Thursday, April 7, 2011

Biblioblogs Push Lead Codices Story into the Top 5

According to the Pew Research Center, the story of the Lead Codices was number five among the top stories covered by bloggers. I know I posted at least seven times on the the ever more intriguing story.

Here is what the article says:

The No. 1 story, with 13% of links, was a Supreme Court decision overturning a verdict awarding $14 million to a man formerly on death row. A close second, with 12% of links, was a BBC radio piece by author Zadie Smith arguing against closing public libraries. Tied for third (9%) was a story about the creation of artificial clouds to provide shade for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and an op-ed column about the collapse of Detroit. *The final story (5%) involved photographs that may shed light on the early years of Christianity.*

Now, if only the rest of the media would read more Biblioblogs, particularly those written by people who know what they are talking about, perhaps the story would not have been given the sensational headlines it received. Then again, I suppose it was those headlines that kept the rest of us feverishly blogging.

Thanks to ECHURCH BLOG for pointing out this story.

Who is the Son of Man?

The phrase "son of man" in the gospels poses a bit of an interpretive problem for readers of the New Testament. The phrase only appears in the gospels and almost always on the lips of Jesus. Quite often readers will misunderstand the phrase as declaration that Jesus is divine. Similarly, some assume that it is a messianic term that identifies Jesus as the messiah.

Those who study the Bible in the original languages, however, soon realize that the phrase signifies neither Jesus' divinity nor his role as messiah. Rather it has a couple of different meanings depending upon the context.

Mark Goodacre has put together a short, but excellent podcast looking at seven son of man statements in the gospels. He does a good job at unpacking a difficult topic. It is part of Mark's NT Pod and I think you will learn much from it. I highly recommended it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The ongoing story of the lead codices: It is looking more and more like they are fake

Ian Paul has a nice summary of the latest intrigue and controversy swirling around the lead codices that David Elkington claims contain hereto unknown information about Jesus and early Christianity. In particular is an article in the Sunday Times by Peter Thonemann, Professor of Ancient History at Oxford University.

Thonemann was contacted by Elkington last September and asked if he would join Philip Davies and Margaret Barker as they examined the yet to be announced discovery. Here is what Thonemann has to say.

The mystical kabbalistic inscriptions on Elkington’s copper codex turned out to be mechanical copies of a line from an ancient tombstone. It is as though it carried the words: “or not to be that is the question whether”. Now, if you were looking to produce a plausible-looking sequence of letters in an ancient language, you could do worse than to pop into the British Museum, pick a stone and copy the letter-shapes. I replied to Elkington informing him that this particular “codex” was a modern forgery, produced by a resident of Amman within the last fifty years or so.

Nothing dismayed, Elkington and his colleagues seem to have decided to go ahead and publish their finds. To judge from the photos which have appeared in the press over the past week, all of these supposed early Christian codices are the product of the same Amman workshop as the book I saw last year. The forger’s repertoire is fairly predictable: pseudo-Christian symbols copied from ancient Greek and Judaean coins (palm trees, Hellenistic kings and so forth) interspersed with gibberish-inscriptions clumsily adapted from real ancient texts, Greek and Hebrew.

You can read everything that Theonemann has to say over at the Sunday Times. It looks like it will only be a matter of time before this story goes under the media's radar and the truth about the tablets, whatever that may be, will come to the light.

In the mean time what can we learn from all of this? Ian Paul offers some lessons for Christians, scholars and journalists.

Experts' Evidence for Easter

Tyndale House has produced three short videos for the Easter season. This series is billed as showing how evidence from some of the earliest biblical manuscripts confirms the events of Easter. The series is part of Tyndale House’s Resources for the Church and thus is not geared towards a scholarly audience.

I found the first film with Dirk Jongkind to be the strongest of the three presentations. The second film with Peter Williams and David Instonebrewer is the most interesting as they look at erased sections of the Talmud, although I am not sure about some of the conclusions the draw. The last film with Peter Williams is the shortest and has the least amount of content. I wish they had done more with the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection rather than just quote a few Bible verses.

In any case, here they are. Enjoy!

Experts' Evidence for Jesus' Trial

Dr Dirk Jongkind, a Research Fellow at Tyndale House, pieces together the earliest manuscript evidence for the New Testament and shows how it tells the story of Jesus' trial before Pilate.

Experts' Evidence for Jesus' Crucifixion

Dr Peter Williams and Dr David Instone Brewer look at the Munich Talmud, which contains traditional Jewish teaching, and discover how even the deleted text provides evidence for Jesus' crucifixion! They also provide a link to the Talmud page that they discuss in the video. See it here.

Experts' Evidence for Jesus' Resurrection

Dr Peter Williams gives a summary of the biblical evidence for the heart of the Christian faith - Jesus' bodily resurrection.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lead Codices: BBC Interview with David Elkington

Joel Watts posted this BBC interview with David Elkington who is the person promoting the discovery of the so-called Lead Codices. I am not sure when this interview was taped, but it was within the last week.

A few points made by Elkington that you may find to be sensational and/or uninformed.

  1. These tablets contain information about Jesus between the crucifixion and the letters of Saint Paul. Do I hear Dan Brown here?

  2. They are the most important archaeological discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls. Perhaps, no one knows yet because they have not been studied nor determined if they are real or fake.

  3. They were possibly written by descendants of the holy family. They don't mention what evidence allows them to draw this conclusion.

  4. Elkington points to the Menorah icon on the front and says "which in this period was utterly forbidden from being represented primarily because it resided in the most holy place of all, deep inside the holy of holies inside the temple." The problem with this claim, however, is that we do have what appears to be representations of the menorah in some of the Jewish homes adjacent to the temple mount. It is part of a fresco in what appears to have been someones parlor or dining room.

  5. The most bizarre claim is that the Lead piece they have on display in the interview is a sort-of Christian ID card that gets them into places of worship. Huh??

Here is the interview. Enjoy!

Did God have a wife? A four part BBC series.

You may or may not have heard about the recent BBC series The Bibles Buried Secrets in which Francesca Stavrakopoulous ask whether God had a wife. The question is based on hints in the Hebrew scriptures of an association between God and Asherah. The question received particular attention in a 1984 article published by William Dever in BASOR titled Asherah, Consort of Yahweh? New Evidence from Kuntillet Ajrud.

So the questions that Stavrakopoulous is asking are not new. But she certainly knows how to use sensationalism to sell her own take on the evidence and what it might mean for the study of the Bible.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ok, this is not only down right silly it is irresponsible. Lead Tablets Reveal Jesus was Gay.

Amid all of the hype over the lead tablets, that few have seen and more and more or concluding are fake, the Guardian puts out this bit of fantasy. Michael Ruse has a short piece in which he imagines that the tablets provide evidence that Jesus was an openly gay man. Oh yeah, Ruse has not read the tablets. But it is ok to speculate. Talk about trying to sell papers!

The whole situation has gotten out of hand with people declaring this could be the biggest find since the Dead Sea Scrolls and revealing "secret information" about Jesus. This is an irresponsible way to handle any news story whether it be the Bible, politics or a disaster. Come on people!

Here is Ruse's little fantasy. Anyone else want to "imagine" what might be in the tablets? I am hoping they will reveal the location of the Temple Scroll's buried treasure. Now that would be exciting.

The most astounding finding from the newly discovered lead codices is that Jesus Christ was unambiguously and openly gay. He and his disciples formed a same-sex coterie, bound by feelings of love and mutual support. There are recorded instances of same-sex activity – the "beloved disciple" plays a significant role – and there is affirmation of the joys of friendship and of living and loving together.

A whole new complexion is given to that rather puzzling passage where Jesus exhorts his followers to break family ties: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14, 26). It seems clear now that this is less a negative repudiation of family and more a positive exhortation to join in affirmation of a gay lifestyle and love.

There is at least one new parable, that of the two young men. There are clear echoes of the relationship between David and Jonathan, for Jesus speaks of one young man having his soul "knit with the soul" of the other, and loving him "as his own soul". Intriguing is evidence that the Catholics might be closer to the truth about the status of Mary, the mother of Jesus, than are the Protestants. She has a much bigger role in the life of Jesus than many hitherto expected, with Jesus frequently returning home and making much of her.

Conversely, there is at least one incident when Jesus quarrels violently with Joseph, who shows great hostility and makes wild claims about "manliness". Before, one might have thought that, given Mary's virginity, Joseph's attitude was reflecting the ambiguities of his status in the family; but now it seems more probable that we have here a classic example of the Freudian triangle: over-possessive mother, hostile father, gay son.

Why have we known so little about all of this before? A newly discovered Pauline epistle, appropriately to the Athenians, suggests a major Platonic influence, particularly of the Republic. The classically educated Paul, who was himself gay, saw that same-sex activity was inimical to the success of Christianity in the highly homophobic societies in which he lived. Hence, same-sex affections and activity were concealed, to be known to and practiced by only the leaders in secret – the guardians of Christianity as one might say. Obviously, this is a tradition that has flourished and lasted. It is not by chance that John Henry Newman is being made a saint.

Finally, the most important news is that nothing in the newly discovered codices challenges in any way the essential message of Christianity. Jesus was the messiah; he died on the cross for our sins; and through his death and resurrection made possible our eternal salvation. Our overriding obligation is to love God and we do this by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Christianity will never be the same again. Christianity will go on completely unchanged.

Philip Davies Comments on Lead Tablets: Says they are probably NOT fake or a hoax.

Philip Davies has posted a statement about the Lead Jesus Tablets on the Sheffield Biblical Studies blog. Davies is Professor Emeritus from Sheffield is one of the few people to actually see some of the tablets. Although still cautious, as is appropriate, he also is not yet ready to declare the tablets a hoax or forgery. Here is what he has to say.

I have now looked at about a hundred images, some of which I have shared with colleagues around the world, and I am certainly hoping to make sense of them. I have handled one. They are probably not a hoax or a forgery, but their exact origin remains mysterious. As well as decorative lettering, there is also some writing that looks as if it ought to mean something. So far it can’t be deciphered, but it may be in code.

You can/should read the rest of his statement over at the Sheffield Biblical Studies blog.

Between Fear and Faith

When I was 17 I went on backpacking trip in the Adirondack Mountains with my father. We spent five days living in a lean-to and hiking in the woods on an unsuccessful hunt for deer. We cooked over an open fire, washed in the lake and slept with shotguns, in case one of the local residents (black bear) came to visit us during the night.

One evening after dinner my father suggested that we go to an overlook area on the mountain upon which he had camped. He did not say why, he only suggested it. He also brought his gun, but told me I need not bring mine. For some reason I felt fear rising in my heart. Why did he want to leave the safety of the camp? Why could he have a gun and not I? I begin to draw parallels to my own situation and that of Isaac in Gen 22. There Abraham takes his son to a spot on a mountain with the intention of killing him. When the son asks questions, the father provides no clear purpose or answer. Yet the son followed.

As you may have guessed by now, I did in fact survive that day and my father neither inflicted nor intended to cause me any harm. But I began to wonder about that day recently. Why did that thought arise? I had no reason to be suspicious of my father’s intentions. Yet, without warning, it surfaced and caused me to wonder what was about to happen.

I suppose it surfaced because deep down, I did fear my father. Perhaps there is an element of fear in many children in relation to their parents. Their love for their parents may be predicated on their fear of them. But I also think that was the beginning of a turning point for me and the way I viewed and related to my father. I think my confidence in my relationship with him grew on that trip, and I left confident that he did not mean me any harm. Over the next 12 years our relationship grew and I don’t remember ever again feeling the irrational fear that he wanted to harm me. You might say I had faith in him.

Then he died. And now that connection, the relationship that I had seen being nurtured and changing just ended. I felt like just as we were beginning to understand each other, he died. And I was left trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all.

Since then, there have been times when I have longed to talk to my father, to ask his advice or just to have one more day with him. I suppose that is why I hold to the hope of resurrection. That someday I will see him again and perhaps then everything will make sense.

I wonder if it works that way with God. For a long time my perception of God and how God acts was based on fear. I did things because I was afraid and did not know nor wanted to find out what would happen when I displeased God. I had plenty of help with nurturing this view of God.

Then I began to study, and learn and reconsider. Eventually I no longer feared God nor worried that God was out to get me. Instead I become more confident of my knowledge about God and grew in my understanding.

Then God died. Not literally of course. But at least the way that I thought I knew God. And I was left trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all. There are times that I wish it could be like it was before I knew so much. I wish that I could be so confident, the way I was when I stopped being afraid of God. But one cannot go back so simply.

And so, I live in hope that one day I will experience a resurrection of sorts with my faith and that then, perhaps, everything will make sense. Until then, I keep trying to make sense of it all and hope that God will honor my efforts.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lead Jesus Books Fake?

I have been away for the last few days and thus not had the time to devote to blogging that I should. Nonetheless, I have been aware that while the story about the lead codices are being sensationalized by the media, bloggers, many who are also scholars, have not only been cautious but outright skeptical. It looks like it may be coming to a head.

It appears that Peter Thonemann at Oxford had a chance to look at them last year and declared them to be false. Here is what is reported to have said in an email.

The text on your bronze tablet, therefore, makes no sense in its own right, but has been extracted unintelligently from another longer text (as if it were inscribed with the words: ‘t to be that is the question wheth’). The longer text from which it derives is a perfectly ordinary tombstone from Madaba in Jordan which happens to have been on display in the Amman museum for the past fifty years or so. The text on your bronze tablet is repeated, in part, in three different places, meaningless in each case.

The only possible explanation is that the text on the bronze tablet was copied directly from the inscription in the museum at Amman by someone who did not understand the meaning of the text of the inscription, but was simply looking for a plausible-looking sequence of Greek letters to copy. He copied that sequence three times, in each case mixing up the letters alpha and lambda.

This particular bronze tablet is, therefore, a modern forgery, produced in Jordan within the last fifty years. I would stake my career on it.

You can read more about it here. Others are also less than convinced like April DeConick and Jim Davila. James McGrath has noted that there is now a Wikipedia titled Jordan Lead codices where you can read about them and the case for declaring them forgeries. Ian Paul has provided a nice summary as well.

Time will tell what exactly these are and whether or not all or some of them are forgeries. As I warned in a previous post, these are early days and those who are experts in this area need the opportunity to see and study them.