Thursday, March 22, 2012

Christopher Skinner, What are they saying about the Gospel of Thomas?

My copy of Christopher Skinner, What are they Saying about the Gospel of Thomas? arrived just the other day and I'd like to recommend it as a great way of catching up on the latest in Gospel of Thomas research.

Here are the details:
Since its discovery the Gospel of Thomas has been the subject of intense study for those with interests in the developments of earliest Christianity. Three questions remain unanswered in contemporary scholarship: (1) When was Thomas composed?; (2) What is the relationship between Thomas and the canonical Gospels?; (3) What theological outlook is presented in the Gospel of Thomas? This volume provides a comprehensive overview of recent scholarly opinions on these three questions.

From the back cover:

"A very valuable book for both students and scholars mired in the ever-growing swamp of Thomas scholarship. After the text itself, this is an excellent place to identify the nodal issues in the study of the Gospel of Thomas."
                                                                              - Simon Gathercole
                                                                                Cambridge University

"The Gospel of Thomas is the noncanonical gospel that everyone wants to  know about. More is written on Thomas than on any other early Christian gospel outside of the New Testament. But the scholars do not agree about the character of this enigmatic work, its relationship to the New Testament, its date, its 'gnostic' character or the role it should play in Historical Jesus research. But now Christopher Skinner has provided a clear, coherent and compelling account of the diverse perspectives on this text, explaining how the scholars approach its enigmas, offering students an ideal starting point to what they are saying about the Gospel of Thomas."
                                                                                 - Mark Goodacre
                                                                                   Duke University

Gathercole and Goodacre, eh?  Those names have a ring to them.  This book is going to be really helpful in my undergraduate course on Non-canonical Gospels.  On amazon, the book is a snip at only $6.40.

Thomas and the Gospels previewed by Larry Hurtado

Mark Goodacre
Thomas and the Gospels
I am grateful to Larry Hurtado, Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptic Gospels for his summary and endorsement of my forthcoming book on the relationship of the Gospel of Thomas to the Synoptics.  I think he summarizes its argument very well and I am delighted that he found it persuasive.

Seeing that post reminds me that I have not actually blogged on the book here yet.  I am looking at the proofs at the moment and it should be out in the summer.  I am also reminded that I have not mentioned another recent publication on Thomas and I'll make that the subject of my next post.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Questioning the Identity of Ossuary 4 in Talpiot Tomb B

When looking at pictures of the photographs of the Talpiot Tomb B ossuaries, I found a number of anomalies.  I wrote these up in the form of questions in a post headed Anomalies in the Talpiot Tomb B Photographs.  The difficulty with that post is that it was over-technical, over-detailed and un-illustrated.  So I decided to focus on just one of the issues, the question of the identity of ossuary 5, and was able to demonstrate successfully that the photograph below, found in Tabor's Preliminary Report, p. 37, fig. 7, was actually of ossuary 4 (now corrected in that report, though without acknowledgement).  I would now like to move on to a related issue, the question of the correlation between these 2011 photographs and the 1981 photographs from the initial Amos Kloner investigation.

Take a look again at the photograph of the inside of Ossuary 4, below.  I have highlighted a crack in the top right hand corner:

Inside Ossuary 4, kokh 2, 2011, Preliminary Report, p. 32, fig. 7, annotated to draw attention to the crack at the back of the ossuary.

Now, according to James Tabor, this ossuary is the same one that was photographed in 1981.  He explains (Preliminary Report, 14) that:
This ossuary is in its original position. It is ornamented but due to its distance in the niche and its closeness to the wall we were not able to examine its façade closely. Its far end has a name inscribed in Greek but unfortunately even our snake camera probe could not reach far enough inside the niche to shoot back at that end and get a clear wide shot of the letters. All we have is the 1981 enhanced photo in which the Greek letters are faintly visible but remain undeciphered.
 It is featured on the right in the picture below:

"1981 Photo of Ossuary 4 (right) with faint inscription in Greek", Jesus Discovery Website

In this picture, the façade is facing to the left, towards ossuary 5.  The panel with the faint inscription is facing towards us.  Although the ossuary is apparently in its original location in kokh 2, it is clearly not "in its original position".  If this is the same ossuary, it is now switched around, with the façade facing the wall and the inscription panel on the far side.  Now, if this is the case, then we have an anomaly.  Look again at the photograph above that is taken inside ossuary 4.  There is a crack at the back, on the top right.  The same area in the 1981 photograph ought to be the top left as we look at it now, but there is no crack:

1981 Photo of Ossuary 4 (right), top left highlighted to the lack of a crack

There are two possibilities here.  It could be that the crack was caused in 1981, but this seems unlikely given that only "scratches" are mentioned (Preliminary Report, 5) and not major damage.  It seems more likely that we are not looking at the same ossuary.

There is a related question.  Ossuary 4 is described in the Complete Findings as "Plain (Not fully explored)", which conflicts with the idea that it is "ornamented" ("Preliminary Report", 14).  If the 1981 photo above is of Ossuary 4, there is no question that it is ornamented.  Here is the detail of the façade as we see it above:

Close-up of ornamented facade on ossuary 4 (1981)

In summary, there are conflicts between ossuary 4 as it is apparently represented in the picture from 1981 and as it is represented in the recent investigations.  In one it has a big crack and in the other it does not.  And while it is described as "plain" in one place, it is described as "ornamented" in another.

I am grateful also to David Meadows for useful discussion of the issues here -- see his Pinterest page on this topic.

Ossuary Identification Post updated with Photographs

I was chatting to someone yesterday who said that they had not been able to follow the discussion of the identification of ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb B because my posts were a bit text-rich.  It'd be easier with illustrations.  I agree and so I have taken to some time to update that post with three key captioned photographs to make it easier to follow:

NT Pod: Historical Jesus Criteria

I have recently been focusing on criteria in the Historical Jesus quest in my regular podcast, the NT Pod.  I'm in the middle of a course on the Historical Jesus at Duke at the moment, so the topic has been very much on my mind.  So far, I have three episodes on this theme, NT Pod 59: Historical Jesus Criteria, NT Pod 60: The Criterion of Embarrassment and NT Pod 61: The Criterion of Multiple Attestation.   There should be more to come in this series soon.

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.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Correction in Identifying One of the Talpiot Tomb B Ossuaries

I am grateful to James Tabor for his grace and good humour in first listening to my questions and then accepting my suggested correction over the identity of one of the ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb B investigation.

Here are the details.  On Monday, I gathered together some of my questions about Anomalies in the Talpiot Tomb B Photographs.  Some of my questions related to apparent anomalies between the pictures taken in 1981 when Amos Kloner briefly had the chance to investigate the tomb, and the more recent pictures taken with the robotic arm.   My key question, though, related to an anomaly among the recent pictures.

James Tabor's Preliminary Report, page 32, figure 7, was labelled "inside ossuary 5, kokh 3".  He explained "We were able to see inside one of the ossuaries that had a piece of its end broken off  (presently in kokh 3, ossuary 5)" and he noted the chalk mark "5", presumed to be from Kloner's 1981 investigation.  Here is the picture:

"Inside ossuary 5, kokh 3", Tabor, Preliminary Report, p. 32, fig. 7. Note the domed lid.

I pointed out that this ossuary appeared to have a domed lid and that I could not see how it could be ossuary 5.  Ossuary 5 (the "Resurrection Inscription" ossuary), in kokh 3, is in front of ossuary 6 (the "Jonah" ossuary) and it is clear from the photographs (Preliminary Report, p. 37, figs. 14-15 and Complete Findings) that it had a flat lid.  It couldn't be the same ossuary.  Take a look at one of those pictures:

Tabor, Preliminary Report, p. 37, fig. 15, "View of the snake camera and its light approaching kokh 3".  Note that Ossuary 5, in the foreground, has a flat lid.

In comments to that post and in email correspondence, James Tabor has accepted that the supposed picture of ossuary 5 (in figure 7 of his Preliminary Report) is misidentified (also mentioned in James Tabor's blog, penultimate paragraph).

Moreover, I had speculated that fig. 7 actually depicted Ossuary 4 in kokh 2 -- see the picture in the Complete Findings, which made it a strong candidate.  Notice the gap at the top right of Ossuary 4:

Ossuary 4, kokh 2, taken from Complete Findings slide, labelled "4.  Plain (Not fully explored) (Ossuary in the back)". I have added the red highlight to show where I think the camera could have gone in.

A commenter Ian also suggested that Ossuary 4 was a candidate for the shot.  And it now seems that this is correct.  While accepting that the internal picture above could not be Ossuary 5, Prof. Tabor then suggested that it might be Ossuary 2.  I pressed the point that Ossuary 4 here was a better candidate and Prof. Tabor subsequently agreed and noted that he had received confirmation of this from the GE camera guy (via email to me only).

[Added note: I am grateful to Prof. Tabor also for sending me an as yet unpublished picture of  the back end of ossuary 5 as it leans up against ossuary 6.  The picture shows a hole in the ossuary (not reproduced in the museum replica) that has the same contours as the picture of ossuary 5 from 1981.  This photograph satisfies me that we are looking at in that picture is the same ossuary, viewed from the opposite side.]

Update (Friday): James Tabor has now updated his article, Preliminary Report, though I must admit to a little disappointment that he did not acknowledge the source of the correction.

Update (Saturday): Photographs and captions added to the above post to make it easier for people to follow the discussion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Talpiot B / Patio Tomb Roundup

Over on Rogue Classicism, David Meadows has an excellent round-up post on the Talpiot Tomb discussions so far, including details of where James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici have responded to criticism, and including his own clear commentary.  If you want to catch up on what all the fuss has been about over the last week or so, this is the place to go:

But of course predicted the end ("final nails") is always, in studies of early Judaism and Christian origins, somewhat precarious.

James Ossuary Trial Verdict

Just catching up after a long day on the news that the James Ossuary trial, once called "the trial of the century", is in.  It feels like such a long time that I was wondering if it was the last century:

Jerusalem Court Acquits Antiquities Collector of Forgeries After 7-Year Trial By Matthew Kalman
In a case that has roiled scholars around the world in a broad range of disciplines, the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday acquitted an Israeli antiquities collector, Oded Golan, of forging dozens of priceless archaeological artifacts, including an inscription on the burial box, or ossuary, of James, brother of Jesus.
This article appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education and it is written by the man who has followed the trial from the beginning and who probably knows more about it than anyone else.

Comments: Jim West's blog, which, as so often, had the scoop, James Tabor on TaborblogRobert Cargill's XKV8R, Jim Davila's Paleojudaica, my colleague Eric Meyers on the ASOR blog, the Response of the IAA on the ASOR blog, Christopher Rollston in Rollston Epigraphy, James McGrath on Exploring our Matrix, Tom Verenna, Todd Bolen on Bible Places, Antonio Lombatti in Observatório Bíblico, John Bergsma on The Sacred Page, John Byron in The Biblical World and no doubt several more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Question of Uniqueness in the Teaching of Jesus

This week's reading for my Historical Jesus class includes a really wonderful piece by E. P. Sanders.  It's been available on the web for a while courtesy of Rob Bradshaw.  It's a real gem:

Professor E P Sanders
The Ethel M. Wood Lecture 15 February 1990
One of the favourite things which New Testament scholars and, probably, Christians in general say about Jesus is that he was ‘unique’. If we think historically, we know two things about the topic from the outset: no two people are alike; there is nothing new under the sun. Like all clichés, these two are true, and the hard thing is to know how to apply them. In this respect these two statements are like general moral maxims and folk wisdom: one or the other will meet every situation, but you do not know in advance which formula to apply when. I live by two maxims: nothing ventured nothing gained, and better safe than sorry. My trouble has been venturing when I should have played safe and the reverse. But one of these two maxims is always true. So it is with regard to similarity and dissimilarity among human beings. Either 'nothing new’ will apply, or ‘no two people are alike’. They might even both apply at the same time, as clichés often do. My wife once said to me, on the same topic, ‘that’s just like a man’, and ‘only you could do something like that’.
That's how to begin a lecture! And he goes on with quotations from Jeremias on Jesus calling God "Abba" and from Hengel on Jesus' difference from Theudas and comments:
One of the most interesting things about saying that this or that is unique is that the claim implies what one might at first think to be uniqueness on the part of the claimant: that he or she is omniscient. Omniscience, it will turn out, is by no means unique to any individual New Testament scholar: most have it, or claim to have it. We should all, however, grant that our knowledge is limited. We have very few personal prayers from other Jews of the first century, and so are not able to prove a negative, that no ‘Jew’ (that is, no Jew other than Jesus) could have said abba. We possess no stories at all about how Theudas and others called their followers, and so we cannot say that only Jesus called people with an authority ‘grounded in God himself’.
And so it goes on. Great stuff.

Robert Cargill illustrates Sins of Commission and Omission - and the Jesus Discovery Website reacts

Dr Robert Cargill has an outstanding post on the Talpiot Tomb B claims of Mr Simcha Jacobovici and Dr James Tabor:

I am grateful to Dr Cargill for giving me a chance to see the post in advance of its posting.  He is an expert on issues of digital technology and how it is used to represent archaeological work and he presents the evidence here with his characteristic clarity, patience and force.  

It appears that Dr Cargill's paper is already making an impact.  Not long after it was posted earlier this afternoon, several of the images to which he draws attention disappeared from the Jesus Discovery Website, to be replaced with others.  Note in particular the new version of the "Fish in the Margins" photograph, which this afternoon replaced the version that Dr Cargill discussed in his post:

Original "Fish in the Margins" picture with digital ink
Replacement version, now with digital ink removed

Monday, March 12, 2012

Anomalies in the Talpiot Tomb B Photographs

While I was looking at the Kloner's 1981 photograph of the ossuaries that are now the focus of Jacobovici's and Tabor's book, website and documentary, Talpiot Tomb B, I noticed something puzzling as I compared those photographs with the new photographs taken with the robotic arm and the snake camera.  I do not have a thesis in this post but I do have some questions.  They are the kinds of questions that may be cleared up when we have access to more photographs and live footage.  However, on the basis of the photographs, map, sketches and labelling we have at this point, some things are not making sense to me.

It will be easiest if I draw attention to the anomalies in series of steps.  Then if I am making mistakes or reading things wrongly, it should be straightforward for one of those involved to draw attention to where my missteps are.

(1)  First, take a look at the Complete Findings from the Patio Tomb, Photo 1 in the Press Kit Photos section of the Jesus Discovery Website (cf. James Tabor's Preliminary Report, p, 38, fig. 16). This helpful map of the tomb shows ossuary 5 (the "Resurrection Inscription" ossuary) in front of ossuary 6 (the "Jonah" ossuary) in kokh 3.  The same page features two pictures of kokh 3, with ossuary 5 in front of ossuary 6.   One thing is clear from those two pictures -- ossuary 5 has a flat lid and ossuary 6 has a domed lid.  These two ossuaries are also depicted like this in the museum replicas, ossuary 5 with a flat lid (Preliminary Report, p. 40, fig. 19) and ossuary 6 with a domed lid (p. 42, fig. 21).

(2) Next, go to the Preliminary Report, page 32, figure 7. This picture is supposed to represent "inside ossuary 5, kokh 3".  Tabor explains "We were able to see inside one of the ossuaries that had a piece of its end broken off  (presently in kokh 3, ossuary 5)".  He notes that the chalk mark "5" is seen inside and that this mark was made in 1981. Tabor and Jacobovici, The Jesus Discovery likewise describes this as ossuary 5.*  What I don't understand is how this can be ossuary 5.  In this picture, ossuary 5 has a domed lid  and not the flat lid that we saw above in (1).  Moreover, there are no signs of the "end broken off" in the pictures of ossuary 5. These do not appear to be the same ossuary.

(3) Now go to the 1981 Photo of Ossuary 4 (right) with faint inscription in Greek on the Jesus Discovery Website. This is kokh 2, arranged as it was in 1981, with ossuary 5 on the left and ossuary 4 on the right.  At this point, it is necessary to point out that the numbering and positioning of the ossuaries changed between Kloner's hasty 1981 survey and the recent survey, and the differences can be seen straightforwardly by comparing Kloner's 1981 map (Preliminary Report, p. 30, fig. 3) with Tabor's 2012 map (Preliminary Report, p. 38, fig. 16).  Luckily, in this case, ossuaries 4 and 5 have the same numbering in 1981 and 2012.  With that important point to one side, take a careful look at ossuary 5 on the left in this picture. Notice that again it has a domed lid and it is broken.  It looks nothing like ossuary 5 with the flat lid we saw above in (1).

(4) Now return again to the Complete Findings on the Jesus Discovery Website.  Look at the picture of Ossuary 4 at the bottom.  It is described here as "Plain (Not fully explored)", (though contrast Tabor, Preliminary Report, p. 14, "ornamented").  It is not easy to see, but it clearly has a domed lid and it looks like it has a piece that has been repaired in a kind of wide "U" shape.  This is curious because the 1981 Photo of Ossuary 4 depicts a ossuary with a flat top, not a domed top, and an elaborate decoration that you can just see on its facade.  It is clearly not "plain". What we can see of ossuary 4 in the 2011 photograph does not look anything like ossuary 4 from 1981.  In fact, if anything, it looks like the picture of ossuary 5 from 1981, to the left of ossuary 4.  That has the domed top and the broken, wide U shaped hole.

(5) I can only go on the photographs that we have so far, but at this point I can't see how the broken ossuary with a domed lid (1981's ossuary 5) can be the same ossuary as the apparently in-tact ossuary with a flat lid (2011's ossuary 5) that is now sitting in front of the "Jonah" ossuary .  Similarly, 1981's ossuary 4 cannot be 2011's ossuary 4.  In relation to this, I have some further questions:

  • When one looks carefully at the 1981 Photo of Ossuary 4, the patterning on the facade, which is only just visible, looks identical to the patterning on the museum replica of ossuary 5 (Preliminary Report, p. 40, fig. 19).  Could it be, then, that Kloner's ossuary 4 is actually Jacobovici and Tabor's ossuary 5?  Better pictures of the corners of ossuary 5 from 2011 could help to confirm or deny this.  I repeat that I am only posing the question on the basis of the scant evidence that I can see.

  • Ossuary 2 in kokh 2 (2011; "Highly Decorated") also looks like it has similar markings to the 1981 Photo of Ossuary 4.  However, the resemblance is not as close as it is to the museum replica; also ossuary 2 has a domed lid and not a flat lid.

  • The lid on the floor in the 1981 photograph of kokh 1 looks similar to the lid that we see under (2) above, i.e. the lid that is described as belonging to ossuary 5, kokh 3.  It is claimed that this ossuary was originally in kokh 2, though, and not kokh 1.  It may not be the same lid.

I apologize for the somewhat technical nature of this post.  It emerges from my attempt to understand the findings presented, and to work out how the 1981 investigation coheres with the 2011 one.

* "Although we were not allowed to move anything in the tomb, not even a hair’s breadth, one of the lids of Kloner’s ossuary 5 was ajar and we could actually peer inside with our cameras and see bones. The circled chalk mark “5” was still visible inside the bone box," Tabor, James D.; Jacobovici, Simcha, The Jesus Discovery (Kindle Locations 1006-1008). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

When is a fish not a fish? When it has handles

Most of the discussion of Talpiot Tomb B has focused, understandably, on the image that they claim is a big fish, pointing downwards, and spitting out Jonah's big head.  As opinion on that image is coalescing around the idea that the image is more likely to be some kind of amphora or  unguentarium (see especially here and here), it is worth taking a closer look at the contextual information provided by one of the other images on the ossuary.

When Amos Kloner investigated this tomb in 1981, he took a picture that enables us to see one of the ends of the ossuary that is now obscured.  Jacobovici's and Tabor's investigations were unable to get a clear picture of this so we are reliant on Kloner's 1981 photograph, helpfully reproduced on the Jesus Discovery website (but there erroneously dated to 1980).  I've been staring at this photograph a good deal, much of the time in amazement and frustration that Kloner did not think to photograph the ossuary form the other side so that we could see the whole of that really interesting front panel that is now the focus of so much discussion.

Nevertheless, from Kloner's photograph, one can clearly see an image.  It is interpreted by Jacobovici and Tabor as a "half-fish", pointed downwards.  They argue that it is part of a narrative that the ossuary tells about Jonah and the fish.  It therefore provides corroborating evidence for the idea that this is a "Jonah ossuary".  But is this a half-fish or is it some kind of vase?

In a recent comment on the ASOR blog, Don Griffith suggests that handles are visible on this image.  I think he's right.  Take a look at Kloner's 1981 photograph on the Jesus Discovery website. You can blow up the image nicely, and the handles are pretty clear.  I've drawn attention to them here:

They provide their own close-up, on the Jesus Discovery website, of this picture and they call it the "Big Fish Tail".  Here's a close up of that image that again clearly shows the handles, especially the one on the left:

These apparent images of handles greatly detract from the plausibility of the idea that this is a "half-fish" and, at the same time, this detracts from the plausibility of the interpretation of the image on the front of the ossuary as a fish.  

It is worth bearing in mind that there are ossuaries that feature more than one amphora, and so the presence of a vase on the side of the ossuary makes it all the more likely that it is also some kind of vase on the front, as Tom Verenna has noted (with illustrations; scroll to the bottom for the key information here).  Indeed, it may even be that a left handle is visible on the alleged fish picture on the front of the ossuary -- see again Tom Verenna -- with the caveat that we need to see more images of this to make a judgement.  These lines are not, of course, visible on the doctored image.

Update (16 April): In re-reading this post, I noticed that I did not go back to add an update to Robert Cargill's post Sins of Commission and Omission, which deals with the question of handles on the image above ("the half fish") and the controversial "Jonah" image.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Da Vinci Code and the Talpiot Tomb

It is common for New Testament scholars and others to be disparaging about Simcha Jacobovici's claims first to have found the lost tomb of Jesus, and then to have located the tomb of his earliest disciples.  One of their favourite means of criticizing Jacobovici's films is to refer to Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code.  The point of making this comparison is of course to imply that Jacobovici is simply creating historical fiction, sensationalist stories masquerading as responsible history.

It might surprise some of Jacobovici's critics, therefore, to find out that he actually embraces the comparison with the Da Vinci Code.  Indeed one might say that the book is his inspiration.  When one reviews the comments he has made on these tombs, the Da Vinci Code is repeatedly mentioned, over and over again.

Take, for example, the following interview, from 2007:

Among other things, Jacobovici says here that:
The Da Vinci Code in a way has been very good for this investigation into the Jesus family tomb, into the lost tomb of Jesus.  Why?  Because it is not history but at least it has sensitized millions upon millions of people to the issues.  You know, was Jesus a rabbi?  Was he married?  Is there any reason to believe that he wasn't married?  Was Mary Magdalene downplayed after the resurrection?  Did they have a kid?  All these questions are out there now  . . . . So in a sense the Da Vinci Code has laid the groundwork for this investigation in my film and the book . . . The Da Vinci Code is fiction, thrilling fiction.  This is thrilling reality. 
The interest in The Da Vinci Code may explain why it is that Jacobovici finds his "Lost Tomb of Jesus" theory so compelling.  He has already imagined a reality that he subsequently finds corroborated by his interpretation of a cluster of names in a first century tomb.

What Jacobovici believes he has found, then, is a true-life version of The Da Vinci Code.  This is especially clear in the following interview, also from 2007:

Here, among other things, Jacobovici suggests that The Da Vinci Code is a bore compared to the "Jesus family tomb":
Is this a real life Da Vinci Code?  Is this really happening? Is The Da Vinci code like a bore compared to what's going on here?
I wonder whether the obsession with The Da Vinci Code leads to conceptualizing the investigation of the Talpiot tomb as an exercise in code-breaking, as here, where Jacobovici, Pellegrino and Cameron are "The Decoders":

The danger with this kind of approach is that it conceptualizes history as a code that needs breaking, as a mystery that requires solving.  There are, of course, elements in the historian's task that are like this, but most of the time history is not about "connecting the dots" (another of Jacobovici's favourite images); it is about admitting ignorance, realizing that there are many missing pieces, but trying properly to understand the pieces that we do have in their proper context.

One can see how far The Da Vinci Code influences Jacobovici's thinking by looking at the following video, in which he suggests going beyond Da Vinci to Pontormo to get to the heart of the art and symbolism in the Talpiot Tomb, looking for a kind of "Pontormo Code":

There is one key area of substance, though, where The Da Vinci Code has made too strong an impact, in my view, on Jacobovici's thinking.  It is the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  One can see it in this video on the Discovery site, from which this is a quotation:
There are two Marys in Jesus' life, as everybody knows, one is his mother, you know, the Virgin Mary, and the other is, Mary Magdalene, you know, post Da Vinci Code everybody knows Mary Magdalene. 
(There are several more than two Marys, but that's a story for another day).  It needs to be stressed whenever thinking about the claims about the Talpiot Tombs that there is simply no reliable historical evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  It is not that he could not have been married to someone.  It is that -- if he was -- we have no good historical evidence of it.  The expectation that we would find Mary Magdalene in Jesus' family tomb is not an expectation born out of a study of the early texts.  It is an expectation born out of too strong a devotion to the story from Da Vinci Code.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Talpiot Tomb and the Beatles

Over on the ASOR blog, I comment on the statistical case for the identification of the Talpiot Tomb with the family of Jesus, playing with the analogy from the Beatles that Simcha Jacobovici so likes:

Mark Goodacre

For my earlier posts that played with this topic here on the NT Blog, see The Beatles and the Jesus Family Tomb and The Statistical Case for the Identity of the "Jesus Family Tomb", both from February 2007.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Scales of a fish on the Talpiot ossuary?

Although my comments on the Talpiot ossuary B have focused so far on other issues, there is one thing I've been curious about in relation to the "fish" interpretation.  If this is a fish, why do the designs in its body change from rectangles, to shaded and non-shaded triangles, to "Y" shapes?  Is it more likely that these are several different attempts to depict fish scales, one row at a time, or is it more likely that they are simple ornamentation, as on a vessel of some sort?

My curiosity is aroused by the fact that the design in the middle segment* -- shaded and unshaded triangles -- is apparently the same design as the ossuary's decorative border, also shaded and unshaded triangles.  I have drawn attention to these elements in the picture above, which I have also rotated by ninety degrees so that it fits on the page better.  I think it is more likely that we are seeing a decorative design on the border that correlates with the same decorative design on the object, rather than that the decorative design on the border contrasts with the scales of a "fish".

* I am speaking here of the middle section in the raw footage, which features three main segments, rather than the doctored image, which features four.

Jesus Tomb: I pointed out the mistakes

David Meadows drew my attention to this video that appeared on Youtube last year but which I had not previously seen:

Here, Simcha Jacobovici makes the following surprising claim:
If there's something wrong with our facts, with our investigations, someone should just point out the mistakes and I'd be the first to correct them if somebody actually says, "Hey, you made a mistake here." But so far that hasn't happened . . .
Almost five years ago, on March 11 2007, I listed multiple errors and inaccuracies on the Jesus Family Tomb website, ranging from minor mistakes to outright nonsense.  I have often repeated the point in the intervening years, and others have linked to it.  Every mistake that I pointed out has remained on the site from that day to this.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Was there a predisposition to find Jonah and the whale?

While revisiting my old post on the Errors and Inaccuracies found at the "Jesus Family Tomb" website (see also The Talpiot Tomb and the Bloggers III), I noticed that one of them related to comments made there about the Book of Jonah, some of which are garbled, but some of which make sense.  The relevant part is here quoted:
The Book of Jonah is centered around a major conflict between God and Jonah, initiated by Jonah’s resistance to obey God, who calls upon him to declare judgment in Nineveh. Jonah resists this calling and attempts to flee, only to be thrown overboard as a result of a storm inflicted by God. Jonah is then swallowed by a great fish sent by God.
Jonah remains in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, before reciting a prayer asking God for mercy. The previously relentless God answers Jonah’s prayer, and forgives him. Jonah then proceeds to fulfill the call of prophecy, and manages to turn 120, 000 people to God in Ninevah.
Why is this worthy of comment?  I recall being puzzled by the inclusion of this page at the time since there is no obvious relationship between Jonah and the (original) Talpiot tomb.  Bear in mind that this appeared in 2007, several years before the excavation of Talpiot Tomb B with its alleged imagery of Jonah and the fish.  Does this demonstrate, therefore, that there was at least a predisposition to interpret a symbol found in a subsequent tomb as Jonah and the fish?

The 2007 website also features a page on the Fish as an early Christian symbol. Moreover, the book that accompanied the website and documentary, Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Evidence Behind the Discovery No One Wanted to Find (2007), 153-4, likewise features material about Jonah, here in the context of Jacobovici's descent into the Talpiot Tomb where he lands in "piles of modern texts falling apart at the touch of my fingers", one of which was "a damaged book of Jonah":
The irony, which was not lost on me, was that Jesus, who spoke in parables and codes, told his disciples that the only "sign" that he would pass on to them regarding his mission on earth was "the sign of the prophet Jonah."  Christian theologians have always interpreted this to mean that just as Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale, Jesus was predicting that he would spend three days in the belly of the tomb before he was resurrected.  I had studied this passage in Luke because I believe Jesus was following in the footsteps of Jonah when he sailed to the mysterious "land of the Gadarenes."  It was on this fateful trip to the land of the Gadarenes that Jesus, according to the Gospels, quelled the tempest, and it was in the necropolis of Gadara that he exorcised demons from two men and transferred the demons into a herd of swine (Matthew 8.24-27; Mark 4.35-41; Luke 8.22-25).**  It was a code.  Strangely enough, I had been working on that code, parallel with the search for the tomb. Now I found myself crawling in the dark over half a dozen books of Jonah, in the belly of what was arguably Jesus' death chamber.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jonah and the whale is in Jacobovici's mind at the very moment that he is exploring this tomb, several years before the discovery of an alleged image of Jonah and the fish on an ossuary in the tomb next door.

The fact that we might have a demonstrable predisposition for a particular interpretation does not, of course, invalidate that interpretation.  And if the experts end up agreeing that the picture in Talpiot Tomb B is of Jonah and the Whale, the predisposition will simply be interesting but irrelevant. However, where there is scepticism about the interpretation of the picture as Jonah and the Whale, the natural human inclination to find what one is looking for may need to be taken into account.

** Note: The references given here at to the Stilling of the Storm pericope and not to the Gerasene Demoniac, for which see Matt. 8.28-34 // Mark 5.1-20 // Luke 8.26-39.   The "two men" detail is taken from Matthew's (secondary) redaction of Mark's story.

"If it quacks like a fish" -- Simcha Jacobovici answers his critics

Simcha Jacobovici, who has recently been appointed professor of religious studies at Huntington University, has answered critics of The Jesus Discovery in a couple of venues, on James Tabor's blog and now in comments on the ASOR blog.

My favourite line in Prof. Jacobovici's comments on the ASOR blog is the following:
At the end of the day, I think there is a principle in British common law that serves us well i.e., if it quacks like a fish, and flaps like a fish, and waddles like a fish – it’s a fish!

Sunday, March 04, 2012


Over on Exploring our Matrix, James McGrath asks Was Thaddaeus Jesus’ Original Drummer, or his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development?

It's nice to know that I am not the only one to use bonkers analogies in Historical Jesus classes.  The other day I was talking about the inner circle of Peter, James and John in the Synoptics (Mark 5.37, 9.2, 14.33), and comparing it with a different but overlapping inner circle of Peter, James and John in Paul (Gal. 2.9) and I found myself referring to the changing personnel of Charlie's Angels!

But James's mention of Thaddeus reminds me of one of my favourite sketches.  Sunday Heroes were short sketches that appeared on Lee and Herring's Fist of Fun (1995) with Stewart Lee playing Jesus, sometimes a little like a schoolteacher, as here:

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Talpiot Tomb, Jonah and Q

So it turns out that there is a really important Synoptic Problem angle on the issue of the Talpiot Tomb B, the "patio" tomb and its alleged depiction of Jonah and the fish.  Now, I know what regular readers will be thinking.  I'm going to go on about the wholehearted acceptance of the Q theory and ignorance of Q scepticism in Jacobovici and Tabor's Jesus Discovery. Well, it's true that I could go on about that if I wanted.  After all, they accept the Q hypothesis without question, they do not call it a "hypothesis", they treat it as an established fact, a "discovery" on a par with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Thomas and so on and so on.  But no, that's not my problem.  That's endemic in scholarship and is especially common in books for the non-experts and I'm used to it.  I expect it.

The difficulty is this.  Tabor and Jacobovici appeal to the presence of resurrection imagery in Jesus' teaching on the "Sign of Jonah" (Matt. 12.38-42 // Luke 11.16, 29-32) as being present in Q and so linked to the pre-70 period.  Indeed, it is key to their case that the earliest Christians used Jonah and the fish imagery as a means of pointing to their belief in the resurrection:
Our discovery in the Patio tomb is unprecedented in that it reflects one of the earliest sayings of Jesus, preserved in Q, contemporary to the generation that saw him and heard him teach.*
However, and this is the important point, the use of resurrection imagery in connection with Jonah does not appear in Q.

The Sign of Jonah appears in Q 11.16, 29-32.  Jacobovici and Tabor rightly refer to the IQP's reconstruction of the text of Q** though they do not quote it.  It reads:
Q 11.16 But‚ some .. were demanding from him a sign. 29 But .. he said‚ ..: This generation is an evil .. generation; it demands a sign, and a sign will not be given to it — except the sign of Jonah! 30 For as Jonah became to the Ninevites a sign, so also‚ will the son of humanity be to this generation.
The material about Jesus being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights is universally regarded by Q scholars as Matthew's redactional addition:
Matt. 12.40: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
In other words, it is Matthew's gloss written in the post-70 period and it is not evidence for what Christians in the earliest period thought.  To put it another way, there is no evidence from the earliest period that imagery from Jonah was used in connection with Jesus' resurrection.

I understand why Jacobovici and Tabor wish to stress that Jonah is mentioned in connection with the resurrection in the pre-70 period.  They are right to note that Q, if one accepts the hypothesis, does indeed mention Jonah.  However, the mention of the sign of Jonah in Q is connected specifically with the preaching to the Ninevites.  Q experts like Kloppenborg link it with Q's deuteronomistic theology and with preaching of repentance and the rejection of God's prophets.

Scholars often tire of studying the Synoptic Problem, but it does repay careful attention, especially in cases like this, where the devil is in the detail, and the evidence for pre-70 resurrection imagery evaporates.

* Tabor, James D.; Jacobovici, Simcha (2012-02-28). The Jesus Discovery (Kindle Locations 1115-1117). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
** Chapter 3, footnote 5.

March Biblical Studies Carnival

Over on Abnormal Interests, Duane Smith has a superb round-up of all the interesting blog activity from the last month: