Progress on the Voynich Manuscript

This new report about a recently *peer-reviewed* article on the Voynich Manuscript isn’t paleobabble. It’s pretty interesting. Looks like some real progress that could lead to decipherment.

Voynich_Manuscript

Image source: Wikipedia

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Solomon’s Treasures and the Ark of the Covenant … Really?

Several readers have sent me articles about the new “discovery” about the hiding of the ark of the covenant and other treasures from Solomon’s temple. Here are some samples:

King Solomon’s treasures revealed: Newly translated Hebrew text lists legendary riches – including the Ark of the Covenant

Fate of the ark of the Covenant Revealed in Hebrew Text

This is no big deal, and even the archae-porn peddlers have been reasonably restrained.  But if you’re interested in Old Testament pseudepigrapha, which I am, it’s pretty cool. It’s also old news, at least for those of us in the guild. Back in November at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting, the Eerdmans table was proudly displaying copies of a new compilation that included the text these articles speak of:

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, ed. James Davila, Richard Bauckham, and Alexander Panayotov, with James H. Charlesworth.

The second article linked to above is from the Live Science site. It includes comments from an interview with James Davila, one of the editors of the new volume.

The ancient Hebrew text that is the source of the excitement is, to quote Davila, “just a collection of legends.” In other words, this is not a smoking gun source from the Solomonic era that would provide factual information on where the ark was put.

Aside from editorial duties, Davila is the scholar responsible for the translation and discussion (pp. 393-409) of this text in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Some web articles refer to the Hebrew text as Emek Halachah. More accurately, that term is the title to a book in which is found the oldest confirmed example of the Hebrew text that Davila calls “The Treatise of the Vessels” (Massakhet Kelim).

According to Davila’s discussion, books containing versions of the Hebrew manuscript range in date from 1602-1876. The book was first published in 1648. As to the Hebrew text itself, Davila notes that the date and provenance of the text “are very uncertain” (p. 396). He continues:

“[The text] shows awareness in a general way of Talmudic and earlier traditions but I have not been able to identify clear knowledge of any sources later than the Talmud. . . . Given our current knowledge, we can say nothing more than that the Treatise of the Vessels must have been composed sometime between late antiquity and the seventeenth century” (pp. 396-397).

That’s obviously quote a span of time. But the important point is that the earliest guess is about 1500 years after biblical chronology has Solomon, and roughly 1000 years after the temple’s destruction.

So don’t get too excited.

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Mythical Canon Fodder on Bible Secrets Revealed

Hope you caught the pun.

Except for football, I don’t watch TV, so I sadly (!) missed this latest round of Bible secrets nonsense. I let others suffer in my place, like the author of “Bible Secrets Revealed?: A Response to the New History Channel Series (Part 3).” The author is a New Testament scholar (PhD University of Edinburgh). Honestly, “Bible Secrets Revealed” ought to be titled “Bible Secrets Contrived.” Same old uninformed claptrap about the canon, Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. It’s like the researchers they put on the show to spout the conspiratorial nonsense have never read any of the primary source material and scholarship on anything they comment on.

Did I just stumble onto their method … ?

Actually, that’s only part of it. Dr. Kruger already outline what these shows do to mislead their audience.

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The “Wife of Jesus” Coptic Fragment: An Update

Prof. Larry Hurtado recently called for those involved to give the public an update. He blogs here about the results of that request.

Looks DOA to me, folks.

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More Free Online Resources for Ancient Research

As is my custom, every once in a while I have to post something that veers away from exposing paleobabble toward real research. I’ve posted in the past about the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and its posting of various volumes related to Assyriology. Here are some other goodies (courtesy of the Ancient World Online blog):

The Claremont Colleges Digital Library offers several open access resources relating to antiquity:

The Bulletin of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity is published periodically under the auspices of the Society for Antiquity and Christianity for the general information of persons interested in the research programs of the Institute.
The Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia (CCE) will initially include approximately 2800 articles published in The Coptic Encyclopedia (Aziz S. Atiya, ed. NY: Macmillan, 1991).
The Nag Hammadi codices, thirteen ancient manuscripts containing over fifty religious and philosophical texts written in Coptic and hidden in an earthenware jar for 1,600 years, were accidentally discovered in upper Egypt in the year 1945.

Attalus

This site contains over 25,000 links to Greek and Latin authors online. The links include detailed lists of events and sources for the history of the Hellenistic world and the Roman republic. It includes links to online translations of many of the sources, as well as new translations of some works which have not previously been easily available in English.

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Critical Edition of the Gilgamesh Epic Available Online

This is a steal, folks – especially if you can work in Akkadian. But even if not, Andrew George’s magisterial work on the Gilgamesh Epic is a must. It’s the most current scholarship on the original cuneiform text. The file features tablet transcriptions, transliteration, translation, and critical commentary on all that.

If you look this up on Amazon it’s $450. Here it is free.

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Margaret Barker and the Jordan Codices

This past June Dr. Margaret Barker was on Coast to Coast AM talking about the infamous Jordan Codices. Barker is a legitimate scholar in the fields of biblical studies and Second Temple Judaism. She’s a favorite author of mine, not because I always (or even often) agree with her, but because she’s out of the box.

My fondness for Barker’s work won’t stop me from being critical of her thinking, though. Her thoughts about these codices, which basically the rest of the scholarly community thinks are fakes, for very good reasons, are a case in point. But I don’t have to chime in myself, as a fellow scholar and friend of mine, Dan McClellan, has already done so. Dan is one of a handful of scholars who has followed the codices saga very closely and done a lot of work to chronicle it for the rest of us. I recommend reading Dan’s critique of her appearance.

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Want to Study Ancient Papyri?

Have I got a website for you.

If papyri is your thing, you should definitely know about Brice Jones’ metasite for papyrological resources. There are a few dozen links to online papyrus collections, journals, online publications, Coptic lexicons, and other tools. Pretty slick.

Brice is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religion at Concordia University in Montreal.

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Shape-Shifting Jesus: On the Sins of Marketers and Media

[Addendum; 3/24 - some have noted that another passage in the article linked below other than the one I note does have Jesus shape-shifting. It doesn't. Change of appearance is not shape-shifting as those religious traditions who talk of such things have in mind - e.g., changing into animals. It's the wrong description, and is designed, in my view, only to generate traffic. In short, it's misleading. Maybe I'm just over-sensitized by all the weird stuff I read in alternative religions and stuff for this blog. MSH]

I’ve had a lot of people over the past couple of days send me links to articles such as this one: “1,200-year-old Egyptian text describes a shape-shifting Jesus.” Readers kind enough to send me the news thought it a good candidate for this blog. It is and isn’t.

On the one hand, the story (not the text) bears the marks of archaeo-porn we’ve come to love: sensationalism (“shape-shifting”) and timing (Easter is right around the corner – will Simcha Jacobovici find something to sell in time?). But on the other hand, the text is a genuine item and published by a respected scholar by a notable (and expensive) academic press, E. J. Brill. (Brill publishes wonderful stuff in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies, but their prices force you to sell body parts.)

Let’s dispense with the silliness first. The text doesn’t describe Jesus changing shape, like some CGI morphing scene out of Twilight. Rather, the text says: “Pilate, then, looked at Jesus and, behold, he became incorporeal: He did not see him for a long time …” In other words, Jesus disappeared. Zowie Batman  . . . you mean just like the New Testament has him doing in Luke 24:30-31 (the ending of the “Road to Emmaus” story)? Yep. The point? This isn’t new, and so it isn’t revelatory. But how how would the story have ranked on Google? How much talk would have been generated with a headline like “Recently deciphered text has Jesus disappearing like he did in the New Testament”? Ah, marketers and media.

While the text is newly-published, it has been known for some time. At least the article doesn’t obscure that:

About 1,200 years ago the New York text was in the library of the Monastery of St. Michael in the Egyptian desert near present-day al-Hamuli in the western part of the Faiyum. The text says, in translation, that it was a gift from “archpriest Father Paul,” who, “has provided for this book by his own labors.”

The monastery appears to have ceased operations around the early 10th century, and the text was rediscovered in the spring of 1910. In December 1911, it was purchased, along with other texts, by American financier J.P. Morgan. His collections would later be given to the public and are part of the present-day Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

What’s actually noteworthy about the text is that it has a scene where Pilate offers to swap his own son in Jesus’ place on the cross. And sorry, this isn’t some “lost” portion of the “real” story. The text is attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the 4th century AD. As the publishing scholar notes (in the book the sensationalist article is hawking), these and other homilies (sermons) attributed to Cyril show no indication they were really authored by Cyril.”1 The text dates to roughly 800-900 AD, or nearly a millennium after the actual time of Jesus (note the “1200 year-old” part of the article title and do the math). That means that these texts are not like the Gnostic gospels, which are within a couple centuries (and perhaps earlier) of the NT era.

In short, this isn’t a Christianity-shattering find. And the publishing scholar never claims anything of the sort. In fact, if you want the professor’s own description of the material and his book (with a nice photograph of the manuscript), you can read this brief essay. I recommend it over the MSNBC piece.

  1. Roelef van den Broek, Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem on the Life and the Passion of Christ (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2013), p. 72. No, I don’t have the book (I need the kidney I still have) — a lot of it is available for viewing on Google Books.

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Why the Piri Reis Map is Neither an Enigma Nor Evidence for Ancient Aliens

This recent post on the Bad Archaeology blog provides a much-needed antidote against the Piri Reis paleobabble contagion. As author Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews notes at the outset:

Maps of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries are a favourite source of information for fringe writers, who use them to make a wide variety of claims. To Erich von Däniken, for instance, they are evidence for a survey of the Earth from space, carried out by extraterrestrials, while for Graham Hancock, they are evidence for an ancient sea-faring civilisation, lost beneath the sea after the melting of glacial ice at the end of the Pleistocene.

Anyone who’s put any time into the Piri Reis issue knows the above is on target. What you may not have known is that the Piri Reis discussion is based in part on selective use of evidence. I highly recommend the essay, as it covers the alleged anomalies (e.g., knowledge of Antarctica before it became ice-covered) and the Charles Hapgood trajectories that are so frequently used to defend the paleobabbling perspective of Piri Reis.

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