomas”, Vigiliae Christianae 58 (2004): 138-151.
Perrin, Nicholas, ”The Aramaic Origins of the Gospel of Thomas ‒ Revisited”, Pages 50-59 in Das Thomasevangelium: Entstehung‒Rezeption‒Theologie. Edited by Frey, Jörg and Popkes, Enno Edzard and Schröter, Jens. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 157. Berlin / New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.
But alas, I had to email them and tell them that their database wasn’t “comprehensive.” How do I know? I searched for Nicholas Perrin, one of the few scholars I know who make this field a specialty. I got a number of hits for Nick’s work, but I know that it missed at least these three items:
Perrin, Nicholas, “Thomas: the fifth Gospel?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 49 no 1 Mr 2006, p 67-80
Perrin, Nicholas, “Recent trends in Gospel of Thomas research (1991-2006): Part I, The historical Jesus and the synoptic gospels,” Currents in Biblical Research, 5 no 2 F 2007, p 183-206
Perrin, Nicholas, “Alleged Syriac catchwords in the Gospel of Thomas,” Vigiliae christianae, 63 no 1 2009, p 71-82
I presume it’s still a work in progress. But even as it is, this is an amazing resource.
The New York Times online science page published a short article today wherein scientists who have examined the Coptic fragment that has Jesus referring to his wife (“my wife”) is more likely authentic than not.
The issue isn’t really if the papyrus is ancient. The issue is whether the content is contrived. Am I the only person who remembers Irving Wallace’s thriller, The Word? (The novel was about how a forger used ancient materials to forge a phony gospel).
As I blogged back in 2012, Coptic specialists have reason to believe the text is phony — a clever splicing of lines and words from existing Coptic texts forged into this “new” text. Here’s a short (six page) essay by Francis Watson, a Coptic specialist who described how he thinks it was done. Here’s another longer explanation by a different specialist in early gospels who works in Coptic. If either of these explanations are correct (and they are coherent), then the age of the payprus is meaningless to the issue of authenticity. (See the footnote below for the latest information on the forgery argument.)
At best, if the text itself (the content) is genuine, we don’t have proof that Jesus was actually married. We’d have evidence someone thought he was married or wanted to cast him as such. As Coptic scholar Christian Askeland notes: “Karen King´s initial argument that this fragment demonstrates a fourth century literary manuscript of the ‘the Gospel of Jesus Wife’ is now officially dead, by her own admission. We are left with a deflated seventh to ninth century semi-literary scrap … or a fraud.”1
Personally, it wouldn’t matter if Jesus was married, theologically or historically. The gospels never claim to be an exhaustive repository of everything Jesus did or the entirety of his life. They are by nature and intent selective. They deliver a theological message.
[Addendum: Francis Watson, the Coptologist who proposed the text was faked back in 2012, has put forth a preliminary response to the latest testing on the fragment. In a word, he still ain't buying it. MSH]
Like the face on Mars that wasn’t really a face, the so-called pyramids on Mars aren’t really artificially-made structures. I have friends who would insist they are, but I’ve never bought into the idea. Astronomer Stuart Robbins, the voice behind the PseudoAstronomy podcast, will tell you why you shouldn’t, either.
Fans of 1 Enoch will find the Wiki resource 4 Enoch eminently useful. Gabriele Boccaccini, a noted scholar of Second Temple Judaism, has a terrific overview of the history of 1 Enoch research and publication. Underneath that survey readers will find hundreds of links to other 1 Enoch resources.
Here’s a link to a nice survey (free) by Lawrence Mykytiuk (a fellow UW-Madison grad). The survey material at the link is based on an article by Mykytiuk published in Biblical Archaeology Review (the full article is not free). All fifty names are pre-New Testament figures.
[NOTE: for some reason the link is not showing up in the Naked Bible blog, but it's there at the Paleobabble blog. We'll get that fixed.]
Another bad day for the Zeitgeist crowd.
Prof. Larry Hurtado (Emeritus, University of Edinburgh) alerted his blog readers to a new book by Prof. Maurice Casey (Emeritus, Nottingham University). The title is Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?
It will be apparent from the title that Casey (along with practically every scholar who has considered the matter) doesn’t buy the “mythicist” case. He is a long-time acquaintance and a well-published and noted scholar in NT. Because identifying a person as a traditional Christian is sometime invoked (by self-styled “sceptics”) as an excuse to ignore whatever he/she says about Jesus or anything to do with Christian origins, I’ll also mention that this hardly applies to Casey. He doesn’t argue with a view to trying to protect Christian belief or believers. Whatever the strength of his arguments, he’s not doing apologetics!
From the publisher’s website:
Did Jesus exist? In recent years there has been a massive upsurge in public discussion of the view that Jesus did not exist. This view first found a voice in the 19th century, when Christian views were no longer taken for granted. Some way into the 20th century, this school of thought was largely thought to have been utterly refuted by the results of respectable critical scholarship (from both secular and religious scholars).
Now, many unprofessional scholars and bloggers (‘mythicists’), are gaining an increasingly large following for a view many think to be unsupportable. It is starting to influence the academy, more than that it is starting to influence the views of the public about a crucial historical figure. Maurice Casey, one of the most important Historical Jesus scholars of his generation takes the ‘mythicists’ to task in this landmark publication. Casey argues neither from a religious respective, nor from that of a committed atheist. Rather he seeks to provide a clear view of what can be said about Jesus, and of what can’t.
I’ve directed readers to Jason Colavito’s blog many times before, but I don’t believe I’ve included this specific essay: How David Childress Created the Myth of a Smithsonian Archaeological Conspiracy.
Jason makes a good case for the modern origin of this oft-repeated point of conspiracist dogma. I’m not claiming (and neither would Jason, I presume) that Childress is the explanation for every thread along these lines, but it seems pretty clear he’s a major fountainhead.
If you’re interested in phony DNA research to prop up ancient alien hybrids and alleged nephilim skulls, you’re in luck. Two recent posts came to my attention today. They’re both long, but well worth the time.
First, there’s the essay by Frank Johnson at the Ancient Aliens Debunked blog: “Another Bone to Pick…With Peruvian Nephilim/Alien Hybrids.” It’s a good survey/refutation of the alleged evidence. It’ll get you up to speed on the claims and personalities involved.
Next we have (drum roll, please) a real archaeologist weigh in on the skulls – Keith Fitzpatrick Matthews on the Bad Archaeology blog. Keith’s essay, “The Paracas skulls: aliens, an unknown hominid species or cranial deformation?” is nothing short of devastating. In particular, pretend anthropologist Brien Foerster, a participant in the upcoming “Nephilim Skull Tour” comes out looking very bad, even dumb. (Just read it). This essay deals a bit with the DNA issue, but focuses more on the forensics of the skulls themselves.
Where’s the verse in the Bible again about nephilim having elongated skulls? (crickets chirping)