The BBC recently aired a short segment on the lead codices from Jordan on its Inside Out program (thanks to J. Davila, J. McGrath, and Dan McClellan for the initial heads-up on the special). The codices are allegedly early Christian texts.
I’ve blogged about the lead codices several times, as have other biblical and ancient Judaism scholars. The overwhelming consensus is that they are fakes — for lots of cogent reasons (see this video as well). The BBC investigated the claims and, most immediately, the person behind them, David Elkington.
Here is the BBC video (13 minutes or so) about the codices.
I’m guessing the of the lead codices is off the radar of most readers by now. Jim Davila posted this notice on his PaleoJudaica blog today that provides some updating and commentary. I’m with Davila; I think they are fakes for very good reasons (as he sketches here — and see the links he provides). The annual scholarly conferences are fast approaching (mid November) and so I’ll be keeping an eye and ear open for any items related to this piece of Paleobabble (and others for sure).
I recommend readers have a look at this recent post by Dr. Larry Hurtado. It begins this way:
If you want to see a good example of what be-devils any scholarly analysis of practically anything to do with Jesus and early Christianity, have a read of the postings of the Canadian TV self-promoter, Simcha Jacobovici here. . . . [Jacobovici] trashes all the scholars and queries as “sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy”.
Sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy? Really? What’s next from Jacobovici? Producing another spell-binding documentary promoting his own heroism against this vast conspiracy? Will we see Fabio play the lead?
It doesn’t get much more inconsequential and insipid than this.
This figures to be my last update on this, at least until after November’s academic conferences. I’m bored with it.
Here’s some item updates on the alleged (but now suspected by many to be fake) fragment that has Jesus referring to his wife. (In case you’re late to this party, here’s a good overview post from New Testament textual critic Dan Wallace). Of particular note is the last one, by Christian Askeland, a Coptologist I happen to know through email due to my day job. It’s an interesting video demonstration (for the non-specialist) of the fragments odd features that has led to suspicion of fakery.
Looks like Harvard Theological Review (HTR), a respected academic journal for theology and religion, will not be publishing Karen King’s article on the new Coptic fragment that has Jesus say something to his wife. Their reticence comes amid growing suspicions that it’s a fake. The update comes from Craig Evans via the Near Emmaus blog.
As a couple of readers here and over at my Naked Bible blog have brought up the recent proposal that the Coptic text in question is a fake, I thought I would direct readers to this short (6 pp.) explanation from Prof. Francis Watson as to how he thinks it was done. Even if you don’t read any Coptic I think you’ll be able to follow it. Thanks to my readers and Mark Goodacre’s NT blog for the link!
My take (as noted in the comments) is that the explanation is coherent, but needs to be bolstered by C-14 testing. However, that might not do any good (cf. my references to the old Irving Wallace novel, The Word). The physical features could be authentic and yet faked (in the Wallace novel the ink was hand-made from materials that would pass C-14 testing and the parchment was cut from a genuine uncial — some of them have blank pages).
I invite you all to read Jason Colavito’s short post entitled, “Ancient Aliens and Credential Inflation.” Claiming false credentials is irritating to an academic, like myself (and as those who know me know, I have a healthy disdain for the snobbery of the academy — but I like lying even less). It’s just so disingenuous. The ancient astronaut crowd is infamous for criticizing mainstream scholars (just read the comments section of this blog!), and yet its most visible proponents want to pass themselves off as possessing graduate degrees and other credentials, the baptism of the mainstream. Pure hypocrisy, with intent to manipulate the audience.
I was prodded to write this summary post by Mark Goodacre’s most recent post on Simcha Jacobovici’s apparent obliviousness to the academic criticisms of his work by Mark and others. In a video dated to last year, Jacobovici pretends to be unaware of any mistakes in his work and its presentation.
There are only two explanations for how he “missed” Mark’s list of errors (this weekend will mark four years that they have been online) and those of others: (1) ineptitude; and (2) apathy fueled by self-aggrandizement. I’ll let readers decide which one makes more sense. My money is on the latter.
Mark, of course, good-natured as he is, seems to have assumed that Jacobovici actually cared about the discourse over the past few years and the past few days. I can imagine Mark doing his best to imagine $imcha pouring over the scholarly interaction, fretting here and there about how he could have done a better job of thinking more carefully about the data. Forget it, Mark. That never happened nor will it. After years of blogging on paleobabble and the constant internet trafficking of antiquity-twaddle (and even more years of doing so by email), I can tell you from hard experience that the last thing people like Jacobovici are interested in is pursing truth objectively. They are interested in the “truth” of the agenda they have constructed. I know this comes across as harsh, but it’s just the way the paleo-babbling grist mill works. I’m more jaded than Mark because I’ve seen dozens of other archaeo-hucksters pretend that their work is so paradigm-shifting and intellectually overwhelming that it cannot be answered by mainstream “in-the-box” scholars. It’s PR BS; just part of keeping people interested enough to keep coming back for the next credit card swipe. And Jacobovici is better at it than most.
Consequently, as a refresher of sorts, I thought I’d put together a summary of where all this is really at — what are the main sticking points?
Aside from Mark Goodacre’s listing of errors on Jacobovici’s website presentation of this tomb, what has all the discussion of which Jacobovici feigns ignorance produced? What’s the current situation? Here’s a list of the most crucial points:
The “Jesus Family Tomb”
1. The Names in the Tomb
A. Paucity of Patronyms
Most of the names in the tomb lack patronyms. That is, we have no idea of the relationships between the people in the tomb. This applies to “Jesus son of Joseph” and either of the Marys in the tomb. Jacobovici (and Dan Brown, another scholar) wants people to think that Jesus and one of the Marys (the one whose name allegedly reads “Mariamne,” and alleged reference to Mary Magdalene) as being married.But why not brother and sister? Aunt and nephew? Grandmother and grandson? Second cousins twice removed? No patronyms = guesswork. The same goes for any of the other names lacking patronyms. There is ZERO evidence in any ancient text that Jesus was married to anyone. For example, you can click here to watch some exciting screen capture videos of me searching the Gnostic gospels (in vain) for a Jesus’ marriage. You can see Goodacre’s list of errors in regard to the “Mariamne” red herring as well.
B. The Commonality Issue
Most of the names in the tomb are common. The retort to this is that the assemblage of these names in a single tomb is not common. But how would we know that? Rahmani lists 227 inscribed ossuaries, many of which are from the same tomb, and so few family tombs have actually been discovered. The most reasonable scholarly estimates of the population of first century Jerusalem at no more than 100,000, most of whom were Jews (Samuel Rocca, Herod’s Judaea [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], p. 333). So let’s say 75,000 Jews in first century Jerusalem. Numerically, there would have been many more family tombs than have been discovered, so any estimate of the rarity of any collection of names is based on navigating without instruments. The point: Rarity in terms of the data we have is not the same as rarity in terms of the data that corresponded to a first century Jerusalem reality. Not having the latter gives no warrant to substituting the former and pretending it’s the latter. That’s a little thing I like to call “cheating.”
The statistical likelihood of this being Jesus’ family tomb is also greatly influenced by the name Yoseh. If this name is just a variant of the more common Joseph, the probability that the tomb is truly that of Jesus of Nazareth is 2-3%. If, on the other hand, Yoseh is a rare name, then the probability is 47%. Mark Goodacre has pointed out for years now that Yoseh and Joseph are interchanged in the gospels for the same person:
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.
So, if we go with the data we have for the persons actually in question (Jesus’ family) the name is not rare; it is a variant for “Joseph.”
[UPDATE 3/13/2012: Richard Bauckham was kind enough to add the following note in the comments page regarding this name:
"There is an important point about the name Yoseh which is being missed. People seem to have accepted the claim by Tabor and the others that there are only 9 occurrences. But they get this figure by distinguishing between Yoseh(final he) and what Tabor says is “Yosi” (final yod). These are in fact the same. The latter should be vocalised “Yose” (long e). Yoseh is an Aramaic spelling, Yosey a Hebrew spelling. The combined total occurrences for the two forms is about 40, which means a considerably higher frequency. In this case, Yose is not ‘rare.’ Of course, it is also true, as has been said a number of times in these discussions, that Yose is just a shortened form of Joseph(Yosef or Yehosef), and the same person would often be known by both full and short forms. Matthew has Joseph where Mark has Joses, no doubt because Matthew preferred the formal to the colloquial form. The same could happen on an ossuary inscription or in other places."]
2. Logical Coherence
A. Yoseh and Judas
The above issue with the name Yoseh is important for another reason. On one hand, Jacobovici would have us be breathlessly astonished with how his evidence coincides with the gospels, while on the other hand, we are to ignore where it simply is not. Goodacre succinctly notes this inconsistency in two regards:
(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.
Honestly, we are supposed to believe Jesus had a son (by Mary Magdalene) and named him JUDAS!? Yes; that is what we are asked to believe.
B. Logic Check
I can’t help asking what to me are some obvious questions:
This tomb was not hidden underground. Given its famous occupants, how is it that no enemy of the early church, Roman or Jewish, simply didn’t end Christianity by exhuming the bones of Jesus of Nazareth from his own tomb showing the whole thing to be a sham?
“Matthew” is a name on one of the ossuaries. So, presuming with Jacobovici that he is the Matthew who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, and that Jesus of course was long dead before he wrote it, how in the world would Matthew get away with that scam? No one local in Jerusalem knew it was a scam? Seriously?
3. The James Ossuary Debate
Most scholars believe the ossuary is genuine, but that the inscription (“James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus/Yeshua”). There are good reasons (here and here and here) to consider either the whole or the second half of the inscription to be faked (i.e., added by a modern hand). This would make the related issue of whether this ossuary was one of the missing ossuaries in the “Jesus Family tomb” moot. Obviously, if if came from that tomb, then the statistics would have to be reworked (but that would not in term affect the Yoseh issue noted above, or the logical coherence issues). And even if it came from the tomb, the inscription could still be a fake (whole or part). Someone could have taken a blank ossuary from that tomb and added the inscription. The official final report of the Israel Antiquities Authority on this ossuary included these epigraphic experts (with their summative thoughts included):
The Ossuary Inscription Committee
Prof. Amos Kloner (Appendix 6E)
It is clear that the engraving on the bone box dates from a different period than its original installation. The inscription appears new. The writer tried giving the letters an ancient appearance by using samples from contemporaneous inscriptions.
Dr. Tal Ilan (Appendix 6F)
Even if the ossuary is authentic, there is no reason to assume that the deceased was actually the brother of Jesus. But I am of the opinion that the inscription is a forgery.
Prof. Roni Reich (Appendix 6D and 6D1)
The inscription does not exhibit a combination of configurational or substantial effects that would imply forgery. But I was convinced that the inscription is a forgery when presented with the findings by the Materials Committee.
Dr. Esther Eshel (Appendix 6G)
From my examination of the inscription and the data I received, it appears to me quite clear that the inscription is not authentic, and was added at a much later date (possible in two stages).
Incidentally, the verdict in the antiquities hoaxing trial that involves this ossuary is set to be announced next Wednesday. Regardless of the verdict, it seems the inscription involved fakery judging by the links noted above. The patina issue as it relates to the inscription seems very suspicious.
The Talpiot B Tomb
My thoughts on this are captured in an earlier post. Basically, we have an inscription reading (for the divine name) that lacks precedent in terms of letter formation and a picture that is supposed to be a fish spitting out a man (Jonah), but the man is a blob. No man; no Jonah, and no fish [insert blurry UFO picture joke here]. I’m going with the unguentarium view of the drawing. It makes the most sense.
Thanks to Mark Goodacre for alerting the blogging community to the new site by Steve Caruso that aggregates all the data and evidence pertaining to the lead codices fakery. Very handy and very well done.