Acharya S and Bart Ehrman

I recently came this post on Ben Stanhope’s Remythologized blog: “Bart Ehrman Spanks Acharya S’ Christ Conspiracy.” It really does reflect the attitude of mainstream scholars toward the über skepticism of the Jesus-myther school (the wacky Zeitgeist conspiratorial hermeneutic). Ehrman of course describes himself as an near-atheist agnostic, so he’s no friend of conservative thinking about Jesus. But he knows nonsense when he reads it.

I’ve had the personal experience of being at academic conferences and dropping specific names of PaleoBabblers that multitudes out there on the internet presume know what they’re talking about only to have scholars laugh (literally). Real scholars are aware of the nonsense out on the web about Jesus being an amalgam of pagan gods, ancient astronauts, and [fill in the blank with some other point of nonsense]. They think it hilarious, not threatening. They don’t write about it because they consider it beneath them or a waste of the time they want to devote to publishing.

It’s just something you should know.


Is the Book of Genesis Plagiarized from Sumerian and Akkadian (Mesopotamian) Sources?

This is a common claim by Zecharia Sitchin and those who adore him, like his webmaster Erik Parker, and Jason Martell. As I have blogged here before (here and here), this idea was common fare toward the end of the 19th century, due primarily to two historical forces: (1) the novelty of the decipherment of cuneiform material, certain items of which sounded like Genesis stories; and (2) anti-Semitism being rife within higher-critical biblical scholarship. Today, in the 21st century (and one could say since the mid 20th century), scholars of Akkadian and Sumerian do NOT hold this view.  They just know better since they have a much more accurate grasp of Akkadian and Sumerian, as well as Semitic linguistics.

This morning the University of Chicago graciously posted a new e-book on the ABZU website entitled, “From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West.” It’s free, and so here’s a link to it. I recommend (unless you are a fundamentalist Sitchinite) reading the article “The Genesis of Genesis” by Victor Hurowitz.  I have inserted a hyperlink to the page in the Table of Contents. Hurowitz is a professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel (so he lacks that awful Christian bias). He is a recognized expert in the interface of the Hebrew Bible and Assyriology, and serves on the steering committee of the Melammu Project, which focuses on the study of the intellectual heritage of Assyria and Babylonia in the modern East and West.

Guess what? He doesn’t agree with Sitchin and his followers that Genesis came from Sumerian and Akkadian works. What a shock. I’ve highlighted a few choice phrases in the PDF at the link so you can’t miss them. What’s even better is that the article also includes quotations from Assyriologist Wilfred Lambert that say the same thing. Who is Lambert? He’s one of the scholars Sitchin likes to quote in his books to create the impression that he (Sitchin) is doing serious research when he isn’t.

But please read it for yourself. Yes, there is a relationship between works like Enuma Elish and the book of Genesis — because they both come from the ancient Near East, not because of literary dependence. As the article points out, the real parallels to Genesis from non-biblical material do not come from Mesopotamia; they come from Ugarit. This is something that anyone who has looked at my divine council site already knows, since I point it out all the time.

There’s no antidote against PaleoBabble like fact-based scholarship. But like any medicine, you have to take it before it can help you.

Bruce Metzger on Parallels Between Pagan Mystery Religions and Christianity

Readers who spend much time on the internet know there is a lot written on the popular level on this topic; namely, that Jesus / Christianity was just the newest manifestation of standard paganism. I know of only one “real” academic (Tom Harpur) who defends this idea, which should tell you how idiosyncratic it is. There are no doubt others, but that handful against thousands (again) tells you that there must be reasons why the vast majority of scholars of all persuasions don’t buy the idea.

The problem is basically a methodological one. This 1955 (and so somewhat dated) Harvard Theological Review article by Bruce Metzger would give readers some insight into the methodological problems and errors involved in the “pagan Christ” view. Some of it requires knowledge of Greek, but not much.  You’ll see the logical disconnects. Metzger, for those who don’t know the name, was for many years a professor of New Testament at Princeton. His specialty was textual criticism, and his name is nearly synonymous with the field. He died a couple years ago.

Lastly, a couple of recent books deflate much of what’s written on the popular Jesus = a pagan god front. I recommend The Jesus Legend, by Boyd and Eddy, and a more dense work, written for scholars, called The Riddle of the Resurrection; Dying and Rising Gods of the Ancient Near East.  This book takes on Frazer’s work (Golden Bough) on dying and rising gods in the ancient Near East and finds the thesis considerably wanting.1

  1. I had an extra copy of this $60 book to give away to the first person who emailed me for it. It’s gone now!

The Name of Jesus: Does it Matter?

One of the most frequent email questions I get concerns the name “Jesus.” More specifically, the question goes something like this:  “Isn’t the name ‘Jesus’ a pagan invention?  Shouldn’t we say “Yeshua” or Yahshua” instead?”  I’m not sure what motivates people who assign importance to this. I’m sure many are NOT trying to sound superior or more in tune with Jesus or God.  But having fielded a number of these emails, I’m also sure that IS the motivation for some.  The question is frankly silly, since the same person (the man of Nazareth who was crucified, buried, and resurrected per the New Testament) is the referent of any of these name options. But is “Jesus” a pagan name? Isn’t “Yeshua” or “Yahshua” more accurate?

On one level, since Jesus was Jewish his name would have been “Yeshua” or “Yehoshua” in Hebrew or Aramaic.  I would hope that the Jesus Tomb fiasco would have taught us this much.  But, on another level, so what?  Since the New Testament was written in Greek, and Christians take the New Testament as inspired, it was GOD’s choice to have the name of the Son of God rendered in GREEK, which looks like this:

Some thoughts on the Greek name, now.

First, languages are different, and so proper names are not going to be pronounced the same way. Wow.  Profound.

Second, languages and language pronunciation (the sounds a speaker makes when air flows through or is stopped in/by the throat, mouth, lips and teeth) has no theology – a language can’t be pagan or orthodox. It just is.

Third, there is no magic in the Hebrew pronunciation of the name of the New Testament messiah. It matters not that we call the name of the man from Nazareth something that contains the syllable “Yah” (an abbreviation of the divine tetragrammation, YHWH).  If there was, God should have decided to give us the New Testament in Hebrew or Aramaic.  It would also have helped if he’d given us a Hebrew text where the tetragrammaton (YHWH) had vowels so we’d know how it was pronounced.

Fourth, “Yahshua” is actually not correct, if we’re going with Hebrew, given the vowel pointing in the Hebrew text.  The forms of this name/word that appear in the Hebrew text as pointed by the Masoretic scribes is “Yeshua” or “Yehoshua” (that is, for those who understand pointing) the vocal shewa is the pointing associated with the yodh in this name.  The “a” sound of “Yah” gets a vocal reduction because of the accent on the final syllable.  If you’re still awake after that, “Yah”shua is a contrived attempt to place the abbreviated form of the tetragrammation (Yah; which does occur in the Hebrew Bible) in place of the “Yeh” that actually occurs in this name.

Fifth, the problem for Greek is that there is no “H” in the language.  Greek makes the “h” sound via what’s called a rough-breathing mark – but that mark only appears on vowels at the beginning of words.  For example, the word for “sin” in Greek is “hamartia” but the Greek word begins with an alpha (“a”). A rough-breathing mark above the alpha tells the speaker/reader to pronounce the first syllable as “ha” not “a”.  Yehoshua (“Yahshua”) has an “h” in the middle, which Greek CANNOT REPRESENT because of the rules of its language/alphabet.  As such, “Iesous” (pronounced yay-soos) is the Greek spelling – and this corresponds precisely to “Yeshua” (which you notice has no “h” in the middle – only an “sh” which was one letter [“shin”] in Hebrew/Aramaic). Greek has so “sh” letter in its alphabet, so its spelling MUST use “s” [sigma].

Iesous is a perfectly acceptable and understandable GREEK rendering of the Hebrew Yeshua/Yehoshua. It isn’t “pagan” —  it’s a different language.