Friday, January 13, 2012

Wilfred Lambert Obituaries

I posted on the death my former colleague Wilfred Lambert in December.  Jim West followed up his earlier posts with a notice that Wilfred Lambert was featured on Last Word, Radio 4's regular obituaries programme.  Although the podcast version is no longer available, you can listen again to the episode.

Now also the Telegraph has published its obituary: 

Professor Wilfred Lambert
Professor Wilfred Lambert, the Assyriologist who has died aged 85, was a scholar of ancient Mesopotamia and the world’s leading expert on cuneiform, an ancient form of writing which began as a system of pictographs and, over three millennia, developed into a more simplified and abstract script.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Returning to the Talpiot Tomb

There is a new article over on Bible and Interpretation about the Talpiot Tomb, the tomb alleged by Simcha Jacobovici and others to have been Jesus' family's own tomb, widely discussed in the media and here in the blogs back in 2007.  I was sceptical and have remained sceptical (see NT Blog: Talpiot Tomb for some of my many posts on the topic).  The new article is by Kevin Kilty and Mark Elliott, Regarding Magness and Talpiot and it provides an answer to comments made by my colleague down the road at UNC Chapel Hill, Jodi Magness.  The article is attracting some comment among the blogs and over on the Biblical Studies e-list, as well as in the comments section over on Bible and Interpretation.

I enjoyed reading the new article, and I appreciate the even-handed and careful nature of Kilty's and Elliott's response.  The article continues in a series of articles that they have written on the topic over the last three or four years.  I am particularly pleased to see Kilty and Elliott playing down one of the most egregiously problematic elements in Jacobovici's case, the notion that "Mariamne" was an especially appropriate way of designating Mary Magdalene, a claim that Jacobovici regarded as the lynchpin of the  case.

Nevertheless, there are still a couple of major problems, as I see it, with the way that Kilty and Elliott are presenting the case for the identification:

(1) They claim that "Yoseh" is significant because it is rare, a claim that does not take the New Testament evidence seriously.

(2) They do not regard "Judas son of Jesus" as contradictory evidence for the identification with the Jesus family.

The difficulty over (1) is that the names Joses and Joseph are clearly regarded as similar or the same in the New Testament. Mark 6.3 calls Jesus' brother "Joses" while the parallel in Matt. 13.55 calls him "Joseph".  Matthew clearly regards Joseph as an alternative, preferable way of saying "Joses".  Likewise, the character who appears in Mark 15.40 and 15.47 is called Joses in Mark and Joseph the Matthean parallel (Matt. 27.56).  Moreover, the fact that this character may be a different character than the brother of Jesus also witnesses against the alleged extraordinary nature of the name. The same Joseph / Joses variation is found in the texts too, and not just here in Matthew but also in Acts 4.36, Joses / Joseph Barnabas.

The difficulty with (2) is that there is simply no evidence that Jesus had a son called Judas. (As a commenter on this blog once facetiously said, "How likely is it that Jesus would have named his son Judas?!"). This might sound like a simple point, but I am afraid that it needs to be taken seriously. The whole case for the identity of the Talpiot Tomb with Jesus' family is based on the idea of an extraordinary positive correlation between clusters of names. It is unacceptable when calculating probabilities to ignore contradictory evidence like this.

The difficulty over Judas son of Jesus is already clear in the Jacobovici presentation.  On the page Judah son of Jesus, we read:
The most controversial ossuary pulled from the Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries was undoubtedly the one inscribed “Judah, son of Jesus,” the ossuary of a child. If indeed the tomb uncovered in East Talpiot in 1980 is that of Jesus and his family, and if indeed Jesus of Nazareth had a son, this ossuary contradicts dramatically nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition.
The difficulty ought to be immediately apparent.  The whole case is based on the idea of an extraordinary correlation between the names in the tomb, but here there is an admission that in fact one of the ossuaries "contradicts dramatically nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition" (emphasis added).  In a case that requires extraordinary correlation, extraordinary contradiction simply will not do.

Update (Friday, 7.03): James McGrath has a helpful round up of links to recent discussion.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity

Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity is edited by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne and it will be out this summer, published by T & T Clark.   I have contributed an article the volume entitled "Criticizing the Criterion of Multiple Attestation: The Historical Jesus and the Question of Sources".  The book also features essays by Morna Hooker, Dale Allison, Scot McKnight, Loren Stuckenbruck, Jens Schroeter, Dagmar Winter, Rafael Rodriguez and the editors.

Here's how T & T Clark are blurbing the book:
Criteria of authenticity, whose roots go back to before the pioneering work of Albert Schweitzer, have become a unifying feature of the so-called Third Quest for the Historical Jesus, finding a prominent and common place in the research of otherwise differing scholars. More recently, however, scholars from different methodological frameworks have expressed discontent with this approach to the historical Jesus. In the past five years, these expressions of discontent have reached a fever pitch.

The internationally renowned authors of this book examine the nature of this new debate and present the findings in a cohesive way aimed directly at making the coalface of Historical Jesus research accessible to undergraduates and seminary students. The book’s larger ramifications as a thorough end to the Third Quest will provide a pressure valve for thousands of scholars who view historical Jesus studies as outmoded and misguided. This book has the potential to guide Jesus studies beyond the Third Quest and demand to be consulted by any scholar who discards, adopts, or adapts historical criteria.
Sounds interesting, doesn't it? There is a conference associated with the book and I'll be blogging about that tomorrow.

Duke Holy Land Archaeology

Thanks to Eric Meyers for this great picture of our students spelling out the name of our favourite university in the Caesarea theater, taken last week during the Holy Land Archaeology at Duke course run by Eric Meyers and Carol Meyers on behalf of the Religion department.

You can read all about the trip over on the Holy Land Archaeology blog, with lots of detailed reflections from the students involved and some great pictures too.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Star of Bethlehem (1912) available online

One of the oldest Bible films is now available to watch in toto online, The Star of Bethlehem (Lawrence Marston, 1912):

The Star of Bethlehem (1912) from Ned Thanhouser on Vimeo.

Thanks to David Shepherd for the notice. You can see the film in context here: Star of Bethlehem It is part of the Thanhouser Company's Film Preservation site. Edwin Thanhouser was the force behind the film. For more on the Star of Bethlehem, see the Bible Films Blog post on the film, and links there.