Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sin and Resurrection in Second Maccabees

Occasionally it is suggested that Christianity's concern with the resurrection is an idiosyncratic phenomenon. Although many Jews of the Second Temple period did not believe in the resurrection, some did. Some even argued for it. Here is an example of it:

After a fierce battle, Judas and his army gathered the dead for burial:
εὗρον δὲ ἑκάστου τῶν τεθνηκότων ὑπὸ τοὺς χιτῶνας ἱερώματα τῶν ἀπὸ ιαμνείας εἰδώλων ἀφ' ὧν ὁ νόμος ἀπείργει τοὺς ιουδαίους

They found under the tunics of each of the dead things sacred to the idols of the Iamnites, which are forbidden to the Jews by the Law. (2 Maccabees 12:40)
This, of course was both something of a scandal and an obvious cause for their ill fate in battle.
ποιησάμενός τε κατ' ἀνδρολογίαν εἰς ἀργυρίου δραχμὰς δισχιλίας ἀπέστειλεν εἰς ιεροσόλυμα προσαγαγεῖν περὶ ἁμαρτίας θυσίαν πάνυ καλῶς καὶ ἀστείως πράττων ὑπὲρ ἀναστάσεως διαλογιζόμενος

εἰ μὴ γὰρ τοὺς προπεπτωκότας ἀναστῆναι προσεδόκα περισσὸν καὶ ληρῶδες ὑπὲρ νεκρῶν εὔχεσθαι

εἶτε' ἐμβλέπων τοῖς μετ' εὐσεβείας κοιμωμένοις κάλλιστον ἀποκείμενον χαριστήριον ὁσία καὶ εὐσεβὴς ἡ ἐπίνοια ὅθεν περὶ τῶν τεθνηκότων τὸν ἐξιλασμὸν ἐποιήσατο τῆς ἁμαρτίας ἀπολυθῆναι

After he made a collection of two thousand drachmas, he set it to Jerusalem to offer an offering for sin doing well and honestly because he considered the resurrection, for if he had not expected that those who had fallen to rise again it would have been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. Also since he saw that those who died piously had great favor laid up--the thought was holy and pious--so he made an atonement to do away with the sins of the dead. (2 Maccabees 12:43–45)
There is a clear thought that action in mortality can have some effect on those who have left mortality (and one can trace such ideas in Egypt back at least as far as the Middle Kingdom). The expression in 2 Maccabees where one can pray on behalf of the dead (ὑπὲρ νεκρῶν) is echoed in Paul where he notes that one could be baptized on behalf of the dead (ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν, 1 Corinthians 15:29). Both cases reflect the desire of the living to do something on behalf of those who have died that they can no longer do for themselves.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Types of Evidence

People who do not work across disciplines can sometimes be confused about various categories of evidence and how they are used to reconstruct the past.

Historical evidence is written evidence about the past.

Archaeological evidence is material evidence about the past.

These categories of evidence are not necessarily mutually exclusive. An inscription found in situ (in place) on an archaeological dig is both archaeological evidence and historical evidence.

We attempt to reconstruct the past from various types of evidence. Generally, historians have no training in or competence with archaeological evidence, and archaeologists generally have no training in or competence with historical evidence. There are some very notable exceptions to those generalizations; a number of scholars successfully work with both types of evidence and certain disciplines routinely work with both types of evidence.

Archaeological evidence and historical evidence provide different pictures about what happened in the past. These viewpoints might be complementary or contradictory. In both cases we can only deal with the evidence we have.

For example, the inscriptions from Til Barsip (modern Tell Ahmar) indicate that the dynastic succession at Masuwari was complicated; they do not, however, give us the names of all the rulers involved. So we can only work with inadequate evidence.

To show how the archaeological and historical record give different pictures, consider Nicaea. From historical sources we know that Nicaea was near Constantine's summer residence. We have no archaeological evidence that he was ever there or ever paid any attention to the place. The lack of archaeological evidence does not prove Constantine was never there. On the other hand archaeological evidence tells us that the theater seated 15,000. I know of no historical evidence that provides us that information. The lack of historical evidence does not mean there was no theater.

Sometimes historical and archaeological evidence overlap. Sometimes they conflict. Most of the time they do neither. Each provides its own sort of evidence. One cannot just expect the two types of evidence to corroborate each other. Much of the material in the Bible, for example, is not and cannot be corroborated archaeologically. There are points at which the archaeological record does corroborate the Bible. But archaeology does not necessarily corroborate every point one might like.

Historians not used to dealing with archaeology have a tendency to overestimate the extent to which the archaeological evidence can be expected to corroborate the historical evidence.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Some Other "Pseudo-Sciences"

Lets consider some other subject areas that fit in a recent commentator's definition of pseudo-sciences. These are areas of study without departments, majors, or even classes:
  • Elamite

  • Kassite

  • Urartian

  • Hurrian

  • Luwian
There are no Elamite departments, no Kassite departments, no Urartian departments, no Hurrian departments, and no Luwian departments in North America.

There are no classes in Elamite, Kassite, Urartian, Hurrian, or Luwian. Now I actually took a class in Hurrian but it was listed in the course catalog as Akkadian, so according to our opinionated critic, that does not count. I also took some Luwian but it was as a part of a Hittite course; so therefore by the same reasoning that does not count either.

Hittite almost fits in this situation. It used to be that Hittite was taught at four universities in the United States. Now there is only one. If Hittite ceases to be taught will it cease to be a legitimate academic discipline?

Hurrian is a particularly interesting case study. Not only can one not major in Hurrian or take classes in Hurrian but:
  1. We do not know where the capital of the Mitanni empire was.

  2. Although we know that the Hurrians used Khabur ware, so did the Assyrians, and it has been found in Iran. So there is no distinctive Hurrian pottery. We cannot tell the difference between the material culture of the Hurrians and several other cultures in the area.

  3. So archaeologically, the Hurrians are invisible and indistinguishable from other cultures in the area.
Now, we are not talking about some backwater, the Mitanni empire was a major world empire in the Late Bronze Age.

So the idea that there must be an academic program in order to have a legitimate academic discipline is specious and only pushed for ideological reasons.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Is Numismatics an Academic Discipline?

According to some:
the complete lack of recognition for the subject in any and all universities, colleges or like institutions, . . . and the absence of the slightest respect accorded to journals. There may be plenty of journals in the field, but . . . they are ignored or despised . . . . Nor, as I have said, can you take an actual degree of any kind in the subject, not even an undergraduate minor, still less a doctorate.

If it is not an academic discipline, then it is irrelevant to note how many people work in the area, not how many books appear each year. It may well be a thriving area of interest and enthusiasm, but it is in so sense an academic or scholarly discipline.
Let's take the field of numismatics, for example. Numismatics is the study of coins, particularly historical coins. This is an important source for ancient history.

Where can one major in numismatics? No college in America that I can find offers a major in numismatics. (The University of Vienna does have an Institute for numismatics, and there are claims that one can get a bachelors or masters degree in the subject, but reading the materials it appears to be a minor rather than a major). The only classes in numismatics regularly offered in America are not offered at an accredited university. Should we therefore refer to it as the "discredited cranky pseudo-science" of numismatics?
Is it perhaps that no credible academic institution of any kind, . . . views [numismatics] as an authentic or respectable academic discipline?
Tomorrow, I will suggest some other "pseudo-sciences" that fit these criteria.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

More on the New Hebrew Inscription

As a follow-up on my post of yesterday, I saw this post by Christopher Rollston where he comes to the same conclusion about what the new inscriptions mean (I cite only the fourth of his six observations):
(4) The script of this inscription is that of a trained scribal professional. There is no doubt about this. The morphology of the letters was executed with precision and deftness. The spacing between words was careful and precise. The word dividers were nicely done and consistent. This inscription constitutes further evidence for the presence of trained scribal professionals in the southern Levant during the late 11th and early 10th centuries BCE (see Rollston 2006 for primary and secondary literature on scribalism and scribal education during the 9th through 6th centuries BCE). Those who wish to argue that there were no trained scribal professionals in ancient Israel and Judah during the 10th and 9th centuries continue to find themselves defending a position that is flying in the face of the epigraphic evidence for the entire southern Levant.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Latest on Hebrew Inscriptions

Back in January, I listed the various Hebrew inscriptions according to date and in a series of posts (here, here, here, here, and here) discussed some of the implications of them.

The latest issue of BASOR arrived this week. Garfunkel, Golub, Miagav and Ganor mention that there are now six eleventh century inscriptions from the area of Israel.

This demonstrates how the accident of discovery impacts our reconstruction of history. By my count (which is subject to change) there are more eleventh century inscriptions known than there are tenth century ones.

What these new inscriptions mean is that the Israelite scribal apparatus dates about a century earlier than we previously thought.

It also shows that in certain areas it only takes a single find to completely change the subject.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Archaeology of the Council of Nicaea


Recent, under-informed assertions about the Book of Mormon and archaeology prompt this discussion.

Let's ask a simple question:
What archaeological evidence do we have that the Council of Nicaea ever took place?
Unlike Zarahemla, or the Mitanni capital of Washshukanni, Nicaea is a site whose location is known. It has been excavated. We know what is there.

Archaeologically, Nicaea (modern Iznik) is most famous for its ceramic tiles, but they date from the Ottoman period. On the other end of the time spectrum, some neolithic pottery has been found at Iznik (Machteld J. Mellink, "Archaeology in Anatolia," American Journal of Archaeology 89/4 (1985): 549).

The theater is 1st century, a typical Hadrianic style building that would have seated about 15,000 people. (Marie-Henriette Gates, "Archaeology in Turkey," American Journal of Archaeology 98/2 (1994): 276.)

The city wall is also first century with numerous renovations in later times.

The church at Nicaea is 6th century (William Tabbernee, "Asia Minor and Cyprus," in Early Christianity in Contexts, ed. William Tabbernee [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2014], 307.) The Koimeisis Church dates to the early eighth century (SEG XLI 1099) or late seventh century (SEG XLIV 1007).

So all of the Christian structures date at least two centuries after the Council of Nicaea. This is problematic.

The epigraphic corpus for Nicaea is extensive: Sencer Sahin, Katalog der antiken Inschriften des Museums von Iznik (Nikaia), 4 vols. (Bonn: Rudolf Habelt Verlag, 1979-87). With four volumes of inscriptions plus numerous additions in the SEG (Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum), it is clear that Nicaea has more inscriptions than most Mesoamerican sites.

As far as epigraphic evidence we have:
1st century BC
  • a first century BC epitaph (SEG XXIX 1289).
1st century AD
  • an inscription of Nero (AD 54-68) regarding street repair (I Iznik I 13 = CIG 3743)
  • two first century AD dedications on the city gate to the Flavians (AD 70-79)  (SEG XXVIII 1028-29).
  • a building dedication to the Flavians (AD 78) (SEG LI 1709)
  • a statue of Domitian (AD 81-96) (SEG LVII 1275)
  • three first century inscriptions for Roman officals (SEG XXVIII 1025-27).
  • four first century epitaphs (SEG XXVIII 1032-33; XXX 1429; XLVII 1679) 
2nd century AD
  • an aquaduct inscription of Hadrian (AD 117-138) (I Iznik I 1)
  • an architrave inscription of Hadrian (AD 117-138) (I. Iznik. I 30a = SEG XXIX 1282).
  • an altar dedicated to Hadrian (AD 117-138) (I Iznik I 32 = SEG XXIX 1283). 
  • a dedicatory inscription from the reign of Hadrian (I Iznik I 56 = SEG XXXVII 1071 = SEG XLVI 1604)
  • three second century altars (SEG XXXIV 1263; SEG XLIII 897)
  • thirty-one second century epitaphs (SEG XXIX 1290-91; SEG XXX 1430; SEG XXXIV 1264-65; SEG XLIX 1789; SEG LI 1710-11; SEG LV 1346, 1348-56, 1358; SEG LVI 1392-93; SEG LVII 1278, 1281-88; SEG LVIII 1447).
3rd century AD
  • an honorary inscription from the reign of Elagabalus (AD 218-222) (I Iznik I 60 = SEG XXIX 1281).
  • a milestone of Julius Verus Maximinus (AD 235-38) (I Iznik 21 = CIL III 12226 = 13650)
  • two inscriptions of Claudius Gothicus (AD 268-70) regarding the rebuilding of the city wall (I Iznik I 11-12 = CIG 3747-48)
  • four third century dedications to Zeus (SEG LV 1337-39; SEG LVII 1276)
  • twelve third century epitaphs (SEG XXIX 1293; XXXIII 1080; SEG LI 1712-13; SEG LV 1344, 1357, 1359-63; SEG LVI 1394-95).
  • a fragmentary third century epitaph (SEG XXIX 1292). 
  • a milestone of Diocletian and Maximian (AD 286-293) (I Iznik I 22) 
4th century AD
  • a fourth century epitaph (SEG XXIX 1294).
  • a fourth century Jewish inscription quoting Psalm 135:25 (I Iznik II 615 = SEG XLVIII 1499) 
Undated
  • an undated dedication to Ti. Claudius Aelianos Sabinos (I Iznik I 35 = SEG XXIX 1284).
  • six undated dedications to Zeus (SEG XXX 1428; SEG XL 1144-46; SEG XLVII 1678; SEG LX 1338)
  • an undated dedication to Zeus, Hera, and Athena (SEG XXVIII 1030)
  • an undated altar dedicated to Apollo (SEG LV 1340)
  • an undated altar dedicated to Hermes and Apollo (SEG LV 1341)
  • an undated honorary inscription (SEG XLVII 1677)
  • an undated altar dedicated to Tadenos and Okkonenos (SEG LX 1339)
  • three undated altar inscriptions (I Iznik I 43 = SEG XXIX 1288; SEG LI 1709 bis; SEG LX 1340).
  • three undated fragmentary dedications (I Iznik I 36, 42, 66 = SEG XXIX 1285-87; SEG XXXVI 1153).
  • two undated fragmentary inscriptions (SEG XXIX 1343-44).
  • fifty-nine undated epitaphs (SEG XXVIII 1034; SEG XXIX 1295-1318, 1320-24, 1326-31, 1333-38; XXX 1431-34; XXXIII 1081-82; SEG XLVII 1680-81; SEG LX 1341-49) 
  • four undated Christian inscriptions (SEG XXIX 1339-42)
  • four undated Christian epitaphs (SEG XXIX 1319, 1325, 1331-32)
  • an undated testamentary regulation (SEG XLIX 1790)
There is no epigraphic evidence that Constantine paid the least attention to Nicaea. Furthermore, looking at the epigraphic evidence, we would conclude that fourth century inhabitants of Nicaea had converted from the worship of Zeus to Judaism, not Christianity. There is not a single inscription of Constantine's from the site.

There appears to be no archaeological evidence that Constantine was ever in Nicaea, nor that there was a Christian council held there in the fourth century, and, of course, no archaeological evidence for the content of the Nicaean Creed. Should millions of creedal Christians therefore abandon their faith? They cannot point to a single piece of archaeological or epigraphic evidence that the Council of Nicaea ever took place. No reputable archaeologist has ever produced any. I can find no record of any reputable archaeological journals that have published any archaeological evidence that the Council ever took place or that support the creed that it supposedly produced.


Anyone who has actually worked trying to integrate archaeological with historical data can spot the problems with this sort of analysis easily. Some people, however, want to apply a double standard applying different standards to the Book of Mormon than they do to other historical events.