Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Nativity gets American premiere on BBC America

Back in 2010, the BBC followed up its successful The Passion (2008) with The Nativity, a two hour drama written by Tony Jordan and stripped across several nights on BBC One (IMDb). I thought it was an excellent drama.  Historical consultant Helen Bond had her own reflections on it.  At the time, I noted that it was to be distributed by BBC Worldwide and hoped that it might get shown in America.

Two years later and The Nativity is about to get its American premiere over on BBC America, on Sunday at 1pm ET/PT.  They are showing it in one fell swoop rather than stripped across several nights, so you'll have to treat it like watching a film.  For those who haven't seen it yet, do try to catch it.

Here's the original BBC One trailer, just 40 seconds' worth, still available on Youtube:

In the lead up to the BBC America showing, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes have made available a free three minute "sneak peak" for downloading.  It's Joseph talking to Joachim and Anna, Mary's parents, and then a nice scene of Joseph and Mary walking and chatting.

This presumably means that the series will be available for purchase on both Amazon and iTunes as soon as it has aired next week, which is all good news.

I am delighted to see that this has made its way to America at last.  If only the BBC had partnered with BBC Worldwide for The Passion, rather than HBO, perhaps we might have had an American release for that by now.

Disambiguation: this is not The Nativity Story, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and released four years earlier in 2006 in cinemas (my review), nor is it Nativity!, a comedy produced by BBC Films a year earlier, in 2009, and starring Martin Freeman.

Update: I've just noticed that The Nativity is also getting repeated this year on BBC HD, on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, 5.30/5.45pm -- The Nativity (including more clips for those in the UK, or with jiggery-pokery skills).

The Talpiyot Tomb and the Bloggers

Several other bloggers (including Joel Watts and Jim West) have mentioned this fine new volume from Eisenbrauns, Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media (great Oxford comma there). It is edited by my esteemed colleagues here in the Duke Religion Department, Eric and Carol Meyers.

The volume is the result of the Duke Conference on this subject held in April 2009.  At the time, I blogged about the conference, and you can listen in to an archive of the talks on our iTunes U.  It is all worth reading, of course, but I am happy to provide access here to my essay in the volume (as well as to the table of contents):

The Talpiyot Tomb and the Bloggers
Mark Goodacre

The essay has a response by AKMA, though I can't reproduce that here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another Bible Series video

Here's another video featuring scenes from the forthcoming History Channel series, The Bible:

It's largely the same scenes released in the first look the other day, but with some added shots of Jesus at the end, and set to a song by Blake Shelton.

My previous posts on the series are gathered here: The Bible Series, History Channel, 2013. .

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Did Jesus Exist? with Richard Carrier and me on Unbelievable?

Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable? with Justin Brierly today featured a discussion about the historicity of Jesus with Richard Carrier and me. You can listen here:

Unbelievable? Did Jesus Exist?  Richard Carrier vs. Mark Goodacre
Richard Carrier is the world's foremost proponent of the "mythicist" view of Jesus - that he never actually existed as a historical person. He explains his theory that St. Paul only ever spoke of Jesus in the spiritual realm and that the Gospels are "extended parables". Mark Goodacre is NT professor at Duke University. He contends that Carrier's mythicist view is extrememly far fetched and the evidence for the historical Jesus is beyond reasonable doubt.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Scenes from The Bible series, set to CeeLo Green

Also newly released this evening, this montage of scenes from The Bible series (History Channel, March 2013) set to "Mary Did You Know?" by CeeLo Green. The montage includes scenes from several episodes in the New Testament half of the series, including the Nativity, Jesus' Life and Passion, and Paul:


 Other posts on The Bible series are here.

The Bible Series -- First Look!

The first clip of the The Bible Series (History Channel, 2013) has been released tonight. Suitably enough, it's the Nativity scene:


The Bible dramatizes key narratives from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and it is executive produced by Mark Burnett (The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice) and Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel). It is produced by Lightworkers Media.  I and several others have acted as consultants.  You can follow The Bible Series on Facebook. My previous post on the series is here: The Bible Series, History Channel, 2013.

Beverly Gaventa to join Baylor

Beverly Roberts Gaventa is moving to Baylor.  Details here:

WACO, Texas (Dec. 11, 2012) - Baylor University Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Davis, Ph.D., has announced the appointment of Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Ph.D., as Distinguished Professor of New Testament Interpretation in the department of religion at Baylor University. Dr. Gaventa currently serves as Helen H.P. Manson Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary, where she has taught for 21 years. She will join Baylor beginning in fall 2013.
Dr. Gaventa received her Ph.D. from Duke University under the supervision of W.D. Davies and her M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in New York, where she studied with J. Louis Martyn and Raymond E. Brown. She holds Honorary Doctorates from Christian Theological Seminary and Kalamazoo College. She also is an honorary professor of New Testament at Stellenbosch University in South Africa . . . .
. . . . "Distinguished Professors have a unique role in helping to clarify and articulate Baylor's mission to be a research university with a distinctively Christian identity," Provost Davis said. "The serious study of the Bible is a central part of that identity, and Dr. Beverly Gaventa has established herself as one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world who engage in theological interpretation of the Christian Scriptures. She brings to Baylor a sterling reputation as a scholar/teacher, and she will, in splendid ways, build on the legacy left by her predecessor, Dr. Charles H. Talbert, Distinguished Professor of Religion Emeritus."
Read the whole announcement here. Thanks to Mike Parsons and Mike Whitenton for the news.

Friday, December 07, 2012

NT Pod 63: Conflicting Christmas Stories

It's that time of year again, the time for the release of the Christmas episode of the NT Pod!  So I have interrupted the series on the Gospel of Thomas, for NT Pod 63: Conflicting Christmas Stories.

The episode explores the differences between the Birth Narratives in Matt. 1-2 and Luke 1-2 and asks how this can be the case if Luke is familiar with Matthew.

This is now the fourth year of the NT Pod Christmas episode.  You can find the others here: NT Pod Christmas episodes.

You can listen to the NT Pod online or subscribe in your preferred reader or subscribe via iTunes.  You can also find the NT Pod on Facebook, or follow the NT Pod on Twitter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Response to Crook's Response to My Review of Parallel Gospels

I reviewed Zeba Crook's Parallel Gospels at this year's SBL and Crook responded.  I now have a few comments on that response.  I am grateful for Zeba's thoughtful comments.  I will take his points in turn:

(1) On the lack of word-alignment, I had not realized that this was a publisher's decision rather than an author's decision.  I understand the importance of affordability but I think it is a great shame that  something so fundamental to Synopsis construction is here jettisoned because of cost considerations.

In the discussion on Monday, I facetiously suggested that one could save a lot of space by getting rid of Q from the Synopsis, thereby freeing up more space for word-alignment.

(2) On the source-language translation, I understand Zeba's decision but I disagree with it.  The difficulty is that prepositions, for example, do not exist on their own, as individual sense-units.  They only attain meaning in connection with nouns in a particular case, so it makes no sense to translate hypo always as "under" and meta always as "with".  It is misleading to translate every preposition the same way, and it is a decision that greatly detracts from the appeal of the Synopsis.

(3) I am a little surprised by Zeba's response on the inclusion of Q in the Synopsis.  I think the inclusion of Q would be defensible on the grounds that it helps to illustrate the Two-Source Theory or that it facilitates comparison between Matthew, Luke and the reconstructed text of Q, but it is surely not debatable that including one solution to the problem into the presentation of the data prejudices the reader in favour of that solution, is it?

Zeba suggests that his Synopsis offers some encouragement to the Farrer Theory, e.g. placement of double tradition pericopes in the Synopsis and also the generation of more minor agreements.  However, the point about minor agreements is at least in part negated by the fact that Q is present in this synopsis to explain key minor agreements, especially Q 3.3 and Q 4.16.

Zeba also suggests that the inclusion of Q is no different from the inclusion of Thomas or John, but there is, of course, a material difference.  Both Thomas and John are extant works with textual witnesses and patristic citations; they are not hypothetical texts. In fact, the (helpful) inclusion of Thomas and John illustrates my point well -- that a Synopsis should aim to present the data without prejudice to a given solution to the problem.  Integrating Q into the presentation of the data confuses problem with solution in a fundamental way.

But my key point here is the pedagogical difficulty of including Q in the Synopsis, which turns double tradition into a second kind of triple tradition, and makes colouring the Synopsis much more difficult.  These are issues that are worth considering further.

Zeba Crook's Response to my Review of Parallel Gospels

I am grateful to Zeba Crook for making available his response to my review of his Parallel Gospels and to Loren Rosson for posting it on his blog:

Review of Crook's Parallel Gospels

At this year's SBL in Chicago, I took part in a session on Monday afternoon, in the Synoptic Gospels section, that was devoted to  reviewing Zeba Crook's Parallel Gospels.  The other reviewers were Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Paul Foster and Robert Derrenbacker.  My article review is available here:

Zeba Crook's Parallel Gospels: Review Article
Mark Goodacre

Update (22 April 2014): My conference paper is now revised and published in SBL's Review of Biblical Literature here:

Review of Zeba A. Crook, Parallel Gospels [PDF]
Mark Goodacre

Please cite as: Mark Goodacre, review of Zeba A. Crook, Parallel Gospels: A Synopsis of Early Christian Writing, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2014)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

SBL Chicago 2012

In the past, I have often blogged my way through the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting. Sometimes I have even sat in sessions, blogging away as I listen.  For one thing, it's been a great way to help me to stay awake.

To some extent, Twitter has changed all that. A quick tweet on your phone, with the #sblaar hashtag, and you are in touch with loads of others who are also tweeting away, most of whom you will never even meet.  Twitter has actually made blogging the SBL much easier -- it helps you to work out what's worth a blog comment and what is only worth a tweet.

If you read this year's tweets, one thing will come through again and again, especially on Saturday, the realisation that McCormick Place is simply MASSIVE.  One fellow participant said that it was far bigger than the village he lived in in Cambridgeshire.  I found that it was a huge help with the usual SBL diet issue, that one eats far too much unhealthy stuff in quantities that are too large.  Normally, one does not have to walk ten miles in the convention centre just to get from one session to the next, and so I was able to shed a few calories that way.

And that was already after one had commuted in from the hotels area, itself a couple of miles from McCormick.  You did not have to walk, though, if you did not want to.  The shuttles laid on by the society worked well and it reminded me a bit of Orlando 1998 when you could find yourself sitting next to someone interesting quite by chance, or renewing old acquaintances, or overhearing fascinating conversations.

In some years, the book exhibit has been really squeezed in space.  This year, there was so much space available that they hardly knew what to do. And yet, I don't think I visited it as often as usual because everything was so far away from everything else.  You had to plan to go to the exhibit.  You could not simply pop in for 10 minutes in between sessions.

Moreover, SBL tarting was much more difficult than usual.  I have always been an advocate of tarting one's way from one session to another.  But this year, you might have half an hour's walk to get from one session to another.  On the Saturday, I wanted to get from John, Jesus and History (superb paper by Dale Allison aligning the BD with John son of Zebedee that cohered nicely with my NT Pod on the topic) to the Second Century Intertextuality section to hear about Papias -- but I had nearly had a heart attack by the time I had arrived.

My experience of SBL this year was tarnished by the worst series of headaches I have had since I was in college.  So I was in survival mode for much of it and I must apologize to those who found me a little stranger than usual.   Nevertheless, there were a couple of highlights, one the chance to see Skyfall, on Friday evening, with old friends.  Of course the danger with doing the best thing first is that everything is down-hill from there, but it was still a treat.

I was pleased too to get some Chicago pizza on Monday evening, and some good beer, pub food and Thai food on other evenings.  It's awful to say, but eating and drinking really is the heart of SBL.  Oh, and I had an amazing breakfast on Tuesday morning at Eleven City Diner, which looks exactly what you would imagine a Chicago diner should look like, and the breakfast was fantastic, and lasted me all day. And we saw Austan Goolsbee there too (Obama's first term economic advisor, for those not as up with American politics as I am).

As usual, I seemed to have let myself in for involvement with too many sessions this year.  I enjoyed speaking on Secret Mark over at the Biblical Archaeology Society's Fest on Sunday morning and found them an ideal audience, genial but interested and full of questions (more here).   In the past, I have not bothered with a powerpoint, but on this occasion I felt that I needed to illustrate the talk, and it took us the best part of fifteen minutes to get it working.  Still, we got there in the end.

Back at the SBL, I also chaired a session that day, the first of the "Blogger and Online Publication" sessions.  The focus was on Media and Archaeology and featured Simcha Jacobovici, James Tabor, Robert Cargill and Christopher Rollston.  It was not the easiest session to chair and the attendance was poor, I'd guess thirty to forty or so.

On Monday afternoon, I was part of a panel reviewing Zeba Crook's Parallel Gospels in the Synoptic Gospels section.  The other reviewers were Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Paul Foster and Robert Derrenbacker.  I found myself in the unusual position of being the mean guy here, since it seems that the other reviewers were all far more positive overall about Crook's new Synopsis than I was.  I will post my review under separate cover.  For what it is worth, Zeba Crook responded well  to the critique, with good humour and some good points.  The discussion flowed too in the aftermath.

I walked the twenty miles from that session in the East of McCormick Place to another in West, only just making it in time.  This was a session reviewing two recent books on the Gospel of Thomas, my Thomas and the Gospels and Simon Gathercole's Composition of the Gospel of Thomas.  The three reviewers were Stephen Patterson, Christopher Tuckett and Nicola Denzey Lewis.  I was delighted with them all -- critical but appreciative.  More than one could possibly have hoped for.  I received the reviews too late to compose a response, so I responded on the fly.  I made a fair fist of it but Simon did much better and made me laugh several times, not least in drawing attention to Dorothy L. Sayers's character the Revd. Simon Goodacre, in response to the reviewers' remarks about the remarkable similarity of our books in spite of their independence.

One thought did occur to me in that session.  Although there is the conceit that everyone has read the books in question at a book review session, in fact very few have yet had the chance even to look at them, all the more so as several have only just bought them in the book exhibit.  So it would be ideal to begin these book review sessions by allowing the authors ten minutes each to summarize their books before the reviewers are invited in.  In other words, with new books, the sessions could be crafted in such a way that they are geared towards the majority of hearers.  The reviewers too could be encouraged to address those who are not familiar with the books.  Having said that, I did think the organization and chairing of the session (by the Extent of Theological Diversity section, partnering with the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism section) was exemplary, so it's just a small suggestion for the future ethos of the SBL.

It wasn't my favourite SBL, but that's mainly my fault, and I would like to thank the SBL for the fantastic work they put into making this such a successful meeting, and thanks too to all those who worked so hard as volunteers to make things go so well.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Karen King article in the Boston Globe

I meant to blog this last night but didn't get a chance because I was at the new Bond film, Skyfall (which is very good, by the way).  Lisa Wangsness, who has been publishing on the Jesus' Wife Fragment story from the beginning., has a new piece in the Boston Globe.  She was one of the three journalists who broke the story on 18 September (Harvard Professor identifies scrap of papyrus suggesting some early Christians believed Jesus was married) but unlike others, she has continued to follow the story and to report on the developments (Debate, doubts about a married Jesus, 26 September; Scholars begin to weigh in on 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife', 27 September) and now she has a profile piece on Karen King:

Jesus finding put scholar in spotlight
Lisa Wangsness

I have spoken to Lisa on several occasions, including one time last week while I was sitting in the carpool at school, and I get a short quotation in the piece:
“I started seeing that the lines that were being drawn between orthodox or correct Christianity and heretical Christianity couldn’t be drawn that way,” she said. “I had to step back and start sort of fresh and say, ‘What are the similarities and differences among [ancient] Christians, and how might we account for them, in terms of them belonging to this place?’”
King argued that these texts should be seen as part of the story of Christianity, not as distortions of a complete belief system articulated by the Gospels and handed down by the fathers of the early church. She contends that the early history of Christianity needs to be rewritten to include these previously marginalized voices, taking into account how “a limited set of perspectives has shaped what people believe.”
“She’s made her mark on the field by doing that,” said Mark Goodacre, a New Testament scholar at Duke University. “It’s a massive contribution to scholarship.”
The article does mention the forthcoming tests on the Jesus' Wife Fragment but there is no more information about timetable:
King is now awaiting the results of ink composition tests, which cannot establish for sure that it is authentic — but they could reveal that it is a forgery.
“I’m on the edge of my seat as much as anybody,” she said. “And we’ll see.”
The article is also mentioned by Jim Davila in Paleojudaica.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Jesus' Wife Fragment: How the Forgery Was Done

I am grateful to Andrew Bernhard for sharing his full exposition of how the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was forged, on the basis of Michael Grondin's online interlinear Gospel of Thomas website.

I have previously blogged about Andrew Bernhard's research on the fragment (Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery), where I drew attention to what I regarded as a possible "smoking gun" for the case, the fact that the fragment takes over a typographical error in the PDF of Grondin's Interlinear.  Andrew's essay, How the Gospel of Jesus' Wife Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal, provided a brilliant analysis of the links between the fragment and Grondin's Interlinear.

But now Andrew has produced a complete analysis of the links between these works in a new essay that he has published here:

Notes on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife Forgery

The piece is a well-written, persuasive account of how he sees the forger of the fragment working, and I would encourage you to read it all with care.

Here, courtesy of Andrew Bernhard, is a summary of the findings:


1. Gos. Jes. Wife borrows the framework for a simple dialogue between Jesus and his disciples from Gos. Thom. 12.

2. All decipherable words in Gos. Jes. Wife appear in Gos. Thom. with a single exception: TAHIME (“my wife.”)

3. The words of each line of text in Gos. Jes. Wife are found in close proximity to each other in Gos. Thom.

4. The forger has slightly redacted Gos. Thom. by making masculine pronouns feminine and (attempting to) transform affirmative/negative statements into their opposites.

5. More than half a dozen notable textual features in Gos. Jes. Wife can be attributed to a forger’s dependence on Grondin’s Interlinear.


I think it is now fair to begin openly describing Gos. Jes. Wife as a modern forgery.  Although it is admittedly a novel type of forgery, its text can be explained too easily and too completely as a “patchwork” of words and short phrases drawn from the Gos. Thom. by a forger relying on Grondin’s Interlinear. The possibility that Gos. Jes. Wife is a genuinely ancient writing seems extremely remote.

Gos. Jes. Wife is intended to appear as a basic dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, and the words of both Jesus and his disciples are introduced using the same words found in the basic dialogue of Gos. Thom. 12. Every word in Gos. Jes. Wife (except one) can be traced back to Gos. Thom., and every line of text in Gos. Jes. Wife contains words found in close proximity to each other in Gos. Thom. – even when there is no obvious relationship between them (e.g., line 3). Where a word might easily have been spelled differently in the different texts, both Gos. Jes. Wife and Gos. Thom. have the same spelling (i.e., NAEI). In addition, the forger’s redactional tendencies, namely switching third-person pronouns from masculine to feminine (lines 2, 5, 7) and attempting to invert affirmative / negative statements  (lines 5 and 6), can be identified. The forger has also inadvertently included several tell-tale peculiarities in grammar and spelling that reveal the modern origin of Gos. Jes. Wife.

The forger’s “fingerprints” are discernible in every line of text that has more than one word in it. In line 1, the forger has reproduced a typographical error from Grondin’s Interlinear (the omission of a direct object marker) and a line break from NHC II. The second line has been copied verbatim from Gos. Thom. 12, except the forger has changed a third-person pronoun from masculine to feminine. In line 3, the forger has used a Coptic spelling for the name “Mary” that is barely attested in antiquity but could well be derived from the English translation in Grondin’s Interlinear. In line 4, the forger has omitted a conjunction (JE) that would ordinarily be expected, probably as the result of a line break in NHC II. Line 5 contains a simple inversion of a negative phrase found in Gos. Thom. 55, and the forger has switched its subject from masculine to feminine. Once the intended text of line 6 is recognized, it seems clear that a forger tried to compose the line of Coptic while thinking in English; relying on the translation in Grondin’s Interlinear, the forger attempted to transform an affirmative statement from Gos. Thom. 45 into a negative version but made a pair of grammatical errors in the process (i.e., two verbal prefixes modifying a single infinitive; a non-definite noun modified by a relative). In line 7, the forger has merely rearranged text from Gos. Thom. 29 and 30, switching a masculine pronoun to its feminine equivalent (for the third time in seven lines) in an effort to mask the identity of his or her source.

In the end, only a single Coptic word in Gos. Jes. Wife could not have been copied directly from Gos. Thom. This word, which instantly transformed Gos. Jes. Wife into an international sensation, appears near the center of the small papyrus fragment. It is a compound of a possessive article and feminine noun that could easily have been formed by anyone using Grondin’s Interlinear and the most widely available Coptic-English dictionary in the world: TAHIME (“my wife”).
Renewed thanks to Andrew for making this clear and convincing study available.

Gospel of Thomas Movie

Thanks to Ben Blackwell for pointing this one out (and also for plugging the all-too-often-forgotten BBC / HBO The Passion).   It's a new dramatized version of the Gospel of Thomas, and it's rather good:

It is perhaps a bit much to call it a "movie", but it is nice to have the text acted out with Jesus as a talking head, and occasional others also appearing (e.g. Jessica Taylor as Salome at the 26 minute mark is great!), and with some nice ethereal music.  It captures the mood of the Gospel of Thomas very well.

The translation used is Nicholas Perrin's.

The Youtube version above features the "Western" Jesus Christ (their terms), played by Duncan Rennie.  The "gentle" term added there relates to the tone used by Jesus in this version.  Somewhat remarkably, you can also get Jesus to speak "Mezzo" or "Passionate" by going to the website below!

Gospel of Thomas (Morphic Media TV)

The "Passionate" version is also available on Youtube here:

The main site also features a version with a "Semitic" Jesus (their terms) played by Daud Shah.  Just select "Semitic" at the bottom of the page.  I must admit that I am a bit more partial to the "Semitic" Jesus (who is not actually "Christ" in Thomas, for what it's worth).  As far as I can tell, the "Semitic" Jesus only speaks in the one way -- he is not available in Gentle / Mezzo / Passionate alternatives.

The Semitic Jesus version is also not yet available on Youtube, but I hope they make it available at some point so that more will find it there too.

This Morphic Media website is pretty remarkable -- you can even go directly to particular sayings, and control things in other ways.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Michael Pahl and the Disgrace of Cedarville University

I would like to join my voice with the many others who have expressed their dismay at the actions of Cedarville University in relieving Dr Michael Pahl of his teaching duties.

It is a decision that reflects very badly on Cedarville University and I would like to express my opinion of this in the strongest terms and say that it is a disgrace. Not only is Michael Pahl an outstanding scholar, a true star of the future, but he is also a faithful, devoted evangelical Christian whose character and commitment are without blemish.

Michael is a former doctoral student of mine and one of the most outstanding students I have had the pleasure of working with. While there is no doubt in my mind that Michael will go on to better and greater things at an institution that appreciates his gifts, it is nevertheless a bitter disappointment to see Cedarville behaving in such an appalling manner.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Richard Bauckham on Yose

I am delighted to be able to post the following article here:

Note: This article consists of edited extracts from a much longer study of the name Joseph in the Late Second Temple period (not yet published). I am making this version available now in view of the recent on-­‐line articles by Eldad Keynan and James Tabor, already discussed on Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog, and the imminent publication of the collection of essays on Talpiyot Tomb A (edited J. H. Charlesworth).
I begin with a summary of the occurrences of the short forms of the name Joseph in the relevant sources, based on my own collection of the data, which is now the fullest and most up-­‐to-­‐date available.
Update (3 Nov.): Comment from Eldad Keynan.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Talpiot Tomb: "The names are common"

In a recent blog post, The Names in the Talpiot “Jesus Tomb” are Not Common: The Latest on Yoseh, James Tabor says that some critics have responded to his case with retort, "The names are common":
The most common response to my hypothesis is the assertion that “The names in this tomb are extremely common.” The implication is that this particular “Jesus,” namely “Yeshua son of Yehosef,” is simply one of many of the time, and he, along with his family members: Yoseh, Mariah, Mariamene/Mara, Matyah, and Yehudah could be any one of dozen of families with names like these. Accordingly, we are told,  there is no good argument that this particular Jesus was our own Jesus of Nazareth.
Tabor goes on:
The names are common. I could not count the times I have heard this–not only from the media but from trusted and well qualified colleagues who should know better–among them Amos Kloner, Tal Ilan, Eric Meyers, Jodi Magness, Bart Ehrman, Mark Goodacre, Stephen Pfann, Chris Rollston, Jonathan Reed, Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, Richard Bauckham–to name a few–all of whom have written or commented widely on the “Talpiot Jesus tomb” thesis. This refrain, repeated endlessly like a mantra, and picked up by hundreds of bloggers, reporters, and media spokespersons, seems to have “won the day” so to speak.
And he adds, "The problem is that this assertion is demonstrably untrue" (emphasis original).  The others mentioned in this paragraph can of course speak for themselves, but I have never used the argument "The names are common"; still less have I repeated it "endlessly like a mantra".

In fact my point is a completely different one, that a case like the one made by Tabor and Jacobovici requires remarkable correlation.  But what we have is a case contaminated by non-matches and contradictory evidence.  I have attempted to explain the point in a variety of ways, including utilizing the Beatles analogy they themselves like to use (The Talpiot Tomb and the Beatles).

Tabor links to a new article by Eldad Kenyon on Bible and Interpretation  that illustrates my point about correlation.  Kenyon begins the article as follows:
Among the Talpiot Tomb A (henceforth - TT) names, one name draws wide scholarly attention: the Aramaic\Hebrew יוסה (Yoseh), which the synoptic gospels tell us is the name of one of the brothers of Jesus. It is for that reason that Yoseh, a Jewish name of the Second Temple Era, has taken on a pivotal role in the debate over the TT. 
But "the synoptic gospels" do not tell us this.  Mark 6.3 speaks of Joses, Matt. 13.55 of Joseph (see further my blog post on the topic).  Now of course we may want to stress that Mark, as the earlier work, is preferable here.  But if we do stress that point, then we must also stress the Marcan forms of other names allegedly paralleled the tomb.  This means jettisoning the always problematic idea that "Mariamēnē" (Hippolytus, Acts of Philip) is a peculiarly appropriate way of referring to Mary Magdalene; instead, we must insist on Mark's "Maria".

The argument is not that "the names are common".  It is that we cannot cherry-pick the data and ignore contradictory evidence if we wish to insist on impressive correlations.

The Bible Series, History Channel, 2013

In Spring next year, History Channel will be airing a new ten-part series entitled The Bible.  It dramatizes key narratives from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and it is executive produced by Mark Burnett (The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice) and Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel).  It is produced by Lightworkers Media.  There are short Wikipedia and IMDB entries which will no doubt get expanded as the air date approaches.

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are now discussing the series in interviews, one of the most informative of which is found here on

. . . . "I know it's epic, and I think it will be the must-watch event of the spring," she adds. "You'll see the Red Sea parted with the latest special effects that are available. We have Hans Zimmer creating the score ... We have Noah, we have Abraham, we have Moses. We have Jesus walking on water. We have scenes coming to life in extraordinary ways. Yes, it's going to be a faith journey, but it's also going to be really exciting and dynamic television."
The article mentions the sensitive nature of the undertaking and their discussions with scholars and theologians:
She and Mark are well aware they're treading on controversial ground, no matter how their Bible depiction is done. "But you have to step out there," she says. "We are stepping out together, and I'm sure people will hurl what they want to hurl. But it is being made with full hearts. We've had scholars and theologians help. We're not pretending to be biblical experts. We brought experts in once the scripts were created to take a look at the scripts to make sure we were accurate and true to the Bible, but obviously we're making a movie, and so we breathed creative expansion into that."
I should perhaps mention that I have been involved as a consultant on this project, and so there is some self-interest in my promotion of what is, I think, a fantastic production.  I look forward to chatting about it here some more when it is released next year.

The Jesus' Wife Fragment and the Transformation of Peer Review?

In a thoughtful blog post, Le véritable scoop de «l’Evangile de la femme de Jésus»: la transformation des normes de publication académique (peer-review) (poor translation here), Claire Clivas argues that this represents an important moment in the history of peer review in the humanities:
 . . . . le point le plus intéressant de cet épisode médiatique est sans doute son impact en termes de culture digitale, et la transformation qu’il annonce du système «peer-review» des articles scientifiques en sciences humaines, pilier sans faille du débat et de la promotion académique.
. . . . the most interesting point in this episode is probably its impact in terms of digital culture. It forecasts and figures the transformation of the peer-review process of scientific articles in the humanities, a strongly established point in scholarly life.
The post is all worth reading.  What I think makes the recent episode unique, though, is its peculiar half-way house between traditional peer review and online publication.  When the discovery was announced, I was delighted to see that the draft of the article had been made available for experts alongside FAQs for the general reader.

But what makes this episode unusual is the apparent change from a firm "forthcoming" in the first published draft ("Forthcoming Harvard Theological Review 106:1, January 2013", bottom right of every page) to the  more tentative "provisionally accepted" in the second published draft ("Provisionally accepted by Harvard Theological Review", bottom right of every page).  I don't recall having seen anything like this before, an article at first apparently accepted and scheduled for publication and subsequently provisionally withdrawn.

What has become more common in recent years has been the publication of drafts of articles before they have been submitted to journals, something that turns the wider public into an extension of the conference audience, able to comment on, criticize and refine work in progress.  I've often done that myself, but I then withdraw the article from public view at the point when I submit for peer review.

What is also becoming increasingly common is the publication on the internet of articles that are actually "in press" in the journal in question.  JBL, for example, allows authors of scheduled in-press articles to pre-publish on their own websites.

I think the recent episode, on the other hand, is unprecedented in its half-way house status, between the publication of drafts of work in progress and the pre-publication of in-press work.  I suspect, therefore, that this is not a transformative moment in the history of peer review and the digital humanities, but rather something quite unusual.  The media spotlight and extensive coverage has surely also made this episode quite unlike any other.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frank Moore Cross, NY Times Obituary

I'd like to join with the many others who have expressed their appreciation for the work of Frank Moore Cross who died last week.  The New York Times has an obituary:

Frank Moore Cross, Biblical Scholar, Dies at 91
By William Yardley
Frank Moore Cross, an influential Harvard biblical scholar who specialized in the ancient cultures and languages that helped shape the Hebrew Bible and who played a central role in interpreting the Dead Sea Scrolls, died on Tuesday in Rochester. He was 91.
The obituary is very well done, and I particularly enjoyed reading the note that "Dr. Cross often sequestered himself in his study at home until late into the night".

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gospel of Jesus' Wife Fragment: the Discussions Continue

Discussions about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment, some academic, others a little less so, have continued over the last week, several of them focusing on Andrew Bernhard's article and my related blogpost.  Both have been picked up by the press in recent days, and James McGrath has another of his great round-ups, with a characteristically witty title, Obituary for Jesus' Wife.  Today the latest developments have been covered by Fox News, among others.

I don't have any fresh information to share at this point except to draw attention to a helpful comment tonight from Kevin Madigan, co-editor of the Harvard Theological Review, to the following effect:
Professor King has informed us that she is making arrangements to submit the fragment for extensive testing, and the specialists she has contacted have indicated that testing, with the specific expertise needed to produce and interpret reliable results, will possibly take several weeks, if not months. Yes, HTR has postponed publication of the article, so that she will be able to incorporate results of the testing. In the interests of furthering scholarly debate, we are waiting on the testing.
Madigan was commenting on an article by Hershel Shanks that appeared in the Biblical Archaeology Society's Bible History Daily that was critical of the journal's decision to postpone the publication of the article.

A couple of reflections on the broader discussion as it has developed over the last week or so.  It is sometimes suggested that asking questions about the authenticity of the fragment is in some way inappropriate or insulting to Karen King.  On the contrary, Karen King was the first to ask these questions, they form a key element in her draft article, and she has herself encouraged continued questioning.  This is simply a necessary part of the academic process when new discoveries come to the light, and it is always a keen question in relation to unprovenanced texts and artifacts.  Asking the questions, studying the evidence, discussing different ideas -- this is what scholars do all the time.  And as I have repeatedly said, Karen King is beyond reproach in this affair.  It ought to go without saying that she is an outstanding scholar who has made massive contributions to the field.  She is in fact a role model for many of us.

Another theme that has emerged in some discussions has been a kind of dualism between "science" and textual study, with the suggestion that "science" alone will be able to settle the question of authenticity, and that textual scholarship is a kind of parlour game that can be played by anyone.  The way that scholarship actually works is as a collaborative enterprise, in which different scholars study the evidence, talk to one another, try out ideas, put forward hypotheses and test them.  Physical examination of manuscripts has a very important role to play in discussions like this, but it is one part of the discussion, not inately superior to the work done by experts on Coptology, papyrology, textual criticism, source criticism and so on.

The difficulty with scholarship in this generation is that we are still finding our feet.  Most of us are digital immigrants who were not brought up with the internet, still less with blogging and social media.  So there are always going to be contributions that are -- shall we say? -- a little unhelpful.  But to the extent that scholarship is a collaborative, interdisciplinary business,  the internet has facilitated fantastic advances in cases like this, where many pairs of eyes, from people with different areas of expertise, all over the world, are able to make their own contributions to a debate.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery

Just when you might have thought that the story of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was dying down, there is another twist in the tale.  Andrew Bernhard has just published the following piece:

How The Gospel of Jesus' Wife Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal

I am going to cut to the chase and offer an "executive summary" of what I regard as the most important contention::

Line 1 of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment copies a typo from a website interlinear of Coptic Thomas

And now a little more detail.  One of the difficulties with the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment is that it appears to be dependent, on every line, on words and phrases from our one extant Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas (See Francis Watson's articles; see too Leo Depuydt's forthcoming report; see also Andrew Bernhard).  The difficulties that this poses for the authenticity of the fragment are serious (see my reflections).

Now, one of the questions that this has raised is how a forger might have gone about his or her business.  A week or so ago, Andrew Bernhard raised the intriguing possibility that the forger might have been dependent not on a printed edition of Coptic Thomas, as many of us had thought, but on Michael Grondin's Interlinear Coptic-English Translation of the Gospel of Thomas.

For a while, this was no more than an interesting piece of speculation.  But in the interest of exploring it further, I raised questions on the Gospel of Thomas e-list about places where the fragment might show knowledge of Grondin's Interlinear, including the dropped ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke) before ⲡⲱⲛϩ (PWN2, "life") on the first line of the fragment.  This is an oddity that was difficult to fathom.  Why was the fragment's author missing out this direct-object marker, especially if he was dependent on Coptic Thomas which includes it?

I must admit that I never thought to look at the page-by-page PDFs, looking instead only at the web version.   But yesterday, Mike Grondin himself made a telling observation on the Gospel of Thomas e-list.  While the level of accuracy in Mike's excellent website is very high, there is one place in the PDFs where he has a typographical error, and the error corresponds precisely to the same oddity in the Jesus' Wife fragment -- it is the missing ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke) before ⲡⲱⲛϩ (PWN2, "life") on the first line of the fragment.

Please take a look.  This is a close up of the first line of the Jesus' Wife fragment, focusing in on that odd missing ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke).  Look at the top line:

Close up of the top right hand corner of the Jesus Wife Fragment showing NAEIPW[N2] --  missing ⲙ̅ (M + supralinear stroke) between iota and pi.

And here is a close up of Mike Grondin's Interlinear (PDF version) of Coptic Thomas 101.

Close up of Mike Grondin's Interlinear Coptic Thomas PDF featuring a typo -- missing M

It should read ⲛⲁⲉⲓ ⲙ̅ⲡⲱⲛϩ (NAEI MPWN2), which is what is in Coptic Thomas.  But here there is a simple typographical error -- the ⲙ̅ (+ supralinear stroke) is missing, just as it is in the Jesus' Wife fragment.

Is this the smoking gun?  It certainly looks like the author of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment betrays his or her knowledge of Mike Grondin's interlinear by reproducing this one, rare typographical error, resulting in strange Coptic.

I was happy to spend some time chatting about this yesterday with Andrew Bernhard who made the original suggestion two weeks ago that this might be a forgery based on Grondin's Interlinear.  Andrew has now worked the suggestion up into an incisive and very helpful article, posted this morning, which features a discussion also of other possible examples of the fragment's dependence on Grondin's interlinear.

There are more things I would like to discuss, but in the interest of focusing on the key point, I am going to limit this post to this telling point.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Divorcing Mrs Jesus - Leo Depuydt's Report

Not long after posting Francis Watson's articles on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, I was privileged to get the chance to read an article by Prof. Leo Depuydt of Brown University which sheds further doubt on the authenticity of the fragment, and in a piece written completely independently of Watson.

One of the students at Brown has written a clear piece that introduces the fragment and then explains Prof. Depuydt's involvement:

Divorcing Mrs. Jesus
Mary-Evelyn Farrior
. . . . . Professor Leo Depuydt sits in his barren office in the Egyptology Department building at Brown, proud to be playing the role of scholarly detective. Depuydt leaves no room for question. To him the answer is obvious: the fragment is a forgery.  Upon reading the article in the Times, Depuydt cautioned The Harvard Theological Review: “I said literally [in an email to the HTR], ‘The danger of making a fool of oneself is real’.” Taking Depuydt’s comment to heart, The Harvard Theological Review solicited a counter-report from him. Within a matter of days, Depuydt had compiled an independently researched, comprehensive, 14-page report, denouncing any chance of authenticity.  “There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the text … is a patchwork of words and phrases from the published and well-known Coptic Gospel of Thomas… It is therefore clear that the Text is not an independent literary composition at all,” Depuydt wrote in his report. King acknowledged the Gospel of Thomas, but only to the extent that it offers certain phrases similar to those in the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.’
In his report, Depuydt shows, blow by blow, that the vast majority of the text is directly taken from the Gospel of Thomas, and clumsily at that. So careless are the grammatical errors that Depuydt postulates, “An ancient native speaker of Coptic who can select and combine words and phrases from the Gospel of Thomas with any understanding could not possibly have produced said grammatical blunders.” Depuydt believes the author is a modern forger, possibly someone intending the controversial marital reference to be tongue-in-cheek. Nothing is known about the forger, but Depuydt suspects the forger may have come out of Germany: “We [Depuydt and a friend] are focusing on Germany and specifically Berlin because that is where the piece first turned up. But no success so far. The forger’s Coptic is not good. So it could be someone in the periphery of scholarship who never became a scholar.”
The article is all worth reading, of course.  I have just excerpted the pieces of greatest interest above.  It concludes with the note that "Depuydt’s report is set to print in The Harvard Theological Review in January 2013, alongside King’s report and a rebuttal by King if the ink tests prove inconclusive."

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Brick Bible

For about ten years now, The Brick Testament website has been online, with sometimes amusing, sometimes poignant illustrations of Biblical scenes.  The author, Brendan Powell Smith, has now produced a comic book version of the Bible using his lego illustrations.  The Old Testament was released last year and now he has completed work on the New Testament.  Time Magazine has an enjoyable interview with the author:

The Brick Bible: Turning Jesus Stories into Lego Scenes

All worth reading, but one particular highlight:
How do you pick out a Lego Jesus?
It is interesting to see the number and variety of Lego faces and hair that have really exploded since I started working on this 10 years ago. There was just one smiley face until the mid-90s, so starting in 2001 it was a little limited. When creating God and Jesus, I just looked at using Star Wars and Harry Potter [sets]. Jesus is Qui-Gon Jinn and the robe is an Obi Wan Kenobi robe. God was a tricky one. I had a white beard from a medieval set, stern looking eyebrows from a samurai master set and a white torso and flowing white robe. For God’s hair—at the time I didn’t have any white hairpieces and I didn’t think God would look right bald—I ended up taking a white space helmet and carving the bangs for hairline and that became God’s hair.
A footnote: British readers of the article will be struck by a difference between American English "legos" and British English plural "lego".

In Support of Christopher Rollston and Academic Integrity

I would like to express my gratitude to many colleagues and friends who have rallied in support of Prof. Christopher Rollston at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, and I would like to add my name to those protesting against the way that he is being treated by his institution.   For those unfamiliar with the details of the case, please see James McGrath's helpful post In Support of Christopher Rollston, which provides some context as well as many links to those who are similarly writing in support of Prof. Rollston.

As far as I am concerned, it simply beggars belief that a scholar of the stature of Prof. Rollston should be the subject to disciplinary proceedings for calmly and eloquently expressing his views on an issue that is important in both the academy and the church.  I think it is unacceptable that honest, erudite and carefully considered views like this should be regarded as damaging to the reputation of an academic institution like Emmanuel.

Earlier today I read an article on the topic by Prof. Paul Blowers on the Bible and Interpretation website and I have to admit that I was particularly upset by the following remark:
My criticism has focused not only on the imbalanced nature of this essay, which enjoys a huge public audience, but the lack of circumspection in putting something so un-nuanced into the public domain with no consideration of its reflection back on the integrity of the institution which Dr. Rollston serves.
What I find so troubling is the idea that Prof. Rollston's work reflects negatively on "the integrity of the institution".  On the contrary, the writing of an honest, thoughtful piece like this in fact reflected extraordinarily well on the integrity of the institution -- or so I had thought.

Without integrity, academics have nothing.  Wherever one is located, whether in university or seminary, academic honesty is everything.  It's not easy being a scholar of religion in a secular world.  The honest expression of nuanced views on a difficult topic in this context should be welcomed.  The idea that they might lead to disciplinary action is reprehensible.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Lost Gospels on All Things Considered

Yesterday's All Things Considered on BBC Wales featured an excellent discussion of "Lost Gospels".  It began with a discussion of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife and goes on to discuss Noncanonical Gospels more broadly.  You can download the podcast here; and this is the main podcast page:

All Things Considered: Lost Gospels

One of the guests is Simon Gathercole, who has recently published The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Jesus Criteria Conference Day 2, live blog, #JesusCriteria

It's day two of the conference in Dayton, Ohio on Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity. Details about the live feed and the programme are found in my previous post and here:

Conference Schedule

Conference Live Feed

Today is a full day, beginnng at 8.30 in the morning, so in a sense we are only one third of the way through the conference at this stage.  I have just realized that today's live blog is going to be more spotty than yesterday's because I am on the programme three times today, for the first time in a moment.

First up is Loren Stuckenbruck, talking about the criterion of Semitic influence. It is nice to hear him presenting in what he calls a "discursive" way, with some autobiography.  He mentions that he has a mistake in the chapter in that he refers to "Palestine" and that he should not be using that term for the first century.  Quick pic. of Loren Stuckenbruck in action:

My response should last for ten minutes or so.  After me comes John Poirier, also responding to Stuckenbruck. Live blog is paused for a while.

With my response to Loren Stuckenbruck's paper done, it's back to live blogging.  After my response, John Poirier also responded to Loren's paper, focusing mainly on Maurice Casey's particular use of the criterion. Loren then took some questions from the audience, and we had a half an hour coffee break.

First up after the break is Dale Allison.  As far as I am concerned, this is the keynote paper of the conference.  He is speaking autobiographically about his own use of the criteria in the past, and his disillusionment with them.  He speaks with authority and not like the scribes.  It's a great presentation and he gets a good laugh when he tells us that he told his wife, after writing Constructing Jesus, that he was done with Jesus.

Chris Keith is now responding; he says that it is difficult to provide a critique of a paper that is largely autobiographical.  Dale Allision has sat down at the front at the table and presumably both respondents will sit down next to him in a moment.

Chris Keith says that he does not know of anyone who utilizes the criterion of multiple attestation when they are discussing the resurrection.  I am wondering about Tom Wright, but I don't think I got that far in his 900 page book.

Chris has just mentioned my contribution to the book with respect to the pedagogical usefulness of the criteria.  He also mentions that I said to him that every year I teach them, and every year I believe in them less and less.   He suggests now that we prescribe the book for class.

Excellent response from Chris Keith, lively and right to the point  And I agreed with most of it.

Anthony Le Donne is now responding and he begins by quoting James McGrath's concern that they might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Joel Watts is also live-blogging the conference, and he very kindly plugs my new book too, so that was money well spent.

Anthony Le Donne concludes an entertaining response by speaking of sweat and humility and how they can achieve some results.

It's the Q&A now, beginning with Dale Allison's responses to Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne.  Nice to hear Dale Allison responding to Michael Barber's question submitted online.  Nice feeling that there is a broader audience out there!  Here's a pic of Allison, Le Donne and Keith in this Q&A session:

Barry Schwartz is asking a question that reminds me a little of the old cartoon, "We'd now like to open the floor to shorter speeches disguised as questions".

This live blog ceased for an hour between 11 and 12 while I took part in a "Round Table" discussion with Dale Allison, Loren Stuckenbruck and Dagmar Winter, and chaired by Anthony Le Donne, sitting at that blue-clothed table that you see above photographed earlier.  Then lunch and now the afternoon session begins with Anthony Le Donne speaking about the criterion of coherence.  He's the first speaker to use a nice visual aid.  I'll try to get a pic:

Anthony says that the PCC (Perrin criterion of coherence) is completely bankrupt and needs to go away.  Here's his graphic for Perrin:

Anthony talks about the "two columns" of authentic and inauthentic and explains his problems with this way of saying things, including the multitude of different cognitive states that these things go through.  If I get the chance to ask the question, I want to question whether historical Jesus scholars are using "two columns", one for authentic and one for inauthentic.  Is it not a bit more nuanced than that?  Even the Jesus Seminar has shades of grey (literally) and shades of pink.

Dagmar Winter is presenting now her piece which deals with the criterion of dissimilarity.  She begins with a humble statement about how she feels that she is dining out on a good idea that she had twenty years ago, in the book she co-wrote with Gerd Theissen, The Quest for the Plausible Jesus. She also pays tribute to Eugene Boring who translated the book.  She goes on with a delightful analogy from a BBC story about whether or not Italian food has "lost its authenticity".  Here's a pic:

Joel Watts continues to live blog the conference too and includes this nice pic. from the round table discussion earlier, from left to right: Anthony Le Donne, Dagmar Winter, me, Loren Stuckenbruck, Dale Allison:

But back to the matter at hand, Dagmar Winter suggests that the value of the term "plausibility" is that it reminds us of the relative nature of the enterprise, in which certain elements are more or less plausible.  She ends with a nice line about the value of Jesus research when it is conceptualized as "a quest and not a conquest".

Jens Schröter is responding to the two papers.  I must admit that the fact that my own presentation is looming is making it harder for me to concentrate at this point. Schröter is now summing up. It looks like there won't be much time for questions though Anthony Le Donne and Dagmar Winter are sitting at the blue table ready to be joined by Dr Schröter.

Oh, look at me, I'm asking a question! I didn't see that coming.  Well, I did really; it's something I've wanted to ask -- about the idea that we are separating things into "two columns" (cf. above). Nice answer by Anthony Le Donne, who points to Sanders, and that's always going to go down well with me.

I'm going to go off-line for a bit now because my paper is coming up soon.

Rafael Rodriguez did a nice job summarizing his paper on the criterion of embarrassment, and then I spent a little time presenting my stuff on the criterion of multiple attestation.  Loren Stuckenbruck responded; we had a few questions and then broke for tea.

The conference is almost over now.  It's the final round table discussion, this one featuring Jens Schröter, Chris Keith, Barry Schwartz and Rafael Rodriguez.  The audience has thinned out a bit and the live feed has now finished.  But the live blog goes on!

Chris Keith answers a question about the future of Historical Jesus research and he says that he avoids using the word "historical" in front of "Jesus".  We don't, after all, talk about the historical Abraham Lincoln, etc.; we just use their names.

Joel Watts has continued to live blog too.

Barry Schwartz pours cold water on the idea that there is anything at stake here.  He doesn't like talk of a paradigm shift and he does not see any clashes, no theoretical advances.

4.20pm: conference is over!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Jesus Criteria Conference Live Blog, #JesusCriteria

The good news is that there is WiFi here at the Dayton Conference on Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity, and I have my blogging machine with me, so I'm going to have a go at live-blogging.  I'll keep updating under this same blog title, so you'll have to refresh to see the latest.  Or follow #JesusCriteria on twitter for the latest.

Arrived at South Park United Methodist Church for the conference, with lots of friendly greetings on the way in, after a nice burrito for lunch at a place called Chipotle.

It's strange having a conference in a church building.  Don't think I can recall having done this before. It is making people behave a little differently, speaking a little more quietly, walking a little more reverentially and so on.  I wonder if it will end up making me less inclined to say something naughty?

David Watson introduced the conference; Anthony Le Donne then speaks about the topic, with some nice reflections on the meaning of "authenticity" in different quarters.  He introduces his co-convenor, Chris Keith, who is now speaking about problems with the criteria of authenticity.

Chris Keith has some great autobiography.  He notes how he found out that this great new idea he had had were anticipated by Morna Hooker -- and forty years ago!

Here's Chris Keith speaking:

Chris explains his view that the criteria are just form criticism under a different heading.

I should of course mention that you can watch the conference on live streaming here.  I've just checked out the link and it looks like it's working well.  It's a UStream feed so you can discuss it on Fb and all the rest.

Chris says that he doesn't want to pick on Anthony Le Donne because he's had a rough year!  Mentions witch-hunts and pitchforks.  But he engages critically with Le Donne's hopes to find a continued role for the criteria.

And the full conference programme is here, by the way.

2.45pm: The conference is racing along.  Within the first hour and we are already seeing the fourth face at the front, Dr Jens Schröter.  He is introduced by Anthony Le Donne, who says that his work is the reason he learned to read German!  Dr Schröter apologizes for the fact that we have to "endure" his German accent.  As far as I am concerned, it is more than compensated for by the fine red shirt he is wearing, with a mellow, darker tie.

Time for another pic. This one shows Dr Schröter but I've taken it a little further back so that you can get the whole church vibe that is going on here:

Actually, it looks like Dr Schröter  is a fan of sporting red shirts. Interesting critique of Crossan's attempt to present a coherent picture of the Historical Jesus, which he regards as having failed.  Words used in his paper include ""bifurcation", "etymological presuppositions" and "objective historiography".  I don't think I'd have been able to say the German equivalents so clearly.

As usual on such occasions, we are already a bit behind schedule. But Anthony Le Donne makes an adjustment to the schedule on the fly. I'd be inclined to chair things a bit more formally, though,or tomorrow's schedule is going to be tough since things are a bit tighter.

A representative from Logos Bible Software, Victor Dela Cruz, is demonstrating the delights of Logos Bible Software.  He mentions that one can be standing in the queue at the supermarket (AmE: in line at the grocery store) and access the Nag Hammadi Library.  Nice illustration.  Of course, I don't need to have the delights of Logos sold to me.

After an hour's break from 3.30--4.30, we are now resuming with responses to Chris Keith, Anthony Le Donne and Jens Schröter.  First up is Dale Allison.  Great comment about how Gerd Lüdemann once told him in a debate that he (Lüdemann) was indeed a scientist and that he had no use for the imagination.

Allison thinks that Jesus' father was called Joseph but not on the basis of the historicity of this story or that in the Synoptics. He also talks about the effortless use of the criteria in his earlier book on the historical Jesus -- it enabled him to deal with the issues in a speedy way and move on to what he really wanted to talk about.  He is now a better historian and so has no real criticism of Keith's and Schröter's essays.

Dale Allison brief, clear, to the point and a nicely composed piece, with several good laughs of recognition. He has now sat down and Dagmar Winter is responding.  Quite a theological response and one that I would need to spend a little more time digesting -- she speaks about worldviews and ends with a comment about "taking the incarnation seriously".

Both Allison and Winter keep well within allotted time, which is promising for the prospect of discussion later.  Barry Schwartz is the third responder.  He is not one of the authors in the volume, so it is a good chance to get another perspective. He has banged the lectern a few times.

Twenty minutes left for discussion. Anthony Le Donne invites Chris Keith to respond to all three, and then there will be Jens Schröter, and then some time for questions from the floor.  Chris Keith comments on his plan to get Barry Schwartz behind a Christian pulpit and notes how he banged the lectern like the best of them.

Schröter now responding too.  He helpfully asks Dagmar Winter what adding the word "criterion" does to "criterion of plausibility", which should produce some useful discussion.  Mind you, time is running away and Schröter has taken ten minutes to respond to the responders.  In my view, perhaps a mistake not to have a formal chair sitting up front with everyone to direct the discussion.

Ooh, online question from Michael Barber!  Asks about third quest, and Dale Allison says that the term needs to be abandoned (in line with his published work on this, with which I wholeheartedly agree).  Another online question about social memory.

It's 5.30 and so the end of the this afternoon's proceedings.  Great first afternoon, but looking forward to more tomorrow, and especially the chance for some discussion.

Jesus Criteria Conference begins today -- and you can watch live!

I'm in Dayton, Ohio, for the conference on Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity, organized and led by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, and featuring also Dale Allison, Rafael Rodriguez, Jens Schroeter, Loren Stuckenbruck and Dagmar Winter.

I have brought my blogging machine with me and I hope to blog trough the conference. I also have my tweeting machine too, so will live-tweet too, I think with the hashtag #JesusCriteria.

The good news for those who can't be here is that it is going to be live streamed over the net here:

Conference Live Stream

Further details and full conference schedule is available over on the Jesus Blog.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife Latest

I realize that the story is now beginning to die down, and that large parts of the media are saying, "Nothing to see here; move on, move on", but there are a few things I would like to mention before the story drops out of everyone's consciousness, not least as my time has been a bit too limited to blog about it over the last few days.  Today's Chronicle of Higher Education is already looking to learn the Lessons of Jesus' Wife, but I am not ready to give up on the story yet.

There is one post in particular that rewards careful consideration.  In addition to Christian Askeland's video, which I mentioned the other day, there is an important post by Alin Suciu and Hugo Lundhaug, On the So-Called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. Some Preliminary Thoughts (and see also the comments and the fresh post on a Peculiar Dialectical Feature).
For full round-ups of the latest material, James McGrath has continued with his excellent summaries and comments in Dating Jesus' Wife, and he also published a parody of Watson's article by Timo Panaanen.  All of his posts the topic can be found here.

It was interesting to see how the cumulative weight of the sceptical reaction from among many scholars was enough to cause some serious questioning of the fragment's authenticity.  At one stage, it looked like Harvard Theological Review were pulling back on the publication of Karen King's article originally scheduled for January 2013 but the confusion about this was eventually clarified with a statement that underlined the provisional nature of any decision (God and the Machine, with links, and elsewhere).

Nevertheless, what did become clear was that Smithsonian Channel were also anxious about some of the scholarly reaction and decided not to air the documentary last night.  I must admit to a little disappointment not to see it, especially after all the hype, but Bob Cargill is surely right to give them kudos for putting it on hold, at least for the time being.

I must admit that my own view on the fragment has further crystallized into outright scepticism.  I am cursed with a sceptical mentality, I know, and so you do not -- of course -- want to listen to me on these things.  Heck, I don't even believe in the existence of mainstream stuff like Q, or the independence of Thomas.  But the more I spend time studying what is available on the fragment, and the more I reflect on the studies by Watson, Askeland, Suciu and Lundhaug (and others), the tougher I find it to to slay the sceptical spirit.

In fact, I was even quoted in Lisa Wangsness's excellent piece in the Boston GlobeScholars begin to weigh in on ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’, to the effect that the problem with the fragment is that it appears to be dependent not just on the Gospel of Thomas (the work) but on our Coptic Gospel of Thomas (the textual witness).

One point keeps rearing its head in all of this.  It is repeatedly said that the fragment could have been dependent on the Gospel of Thomas in antiquity, and so the parallels between the fragment and Thomas do not tell us anything about the authenticity of the fragment.  Those who are making this point have either failed fully to understand Watson's case or they are failing to articulate their own counter-argument effectively.

The difficulty is this.  Watson's analysis shows that the Jesus Wife Fragment appears to be dependent specifically on our Coptic Thomas from Nag Hammadi Codex II.  (Note: this is our only complete textual witness to Thomas.)  In other words, we are not talking about literary parallels between works composed in Greek (like Matthew and Mark or Egerton and John) but detailed parallels between one Coptic text (Jesus Wife fragment) and a Coptic textual witness of a Greek work (Coptic Thomas from Nag Hammadi).  The reason the verbatim agreements + line breaks are important is that they suggest dependence on this one specific textual witness, not on the work more broadly.

As I see it, there are two options here.  Either the author of the Jesus fragment got hold of Codex II before it went into the jar in Nag Hammadi in the late fourth century to be buried for 1500 years, or s/he got hold of it after it came out of the jar in 1945.  While we cannot rule out the possibility that s/he got hold of Codex II before it went into the jar, it is much more likely that the author got hold of it in the modern period with its multiple reproductions, in print and internet, of that one witness.

Monday, October 01, 2012

My disappointment with The Guardian

I know it's only a small thing, but for academics, the details do matter.  I have always praised the way that The Guardian, my favourite paper for many years, tries to correct errors in its articles when they are pointed out.

So when The Guardian's article on the Jesus Wife Fragment was published, I noted that it featured several errors, notably:
There are three errors in the piece; (1) "Karen King from Harvard university holds the papyrus fragment that has four words written in Coptic, which are believed to prove Jesus was married".  She does not believe that these prove that Jesus was married.  Rather, she holds that some Christians believe that this was the case in the second half of the second century.  The fragment has a lot more than "four words" too.  (2) In the second half of the article, Francis Watson is called "Martin" by mistake. (3) In Secret Mark, it is not correct that "Jesus spent the night with naked youths"; he spends the night, of the duration of this passage at least, with just one naked youth.
I also wrote to The Guardian, pointing out these errors.  I received an acknowledgement and then nothing.  Over a week later, all the errors are still present.

I know that it is naive of me to have expected The Guardian to make the requisite changes.  I know that it's not a big deal.  Heck, it's not like they plagiarized an obituary.  But I still can't help being disappointed.  It's the horrible realization that their claims to correct errors in a timely fashion, as soon as they are pointed out, is as worthless as a politician's pledge.  I wonder how often this happens?

Professor Emeritus Abraham Malherbe, New Testament scholar, dies at 82

I am grateful to Jeff Peterson for sending over this tribute to Abe Malherbe who, as many of you will have already heard, died on Friday:

Professor Emeritus Abraham Malherbe, New Testament scholar, dies at 82

The piece features a little history and several tributes from colleagues.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity Conference this week!

Speaking of Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, I should mention that the conference on Criteria in Historical Jesus research is at hand.  It takes place in Dayton, Ohio on Thursday and Friday this week and there is still time to register:

Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity

I will be there and I am planning to live blog the conference as far as possible.  It should be an excellent occasion.  I look forward to meeting some of you there too.

Update (2.54pm): the full conference schedule is available here, with thanks to Anthony Le Donne.