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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Los Lunas Lunacy

At times I am asked about the evidence for ancient (Jewish) visitation to the Americas. Part of what prompts the question is inscriptional “evidence” like the Los Lunas stone. (Other parts are British Israelite and Mormon apologetic leanings). While I’m not one who rules out an ancient sea crossing by someone before Europeans, the Los Lunas stone can be safely assigned to forgery. No modern epigrapher of ancient Hebrew alive today would defend the authenticity of the inscription.

Here’s a recent (Feb 2013) lengthy article on the stone that tries hard to be even-handed. But even this essay contains damning evidence of the stone’s fabricated nature. For instance, when commenting on the thoughts of David Atlee Phillips, curator of Archeology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, the author of the piece notes:

loslunascaret

“The smoking gun for Phillips is the “caret,” symbolizing a correction, a modern symbol. “I infer that the person who inscribed the words was not fluent in the language, but was working off a photograph or drawing and temporarily overlooked part of the inscription.”1 Furthermore, Phillips writes, “when you stand and look at the inscription, a glance downward will show the possible signature of the creators. There in the bedrock is inscribed ‘Eva and Hobe 3-13-30.’ There is an oral tradition at UNM that Eva and Hobe were anthropology majors who prepared the inscription as a hoax, and who were found out. They were told that if they ever did something like that again, their careers in the field would be over.”

Professor Phillips is quoted elsewhere in the article as confirming something I’ve already learned many times over about people who want to believe in things like the Los Lunas stone:

“As every con man knows, the essence of a good fraud is allowing the victim to believe what that victim wishes to believe. The ‘true believers’ I have encountered vis a vis the Los Lunas inscription fall into two categories. First, individuals for whom an ancient Old World inscription in the New World would validate their particular religious beliefs. Second, individuals who are looking to make the Next Great Scientific Discovery. Some humans are able to resist the temptation of the more self-serving path, but others are not—and once they are on that path, they use their certainty to determine which potential facts are correct and which are not. In my experience, once people have started down that path, they are quite impervious to whatever information I provide them.”

Impervious is the right word for it. Just read through the comments to posts on this blog and you’ll understand.

At any rate, for those who want to become familiar with the Los Lunas inscription, this article is a very good place to start.

  1. A better explanation for this may be that the forgers were looking at a transcription or hand drawing of some Old World material and copied the caret straight out of the transcription, not realizing it wasn’t part of the inscription, but an item placed there by the transcriber. -MSH.

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The “Wife of Jesus” Fragment Forgery: How It Was Done

Mark Goodacre has posted links to Andrew Bernhard’s research on the fragment in regard to how the fraud was accomplished. One is a complete analysis and is well worth a look.

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Update on the Lead Codices from Jordan

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).

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Divorcing Jesus’ Wife

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.

My disappointment with The Guardian (from Mark Goodacre’s blog; deals with the archeo-witless media)

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Latest (also from Goodacre’s NT blog; updates of the issue)

Christian Askeland on the “Wife of Jesus” fragment

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Elementary, Dr. Watson? Is the New “Wife of Jesus” Text a Fake?

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).

Enjoy!

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Responses to the James Ossuary Forgery Trial Verdict

A “not guilty” verdict in the seven-year trial of antiquities dealer Oded Golan was announced today. The trial was significant in that it involved the James ossuary (and so, naturally, its inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”). As I blogged a short time ago (see point #3 at the link), though the ossuary itself is accepted by all as authentic, many scholars consider the inscription to be entirely or partly faked. Since this ossuary is thought by some (namely Jacobovici and Tabor) to have originally been interred in the first Talpiot tomb (the “Jesus family tomb”), the case has been watched closely.

Mark Goodacre has a round-up of scholarly responses to the verdict. Most (Tabor of course is an exception) don’t think a legal verdict means the inscription is authentic, declaring that the scientific evidence against the inscription is a separate issue from who is responsible for it. The response of Eric Meyers of Duke University, whose comments are representative:

“I would therefore emphasize that because the government, in this case, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Police, failed to prove that the artifacts in question were inauthentic in no way means that they are authentic. The burden of proof that falls on the prosecution in a criminal case must rise to a high level of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the defendants have been acquitted thus does not end the matter of the quest to decide authenticity. This leaves much opportunity for academic opinion to continue to believe that these artifacts are not authentic and to question their provenance.”

Meyers’ response also includes mention of the fact that “The prosecutor Dan Bahat said the case had been weakened by the refusal of a key witness to travel from Egypt to testify, the same person who had appeared on Sixty Minutes.”

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Update on the Lead Codices Fakery

Dan McClellan has posted several recent pieces on the Jordanian lead codices that are highly recommended. Other than his collection of photos (very cool), he focuses on analysis. For insights into the fabrication of the artistic work on the codices, this analysis is a must read. On the lettering, this demonstration of forgery is short but important. For those who know Hebrew (and some training in the paleo-alphabet helps), McClellan also posted this treatment of the “texts” on the codices (basically a lot of gibberish on them). And finally, here’s a description containing note of some suspicious incongruities on some of the codices pictures on Facebook.

Irving Wallace all over again.

 

 

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