Saturday, March 10, 2012

On my way to Groningen

I am getting on a plane in a few hours to make the trek across the Atlantic to Amsterdam and then by train to Groningen.  I am speaking at the University of Groningen on the subject of the Gnostics and the Ancient New Age.  This is a first peek at the research I am currently conducting as I write my latest book, The Ancient New Age: The Birth of Christianity and the Triumph of Gnostic Spirituality.  I will be sharing the initial work I have done on recovering the Gnostic from the ancient testimonies.  My approach is quite different from what has gone on before.  I am looking at the question from the angle of the cognitive, in other words, how did the ancients understand and use the concept Gnostic?  This allows me to get at a new type of religiosity that I argue emerges in the first century: Gnostic spirituality.  You heard it first here!

Frustrations about the fish

I know that people are frustrated with the Patio tomb ossuary.  It is okay that there are differing opinions emerging.  This is how scholarship works.  Whenever there is a new find, it is important for us as a community to weigh all the options and decide which opinions best support the evidence so that a hypothesis or two can emerge and some consensus reached.  This may take some years.  The start of this is what is going on right now. 

At this point, there is no single solution.  There are a number of solutions that must be vetted and more investigation is likely going to be necessary.  At this point we have a reading of the ossuary that has been put forth by Simcha and Tabor, and others are now weighing in and presenting their views since this is all new information for all of us. 

I hope that we don't make a war out of this, but can proceed with caution, logic, collegiality and professionalism. 

Let's get all the options out on the table, and talk them through.  The Jonah option is one.  The vase is another.  I think these are the two most logical options at this moment.  What do the ossuary experts say when this image is compared to ossuary art?  We need funerary context to figure this out. 

James Tabor writes in the comments to my previous post on this subject:
Yuval...has said of all the ossuaries in the Bet Shemesh/Rockefeller collection (upwards of 1500 now I think--as Rahmani only goes back to 1989), with at least 350 inscribed (estimate based on Cotton, CIIP) he has never seen anything like our image, that it is definitely not a nephesh or a vessel of any time known on ossuaries. He thinks the fish/Jonah suggestion is the most convincing yet.
Tabor also writes about the image in the same comment on my blog:
What I have said is that none of our photos have been altered, doctored, or photoshopped in any way. They are precisely the images the camera produced taken from the hundreds of hours of video tape and freeze frames taken during the actual process. That is what is false, plus the charge/implication that we are dishonest and manipulate evidence to try to fit a theory. Nothing has been touched. There is no single photo showing the entire image, however, by moving the robotic arm in all positions the complete image is visible. In addition to the photos, to allow people to see the entire image at once, there are CGI images produced by GE Information Technologies. These are clearly labeled as such (see
Tom Verenna continues to think it is a vase of some sort and posted a second round of evidence HERE.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Note: Revelations by Elaine Pagel

Elaine Pagels has published a new book on Revelation and revelations in early Christianity.  There was a terrific review of it in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik HERE

I must confess that if Mr. Gopnik ever needs a book to review, I would be completely beside myself with joy if he were to review one of mine.  Wow can he write!  Give him a raise!

There is another review of the book in The Washington Post HERE.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It looks like a fish to me

I don't know what to make of the ossuary in the Patio tomb because I haven't had a chance to study it as thoroughly as others, and really I'm not that keen on the fact that the tomb hasn't been physically excavated yet, so there is no telling what contextual information we are missing.  But from the pictures in Tabor's and Jacobovici's book, I see a fish too.  Either the fish has really big lips, or it is eating something, or it is coughing something out of its mouth. But it looks like a fish to me.  What do you think it is?

UPDATE: Bob Cargill examines the digital enhancement of the photograph in detail HERE. It is a very detailed post, suggesting that the pictures in the book have been manipulated so that the image is viewed straight on instead of from an angle.  This change of perspective makes the image look more like a fish than the original photograph, he argues.

All of this leaves me puzzled.  I am not sure what to make of any of this.  I don't see a tower because it would have to be upside down on the ossuary if it were a tower.  Nor do I see a vase because vases do not have a small round knob as a base.  If it is a vase, it is one that would not be able to stand on its own.  I think we need to entertain as many options as we can.  What else could it be?

UPDATE 2: James Tabor left this in the comments:
The charges of manipulation and alteration are simply false. There are no doctored photos and the "fish," no matter how it is positioned, is a fish... Those who have objected that a fish would not be nose down have missed the main point--the notion of Jonah being vomited on the land. Fish don't swim in tail first...again, see my latest blog post. The perfume bottle will not fly. We know what those flasks looked like in that time and culture, and even the Persian examples that Tom and others site do not look like fish. Lots of comments on the ASOR blog.
UPDATE 3: Tom Verenna's link to a discussion of vases can be found HERE.  Some very interesting comparisons, although the top part of the figure looks more like a tail fin to me than the top of a vase.  What I would really like to see is more examples of artwork on ossuaries.  What are the common patterns?  How does this ossuary compare to others?  Are vases common drawings on ossuaries?  If so, do they look like this figure?  

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Book Review of Holy Misogyny

This nice write up on my book, Holy Misogyny, was just published by Midwest Book Review:
The earliest decades of the Christian movement saw the beginnings of gender role conflicts exemplified by Paul's exhortation against women preaching in church gatherings. The suppression of women's roles in favor of male ecclesiastical privilege continued to strengthen in the succeeding early centuries and still have immense ramifications in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant congregations and churches today. "Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter" is a superbly researched 200-page compendium by April D. DeConick (Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University) presenting the origins of such Christian doctrinal issues as to why God is male, the association of women with sin, the denial of priesthood to females, and more. Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter" is a strongly recommended read for anyone concerned with the origin of gender equality issues within the contemporary Christian community.