Critique of Pagels

See here for an excellent, if entirely too short, critique of Elaine Pagels’ gnosticism racket.

It’s unfortunate that such work as Pagels’ passes for scholarship these days, but with Biblical Studies in such generally shoddy shape, it’s hardly surprising. Mankowski’s critique could easily be extended throughout her Gnostic Gospels, along with her confused and nearly unreadable Adam, Eve and the Serpent, the only two of her works which I’ve forced myself to suffer through. Both are wandering and unfocused, full of paragraphs being the results of numerous derailed trains of thought, peppered with outright misrepresentation of both orthodox and gnostic texts. Mankowski describes her efforts well, here:

I am not calling for academic sanctions but, more simply, for clarification. Pagels should be billed accurately—not as an expert on Gnosticism or Coptic Christianity but as what she is: a lady novelist. Her oeuvre is that of fiction—in fact, historical romance. Had New York Times reporters sought Barbara Cartland’s views on discoveries in Merovingian religion or paleography, most of us would find it odd, but we’d expect them to make it plain that was romance, not history, in which she had the right to an opinion.


It’s all the rage!

On the current media frenzy:

The Gospel of Judas: Yet another pimple on the arse of Heresy. YaaaAAAAWWWwwwwn. Next!

Tabor’s Jesus Dynasty: Nepotism in the Near East?! Shocking, I say!

Seriously, though, the Gospel of Judas coverage was quite alot of hype for not much of a payoff, just as expected on my entirely cynical part. As usual, various talking heads wax superlative, and the result is a few pages that may, just may, represent the work condemned by the brilliant St. Irenaeus. Or they may be something else. And the rest of the codex has been sold separately, apparently in horrendous condition. The whole thing is a disgusting farce. But it was somewhat entertaining to my incredulous eye to see how historically and theologically illiterate a number of various reporters are. At least the Gospel of Judas pages are back in Egypt. The whole thing is scandalous. I feel unclean just having witnessed it.

On to The Jesus Dynasty, undoubtedly only the first of the many books of mainstream scholars cashing in on the Dan Brown abomination. Really, why does an ancient example of what appears to be perfectly common ancient nepotism (which wasn’t seen as a bad thing even in our own cultures until the last century, mind you) require glorification as a “dynasty”? I mean, really…. Could it be the “CHA-CHING!!!” factor?

Missing Page in OTP

Reader Peter Scott brought to my attention that all except for the first printing of Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volume 2 are lacking the final page, page 919, which includes the final section of Pseudo-Hecataeus. The first printing included the page, but with an incorrect header of “Artapanus 23:28,” and including no footnotes, which seemed odd to me as the rest of the Hecataeus section was well-annotated. After contacting Random House, which didn’t have a copy of the page, I contacted Robert Doran, the original translator of and commentator on Pseudo-Hecataeus for the OTP volume. He has informed me that he has no record of any footnotes for the last page, having covered the story in the introduction, so the original printing was correct except for the header.

With all this in mind, I’ve created a page with the text from the first printing, correcting the header, and getting the format as close as possible to the original as I could. The page size is slightly smaller than the OTP page size, so that one might simply cut out the actual page, which I’ve outlined in gray, and it will easily fit into the volume without an icky white page so obviously tipped in.

The file is in pdf format, so that all might print it. It is also zipped, to save on download time.

Here it is. Enjoy the great story of Mosollamus the Jew!

Matson Photographs

Up until about the middle of the twentieth century, one of the most popular sources for photographs was the Matson Photo Archive. Included in the catalog are numerous photographs of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From an origin in being illustrations of Biblical lands and peoples to the Victorian and Edwardian public which couldn’t get enough of them, the photographs have now become historical data themselves, revealing to us images of a landscape which has since been transformed.

The complete collection of Matson negatives was acquired by the Library of Congress. For several years now, they have had a browsable and searchable subset of the collection available online. Enjoy!

The Four-Letter Word

For many people, there seems to be no hesitation in spelling out and regularly using the Tetragrammaton. I’m not one of those. Perhaps it’s because the people that taught me Hebrew (Biblical, post-Biblical, and Modern Israeli) were Jewish that I’m entirely uncomfortable with pronouncing the currently favored scholarly reconstruction of this name. When reading the Hebrew Bible we always vocalized what the Masoretic Text was pointed to indicate, אדני or אלהים as the case may be. Anyhow, I just thought I’d explain, if anyone in fact had even noticed that I avoid this, or may, in a pinch resort to Y” in place of simply LORD or Lord or God, though I think I’ve only rarely used even that.

There are other reasons, too. Socially, I’m not on first name terms with God. Nor am I so with my father or my mother or any number of others whom I love and/or respect. That does it for me. The rest is icing on the cake.

Religiously, I find using that pronunciation suspect. It’s not part of any religious tradition carried down through the millennia. The Judaic tradition abandoned its pronunciation long ago. The Christian tradition never used it, though it was a curiosity, apparently. Had the syncretistic Hermetic magical tradition survived late antiquity, there might be a living connection there to a garbled version of it, but it was garbled and that tradition died out anyway. It’s a new thing in that sense, and its usage is no more necessary or required or necessarily correct than the use of the simplistically concocted “Jehovah.” The “Sacred Names” people can be all over it, with their syrupy CDs and ghastly Tshirts and coffee mugs and whatnot, in fonts with appropriatly Hebrewish-looking English letters (Lord. Have. Mercy!) but that doesn’t make it authentic. To me it just seems really, really wrong to be bandying about this name as though it’s some kind of proof or trophy badge of your authenticity when it’s not an authentic part of any tradition at all. It’s a scholarly reconstruction, utterly devoid of any traditional religious value, as they all are.

I have some basic scholarly reservations, too, though they’re not so viscreally felt as my reaction to a tacky Tshirt sporting the supposed name of God. It would be one matter if the pronunciation were preserved there in the Masoretic Text, but it’s not. Therefore, it’s another matter: that of taking the word of patristic Christian writers (who didn’t know Hebrew!) on Hebrew pronunciation. Aside from Origen and Jerome, apparently none of them, including Clement of Alexandria, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Epiphanius of Salamis, our star witnesses to the ancient pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, knew Hebrew. Certainly the scribes doing the transmitting of the Greek texts of these fathers didn’t know Hebrew, and we can’t be certain that, textually speaking, these readings which we think are accurate indicators of ancient Hebrew are really such. So that’s the “traditional” pronunciation in a nutshell, based on writings from 100-200 years after the name had ceased to be pronounced by anyone, anywhere (with the date for its last pronunciation being the last celebrated Day of Atonement in the Jerusalem Temple in 69? AD). Yet with that in hand, it’s possible to back this up with data from the Masoretic Text, particularly other words ending with וה-, and some other hints, as described in HALOT. But that could also be a wild goose chase. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but it’s certainly possible. It’s a personal name, after all, not an actual verb or noun. How certain were scholars with “Jehovah”? It was also the unquestioned darling of the ink-stained for centuries. One must avoid the apparently dogmatic representation of the currently favored pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton among scholars as being truly authentic. It’s certainly the best guess we can make based on the evidence we have, and thus should be treated in that manner, but not as though it’s an established fact.

biblical or Biblical?

shakespearean or Shakespearean? homeric or Homeric? Now both of those adjectives are based on personal names, but there is also a specific corpus in mind in the case of each, as in the case of biblical or Biblical. I usually see the former, but quite often the latter occurs.

The SBL Handbook prefers lowercase biblical (App. A, p. 154), following the Chicago Manual of Style, where we find recommended “Bible; biblical” (14th ed. §7.87; p. 269). Here’s what the CMS says about capitalization of religious names and terms:

In few areas is an author more tempted to overcapitalize or an editor more loath to urge a lowercase style than in religion. That this is probably due to unanalyzed acceptance of the pious customs of an earlier age, to an unconscious feeling about words as in themselves numinous, or to fear of offending religious persons is suggested by the fact that overcapitalization is seldom seen in texts on the religions of antiquity or more recent localized, relatively unsophisticated religions. Is is in the contexts of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism that we go too far. The editors of the University of Chicago Press urge a spare, down style in this field as in others: capitalize what are clearly proper nouns and adjectives, and lowecase everything else except to avoid ambiguity(CMS 14, §7.77, p. 265; emphasis theirs).

Now as far as these prescriptive sources go, they’re fine. There are a couple of reasons, however, that I’m coming out in favor of uppercase Biblical, despite my purely aesthetic typographical preference for the title of this blog! Note the confused recommended “Bible; biblical” of CMS. Why this mix of cases? We all recognize with CMS that uppercase “Bible,” as the title of a particularly well-known book that is itself a collection of smaller books, is valid. And yet, illogically, the recommended adjective is the lowercase “biblical.” My issue with this particular “down style” is related to my discomfort with the neologism “biblioblog.” To my eye, “biblical” is too close to the generic “bibli-” usage, as in bibliophilia, bibliography, etc, implying a connection to books in general, while “Biblical” is quite a bit more obviously referring to that compendium “the Bible.” Similarly, in the above quotation, the CMS recommends “capitalize what are clearly proper nouns and adjectives.” Is “biblical” not an adjective in Chicago?

Why suffer such prescriptive linguistic imperialism, anyway?! Let fly your pens expansively with a liberated capital B! Slam that pinky (manfully) down on your shift key! Let the descriptivistically empowered Capitalizing forces loose! Down with The Man, man! ¡Viva la revolución!

Seriously though, I’m going to recommend use of the uppercase Biblical from now on. My eye and my logic are easily offended, and I’ve had enough. I’ll certainly use it in my own postings and such. And if some editor calls me on it, I’ll point him toward the inconsistency of the CMS and, I’m sure, to all the fabulously erudite rebuttals that will accumulate here in the comments on this post. (cough)

What do you folks think?

Valley of Siddim

I was just browsing through the Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992) and ran across the article “Siddim, Valley of” (vol 6, pp 15-16) written by Michael Astour. It starts off nicely, giving a variety of translations and finally coming to the conclusion that śiddîm, from śādad, means “furrows,” so (yawn) the name means “Valley of Furrows.” Astour then asks, “Why did the author of Genesis 14 give such a name to the place of defeat of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah?” His answer is interesting. He goes off on a wild tangent about the “Chedorlaomer Texts” (which, by the way, are almost entirely questionable in the readings thereof), Babylonian astronomy (!), and the “implication” in the biblical text (?) of the submergence of Sodom and Gomorrah by the Dead Sea. What the…?!

You know, yeah, of course, it must be something like that, because nobody ever heard of a valley with furrows in it….