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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By now most readers will have heard about the new book by Simcha Jacobivici (not a typo) and his academic co-author Dr. Barrie Wilson. In short, it’s an embarrassment. And that’s saying something given what Simcha (whom I and others have affectionately nick-named $imcha) has produced in the past. Obviously, the goal was more sensationalist publicity and the cash that goes with it — after all, we’re headed toward Christmas.
This one is really taking a severe beating by reviewers. Here’s a listing of several that matter since they will have reach, along with some choice excerpts. The reviews by Cargill and Carey are the most detailed debunkings.
Dr. Robert Cargill: Review of “The Lost Gospel” by Jacobovici and Wilson
- “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.”
- ” I have read this 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.”
- “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’.”
Yes, you read that last line correctly. Basically, the book’s claim is that if we just swapped in Jesus and Mary Magdalene for Joseph and Aseneth, then we could say Jesus and Mary were married and had kids. That’s nice.
I don’t know Barrie Wilson. I know he has a real degree. But since he wanted his name on this bunkum, I’ll be sure to never consider any “scholarship” he’s produced trustworthy.
On to other reviews:
- “A Washington Post article claims that the text that the book is referring to is Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias Rhetor. In fact, it is that work’s version of the tale of Joseph and Asenath that is the focus. Apparently Jacobovici and Wilson are reading that work as though it were about Jesus and Mary. That’s not a discovery. It is creative reinterpretation. And so as far as I can tell, there’s nothing here to get excited about.”
Candida Moss: Jesus Christ, Baby Daddy?
- “There’s just one small problem with the Jacobovici-Wilson theory. Jesus and Mary are nowhere in the manuscript. It’s one version of a well-known ancient novel called Joseph and Aseneth, which discusses the life and times of the biblical patriarch Joseph (of technicolor-dreamcoat fame) and his relationship with Aseneth, the Egyptian woman he marries in Genesis 41:45. Not to be a killjoy fact-checker, but this does seem like an important detail to get right.”
- “What Jacobovici and Wilson have offered is a pseudo-allegorical interpretation of a sixth-century Syriac translation of a Greek text about the biblical Joseph. The book is imaginative and informed by a quasi-religious devotion to the idea that Jesus was married, but it isn’t historically accurate. They have no real arguments to support their claim that Joseph and Aseneth was written in the first century by someone close to Jesus, and they never really engage any arguments to the contrary. As Mark Goodacre, Robert Cargill, and Greg Carey have observed, none of the other texts that mention Jesus’s special relationship with Mary Magdalene can be dated to the time of Jesus himself.”
- “This isn’t Jacobovici or the greater public’s first ride on the Jesus-was-married carousel, but it is the first time that Joseph and Aseneth has entered the discussion. It’s worth asking: Is this kind of sensationalism beneficial to the study of ancient religious literature?”
- “Although I always like to see the Old Testament pseudepigrapha getting some media attention, it is too bad that the fascinating and entertaining text Joseph and Aseneth is being tied in the public mind to this ingenious but highly implausible connection with a literal marriage of Jesus.”
Greg Carey: Another Jesus and Mary Magdalene Hoax
- “It is always bad form to attack a theory by condemning its proponents, but Simcha Jacobovichi is a notorious peddler of misleading theories. He promoted an ossuary as containing the bones of Jesus’ brother James, a theory that has been disconfirmed. He also developed a documentary that claimed to unveil the Jesus family tomb, also refuted by experts, and even claims to have uncovered the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s a shame that the media ever pays attention to him, at least when he’s talking about Jesus.”
And that’s just a sampling.
For my money, Diarmond MacCulloch (Professor of the History of the Church in the University of Oxford) said it best:
- “… It sounds like the deepest bilge … I’m very surprised that the British library gives these authors houseroom.”
Me, too. And yeah, it is.
Jason Colavito has another telling and humorous review of the latest Ancient Aliens episode from season 7. Jason’s review starts this way:
Tonight’s exceptionally boring episode of Ancient Aliens, S07E07 “Mysteries of the Sphinx,” takes us back in time—to the 1990s, when the Great Sphinx controversy roared thanks to claims by geologist Robert Schoch that he Egyptian monument was 10,000 to 12,000 years old. The claim found little traction outside of fringe history, largely because mainstream scholars believe Schoch is wrong to attribute the erosion of the Sphinx and its enclosure to water rather than to salt exfoliation. But in the world of the fringe historians, Schoch’s academic credentials provided them all the proof they need to make the monument the world’s oldest monolithic statue.
All quite true. Schoch’s work has been challenged on scientific grounds (not just on the basis of irritation). One example illustrates the point:
K. Lal Gauri, John J. Sinai and Jayanta K. Bandyopadhyay, “Geologic weathering and its implications on the age of the sphinx,” Geoarchaeology vol. 10, issue 2 (April 1995): 119-133
The abstract of this scholarly journal article reads as follows:
The Great Sphinx of Giza is considered by Egyptologists to have been excavated by the Pharaoh Kephren nearly 4500 years ago. Schoch and West (1991) have suggested that the Sphinx is much older, based primarily upon the rounded profile of the strata of the Sphinx thorax and the deep channels present in the walls surrounding the Sphinx ditch. These features, according to them, are due to “precipitation-induced weathering” formed when the Sahara still experienced a humid climate at least 7000 years ago. In this article we show how weathering in an arid environment can produce the rounded profile given the gradual change in lithology of the alternating hard and soft limestone strata. We show further that the channels are actually the pre-Pliocene karst features formed by underground water and exposed due to the excavation of the Sphinx ditch. We propose therefore that, for now, the Sphinx may still be regarded as of pharaonic origin.
But Jason’s comments contain an important point in fringe history thinking that is omnipresent but often overlooked: evidence of contemporaneous habitation and high technological culture with an artifact.
What I mean is this. When someone comes forth with an artifact or claim about an artifact (in this case, “People living 10,000 years ago built the Sphinx”), one would expect to find other contemporary evidences that people living in Egypt at that time were technologically advanced. I’m not talking about electricity and hovercraft here. I’m talking about information from elsewhere in the surrounding area (or country) that dates to the same period that shows commensurate building skills (i.e., technology). I’d also be talking about evidence that people living at the time lived in such a way that matches the building capability. Are there homes dating from this period that show evidence of such skill? Tools? Weapons? etc. Sorry, but Egypt of 10,000 years ago lacks the expected context. And that’s where the argument from silence (i.e., ignorance) takes over. “Oh, all that other stuff is lost to time.” Sure. Funny how it isn’t lost to time if we stick with the given chronology.
This sort of data gap is lethal to ancient American hyper-diffusionist nonsense. If that section of PaleoBabble appeals to you, I highly recommend reading archaeologist Stephen Williams book, Fantastic Archaeology. Over and over again Williams takes an object (e.g., some alleged Phoenician inscription from some place in America) and asks simple but telling questions that expose a hoax. Here are two examples: Is there evidence that anyone lived in the area of the object during those centuries when the Phoenicians were flourishing in the Old World? Do the anomalous letters on said inscription (there are always a couple) match any letters in any inscriptions discovered in Phoenicia? In other words, Williams asks the very questions you’d ask if you presumed the artifact was what its “discoverers” say it was — and then their case develops cracks and eventually falls apart.
Hat tip to Prof. James McGrath for this.
Jesus mythicism, for the uninitiated, is the belief that Jesus never existed — that he is an imaginary creation derived from a handful of ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean mythological figures. This post by R. Joseph Hoffman, a New Testament scholar who is no “right wing fundamentalist” for sure, contains a number of insightful observations. Here are two:
It is false to say however that the argument for Jesus’ historicity is merely circumstantial. For an argument to be circumstantial there would need to be a lack of direct evidence of an event; conclusions would be drawn entirely from the coincidence of effects and prior events.
The evidence for Jesus is much stronger than that, in spite of its deficiencies. Moreover, it has context, conditions and coordinates as defining parameters, so if Jesus typifies or meets certain criteria in these domains, the probability of his being a real person and not a cipher are greatly increased. I am startled by comparisons to Superman, Hercules, Santa Claus, and a dozen other gods and heroes, precisely because these figures fall outside the category of the typical. It is not just that their stories are incredible but that they are incredible in a way designed to emphasize their departure from an historical norm. The New Testament serves a different purpose.
So, in a nutshell, the artifacts we possess, whatever their limitations as “evidence” are not circumstantial evidence but the sort of evidence many historians would like to have in the case of other well-known figures like Pythagoras and Apollonius of Tyana.
I am still waiting for some proof from the mythtics that the story is concocted, either out of thin air or as an amalgam of competing myths, not many of which look very much like the Jesus story at all. As comparative religionist Jonathan Z. Smith has noted concerning the “prevalence” of the dying and rising god myth, it isn’t prevalent at all; it’s “largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.” So out of fashion is the category that modern classicists, religionists, and historians avoid it altogether, and it survives largely in the imagination of amateurs whose views are formed by outdated nineteenth century speculations. Gregory Boyd puts it succinctly when he comments that often there is either no death, no resurrection or no god in the examples used to construct each of the examples in the category, making the whole exercise a bad case of what Gerald O’Collins has called “parallelomania.” The mere compilation of analogies has always been the quicksand into which mythicism disappears. It is their attempt to prove–entirely circumstantially–that if something besides Jesus was there to be used it was used. One dying and rising god is like every other rising god. One salvation story fragments into a dozen salvation stories, one of which is the gospel.
The problem with this line of thinking, as I suggested in a post yesterday, is that simple logic and parsimony require us to use what we know before we resort to what might have been. When there is a known figure who typifies his era, preaches things typical of his time and place, and lives and dies in a context plausible for the time, what possible reason would there be –apart from pure malice–to introduce a completely foreign explanation–a Hercules or Dionysus–into the mix. Closer to home, as we know more about Jesus than we do about Theudas or Judas the Galilean, what reason do we give for preferring other identities and activity to the activity described of Jesus. Increasingly the far reaches of mythicism begin to sound more like the wingnut birtherism that declared Barack Obama was born in Kenya and the report of his birth called into a Honolulu newspaper in prescient anticipation that one day he would need the right stuff to be president.
Best line: “As a group, the mythicists have proven themselves happier in the echo chamber of their own beliefs than in a world where a real interchange of ideas can happen.”
Yep. That’s mythicism in a nutshell.
In today’s RBL (Review of Biblical Literature) email I found a review on this worthwhile title by Mark Allan Powell:
I have the older edition of this work and it’s quite good — very good survey’s of the various views. I’ll be picking up this revised work.
Here’s a description:
This thoroughly revised edition of the best-selling textbook provides an in-depth survey of current historical Jesus studies. Beginning with a brief discussion of early Jesus-quest research and methodologies, Mark Allan Powell develops insightful overviews of some of the most influential participants in the field today, including Marcus Borg, Jon Dominic Crossan, John Meier, E. P. Sanders, and N. T. Wright. Powell has expanded his original work with completely new material to reflect the latest scholarship.
And, from the first paragraph of the review:
This second edition is considerably revised from the earlier volume. According to Powell, this volume is 50 percent longer, and about a third of the volume contains completely new material. While the basic structure of the book remains the same, Powell has added more scholars to the “snapshots” chapter and has taken into account additional material written by the “big six” historical Jesus scholars who are the major focus of attention in the heart of the book. In addition, this revised volume contains three new appendices.
I’m re-posting the link to research resources related to topics that factor into The Facade and The Portent for listeners this week.
Just a heads up.
I’ll be on Coast to Coast AM once again this Wed. night (Nov. 5). I’ll be on the second half of the show. The discussion will touch on topics in The Facade and The Portent.
I’ll also be on a show called Grand Dark Conspiracy hosted by Daniel Bautz the very next evening (though I’m not sure it’s live or just the recording of the show). I’ve never been on this one before. The topic will be ancient alien mythology.
Enjoyed the interview last night on the Skywatchers podcast show. A fun time discussing Christianity and ET life, Majestic documents, and ancient astronaut mythology. This was my first time on this show.
See how I cleverly included all three last names for better searching? You’ll understand that if you read Jason Colavito’s latest post on “gigantology”: Micah Hanks: The Hubris of Jason Colavito and Skeptics Over Giants Is “Worthy of Study.”
Basically, Micah Hanks is riled at Jason’s skepticism with respect to alleged evidence for giants in both antiquity and modern times. Now, let’s be clear. What Jason is skeptical of is that there were giants way back when (and more recently) whose height exceeds that of very tall people today (i.e., more than 9 feet). Jason knows that there is quite good evidence for people like Robert Wadlow, who was nearly 9 feet tall, and other men who grew to taller than 8 feet (usually because of some physical abnormality). Jason just doesn’t think we have evidence of people 10-15 feet tall, like you’ll read about on many websites and blogs that talk about the nephilim.
Readers of both the PaleoBabble and Naked Bible blogs will know that I agree with Jason on this height issue. I think the only unambiguous evidence we have in the biblical text places the biblical giants between 6 and 7 feet tall. Yes, I know about the reference in Deut 3:11 to Og’s bed (note that the reference is to the bed, not the person) But I’m betting those who promote that as proof for a 10+ foot giant don’t know this (excerpted from my forthcoming book, The Unseen Realm):
. . . the most immediate link back to the Babylonian polemic is Og’s bed (Hebrew, eres). Its dimensions (9 x 4 cubits) are precisely those of the cultic bed in the ziggurat called Etemenanki—which is the ziggurat most archaeologists identify as the Tower of Babel referred to in the Bible. Ziggurats functioned as temples and divine abodes. The unusually large bed at Etemenanki was housed in “the house of the bed” (bet ersi). It was the place where the god Marduk and his divine wife, Zarpanitu, met annually for ritual love-making, the purpose of which was divine blessing upon the land.
Scholars have been struck by the precise correlation. It’s hard not to conclude that, like Genesis 6:1-4, those who put the finishing touches on the Old Testament during the exile in Babylon were connecting Marduk and Og in some way. The most transparent path is in fact giant stature. Og is said to have been the last of the Rephaim—a term connected to the giant Anakim and other ancient giant clans in the Transjordan (Deut. 2:11, 20). Marduk, like other deities in antiquity, was portrayed as superhuman in size. However, the real matrix of ideas in the mind of the biblical author may stem more from word play deriving from Babylonian mythology.
 The dimensions were roughly six by thirteen feet.
 Etemenanki = Esagil (Sumerian). Doak, Last of the Rephaim, 92. Doak goes on to note that scholars who have detected this connection conclude that the point of matching the dimensions was that the biblical writer wanted to compare Og with a cultic prostitute. This is not only awkward, but fails to consider the wider Babylonian polemic connected back to Genesis 6. See also Andrew R. George, “The Tower of Babel: Archaeology, History, and Cuneiform Texts,” Archiv für Orientforschung 51 (2005/2006) 75-95; John H. Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Tower of Babel Account and Its Implications,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 5 (1995): 155-175.
 Sacred marriage rituals included the blessing of fertility for both the land and its inhabitants. See Martti Nissinen, “Akkadian Rituals and Poetry of Divine Love,” Mythology and Mythologies. Methodological Approaches to Intercultural Influences. Proceedings of the Second Annual Symposium of the Assyrian and Babylonian Intellectual Heritage Project Held in Paris, France, October 4-7, 1999 (Melammu Symposia 2; ed. R. M. Whiting; Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project 2001), 93-136. The ritual was also concerned with maintaining the cosmic order instituted by the gods. Consequently, in addition to the giantism element, a link between Og and Maduk via the matching bed dimensions may also have telegraphed the idea that Og was the inheritor and perpetuator of the Babylonian knowledge and cosmic order from before the flood. This would of course tie him back to Genesis 6:1-4 and its apkallu polemic. See Beate Pongratz-Leisten, “Sacred Marriage and the Transfer of Divine Knowledge: Alliances Between the Gods and the King in Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Sacred Marriages: The Divine-Human Sexual Metaphor from Sumer to Early Christianity (ed. Martti Nissinen, and Risto Uro; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 43-72. In any event, the size of Og’s bed cannot be taken as a precise indication of Og’s own dimensions. There is much more at play here.
 See Enûma Elish 1.99–100: “He was the loftiest of the gods, surpassing was his stature; his members were enormous, he was exceedingly tall.” One scholar notes in this regard, “The huge images of Marduk at Babylon could have served as the basis for the description of Marduk and other Babylonian gods as giants. Herodotus, Histories 1.183 said the golden image of Bel in the temple at Babylon stood twelve cubits; Ktesias (Diodorus Siculus. Library 2.9.5) claimed the statue had a height of forty feet” (Russell E. Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch [Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 433; London; New York: T&T Clark, 2006], 128).
 Marduk was a minor deity prior to the Babylonian era, where he was elevated to be king of the gods and the patron deity of the city of Babylon. His main temple was, as we have noted, Etemenanki, the ziggurat at Babylon (see Jeremy A. Black, “Marduk,” Dictionary of the Ancient Near East [ed. Piotr Bienkowski and Alan Millard; London: British Museum Press, 2000], 188-189). Marduk was therefore the chief theological rival to Yahweh in the exilic period. In biblical literature, Marduk is referred to as Merodach or Bel. Second Temple period Jewish texts contain a tradition about a giant who survived the flood named Belus, who was created with building a tower in Babylon (the Tower of Babel), in which he lived. The train of thought conceptually links Marduk and Belus the giant. The same tradition identifies Belus with the biblical Nimrod, and suggests Nimrod might also be identified with Noah. Biblical editors during the exile may have taken note of the same Bel/Belus wordplay and used the dimensions of Og’s bed to identify him with Marduk, though we cannot of course know that with any certainty. What we can know is that this sort of thinking did surface in Second Temple period Jewish writings (see K. van der Toorn, “Nimrod Before and After the Bible,” Harvard Theological Review 83:1 [Jan. 1990]: 8, 16). Lastly, though it is only speculation, it is interesting to note that Marduk’s name in Sumerian name was AMAR.UTU (“calf of Utu”; i.e., “the young bull of the Sun god”). The Sumerian for “Amorite” is MAR.TU. One wonders if the biblical scribes heard a pun behind the description of Og the giant Amorite king and Marduk’s name.
In other words, the dimensions of Og’s bed may have nothing to do with his actual size, but quite a bit to do with associating him with Marduk (the work of a later editorial hand in Deut 3) for a theological polemic.
Back to Jason ….
I also agree with Jason that “the existence of giants, if true, would prove nothing about the truth of the Bible.” The validity of the Bible’s truth claims do not depend on producing evidence for people of bizarre height. Really tall people even by today’s standards fits the narrative, given the average (small) height of male skeletons of the period (ca. 5.5 feet). The point of the biblical narrative is that there were Canaanite inhabitants who were bigger than the Israelites, and it scared the crap out of them. I believe that to be forthright reporting in the biblical text, but nephilim theorists have turned the subject into the theater of the bizarre. We’re now treated to cone heads with [to get the Talmud right] sixteen rows of teeth . . . uh, biblical chapter and verse, please). You also don’t need whole “races” or thousands of unusually tall people with respect to the biblical language. The text can quite readily be read as denoting the presence of such people in lots of places, not that every last person in the land was a giant, or even that there were throngs of thousands in places. It’s the origin of the nephilim that takes us into subject matter that would conceivably produce disagreement between me and Jason (there’s more than one supernaturalist view of that, and I don’t know if Jason is a committed materialist or not). See my upcoming book in Feb/March 2015 (there — got another shameless plug in).
Jason’s response to Micah Hanks comes right on the heels to an email exchange I had last night. I won’t mention any names, but I offer it as illustrative that for both Jason and myself (I think I can safely include Jason here), our objections to “gigantology” are mostly about honesty.
Last night I received this link: “World’s Oldest Statue Is Of A Giant 17.4 Foot Nephilim From Genesis.” (Subtitle: The giants of Genesis are planning on making a return in the days after the Rapture). I wrote the following reply:
On the Shirig figure … the web page is pretty sad.
There are no “inscriptions” on it – decorative lines and a few words. One on the face identifies it as a goddess figure (the goddess of heaven to boot). See this link (load it up in Chrome and then have it auto-translated):http://www.itogi.ru/archive/
There is nothing on the figure or its original context that points to nephilim. Only the length/height. So, consider the logic. If someone dug up the Las Vegas “Tex” cowboy 9,500 years from now would they conclude that there were nephilim in the 20th century? Only if they thought very poorly.
This is the sort of thing that’s an embarrassment to biblical studies.
The sender then replied (abbreviated response): “You know, it interests me HOW you attack the analysis. That is what fascinates me.” (That was meant in a sincere way; my issue was with the link, not the emailer).
My subsequent reply is why I bring up this conversation in this post:
[Someone's] analysis is about honesty. It is either coherent or not. It’s faithless and dishonest to endorse an analysis that lacks a factual basis. I’m just not going to tell people something looks right when it doesn’t. That’s dishonest. It’s no more complicated than that. We either speak the truth, or we don’t.
I was interviewed this past week by Natalina for her Extraordinary Intelligence podcast. The interview was a good one. Talked about The Facade first just a bit, and then focused on the new sequel, The Portent. Just like my first interview a year or so ago, Natalina succeeded in getting information from me, some of it even personal!
The last two reviews on Amazon capture what to expect in The Portent pretty well. Here are a few lines:
[The Portent] takes everything the reader thought they knew (and were sure of) about the return of Jesus and turns it on its head! [It] challenges all popular end times belief scenarios with stunning precision and well documented, real-life supported claims. The divine council of The Portent will forever change your perspective regarding the return of Jesus, who may be fooled, and who won’t! This is a must read for anyone who believes in intelligent evil and an elegant shadow system that operates above the law, behind the scenes, and hidden in plain sight.
When it comes to internet mythology about alleged alien assistance to the ancient Egyptians, the hieroglyphs in the picture are ground zero. As with the case of the lightbulb in Egyptian art, and the mis-identified picture of an alien grey in an Egyptian wall painting, the claim that there were technologically advanced flying craft in ancient Egypt is utterly bogus.
The glyphs in question are in the temple of Seti I at Abydos. I have blogged about these glyphs before, explaining that they are a well-known and classic instance of hieroglyphic superimposition — a palimpset. In briefest terms, the panel in Seti I’s tomb on which the current glyphs was originally carved with a set of “normal” hieroglyphs. At a subsequent point in time, the glyphs were plastered over and re-carved — a well-known phenomenon in ancient Egyptian monumental writing. After centuries of time, the plaster came off, revealing what we see now — two sets of hieroglyphs superimposed. That is why some of the shapes on this panel are unlike any others in Egypt.
The mdw-ntr website has a detailed, thorough, splendidly illustrated step-by-step explanation of this process. It is absolutely certain that these hieroglyphs are the result of carving one set of glyphs over another for a simple reason: each set of glyphs is known from other texts. It is quite easy to illustrate how the “helicopter” came about from both sets of glyphs. If you want the truth, it’s all here.