Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Busk away!

My proposal for a presentation on "Academic Busking" (based on this post) for the SBL's Biblioblogging group has been accepted! Now I just have to come up with something worth saying by November.

Monday, March 18, 2013

About the Tabor Thing

I attended a panel at SECSOR/ASOR-SE at which James Tabor, Christopher Rollston, and Mark Goodacre discussed Dr. Tabor’s new book, The Jesus Discovery, the second one he has co-written on ancient Jewish tombs he claims are connected to the family of Jesus.

The root of his argument comes from the fact that one of the ossuaries discovered at Talpiot seems to be inscribed ישוע בר יהוסף (Yeshuaʿ bar Jehoseph​=​Jesus son of Joseph). There are several other ossuaries, one inscribed with the name מריה (Mariah​=​Mary), another with יוסה (Yoseh​=​Joses), one with מתיה (Mattiyah​=​Matthew), and one with יהודה בר ישוע (Yudah bar Yeshuaʿ​=​Judah, son of Jesus). Of these, only Mariah (Mary) and Yoseh (Joses) correspond to members of Jesus’ family in the gospel accounts (his mother and brother, respectively).

When I spoke with him, I asked him how many of the names he could lose before he would change his mind. Tabor banked his entire case on the last ossuary, which is inscribed with a Greek phrase that he transcribes as ΜΑΡΙΑΜΗΝΟΥΗΜΑΡΑ.¹ Tabor reads the first part as the name Mariamne, and claims this form of the name Mariam was only ever used in reference to Mary Magdalene, in Hippolytus and in the Acts of Phillip. Even if there are lots of Jesus Josephsons, he argues, there was only one who was associated with Mary Magdalene.²

What he specifically said is that if you search the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae for “Mariamne,” those are the only hits you get. This may be technically true (at least in pre-medieval texts), but only by splitting hairs. I pointed out to him that there were several Mariamnes among the Herodians, and he responded that in the original Greek of Josephus, these are Μαριαμμη, not Μαριαμνη. This is also technically true.³

So I emailed my Acts of Phillip girl, the lovely Dr. Armstrong. (If you live your life correctly, you too can accumulate a collection of beautiful experts in various fields…) And, it turns out, there is nothing in the Acts of Phillip to indicate that the Mariamne in that work is Mary Magdalene. More importantly, some manuscripts of Acts of Phillip use the form Μαριαμμη. So not only does this shoot holes in Dr. Tabor’s contention that Mariamne only refers to Magdalene, it also shows that the forms Mariamme and Mariamne were at least sometimes conflated by the fourth century, so one can’t assume the latter form is somehow unique.

But here’s the real kicker: the name on the “Magdalene” ossuary is not Mariamne. Transliterated, it reads Mariamenou, which would be the genitive of the unattested name Mariamenon. Even if you read this as a diminutive, it would be a diminutive of Mariamene, not Mariamne. So what, you say? It’s close enough. What’s one eta between friends? Well, remember that Tabor’s assertion that the Herodian name Mariamme wasn’t the same as Mariamne was based on a single nu. He can’t have it both ways. If he wants to assert that Mariamne is a unique form only used in reference to Magdalene, then there is no reason to assume the Mariamenon in that ossuary is she.

I will end by saying that James Tabor is a very nice guy. He called me over from across the bar just to talk, and he gave me some very useful advice about how the faculty hiring process goes. I think the way he leveraged popular interest in The Da Vinci Code as a way to get funding for archaeology is terribly shrewd, and I support any attempt to include more robots in scholarship. I even think he has a point that some in our field would be reluctant to accept evidence of Jesus’ natural death if it did exist. But I’m a scholar with absolutely no vested interest in the Empty Tomb, and I still find his arguments problematic. I’d hate to think he was being disingenuous; he seemed honestly convinced that he is right, and baffled by those who don’t see it. But based on his and other blogs I've looked at since, I know he was entirely aware of the issues I just raised when I was talking to him, and yet when presenting the issue to an uninitiated, he didn’t choose to address any of the criticisms. Maybe his conviction has blinded him to the faults.

Or maybe he knows something he can’t reveal…[cue ominous music]

1. This transcription is very contested, I have since found, and while I am no epigrapher, the first thing I read when I saw images was ΜΑΡΙΑΜΕ ΚΑΙ ΜΑΡΑ (Mariame and Mara). I just don’t see a nu. People who know better than I, notably Dr. Stephan Pfann (http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/Pfann.pdf), have given the same reading. Without the nu, the already weak case utterly collapses.

2. I’m not going to re-hash the Jesus’ wife thing again. The simple fact is that there is no credible reason to think Jesus was married to Magdalene; even the late Gnostic sources never make that claim explicitly. As to whether Jesus was married to anyone, we just have no data. I could venture a guess, based on what he is quoted as saying about marriage and celibacy, but that would be only a guess.

3. Τhe Jewish Encyclopedia (s.v. Mariamne) claims that the form Μαριαμνη is attested in Medieval manuscripts of Josephus, but I can’t confirm this. Tabor was under the impression it was an error introduced by William Whiston’s classic edition.

4. He makes a similar error about the form of the name Yoseh (יוסה), which apparently is very uncommon in Aramaic inscriptions. He says that, since the name is so rare, it is unlikely that there would be another Jesus with a relative who used that name. The problem is, we don’t know what form the brother of Jesus used in Aramaic, because we only have references to him in Greek. Tabor fixates on the reference in Mark 6:3, where he is called Joses (Ιωσης, in the genitive form Ιωσητος) and not on the reference in Matthew 13:55 where he is called Joseph (Ιωσηφ). But either way, Ιωσης is not identical to יוסה, so you can’t predicate arguments about the former based upon the rarity of the latter.

5. Dr. Tabor: if the Knights Templar are holding you prisoner to prevent you from revealing the secrets of the Freemasons, blink 23 times.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Does the entire state of South Carolina walk this slowly?!

I just totally networked

Ended up talking briefly with James Tabor because he remembered my hair from the audience of his talk. I think I managed to tell him I think he's wrong without sounding like a dick.

SECSOR? I hardly know her!

My presentation went fine. There were even people there who weren't presenting. I was the only one who bothered to give a talk, rather than just read their paper with no eye contact, but they were all grad students, so I'll cut them some slack.

There was one paper on the Testament of Solomon that was really excellent, and makes me wonder why I hadn't addressed that book in my dissertation, since it alludes to the fallen angels as craftsmen.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Oh dear.

I realized last night that Greenville is in fact the home of Bob Jones University. So if you hear about someone getting burned at the stake...

Speaking of South Carolina, let me share one of the formative episodes in my position on religious freedom. I lived in South Carolina when I was a kid, and that's where I started kindergarten. They didn't know exactly what to do with me, since I was already reading at a 4th-grade level, so I ended up spending half the day in a first-grade classroom. Usually, the kindergarten teacher would come and get me before lunch, but for whatever reason, one day she didn't, so I just sat their and waited while the other kids got out their lunches.

And then the teacher had them recite the Lord's Prayer.

In a public school. In 1978.

Bear in mind that this wasn't in some backwoods town. It was in West Columbia, a suburb of the state capital.

Now, I had grown up in an entirely secular household, and I didn't know praying from a hole in the ground, so I didn't have the sense to bow my head and move my lips. When the teacher confronted me, I told her I didn't know what they were doing. In retrospect, I suspect the teacher mistook my precocious candor as disrespect. (Again, I had grown up in an environment where I was never scolded for questioning things; it took me a looooooong time to realize the rest of the world didn't work that way.)

So she rapped me on the knuckles with a ruler.

For not knowing the Lord's Prayer.

In a public school. In 1978.

I never told my parents, because, being a kid, I assumed I had actually done something wrong. It's probably just as well, because my mother would probably have the ACLU all over them, and we'd have ended up getting run out of town with torches and pitchforks. I mean, in all likelihood, I was the only non-Christian in the whole school, but still, it illustrates exactly why organized prayer in school, even "voluntary" prayer, is so terribly problematic. Where children are concerned, nothing involving an adult is ever really voluntary.

(I must say I was rather appalled to discover that they still have prayer in school in England, and while it doesn't seem to have gotten in the way of their atheism, my English ex- remembers vividly how she was ostracized because, being Jewish, she was "allowed" to stand outside during the prayer services. Ironically, in the UK, a lot of parents home-school their kids so they won't have to pray in school.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Here is the abstract for the paper I will be presenting on Saturday at the SECSOR regional meeting in Greenville, SC. It is viciously abridged from a chapter of my dissertation (poor Philo of Byblos didn't make the cut!).

(Session: AAR: History of Judaism II - Second Temple Judaism I, Sat. March 16, 9:00am in the Crepe Myrtle room)

Culture Heroes and Angelic Instruction in the Book of the Watchers: A Comparative Study

The third-century BCE Jewish apocalypse known as the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36) ascribes the origins of certain domains of human knowledge to the illicit teachings of fallen angels, who brought corruption to the antediluvian world by taking human wives and teaching them forbidden arts of metallurgy, magic, and divination. Scholars generally suppose that the instruction material was a secondary addition to an earlier interpretation of Genesis 6, in part because the elements of supernatural instruction are seen as alien to the biblically-derived elements of rebellion and punishment. This paper argues instead that the Enochic instruction tradition is an extreme reflection an ambivalence and suspicion towards the supernatural origins of knowledge that is evident in other cultures, where primordial culture-bringers are often depicted as liminal figures, monsters, or targets of divine retribution. The fire-bringing Titan Prometheus is a more ambivalent figure in the earliest Greek sources than he becomes in Aeschylus, and the Greco-Roman daimones associated with the origins of metal-working, such as the Telchines and Idaean Dactyls, are also portrayed as evil wizards and flood-bringing monsters. In the Near East, the antediluvian fish-sages of Mesopotamian myth known as Apkallū appear both as monsters subject to divine wrath and as the very source of all human knowledge. In light of this evidence, it may be necessary to reconsider the secondary position given to the instruction material in the Book of the Watchers, because the suspicion it expresses about the origins of technology is consistent with more widespread portrayals of culture heroes in antiquity.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


I am in the midst of a (rather brutal) abridgment of a chapter from my dissertation for next weekend's SECSOR conference,¹ and I was suddenly hit with a brilliant realization that would have pulled the whole thing together much more elegantly. I guess that's why we revise things. Now I just have to resist the impulse to stay up all night working the new idea out instead of finishing my presentation.

(And yes, I wrote the idea down so I won't forget it before I can get back to it. I do learn. Eventually.)

It just makes me sad that I can't spend every day working on this stuff, instead of cramming it into occasional sleepless weekends. I swear, if I didn't need health insurance...

¹  I submitted my proposal to SECSOR instead of the Mid-Atlantic SBL because their CFP was first, and by the time the M-A SBL's CFP came around, it had already been accepted. This means I have to fly down to South Carolina instead of taking a leisurely drive to Baltimore. D'oh!

Friday, March 1, 2013

SBL proposals

I submitted two paper proposals for this year's SBL. One is for the Biblioblogging group, and is based on the Academic Busking rant below. The other one—based on a seminar paper I wrote several years ago—is for the Pauline Epistles group, and it involves a reading of Galatians 3-4 from a perspective of temporal dualism and Roman adoption law. I had forgotten how good the paper was, and with a little polishing, it could be really impressive.¹

My experience at last year's SBL doesn't make me eager to go again, unless I'm presenting something, but it's in Baltimore this year, so I don't really have an excuse not to. It won't cost much, and if I need to escape, I can always just come home.

¹     It's odd how many of my best papers (and the longest chapter of my dissertation) deal with Christian sources, considering I market myself as a Hebrew Bible specialist. I mean, in reality, my specialty involves a complex of Post-Exilic-to-pre-Rabbinic-Judaism-plus-early-Christianity that nobody has come up with a good name for. But there aren't a lot of jobs in that field, for that very reason. The traditional division of disciplines is arbitrary and artificial, but persistant. I have been applying for OT/HB positions, because I am more confident of my command of that material across the board. On the NT/EC side, I have decent chops in the historical and literary aspects, and I'm very strong in a few over-specific (usually heterodox) areas, but I feel shaky on the more theological angles. It does make me wonder if, next year, I should go both ways (heh) and apply for NT/EC posts as well. I mean, the worst that can happen is they reject me, and I've had plenty of practice at that.

Submitted without comment *shudder*

Newborn Lamb Skins and the Pope’s New Shoes