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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Another Ancient Alien Fail: Moving 300 Ton Stones to Build China’s Forbidden City

The Live Science blog reported recently that Jiang Li, an engineer at the University of Science and Technology Beijing, has successfully translated an ancient Chinese document that reveals how stones in excess of 300 tons were moved over 70 miles without the wheel to build the famous Forbidden City.

Better sit down: the ancient document doesn’t credit aliens. Nor does it credit nephilim or talk about levitation.

From the article:

Vast numbers of huge stones were mined and transported there for its construction in the 15th and 16th centuries. The heaviest of these giant boulders, aptly named the Large Stone Carving, now weighs more than 220 tons (200 metric tons) but once weighed more than 330 tons (300 metric tons).

The ancient document Li translated revealed that workers dug wells every 1,600 feet (500 meters) or so to get water to pour on the ice to lubricate it. This made the ice even more slippery and, therefore, easier upon which to slide rocks.

The researchers calculated that a workforce of fewer than 50 men could haul a 123-ton stone on a sledge over lubricated ice from the quarry to the Forbidden City. In contrast, pulling the same load over bare ground would have required more than 1,500 men.


I’ll bet this won’t be part of the Ancient Aliens series. Just a guess. You just can’t make money telling people the truth.

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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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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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Testing of “Jesus Wife” Coptic Fragment Ongoing

CNN’s religion blog recently posted that testing of the Coptic fragment that includes Jesus referring to his wife has delayed publication of an article by Karen King on the fragment in the Harvard Theological Review. The short piece is a useful one, as it asks some needed questions about the fragment in a concise way for readers.

I’m not sure what the hubbub is about testing the actual fragment. I expect the material itself is very old, but that proves nothing about the authenticity of the text, since all one would need to do to create such a forgery is access to the same material and the “recipe” for ancient ink.  Irving Wallace showed us how to do that decades ago in his novel, The Word. But maybe other scholars don’t read novels. Additionally, genuine physical material won’t answer the syntactical irregularities and borrowed vocabulary in the text that led scholars to think it a fraud in the first place (see here and here).

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Simcha Jacobovici’s Conspiracy Fantasy

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.

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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).


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Hoaxing Ancient Documents Isn’t New

Quite an interesting post from Prof. Larry Hurtado’s blog today. The post focuses on an out-of-print book byEdgar J. Goodspeed (Famous Biblical Hoaxes, or, Modern Apocrypha). It was originally published in 1931 (repr. 1956). Hurtado’s post sketches a litany of (in)famous hoaxed “ancient” documents covered by Goodspeed in his book. He notes:

Goodspeed was a shining star of NT scholars in the University of Chicago, and among the most important (if not the most important) American NT scholars of his time. In this book, Goodspeed discusses a number of “curious frauds that when they first appear  . . . are promptly unmasked; but a generation, or a century, later, long after their exposure has been forgotten, they are revived by somebody and make a fresh bid for acceptance” (viii).   Though ignored by scholars as unworthy of attention, such texts get peddled to the unsuspecting (or credulous) general public, and in these internet-days they can be touted around the world in a matters of weeks.  To his credit, Goodspeed took the time to research, describe, and examine critically a number of these items.  His book is no longer in print, but is worth perusing still.

Yeah – these internet days. The art of offering claptrap to a gullible public by “researchers” trying to make a fast buck has never been more evident.

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Secret Mark Meeting Reports

There was recently a conference on “Secret Mark”.  The Evangelical Textual Criticism blog has provided play-by-play reports here, here, and here.

Professor Larry Hurtado has also added a few notes of his own in regard to some of what took place and was said at the event.

Every once in a while you have to throw something in amid the nonsense.

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