A Christmas Suggestion from PaleoBabble

Some of you may have heard me make mention on Coast to Coast AM about “astral prophecy” and its relationship to Revelation 12 and the star of Bethlehem. Here’s an excellent video on that idea. Not expensive either. I watched it recently.  The only thing I’d change would be an explicit mention of the date of the birth of Jesus — September 11, 3 B.C. — and mention of how the dragon of Revelation 12 also works out astronomically.  Pretty cool visuals.

Is Zecharia Sitchin Anti-Semitic?

I don’t believe so (Sitchin is Jewish).

That said, it seems Sitchin and his followers don’t realize how his ideas open themselves to that charge. How? Aside from pure imagination, a lot of Sitchin’s ideas presuppose a dependence of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) on earlier Sumerian and Babylonian literature. More acutely, Sitchin asserts over and over again in his books that the Old Testament writers borrowed their material from the Sumerian and later Mesopotamian people.

This idea was all the rage in the late 19th century and early 20th century, particularly in the wake of the famous “Babel und Bibel” (“Babel and the Bible”) lecture of Friedrich Delitzsch. It was the era of the decipherment of cuneiform and the discovery of creation and flood stories in Mesopotamian literature. It was also the era of deepening anti-Semitism, a belief cultivated nowhere more zealously than Germany, Delitzsch’s fatherland. In fact, it was in this environment that the “higher criticism” of the Bible began. The criticism of the Bible as in any way historical was led by German anti-Semites. The result was the pursuit of alternative origin stories, found ever-so-conveniently in the writings of the “Aryans” (who supposedly came from Sumeria — is this sounding familiar, ye followers of Sitchin?). The Nazis, of course, made this dogma, since the “Aryan” (Vedic) writings were written in Sanskrit, which was the ancient ancestor of Indo-European languages, of which German was prominent. Yes, they descended from the gods who first gave kingship, the right to rule, at Sumer — unlike those inferior Jews. They and their myths had to be eradicated.

As I’ve told Sitchinites at various lectures, no credible OT scholar today argues that the Genesis stories came wholesale from Mesopotamian material. That idea is passe, but Sitchin doesn’t seem to mind being 100 years behind the curve. The literary issue is far more complex than what we think of as borrowing, and people who spend time in the biblical text know it, and so have abandoned the views of Delitzsch and his followers.

For a readable (non-specialist) discussion of how Delitsch’s anti-semitism fueled his scholarship, click here [from Bible Review 18 no 1 (F 2002): 32-40, 47].  Amazing how this despicable bias influenced generations, and is still influencing amateur researchers like Sitchin, though only sub-consciously.

Antikythera Mechanism Rebuilt – Replica Works Perfectly

This is pretty cool. So what does this ancient machine do?

“In short, Antikythera’s user interface is deceptively simple, operated by a simple knob on the side. This conceals the intricacy within, amounting to a complex mathematical model, tracking the movements of planetary bodies and incorporating a series of submechanisms to account for the eccentricities of their rotation.”

And for all those out there that will want to attribute this early computing machine to extraterrestrials, take note that the machine only accounts for five planets — since only five were known in antiquity. If ET knew only five planets, he’s a pretty incompetent astronomer for being so “advanced.”

Zecharia Sitchin and the Meaning of Sumerian and Akkadian Words

On my old website devoted to exposing the phony scholarship of Zecharia Sitchin’s ancient astronaut nonsense, I had occasion to note how the meanings of certain Sumero-Akkadian words or glyphs supplied by by Sitchin were not only nonsense, but the Sumerians themselves had left behind the proof of my assertion in the form of their own bilingual dictionaries. Here’s a snippet from my open letter to Sitchin in this regard:

As noted above, the ancient Mesopotamian scribes created dictionaries.  Lists of words are a common feature among the thousands of Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform tablets which have been discovered by archaeologists.  Many are just groupings of common words, while others represent an inventory of the word meanings of the languages used in Mesopotamia.  These “lexical lists”, as scholars call them, were indispensable to the 19th century scholars who deciphered the Sumerian and Akkadian texts, for they were used to compile modern dictionaries of these languages.  Today all major lexical texts have been published in the multi-volume set, Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon, begun by Benno Landsberger in the 1930s.  It is indeed a rare instance where ancient dictionaries of a dead language form the core of the modern dictionaries used by scholars of today.  Such is the case for the ancient languages of Sumer and Akkad.  Sadly, Mr. Sitchin neglects these resources.

This statement was in the context of challenging Sitchin’s understanding of “shem”, “shamu”, and “MU”.  All of these terms are accounted for in LEXICAL LISTS – these bilingual dictionaries — and so we are able to know what the Sumerians and Akkadians themselves meant by these terms.

The purpose of this post is to direct anyone interested in these lists to a nice resource for understanding what they are (and to see that I’m not making up my reply to Sitchin). Here’s a link to a short article “What is a Lexical List?” found on the Digital Corpus of Cuneiform Lexical Texts (yes, there’s a website devoted to lexical lists!). You’ll find it interesting, unless you blindly follow Sitchin. Don’t click the link if that’s the case.

Replica of Noah’s Ark Completed

Kind of interesting – a full-scale model of Noah’s ark according to the biblical dimensions (and assuming an 18-inch cubit) built by a guy in the Netherlands.  The link leads to the BBC story, but you can view additional pictures here.

If you are familiar with comparative ancient literature, stories of a great flood (not necessarily global) and the building of a great ship to save human and animal life are found in literature around the world. I take these stories as a sort of “shared collective memory” tradition of some perceptively cataclysmic event, not as PaleoBabble. But there is plenty of Noah’s ark paleobabble, to be sure. One of the more notorious instances is that of Ron Wyatt, who claimed to have discovered the ark (among just about every other interesting biblial artifact). Here’s a link about what one person who bothered to investigate the claims found. Here’s a pretty thorough expose by a creationist organization.

The Secret Gospel of Mark: Genuine or Hoax?

The Secret Gospel of Mark (also called “Secret Mark”) has been controversial for some time (click here for an overview). Aside from purporting to be another gospel, the controversy is primarily about a passage in it that has dialogue between Jesus and an unnamed disciple that is interpreted by some as having homosexual undertones.

At the conferences I attended last week, an entire session was devoted to Secret Mark. Recent work by Stephen Carlson has called the text’s authenticity into serious question. Carlson believes the discoverer, Morton Smith, forged the document. (Incredibly, Bart Ehrman is on his side – let’s give Bart points where they’re due). Others, however, think it’s genuine, at least in terms of the text. Since Secret Mark actually never says anything sexual happened between Jesus and this disciple, and the language used is not euphemistic for sexual activity, real scholars who accept Secret Mark as genuine don’t support the “archaeo-porn” crowd’s1 “interpretation” of that passage. I thought readers might be interested in a couple summaries of the Secret Mark session to get an idea where the debate is at the moment.  Here’s one and a second.

  1. I speak here of pseudo-researchers like Simcha Jacobovici, Michael Baigent, and Dan Brown who, for sake of material gain, rape ancient texts and manipulate archaeological work by titillating readers with bogus data and wacky interpretations of data.

The Myth of the LATENESS of the Belief in Jesus as Incarnate Deity

At first glance, you might wonder why this is PaleoBabble fodder. Having just returned from the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (this year in Boston), I was reminded again how even scholars have an insular perspective.  This is especially true of New Testament (NT) scholars like Bart Ehrman, who seems amazingly unaware or indifferent to the scholarship both within and outside his field for how early the idea of a godhead came along. For example, there is a spate of recent books dealing with early veneration of Jesus as God, well before the New Testament text was “fiddled with” (Ehrman supposes that textual alteration of the NT books is where that idea comes from). Here are some representative academic titles:

Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity

How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God?: Historical Questions About Earliest Devotion To Jesus

Naturally, there are also recent scholarly books on how the New Testament presents Jesus:

The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, And Luke (Simon Gathercole)

From Messiah to Preexistent Son: Jesus’ Self-Consciousness & Early Christian Exegesis of Messianic Psalms (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 2 Reihe) (Aquila Lee)

There is also at least one book-length challenge to Ehrman’s ideas (most of that has taken place in scholarly journals):

Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” (Timothy Paul Jones)

On the pre-New Testament side of things, the above titles by Gathercole and Lee include a good bit of Jewish material from the “intertestamental” period. My own work has focused on the idea of a godhead in the sacred Scriptures of Judaism, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). I just delivered a paper on that subject at one of the conferences I just attended. The paper is entitled, “The Concept of a Godhead in Israelite Religion,” and is written in a somewhat conversational style (I didn’t do much in the way of footnotes; I’ll be adding that sort of thing as I revise for publication). It is also geared a bit to a Christian audience (hence the few references early to a Trinity). I plan to create two scholarly articles from this: one for a Christian academic audience, the other for a broader audience, but I offer it here for those interested.