Friday, January 25, 2008

Scholarly Uproar over So-Called "Lost Tomb of Jesus"

Duke New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre has posted the following statement signed by numerous reputable scholars. I thought I'd reproduce it here:
The Talpiot Tomb Controversy Revisited
A firestorm has broken out in Jerusalem following the conclusion of the “Third Princeton Theological Seminary Symposium on Jewish Views of the Afterlife and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism: Evaluating the Talpiot Tomb in Context.” Most negative assessments of archaeologists and other scientists and scholars who attended have been excluded from the final press reports. Instead the media have presented the views of Simcha Jacobovici, who produced the controversial film and book “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” with Hollywood director James Cameron, and who claims that his identification has been vindicated by the conference papers. Nothing further from the truth can be deduced from the discussion and presentations that took place on January 13-17, 2008.
A statistical analysis of the names engraved on the ossuaries leaves no doubt that the probability of the Talpiot tomb belonging to Jesus’ family is virtually nil if the Mariamene named on one of the ossuaries is not Mary Magdalene. Even the reading of the inscribed name as “Mariamene” was contested by epigraphers at the conference. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene is not referred to by the Greek name Mariamene in any literary sources before the late second-third century AD. An expert panel of scholars on the subject of Mary in the early church dismissed out of hand the suggestion that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and no traditions refer to a son of Jesus named Judah (another individual named on an ossuary from the Talpiot tomb). Moreover, the DNA evidence from the tomb, which has been used to suggest that Jesus had a wife, was dismissed by the Hebrew University team that devised such procedures and has conducted such research all over the world. The ossuary inscribed with the name “Jesus son of Joseph” is paralleled by a find from another Jerusalem tomb, and at least one speaker said the reading of the name “Jesus” on the Talpiot tomb ossuary is uncertain. Testimony from archaeologists who were involved in the excavation of the Talpiot tomb leaves no doubt that the “missing” tenth ossuary was plain and uninscribed, eliminating any possibility that it is the so-called “James ossuary.”
The identification of the Talpiot tomb as the tomb of Jesus’ family flies in the face of the accounts of Paul and the canonical Gospel, which are the earliest traditions describing Jesus’ death and burial. According to these accounts Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb of a prominent follower named Joseph of Arimathea. Since at least the early fourth century Christians have venerated the site of Jesus’ burial at the spot marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In contrast, not a single tradition, Christian or otherwise, preserves any reference to or recollection of a family tomb of Jesus anywhere in Jerusalem.
The smoking gun at the conference was the surprise appearance of Ruth Gat, the widow of the archaeologist who excavated the tomb in 1980 and has since passed away. Mrs. Gat announced that her husband had known about the identification all along but was afraid to tell anyone because of the possibility of an anti-Semitic reaction. However, Joseph Gat lacked the expertise to read the inscriptions. Jacobovici now says that Mrs. Gat’s statement has vindicated his claims about the tomb.To conclude, we wish to protest the misrepresentation of the conference proceedings in the media, and make it clear that the majority of scholars in attendance – including all of the archaeologists and epigraphers who presented papers relating to the tomb - either reject the identification of the Talpiot tomb as belonging to Jesus’ family or find this claim highly speculative.

Professor Mordechai Aviam, University of Rochester
Professor Ann Graham Brock, Iliff School of Theology, University of Denver
Professor F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Princeton Theological Seminary
Professor C.D. Elledge, Gustavus Adolphus College
Professor Shimon Gibson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Professor Rachel Hachlili, University of Haifa
Professor Amos Kloner, Bar-Ilan University
Professor Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Professor Lee McDonald, Arcadia Seminary
Professor Eric M. Meyers, Duke University
Professor Stephen Pfann, University of the Holy Land
Professor Jonathan Price, Tel Aviv University
Professor Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
Professor Alan F. Segal, Barnard College, Columbia University
Professor Choon-Leong Seow, Princeton Theological Seminary
Mr. Joe Zias, Science and Antiquity Group, Jerusalem
Dr. Boaz Zissu, Bar-Ilan University

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jesus and the Eschaton (Part 2.1.: Apocalyptic as Metaphor [Cont.])

These passages in which cosmic imagery is related to historical events mentioned above are most likely drawing from the Exodus tradition, in which the land of Egypt was shrouded in darkness immediately prior to the climactic plague of Passover that led Israel out of the land (Exod 10:21-23).[1] In fact, it is interesting to note that, with the exception of Joel 2 which describes the destruction of Jerusalem, all of the above prophecies are immediately followed by the description of the deliverance of the captives of Israel who had been exiled after the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests (Isa 14:1-2; Isa 35:1-10: Ezek 32:9-10).[2] In other words, all of these prophecies are linked with the New Exodus hope (involving the destruction of Israel’s captors and the return of the exiles to the land).

Another passage which is relevant to our discussion here is Daniel 8, which, in highly symbolic language, relates the end of the Medo-Persian kingdom (the “ram with two horns,” cf. Dan 8:20), the emergence of the Greek empire (“he-goat,” cf. Dan 8:21), and the rise Antiochus Epiphanies (cf. Dan 8:23). The sacking of Jerusalem by Antiochus is then described with cosmic language, as the stars of heaven are cast down and trampled (Dan 8:10). Significantly, although this vision clearly relates historical events, the prophet is told, הָבֵ֣ן בֶּן־אָדָ֔ם כִּ֖י לְעֶת־קֵ֥ץ הֶחָזֹֽון (Dan 8:17; RSVCE, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end”).[3]

Having alluded to these prophecies, scholars then go on to interpret Jesus’ cosmic language in the Olivet Discourse as relating to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.[4] Such a view works well since the destruction of Jerusalem is clearly in view in the immediate context. This is apparent from certain elements in the larger context of the sermon: (1) all three synoptic writers place this sermon within the context of Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matt 24:1-2//Mark 13:1-2//Luke 21:5-6); (2) Jesus clearly alludes to Daniel’s description of the Antiochus’ defilement of the temple as the “desolating sacrilege” almost a century earlier, using the term to describe an as yet future event (Matt 24:15//Mark 13:14//; cf. Dan 8:13);[5] (3) the language of a flight from Judea seems to indicate a localized disaster (Matt 24:16//Mark 13:14//Luke 21:21).[6]

Yet, despite the strengths of this position, there remain a number of problems.

[1] For further discussion, see Richard D. Patterson, “Wonders in Heaven and on the Earth: Apocalyptic Imagery in the Old Testament,” in JETS 43/3 (2000): 385-403: “As a major covenantal theme, [the Exodus’] familiar images provided a ready vehicle for the judgment and salvation oracles of the early pre-exilic prophets, especially as the two became intertwined in the prophetic kingdom oracles” (386). In addition to the darkening of the heavenly lights, Patterson mentions other imagery drawn from the Exodus traditions in the prophetic oracles including that of an earthquake (Exod 19:16, 18; cf. Judg 5:4-5; Isa 13:13; 29:6; Joel 3:16 [4:16] and the creatures of the plagues, e.g., locusts (Exod 10:3-20; Amos 4:10-11; 7:1-2; Joel 2:2-12).
[2] See Pitre who points out that restoration follows the oracles in Isaiah and Ezkeiel. Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, 335. Indeed, there are also other passages which, though not mentioning the celestial bodies per se, speak of a coming day of judgment in terms of darkness and which likewise go on to describe the restoration of Israelite captives (Isa 8:21-9:7; 60:1-22; Ezek 34:12-16; Joel 3:15-21). Again, the imagery here evokes the Exodus tradition in which Israel was delivered through a series of cataclysmic events.
[3] For more detailed explanations see John E. Goldingay, Daniel (WBC 30; Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 194-222; John J. Collins, “Temporality and Politics,” in Apocalyptic in History and Tradition (JSPSup; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2002), 29-36; Ben Witherington, Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 220-21.
[4] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 359-60; Ben Witherington, Jesus, Paul and the End of the World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 43-44.
[5] The Danielic background is further confirmed by the fact that the “desolating sacrilege” (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως) is linked with the phrase, “let the reader understand” (ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω) in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14. It should be mentioned that some have seen this phrase as an allusion to a pre-Markan “little apocalypse” source. This is the view put forth famously in Timothée Colani, Jésus-Christ et les croyances messianiques de son Temps (2d ed.; Strasbourg: Treuttel et Wurtz, 1864), 201–3, and taken up more recently by Gerd Thiessen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 128-65. According to this view, Jesus’ reference to the “desolating sacrilege” was originally only describing a desecration of the temple, not its destruction. This view, of course, necessitates a reading which dislodges the sermon from the clear description of the destruction of the temple at the beginning of the sermon (Matt 24:1-2//Mark 13:1-2//Luke 21:5-6). It also must distance the sermon from the event of the cleansing of the temple, where, in all three synoptic gospels Jesus’ alludes to Jeremiah 7:11 (Matt 21:13//Mark 11:17//Luke 19:46; σπήλαιον λῃστῶν), a prophecy describing the coming destruction of the temple. However, as stated above, the phrase is probably best understood not as an indication of Markan editorial work, but as an allusion to Daniel 12:10-11, which closes the section of which Daniel 8 is a part and which also links the appearance of the “desolating sacrilege” (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως, 12:11) with “those who understand” (οἱ νοήμονες). For a fuller discussion see, Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile, 303-13.
[6] Of course, space prevents us from discussing a number of other issues involved here, including, but not limited to the question of the literary unity of the sermon and the objections often raised to this sermon’s authenticity. For a fuller discussion see Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (WBC 34b; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 290-291; Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1993), 752-82; Beasely-Murray, Jesus and the Last Days, 407-8; Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile, 294-301, 348-377; Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark (London: SCM, 1985), 16-7; David Wenham, The Rediscovery of Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse (Gospel Perspectives 4; Sheffield: JSOT, 1984); Brower, “’Let the Reader Undestand’: Temple Eschatology in Mark,” in Eschatology in Bible and Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium (K. E. Brower and M. W. Elliot, eds.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 140-2.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Guess the Answer Contest Answer...

Thanks to all of you who played. I'm honored that such fine bloggers as yourselves participated! I had to laugh that dim bulb actually gave us the page numbers from Nichols' book! I was afraid that confidence would stop the guessing.

So, who wrote those words I posted last week?

W. D. Davies. The quote is taken from his incredibly important--yet extremely neglected--work, The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 381-382.

Huge kudos to Mark and John. Davies even referenced Dodd in this section--here's the full quote: "In short, Judaism provided what Professor C. H. Dodd has taught us to call the 'Substructure of Christian Theology.'" In a footnote he cites Dodd's According to the Scriptures (London, 1952). I left the Dodd reference out to make things interesting. Very impressive guys!

As I continue to research, I grow more and more frustrated with the idea of a distinct "Third Quest" that is unlike previous approaches in being focused more on the Jewishness of Jesus. In fact, many previous scholars--Jeremias, Davies, Daube, Klausner, etc.--did just that!

Moreover, many of the scholars of the "Third Quest" use the exact same "criteria of authenticity" as those from the so-called "New Quest." In virtually every case these scholars build their interpretations on the same unproven (in some cases, outdated!) source-critical and form-critical assumptions about the Gospels. For example, the shockingly bold assertions made about Q (i.e., its portrait of Jesus, its theology, etc.) found in the works of many contemporary writers seem not only unconvincing but actually quite similar to naïve approaches of the past.

I see two major problems here.

1. If we aren't learning from the scholars who have gone before us, we are ignoring some very valuable resources.

2. In fact, in many ways, in neglecting these scholars of the past contemporary authors almost seem to be engaged in a subtle form of plagiarism, inasmuch as they claim as their own the insights of their mentors.

Something to ponder...

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Church and the Canon

Chris Tilling has a contest going on over at his blog. Under the title "Contest: Complete this sentence" he writes,

Christian canons of scripture ..."
therefore ... ?
but ... ?
(I'm thinking of the old church tradition / scripture debates)

The comment box is full of suggestions, offered mostly by non-Catholics. Let me give you theirs before I give you mine.

j. c. poirier writes:
"The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture, but the kerygma (as the foundation of the Church) is prior to the Church, and it is the kerygma that lends Scripture its authority."

Eddie said...
"The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture therefore those who say they believe who say they base their faith on the Bible and not on church tradition are somewhat misinformed, but getting them to see that point is probably more effort than it is worth."

Kenny said...

The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture, therefore canonicity appears to depend on the authority of the Church and not the other way around. But, this does not undermine the contemporary authority or meaning of the scriptures because the Church did canonize them and even before that considered them authoritative.

Alex said...
Therefore, the church decided what would be in the canon of scripture, but canonicity doesn't affect the truthfulness or otherwise of the historical event.

WTM said...
The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture......but what does artillery have to do with anything?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...
"The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture, but the Church is the Body of Christ and therefore it is Jesus to whom Scripture and Church both witness who stands preeminent as judge and interpreter of Scripture.

Nick Norelli said...
The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture......So
Tilling would have us believe, but let us suppose that Tilling is correct, all
we could conclude
...therefore... that the Church is older than the
Christian canons of Scripture
...but... ...all the people involved in the process
of canonization are worm food yet the canon lives on, and since necromancy is
illegal according to the Jewish canon of Scripture we don't do it because we
recognize some sort of continuity between the Jewish canon and the Christian
canon (because most of the early Christians were Jews anyway), so in the end we
give preeminence to the canon over dead guys, no matter how cool they were...:

Josh said...
"The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture...butthat sounds vaguely Romanist, so my common sense is overridden by my strong anti-Catholic prejudices and THEY PRAY TO MARY AND PRIESTS HAVE SEX WITH KIDS OMG!!1!11!"

::aaron g:: said...
therefore we should all be Catholic.(What do I get if I win?)

Owen Weddle said...
The Church is chronologically prior to the Christian canons of scripture therefore the canon speaks more directly about the beliefs of the church, but this does not necessarily invalidate the canon as a viable witness to truth if the Church was a faithful steward of the truth.

Here's mine...

Michael Barber said...

The Church is chronologically prior to Christian canons of scripture and therefore Protestants have to come up with a "but" and long, convoluted statements with which to follow it.*

*See above comments.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Guess the author contest

The following is from a seminal book that deals with Christian Origins. I was blown away when I read this.

Who wrote it? Answer in the comment box.

. . . in taking the Old Testament as its sacred Scripture, the Early Church did more than recognize its historical connection and even continuity with Judaism; it provided itself with the concepts, terminology and motifs through which it was both to comprehend itself and interpret its faith to the world. In short, Judaism provided . . . the "Substructure of Christian Theology." New Testament Christianity, even in its Johannine form, is articulated in the language of Judaism.

This is made most clear in an area which has attracted much attention int he scholarship of the last few decades, namely, the use of quotations from the Old Testament in the New. These are not merely strange bits of jigsaw puzzles wrenched from the Old Testament, but indications of the way in which the very structure of Jewish thought determines the Christian. The evidence for this statement is so copious that no attempt to present it can be made here; a few examples of a more general and a more particular kind must suffice.

First, let us look at the broad way in which early Christians though of the Christian era or dispensation. There are two figures or metaphors which are familiar in the New Testament. The first is that of a new creation, along with which there go certain concomitants, such as the concept of Jesus the Messiah as the second Adam.

Another broad category derived from Judaism is that of the New Exodus. . . Other major categories which it employed are patently derived from the same source--the Kingdom of God, for example, in the Synoptics. . . .

We might go even further. . . in insisting that after Nicaea also--simply because of the perpetuation of the New Testament and Old Testament in the life of the Church (not to speak of other currents) as its foundation documents--this substructure continued to exert its influence. Unfortunately, the full extent of this influence has never been recognized, because of the Chrstian ignorance of Judaism. There is little doubt that a deeper understanding of the governing concepts of first-century Judaism would throw a flood of light on early Christianity. . . Phenomena such as the Resurrection, the Ascension and, indeed, the whole range of Christian concern can only be illumined for us by a profounder penetration of [. . .] Judaism.