Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Statistical Case for the Identity of the "Jesus Family Tomb"

I wish to preface my remarks here by making clear that I am not a trained statistician and my concerns about the way that the statistical tests have been set up here are the concerns of a layman. They are therefore subject to correction from real experts.

Before beginning, let's get the key information at our fingertips. The Statistics claim is discussed at Monday's Press Conference (Discovery Channel Website, links on left), in Simcha Jacobovici's interview (especially Parts 3-4), in the Tomb Evidence PDF from the Discovery site (go to p. 13), and in three pages on the Jesus Family Tomb website headed Probability, The Football Field and Probability: Principles Adopted.

The major part of the case that the Talpiot tomb is Jesus' family tomb is based on a statistical claim. It is thought to be so unlikely that this cluster of names, so familiar from the New Testament record, would show up by accident that the identification of this tomb with the family of Jesus is on firm ground. What are the chances, they ask, that one would find a Jesus son of Joseph together with a Maria, a Mariamne and a Jose? Their answer is that the chances are something like 600:1 on a conservative estimate. The identification between this tomb and Jesus' family is all but certain.

I think this case is severely flawed. The essential problem, as I see it, is that the matches between the Talpiot tomb and the early Christian literary record are factored into the calculations in a positive way, but the non-matches are simply ignored, or treated as neutral. This will not do. If a case is built up on the notion that a remarkable cluster of names in a given places matches with a known cluster of names in another place, it is essential that the non-matches are taken seriously too, all the more so when some of the non-matches are not only non-matches but also contradict the literary record. The non-matches are simply absent from the statistical calculations here. The non matches in question are three, and the first of these needs to be underlined because it is being treated not only as a match but as one of the key matches:
  • There is no reliable historical tradition that Jesus was married to a woman called Mariamne (or for that matter Mary, Salome, Joanna or anyone else). It is important to underline this. It is an unexamined assumption that lies behind all the film-makers' discussion of the "family tomb". The ultimate source of this is, I am afraid, popular fiction like The Da Vinci Code. I would not want to assume that the film-makers' research here was deficient by suggesting that The Da Vinci Code was the source of their information but remarkably, they are actually citing it in their remarks in favour of the identification, as if The Da Vinci Code is here giving shared knowledge.* Now given that no reputable historian of Christian origins seriously thinks that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (or anyone else, as far as we know), the presence of a Mariamne in the tomb can in no way be allowed to be a part of the statistical calculations here. We cannot assume unevidenced data in setting up the calculation. If the statistical calculation is to have any validity at all, we must work only with the known quantities.

  • There is no reliable historical information that anyone called Matia was related to Jesus' family. The film-makers appear to be aware of this, and talk about the possibility that he might be a relative by marriage, perhaps one of Jesus' sister's husbands. (At the press conference, it is even suggested that he might have been the Gospel writer). One cannot allow negatives like this to be left out of consideration. The Matia ossuary is a non match with any of the data we have about Jesus' family and it cannot be left out of the calculations. In other words, this is not simply a piece of neutral information that one can leave to one side. It needs to be given negative weight, to detract from the probability that this is Jesus' family tomb.

  • There is no reliable historical information that a character called Judas son of Jesus was connected with the Jesus movement. Indeed, this is evidence that contradicts the literary record in a striking way. Let us be clear about how important the appearance of this character is. There is no record of Jesus having any children, and so the evidence here contradicts the identification of the tomb as Jesus' family tomb. It will not do to say that our evidence is incomplete, or that this is an argument from silence, or that we should not rule out the possibility that Jesus had children. The point is that the case being made by the film makers is a case built up on the basis of an alleged remarkable match between one set of data (the names on the ossuaries) and another set of data (the early Christian record). Where that is the basis of the case, it is essential that non matches between the sets of data are taken as seriously as the matches, all the more so where non-matches actually contradict elements in the early Christian record.
Perhaps some will respond by pointing out that professional statisticians have been consulted. Were they not the ones responsible for these calculations? One of Simcha Jacobovici's major claims about the years of research that have gone into this television programme is that previously archaeologists were not talking to statisticians, and so the archaeologists simply did not realize how remarkable this cluster of names was. Jacobovici consulted four statisticians. I have not been able to find out the identities of the other three, or what they said, but there is one who is prominent in the publicity for the film, Dr Andrey Feuerverger, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Toronto. He was on stage with James Cameron, Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor and James Charlesworth at Monday's press conference and he is featured on the Discovery website on the programme. Clearly he knows a lot more about statistics than most of us, and I would not dream of trying to second guess him. But he revealed a very important piece of information at the press conference, that he is not an expert on the New Testament or archaeological data, so he was working with the data given to him by the programme makers. The relevance of this is that a significant and fatal bias was introduced into the analysis before it had even begun.

One can view the data that was given to Feuerverger on the Discovery website, in the PDF packet of documentation, where the grounds for the statistical analysis are given. It is clear from this that the task he was given was to work out the probability of a certain cluster of names occurring, where in each case all known examples of the given name in the given period were divided into all known naming possibilities in the given period. And the names he worked with were Jesus son of Joseph, Mariamne, Maria and Joseph. The name Matia was initially factored in too, and then removed "since he is not explicatively [sic] mentioned in the Gospels". But the problem is not just that Matia is not mentioned as a family member in the Gospels, it is that the greater the number of non-matches, the less impressive the cluster becomes. Or, to put it another way, it stops being a cluster of striking names when the cluster is diluted with non-matches. Mariamne needs to be taken out of the positive calculation and instead treated as a non-match; Matia needs to be treated as a second non-match; Judas son of Jesus needs to be treated as contradictory evidence. These three pieces of data together detract radically from the impressiveness of the given cluster.

At the risk of labouring the point, let me attempt to explain my concerns by using the analogy of which the film-makers are so fond, the Beatles analogy. This analogy works by saying that if in 2,000 years a tomb was discovered in Liverpool that featured the names John, Paul and George, we would not immediately conclude that we had found the tomb of the Beatles. But if we also found so distinctive a name as Ringo, then we would be interested. Jacobovici claims that the "Ringo" in this tomb is Mariamene, whom he interprets as Mary Magdalene and as Jesus's wife, which is problematic (see Mariamne and the "Jesus Family Tomb" and below). What we actually have is the equivalent of a tomb with the names John, Paul, George, Martin, Alan and Ziggy. We might well say, "Perhaps the 'Martin' is George Martin, and so this is a match!" or "Perhaps John Lennon had a son called Ziggy we have not previously heard about" but this would be special pleading and we would rightly reject such claims. A cluster of names is only impressive when it is a cluster that is uncontaminated by non-matches and contradictory evidence.

In short, including Mariamne and leaving out Matia and Judas son of Jesus is problematic for any claim to be made about the remaining cluster. All data must be included. You cannot cherry pick or manipulate your data before doing your statistical analysis.

* One example of this is Jacobovici's interview, Part 4, where he says: "There are two Marys in Jesus' life, as everybody knows, one is his mother, you know, the Virgin Mary, and the other is, Mary Magdalene, you know, post Da Vinci Code everybody knows Mary Magdalene." There are actually at least four Marys in the Gospels, not two: (1) Mary mother of Jesus, (2) Mary Magdalene, (3) Mary sister of Martha, (4) Mary of James and Joses, and (5) Mary of Clopas, though (1) and (4) may be the same person, or (4) and (5) may be the same person. None of these is described as Jesus' wife.

Christianity Today on the "Jesus Family Tomb"

Christianity Today has a useful post on the Talpiot tomb story:

Remains of the Day
Scholars dismiss filmmakers' assertions that Jesus and his family were buried in Jerusalem
Tabby Yang

It is gratifying to see several bibliobloggers mentioned in the "Related Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the article, including the NT Gateway blog.

Biblical Studies Carnival XV

Biblical Studies Carnival XV is now available on Charles Halton's blog, and it is dedicated to the memory of Bruce Metzger. Thanks to Charles for a great job. There are no NT Gateway blog posts selected this month, which is good for my humility, but lots of other things of interest. There's just one addition I would have made and that would have been the advent of April DeConick's Forbidden Gospels Blog though that may be because it appeared right at the end of January rather than the beginning of February.

Update (Thursday, 10.37): My apologies to Charles; both Forbidden Gospels and NT Gateway blog were there, and also Chris Weimer mentioned the inception of Forbidden Gospels in the previous carnival. So I was wrong x 3!

Travel Diary 2: Arrival in Baltimore

I had a most enjoyable flight, that ideal combination of reading, thinking and sleeping. I sketched out the plan for my next book and had that great (if unrealistic) feeling of, "Well, that's half the work done". I feel a little bad about flying now that the Bishop of London has declared it a sin. But I couldn't face driving 300 miles alone, especially since it's a big battle to stay awake, and I'm not sure that it's so much better for global warming to have a single person in a car driving 600 miles. You can't get the train or the bus between cities here in the US, at least not where I live. While waiting at Charlotte airport, I decided that since I was sinning by flying, I may as well compound the sin by having one of those delicious brownies they do at Starbucks, and the pint of coffee washed it down splendidly.

I arrived at the hotel after midnight and after a particularly enjoyable thirty minute chat with my cab driver who, it turned out, was an immigrant from Eritrea. He'd come here twenty-six years ago, after eighteen months in Rome, and now one of his kids is a doctor and another is a successful businessman.

This is my first regional SBL meeting and it is interesting that these too, like the enormous Annual Meeting, seem to take place in hotels and conference centres. It will be interesting to see how it differs from the big meeting.

DNA and the "Jesus family tomb"

Over on Higgaion, Chris Heard (The Talpiot/Jesus Tomb: Point and Counterpoint, Item 1) has begun what promises to be an excellent series analysing the claims about the Jesus family tomb by Simcha Jacobivici and company in the forthcoming Discovery documentary (see all my posts here). Included in his piece is the following excellent observation:
why was the only DNA test that was conducted focused on Yeshua’s and Miriamne’s common maternity? The filmmakers also claim that one of the occupants of another ossuary, Maria, was Yeshua’s mother. Why didn’t they test Yeshua’s and Mariah’s mtDNA to see whether Mariah really was Yeshua’s mother?
Given that the only kind of testing they could do was Mitochondrial DNA, whereby one can establish mother-related relationships between characters, it is very odd to me that the film makers chose to run the tests on the Jesus and the Mariamne ossuaries. Surely if one has only one throw of the die, one says, "OK, which test has could actually falsify the claim that this is Jesus' family tomb?" If one is thinking scientifically, one has to think about attempting to falsify. Well, the one really obvious candidate is Jesus and Maria. If this one comes up negative, then Maria in this tomb is not Jesus' mother and the claims are falsified. The problem with running the test on their candidate for Mary Magdalene (an identification which is problematic, but that is another issue) is that it cannot falsify their claims. If it had come back positive, and Mariamne was related to Jesus, we could simply say that this was one of the anonymous sisters mentioned in Mark 6, who in any case has a one in four chance (so we are told) of being called Mary anyway. Since it comes back negative, the film makers claim that it shows that she is not related to Jesus, so could be his wife. It's a great shame that they did not think about using their chance at mitochondrial DNA testing to go for the one relationship that actually had the potential to falsify their claims.

Update (Thursday, 00.37): In comments, Peter Nathan has a particularly helpful contribution: "The greatest problem with the DNA testing is that the ossuaries had at least 2 skeletons in each. Kloner's report lists a minimum of 35 skeletons in the tomb of which at least 17 were in the 10 ossuaries. Even named ossuaries have multiple skeletons. A controlled dig of an undisturbed tomb reported in Atiqot in 1992 listed over 50 skeletons in 18 ossuaries. Only 2 of the ossuaries had single skeletons. Some had six skeletons. In that no record was kept of the contents of any ossuary at Talpiot, DNA can't be used as evidence of anything."

Travel Diary 1: On the way to Baltimore

It's a while since I have had a travel diary on the blog, but I have a brief one over the next day or so because I am on the way to the SBL Mid-Atlantic Region Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland where I have been invited to speak on the topic, "The Devil is in the Detail: Dispelling Doubts about Dispensing with Q". I know, it's horribly alliterative but I just couldn't resist it once I started with "the Devil is in the detail". The occasion for that was Christopher Tuckett's review of my Case Against Q in Novum Testamentum a couple of years ago, which ended with the point that "the devil is in the detail", i.e. there are lots of natty little details among the Synoptic data that my case does not deal with. I am not going to use the occasion tomorrow, except briefly, to respond to critics, however, but will instead focus on why the details matter for my case too, and how a careful look at them can encourage us to dispense with Q.

The conference gets underway tomorrow morning, but I am flying in tonight and am currently enjoying a Sam Adams and a "Seattle Chicken Club" sandwich at the sports bar in Raleigh Durham International Airport. I am one of those people who generally fills one's day so full that I love travelling to give me a chance to take it a little easier, to catch some time to read, think, relax, sleep, oh, and blog. It is particularly welcome that I have this time now since I have been recently been deep in another paper, on Thomas's use of the Synoptics, which I gave at our New Testament Colloquium last night.

Ben Witherington III on the "Jesus family tomb"

There is now a more official / polished version of Ben Witherington III's Blog Post on the Jesus family tomb from Monday over on Beliefnet:

An Empty Theory and an Empty Tomb
Why should we be skeptical of 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus'? Let us count the ways.
Ben Witherington III

It's nice to see that Ben does something I do too and make earlier, rawer blog posts the basis for more polished, final versions elsewhere. I think it's a great use of blogging. This one is all the more interesting for referring readers of the polished version back to the blog version because the latter is much fuller. Nevertheless, there is one change for the better in the newer version, perhaps in the light of James Tabor's response on The Jesus Dynasty blog, viz from:
the ancestral home of Joseph was Bethlehem, and his adult home was Nazareth. The family was still in Nazareth after he was apparently dead and gone. Why in the world would be be buried (alone at this point) in Jerusalem? It’s unlikely.
The ancestral home of Joseph was Bethlehem, and his adult home was Nazareth. The family was still in Nazareth after he was dead and gone. Why in the world would any member of Jesus' family be buried in Jerusalem other than James and Jesus?
The problem with the original formulation was that there is no claim by the film-makers that Joseph was buried in this tomb. I must admit to being unconvinced also by the reformulation of the point, though. There is nothing intrinsically unlikely about members of Jesus' family being buried near Jerusalem since our sources all place them there the last time that we hear of them, Mary and the brothers in Acts 1, James in Acts 21. We have no evidence of a return to Nazareth. In fact, we don't have much evidence at all for the family's movements. This is not a major point, but as one who is critical of the claims of the film-makers, I think it important that the grounds for one's criticisms are solid.

One element that puzzles me about the single-minded nature of Ben Witherington's criticism of the new claims is that they contrast somewhat with his thorough endorsement of the authenticity of the James ossuary and its connection to the James of the New Testament. In that case, regardless of the authenticity issue, the identification of this James depends entirely on the cluster of three popular names in one place, James, Joseph, Jesus. Given that the film-makers' case for the identification of the Talpiot Tomb is also based on clusters of popular names, I am curious about how Ben discriminates between the two cases. Just to make clear, I do not hold myself to the authenticity of the James ossuary, and I do not think that the Talpiot tomb belonged to the family of Jesus we know from the New Testament, but I am interested in what I see as a possible contradiction between Ben's case for the one and against the other.

Update (9.47): Jim West links to a comment asking a similar question, though in rather stronger language.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mariamne and the "Jesus Family Tomb"

One of the claims made in the current Jesus Family Tomb publicity is that there is something distinctive about the name Mariamne that is found on one of the ossuaries. For Simcha Jacobovici, this name is the "Ringo" to add to the John, Paul and George which are represented by the other more common names in the tomb (The Beatles and the Jesus Family Tomb). On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila has some very helpful and interesting comments from his colleague Richard Bauckham on this name, from which this is an excerpt:
The form of the name on the ossuary in question is Mariamenou. This is a Greek genitive case, used to indicate that the ossuary belongs to Mary (it means 'Mary's' or 'belonging to Mary'). The nominative would be Mariamenon. Mariamenon is a diminutive form, used as a form of endearment. The neuter gender is normal in diminutives used for women.

This diminutive, Mariamenon, would seem to have been formed from the name Mariamene, a name which is attested twice elsewhere (in the Babatha archive and in the Jewish catacombs at Beth She’arim). It is an unusual variant of Mariame. In the Babatha document it is spelt with a long e in the penultimate syllable, but in the Bet She’arim inscription the penultimate syllable has a short e. This latter form could readily be contracted to the form Mariamne, which is found, uniquely, in the Acts of Philip.

So we have, on the one hand, a woman known by the diminutive Mariamenon, in the ossuary, and, on the other hand, Mary Magdalen, who is always called in the Greek of the New Testament Maria but seems to be called in a much later source Mariamne. Going by the names alone they could be the same woman, but the argument for this is tenuous.
Please read it all if you have not already done so, but I wish to comment briefly on a couple of points. First, the name "Mariamne" is also found in Hippolytus' Refutatio where he is describing the teachings of the Naassenes, whom, he says, "ascribe their system, through Mariamne, to James the Lord's brother" (Haer. 5.7). Hippolytus is writing in the early third century and discussing the Naassenes in the ?mid second century.

But this also raises the question of whether it is correct to identify this early Christian figure, Mariamne, unequivocally with Mary Magdalene, as the film-makers do. We do not know who Mariamne is in the Naassenes discussed by Hippolytus. On Apocryphicity, Tony Chartrand-Burke asked whether Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is indeed Mary Magdalene, raising the possibility that she is Mary of Bethany. I've done a little reading since then and it seems that scholars are divided on the issue of the identity of this character in the Acts of Philip. It is clear that she is Philip's sister, but it also seems that she shares traits commonly associated with Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary of Bethany, as well as Mary Magdalene. Stephen Shoemaker, for example, argues in a couple of publications that "the Gnostic Mary" is a kind of composite Gnostic character with characteristics from these several Marys. I will add some bibliography tomorrow for those who are interested.

The import of this is to detract still further from the claims that this particular cluster of names is remarkable. For Jacobovici, it was the turning point for him to discover that Mariamne was Mary Magdalene's "real name". The bad news for him is that it is only her real name if one goes with a fourth century text, the Acts of Philip, that has no chance of containing first century traditions, and which itself is not explicitly talking about the Mary Magdalene we have mentioned in the Gospels. Wherever she appears in first century Christian texts, she is always "Maria", as are the other several Marys in the New Testament. Mariamne is not, I am afraid, the hoped for "Ringo".

More later.

The Beatles and the Jesus Family Tomb

While watching yesterday's press conference on the "Jesus Family Tomb" (on-line on the Discovery Channel Website, bottom left, third link up), I heard James Cameron, the executive producer of the documentary to air next Sunday, using the Beatles analogy that I had already heard Simcha Jacobovici, the director, using on the huge Jesus family tomb website under the heading "Probability". The analogy goes something like this: if in 2,000 years a tomb was discovered in Liverpool that featured the names John, Paul and George, we would not immediately conclude that we had found the tomb of the Beatles. But if we also found so distinctive a name as Ringo, then we would be interested. The new book, website and documentary claim that the "Ringo" in this tomb is Mariamene, who they interpret as Mary Magdalene and as Jesus's wife.

Now there are problems both with the identification of Mariamene and with the construction of the analogy, but I want to comment for now, more light-heartedly, on something my wife Viola pointed out to me while I was watching the press conference. Jesus is being compared to the Beatles. Is John Lennon's famous controversial "bigger than Jesus" statement of 1966 (here on YouTube) now even more true than it was then?

Update (Wednesday, 7.58): Jim Davila asks refers to this post and asks whether The Beatles are bigger than Jesus and says maybe not, but Google Fight is less clear. Jesus is only just bigger than "The Beatles", the "Beatles" are bigger than Jesus and Jesus is bigger than The Beatles.

"Jesus' family tomb" and the James Ossuary

For my blog posts on this topic, hit the Talpiot Tomb label. This morning I would like to mention a couple of interesting observations made recently on Xtalk. Stephen Goranson (who is here at Duke) notes the speculation that the James Ossuary was originally in the Talpiot Tomb, that it is -- in fact -- the missing tenth box. The hint is there on the Jesus Family Tomb website under New Discoveries: James Ossuary, though it falls short of a full claim:
The documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” presents startling new evidence in the ongoing debate concerning the “James Ossuary.” The James ossuary was found around 1980. “The Jesus Family Tomb” was discovered in 1980.

One of the ten ossuaries went missing from “The Jesus Family Tomb.” Its hastily scribbled, rounded-out dimensions generally match the James ossuary.

And the film documents recent tests conducted at the CSI Suffolk Crime lab in New York which demonstrate that the patina (a chemical film encrustation on the box) from the James ossuary matches the patina from the other ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb. (Emphasis original).
Stephen comments:
James Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty (pp. 31-33) previously raised this as a possible identity.

But Amos Kloner, "A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiot," 'Atiqot 29 (1996) page 17 Table 3 plainly lists that (#10) ossuary as having "No Inscription." If it had no inscription in 1980 how can it be an anciently-inscribed "James" ossuary?
Kloner's article is, helpfully, available on-line on the Discovery web site (PDF) along with the relevant pages from Rahmani's Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries and Shimon Gibson's maps.

Also on Xtalk, John Poirier asks about the issue of the dimensions of the missing ossuary and compares them with the dimensions of the James ossuary:
Another thing that doesn't add up are the dimensions of the ossuaries in
question. As I posted on this list on Oct 8, 2006, Tabor's claim that "the
dimensions of the missing tenth ossuary [from the Talpiot tomb] are precisely
the same, to the centimeter, to those of the James Ossuary" is bogus. *BAR*
lists the dimensions of the James ossuary as 50.5 cm x 25 cm x 30.5 cm, while
the report on the Talpiot tomb published in *Atiqot* 29 (1996) 15-22, lists the
tenth ossuary as measuring 60 cm x 26 cm x 30 cm. Tabor has been aware of this
discrepancy at least since Nov 23, 2006 (when I first heard Tabor's complaint
about a piece I wrote for *Jerusalem Perspective*, in which I cite this along
with several other problems with his theory). He could only continue to hold
his theory after that date, therefore, if he has reason to suspect that the
published report on one of the two ossuaries is in error.
It looks like the sentence quoted above, about "hastily scribbled, rounded-out dimensions" which generally match" the James ossuary are a concession to the disparity in measurements between the two.

At this point it looks highly unlikely that the James ossuary is the missing tenth box from the Talpiot tomb, unless the data we possess requires correction.

More later.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blogging the "Jesus' Family Tomb": the story so far

Over on Codex Blogspot, Tyler Williams has an excellent round-up post on the reactions to the "Jesus' Family Tomb" story so far. In commenting on my post of yesterday, he notes that another valuable element added by the bloggers is the speed of the expert reaction. Tyler's post is here:

The Jesus/Talpiot Tomb: Around the Blogosphere

"Jesus' family tomb": how blogging helps

Monday is a heavy teaching day for me and it is rare that I can find a moment to blog during the day, but luckily no one has come along to my office hour and I have time to sneak in a quick blog post before I go to my Historical Jesus class. Of all topics, we are today studying traditions about the family of Jesus. How's that for synergy? If you haven't yet heard about this story, the best place to start is the major new website released today:

The Lost Family Tomb of Jesus

That will tell you everything you need to know, and what's more, you have to admit that it is a gorgeously produced website. Reports about the discovery of Jesus' family tomb are all over the news today, and one is reminded of the alleged discovery of the James ossuary several years ago. One of the major differences between the release of this news and that is that back in 2002 blogging was in its infancy and there were few, if any, biblioblogs. I wasn't blogging. Even Jim Davila wasn't blogging, as far as I can remember. But now things are different, and in a couple of interesting ways. First, there are two bloggers who are actually involved in the project, one of them one of its major participants, James Tabor. His Jesus Dynasty Blog already begins the process of putting the case for the identification, Some Initial Thoughts on the Talpiot Tomb, with special emphasis on the statistical case (which I think flawed for reasons I hope to explain in due course if no one else does). The other is Darrell Bock, who was involved in a consultative capacity and who, like Tabor, was under a no-disclosure rule until today. He is highly sceptical of the claims made in the forthcoming documentary and posts his response on Bock's Blog in a post headed Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus’ Family Tomb, What Do They Share?.

The other respect in which blogging is already making a difference is in the sheer range of expertise among the bloggers who are gathering to hold the media to account. It is interesting to see the phenomenon of guest blogging here too, with Christopher Rollston on the Talpiot Tomb on Jim West's blog. Meanwhile Tony on Apocryphicity comments on The Jesus Tomb and the Acts of Philip, noting that "the Mariamne of Acts of Philip is not Mary Magdalene but Mary of Bethany", a telling observation given that the documentary makers are apparently drawing attention to the Acts of Philip for their identification.

As I mentioned last night, in a post headed "The Tomb that dare not speak its name", we have had this story before in the UK media, back in 1996. So far I have not seen anything in its new incarnation to persuade me that my scepticism then was misplaced, but one area that does need addressing is the statistical claim, and I'll come back to that later if no one beats me to it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"The Tomb That Dare not speak its name"

That was the headline on the front page of The Sunday Times News Review in the UK, 31 March 1996. The story created a little stir, but it was only a little stir. The theme was the discovery of a family tomb in the Talpiot area of Jerusalem which apparently contained ossuaries which featured several names in common with characters from the Gospel story, Jesus son of Joseph and Mary among them, though rather less promisingly also a Judas son of Jesus and a Matthew. Some speculated that the The Sunday Times story was an April Fools joke, but it turned out that it was in fact advance publicity for an Easter day edition of Heart of the Matter on BBC1, presented by Joan Bakewell, and featuring a documentary about the resurrection, with a study of the tomb, and then a debate featuring Gerd Lüdemann, Michael Goulder and Tom Wright. None of those in the studio would give the idea that the tomb had anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth a moment's consideration. The story passed and few thought any more about it.

Now, over a decade later, the story has resurfaced and this time it is coming with a blaze of publicity. Several blogs have already commented and it is clear that we have not heard the last of this. What may make this media event more interesting in the blogosphere is that James Tabor of the Jesus Dynasty Blog is involved in the project but he is keeping mum until the news conference in New York tomorrow. Discovery Channel has a major website on the forthcoming television programme.

Update (Monday, 8.14): Leen Ritmeyer has the most vociferous take on it yet among the bloggers. It is an "archaeologist’s worst nightmare" and "It is possibly the most cynical claim yet to be made in the field of Biblical Archaeology and only serves to give the subject a bad name." Watch out for more of the same. Meanwhile James Tabor of the Jesus Dynasty Blog counsels caution ahead of the News Conference today, "Because of a non-disclosure agreement that protected all of us working on this research I have not written in any detail beyond what I cover in the Introduction to The Jesus Dynasty. Following the press conference tomorrow that all changes." His current post stresses the four years of research on the tomb. I'll be looking out for anything that changes my highly sceptical reaction to the claims made in 1996 (above). I am not optimistic but, as always, will aim to approach the news with an open and critical mind.

Friday, February 23, 2007

What is the Purpose of Thomas?

Since Stephen Carlson initiated a thread on the GThomas e-list the other day on Why Was Thomas Written?, I have been thinking a lot about this enigmatic text, stimulated further by the advent of April DeConick's postings on Thomas on The Forbidden Gospels Blog, and still further by the graduate course I am taking on Thomas here at Duke at the moment. One thing that seems clear to me about the purpose of Thomas is that we will only be able to make good sense of it if we take seriously what Bruce Lincoln calls "a seeming paradox" in its nature. He writes:
On the one hand, it proclaims itself to be secret, or to contain secrets, as in the Prologue . . . . But on the other hand, the text was widely circulated, and states that this is as it should be . . . . . This contradiction, however, can be accounted for by recognizing that Thomas, like Ptolemaeus' Letter to Flora and numerous other religious documents, is a text that is addressed at the same time to initiates and non-initiates alike. Thus, the fact that the Thomas-community possessed secret knowledge was proclaimed loudly to outsiders, but the nature of that knowledge and its true meaning were disclosed only within the community itself in a program of detailed instruction which must have lasted over a period of several years." (Bruce Lincoln, "Thomas-Gospel and Thomas-Community: A New Approach to a Familiar Text", Novum Testamentum 19 (1977): 65-76 [68-9])
Thomas points beyond itself. It is a text that demands explication, that encourages the hearer who has ears to hear to seek out what is hidden so that it will come to light.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How was Thomas Written?

On The Forbidden Gospels Blog, April DeConick offers her thoughts on How was the Gospel of Thomas Written?, partly in response to recent discussion on the Gospel of Thomas E-List (see the thread beginning Why Was Thomas Written?, a thread to which I have contributed myself). Although the Thomas list thread has focused on issues focused more generally around the issue of the purpose of the Gospel of Thomas, DeConick's post focuses specially on the vexed question of literary dependence or independence, and I would like to make some of my own comments on her post here. Let me begin by saying that DeConick is a giant in Thomas studies, with several major publications, including the two recent key monographs published back to back. I have a huge respect for her scholarship, and studies of Thomas are all the richer for her contributions. By contrast, I am a mere beginner, having come to Thomas in the first place because of my interest in Q (e.g. see chapters seven and nine in The Case Against Q). Any comments I make on DeConick's current post, therefore, do not come from the same degree of rich research and expertise.

DeConick asks first "Why does the literary dependence appeal NOT work?" and lists several reasons for rejecting appeals to literary dependence. I am partly in agreement here in that I am pretty wary of the term "literary dependence" in relation to Thomas and the Synoptics. The phrase can be taken to suggest that Thomas is a fundamentally derivative Gospel, and that the most important thing about it is its relation to the Synoptic Gospels. Given that only about half of Thomas has parallels with the Synoptics, we need to hold open the possibility that the most important thing about Thomas is not the Synoptic parallel material but the non-Synoptic material. Perhaps it is in that 50% that we will learn most about Thomas. My preference, therefore, is to move the terminology away from "dependence" or "independence" and instead to talk about "familiarity" or otherwise. The term "familiarity" allows us to ask the question whether Thomas knows the Synoptic Gospels without prejudging the extent of their influence on his thinking.

Now, in relation to those parallels, of course the existence of those parallels in themselves demonstrates nothing about familiarity or otherwise (DeConick's first subheading). The key question is whether or not the parallels in question show evidence of Synoptic redaction (DeConick's second subheading). Here, DeConick comments on the proposition "Thomas contains parallels that have Synoptic 'redactional traces'" with the following:
This assumes that our sources (Quelle, Matthew, Luke, Mark) were fixed texts, and that they are the same copies that we have reconstructed as our eclectic Greek manuscript (NTG) from our late physical witnesses, none of which agree. This position does not allow for source variation and a lengthy complicated process of development of our sources, and scribing of our sources. Are we sure that the "redactional trace" is from Matthew or Luke? Or is it from a source(s) relied upon by Matthew or Luke? Or is it from an orator who reperformed the saying in light of his memory of a Synoptic version? Or is it from the hand of a later scribe harmonizing an older version of the saying to his memory of the Synoptic version?
Of course all these possibilities need to be taken into consideration for Thomas / Synoptic relationships, but I don't think the situation is substantially different here than it is with the intra-Synoptic relationships, where we always bear such possibilities in mind, but do not appeal to them for every decision. Further, one of the values of a redaction-critical approach to the Synoptics is that it can often help us to see where a given evangelist is himself shaping the entirety of a particular passage, where there are clusters of characteristic themes, imagery, language and style. Where passages are like that, ones that are effectively generated by a given evangelist, and which then appear in Thomas, we have a good case for Thomasine familiarity. I have given one example recently, Luke 11.27-28 // Thomas 79.1-2, where the Lucan language, imagery, style and content is so strongly marked that that Thomas must be familiar with it from Luke. In other words, I am keen that we do not focus solely on so-called "redactional traces" (emphasis added) and move the discussion instead to pervasive presence of clusters of redactional features.

DeConick's third point is that:
The entire compositional process of a Thomasine author sitting down one day with canonical texts and cutting and pasting a word here and a word there into his own gospel of sayings does NOT fit what we know about ancient compositional practices.
(and see her further comments). This point is well taken; we can do without weak appeals to cut-and-paste models of the way that Thomas, or, for that matter, any of the evangelists worked. I have criticized Synoptic Problem scholarship, and especially Q scholarship, on this very point. On the other hand, I think we have to be careful about excessive appeals to "orality as social location" (Robbins), or to "an essentially oral state of mind" (Kelber). I am not persuaded that Thomas exhibits "orality as social location" so much as Sayings Gospel as generic preference. A sayings book, as a generic necessity, has "an essentially oral state of mind," both in the ancient world and today. This claim will take a little teasing out and I will develop it in due course.

DeConick's fourth point is:
The literary dependence appeal has never been able to account for the differences in the versions of Thomas' sayings and the Synoptics.
This is also important. As with the study of intra-Synoptic relationships, accounting for similarities and differences is the name of the game. In developing the point, DeConick asks,
I mean this seriously. We have spent so much time looking for "same" words, have we really looked at the differences and tried to account for them? Has anyone noticed (other than me) that the exact verbal agreement, lengthy sequences of words, and secondary features shared between the Triple Tradition and the Quelle versions FAR exceeds anything we find paralleled between the Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptics?
I would say "Yes" but I may be misunderstanding the point. There is consensus that the Synoptic Problem is a problem of literary inter-relationships among the Synoptics, that there is such substantial verbatim agreement that there has to be some kind of literary relationship there. The reason that there is no consensus on this with respect to Thomas and the Synoptics is that the degree of agreement here is nothing like as strong as it is between the Synoptics.

DeConick goes on to give a shorter section on the difficulties with the "independence" model and I agree with most of this, though I would add more examples of "redactional activity traceable to Synoptic hands", including good Matthean examples as well as Lucan ones. I also dispute the premise of the second point:
2. The Thomas parables are not allegorized like their Synoptic counterparts.
There is at least one parable that is allegorized and several more interpreted. There is plenty of secondary material in the Gospel of Thomas, old sayings rewritten in new interpretative contexts.
This works on the form-critical premise of the secondary nature of allegory, a premise with which I disagree in the light of the work of Michael Goulder and John Drury in particular, and on which I will have more to say in due course.

In the final section of the post, DeConick asks "Where does this leave us?" and answers:
I hope it dislodges us from continuing to argue for direct literary dependence OR complete independence. If we keep slogging away at these same appeals, we will keep answering them with the same objections, and we will stay in the box.
I have some sympathy with this answer, and would for that reason push for the use of the term "familiarity with" rather than "direct literary dependence on" the Synoptics. I think the reference to "secondary orality" here is helpful and I regard it as possible that that is the manner of Thomas's familiarity with the Synoptics.

More fundamentally, though, I think we need to think much more seriously about the half of Thomas that does not have parallels with the Synoptics, and I think it is high time we started paying serious attention to the way that the Gospel of Thomas conceives of itself, viz. as "the secret sayings of the living Jesus, which Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down" (Incipit). The obsessive focus in so much Thomas scholarship with Synoptic parallel material, whether among "dependence" or "independence" people, tends to focus attention on reconstructions of the Gospel's evolution and development, sometimes at the expense of working on the text as we have it, and building from there.

E. P. Sanders in Texas

Thanks to Mikeal Parsons for pointing out that Ed Sanders will be lecturing next week in Texas, first at Baylor University (see PDF flier below). The second is the Plenary Address of the SBL-SW in Dallas on March 3, where the title will be “Covenantal Nomism Revisited.” Here's the flyer for the first event:

E. P. Sanders Lecture at Baylor, March 3 2007 (Flyer)

The disciples writing the Gospels

Always hoped that I'd be an apostle
Knew that I could make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the Gospels
So they'll all talk about us when we have died

That's a bit of Jesus Christ Superstar, of course, from the Last Supper scene. This idea of the disciples themselves writing the Gospels is an old one. It is present, for example, in the ?mid-late second century Apocryphon of James (translation here):
... the twelve disciples were all sitting together and recalling what the Saviour had said to each one of them, whether in secret or openly, and putting it in books.

New Electronic Edition of the Protevangelium Iacobi

Over on the University of Birmingham's ITSEE pages (news), there is a new Electronic Edition of the Protevangelium Iacobi (Infancy Gospel of James) prepared by Chris Jordan and Ali Welsby as part of their MA in Editing Texts in Religion. Go to ITSEE Online Resources or go straight to the edition here:

Electronic Edition of the Protevangelium Iacobi (The Infancy Gospel of James)
Including transcriptions of the nine surviving Greek manuscripts and a critical apparatus. Chris Jordan and Ali Welsby

Update (7 March, 23.46): thanks to Ali Welsby for the correct, fuller link to the resource, now changed above.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Formatting problem fixed

Gary Greenberg pointed out to me that this blog had some problems in some browsers. Specifically, the side bar was not rendering properly. I had a look in Internet Explorer, which I never normally use, and I was shocked to see what a mess it was. I took a long, hard look at my template and realized that I introduced two errors when I introduced the Google Reader, including putting a table in the side bar without a closing td tag. So this is to say that it should now be behaving properly again. Please let me know if it is not. I suppose the fact that no one else had commented shows that: (1) Everyone is now using Firefox; or (2) Everyone views the blog in a reader; or (3) People don't care what it looks like. I hope it is (1) and (2) rather than (3).

The Missing Middle in Thomas Synoptic Comparisons

There is a curious feature about several of the parallels between the Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptics. On at least four occasions where Thomas has lengthy parallels with the Synoptics, he lacks a parallel to the middle part of the story. It is a phenomenon I label the missing middle. It is easy to see when we lay out Thomas in parallel with the Synoptics. Here is the first example:

Log and Speck

Matt. 7.3-5
3. Why do you see the
speck that is in your
brother’s eye, but
do not notice the log that
is in your own eye?
4. Or how can you say
to your brother,
`Let me take
the speck out of your
eye,’ when there is
log in your own eye? 5.
You hypocrite, first take
the log out of your own
eye, and then you will
see clearly to take the
speck out of your
brother’s eye.
Luke 6.41-2
41. Why do you see the
speck that is in your
brother’s eye, but do not
notice the log that
is in your own eye?
42. Or how can you say
to your brother,
‘Brother, let me take out
the speck that is in your
eye,’ when you yourself
do not see the log that is
in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take
the log out of your own
eye, and then you will
see clearly to take out
the speck that is in your
brother’s eye.
Thomas 26
Jesus said, You see the
speck in your
brother’s eye, but you
do not see the log
in your own eye.

When you take
the log out of your own
eye, then you will
see clearly to take out
the speck that is in your
brother’s eye.

Look at that wedge of white space on the right. It is unmissable. The middle of the story as it is found in Matthew and Luke is missing, but Thomas has clear parallels to the beginning and the end of the story. The same phenomenon happens again in the following example:

Wheat and Tares

Matt. 13.24-30
24. Another parable he put before them,
saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be
compared to a man who sowed good
seed in his field; 25 but while men were
sleeping, his enemy came and sowed
weeds among the wheat, and went away.
26 So when the plants came up and bore
grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27
And the servants of the householder
came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not
sow good seed in your field? How then
has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An
enemy has done this.’ The servants said
to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and
gather them?’ 29 But he said,
‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root
up the wheat along with them. 30 Let
both grow together until the harvest; and
at harvest time I will tell the reapers,
Gather the weeds first and bind them in
bundles to be burned, but gather the
wheat into my barn.’”
Thomas 57
Jesus says,
“The Kingdom of the Father is
like a man who had
[good] seed.
His enemy came by night and sowed
weeds among the good seed.

The man did not allow them to pull up
the weeds; he said to them, ‘I am afraid
that you will go intending to pull up the
weeds and
pull up the wheat along with them.’

For on the day of the harvest the weeds
will be plainly visible, and they will be
pulled up and burned.”

Again, the middle of the story is missing, and this time to the detriment of the story's flow and logic in Thomas. The missing middle features the introduction of the servants who begin a conversation with their master. In Thomas, we just hear about "them" without introduction. The antecedent for "them" is missing, in a way similar to Synoptic examples of editorial fatigue.

There are further examples of the same phenomenon. In the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12.15-21 // Thomas 63), Thomas lacks the middle part of Luke's story, 12.18b-19, in which the Rich Fool is reflecting on his apparent great fortune, "And I’ll say to myself, 'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'" Thomas's fool is thinking things in his heart, but the full content of Luke's version provides a much better antecedent than the blander, truncated soliloquy of Thomas's version.

Similarly, in the Tribute to Caesar story (Matt. 22.15-22 // Mark 12.13-17 // Luke 20.20-26 // Thomas 100), Thomas lacks the middle part of the Synoptic story in which it is revealed that the coin has Caesar's image on it, the exchange that results in the aphorism shared with Thomas, "Render to Caesar . . ." (with Thomas's remarkable addition, ". . . . and to me what is mine").

It is interesting to see this repeated feature in Thomas's parallels to the Synoptics. My thesis is that it shows just how familiar Thomas is with the Synoptic stories he is retelling. In the rush to retell the familiar story, he does not notice that key parts have been left out. It reminds me of people who can't tell jokes, and who rush ahead too quickly, after having introduced it, to the punchline. Thomas sets the scene, gets the ball rolling, and then fast forwards to the story's conclusion. It may be that this is a casualty of writing a Sayings Gospel rather than a narrative Gospel. The Synoptic writers are all, to varying degrees, used to writing mini-narratives in their Gospels, and on the whole they make a good job of it. But Thomas is focused on shorter, self-contained sayings, with minimal narrative settings. When it comes to writing a fuller narrative, he is not as well practised as the Synoptic evangelists.

Review of Biblical Literature latest

Latest from the SBL Review of Biblical Literature on the NT:

Tomas Bokedal
The Scriptures and the Lord: Formation and Significance of the Christian Biblical Canon; A Study in Text, Ritual and Interpretation
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

David A. Brondos
Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle's Story of Redemption
Reviewed by D. A. Carson

Philip L. Mayo
"Those Who Call Themselves Jews": The Church and Judaism in the Apocalypse of John
Reviewed by David L. Barr

Kim Paffenroth
The Heart Set Free: Sin and Redemption in the Gospels, Augustine, Dante, and Flannery O'Connor
Reviewed by Alice M. Sinnott

Udo Schnelle; trans. M. Eugene Boring
Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology
Reviewed by Kenneth Atkinson

Edward Stourton
Paul of Tarsus: A Visionary Life
Reviewed by Valérie Nicolet Anderson

Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat
Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire
Reviewed by Angela Standhartinger

I have also gone through and labelled all previous NT Gateway posts on the Review of Biblical Literature, so clicking the Review of Biblical Literature label will take one to a comprehensive list.

Apocalypse of Peter on-line

A couple of year's ago (Apocalypse of Peter on-line), I transcribed and uploaded the Greek text of the Apocalypse of Peter from Lic. Dr. Erich Klostermann (ed.), Apocrypha I: Reste Des Petrusevangeliums, Der Petrus-Apocakalypse und des Kerygmati Petri (Bonn: A. Marcus und E. Weber’s Verlag, 1903): 8-11. I have made a couple of minor updates to the MS Word and PDF of the files, which are still found here:

The Apocalypse of Peter (Akhmim Fragment) [MS Word]

Apocalypse of Peter (Akhmim Fragment) [PDF]

The Future of the New Testament Gateway

On Codex Blogspot, Religious Studies Review: Religion and the Internet, and now on Sansblogue, Online Biblical Scholarship, there is a discussion of the latest Religious Studies Review (Volume 32, number 4, October 2006), a special issue on Religion and the Internet. One of the articles in this journal is written by Matthew Mitchell, "Biblical Studies on the Internet". The article focuses on the following four resources:
I have reason to be delighted with Mitchell's review because he says some great things about The New Testament Gateway, a site I have run for almost a decade now, for example:
For the study of the NT, the choice is extremely easy. Bart Ehrman (2004) recommends this site in his work The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings as his only Web resource, stating that it is one of the few that “will be around for a very long time and which provides trustworthy scholarly information” (xxix). There is little disagreement on this point. The New Testament Gateway is an exceptionally good resource and can be recommended with very little reservation . . .

. . . . This site is easily the best resource for biblical studies on the Web, even if simply as a gateway to other sites, and it is constantly evolving. Secondary materials are continually being added to the Weblog section . . . .
And so on. All very encouraging stuff. But Mitchell appears to be a thoughtful and critical observer, and he makes the following remarks that require some serious thinking:
The recurrent problem with this site, if it can be called such, is that it is ultimately the work of a single person. Thus, “energy” issues are the only shortcoming as the sheer number of links inevitably results in some dead or broken ones no matter how energetic or dedicated Goodacre is. (Some links to the University of Birmingham remain.) Goodacre is a publishing NT scholar with full-time teaching duties and is also serving as the series editor of the Library of New Testament Studies. The credentials that make him well suited to create such a site must also make him occasionally wonder about the number of hours available in a given day for what is, all accolades aside, a professional service.
In the past I have tended to answer points like this by reasserting my energy levels and saying that I continue enjoy working on the NT Gateway, and that the enjoyment is the stimulus to continue. Ultimately, though, that answer is of course inadequate. The sheer volume of on-line resources now makes it virtually impossible to keep up with everything, and I have to prioritise. It is no longer the case that one can cover the majority of good academic NT resources available free-for-all on the net, which was certainly the situation for the first few years of the site. And as the internet resources expand, my time to spend on the site diminishes. There is an academic career curve whereby one becomes ever more busy as one becomes better known, and every day more requests for one's time are made. I am actually quite good at saying "no" these days, but even then I have decreasing amounts of time to spend on the site, which I regret. A site that is so closely associated with just one person's efforts is only as good as that person's efforts. If the NT Gateway is still going to be around, and still found useful, for years to come, it's important to think about the future.

The internet keeps on changing, and it is important to change with it if one's site is to stay current, to take advantage of new ways of doing things if a site is to mature. Blogging has definitely helped me with maintaining the NT Gateway, not least because the blog combines several elements that I was doing on the main site in a more clumsy way, e.g. Featured Links, Logbook and so on. When I began this blog three and a half years ago, I folded several of those elements into the blog. But what is next? What current trends on the net could help with the development of the NT Gateway? Given the issues mentioned above, there is no question now that the NT Gateway is only going to survive in good shape if elements of collaboration are added. For the NT Gateway to get bigger, I need to get smaller.

Over the coming months, I will be exploring ways of adding more collaborative features to the site. I would like at least some Wiki functionality so that people can go in and correct a broken link, for example, rather than emailing me to change it. There are, of course, issues about going wiki, and one of them is quality control. But I am not worried about that. My role would become more overseeing, and I can devote my time to that role. Nor would I simply open up the site to everyone indiscriminately. The big question, though, is how to achieve added wiki functionality. If I were starting the site from scratch, it would be straightforward. But it is much less straightforward to add wiki functionality to an existing site, especially one as large as the NT Gateway. I am still at the exploration stage with this, but I will be reporting back as time goes on. I have accepted an invitation to speak to the Computer Assisted Research Group at the SBL Annual Meeting in November on the future for internet resources on the NT, and I hope to have made significant progress on the transformation by then.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Promotion and Tenure Criteria for New Media

Some of those brave pioneers who have celebrated what the internet has to offer the experience of university teaching, and who have looked towards the internet to enhance their offerings, may well have found it somewhat frustrating to find that their initiatives have not always met with wholehearted endorsement from their bosses. I am one of the lucky ones. I was in an institution (the University of Birmingham, Dept of Theology and Religion) that was open to initiatives in electronic media, and I always felt supported and encouraged in my attempts to try new things, something that was often controversial, especially in the relatively early days of the world wide web. Although I would not have managed promotion in that system if I had focused solely on electronic media for teaching and research, I did feel that the use of electronic media, especially in teaching, was recognized and valued. I think the same was true here in getting tenure in the Duke University Dept of Religion too, a sense that while print publications were paramount, the use of electronic media played a reasonable supporting role. I make these remarks to make clear that I have no personal axe to grind here, because it is clear that not everyone feels this way about their institutions, and I have talked to some scholars who have been pioneers in the use of internet resources in academia who have not felt supported by their institutions. It is felt that print publications will always trump the internet, and recognition will not be forthcoming for those who spend too long staring at their computer screen.

One of the difficulties is that in some institutions, those involved with appointments, promotions and tenure, have not yet realized how rapidly the scene has changed in the last decade or so, and just how valuable it can be to have academics who invest a lot of time and energy in new media. It is encouraging, therefore, to see reference on The Stoa Consortium to this piece from the University of Maine:

New Media Department, University of Maine
Promotion and Tenure Guidelines Addendum: Rationale for Redefined Criteria
New Criteria for New Media
ABSTRACT: An argument for redefining promotion and tenure criteria for faculty in new media departments of today's universities.
As the Stoa post comments, "It seems to provide an excellent point of departure for a discussion of how to include a proper assessment of new media contributions in the tenure and promotion processes in Humanities and Social Sciences." I agree. I hope to see other universities following suit.

Friday, February 16, 2007

James Robinson on the Jesus of Q

Latest from Augsburg Fortress, and on a topic that is a particular favourite of mine:

Who was Jesus, really?

In Jesus: According to the Earliest Witness, James M. Robinson, one of the premier scholars of the New Testament and the Sayings Gospel Q, asks what we can know of Jesus from what many believe was the earliest written source behind the Gospels.

Over the years perhaps no one has reflected more sensitively and insightfully on the significance of Q for our understanding of earliest Christianity than James M. Robinson....In these essays Robinson exhibits the broad-ranging historical exegesis for which he is so well known, but also with surprising candor, lays out what he thinks it all means and why it is so important to listen to the earliest remembered voice of Jesus.
—Stephen J. Patterson, Professor of New Testament, Eden Theological Seminary

Robinson explores the trajectories in orthodox Christianity and Gnosticism alike, from this early witness to the canonical Gospels and beyond. Surprising insights abound and the author includes an autobiographical essay charting the important currents in New Testament scholarship over the last fifty years.

More on Metzger

Evangelical Textual Criticism is collecting tributes to Bruce Metzger, so far Iain Torrance, Princeton Theological Seminary and Mike Holmes. No doubt there will be many more to come. Here's an obituary from the LA Times:

Bruce Manning Metzger, 93; New Testament scholar helped edit, update Bible translations
By Mary Rourke, Times Staff Writer

The piece focuses on some of the gender inclusive language in the NRSV translation:
. . . . Soon after Metzger and his colleagues completed their work in 1989, he pointed out some of the changes in an interview with The Times.

The phrase, "Man shall not live by bread alone," from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy and the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke, was adjusted to read, "One shall not live by bread alone."

"O men of little faith," in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, became "O you of little faith." The original Greek text did not use the word for man in that phrase, Metzger said. To insert it was "an unnecessary, restrictive" addition, he told The Times . . .
This reminds me of the one occasion I met Prof. Metzger. He came to lecture in Birmingham on the NRSV in 1996 and my colleague David Parker, a friend of Metzger's, introduced me -- and he was as delightful in person as everyone says he was. I remember one thing in particular from his lecture. When discussing the issue of gender inclusive translation, he explained the difficulties over translating sentences traditionally translated with male-specific language, like "Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear". Prof. Metzger explained that he had received a letter from someone strongly urging him to use the new gender inclusive pronoun "thon", thus "Whoever has ears to hear, let thon here." He said that he replied to her by saying that he would be willing to consider the use of "thon" as soon as it appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Ben Sira and Luke

Over on Scripta de Divinis, Tim Brookins has an introductory post on Ben Sira, including some NT parallels. One of the most remarkable parallels between Ben Sira and the NT is, I think, the Rich Fool parable in Luke:
Sirach 11.18-19 (RSV): [18] There is a man who is rich through his diligence and self-denial,
and this is the reward allotted to him:
[19] when he says, "I have found rest,
and now I shall enjoy my goods!"
he does not know how much time will pass
until he leaves them to others and dies.

Luke 12.15-21 (NASB): 12:15 Then He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." 16 And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. 17 "And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ''What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?'' 18 "Then he said, ''This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 ''And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, ''You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'' 21 "So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
The fact that this parable also appears in Thomas 63 raises some interesting questions about the relationship between Thomas, Luke and Ben Sira, but I don't have time to blog on them just now.

Over use of "precisely"

My contribution to the blogger-cooler discussion of Pet Peeves in the use of language features some easy targets. It seems I am not the only one who is irritated to an irrational degree by "Revelations", for example. So here is a more controversial example of a pet peeve that has developed in recent scholarly writing. It is the over use of the word "precisely", especially in contexts where it is modifying a conjunction as in "it is precisely because this issue is so important that I am trying to be precise about it".

The usage is widespread, but I think Tom Wright uses it more than most. Future generations who are trying to distinguish authentic Wright from pseudepigraphical Wright will be looking at percentages of the use of "precisely" in the writings in question. The article Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire, for example, features precisely eleven examples:
The book thus invites us to approach what has been called Paul's theology, and to find in it, not simply a few social or political "implications", to be left safely to the final chapters of a lengthy theological tome, but a major challenge to precisely that imperial cult and ideology which was part of the air Paul and his converts breathed.

Politically, it cannot but have been heard as a summons to allegiance to "another king", which is of course precisely what Luke says Paul was accused of saying (Acts 17.7).

What the older history-of-religions argument failed to reckon with was the Jewish understanding that, precisely because of Israel's status within the purposes of the creator god, Israel's king was always supposed to be the world's true king.

Paul endorsed this train of thought, and he believed it to have been fulfilled in Jesus. He knew, of course, that Jesus was very different from the other Messiahs who flit through first-century history, but it is precisely part of the characteristic tension of his whole theology to claim that this crucified Jesus was and is the Jewish Messiah promised in scripture.

Simultaneously, and precisely because of the inner dynamic of just this Jewish tradition, Paul was announcing that Jesus was the true King of Israel and hence the true Lord of the world, at exactly the time in history, and over exactly the geographical spread, where the Roman emperor was being proclaimed, in what styled itself a "gospel", in very similar terms.

When, therefore, God's righteousness was unveiled, the effect would be precisely that the world would receive justice: that rich, restorative, much-to-be-longed-for justice of which the Psalmists had spoken with such feeling.

And the point of having "citizenship in heaven", as has often been pointed out, is not that one might eventually go home to the mother city; Rome established colonies precisely because of overcrowding in the capital, and the desire to spread Roman civilization in the rest of the empire.

Before we pick up the stones of our post-enlightenment sensibilities to throw at Paul, or at any interpreter who dares to suggest that Paul might have done any such thing, we should recall that precisely this move was a standard way in which many Jewish groups in the second-Temple period would define themselves over against one another.

Paul is thus not only located on the map of second-Temple history, but, by employing an inner-Jewish rhetorical strategy in which one's opponents were cast as pseudo-pagans, he is able to use the device in a quite new way, setting up precisely this polemic so as to serve a new purpose, namely his anti-Caesar message.

Just as the Messiah had obeyed the covenant plan of God, and was now identified as the Lord of the world, so the Messiah's people were to find their covenant identity precisely "in" the Messiah, in his dying and rising, in his faithfulness, in the covenant membership which would be God's gift bestowed upon faithfulness.

It is precisely because they are assured they are indeed the people of the one true God, formed in the Messiah through his death and resurrection, that the Philippians will have the courage and confidence to trust him as saviour and lord and so to renounce the imperial claims of Caesar.
My least favourite example of the usage is in the phrase "precisely because" since it is rare that it adds anything substantial to the clause. I suppose the point is to add some stress to the clause in question, as in "It really is because . . . . ."; "It is because of this very thing that I wish to stress. . . ." so it becomes a shorthand for adding emphasis. I don't want to give the impression that I am unfairly criticizing Wright's prose. Indeed it is precisely because I so admire his writing style that I can't help noticing this widespread feature of scholarly prose making such a marked impression on his writing. The usage is becoming difficult to avoid; it's one of those little language trends that we can't help finding ourselves pulled into. Although I would never consciously use it myself, it is a creeping usage that is becoming ever more pervasive.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pet Peeves

On Blue Cord, Kevin Wilson has a great list of pet peeves, following Chris Heard's lead on Higgaion. Well, isn't this what blogging is for? One of Kevin's is a pet peeve of mine, the incorrect use of "beg the question", now very common. Here are a few of mine, some found in scholarly writing, some in students' writing and some in popular culture:
  • "Exegete" as a verb rather than "to do exegesis of / write an exegesis of".

  • "Critique" as a verb rather than "to write a critique of".

  • "Quote" as a noun. "To quote" is a verb. The noun is "quotation". This is even found in some scholarly writing.

  • Unnecessary use of Latin, as in theologia crucis when "theology of the cross" will do just fine.

  • "Revelations for Revelation (Book of). I find this irritating to an irrational degree. It is particularly common in film and fiction.

  • Whingers. People who worry about minor little aberrations in the use of language. CHILL.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bruce Metzger

On Evangelical Textual Criticism, P. J. Williams passes on the sad news of the death of Bruce Metzger yesterday. On the Novum Testamentum blog, Brandon Wason has links to news articles in the Home News Tribune and

All Things Considered on Lampeter

One of my regular BBC podcasts is BBC Wales's weekly religion programme called All Things Considered. This week's episode was wholly devoted to a feature on and interviews with the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Lampeter. It's not often (ever before?) you get an entire radio programme devoted to a Theology or Religion department. According to the programme, the department at Lampeter is the largest in the UK, with 49 academic members of staff. We used to say in Birmingham that we were the biggest, with almost 40, but it looks like Lampeter are now winning on the size front. The documentary is found here, either for download (podcast), or streaming. It begins with an excerpt from a class on the Gospel of Thomas:

All Things Considered

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

JETS latest

The December 2006 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theology Society, which has free for all access over on FindArticles, is now available:

Journal of the Evangelical Theology Society (December 2006)

Articles include:

by Jowers, Dennis W

by Jones, Peter

by Verbruggen, Jan L

I won't link to all the book reviews relevant to the NT because it will take me too long to do so, but here is the list, and individual links can be found after going to the main link above. Authors of the reviews and not the books are listed:

* Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission
by Larkin, William J

* Historical Jesus in Recent Research, The
by Ingolfsland, Dennis

* Rhetoric at the Boundaries: The Art and Theology of New Testament Chain-Link Transitions
by Harvey, John D

* Legend of the Septuagint: From Classical Antiquity to Today, The
by Jobes, Karen H

* Revelation of John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, The
by Percer, Leo

* Colossians & Philemon
by Bateman, Herbert W IV

* Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, The
by Wallace, Daniel B

* Crux of Election: Paul's Critique of the Jewish Confidence in the Election of Israel, The
by Yinger, Kent L

* Acts
by Green, Joel B

* Johannine Discipleship as a Covenant Relationship
by Estes, Douglas

* Gospel according to Saint John, The
by Shidemantle, C Scott

* Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present
by Pennington, Jonathan T

* New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers. Vol. 1: The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, The
by Warren, David H

* Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement
by Kennard, Doug

Life of Brian: The Musical Latest

Variety has the latest on Not the Messiah:

'Messiah' in Idle hands
'Spamalot' creator announces next project
. . . . Idle was unwilling to disclose details about the work other than to say, "I promise it will be funnier than Handel, although probably not as good."

One question, though, is whether it will include "Brian's" best-known tune: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," already part of "Spamalot." . . . .
H.T.: Peter Chattaway on Filmchat. Cf. also my previous post on it.

István Czachesz URL Update

I've adjusted the URL of Apostolic Commission Narratives in the Canonical and Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles by István Czachesz on my Non-Canonical Christian Texts page.

Historical Jesus articles update

A couple of updates on my Historical Jesus: Articles page: revised URL for Robert Miller's Jesus Seminar and Its Critics and the addition of E. P. Sanders, "The Question of Uniqueness in the Teaching of Jesus" (cf. my previous blog post on this).

Review of Biblical Literature latest

Latest from the SBL Review of Biblical Literatue under the NT and related heading:

Thomas Hieke and Tobias Nicklas
"Die Worte der Prophetie dieses Buches": Offenbarung 22, 6-21 als Schlussstein der christlichen Bibel Alten und Neuen Testaments

Reviewed by Beate Kowalski

Deborah Krause
1 Timothy
Reviewed by Angela Standhartinger

Fergus Millar
A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief Under Theodosius II (408-450)
Reviewed by Daniel Schowalter

Annette Yoshiko Reed
Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature
Reviewed by Siam Bhayro

E. Randolph Richards
Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection
Reviewed by William "Chip" Gruen

Thomas A. Robinson
Mastering New Testament Greek: Essential Tools for Students
Reviewed by Robert E. Van Voorst

Christine Schlund
"Kein Knochen soll gebrochen werden": Studien zu Bedeutung und Funktion des Pesachfests in Texten des frühen Judentums und im Johannesevangelium

Reviewed by Craig R. Koester

Shmuel Shepkaru
Jewish Martyrs in the Pagan and Christian Worlds
Reviewed by Daniel R. Schwartz

William Shiell
Reading Acts: The Lector and the Early Christian Audience
Reviewed by Verlyn D. Verbrugge

Dieter Zeller
Neues Testament und hellenistische Umwelt
Reviewed by Joseph Verheyden

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Journals page update

I have updated the New Testament Gateway: Journals page, with an adjusted URL for Bibliotheca Sacra, with thanks to Tommy Wasserman for pointing it out.

The Synoptic Problem in Eight Easy Steps

(a) The Synoptic Gospels are so similar in order and wording that there must be some kind of literary link between them.

(b) Mark is consistently the “middle term”, i.e. agreements between Matthew and Luke are often “mediated” via Mark. Matthew and Luke are rarely the middle term.

(c) The easiest way to explain Mark as middle term is that it was the major source for both Matthew and Luke. This explains all the “triple tradition” (Matthew // Mark // Luke) material.

(d) But two hundred verses or so of major agreements between Matthew and Luke remain, the “double tradition” (Matthew // Luke).

(e) If Matthew and Luke used Mark independently, the double tradition must be derived from an hypothetical source, called “Q” (for Quelle, source).

(f) Thus the “Two Source Theory”, that Matthew and Luke had two major sources, Mark and Q. It is the majority view.

(g) But there is good evidence that Luke knew Matthew as well as Mark, e.g. some major and many minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark.

(h) Q is therefore unnecessary. Matthew knew Mark; Luke knew Mark and also Matthew. This is called the Farrer Theory.

Did Paul discourage Jewish Christians from keeping the Law?

Over on Euangelion, in a post headed Paul, the Law and the Jews, Michael Bird asks the question, "Did Paul expect Jewish Christians to adopt the non-Torah policy that he had for Gentiles?" and quotes a section from William Campbell's Paul's Gospel in an Intercultural Context, the first part of which is:
Because Paul cannot yield on this point [the gospel is available to Gentiles without having to proselytize] does not mean that he opposed all things Jewish or that he would discourage Jewish Christians from following a Jewish lifestyle after they had become Christians. This stipulation that Jewish Chrsitians recognise the right of Gentile Christians to be accepted into the people of God and continue to live a Gentile (Christian) lifestyle, does not mean that such Jewish Christians as recognised this, should not also have the freedom to continue to live in a Jewish life style.
It is a fascinating question. One way I try to focus it when teaching Paul is to ask my students whether they think Paul would have encouraged his fellow Christian Jews to circumcise their male children at eight days. Let's face it: over twenty or thirty years, Paul must have come into contact with many Christian Jews who were in this situation. They have just had a baby boy. Do they circumcise him? What about Paul's nephew (Acts 23.16); did Paul encourage his sister to circumcise him when he was born, and what about his brothers, or their children?

In the Campbell quotation above, it depends a bit on what we mean by the word "discourage". Given that Paul not living "under the Law" at all times, does that not act as a kind of discouragement to other Christian Jews from keeping the Law? Paul's "all things to all people" policy (1 Cor. 9.19-23) must have appeared to some as an encouragement to other Christian Jews not to keep the Law, whatever the content of Paul's actual preaching was. In other words, I find it easy to imagine how the charge of Acts 21.21 could have been made. Paul was not "teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs," but the charge had a ring of truth to it if one observed Paul's actual practice.