Queries & Comments
Be Not Afraid
Only one letter-writer of the five letters in the May/June issue about Magen Broshi’s article on “Jesus and the Essenes” (January/February 2004) was not choking in righteous indignation at having Jesus considered using intelligence rather than blind obedience alone. One writer worried that scholarly speculation might undermine some readers’ faith.
BAR’s informative, interesting, thought-provoking articles on Christianity cannot possibly undermine firm faith. Where connections to other cultures are suggested, a person of true faith will welcome the knowledge that we are all family. Where new interpretations are offered, a person of true faith will be glad to learn a new level on which to reach out. Where scripture is examined, a person of true faith will be happy to get closer to the original. Faith is not fearful, and I am not the only Christian who thinks this way.
Garden of Eden and the Temple Mount
Eilat Mazar’s report on her esteemed grandfather’s excavation of the Monastery of the Virgins south of the Temple Mount (July/August 2004), contained a significant illustration of the Church’s symbolic supersession of Judaism, which the article did not discuss.
Mazar published a photo of a fragment of a chancel screen, depicting a cross planted on the hill of Golgotha, from which “the four rivers in the Garden of Eden … the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates” are gushing. She notes that “according to Christian tradition, the four rivers … are analogous to the four Gospels emanating from Christ … [which] quench the spiritual thirst of mankind.” The cross on top of the hill represents the “Tree of Life,” which alludes “not only to the crucifixion, but also to the redemption of which humanity was deemed worthy in the aftermath of the crucifixion.” (Mazar credits Orit Peleg with these insights, based on her expertise on chancel screens.)
But this interpretation of Genesis 2:10–14 was not original. Fourth-century Christianity was emulating contemporary Judaism, as Jon D. Levenson describes in Sinai and Zion (Winston: 1985) in the section titled “Zion as the Cosmic Mountain.” He illustrates how Rabbinic Judaism linked Eden with the Temple Mount, drawing upon texts from the Hebrew Scriptures whose roots go back to earlier Fertile Crescent mythology.
Thus, Levenson notes that Ezekiel 28:13–14 equates “Eden, the garden of God” with “God’s holy mountain.” He further notes that “[T]he similarity 009between Zion as the Garden of God and Eden in the same role appears very clearly in the description of the Garden of Eden in … the ‘J’ account of creation,” which names the four rivers cited above. The River Pishon is never mentioned again in the Hebrew Scriptures, unlike the Tigris and Euphrates. But the Gihon is directly linked to Jerusalem, since this was the name of the spring that was the city’s primary source of water, located on the east side of the City of David—just around the corner from the Monastery of the Virgins!
It was to Gihon that King David directed his servants to bring Solomon, mounted on his royal mule, where he would be anointed king of Israel and Judah (1 Kings 1:32–40), suggesting that during the monarchy this stream was believed to possess sacramental power because it linked Mount Zion and its Temple with Eden.
Drawing upon this link between Gihon, Eden, a sacred mountain and a messianic (anointed) descendant of David, it is easy to see how early Christianity would connect Gihon, Eden, Golgotha and the Christ to develop the symbolism depicted on the excavated chancel screen. The destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. was interpreted by the Gospels as proof that God’s favor had been transferred from Judaism to Christianity, so that instead of “out of Zion shall the Torah go forth” (Isaiah 2:3) the new message was “out of Golgotha shall redemption issue.”
For the flourishing Christian community of fourth-century Jerusalem, this supersession was self-evident. Since 131 C.E. Jews had been forbidden upon pain of death to enter the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina that Hadrian built upon the ruins of Judea’s capital. The only occasional exceptions were Jewish pilgrims, especially on the Ninth of Av, whose mourning for their lost city and Temple demonstrated Judaism’s lowly status and Christianity’s triumph.
Rabbi Bernard H. Bloom
Saratoga Springs, New York
Objective Analysis Needed
Well, this just keeps getting better and better. I have read Mr. Shanks’ report regarding the two anonymous witnesses who claim to have seen the James ossuary without the phrase “brother of Jesus” inscribed on it (“Lying Scholars,” May/June 2004). I am skeptical of any such monumental discovery until it has been proven to be authentic beyond a reasonable doubt; however, the way this story is playing out, I see virtually no honest, objective attempt by any of the ruling authorities to verify the veracity of this object.
If the ossuary inscription is authentic, I want to know. If it is a fake, I want to know. Why is that so difficult? Of course we know the answer: Because a lot of people have tied their professional reputations to an accusation of forgery that now may turn out to be false. The inscription may in truth be a forgery, but I don’t know if I will ever accept the opinions of those who have muddled this investigation so badly. We need a new team of truly independent researchers to address the question.
In “The Seventh Sample,” (March/April 2004) Hershel Shanks writes, “What to do about the only sample the investigator took from the word ‘Jesus’?” But the diagram in the article shows three samples taken from the word Jesus. Which is it?
If the diagram is correct, then Shanks’s argument is destroyed, for then there are two samples confirming a late date for “Jesus” against only one sample suggesting an ancient date, which statistically supports a late date, not an early one.
It concerns me that Shanks appears to be lying. If the diagram is correct, not only does he make an unquestionably false statement, but he seems to consciously (and unethically) ignore evidence that not only supports the Israel Antiquities Authority’s conclusion that the inscription is a forgery but also contradicts his own. Readers who don’t notice are therefore being misled, in a manner bordering on libel against the professional competence and honesty of Avner Ayalon, who conducted the tests. Please explain.
Richard C. Carrier
New York, New York
Shanks was incorrect in stating that the seventh sample was the only one taken from the word “Jesus.” Three samples were taken from this word, as correctly shown in the illustration accompanying the article. Shanks says that he was inadvertently mistaken, not intentionally lying. Whether he is truthful in saying this will be up to each reader to decide. However, this is not the first time he has made a mistake.—Ed.
What Oded Golan Knew and When He Knew It
Regarding “The Trial of Oded Golan” (May/June 2004), I wish to present the following brief (very briefly!) as a friend of the court.
Evidence not considered in the initial hearing appeared in the Foreword of BAR editor Hershel Shanks’s book, The Brother of Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003). That Foreword was written by André Lemaire. On its first page, Lemaire testified about meeting Oded Golan (who is simply called “the owner” of the ossuary in the book). Lemaire reported that on the day he saw a photo of Golan’s ossuary and inscription [which reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”] for the first time, “the owner” (Golan) “said he thought the inscription was especially interesting because there was only one other inscription in L. Y. Rahmani’s Catalogue of Jewish Ossuary Inscriptions (the standard reference work) mentioning a brother in a similar way” (p. xi). This statement would seem to refer to the ahui Hanin reading from ossuary 570 of Rahmani’s Catalogue. This is verrrry interesting! It seems that the ossuary’s “owner,” Oded Golan, knew of the ahui Hanin reading from ossuary 570 well before he ever met Lemaire!
This would also mean that Golan knew of the ahui Hanin reading well before Joseph Fitzmyer identified that same reading as a parallel to the ahui d’Yeshua (“brother of Jesus”) phrase on Golan’s ossuary. The court will recall that months after Lemaire first met Golan, BAR editor Shanks sought Fitzmyer’s opinion on the so-called “brother of Jesus” inscription before BAR went to press with Lemaire’s article on the subject (“Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus,” November/December 2002). Shanks reported that “Fitzmyer was troubled by the spelling in the … inscription of the word for ‘brother’” (ahui), but that 010“after doing some research … he found another example in which the same form appeared—in an ossuary inscription in which the deceased was identified as someone’s brother” (BAR, November/December 2002, p. 33). Fitzmyer had found ossuary 570 in Rahmani’s Catalogue. Fitzmyer’s finding of the ahui Hanin example was portrayed by Shanks as the ultimate breakthrough—the evidence that certified with finality the authenticity of Golan’s ahui d’Yeshua inscription. His conclusion was that “either the forger of this inscription knows Aramaic better than Joe Fitzmyer, or it is authentic!” (The Brother of Jesus, p. 16).
But, if it please the court, a very different conclusion could be reached: That Oded Golan had become aware of the ahui Hanin reading of ossuary 570 long before Lemaire or Fitzmyer came into the picture and that he had used that knowledge when carving the phrase ahui d’Yeshua as an addition to the already existing ancient Aramaic inscription Ya‘akov bar Yosef (“Jacob/James son of Joseph”) on his ossuary. He knew that at least some scholars would eventually authenticate the odd form of the word “brother” in his “brother of Jesus” forgery, because they would find (or could be guided to) the ahui Hanin reading of ossuary 570. Since we know that Golan advised Lemaire concerning that reading even before showing him the ahui d’Yeshua inscription, we have to suspect that Golan played a role in the inscription’s creation.
Why Shanks seems unaware that Golan knew of the ahui Hanin reading before Lemaire and Fitzmyer is unclear, especially when it appears in the Foreword of his own book. But the simplest solution to the larger puzzle, the solution that accommodates all of the evidence in this regard, is that Golan himself forged the words “brother of Jesus.” Counselor, your witness.
Brigham Young University
Hershel Shanks responds:
I concede that Golan may have known of “ahui Hanin” in no. 570 of Rahmani’s catalog before it was seen by Lemaire (as Lemaire notes, Golan may have learned of it from Ada Yardeni, the Jerusalem scholar who drew the inscription for him). But I am not so confident as Professor Chadwick that this demonstrates that the James ossuary inscription is a forgery. When an inscription follows a known structure or linguistic usage, it is said to be a forgery; 012when it deviates from the known structure or linguistic usage, by the same token, it is said to be a forgery. When an inscription parallels a Biblical passage, it is said to be a forgery; when it deviates, the forger is said to have made an error, thus unmasking his forgery. Either way, it’s a forgery.
Professor Chadwick is trying to show that Golan understood the significance of the inscription before Professor Lemaire pointed it out to him. There is evidence otherwise. Take the first word of the inscription: Ya‘akov. This is a common Biblical and modern Hebrew name. In English, it is Jacob, and that is how it is translated in the Hebrew Bible. I doubt that there are many Israeli Jews (other than scholars) who know that Ya‘akov appears as James in the New Testament. Unless Golan knew this, he would not appreciate the potential significance of the inscription.
Jeff Chadwick responds:
I thank Hershel Shanks for the unusual opportunity to respond immediately to his response. I agree that not many Israelis could be expected to know that the Jewish name Ya‘akov was rendered (or, rather, misrepresented) as James in the King James Version of the New Testament (and subsequently in other English versions). But Oded Golan does not fit the profile of an average Israeli, if such a profile exists. He had acquired an extensive collection of archaeological artifacts and had researched them carefully. Even before his ossuary was made public, Golan was clearly informed concerning history, ancient inscriptions and issues related to them. This is attested, among other things, by his prior knowledge of the unique reading of ossuary number 570 in Rahmani’s Catalogue. How many Israelis knew about that? Indeed, how many scholars even knew about it? The evidence suggests (to me, at least) that Oded Golan is a remarkably clever individual and one who, despite declarations otherwise, was aware of many questions relating to Jewish antiquities and literature, including New Testament issues.
Grind Your Axe Here
One of the things I enjoy most about BAR is the nice middle ground between everything in the Bible being literally true and the more scholarly attitude, which leaves the door open to other interpretations. Unfortunately there was no middle ground in Ben Witherington’s review of
For anyone involved in serious scholarly discussions of the Bible it’s obvious that the book is full of problems, but that doesn’t mean the book has no merit. It’s been very heartening to watch members of my family suddenly show some interest in the historical Jesus. Think of The DaVinci Code as a gateway book that will lead to more serious inquiry.
I was especially distressed with Witherington’s grinding of the theological axe in his review. “It is all about truths grounded in historical events, whether the Exodus, the reign of King David, or the death and resurrection of Jesus,” Witherington writes. There are dozens of scholars who believe these three things never happened in the literal sense, and they certainly can’t be proven using the archaeological record. In the same way, you can’t prove that Jesus didn’t get married or have children. It’s simply a matter of belief.
See Ben Witherington’s response to this and the following letters at the end of this section.—Ed.
Witherington Goes Too Far
Even though I do not agree with Ben Witherington’s religious beliefs, I wholeheartedly agree with almost everything he says regarding mainstream scholarship. I am glad BAR took the trouble to include Witherington’s review debunking popular misinformation about ancient history, and I hope you can publish more work like this.
I do have some slight quibbles, though. Witherington says “The New Testament contains no critique of Gnosticism,” but that depends on how broadly you define the term. The polemic in Luke and John against Jesus being raised as a spirit rather than in the flesh is clearly ideological, and has in mind something at least like Gnostic views of the resurrection as its target. In like fashion, the Epistles contain some attacks against proto-Gnostic views of various kinds (compare 1 John and 2 Timothy 2:16–18, for example; some scholars even point to 1 Timothy 6:20–21), including “false gospels” and “fabrications” (for example, 1 Timothy 1:3–4, 4:1–4, 4:7, etc.).
Witherington also says Gnosticism can be dated late because it “de-Judaizes” Christianity by denigrating the flesh. But this was already a part of some Jewish views in the early first century—Philo, for example, says a lot that is surprisingly close to Gnostic views of flesh versus spirit (and this is in some respects echoed even in Paul). Though late Gnostic beliefs did take this to extremes, the underlying idea was already well in place within Judaism even before Paul, and so it is conceivable that late Gnosticism grew out of an earlier, more Jewish form (just as “orthodox” Christianity grew more and more distant from its Jewish roots over time). Consider what Josephus has to say about the afterlife beliefs of the Essenes and Zealots, which certainly looks proto-Gnostic.
On other points, Witherington may go too far on contentious issues, giving the impression that there are no respected scholars who disagree. I’ll give just one example. He insists that the Gospels conform to the genre of historical biography, but this is only true of Luke. Mark and Matthew are a different story. They share neither the structure nor the stylistic elements of that genre, as Charles Talbert explains in What Is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels (1977). And one can hardly place John 1:1–5 in the genre of historical biography. All the Gospels, including Luke, more closely fit the genre of hagiography, very common in the Middle Ages, but in antiquity most commonly recognized in the “lives” of the likes of Pythagoras, Empedocles, Apollonius, Aesop and others, which no scholar regards as substantially historical.
I do not wish to deny Witherington the right to state his scholarly opinion, but he should acknowledge, especially in an article meant to convey the state of scholarship to the public, that there is a large contingent of scholarly opinion that is different from his own on some of these subjects. Even outside scholarship, there are many Christian believers who would agree more with Brown than Witherington on how the Bible is to be interpreted, taking it more as symbol than history. Acknowledging either fact would in no way diminish his point that Brown’s book, even if unintentionally, sometimes misleads the public.
Richard C. Carrier
New York, New York
Wrong Man for the Job
It is inconceivable that any one as biased as Ben Worthington was called upon to provide a review of The DaVinci Code.
The DaVinci Code is a work of fiction, and the author is allowed literary license in the development of the story. The reviewer is treating this book as a work of serious nonfiction, which it isn’t. Seeing that this book has been on the bestseller list for over 40 weeks, there must be many people who are reading it for entertainment and not for spiritual enlightenment.
The Church has done its best to lambaste 014this book, in any media that it can, and I am surprised that this has occurred in BAR.
Arthur S. Sheppard
Faith Is Not History
You are going to be deluged with letters about Ben Witherington’s review of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. I won’t attempt to argue with a professor of Biblical studies, being a layman in the field, although I believe an informed one who has read most of the evidence Dan Brown brings to his exceedingly well-written story. I will point out but one flaw in Witherington’s article, one that betrays, I think, his bias while he criticizes Brown’s.
Witherington asserts that the Resurrection is one of the “certain irreducible historical events” on which Christianity is based. The resurrection of Jesus is not history—it is faith, and has always been so understood, even by the Apostle Paul. Non-Biblical sources such as Josephus and Tacitus attest to Jesus’ crucifixion but not to his resurrection. Even the canonical Gospels do not agree on the timing, circumstances or aftermath of the purported rise from death by Jesus. If Jesus rose from the dead, very few people believed it in his own day.
You ought to have a series of reviews by a Jewish scholar, a nonsectarian Bible expert and expert in pagan religion. That would be a donnybrook!
Palos Verdes Estates, California
Lighten Up, Ben!
Professor Ben Witherington protests too much about a story that purports to be nothing other than fiction. The items Dan Brown lists on the page labeled “FACT” are, in fact, accurate; their interpretation is another matter. It is to Brown’s credit that his ingenuity has made fiction seem credible, but it is unfair to blame him for the gullibility of his readers.
Further, people who throw stones should be more precise in their own statements: the “perhaps” Samuel was celibate is conjecture and not in accordance with 1 Samuel 8:1–5, in which even the names of the prophet’s sons are given; Witherington also gives the impression that the term Shekinah, “the female aspect or presence of God,” comes from the Hebrew Bible, whereas it comes from the Targums and rabbinic writings. On the other hand female divinities are mentioned in the Bible, if only in the many diatribes against them.
Finally, it is Ben Witherington’s belief that “early Christianity, like early Judaism” is about truths grounded in historical events, whether the Exodus, the reign of King David or the death and resurrection of Jesus.” Truth is subjective, and, to date, there is no evidence for the “historical events” he mentions.
Savina J. Teubal
Santa Monica, California
Witherington the Novelist
Ben Witherington is not the scholar he pretends to be. He cites Karen King, but evidently did not read her book entirely or simply ignored what he did not like. She clearly makes the case that the Gospel of Mary of Magdala is not a Gnostic text. She showed that Gnosticism was a label that the Church Fathers applied to everything they disagreed with.
Bart Ehrman, in his Lost Christianities (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003) demonstrated that there was no smooth evolution of the canon. There was much infighting and there was definitely suppression of texts by the winners (the Church Fathers) of that fight. Listening to Witherington, you would think everything was just fine right from the beginning. I think Witherington writes as much fiction as does Dan Brown.
Alan D. Arnold
Gansevoort, New York
Ben Witherington responds:
I fully expected some lively responses to my critique of The Da Vinci Code. Here are my responses to the responses: 1) The FACT page at the beginning of Brown’s novel is not in fact telling the truth. For example, the claim that the Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the earliest Christian sources is absolutely false—they are non-Christian, Jewish documents. The suggestion that there is a tomb of Mary Magdalene in the Louvre is pure fiction. Various claims made about Opus Dei are not accurate at all. I could go on, but this must suffice. What is most maddening about Mr. Brown is that he has said that he would not change anything about what he wrote about early Christianity, Jesus or Mary Magdalene if he was writing a work of pure history! In other words, he believes what he has written about Christian origins to be true. When I think of the hundreds of hours masterful novelists like Leon Uris and James Michener have spent making sure they had their facts straight when they wrote historical fiction it makes me ashamed that so many people in this country could take Dan Brown’s novel seriously. 2) Richard Carrier’s thoughtful letter about Gnosticism was a good reply. There may have been proto-Gnostic ideas brewing in the first century, but they should not be mixed up with Philo’s Platonism or Josephus’s attempt to describe Jewish sects using Greek philosophical terms. 3) The claim that Jesus rose from the dead in the flesh is certainly not a matter of pure faith, it is a historical claim, however uncomfortable it may make some moderns. See N.T. Wright’s important study Resurrection of the Son of God (reviewed in Bible Review February 2004); 4) It is not possible in a brief article to deal with views other than the one presented on the genre of the Gospels. The case for Luke’s Gospel being a biography is the weakest case of the four gospels. I think it is an ancient historical monograph; see the widely praised study by R. Burridge, What Are the Gospels? (Cambridge Univ. Press), in which he argues that all four Gospels would have been seen as ancient, not modern, biographies. 5) Bart Ehrman has far from demonstrated that the road to canonization was as bumpy as he suggests. His views represent the extreme end of the spectrum of scholarly opinion. Classic studies by his own Princeton mentor, Bruce Metzger, on the formation of the canon make perfectly clear where he has gone wrong; 6) Thanks to the reader for the comment about Samuel being married; that was indeed my oversight.
Is Everything Controversial?
I enjoyed “Four-Horned Altar Discovered in Judean Hills,” May/June 2004), yet I was amazed to see you describe the Mt. Ebal altar as “controversial.” [The writer excavated and identified a structure on Mt. Ebal as an altar.—Ed.] When someone writes against an interpretation of a discovery, does that automatically make it “controversial”? Since my preliminary report on the Ebal altar was published in 1989, not one scholar has written a scientific article against my conclusions.
In “Joshua’s Altar—An Iron Age I Watchtower” (BAR, January/February 1986), the 057late Aharon Kempinski, a well-known and respected archaeologist, took issue with professor Zertal’s identification.—Ed.
The article on altars failed to mention the Israelite exemplar at Tel Dan’s sacred precinct. While only a single horn was discovered, the altar is conjectured to have been 10 feet high.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Where to Find More of the Holy City
After reading “O Jerusalem,” the review of Shimon Gibson’s book, “Jerusalem in Original Photographs (1850–1920),” I immediately ordered a copy from the publisher. It is indeed a very fine book, and I am enjoying reading it.
BAR readers may also enjoy visiting a web site I have created, entitled “19th Century Art in Jerusalem.” It contains about 70 color and black-and-white illustrations of 19th-century Jerusalem by well-known artists such as David Roberts, William Bartlett, Harry Fenn and others. Many of the scenes on the web site are identical or similar to photographs in Gibson’s book and provide a comparison between an artist’s interpretation and a camera’s accuracy. The address is http://ljames1.home.netcom.com/oldprints.html.
James E. Lancaster, Ph.D.
Be Not Afraid