Wednesday, February 29, 2012

And now the Jesus Discovery Website

I have been wondering when the website connected to the book and forthcoming documentary on the latest on the Talpiot Tomb would be available, and here it is:

It features a short interview with Tabor and Jacobovici, press releases, bios, some information about the finds and, most usefully, some good pictures.

There is also news of the forthcoming Discovery documentary, "The discoveries are nothing short of astounding," they say. "This spring, the world will be watching."

Perhaps.  I doubt it, though.

More anon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tapiot Tomb B: the First Twenty-four hours

I mentioned last night Jacobovici and Tabor's linking of a burial cave to Jesus' disciples.  Lots has been going on today, and the blogs are, as ever, up to speed in supplying links and expert commentary.  If you would like to get up to speed, the case is made by James Tabor in an article published earlier today on Bible and Interpretation:

James Tabor

The article is detailed and features several figures.  Tabor is to be commended for getting a detailed article out featuring all the data at the beginning so that we don't need to reply on media mis-information and misunderstanding. 

The ASOR blog is the next place to go.  It is the repository for critical commentary on the claims.  Today it has published several pieces, by my colleague Eric Meyers, by Jodi Magness, by Robert Cargill (and see also an important post on his XKV8R blog), but most importantly by Christopher Rollston:

Christopher Rollston

Rollston's post develops the point also made in others' responses, that the alleged drawing of a fish is actually more likely to be a nephesh tower or tomb fa├žade.  Tabor had discussed this possibility in his article, but had dismissed it, and he now comments in situ on each of the ASOR blog posts above.  

Rollston also has a helpful analysis of the inscription and he completely rejects Tabor's and Jacobovici's suggested reading.  I am not an epigrapher, but one point made by Rollston appears to be unassailable.  In order to make one of the lines read as a Greek spelling of the Tetragrammaton, it has to be "IAIO", with an initial iota.  But the first letter simply cannot be an iota:
the Greek script(s) of the Late Second Temple period, the morphology of iota is quite consistently a vertical stroke (sometimes with modest curvature), but without distinct top or bottom horizontals.
Rollston suggests that the letter in question may be a tau and that seems plausible on the basis of the actual picture rather than the pencilled-in version.

At this point it is tough to know what the inscription says, but there is nothing here that pins it to Christianity, even if one reads it in the way suggested by Tabor and Jacobovici.  Time will tell whether the picture is better interpreted as a fish or a nephesh tower, but it's straightforward to see the case for the latter.

Even if one does read the tomb the way that Tabor and Jacobovici read it, it is important to underline that the evidence is all circumstantial.  As with the Talpiot Tomb A, the case is based on circumstantial evidence.  With regard to that tomb, I have argued frequently here that the statistical case is not as impressive as they claim that it is.  It is not that the names are common but that the statistical case places undue weight on the alleged unusual nature of some of the names (either Mariamne, Yose or both) without taking seriously contradictory evidence (Judas son of Jesus).

To read what other bloggers have been saying, Tom Verenna has a helpful round-up post.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of reasons for dismay in the media headlines over the last twenty-four hours.  If you did not read carefully on the subject, you would have no idea how tenuous these headlines are -- the Telegraph says Christ's disciples' remains 'discovered' in spite of the fact that there is no mention of "Christ", his "disciples" or their "remains".  Or in the case of the Daily Mail, even the reference to the disciples drops out with 'Divine Jehovah, raise up': Does discovery of coffin lid prove the resting place of Jesus is under Jerusalem tower block? 

Always be wary of newspaper headlines that ask questions.  The answer is almost always "No".

John Dominic Crossan on the origins of the Passion Story

I had never noticed this before, but the Jesus Seminar has placed a helpful seven and a half minute video on Youtube of John Dominic Crossan summarizing and introducing his case for the origins of the Passion Narrative as deriving from prophecy historicized, though he does not use that term in this clip. It is from a presentation made in 1995:


Monday, February 27, 2012

Jacobovici and Tabor link burial cave to Jesus' disciples

There have been rumours about the latest project from Simcha Jacobovici for a while (cf. James TaborExploring our Matrix and a new Facebook page, The Jesus Discovery) and now the news is about to break.  So is everyone ready for another round?  I'm not sure that I am, but I'm bracing myself, and getting up the strength.  Here goes.  The first news outlet that I've seen to report on this is Haaretz:

'Naked Archaeologist' finds signs Jerusalem cave was used to bury Jesus' disciples
Simcha Jacobovici, an Emmy-winning documentary director and producer, hopes findings of current explorations will substantiate his earlier theory that Jesus was buried in a nearby cave.
By Nir Hasso
Under an ordinary residential building in Jerusalem's Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, a robotic arm with a camera inserted into a Second Temple-era burial cave has revealed mysterious inscriptions and drawings on ossuaries. 
Simcha Jacobovici, an Emmy-winning documentary director and producer who is best known for his documentary TV series "The Naked Archaeologist," argues that the cave served as a burial cave for at least some of Jesus' disciples . . .
The gist is that this burial cave features an image of Jonah and the fish, and Haaretz does have the image for you to see.  It is not clear from the article where the image appears, whether on one of the ossuaries or somewhere else.  The article also reports a second discovery:
The second of Jacobovici's dramatic finds is an inscription in Greek letters. It can be variously interpreted, but all refer in one way or another to resurrection, he says. 
Jacobovici, along with the experts he has enlisted, claims the words are "God" in Greek, the Tetragrammaton (the traditionally unutterable four-letter name of God in Hebrew), the word "arise" or "resurrected" in Greek, and the word "arise" or "resurrected" in Hebrew.
It is difficult to comment until we know a bit more but no doubt that will be forthcoming.  If there is to be a large website on this find, though, I hope that it will be better researched than the error-riddled Jesus Family Tomb Website (Jesus' Family Tomb Website: Errors and Inaccuracies, 2007, still on the web five years later).  I'll be on the look-out.

Update (Tuesday, 8.51): comments from Michael Heiser and Jim West.

Daniel Smith on Narrative, Historicity, and Verisimilitude in the Passion Narratives

I mentioned Dnaiel Smith's short article, The Trouble with Q, the other day. He has a new oped piece today also on Bible and Interpretation that is well worth a read.  It is clear, illuminating and I I wholeheartedly agree with it!

Narrative, Historicity, and Verisimilitude in the Passion Narratives; or, What I Learned from “Big Fish” About Reading the Bible
Daniel Smith
I recently watched Tim Burton’s film Big Fish (2003) again. I must have first seen it around the time that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) came out. Although these films are now several years old, the issues they raise are illustrative for how we understand ways of reading the Bible, especially where claims about the historicity (what “really happened”) or the verisimilitude (the appearance of being true or real) where biblical narratives are concerned. Where The Passion tends to use its own narrative to concretize abstract theological concepts (for example, the medieval notion of the superhuman suffering of Christ) or to historicize familiar moments from the history of Christian piety or art (for example, Jesus’ encounter with Veronica), Big Fish sees the relationship between narrative and history in a much more ambivalent way. For the characters in the film, narrative is foundational for community and relationship in spite of troubling questions about truth and verifiability.
Read more . . .

New blog design

After eight and a half years of this blog looking much the same, I decided that it was time for a redesign.  I used to want it to look the same as the NT Gateway, but that went its own separate way a few years ago.  And then I quite liked the conceit of having designed my own template.  But it was becoming increasingly unwieldy, and then I noticed that Jim Davila had changed the design of Paleojudaica, also after many years, and I decided the time had come for me too.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Provenance of Picture of Mark Fragment

Earlier this week, a photograph of an alleged fragment of Mark's Gospel began to circulate on the internet and it has rightly been treated with the scepticism, if not always ridicule, that it deserves (Near EmmausPaleojudaica, Exploring our Matrix, Earliest Christianity, Zwinglius Redivivus, Thomas Verenna and others).

One fact that has not received adequate attention is that the provenance of the picture.  It emerged for the first time last Saturday in a posting of a certain "GodAlmighty" on a fringe internet forum. If you were curious about where "GodAlmighty" found the picture, he* says "A Facebook friend of mine posted a pic. He knows his Koine pretty well and he says it's definitely from Mark 5:15-18."  (The picture has since disappeared, but the post is still present).

As far as I am concerned, this settles the question.  So often we are faced with artifacts appearing on the antiquities market with unknown provenances, or vague tales about their being found in caves somewhere.  Not here.  The artifact is from no less a source than GodAlmighty himself and his Facebook friend who knows some Greek.  What more do we need to know?

* I am not here assuming that GodAlmighty is male but rather inferring it from his long beard, clearly visible in his avatar.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

NT Pod 59: Historical Jesus Criteria

The latest episode of the NT Pod begins a series on the search for criteria in historical Jesus research. In NT Pod 59, I introduce the idea of the historical Jesus criteria and offer some first reflections on what it is that scholars are attempting to do.

You can listen to the NT Pod online or subscribe in your preferred reader or subscribe via iTunes.  And now you can also find the NT Pod on Facebook, or follow the NT Pod on Twitter.

Paul's Letter to the Galatians and Christian Theology

Thanks to Tom Wright for this reminder about the conference this summer on Galatians and Christian Theology at the University of St Andrews. There are still places available:

Paul's Letter to the Galatians & Christian Theology
10-13 July 2012
We are pleased to announce the fourth St Andrews conference on Scripture and
 Christian Theology. Since the first conference on the Gospel of John in
 2003, the St Andrews conferences have been recognized as amongst the most
 important occasions when biblical scholars and systematic theologians are
 brought together in conversation about a biblical text. With the book of Galatians as our key text, biblical scholars and theologians of the Christian tradition will gather to work out how exegesis and theology meet, critique and inform each other.
Full details here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Telegraph Obituary of John Hick

Tomorrow's Telegraph has its obituary of John Hick:

Professor John Hick
Professor John Hick, who has died aged 90, was one of the most influential philosophers of religion of his time; he was HG Wood Professor of Theology at Birmingham University from 1967 to 1982, and before that taught at Cambridge.
He was, however, more widely recognised in America, where he held chairs at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1959 to 1964 and at Claremont Graduate University from 1979 to 1992. He wrote nearly 30 books, which, unusually for philosophy, included several bestsellers . . . .

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Death of Richard T. France

I was sorry to read on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog of the death of Richard France.  I only occasionally had the chance to interact with Dick while I was in Oxford but I was always impressed by his gracious and encouraging manner.  We came down on opposite sides of the issue that most concerned me at the time, the creativity of the evangelists, but I do recall enjoying engaging with him on the topic.  He was a fine New Testament scholar and I know that he was well-loved by his colleagues and students.  It's a great loss.

Death of John Hick

I was sorry to hear yesterday about the death of John Hick (Prosblogion, Jim West, John Hick: The Official Website; University of Birmingham page).  One of the great privileges of working for a decade at the University of Birmingham was being surrounded by brilliant men like Michael Goulder and John Hick.  And listening to those two men engage with one another about matters of theology and ethics was always fascinating.  Their jointly authored little book, Why Believe in God? is a fantastic read.  For many years "the Open End" meetings, which focused on theological and philosophical topics, and which were attended by academics from around the Birmingham area, were the talk of the town.  On a personal level, I always found John Hick very encouraging.  He was always eager to ask about the latest in Biblical Studies, albeit often with a view to discussing how they impacted on theology and philosophy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Richard Hays to continue as Dean of Duke Divinity School

The breaking news next door at the Divinity School is that Richard Hays, who has been interim Dean of Duke Divinity School for the last two years, is to take on the job now for a full term.  Congratulations to Richard on the appointment, but we will miss his contributions to the New Testament teaching in the Graduate Program in Religion.  News release here:

The New Testament scholar will continue beyond his initial two-year term.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Earliest manuscript fragment of Mark rumour

There's nothing more likely to get the blogs all talking than a rumour about a newly discovered manuscript fragment.  See Jim Davila on Paleojudaica, James McGrath on Exploring our Matrix, Peter Head on Evangelical Textual Criticism (with tons of comments), Joel Watts at Unsettled Christianity,  Jim West and others.  The basic gist is that Dan Wallace, in a debate last week with Bart Ehrman, made the following claim:
Bart had explicitly said that our earliest copy of Mark was from c. 200 CE, but this is now incorrect. It’s from the firstcentury. I mentioned these new manuscript finds and told the audience that a book will be published by E. J. Brill in about a year that gives all the data.
I'll throw in a couple of quick things in.  The first is that the claim is, of course, hopelessly vague, and that the promised Brill publication "in about a year" may well mean that the book in question is not even in press yet.  Authors are typically over-optimistic about when they think the press will publish their work and if the author is saying "about a year", my guess is that s/he has not let go of the manuscript yet.

It's also worth adding that it is a fair guess that this manuscript discovery is connected with Scott Carroll (HT Matthew Hamilton) who tweeted on 1 December 2011: 
For over 100 years the earliest known text of the New Testament has been the so-call John Rylands Papyrus. Not any more. Stay tuned .
I am staying tuned but there is nothing more yet.  I'd guess that Carroll is connected with Wallace's announcement given the unlikelihood that there are two such discoveries at the same time, and given the similar contacts the two figures have (e.g. both are part of a series on The Bible's Survival and Success).  However, it is worth noting that Wallace remarked that the "world-class paleographer" in question had "no religious affiliation" and this does not appear to be the case with Carroll, who is advertised as an expert on, among other topics, "the Authenticity of the Bible".

I would also add at this point that it is always good on these occasions to begin with a healthy scepticism.  As often, the hunt for the lost Doctor Who episodes provides a good analogy with New Testament textual criticism. There have been rumours over the years that a new discovery of one of the lost episodes is about to be discovered, and often these come to nothing.  As with manuscripts, we should wait for the physical evidence before we get our hopes up.

Update (Tuesday, 6.41): sage comments from Stephen Carlson on Hypotyposeis.

Update (Tuesday, 9.01): Larry Hurtado weighs in with similarly useful comments.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Biblioblog Carnival February 2012

When you are away from the blogs as often as I tend to be these days, it's great to have a Biblioblog Carnival  to help you catch up.  This one is by Amanda Mac on Cheese-Wearing Theology and it's a nice treat to have it divided up along lines dictated by Babylon 5, surely one of the best TV series of all time.

What is the trouble with Q?

In a recent article in Bible and Interpretation, Dan Smith reflects on The Trouble with Q.  But the troubles he is talking about are not those niggles that make some of us question the existence of Q, the Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark, the Mark-Q overlaps, the weakness of the arguments for Luke's independence from Matthew and so on, but the way that many scholars fail to take the implications of the Q theory seriously.  Like Kloppenborg, Dan draws attention to facile appeals to Q's hypothetical nature by those who refuse to think through what the existence of Q means for our reconstructions of Christian Origins.

But is this really the trouble with Q?  I am puzzled by Dan's focus on scholars who are uninterested in the Synoptic Problem and Q.  Those who have not invested time in studying the problem are unlikely to want to engage seriously with the implications of the hypothesis.  In my own experience, the same set of scholars, the so-called "lazy" believers in Q, are equally unwilling to invest time in engaging with Q sceptical scholarship like my own. 

It is never easy in scholarship to find yourself in a position where you are telling other people that they should be interested in what you are studying.  Engaging other scholars' interest is always tough, and it is especially tough in areas like the study of the Synoptic Problem, which requires a lot of hard work and a degree of technical expertise. 

There is always the option, though, of seeking out dialogue partners among those who are already interested in the problem.  Dan alludes to those who do not accept the existence of Q but he does not mention them by name, much less engage them directly.  Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my memes relates to the Farrer Theory getting ignored in scholarship, but I am usually in those contexts talking about introductory-level works, textbooks and the like.  It is, however, something that happens in the higher-level work too.

The problem is that there is a major alternative to the Q hypothesis and critical engagement with it can help to clarify and focus the bigger picture questions that Dan mentions here, about the degree of diversity in early Christianity, in particular the question of the role played by Jesus' death.  Dan talks about engaging with people who may help with refining the Q hypothesis, but a healthy hypothesis is also one that engages with those who are attempting to refute it.

Let me offer one example of how this works.  Dan talks about taking seriously Q's silence about the salvific death of Jesus, the resurrection and the term "Christ".  Arguments about silence are often worth hearing and in the case of a text like the Gospel of Thomas, its silence on these same features is indeed worth some serious thought.  There is a difference in the case of Q, however, that makes any study of its silence problematic.  Given that the document is reconstructed on the basis of Matthew's and Luke's double tradition, there is always the possibility that it is not Q that is silent on the matters in question but that Matthew and Luke are silent in their witness to Q's contents.  

Dan talks about what he regards as similar difficulties in reflecting on Matthew, noting that there are many things we do not know about Matthew, its author, whether he wrote other materials and so on.  But we do have textual witnesses to Matthew that are pretty clear about the scope, parameters and wording of the work, the very things that are absent in the case of Q.   Indeed, the absence of any kind of textual witness to Q is one of the things that invites us to consider the alternative, that the kind of close verbatim agreement that Dan discusses may be evidence not for a lost document but for a direct link between Matthew and Luke.  

In other words, the hypothetical nature of Q is indeed relevant in this discussion.  Dan is right that the hypothetical nature of Q should not be used as an excuse for a refusal to think.  The real issue, though, is that Q's hypothetical nature is an invitation always to think about live alternatives.  To imagine a world without Q is surely one of the best ways of testing a model where Q is central.

To put it another way, what are the chances that Dan's essay will be noticed by those who are his targets?  At least the Q sceptics are willing to have the conversation.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Death of Frederick Danker

I was sorry to hear from Jim West that Frederick Danker died earlier today, also mentioned on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

Update (Friday): Rod Decker has a tribute on the NT Resources Blog.