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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Hat tip to Mark Goodacre for this update. It ain’t lookin’ good.
Irving Wallace’s novel was still better, even though these shadowy details add to the intrigue.
I’m once again feeling wearied by all the nonsense (pagan and fundamentalist Christian in equal doses) about how the date of Easter was the result of some sort of deliberate paganizing conspiracy. Personally, I don’t like the modern trappings of Easter. A lot of the secular symbolism (rabbits, eggs) does derive from (isolated, not universal) pagan symbols, adapted (clumsily) as they were to “Christianize” populations. That sort of thing was a blunder that has now ruined a holy day.
But setting that aside, arguing a pagan conspiracy for the date is nonsense. Sorry folks, but ANY calendar / time-keeping in the ancient world had to be done using either lunar or solar cycles. Those are the celestial bodies Genesis talks about times and seasons. Paganism didn’t appropriate the objects in our solar system.
The reasons for the date calculation are partly cultural, astronomical, and mathematical. The issue was also tied to the Gentile-Jewish tension within the church of antiquity. Why? Because Gentiles and Jews had different calendrical methods (solar vs. lunar). Christianity was not restricted to Judah or to the Jews (surprise), and so the Mediterranean Roman empire in which Christianity found itself didn’t bother to ask the Jewish Sanhedrin if it could keep its calendar. In other words, there were a whole lot more Gentiles than Jews in the early church — it’s about demographics and sheer numbers. No conspiracy needed.
If you’re interested in this issue, here’s an excellent article about it. Here’s an excellent, detailed scholarly book on it. If you have access to journal databases, I especially recommend Henry Chadwick’s article: “The calendar: Sanctification of time,” Irish Theological Quarterly 66, no. 2 (2001): 99-107.
It’s that time of year again. Easter always brings out the best in Jesus paleobabble.
James McGrath reminds us of the Easter War on Information Literacy. That’s a kinder title than Semitic languages professor, Matthew Suriano, tweeted to his followers about McGrath’s essay (“Wow, people are still posting that bullshit meme: This is Ishtar: Pronounced ‘Easter’”). You betcha, Matthew. And there’s more where that came from.
Like other scholars of ancient Christianity and biblical studies, I have bones to pick with Candida Moss’ take on persecution in the early church. But she wrote a pretty even-handed piece today for CNN’s BeliefNet entitled, “Did Christians really ‘steal’ Easter?” It’s a short summary of the problems of Jesus mythicist thinking, as well as how conservative Christians overstate the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus. I don’t agree with every line in it, but she’s fair.
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.]