It’s great to see that René Salm still adds to his website. His latest is a response to arguments that the passage in Josephus’s Antiquities about John the Baptist is part of the original Josephan text:
Further, I have added more chapters to the Bruno Bauer page. Interesting thoughts that arise:
1. The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness are actually the temptations of the Church;
2. It makes little sense for a great founder or teacher to be declaring that a “greater” is following him — the founder is necessarily the greater one;
3. Contrary to what we read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, no teacher has ever started out by calling for a team of disciples. Disciples must always follow after the work of teaching has been underway for some time and making an impact.
A comment by VinnyJH has led me to rethink and plan to add a paragraph to my recent post on Nazareth. Of course, Nazareth is a significant factor in the historical Jesus debate. True, it is not necessary for Nazareth to have been settled to support Richard Carrier’s “minimalist historical Jesus” figure that he uses in his hypothesis for the unlikelihood for the historicity of Jesus. But in the wider culture, it does have a very strong significance. Witness the tourist industry related to Nazareth, the holy sites historically preserved there, for starters. Even in mainstream scholarly circles, we can find the argument presented that the “criterion of embarrassment” “proves” the historical Jesus came from Nazareth. It is a prominent feature of mainstream historical Jesus scholarship that the authors of both the gospels of Matthew and Luke supposedly tied their narrative in knots just to work out a way to get Jesus from Bethlehem (where he had to be born to fulfill the messianic prophecy) to Nazareth (from where “oral tradition” was so insistent as the place he was known to come from). The same scholarship is very clear: it posits that the Nazareth association was so important in the wider knowledge about Jesus that the evangelists somehow felt compelled to write contradictory and convoluted narratives to explain how that “general knowledge” came about.
It is no wonder that some mainstream historical Jesus scholars choose to respond to René Salm’s research with insult than engage in an intellectually honest way with the evidence he has published.
In his review of the GRC eConference on the historicity of Jesus Richard Carrier wrote with respect to the claim that the town of Nazareth did not exist in the early first century CE
There is no good case to be made that Nazareth did not exist as a town in the early first century, nor would it at all matter (OHJ, index, “Nazareth”). All the arguments to this effect ignore contrary evidence (e.g. an inscription establishes Nazareth as one of the towns that took in priests after the destruction of the temple, which entail Nazareth had to be a well-developed town by then—indeed, not a hick village either, but a place a member of the temple elite would not be embarrassed to settle at) and derive from invalid arguments from silence (e.g. we simply have not excavated hardly any of the locality now identified as Nazareth and cannot even establish that that is the same town as anciently named—a problem also with Bethlehem, which Zindler also incorrectly said we could “prove” didn’t then exist). And continuing to insist on this unprovable makes mythicism look crank, not least because the town’s not existing would have no more to do with the historicity of Jesus than Bethlehem’s not existing would: every historicist agrees Jesus was never associated with Bethlehem outside scripturally-inspired fiction, so its not existing has zero effect on the probability Jesus existed. Jesus was clearly linked to Nazareth for the same scriptural reasons, which also means the town had to actually exist when the Gospel authors chose it as fulfilling a prophecy they themselves admitted did not actually mention it (e.g. Matthew says the prophecy was that the messiah would be a Nazorian, not a Nazarene—a fact obscured by over-meddling translations—so if they were inventing a town to match, it would have been Nazoria, not Nazareth: see Proving History, index, “Nazareth”). It’s unlikely some obscurely new village would be known to the authors of the Gospels so as to be employed this way.
I did not listen in on that conference but I expect that Frank Zindler would have referred to René Salm’s study of the scholarly publications on the archaeological excavations of Nazareth in his two books and on his webpage.
Carrier’s first sentence is a value judgment that I believe can be demonstrated to be based on ignorance or misunderstanding of the details of the arguments advanced in Salm’s work. Carrier’s second sentence is false and leads one to suspect that he has either never read or has forgotten what he read in Salm’s and another’s arguments.
The Inscription Best Left Unmentioned
The inscription that Carrier indicates as evidence of “a well-developed town by” the first century was in fact “discovered” under highly questionable circumstances by Jerry Vardaman, a person whom Carrier has elsewhere and in another context described in terms such as “insane”, “not to be trusted”, tainted with “chronic mental illness”, “madness”, “absurdity”, “weirdness”, “nonsense on stilts”, a maker of “profoundly absurd” and “fanatical assertions”, “[ranking] right up there with Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods.”
Likely agreement with Carrier’s assessment is found in a letter by a president of the American Society for Overseas Research (ASOR) that he wrote to an academic peer about his experience with Jerry Vardaman’s competence and character as witnessed on an archaeological dig:
Jerry Vardanian was an unmitigated disaster from start tofinish. Hence, we could not invite him back for solid training. He does not have the judgment, the temperament, nor the essential honesty andsolidity of personality that he could be trusted with any work in the NearEast on his own. . . .
Then, while the Director of Antiquities in Jordan, Awni Dajani, was on his death bed, the current Department of Antiquities, as well as the University of Jordan, believe it to be a fact that Jerry bribed Awni’s cousin, Rafiq Dajani, to get a permit to dig at Machaerus. . . . . .That expedition was, from every point of view, a disaster. In any event, when Jerry came back into the country to see about digging again, the Department of Antiquities issued orders to the police to arrest him at the airport. The only way he was rescued from arrest and having to stand trial was that the American ambassador went to bat for him and asked that the matter be settled quietly to prevent the scandal from appearing in the papers. Now, as though that were not enough, this man has the continental gall to start it again. . . .
. . . He simply cannot be trusted to do anything right, not even whenhe is watched every minute. He is as devious and as untrustworthy anambassador in the Near East as any man could possibly be.
Salm’s translation of Enrico Tuccinardi’s research into the authenticity of the Caesarea Inscription begins here. Salm’s fuller discussion of the circumstances of the so-called discovery of that artefact begins here and the subsequent posts can be followed easily from this point.
One has to conclude that Carrier has forgotten or failed to read earlier work that René Salm tried to point out to him, including the publication by Enrico Tuccinardi.
Carrier’s cavalier swipe at the validity of the arguments on the basis that “we simply have not excavated hardly any of the locality now identified as Nazareth and cannot even establish that that is the same town as anciently named” ignores the arguments from the evidence that does exist. Even if the area Jesus happened to have grown up in is under a block of units and for that reason cannot be excavated, archaeologists can see what remains do exist in the surrounding areas and it is clear when nearby settlements were extant and when they were not. Settlements exist with surrounding farm areas, cemeteries, and other markers and it is the fact that we have evidence for these things at the wrong time.
The issue at hand is chronology, not location. The valley floor is now heavily built over and will in all likelihood never be excavated. This is convenient for those who claim a village there in the time of Christ, but it is untenable on several grounds. First of all, it is hardly likely that the village predated its tombs. The dozens of scattered tombs from Roman Nazareth that have been excavated on the hillsides all postdate 50 CE. This shows that the village did also. As was stated: “The earliest tomb at Nazareth is a significant clue regarding the existence of a village” (Chapter 4, p. 157). . . . . (Salm, Myth, p. 289)
And as for not addressing counterarguments, Salm continues,
It is worthwhile to consider the various counter-arguments to the evidence, because the issue of Nazareth in the time of Jesus is so explosive. In the case of the putative Hellenistic tombs mentioned above, once such tombs are shown not to be on the hillside of the Nebi Sa‘in, then one might assert that they were elsewhere—perhaps on the valley floor itself. But this too makes little sense, and is a reversal of what one would expect: presumably, the ancient Jews were living on the steep and rocky hillside, and constructing their tombs on the flat valley floor! (p. 290)
And so forth. A full treatment would take several lengthy posts but René Salm has already set much of it out — apart from his books — on his website.
I will mention just one more support for Salm’s work. It is correspondence from one the archaeologist Hans-Peter Kuhnen. I have posted about that here.
The Fear of Being Called a Crank Factor
Another acerbic online critic who often makes sweeping claims that have a misleading appearance of sounding well-researched and knowledgeable is Tim O’Neill. O’Neill has made one of his motivations quite clear: mythicism will make atheists look like nutters. So he knee-jerks and kicks mythicism whenever he can, usually from a position that is only partially informed. I fear that it looks as though Carrier may be a victim of a similar fear when he complains that arguments against the existence of Nazareth make mythicists look like cranks.
So let’s take a sober look at what is at stake here.
Is the Nazareth Question Important?
Postscript, 2nd Oct 2021:
Of course, Nazareth is a significant factor in the historical Jesus debate. True, it is not necessary for Nazareth to have been settled to support Richard Carrier’s “minimalist historical Jesus” figure that he uses in his hypothesis for the unlikelihood for the historicity of Jesus. Many of us see its irrelevance from such an intellectual perspective. But in the wider culture, or in “the real world” we might say, it does have a very strong significance. Witness the tourist industry related to Nazareth, the holy sites historically preserved there over the centuries, for starters. Even in mainstream scholarly circles, we can find the argument presented that the “criterion of embarrassment” “proves” the historical Jesus came from Nazareth. It is a prominent feature of mainstream historical Jesus scholarship that the authors of both the gospels of Matthew and Luke supposedly tied their narrative in knots just to work out a way to get Jesus from Bethlehem (where he had to be born to fulfill the messianic prophecy) to Nazareth (from where “oral tradition” was so insistent as the place he was known to come from). The same scholarship is very clear: it posits that the Nazareth association was so important in the wider knowledge about Jesus that the evangelists somehow felt compelled to write contradictory and convoluted narratives to explain how that “general knowledge” came about.
It is no wonder that some mainstream historical Jesus scholars choose to respond to René Salm’s research with insult than engage in an intellectually honest way with the evidence he has published.
Is any knowledge important? Is any research into learning more about our world and our history important?
If Nazareth was not a town at the time of Jesus’ upbringing then legitimate and productive questions must arise. If the gospels speak of Nazareth, presumably their authors wrote at a time when the village existed and presumably that must be some considerable time after the setting of the events they narrate, most reasonably well after 70 CE. If Nazareth did not exist then it strengthens any argument that Jesus was originally known by an epithet that was not related to the town and refutes the view that some continue to hold that Jesus was known by his place of early residence. What were the origins of the revival of settlement at Nazareth some time after 50 CE, what were the general conditions of the time, what was happening in that region?…. all of this information would be potentially significant for any investigation into the period leading up to the Bar Kochba war and final destruction of Jerusalem.
Carrier cites his works On the Historicity of Jesus and Proving History for further discussion but a quick re-scan tells me that neither of these references go much beyond saying that the existence of Nazareth is irrelevant to the question of the historicity of Jesus. Of course, it is fallacious to argue if Nazareth didn’t exist then Jesus didn’t either. But its nonexistence certainly raises questions about when the gospels were written and how and when Jesus came to be associated with that town. Yes, Matthew twists a prophecy to make Nazareth seem the logical place for Jesus’ early years, so presumably Matthew knew of the town, and presumably he believed it to be long-established by his time, so presumably he was writing as late as…..? The answer to that question has major consequences in any reconstruction of Christian origins.
That opponents of the view that Nazareth did not exist (and I am thinking here more broadly than Carrier) react with such vitriol against the thesis and against René Salm personally, with misrepresentation and worse, suggests to me that the question of Nazareth is most certainly very important in many quarters. So much so that tactics that go beyond mere intellectual tools of honest inquiry are brought to bear in the “debate”.
Salm, René. The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus. American Atheist Press, 2008.
I like the above work better for its consistently academic style but the one below is of course more complete with updated material. In the 2008 work, Salm discussed the Caesarea Inscription demonstrating its irrelevance to the main thrust of his thesis despite some views at the time that it verified a settlement at Nazareth in Jesus’ time. It was only after Enrico Tuccinardi alerted him to the character of the “discoverer” of the inscription that Salm eventually came to the same conclusion that it was a forgery.
Salm, René J. Nazarethgate: Quack Archeology, Holy Hoaxes, and the Invented Town of Jesus. American Atheist Press, 2015.
This post is an important and necessary follow up to my previous one about the falsehoods of O’Neill’s attacks on Salm’s work. Any readers with a serious interest in the dating of Nazareth and the seriousness of René Salm’s study of the archaeological record should be aware of the evidence that demonstrates how carelessly false Tim O’Neill’s public statements about his work really are.
Contrary to O’Neill’s assertions Salm did not mistranslate [my previous post demonstrated this by showing the locations of sites Kuhnen listed] or misinterpret Kuhnen as Kuhnen himself affirms in the following email exchange between Salm and Kuhnen and that I copy here with permission.
This first extract Kuhnen wrote initially to a third party but then copied to Salm himself. Bracketed clarifications are by Salm and the bolded highlighting is by me:
In my answer to Mr. Salm’s interesting question I referred to my Ph.D. thesis of 1982, published 1989 under the title “Studien zur Chronologie und Siedlungsarchäologie des Karmel (Israel) zwischen Hellenismus und Spätantike. Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients B 72 . Wiesbaden 1989. On pages 49 – 72 of this book you’ll find a chronological analysis of Hellenistic – Roman tombs excavated up to then in Palestine. My chronology is based primarily on internal evidence, i. e. the combination of finds, a method common in European prehistory, but up to now not yet introduced in Palestinian archaeology. My “comparing [comparison—RS] table of datable tombs” (Kombinationstabelle der Funde aus Gräbern”. Beilage 3) clearly proves that all kokim tombs of my “phase I”* (2nd [cent. BCE]- early 1st century AD) are concentrated in the Judean hills around Jerusalem. The earliest kokim tombs of Galilee appear in my “phase II”, starting around the middle of the 1st century AD. Therefore, from the evidence published up to the 1990s, Mr. Salm is right that there is no clear evidence of tombs of the period of Jesus in Nazareth. … I definitely share your scepticism about the historicity of the New Testament. Last year I held a seminar and an excursion at the Institute of Biblical Archaeology of Mainz University on Holy places on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, which showed clearly that the localization of New Testament sites in Galilee is the work of Byzantine historiographers and not of the writers of the New Testament.
* “Kombinationstabelle der Funde aus Gräbern” is the heading of Appendix 3 (“Beilage 3”) of Kuhnen’s PhD thesis. The heading literally means “Combination table of finds from tombs.” That’s of course quite different from Kuhnen’s translation. The word “Kombination” in German has inferences that the English “combination” lacks, including “comparison” (hence my bracketed clarification). The German “Tabelle” variously can mean many things: “table, list, chart, index, schedule, synopsis, summary” (from my large Cassell’s English & German dictionary). I ILL’ed Kuhnen’s thesis years ago and don’t have it at hand, but if … memory serves, the appendix in question is in the form of a list. So, I would translate the entire phrase as “Comparison list of finds from tombs”, or “Master list of finds from tombs”, or even “Master summary of finds from tombs.” Of course, we’re not talking about Nazareth finds here, but those in the vicinity of Mt. Carmel in Lower Galilee, about 30 km WNW of Nazareth. — RS.
So , from an archaeological point of view, Salm’s arguments about a completely Judean “theatre” of NT history cannot be disregarded, but it seems to me that discussion will go on for a long time. [Jan . 4, 2010]
Here are a couple of further snippets from Kuhnen’s emails to Salm. They demonstrate that there has been no daylight (“misunderstanding”) between Kuhnen and Salm on tomb dating. Kuhnen even states that he considers Salm’s study sufficiently worthy to be included in his curriculum. (Unfortunately not every email has the date stamp preserved.) In the posts directly to Salm himself Kuhnen wrote in German but Salm has added translations:
– Kuhnen writes: “Hinsichtlich der Datierung der bekannten Gräber haben Sie sicher recht.” (“Regarding the dating of the known tombs [in Nazareth] you are certainly correct.” (Dated May 15, 2009)
– “Ihre Überlegungen sind sehr anregend, besonders Ihre Hauptthese, dass die Evangelien im wesentlichen die Realität nach dem Jahr 70 n. Chr. beschreiben. Auch Ihrer Einschätzung von Bagatti stimme ich zu. Er und einige andere seiner Kollegen (de Vaux, Humbert) sind meines Erachtens typische Vertreter einer kirchlichen Archäologie, die in der Archäologie das bestätigt sieht, was sie schon vorher wusste.” (“Your reflections are very exciting, particularly your main thesis that the gospels essentially describe the post-70 CE reality. I also agree with your estimation of Bagatti. He and some of his other colleagues (de Vaux, Humbert) are, in my opinion, typical apologists for an ecclesiastical archeology that simply confirms what it already knows.”
– “Insgesamt finde ich, wie gesagt , Ihre überlegungen sehr interessant, und habe darüber auch schon den Studenten in meinem derzeitigen Seminar an der Uni Mainz berichtet. Im nächsten Semester möchte ich an der Uni Mainz ein kritisches Seminar zum Thema “Archäologie und Neues Testament” anbieten. Dabei werden wir sicher auch Ihr Buch behandeln.” (Translation: “In all, I find your reflections very interesting, as mentioned above. I have already communicated your views to students in my current Seminar at the Univ. of Mainz. Next summer I would like to offer a critical seminar on the Archaeology of the New Testament. In it we will certainly discuss your book.” (Second half of May 2009.)
I said in my previous post that contrary to the impression created by O’Neill Salm has engaged with Kuhnen’s work in considerable depth and most certainly was not “quote mining” a single sentence. Here is a list of all of Kuhnen’s works consulted by Salm from the bibliography of his second book, NazarethGate:
1986. Nordwest-Palästina in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit. Bauten und Gräber im Karmelgebiet. Weinheim: VCH Verlag.
1989. Studien zur Chronologie und Siedlungsarchäologie des Karmel (Israel)
zwischen Hellenismus und Spätantike. (Tübinger Atlas zum Vorderen Orient. Beiheft B 72.) Wiesbaden.
1990. Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit. (Handbuch der Archäologie. Vorderasien II,2.) München: C. H. Beck.
1994. Mit Thora und Todesmut: Judäa im Widerstand gegen die Römer von
Herodes bis Bar Kochba. (Führer und Bestandskataloge III.) Stuttgart: Württ. Landesmuseum .
2002. “Bestattungswesen Palästinas im Hellenismus.” In: Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Göttingen), pp. 211 f.
2007. “Grabbau und Bestattungssitten in Palästina zwischen Herodes und den Severern.” In: A. Faber, P. Fasold, M. Struck, M. Witteyer (Eds.), Körpergräber des 1.–3. Jh. in der römischen Welt. Kolloquium Frankfurt am Main 2004. Frankfurt: Schriften des Archäologischen Museums Frankfurt am Main, 57–76.
2009. (with W. Zwickel): Archäologie und Politik im Land der Bibel: 60 Jahre Gründung des Staates Israel. (Kleine Arbeiten zum Alten und Neuen Testament). Mainz: Spenner.
René Salm has posted online his review of the work of British archaeologist Ken Dark on Nazareth. You can read A Critique of Dr. Ken Dark’s writings relative to the Sisters of Nazareth convent site at Academia.edu. Dark is well known for his work on Roman Britain but Salm finds his work on Nazareth failing to take into account specialist knowledge and methods for this region. Dark promised some years ago a new book comprehensively addressing Nazareth archaeology but since that book has still not appeared Salm has studied and responded to relevant articles Dark has published so far.
To those who might think that Salm’s review is therefore premature he writes:
As interim reports, then, we cannot fault Dark’s writings on the Sisters of Nazareth site for their lack of descriptive detail nor of the precision promised in the ﬁnal report. As of this writing (Fall,2013), all of Prof. Dark’s publications on the Sisters of Nazareth site must be viewed as primarily interpretive. As such, it is precisely the professor’s interpretation of the evidence which is the focus of this critique—his reasoning, his assumptions, his chronology, and his methodology. These do not change from interim to ﬁnal report. Hence, this critique itself is not to be viewed as “interim” but addresses unchanging and critical elements of Dark’s work at the Sisters of Nazareth convent. Continue reading “A Critique of Ken Dark’s Work at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent”
Richard Carrier, PhD, has essentially endorsed Tom Verenna’s “scathing review” of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus with one caveat: his complaints “may be a little excessive.” (I discussed earlier the blatant “wrongness” of Verenna’s review.) But we must stress that Verenna had only praise for the contribution from Dr Richard Carrier.
Carelessness with people’s reputations
Carrier (with a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University) reinforces Verenna’s ethical discomfort that Frank Zindler chose to publish email correspondence between himself and Ehrman:
Verenna raises some valid concerns worth mulling, such as about Zindler’s use and publication of his correspondence with Ehrman.
Thus even Dr Carrier demonstrates that he is not as thorough in the reading of what he is reviewing as he should be. He, like Verenna, quite overlooked Zindler’s own note at the point of introducing this email exchange:
I thank Professor Ehrman for graciously having granted me permission to reprint here his messages, provided only that I “acknowledge that they were emails, not written intended for publication.”
Because of their careless oversights (accompanied, one must presume, with a lack of interest in seriously checking to see if their grounds for darkening Zindler’s character were real) both have recklessly cast slanderous aspersions upon the integrity of Frank Zindler.
[The nature of the emails and how Frank used them are outlined in a comment below.]
Academic professionalism or strictly business?
One might wonder about the professionalism of a scholar who publishes a scathing review of a book to which he has contributed and advises his readers they are better off not bothering with it. (Professionalism, in my view, extends to treatment of one’s colleagues as much as it does to how one approaches one’s job.) But Dr Carrier clears the air on this point at the outset of his review. His relationship with the other contributors of this volume, and in particular with its editors, is entirely a business one. He stresses that he sold the rights to his article to them so they could make use of it: Continue reading “Richard Carrier’s Review of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus”
What Tim O’Neill has done in his attacks on René Salm earlier this year over his claims that there was no village of Nazareth at the time of Jesus is defend the very worst practices found among the most culpable of researchers. He is defending the right of academics to make pronouncements of breakthroughs and new discoveries and then say, “Nope, you can’t examine all the details of the data for yourself. I’m a professional! How dare you question my judgements!” And just to be sure you get the point, the same researcher calls upon an “independent” peer to back him up in his assertions of breakthroughs and new discoveries: but nope, we can’t give you all the detail of the data that you’d like. And let no-one mention that both the researcher AND his “independent” peer are committed to stamping out your doubt — that these new discoveries are true. That’s never spoken out loud. Are you some anti-religious bigot to think this might matter?
First, the background. 2007 saw the publication of “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report” (the Nazareth Village Farm report) in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society (BAIAS). The following year, the same peer-reviewed journal published René Salm’s criticism of that report (“Response”), along with a defence of it by two of the report’s authors (“A Reply to Salm”), another defence by the director of a related project, Ken Dark (“Nazareth Village Farm: A Reply to Salm”), and finally a 23 page “Amendment” by Y. Rapuano correcting some of the deficiencies Salm had pointed out in the original report. The same 2008 issue of BAIAS also contained a scathing review by Dark on Salm’s book, The Myth of Nazareth. Salm responded to that review on his website (http://www.nazarethmyth.info/bibl.html).
René Salm’s book, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus, surveys earlier reports that have been produced on the archaeology of Nazareth. Salm itemizes the history of archaeological finds at Nazareth and compares these with claims that go beyond that evidence by researchers who have a demonstrable religious bias.
A pattern is developing among archaeologists of applying Judean datings to Galilean artifacts. Both Rapuano and Dark do this at critical junctures. Using southern typologies moves the terminus post quem back generations or even centuries. It took over two centuries for the kokh tomb to get from Judea to Galilee! (Salm, drawing on the scholarship of Kuhnen 254-55)
That leads to one little detail that Tim O’Neill happens to overlook in his attack on Salm. The Nazareth Village Farm report was the work of three persons. Only one of them, Rapuano, is a trained archaeologist who, however, customarily works in Judea far to the south. It is Rapuano who dated the pottery at the NVF and who, Salm shows, wrongly uses early Judean parallels (e.g. from Jericho and Gezer) to date the Galilean pottery at Nazareth, thus producing false early datings. Another of the NVF report authors has extensive field experience but is untrained, and all three are or have been closely connected with the religious institutions dedicated to discovering and restoring — for public “educational” purposes — the town of Jesus. The religious bias of the funding body and persons behind the report should not be overlooked. The Nazareth Village Farm report begins by acknowledging the religious and tourist motivation of its authors:
For nearly two decades, the University of the Holy Land (UHL) and its subsidiary, the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC), has laboured to lay the academic foundation for the construction of a ﬁrst-century Galilean village or town based upon archaeology and early Jewish and Christian sources. It was hoped that such a ‘model village’ would provide a ‘time capsule’ into which the contemporary visitor might step to encounter more eﬀectively the rural setting of Galilean Judaism and the birth-place of early Christianity. At Nazareth Village this educational vision is currently being realized (for a popular publication on the Nazareth Village Farm project, see Kauﬀmann 2005).
Understand exactly what the University of the Holy Land (UHL) and the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC) are: See
(its mission is to produce “communicators of the scriptures” and “pastors”; “the land of the Bible is [its] classroom”; its total faculty numbers nine persons)
The UHL began as the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC) but the CSEC has since become a subsidiary of the UHL. Both are under the direction of Stephen Pfann. The CSEC is dedicated to establishing in beside the site of the archaeological dig “a ‘model village’ [to] provide a sort of time capsule into which the contemporary visitor might step to encounter more effectively the message of Jesus in its original setting.”
It is not an insignificant detail that all those involved in the archaeological dig at the Nazareth farm, the authors of the report, and the institutions they represent, are dedicated to discovering (and restoring a replica of) the Nazareth of the Gospels as a religious enterprise. The archaeologist at the centre of Salm’s criticisms is Jehudah Rapuano. One can glean an insight into his religious interest in the Nazareth site from online scribblings from years back, from his choice to do his Masters degree at the University of the Holy Land, his association with Zion Public Radio (“Israel Talks, We Listen”), and his belief that there is even literary evidence that Nazareth was a settled village in the time of Jesus (presumably the Gospels are his authority) (see his and Pfann’s reply to Salm in the BAIAS).
And this is the trained archaeologist the Israel Antiquities Authority licenses to undertake a dig at Nazareth — a dig which the report itself said had a religious and tourist motivation. And this is the author whom Tim O’Neill says we are lunatics not to trust when he pronounces his views on the evidence for Nazareth.
This post goes through O’Neill’s key criticisms and concludes with a demonstration that he has put himself squarely in the anti-intellectual, we-must-always-defer-to-the-authoritative-pronouncements-of-scholars-and-never-be-so-impertinent-as-to-question-them corner of the fight.
One theologian (another who regularly calls upon the less learned to lay aside their questions and simply defer to the judgments of scholars) has said he finds Tim O’Neill’s personal denigration of René Salm and criticism of his supposed arguments about Nazareth “very helpful”. Tim O’Neill himself expresses satisfaction with his post:
I put this together in a thread on the James Randi forum where some Mythers tried the “Nazareth never existed” tack. After this post, they totally abandoned that line of argument.
Tim O’Neill does have that affect on some people attempting to engage in a serious intellectual discussion. Anyone interested in discussing the facts and reasons in a civil manner and avoiding ad hominem soon learns to ignore his blustering online persona. His language and tone are further evidence of his anti-intellectualism and bullying demands to have others submit to his own arguments (or he’ll call you bad names).
(Tim O’Neill is always welcome to reply to this or any other post on this blog, by the way, but only if he abides by the blog’s comment policy and moderation rules. But of course, if he does that, he will lose the force of his primary weapons: bluster and insult. I think he’d lose interest.)
O’Neill has the ability and patience to dig out many sources but few of his readers would have the like patience or opportunity to actually test his claims by checking those sources for themselves. Some of those readers may find this post “very helpful”.
Bart Ehrman has stridently insisted he really did read the mythicist works he reviewed in Did Jesus Exit? (DJE?) so we must take him at his word. And being a scholar we know he is a gentleman and therefore honest, so we must conclude, I think, that he was very tired or unwell and badly losing concentration when he read René Salm’s and Frank Zindler’s writings casting doubt on the existence of Nazareth. I can see little in common between Ehrman’s “representations” of their arguments and their actual works themselves. This post will point to some of the most incomprehensible discrepancies — incomprehensible, that is, IF Ehrman really did read Salm and Zindler with any elementary comprehension and attention.
(Earl Doherty chose not to address this question in his review #23 of Ehrman’s book because it is not a question he as examined and, as Ehrman himself says — p. 197 of DJE? –, whether Nazareth existed or not does not, of itself, decide the question of Jesus’ existence. Earl Doherty’s reviews of Ehrman’s DJE? have been updated, revised and collated as a Kindle e-Book on Amazon.)
Unture claim #1
Ehrman addresses the argument over the existence of Nazareth in pages 191 to 197 of his book. Curiously, Ehrman says the argument that Nazareth did not exist is “one of the more common claims found in the writings of mythicists” (p. 191).
It is not found in any of the writings of Earl Doherty nor, from what I have read, in any of the writings of Robert M. Price (though I understand he has made some mention of it on an audio session) or Thomas L. Thompson or Richard Carrier. I think G. A. Wells makes passing mention of it. Ehrman does not help us here because he footnotes not a single source for his claim.
Unture claims #2 and #3
As anyone who has read earlier analyses of Ehrman’s work on this blog would expect by now, Ehrman offers readers no citations, no evidence in support of his accusations. He simply makes them up.
The logic of this argument, which is sometimes advanced with considerable vehemence and force, appears to be that if Christians made up Jesus’s home-town, they probably made him up as well. (p. 191)
I like that weasel-phrase “appears to be” — it is a favourite of James McGrath, too. It means one can always plead that one never made any accusations but only that your stupid words “appeared” to be stupid. Of course, as anyone who has read earlier analyses of Ehrman’s work on this blog would by now expect, Ehrman gives readers no citations, no evidence in support of his accusations. He simply makes them up.
I had not even known that Zindler had written anything about Nazareth until I read Ehrman’s response to it. (Zindler’s main “mythicist” publication certainly does not discuss it.) So I looked it up. There is a copy online, Where Jesus Never Walked. Now Zindler’s article is rich with humour. At times he can be downright funny. Is this the trait that Ehrman interprets as diabolical “vehemence and force”?
Rene Salm at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting
Several people have sent me private emails asking why René Salm was put on the program at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting, given the fact that he is not a scholar and has no credentials in the field [Credentials are evidently indispensable evidence of scholarship. . .–RS]. For those of you who don’t know, Salm has written a book claiming that Nazareth did not exist in the first century, so that Jesus couldn’t be there. He argues this in part because he doesn’t think Jesus existed and so wants to discredit the Gospel stories by saying the Christian authors made the whole thing up. [The Nazareth myth stands on its own. Second guesses on why I wrote the book are irrelevant and often wrong.]
Several scholars (well, everyone who mentioned it to me) were outraged that Salm was allowed to be on the program. This meeting is of a learned society and is to be for scholars with established expertise. It is not to be a venue for people without qualifications to spout their wild theories. Salm claims that those who oppose him have a theological or religious bias against his views, but this simply is not true. EVERYONE who is an expert opposes his views – Jewish, Christian, agnostic, or other. There is not a single archaeologist of ancient Israel that gives him the least credit. [That’s because they know on which side their bread is buttered.] That doesn’t make him wrong. But it does mean that if he wants to argue that every real scholar is in error, he should get some credentials first. [That’s illogical. Because all the credentialed archaeologists have thus far been wrong, therefore I also should get credentials? Presumably in archaeology? Everybody is entitled to an opinion, both the credentialed and the non-credentialed. The difference is that the credentialed academic has one hand on the facts and one hand on a paycheck, while the non-credentialed layperson is free to pursue the facts unfettered.] In any event, I thought it might be worthwhile to reprint here what I say about Salm’s book in my book Did Jesus Exist? Apologies for those who have read this already. I have removed the footnotes here, but you can find them in the original. . .
This was followed by Ehrman’s “part 2” on me and the SBL. I don’t feel comfortable paying money to his blog and voicing my opinion there, and may simply react on my own MP blog. Of course, my lack of pertinent credentials is a pretext. The tradition would surely be just as opposed to me if I actually had a PhD. My goodness, I think it would be even more upset!
Another curiosity: Ehrman is himself a member of the SBL “Metacriticism of Biblical Studies” unit. [Rene Salm has since corrected this — see Comment #5 below]He’s known about my upcoming talk for a long time, as Avalos hashed out the SBL roster of presentations via emails to the whole list (about two dozen members) over the last twelve months. It’s curious to me that Ehrman did not say something when it could have made a difference, but waited until after the fact to voice his displeasure and to raise the issue of some SBL impropriety.
FYI, here are the members of the Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship section from their email addresses:
HectorAvalos james.linville zeba.crook R. Raphael kenneth atkinson reedrw william.arnal alex botta kurt noll f. fzindler stephanielouisefisher earldoherty barnasha steve.a.wiggins jstiebe p.davies thomas thompson Philippe Wajdenbaum alenzi bart ehrman robert price james.crossley Willi Braun rene salm J METZGER c martin elliott still b c landau
The Metacriticism section is not a fully formed “unit” but is in its first year of trial status by SBL. [Rene Salm has since corrected this — see Comment #5 below] Complaints from scholars of Ehrman’s stature could well scuttle this auspicious but fledgling ship. . . I plan to contact Avalos on this shortly. [See comment #5 below for corrections made since that contact with Dr Avalos.]
If I’m banned for lack of credentials it means little to me, as I have no plans to speak there again. But I think the whole SBL would have to formulate a new policy because right now any member (credentialed or not) can give a paper as along as s/he’s invited by a “program unit.” Nevertheless, this is a discussion that needs to happen. Scholars should ask themselves why a lot of good work is currently being done outside the guild (Price, Doherty, Zindler, myself, etc.) and a lot of bad work inside of it.Continue reading “More SBL Fallout from René Salm’s paper”
Richard Carrier has posted a review of Thomas L. Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. It is here on the freethought blog. I will be posting more of my own thoughts on the book in future posts here. While I agree with much of Carrier’s assessment I do hold back from some of his more “jaded” (his term) expressions: Of course the book is not written as an argument to prove Jesus never existed. It is, as Carrier rightly notes (though I think he loses some balance here in overstressing what the book is not) an autobiographical journey of how Brodie came to conclude Jesus did not exist. While it is certainly logically valid to insist that it is not valid to conclude that Jesus did not exist if all one has is evidence that Jesus was a literary character, but at the same time, in the absence of positive evidence for Jesus’ historicity, it is certainly valid to conclude that there is no reason to accept Jesus as a historical figure. If the only extant evidence is literary metaphor or a theological concept then it is valid to conclude that Jesus was a literary metaphor until other evidence comes along to the contrary. (Carrier will possibly object here by pointing to Paul’s letters, but this is a discussion I will have to leave for another time.)
René Salm has posted the paper he delivered at the SBL conference recently. I like the way he nails from the outset common dismissals of his thesis that Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus (my emphasis):
Not being an archaeologist myself, I am often asked: “How can you date evidence, Mr. Salm?” or: “How can you presume to correct professional archaeologists?” or: “How can you have any opinion on these matters?” However, there is a misunderstanding inherent in these questions, for I have never dated anything at all. I have simply identified the relevant archaeological experts and quoted their published datings: Hans-Peter Kuhnen on kokhim tombs, Varda Sussman on bow-spouted oil lamps, Roland Deines on Jewish stone vessels, Amos Kloner on circular blocking stones, and so on. The case regarding Nazareth does not rest on my opinion at all. Anyone who disagrees with The Myth of Nazareth is not disagreeing with me but is taking issue with the leading archaeological experts in the world. As we shall see, this is fatal for traditional conclusions regarding Nazareth.
Last week I received via snail mail (from a contact in Israel) a just-published book entitled “Nazareth: Archaeology, History and Cultural Heritage” (Nazareth Municipality, 2012). On glossy paper, with color photos, bound with thread, it’s a pretty slick production. . . In it is an article by Stephen Pfann (University of the Holy Land, the “brains” behind the Nazareth Village resort), and also an article by the now infamous Yardenna Alexandre. . .
I’m hereby alerting you that the entire book is benign except for one sentence by Alexandre. On p. 32 she announces:
In the excavations at Mary’s Well undertaken in 1997, Late Hellenistic pottery shards and ten coins of the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus (103-73 BCE) were found in the earth fills below the fountain house.
WTF!? But, in truth, I half-expected this. It’s not entirely a surprising, for this coin allegation has been rumored for some time (see my latest Scandal Sheet, http://www.nazarethmyth.info/scandaleight.html). This, however, is a leap to another level–we’re no longer dealing with a rumor but a statement by the archaeologist who excavated at Mary’s Well.
This represents a colossal challenge to myself as well as to mythicists. IMO, the tradition is now resorting to “planting” evidence. That is a shocking but desperate development by any standard. Continue reading “Nazareth Boondoggle”
Given the recent fiasco of Joseph Hoffmann thinking he could easily toss challenges to his Galatians 4:4 nonsense but then walking away, muttering curses in Hebrew, without addressing a single one of the actual criticisms of his thesis detailed in two posts here it is easy to relate to much of René’s argument. (To avoid unnecessary embarrassment we will overlook that unfortunate attempt to spin a morphological argument presumably intended to befuddle others into thinking how unwrong he really was with his slip-ups over the dictionary meaning of a Greek word and misidentifying another word in the manuscripts.) If this is the historicists’ answer to Ehrman’s dismal attempt to rebut mythicism, mythicism’s future looks promising. By the time hostile critics of mythicism begin to grasp that in certain quarters mythicist arguments really do deal with the scholarship and the scholarly tools and the full range of the evidence, it may be too late to regain control of the wider public agenda. Or maybe deep down they do realize their intellectual vulnerability and that they really do have no weapons other than personal attack and ridicule.
René’s response has been reformatted and posted here with permission:
Obviously, the question of Nazareth archaeology is my special bailiwick and, to my knowledge, no one has specifically countered Ehrman regarding his pages 191-97. I can say here that Ehrman is evasive, tendentious and, of course, entirely wrong.
He is evasive by casually ignoring vital elements of my case (e.g., he doesn’t even mention oil lamps, all of which date to the common era at Nazareth).
He is tendentious
by stressing extra-evidentiary elements (such as my lack of credentials–p. 194),
by focussing on irrelevancies (kokh tombs were expensive and not used by “poor people”),
and by grossly mischaracterizing actual evidence.
The boondoggle regarding Yardena Alexandre’s 165 coins (p. 195) is a case in point and is getting entirely out of hand.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) report Alexandre sent me in May, 2006 regarding her Mary’s Well excavation makes no mention of coins other than “many 14th-15th century small denomination coins.” It is inconceivable to me that coins dating “to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus” (DJE 195) would have been omitted from Alexandre’s report to the IAA. Furthermore, such a coin profile conflicts with the remaining evidence from Nazareth.
Nevertheless, such coins have subsequently been claimed, beginning with the Nazareth Village Farm report (BAIAS 2007, p.40) authored by Stephen Pfann and others. There, Pfann writes that a report on these early coins from Alexandre is “forthcoming” but, to my knowledge, no such report has appeared (now five years on). In his “Reply to Salm” in BAIAS 2008:106, Pfann and Rapuano write that Alexandre has provided a written statement to them attesting to such early coins in her 1997-98 excavation. Evidently, Pfann and the tradition are running with this. Ehrman now also mentions this: “Alexandre has verbally confirmed that in fact it is the case: there were coins in the collection that date to the time prior to the Jewish uprising” (196).
For those of us who like to be stimulated with different views on Christian origins, René Salm has translated and made available a 1956 essay by Georges Ory,Was Jesus “John the Baptist”?
This hypothesis reminds me of Robert M. Price’s suggestion that the two figures are doubles, or that Jesus was indeed something of a mythical hypostasis of John. (Unfortunately I forget the source for this discussion now — I welcome a reminder from anyone reading this.) Others — Roger Parvus and Hermann Detering, if I recall correctly, have had thought-provoking views of the role of John the Baptist and Simon Magus.
I’ve had a less “psychological-anthropological” explanation for John the Baptist than Bob Price’s views, and have to admit I have never given enough sustained attention in the past to some of the views of Parvus and Detering. I know I have only covered one dimension of the evidence available — the midrashic literary. I wonder if the motif of a representative of the old, usually metaphorically rough in appearance, as the deliverer of one who ushers in the new creation and new world, is a deeply rooted cultural archetype found from the Epic of Gilgamesh right through to modern fiction and fables.
I may not always come away from reading radical new views being immediately convinced, but rarely do I ever come away without having been stimulated with new questions and avenues to explore.