As can be seen by the numerous posts from the Classical blogosphere, I’m in catchup mode after a hectic week and one item which has been bugging me big time is a report about a talk given at the American Chemical Society … we’ll deal with the press release version:
In the latest achievement in efforts to see what may lie underneath the surface of great works of art, scientists today described the first use of an imaging technology like that used in airport whole-body security scanners to detect the face of an ancient Roman man hidden below the surface of a wall painting in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
They described unveiling the image, which scientists and art historians say may be thousands of years old, during the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting, with almost 12,000 presentations, continues here through Thursday.
J. Bianca Jackson, Ph.D., who reported on the project, explained that it involved a fresco, which is a mural or painting done on a wall after application of fresh plaster. In a fresco, the artist’s paint seeps into the wet plaster and sets as the plaster dries. The painting becomes part of the wall. The earliest known frescoes date to about 1500 B.C. and were found on the island of Crete in Greece.
“No previous imaging technique, including almost half a dozen commonly used to detect hidden images below paintings, forged signatures of artists and other information not visible on the surface has revealed a lost image in this fresco,” Jackson said. “This opens to door to wider use of the technology in the world of art, and we also used the method to study a Russian religious icon and the walls of a mud hut in one of humanity’s first settlements in what was ancient Turkey.”
The technology is a new addition to the palette that art conservators and scientists use to see below the surface and detect changes, including fake signatures and other alterations in a painting. Termed terahertz spectroscopy, it uses beams of electromagnetic radiation that lie between microwaves, like those used in kitchen ovens, and the infrared rays used in TV remote controls. This radiation is relatively weak, does not damage paintings and does not involve exposure to harmful radiation.
“Terahertz technology has been in use for some time, especially in quality control in the pharmaceutical industry to assure the integrity of pills and capsules, in biomedical imaging and even in homeland security with those whole-body scanners that see beneath clothing at airport security check points,” said Jackson, who is now with the University of Rochester. “But its use in examining artifacts and artworks is relatively new.”
Artists, including some of the great masters, sometimes re-used canvases, wiping out the initial image or covered old paintings with new works. They often did this in order to avoid the expense of buying a new canvas or to enhance colors and shapes in a prior composition. Frescoes likewise got a refresh, especially when the originals faded, owners tired of the image on the wall or property changed hands
The scientists turned to terahertz technology when suspicions surfaced that a hidden image might lie beneath the brushstrokes of a precious 19th century fresco, Trois homes armés de lances, in the Louvre’s Campana collection. Giampietro Campana was an Italian art collector in the 1800s whose treasures are now on display in museums around the world. When Campana acquired a work of art, he sometimes restored damaged parts or reworked the original. Art historians believe that Campana painted Trois homes armés de lances after the fresco was removed from its original wall in Italy and entered his collection.
Jackson said that Campana’s painting in itself is valuable, and the terahertz revelations may have added value by showing that an authentic Roman fresco lies under it.
To search for a hidden image, Jackson and colleagues, including Gerard Mourou, Ph.D., of Ècole Polytechnique, and Michel Menu, Ph.D., of the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, and Vincent Detalle, of the Laboratoire Recherche des Monuments Historiques, probed it with terahertz technology. The process is slow, requiring a few hours to analyze a section the size of a sheet of paper.
“We were amazed, and we were delighted,” said Jackson. “We could not believe our eyes as the image materialized on the screen. Underneath the top painting of the folds of a man’s tunic, we saw an eye, a nose and then a mouth appear. We were seeing what likely was part of an ancient Roman fresco, thousands of years old.”
Who is the man in the fresco? An imperial Roman senator? A patrician? A plebian? A great orator? A ruler who changed the course of history? Or just a wealthy, egotistical landowner who wanted to admire his image on the wall?
Jackson is leaving those questions to art historians. The team already has moved ahead and used terahertz technology to study a Russian religious icon and the walls of a mud hut in one of the earliest known human settlements in what now is the country of Turkey.
This research was funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program project CHARISMA (grant agreement no. 228330) and in part by AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme. Access was provided by the Louvre Museum and the Institute Nationale Patrimoine.
- via: Revealing hidden artwork with airport security full-body-scanner technology (American Chemical Society)
The original report includes a photo:
As might be expected, this is getting a pile of press attention and blog attention as well, but near as I can tell, it’s either a really badly written article and folks are overlooking that fact, or we’re just being dealt a bunch of hooey (more likely the former). As the article states, Giampietro Campana was a collector; what it doesn’t really tell us is that some of his collection was ‘restored’ in a way which was rather sketchy, from a preservation point of view. What is missing from this article are some details which are included in a rather interesting French article by Delphine Burot at CeroArt which was written, apparently, while the testing was being done. The relevant excerpt:
L’observation des œuvres précédemment citées et de la façon dont elles ont été restaurées au musée Campana laisse penser que les restaurateurs qui travaillaient pour le marquis avaient à leur disposition un grand nombre de fragments d’enduit romain antique, qui constituait une réserve dans laquelle ils pouvaient puiser pour combler une lacune dans une peinture, ou pour en fabriquer d’autres. Car les autres peintures de la collection, reconstruites elles aussi à partir de fragments, sont à la limite de la falsification tant la part de recréation par les restaurateurs de Campana est grande. Si l’on excepte deux ou trois œuvres, comme la Primavera, sur laquelle nous reviendrons, la plupart des peintures ont été fabriquées à partir de quelques fragments peints, dont le motif a été extrapolé de façon à réaliser une composition entière, donc présentable.
Ainsi, la peinture des Trois hommes armés de lances a été reconstruite à partir de trois fragments peints montrant des visages, et de quelques autres fragments portant une inscriptionLe reste de l’œuvre est constitué par la réunion de plusieurs fragments placés de façon aléatoire sur un support de plâtre, et sur lesquels a été peinte la composition imaginée par le restaurateur : trois hommes debout côte à côte, vêtus de longs manteaux colorés et tenant des lances. Le placement de l’inscription dans la partie supérieure de l’œuvre ajoute une part de mystère à la composition. L’étude attentive des fragments a permis de voir qu’ils appartenaient presque tous à un même ensemble. Le restaurateur n’a pas pu trouver, ou n’a pas pris le temps de chercher la composition d’origine, ni les jonctions entre les fragments. Il a préféré les disposer rapidement sur un lit de plâtre et n’en garder que les parties qui l’intéressaient le plus, à savoir les visages les mieux conservés et une partie de l’inscription. D’autres lettres, lacunaires, appartenant vraisemblablement à l’inscription ont été placées dans la partie inférieure, et, grâce à un examen au Terahertz, des motifs peints (peut-être des visages) ont été repérés sous les repeints qui constituent les vêtements des trois hommes.
- via: Peintures romaines antiques, restauration et falsification. L’exemple de la collection Campana (Delphine Burlot at CeroArt)
I’m sure I’m not the only one who scratched his head at the claim, but as can be seen from the French article, all that Campana’s restorers were actually working with was three heads; they filled in the plaster randomly and painted/restored it as seemed right to them. That explains why there’s a weird sort of sideways “Roman” head revealed by the new technology. Even then, however, whether that is a face is open to question near as I can tell … facebook friends will know that I regularly criticize claims of finding pareidolia of this or that religious figure in this or that domestic object, fruit, tortilla, or whatever and we might be dealing with a similar situation here. If it is a face, I see a beard, and if there is a beard, we’re probably not dealing with a Roman. That said, and taking into account this sort of ‘random’ filling in of things which we are told about in the Burlot article, why did the scanning only detect that one little thing? Shouldn’t there (in theory) be a pile of random lines or whatever? Does anyone know if this presented paper has been published yet?
As many longtime rogueclassicism and Explorator readers know, when Easter comes around we usually get one or two claims of varying degrees of credulity having to do with the crucifixion and/or resurrection of Jesus (Explorator readers, e.g., will be getting the latest Shroud of Turin news this weekend). A frequent forayer in this particular milieu is Professor Simcha Jacobovici of Huntington University fame. This year, however, Professor Jacobovici took a somewhat odd turn by riffing on a documentary which appeared on the History Channel relating to assorted (familiar) claims relating to the Templars (Tracking the Templars). He latched onto the image of a coin of some King John and linked it to the first set of Talpiot tombs … ecce:
To make a short story even shorter, Professor Jacobovici is now taking his stories into Holy-Blood-Holy-Grail-land and is suggesting a link between his Talpiot tomb and the Templars. You can read about it in more detail here: Smoking Templar Gun. James Tabor has added a bit of detail as well here: John of Brienne, Templar “King of Jerusalem” and the Talpiot “Jesus” Tomb, although he is a bit more conservative in terms of conclusions.
In case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, that little circle in the triangle on John’s crown and on the Talpiot tomb are supposedly a ‘connection’. One very detailed bit of criticism worth reading is Jason Colavito’s spin, which looks at various medieval crowns:What Was Scott Wolter’s “Templar” Coin?.
Quibus rebus cognitis, for what it’s worth, I didn’t intend to blog about this at all — it seems clearly outside of our purview there didn’t seem to be a Classical connection. But then I was stuck in the car this past weekend, on a long road trip back from visiting the protoclassicist, and it struck me that what James Tabor ended his piece with almost/unintentionally hit the point:
There is a much earlier coin of William I “The Conquerer” (1066-1087), minted around 1070 that seems to show the King wearing some kind of crown but with a “temple” like facade behind his head that has some similarities to the Chevron and circle imagery.
Why do we call this ‘chevron and circle’ when even those who see ‘chevron and circle’ can connect it to a temple? Why aren’t we — instead of trying to leap twelve centuries to make a link — looking at some of the coinage from the first couple centuries A.D.? Check this 2nd century coin (one of several) from Pseudo-Autonomous:
We can list other coins with a circle-in-pediment design (sometimes called a shield rather than a circle) with less ‘pseudo’ images: Alexander Severus, Caracalla, Augustus, and Maxentius (the latter used the image a LOT).
So let’s take the next logical step and suggest that the circle-and-chevron is actually some sort of shorthand for the facade of a temple. Would it be used in a tomb situation? We can point to the 4th century B.C./B.C.E. rock-cut tombs at Kaunos, perhaps, although they technically have a ‘square’ in the pediment:
… but the general idea is there. So what, then, would be a more logical progression: using a tomb facade on a rock cut tomb in imitation of generic temples (even if they might be pagan) seen in coins and probably in countless necropoleis in the Eastern Mediterranean, or make it a specifically-crypto-Christian symbol that the Templars were aware of and passed on (of course) to the Priory of Zion yadda yadda yadda. It’s a generic temple facade, not a ‘templar’ facade. I think we need to start emphasizing a ‘Hellenized Jew’ spin in opposition to Professor Jacobovici’s claims.
Just saw this post by author Pat Brown, who is promoting her work via the Huffington Post … here’s the incipit:
For 2000 years, historians and Egyptologists have written of Cleopatra VII’s death in 30 BCE, repeating again and again the tale that the last pharaoh of Egypt committed suicide along with her two handmaidens soon after the conquering of her country by Rome.
There has been little dissension in the ranks; Cleopatra is believed to have taken her life to prevent the victorious Roman general Octavian from carrying her back to Rome in chains and humiliating her by displaying her in his triumph. Yet, I have taken a radically different view of this episode of history and that puts me in the rather risky position of upsetting a very beloved apple cart in a field I am not even a part of. But, I cannot back off because I believe that Cleopatra has been misunderstood and misrepresented throughout the last two millennia. I believe the evidence supports my theory that Cleopatra was murdered and that the events leading up to her death are not the ones that have been reported for centuries.
I recently gave a talk on my book at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in Washington DC and after I shared my theory of Cleopatra’s life and death with the audience, a woman raised her hand.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but why do you think your theory holds any water if none of the great minds of academia and none of the seasoned historians of the Egyptian and European past have ever come up with your conclusions? ” In other words, who am I to question such authority? Do I consider myself to be smarter than all these other people?
The answer to the latter question is clearly, “No, I am not all that brilliant,” and those who know me well will vouch for my IQ being quite normal; I doubt I have an invitation on the way to join Mensa in the near future. But, I do have something which many in the field of history do not; a way of looking at events from a completely different vantage point – through the eyes of a criminal profiler. I also am not beholden to any mindset or to historical tradition or to any institution. I am free to analyze Cleopatra and her life from a very new perspective, one based on evidence – forensic, behavioral, archeological, cultural, political and historical. I am free to question everything and everyone and to accept and assume nothing. [...]
- via: Was Cleopatra Murdered? (Huffington Post)
… I’m going to suspend judgement on this one until I can get a copy of the book (why is there no Kindle edition?). We should remind folks, however, the bit of revisionism from a couple of years ago suggesting drugs rather than asps might be involved (assorted links gathered together here: Death of Cleopatra Revisionism Followup). I must mention, however, that there seems to be a certain arrogance in Brown’s claims of ‘superior knowledge’ and the tenor of her post in general … I do want to see how she handles the ancient accounts, however, as I myself am free to question everything and everyone and to accept and assume nothing — as are the vast majority of the professional scholars who have dealt with this question, believe it or not (he muttered, sarcastically). I do get weary of ‘outsiders’ claiming those who do ancient historical research for a living are necessarily doing flawed research that isn’t based on evidence. Judging from the tenor of the Huffington Post piece, I would be surprised if I wasn’t labelled a part of some sort of sleeper cell of Plutarchian theology or some such. Still, it will be useful to see that Brown brings to the discussion …
UPDATE (a few minutes later): here’s Pat Brown’s background (via the ARCE DC chapter’s page about her talk … not sure how long it will be there):
Pat Brown is a nationally known criminal profiler, television commentator, author, and founder and CEO of The Sexual Homicide Exchange (SHE) and The Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency.
Pat has provided crime commentary, and profiling and forensic analysis in over one thousand television and radio appearances in the United States and across the globe. She can be seen regularly on the Cable Television news programs MSNBC, CNN, and FOX, and is a frequent guest of Nancy Grace, America’s Most Wanted, and The Montel Williams Show.
This one’s just starting to make the rounds and likely won’t get too much attention. CNN’s Belief Blog has an update of sorts on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife thing, especially as regards the testing, which, of course, we all await with bated breath. Inter alia:
[...] A dealer took the fragment to King for analysis and translation in 2011. The dealer wishes to remain anonymous, she said.
“We’re moving ahead with the testing, but it is not yet complete, and so the article will await until we have the results,” King said in an email to CNN.
“The owner of the fragment has been making arrangements for further testing and analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results. This testing is still underway,” Kathyrn Dodgson, director of communications for the Harvard Divinity School, said in a email to CNN.
“Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish Professor King’s paper after conclusion of all the testing so that the results may be incorporated,” Dodgson said. “Until testing is complete, there is nothing more to say at this point.” [...]
As presented, this is a little misleading. The owner of the fragment didn’t just bring the fragment “for analysis and translation”. He (or she) is trying to sell a collection of papyri to Harvard, something which seems often to be missed in all these discussion. At the close of an article in Harvard Magazine, e.g., we see:
The collector (who told King he wishes to remain anonymous to avoid being hounded by people who want to buy the fragment) has recently offered to give it to Harvard as part of a purchase of a substantial portion of his collection. He has told King that the discovery made him realize that these types of things needed to be in the hands of libraries and universities where they could be properly studied and not disappear into private collections. Harvard is now formally deciding if it wishes to acquire the collection.
- via: A New Gospel Revealed (Harvard Magazine)
In his notice of this ‘update’ (GJW update), Jim Davila expresses concern that it is the collector who is having the testing done and wonders whether we will get an answer to the authenticity question. This is a valid concern and we similarly would like more details about who is doing the testing and whether they are legit etc.. But now we do see why this testing has been taking so long — if we put this in the context of Harvard buying the fragment, it is clearly up to the seller to produce the proof of its authenticity and clearly Harvard has listened to the blogosphere in regards to questions thereof. Then again, it seems likely that this sort of thing might be standard procedure whenever there is doubt cast. The longer the owner-initiated testing takes, of course, the more doubt can be cast on the authenticity. For my part, I am beginning to doubt whether we’ll ever hear of test results.
In case you’ve missed the saga (in chronological order):
We haven’t read claims of the Roman origins of toasting — especially that once-common, and spurious, claim about putting a piece of burnt bread in wine to make it taste better — for a while, but it seems that the latter-day mythologizers persist in wanting to somehow connect toasting to the Romans. The latest is a piece at NPR (for shame) which has a couple of questionable (perhaps) claims:
“There’s a thin line between history and folklore,” says historian Paul Dickson. He should know. He wrote a book about toasting called Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings and Graces. “But toasting definitely goes back to the ancient world.”
Ulysses drank to the health of Achilles in The Odyssey, he says. And in Rome, drinking to someone’s health was so important that the Senate demanded that all diners drink to their emperor, Augustus, before every meal.
… thin line indeed, and it seems to be crossed here. Near as I can tell, Achilles’ only appearance in the Odyssey is in book 11 and it’s as a shade of the dead. There is no toasting by Odysseus (why is he always Ulysses in US newspapers) … does Achilles appear elsewhere in a toast-worthy situation? As for the drinking to Augustus, I’d love to hear a source for that … so vague as to be meaningless and if thought about for even a few seconds, it makes no sense (enforceable? penalties? What about folks who couldn’t afford wine with their meal? Did it apply to drunks in tabernae?).
If you’re wondering about the ‘burnt toast’ thing:
I’ve almost got my inbox to zero and finally have a chance to give attention to some things that are a few weeks old. Back at the end of November, the BBC was hyping an exposeish show about David Elkington:
Questions have been raised over the claims of a self-styled archaeologist who is arguing that a set of supposedly ancient Christian books is genuine.
David Elkington, from Gloucestershire, has raised tens of thousands of pounds to support his work proving the authenticity of the Jordan Codices.
A BBC investigation found that academics have cast doubt on Mr Elkington’s claims the codices date back to the 1st Century AD.
Mr Elkington insists the codices are genuine and he will pay back any loans he has received.
Among his backers was Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, who funded his work and trips to the Middle East.
She now believes the codices are not authentic and has asked for the return of her funding.
Mr Elkington’s companies have also received thousands of pounds from investors over the years for a film project, which he says is now on hold.
He now plans to release a book about the codices, called Divine Revelation, and to produce a film based on it. He has also tried to raise sponsorship in America.
Mr Elkington, 50, claims to have previously published a “highly-acclaimed academic thesis” and to have trained under a curator of the Petrie Museum in London.
His book was a self-published work and the woman he trained under was never the curator of the Petrie museum.
He says he has a team of international experts working on the codices but was only prepared to offer the names of two academics currently advising him. They declined to comment.
The codices were found in Jordan but are currently held in Israel.
The Israel Antiquities Authority has examined some of the codices and a spokesman said: “They were shown to experts on the period; all the experts absolutely doubted their authenticity.”
The Jordanian government has yet to make an official announcement.
However, Dr Peter Thonemann, a lecturer in ancient history at Oxford University, said: “I’m as certain as it is possible to be that this entire body of codices are modern fakes. I would stake my academic reputation on it.”
Robert Feather, an author who has also seen the collection, is also sceptical about Mr Elkington’s claims the codices are ancient Christian texts.
He said: “While David Elkington continues to push the idea that these are incredibly important early Christian documents then speculation will be rife and the story will go on and on.”
In a statement, Mr Elkington and his wife said: “We acknowledge a small personal debt owed to (Princess) Elizabeth, which has never been disputed and will be paid back in full.
“David has never claimed to have had any formal qualifications and has been largely self-taught and has worked as an independent scholar. He has always been upfront about this.”
… since that time, the segment of the program (Inside Out West) has made it to Youtube and is definitely worth watching if you’ve been following this story:
In case that gets taken down, here’s the skinny/random notes I scrawled down as I watched:
- Elkington is referred to as “Gloucester’s own Indiana Jones” … the IJ epithet increasingly seems to mark out folks making outlandish claims
- Robert Feather and Elkington have had a “falling out” over how the codices were to be “exploited”
- Feather shows a couple of the codices of the 70 or so he’s seen; he doubts the authenticity of these two in particular
- Peter Thonemann is willing to stake his reputation that all of them are fakes
- Apparently Elkington accepted that verdict, but thought that others were genuine
- Elkington is clinging to the claim that the lead is old and has a team of experts
- Philip Davis of Sheffield declined to be interviewed
- Margaret Barker would only take part if she wasn’t edited in any way; the BBC declined
- then we get all the ‘death threats’ etc., that was part of the story ages ago
- Elkington was trying to raise money to get things moving
- Nice segment questioning Elkington’s self-claimed credentials
- Elkington’s “estranged son from a former marriage” comments on his father’s predeliction for story-telling and the sensationalization of the whole story
- Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia apparently has lent Elkington “tens of thousands of pounds”, but now has had a falling out as well
- Elkington declined to appear on camera but issued a statement which attempts to explain some of the discrepancies (not very well)
In other words, Elkington’s credibility seems to be completely and totally shot at this point. We should also point out that just prior to the airing of this program, a pile of photos and posts were taken down from the Jordan Codices facebook page (which undoubtedly was/is an Elkington production).
… and just to ‘catch up’ a bit more, here’s some bloggery worth reading:
- Philip Davies again on the Jordan Codices (Paleojudaica … November 4, 2012)
- More Lead Codices, More Stamps… (The Aramaic Blog … June 27, 2012)
- Jordan Codices: More About the Altered Metallurgical Report (ibid … September 14, 2011)
- Jordan Lead Codices: Another Stamp Found (The Musings of Tom Verenna … September 14, 2012)
- Remember Those Lead Codices? (September 3, 2011 … us; that should be enough)
I came across these a while ago … figured someone would want to read them. They’re a series about why Socratic philosophy is overrated by someone called ‘Richard in Japan’:
- Socrates Was a Fraud: The Emperor’s New Philosophy
- Socrates Was a Fraud Pt. 2: Irony and Humility
- Socrates Was a Fraud Pt. 3: Philosopher? King!
- Socrates Was a Fraud, Pt. 4: Suicide by Jury
… not sure there’s anything ‘new’ here; seem to be some pretty standard criticisms.
There’s a piece from Discovery going around right now with a focus on the origins of female genital mutialtion. Inter alia:
While the term infibulation has its roots in ancient Rome, where female slaves had fibulae (broochs) pierced through their labia to prevent them from getting pregnant, a widespread assumption places the origins of female genital cutting in pharaonic Egypt.
- via: How Did Female Genital Mutilation Begin? (Discovery)
Do we have an ancient source that mentions this? Or is this another case of a Latin word leading someone, somewhere to infer that the practice must have been Roman?
Hype for a documentary airing on BBC this Friday:
Remnants of a Roman statue in North Africa could be the “first-ever depiction of tartan”, according to a BBC Scotland documentary.
A piece of a bronze statue of the Emperor Caracalla contains the small figure of a Caledonian warrior wearing what appears to be tartan trews.
The third century Roman emperor Caracalla styled himself as the conqueror of the Caledonians.
A statue marking his achievements stood in the Moroccan city of Volubilis.
It stood above a great archway in the ancient city, which lay in the south west of the Roman empire, 1,500 miles from Caledonia – modern day Scotland.
A small piece of cloak from the monument still survives at the archaeological museum in Rabat in Morocco.
“It includes an early depiction of that great national stereotype – the long-haired Caledonian warrior,” says Dr Fraser Hunter, who presents the BBC Scotland programme.
The warrior is wearing checked leggings which, according to Dr Hunter, is “the first-ever depiction of tartan”.
It is thought the Celts have been weaving plaid twills for thousands of years and this is the earliest representation.
Dr Hunter adds: “The shield too is Celtic in style. You can see the warrior’s head with the cloak over the shoulders. The arms are bound behind the back.
“This guy is a captive. He’s a prisoner from the vicious campaigns of Severus and Caracalla.”
Septimius Severus, Caracalla’s father, led massive military campaigns into 3rd century Scotland.
The mighty Roman legions had conquered all before them but they stuttered to a halt when they took on the tribes of Iron Age Scotland.
Caracalla carried on his father’s fight, waging a brutal campaign.
Dr Hunter says prisoners could have been force-marched for months to other parts of the empire.
“They were living trophies of the emperor’s success. Some might have been traded as slaves in the great markets. Others would have been even less fortunate.”
Dr Hunter points to a mosaic from Tunisia which shows how one unfortunate Caledonian met his end.
“Captured, marched for months to this desert province, sent to the amphitheatre and killed by wild animals as exotic entertainment for the locals,” says Dr Hunter.
The expert says we have long had a curious “rather cuddly” relationship with the Romans.
“In the western world we often see ourselves as inheritors of Roman values and Roman culture,” he says.
“But this evidence from North Africa reminds us that the Romans were invaders and colonisers.
“Their strategies encompassed everything up to and including genocide.
“For the local tribes the Roman arrival in what we call Scotland must have been absolutely terrifying.”
- via: ‘First tartan’ on Roman statue (BBC)
The report includes a short excerpt from the doc and a quick view of the bits that supposedly show the tartan. I spent some time looking for a photo, but came up empty and for the life of me, I can’t see ‘tartan’ in what is in that photo. Whatever the case, amicus noster Adrian Murdoch expresses doubts over at Bread and Circuses rather more clearly than I could:
Here’s some (ultimately vintage) nuttiness for your Black Friday standing-in-an-endless-line-at-the-checkout reading … from Greek Reporter:
The first researcher, who questioned the prevailing theory that Ulysses wandered the Mediterranean Sea for years before the gods allowed him to set foot once again on his beloved Ithaca, was an American historian from Chicago, Henriette Mertz.
In 1964, Mertz suggested with conviction in her book The Wine Dark Sea: Homer’s Heroic Epic of the North Atlantic that Ulysses, in many of the adventures described in Homer’s epic The Odyssey went outside the Mediterranean.
Based on her research and explorations in North America, Mertz proposed that Ulysses had reached the shores of North America with the help of the sea currents.
Mertz studied the speed of sea currents in conjunction with the time it took Ulysses to travel from one place to the other, reading carefully through Homer’s original descriptions and observations. She said she identified the exact locations Ulysses visited in the then unknown part of the world, which have lately revealed archaeological treasures dating back to the ancient Greek hero’s time.
Mertz took her research one step further and designed a detailed chart containing all of Ulysses’ journey stations after the fall of Troy and on his way back home. The map points out the island of the Sirens, the exact point on the American coastline that harbored the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis, and the actual sea route Ulysses took to get back to Ithaca (assisted all the way by the powerful and swift current of the Gulf Stream).
The study of Siegfried Petrides in 1994, Odyssey – a Naval Epic of the Greeks in America, came to strengthen Mertz’s findings and proposals. According to Petrides, the Greeks have a naval history that starts from at least 7250 B.C. as proved by the findings in Frachthi cave in Argolida.
“… The uniqueness of the Greek geographical area, namely its location in the relatively small Aegean Sea with its hundreds of islands, allowed the prehistoric Greek inhabitants to develop the technology of sea communications very early. Over the years and with the accumulated experience of sea voyages, sailors from the Aegean became more brave and started sailing off to the North and the Black Sea, to the South in Egypt and Phoenicia, and to the West to Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.
“They discovered that the sea they had been sailing was everywhere surrounded by land and had only one exit. They did not hesitate to leave the familiar waters and travel to the North in order to get precious metals, and they did the same westwards as well” he wrote.
The Greek literature is rich in references of the geographical and astronomical knowledge of the ancient Greeks, which allowed them to use the constellations for directions. In his study, Petrides also presented data on the geographic knowledge of areas, such as the North (hyper north), the East (Asia), the Southern (Ethiopia, Cyrenaica, Egypt, the rest of North Africa) and nd the West (Italy, islands west of Italy – Sardinia, Corsica, Elba, Capri, Ischia – the Iberian Peninsula, France, north-east Europe, Britain and Ireland. These references can be easily found in Homer’s epic (Rhapsody 5, 273).
Petrides’ said his long experience as a sailor and his study findings allowed him to confirm and correct wherever necessary the conclusion of Mertz providing extra details on the wind direction, sea routes, description of the islands etc. He suggests in his book, unlike Mertz, that the ancient Greek sailors did not rely on mere chance to have reached the American shores but owned fast and flexible vessels that could easily navigate through the Atlantic. They also knew perfectly well how to take advantage of both the sails and the rows, which enabled them to cover long distances.
Henriette Mertz was one of those people who figured everyone, more or less, had been to America before Columbus … Petrides’ work is a couple of decades old … why is Greek Reporter wasting valuable electrons bringing this stuff up again for a new generation?
This is definitely in the FWIW category, but there is some wheat among the chaff … from the Tribune (Pakistan):
There is, in rural Mandi Bahauddin district, a few kilometres from Phalia town, a village marked as Helan in the Atlas of Pakistan. The ‘a’ is pronounced as in ‘father’ and the ending is nasal as it would be in French. The village is known for a tomb dating to the reign of Akbar the Great. In May 2000, I paused there, met a local ‘historian’ and learned that the word was a mispronunciation of Helen!
Now, it was well known that Helen of Troy, said the man, was the wife of Alexander the Macedonian. When she died, Alexander ordered this tomb. Inside, sits an ornate sandstone sarcophagus radiant with flowing curvilinear forms and calligraphy that tells us that the tomb is the last resting place of some Ali Beg. But that did not matter to my new friend.
Later, in nearby Mong, the village that takes its name from the Scythian King Maues (1st century BCE), known as Moga in Punjabi, I got another educational boost. Seeing that I was on the trail of Alexander, a rather contrary sort of middle-aged man took me under his wing. He spoke of the Macedonian’s victory over Raja Paurava (Greek: Porus) with admirable pride and how folks named their sons after the Macedonian. I asked if folks ever named a son after Paurava, he being one of our own. Pat came an angry, “Kyon? O koi Musalman cee?” Islam being nearly a millennium in the future, Raja Paurava was certainly no Muslim. But then neither was Alexander. On another similar occasion, my interlocutor burst out with an incredulous half-question, half-statement, “Alexander was Hindu?”
Interestingly, even semi-educated persons in Pakistan cannot imagine a religion like the Greeks had, with a large pantheon of mostly fun-loving gods. They are caught in a mental box with four names — Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and a very distant and vague Judaism. No other religion appears on their radar.
This man in Mong was smarter, however. He countered with the statement that Alexander was mentioned in the Holy Quran. The king we so desperately want to turn into Alexander is the Quranic Zulqarnain whose name means ‘Two-Horned’. He travelled across the great expanse of the world, ruled over a vast kingdom and was responsible for locking away the dreaded nation of Gog and Magog behind a rubble wall steeped in molten lead. This king, we read, travelled to the rising and setting places of the sun. That is, his sway extended across much of the known world of his time.
But scripture does not reveal anything beyond this short reference. Now, there were two famous world-conquering kings in history who wore horns on their helmets. Cyrus the Great (ruled BCE 549-529) of Persia and, 200 years later, Alexander of Macedonia. Indeed, the latter’s depiction on coinage with diadem and ram’s horns is very well known.
Now, both were great conquerors, therefore, either could be Zulqarnain. But mark: Cyrus established a kingdom only marginally smaller than Alexander’s.
This kingdom lasted 200 years until Alexander unravelled it and became master of it. Alexander’s kingdom was larger. His governors presided on the affairs of men from Thrace (Bulgaria) through the Scythian steppes on the northern shores of the Black Sea, to the banks of the Jaxartes (Syr) River (in Uzbekistan) and across the entire Persian Empire, Afghanistan, Punjab and Sindh to Babylon. But it was a short-lived empire, lasting just over a decade until Alexander’s death in 322 BCE.
So, really, which king was it that scripture refers to as the ‘Two-Horned’? If greatness were a measure in terms of longevity of kingdom, I would vote Cyrus. However, Alexander who did indeed embody traits that could arguably be termed ‘great’ left behind a kingdom that did not last beyond his own lifetime.
But we, in Pakistan, embrace him. We stretch the words of scripture to make Zulqarnain fit into Alexander’s shoes. We do this only because he, an outsider, defeated a king of Punjab who, unfortunately, was a Hindu. We disregard the fact that Raja Paurava (of whose greatness of character I have written earlier in this column) was a Hindu because he predated Islam.
- via: Alexander as Zulqarnain (Tribune)
Tip o’ the pileus to Robert Cargill who alerted us to a post at The Quaternion (A Coptic New Testament Papyrus Fragment (Galatians 2) For Sale on eBay) which really has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, but does, as the title suggests it might, presents a photo of a fragment of a Coptic fragment of the New Testament. Even better, this fragment comes from a Codex and Brice Jones includes photos from both sides of the page. Hopefully people will see from this my constant complaints about the state of preservation of one side of the “codex” page that has been dubbed the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (e.g.: Some More Nails for the Ossuary of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife).
The excitement/brouhaha over the purported Gospel of Jesus’ Wife thing has died down a bit, but over the past couple of weeks there have been a couple of developments which are probably of great importance, although we must admit that the ‘waiting for further testing’ tack which seems to have become a drumbeat over the past few weeks continues to be necessary. That said, we would like to focus on a couple of related things, but first we should point folks to our previous coverage (in case this is something new):
… and to the more regular updates of James McGrath (which will provide you with more thorough background to what follows):
With that noted, the major development of the past couple of weeks is an increasingly strong suggestion that the papyrus fragment dubbed the Gospel of Jesus Wife is a forgery. Before getting to that, though, we must deal with the almost-lone-voice-crying-in-the-wilderness who is objecting to such suggestions: Professor Simcha Jacobovici of Huntington University. Back on October 1, when the ‘forgery’ argument was just developing, Professor Jacobovici — whose self-proclaimed mission is the burst the bubble of the academy — made an important point, but then descended into a diatribe against those he disagrees with and so was pretty much guaranteed no one would comment … inter alia:
So far, they are not accusing King and Bagnall of forgery. They are simply saying that King and Bagnall were fooled by a modern forger, who is smarter than both of them. And what do they base this theory on? Nothing! It seems – surprise, surprise – that the fragment is similar to other non-canonical gospels e.g., the Gospel of Thomas.
So what? If that was a criterion for forgery, all the canonical gospels would have to be disqualified as ancient forgeries since they all resemble each other. This is pure nonsense, but it’s what the professional naysayers do. The sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy i.e., the theologians masquerading as objective scholars, kick into action whenever their theology is threatened. They’ve learned the trick: shout “forgery!” often enough, repeat it on the internet ad nauseam and on various blogs manned by C-list scholars, and pretty soon you’ve got everyone ignoring the content of the new discovery and focusing on whether it’s real to begin with. Add a couple of charges of “sensationalism” and you’re set.
The important point Professor Jacobovici did make was that similarity to the Gospel of Thomas on its own probably was not sufficient to confidently label the GJW a forgery. Indeed, I jokingly suggested in a private conversation with assorted “C-list scholars” that we could, in theory, be dealing with a “Q” for the Gospel of Thomas or something like that. But the joke didn’t stand for very long as the connection to Michael Grondin’s interlinear translation of the Gospel of Thomas became more apparent (on which more later) and compelling. Once that claim came out — especially as presented by Andrew Bernhard — Professor Jacobovici took a different, and definitely important, tack (on October 16), inter alia:
The pseudo academic babble came in the form of an online article by Andrew Bernhard from Oxford no less (http://www.gospels.net/gjw/mighthavebeenforged.pdf). And what does Andrew say? If I understand him correctly, he argues that something called the Grondin Interlinear version of the Gospel of Thomas has a kind of “typographical error” and that this type of typographical error appears in the Jesus Wife Papyrus. Meaning, someone forged the papyrus and used the Grondin Interlinear Gospel of Thomas as his guide. By copying the typographical error, however, the forger gave himself away. Bernhard’s argument is packaged in some pretty heavy analysis of Coptic writing, enough to scare anyone not at Oxford.
There’s only one slight problem with Bernhard’s analysis. I believe that Grondin’s Interlinear version became widely available online only in 2002, Bernhard says 1997. In any event, this papyrus was already seen in 1982 by Peter Munro, a prominent Egyptologist at the Free University in Berlin and a long time Director of the Kestner Museum in Hannover. More than this, he showed it to a colleague, Gerhard Fecht, who identified the papyrus as a 2nd to 4th century CE (AD) fragment. The collector who owns the papyrus turned over to Prof. King at Harvard Divinity School some signed and dated letters by Prof. Munro and an unsigned, undated note that appears to belong to the same 1982 correspondence. The latter states that “Professor Fecht believes that the small fragment…is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife” (emphasis added). So when you get rid of the babble, what is Bernhard really saying? He is saying that the fragment was most likely forged “after 1997 when Grondin’s Interlinear was first posted online”. How could someone forge something in 1997, when the “forged” item was already referenced in 1982?
This is an important objection and, of course, is one which really needs some explanation if the ‘forgery’ claims are to be taken seriously. It is necessary, then, to point out that Professor Jacobovici appears to be misreading the information Dr King provides about the origins of the fragment as presented in the online version of her paper (p. 2). Her first statement of importance:
Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but we have some clues about its modern history.
Gloss: the provenance of the fragment is unknown; as was mentioned in earlier analyses by practically everyone commenting on this, that is a major red flag.
Then comes this:
The current owner possesses a typed and signed letter addressed to H. U. Laukamp dated July 15, 1982, from Prof. Dr. Peter Munro (Freie Universität, Ägyptologisches Seminar, Berlin). The letter states that a colleague, Prof. Fecht, has identified one of Mr. Laukamp’s papyri as a 2nd-4th c. C.E. fragment of the Gospel of John in Coptic. He advises that this fragment be preserved between glass plates in order to protect it from further damage. This fragment of the Gospel of John is now in the collection of the owner of GosJesWife, who acquired it among the same batch of Greek and Coptic papyri.
Gloss: the papyrus which dates to the 2nd-4th century A.D. is not the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (as Professor Jacobovici’s post seems to imply). Or is it? We then move to the unsigned, undated note which states:
Professor Fecht glaubt, daß der kleine ca. 8 cm große Papyrus das einzige Beispiel für einen Text ist, in dem Jesus die direkte Rede in Bezug auf eine Ehefrau benutzt. Fecht meint, daß dies ein Beweis für eine mögliche Ehe sein könnte.
It’s translated in a footnote:
“Professor Fecht believes that the small fragment, approximately 8 cm in size, is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife. Fecht is of the opinion that this could be evidence for a possible marriage.”
Actually, in terms of glossing all of this bit, we can look to the article Smithsonian Magazine put out back when this story was young:
[..] Among the papers the collector had sent King was a typed letter to Laukamp from July 1982 from Peter Munro. Munro was a prominent Egyptologist at the Free University Berlin and a longtime director of the Kestner Museum, in Hannover, for which he had acquired a spectacular, 3,000-year-old bust of Akhenaten. Laukamp had apparently consulted Munro about his papyri, and Munro wrote back that a colleague at the Free University, Gerhard Fecht, an expert on Egyptian languages and texts, had identified one of the Coptic papyri as a second-to fourth-century A.D. fragment of the Gospel of John.
The collector also left King an unsigned and undated handwritten note that appears to belong to the same 1982 correspondence—this one concerning a different gospel. “Professor Fecht believes that the small fragment, approximately 8 cm in size, is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife. Fecht is of the opinion that this could be evidence for a possible marriage.”
In other words, there’s a lot of confusion/cognitive dissonance being thrown at us here. We have dated evidence of a fragment of the Gospel of John (dated to the 2-4th century). We are told that the fragment now known as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was part of the same collection by the person who is apparently the current owner. We also have an undated note — which seems kind of convenient — between a couple of dead guys hinting (perhaps) at the authenticity of the fragment known as the Gospel of Jesus’ wife. In other words, we really have nothing remotely reliable in regards to the provenance of this fragment, especially in terms of the date it was acquired by anyone involved. Professor Jacobovici takes Bernhard to task for not analyzing the handwriting of this undated note — which, of course, is beyond Bernhard’s purview — but it does seem like an avenue worth exploring. Dr King apparently has these items in her possession (according to the Smithsonian Magazine piece) so perhaps there are ‘other manuscripts’ she might want to test first.
So given the foregoing, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the lack of any solid dates specifically tied to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (as opposed to that Gospel of John that is also mentioned) pretty much negates Professor Jacobovici’s objection in regards to possible anachronistic forgeries. We probably should also note — since Professor Jacobovici always seems to be impugning the motives of those he disagrees with — that Professor Jacobovici’s support for this fragment being genuine is motivated, of course, by his own controversial theories regarding the Talpiot tombs. He is not a neutral observer in this. (Full disclosure: I am Catholic and am not currently suffering from theological trauma of any kind … I am a Classicist by training and have long believed — even before I became a Catholic — that it would be a likely thing for Jesus to have been married; indeed unusual for him not to be … it doesn’t affect my Catholicity at all one way or the other).
Turning now to the folks looking for forgery, we find most of them are actually one step removed from the blogosphere — i.e. they are degreed folks who have written papers and/or drafts of papers which various bloggers have posted. As such, it is useful to gather them together at the outset … first we have Francis Watson’s contributions which were shared via Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog:
… we should note some criticism of Watson’s methods by Timo Paananen which were posted on James McGrath’s Exploring Our Matrix blog:
- Timo S. Paananen, “Another “Fake” Or Just a Problem of Method? What Francis Watson’s Analysis Does to Papyrus Köln 255″
Most recently, however, and the ‘smoking gun’ which gave rise to Professor Jacobovici’s post noted above, was Andrew Bernhard’s article — along with Mark Goodacre’s ‘executive summary’ — which noted that a ‘typo’ in the fragment curiously seems to match a typo in the pdf version of Michael Grondin’s Interlinear English Coptic Translation of the Gospel of Thomas. Mark Goodacre has all the links here:
- Jesus’ Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern ForgeryJesus’ Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery
I encourage all to read the ‘executive summary’ and Andrew Bernhard’s paper itself … I suspect the latter spawned a LiveScience article which appeared in the past couple of days (‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Faces Authenticity Tests)
Even in the wake of Bernhard’s paper, however, there are some academic heavyweights expressing skepticism at the forgery claim … e.g Dr. Robert Kraft in a comment on Alin Suciu’s most recent post on these matters: Alin Suciu – Hugo Lundhaug: A Peculiar Dialectal Feature in the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, Line 6 … Dr Kraft thinks it “improbable” that a forger would go to the trouble. I can hardly claim to be an academic heavyweight, and I’ve mentioned consistently that I know nothing about Coptic, but my somewhat-trained eye finds much to support the notion that we’re dealing with a forgery and hopefully this plain ‘visual’ analysis will add further weight to the academic claims of forgery.
To do so, I’ll be posting the same photos over and over so the reader doesn’t ‘lose’ the train of thought. Photos of the fragments come from that Harvard Divinity School Page: The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus … and the first thing we need to reiterate (Cato like):
Someone has to adequately explain how the lettering on a page from a Codex (as we are told) can be so well-preserved on one side, and so poorly-preserved on the other side. And just for bonus marks, they have to explain why eight lines seem to fit on the legible side while the other side seems to have problems handling six. In his list of the steps a forger would have to take to pull this off, Dr Kraft suggests:
1. Find an appropriate piece, preferably old with at least one blank side and if it has any writing on its other side, let it be nearly illegible and faded Coptic. (This is perhaps the easiest step — I even have some blank pieces from my eBay purchases.)
… and someone from a nefarious profession probably wouldn’t even have to resort to eBay. In other words, it isn’t difficult to find a medium to ‘add value’ to, as we’ve mentioned in our previous post on these matters. Indeed, I think I’ve beaten that horse pretty badly by now (despite the lack of any response to it) so we can turn to other things that have struck me as odd about this. Here’s the front again:
Something that has been increasingly bothering me over the past week is how neat the right margin is and how nicely it follows the ‘edge’. It gets even more suspicious when one compares it to the transcription/translation that is also provided by the Harvard Divinity School:
The words on the right side are pretty consistent in terms of how dark/legible they are. The letters are almost all complete words (i.e., the word ends at this right margin). By contrast, we get the ‘jagged’ look of the left side, although for the most part we still seem to have complete words. This suggests to me that someone was working from a previously-prepared text and actually writing from right-to-left, whether because they were using a brush and didn’t want to smear as they were going along, or because they were left-handed, or because they came from a culture which naturally wrote things from right to left.
And just to bring the fragments a little closer to their alleged source — Michael Grondin’s translation — consider the following (he said, Bill Nye-like):
The papyrus image is line one … coincidentally, it is the line with the possible ‘smoking gun’ of a typo copied from Grondin’s Interlinear translation. The Coptic text above is the last line of p. 18 and the first line of page 19 of the pdf version of Grondin’s translation. As Bernhard and others have noted, the highlighted words make up the line in our papyrus fragment. But perhaps more importantly, it shows that the line length of the papyrus is also possibly identical to the line length in Grondin’s pdf. Other lines are made up of ‘multiple clippings’, so this might not be as apparent.
Last, and certainly not least, is an indication to the average layperson, how easy it would be to alter an existing line from Grondin’s work and give it a rather more spectacular meaning:
The papyrus excerpt is from line 5 … the ‘she will become my disciple’ bit. The top comes from p. 11 of Grondin’s translation, from the line that is 11 from the bottom (I’m not clear how these things should be cited, obviously). As can be seen, all that is required to turn the “he” to “she” is to leave off that one vertical stroke (changing a “fay” to a “sigma”, I am told, by Mark Goodacre).
In other words, there really is an awful lot going on here to suggest a forgery, even to the untrained eye. The right margin is curiously straight while the left margin is jagged. As others have shown, the words of the papyrus seem to be cut and pasted from a readily available online text of the Gospel of Thomas, and even reproduce a typo found therein. Even more, there is a decent hint that the line length of the online version of the Gospel of Thomas is being imitated and to give a gender change to otherwise uncontroversial words really wouldn’t be too difficult. Combining that with the utter lack of confidence we have in terms of the provenance of the fragment, at this point we really can’t be confident of any notions of ‘authenticity’ being attached to this so-called Gospel of Jesus Wife. Of course, we still should await the results of any testing that does occur ‘just to be sure’, but I wouldn’t advise holding breaths on this one. Any testing will either definitely rule it out or — if the forger had the sense to use distilled water and/or ancient recipes for his/her ink — deem the authenticity ‘inconclusive’. The collective analysis of the ‘forgery crowd’ should be enough to override any ‘inconclusive’ judgement.
So asks the Ask History (TM) thing (yes, they’ve tradmarked that) at the History Channel and they give a really ambiguous answer. After citing Dio and Suetonius, here’s how their first paragraph ends:
But did he really plan to make Incitatus a consul and only fail to do so because his assassination happened first, as Suetonius would have us believe?
… the next paragraph ends:
So while Caligula might have had an unusual fondness for his horse, it’s unlikely the emperor went so far as to appoint the stallion.
… so far, so good … but then we get the concluding paragraph:
But what if Caligula actually did plot to create Rome’s first equine official? According to historian Aloys Winterling, author of “Caligula: A Biography” (2011), insanity isn’t the only logical explanation for such behavior. In his book, Winterling makes the case that many of the emperor’s wackier stunts, including his treatment of Incitatus, were designed to insult and humiliate senators and other elites. By bestowing a high public office on his horse, then, Caligula aimed to show his underlings that their work was so meaningless an animal could do it.
… now I haven’t read Winterling’s book, but I’d be curious to know if he does actually suggest Caligula followed through with the appointment or if he’s just as much a victim of this academic bait and switch as we are. If so, it goes against our ancient sources, of course, which the History folks do mention. But since they seem to have problems, here’s a blast from the past … an excerpt from something I posted when the entertainment people were telling us that Oliver Stone’s Alexander flick was an allegory for the war in Iraq or some such. I pointed out how the repeating of the story was starting to turn it into ‘fact’ a la Caligula’s horse, but then we cited what the ancient historians actually said:
[...] Just as a point of comparison, a good chunk of folks reading this, no doubt, think they know the story of Caligula making his favourite horse Incitatus a consul or senator or something. Our first mention of the story — from Suetonius Vit. Cal. 55 (ca. 120 A.D.) goes like this:
He used to send his soldiers on the day before the games and order silence in the neighborhood, to prevent the horse Incitatus from being disturbed. Besides a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones, he even gave this horse a house, a troop of slaves and furniture, for the more elegant entertainment of the guests invited in his name; and it is also said that he planned to make him consul.
A generation or so later, Cassius Dio (59.14.7) writes:
One of the horses, which he named Incitatus, he used to invite to dinner, where he would offer him golden barley and drink his health in wine from golden goblets; he swore by the animal’s life and fortune and even promised to appoint him consul, a promise that he would certainly have carried out if he had lived longer.
And now, of course, it is ‘well known’ that Caligula actually did make his horse a consul or senator or something — a fact which is regularly mentioned in the press when someone unqualified gets a prize political appointment. So, in case I’ve lost you … Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great is a movie criticizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The entertainment columnists have spoken. I’m sure Dio and Suetonius are wryly smiling from on high …
… and, no doubt, they continue to smile, if not burst into laughter.
From Greek Reporter:
Αrchaeologists from the 28th Ephorate of Antiquities unearthed a tomb in the city of Amphipolis, near Serres, northern Greece, which they believe could belong to the wife and son of Alexander the Great, Roxane and Alexander IV.
The circular precinct is three meters, or nearly 10 feet high and its perimeter is about 500 metes, or 1,640 feet surrounding the tomb located in an urban area close to the small city of Amphipolis. The head of the team, Katerina Peristeri noted that it is too soon to talk with certainty about the identities of the discovery.
“Of course this precinct is one we have never seen before, neither in Vergina nor anywhere else in Greece. There is no doubt about this. However, any further associations with historic figures or presumptions cannot be yet made because of the severe lack of evidence and finances that will not allow to continue the excavations at least for the time being,” she added.
The area has since 1965 been known as Kasta Tom, but these are the first excavations to take place there. The project began without any secured funds, which resulted in only parts of the impressive site coming to light. Analysts suggested that conclusions about the owners of the tomb cannot be drawn without first unearthing the tombs and discovering evidence about their identities.
Nevertheless, local authorities and media rushed into claiming and believing that the tomb belongs to Alexander’s wife and son, who, according to legend, had been ostracized to Macedonia after Alexander’s death. There the 12-year-old Alexander the IV and his mother Roxane were murdered. Tradition has it that the two victims were buried in Amphipolis but no evidence so far has proved this.
Nice to see some skepticism from the folks at Greek Reporter … at this point, we probably have as much evidence that this is the tomb of Roxane as it is the tomb of Xena …
UPDATE (a few minutes later): further adding to the suspicion, it is clear that this excavation started back in 2010 with the express purpose of finding the tomb of Roxane … see the post at Challenging the Past (Looking for the tomb of Roxane) and follow the link to the Greek news item: Ανασκαφές στην Αμφίπολη)
Yesterday my mailbox metaphorically ‘dinged’ and what was in it was an item from a couple of years ago which was in one of the 2008 issues of Biblical Archaeology Review. It claims that a wall painting in the House of the Physician at Pompeii depicts Solomon, Socrates, and Aristotle sitting in judgement, yadda yadda, yadda … you can read it here for yourself:
- Solomon, Socrates and Aristotle (Bible History Daily/Biblical Archaeology Review)
… and, of course, it is being touted (again) as the earliest depiction of a scene from the Bible. When one looks at the thing up close, however, it is a pretty sketchy claim and Dorothy King more-than-adequately shot this one down a year or so ago:
- The Wisdom to Know it’s not Solomon … (Dorothy King)
That recent papyrus thing (Another Papyrus ~ Implications for the Ancient Novel?) might also somehow be an influence here …
This one is starting to get silly … yesterday we had — from a reliable source, apparently — word that Harvard Theological Review was declining to publish Dr. King’s paper on some fragment of papyrus that’s been in the news of late. Later in the day, however, we were told that that wasn’t true, again from a reliable source:
Despite that being the only real development yesterday, you can see if you scroll down through the Blogosphere posts for this a.m.that more Biblioblogger types are commenting either on the fragment or the publicity thereof … for my part, I think I’m going to leave this one to them until we hear of the papyrus itself being tested. That, and (he said, Cato-like) when someone explains to me how a page from a codex can have such nice dark letters on one side, and be barely legible on the other
A few developments since our last post on the subject (The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife ~ A Rogueclassicist Perspective):
Mark Goodacre has augmented Francis Watson’s culled-from-Thomas suggestion by demonstrating that the final line was also from Thomas untimely ripped:
Currently burning through the blogosphere is a reliably-sourced mention that Harvard Theological Review is no longer publishing Dr King’s article:
… one wonders if the Smithsonian will still go through with their piece.
We should note that there remain folks who cling to the view that it is genuine, despite all this:
FWIW, as Steve Caruso note in his post on this early on, Dr. King is to be praised for at least presenting this at a scholarly conference rather than going straight to the media with it. But the more one stares at that fragment, the more one thinks that it really should have undergone more tests before being hyped like it was. When one side could barely be read — even with infrared photography — and the other side was pretty much clear as day, alarm bells should have gone off.
I’m sure most folks have seen all the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ coverage in the morning Blogosphere posts and perhaps some people were wondering why I hadn’t commented yet. It was mostly a matter of lack of time, but it’s kind of interesting that I couldn’t respond because the story took a couple of interesting turns as it made its way through the news cycle. So here’s a compendium-cum-commentary sort of post which should bring you up to speed if you have missed it and which also asks some questions that have arisen for me along the way. The best place to begin is with the press release from the Harvard Divinity School (which has some internal links worth exploring, but I’ll mention them again later):
Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.
King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the Congress’s meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican’s Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to, “Jesus said to them, my wife.” The words, written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches.
“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus’s death before they began appealing to Jesus’s marital status to support their positions.”
Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York, believes the fragment to be authentic based on examination of the papyrus and the handwriting, and Ariel Shisha-Halevy, a Coptic expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, considers it likely to be authentic on the basis of language and grammar, King said. Final judgment on the fragment, King said, depends on further examination by colleagues and further testing, especially of the chemical composition of the ink.
One side of the fragment contains eight incomplete lines of handwriting, while the other side is badly damaged and the ink so faded that only three words and a few individual letters are still visible, even with infrared photography and computer photo enhancement. Despite its tiny size and poor condition, King said, the fragment provides tantalizing glimpses into issues about family, discipleship, and marriage that concerned ancient Christians.
King and colleague AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, believe that the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel. Their analysis of the fragment is scheduled for publication in the January 2013 issue of Harvard Theological Review, a peer-reviewed journal.
The brownish-yellow, tattered fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. The collector provided King with a letter from the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus.
King said that when the owner first contacted her about the papyrus, in 2010, “I didn’t believe it was authentic and told him I wasn’t interested.” But the owner was persistent, so in December 2011, King invited him to bring it to her at Harvard. After examining it, in March 2012 King carried the fragment to New York and, together with Luijendijk, took it to Bagnall to be authenticated. When Bagnall’s examination of the handwriting, ways that the ink had penetrated and interacted with the papyrus, and other factors, confirmed its likely authenticity, work on the analysis and interpretation of the fragment began in earnest, King said.
Little is known about the discovery of the fragment, but it is believed to have come from Egypt because it is written in Coptic, the form of the Egyptian language used by Christians there during the Roman imperial period. Luijendijk suggested that “a fragment this damaged probably came from an ancient garbage heap like all of the earliest scraps of the New Testament.” Since there is writing on both sides of the fragment, it clearly belongs to an ancient book, or codex, not a scroll, she said.
The gospel of which the fragment is but a small part, which King and Luijendijk have named the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife for reference purposes, was probably originally written in Greek, the two professors said, and only later translated into Coptic for use among congregations of Coptic-speaking Christians. King dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip.
Like those gospels, it was probably ascribed to one or more of Jesus’s closest followers, but the actual author would have remained unknown even if more of it had survived. As it stands, the remaining piece is too small to tell us anything more about who may have composed, read, or circulated the new gospel, King said.
The main topic of the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples is one that deeply concerned early Christians, who were asked to put loyalty to Jesus before their natal families, as the New Testament gospels show. Christians were talking about themselves as a family, with God the father, his son Jesus, and members as brothers and sisters. Twice in the tiny fragment, Jesus speaks of his mother and once of his wife—one of whom is identified as “Mary.” The disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy, and Jesus states that “she can be my disciple.” Although less clear, it may be that by portraying Jesus as married, the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife conveys a positive theological message about marriage and sexuality, perhaps similar to the Gospel of Philip’s view that pure marriage can be an image of divine unity and creativity.
From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether they should marry or be celibate. But, King notes, it was not until around 200 that there is the earliest extant claim that Jesus did not marry, recorded by Clement of Alexandria. He wrote of Christians who claimed that marriage is fornication instituted by the devil, and says people should emulate Jesus in not marrying, King said. A decade or two later, she said, Tertullian of Carthage in North Africa declared that Jesus was “entirely unmarried,” and Christians should aim for a similar condition. Yet Tertullian did not condemn sexual relations altogether, allowing for one marriage, although he denounced not only divorce, but even remarriage for widows and widowers as overindulgence. Nearly a century earlier, the New Testament letter of 1 Timothy had warned that people who forbid marriage are following the “doctrines of demons,” although it didn’t claim Jesus was married to support that point.
In the end, the view that dominated would claim celibacy as the highest form of Christian sexual virtue, while conceding marriage for the sake of reproduction alone. The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, if it was originally written in the late second century, suggests that the whole question of Jesus’s marital status only came up over a century after Jesus died as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage, King said. King noted that contemporary debates over celibate clergy, the roles of women, sexuality, and marriage demonstrate that the issues are far from resolved.
“The discovery of this new gospel,” King said, “offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus’s marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married. The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise.”
- via: HDS Scholar Announces Existence of a New Early Christian Gospel from Egypt (Harvard Divinity School)
So the initial press release gives some important info:
- the claim is being made by a chaired professor (Dr. King)
- the fragment is written in Coptic and is written/translated in such a way as to suggest that Jesus had a wife
- Roger Bagnall thinks the piece authentic on papyrological and paleographical grounds
- Ariel Shisha-Halevy thinks the piece authentic on grammatical grounds
- further testing of the ink is forthcoming (maybe)
- the fragment has close connections to the Gospel of Thomas (more on that later)
… so far, so good, but then we get into things that initially me feel somewhat uncomfortable:
- the provenance of the fragment is unknown and somewhat suspicious
- we are told it came from a codex, because it is written on both sides; one side is really faded, however (more on that later)
- Dr King and her associate have named the fragment Gospel of Jesus’s Wife for reference purposes, but in the process are predisposing people what to think about it
Setting that aside, there was a ‘head on media’ assault — for want of a better term — with this one … from Harvard came:
- A New Gospel Revealed (Harvard Magazine)
- “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’” A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus (a pdf draft of Dr King’s paper … definitely worth a read)
- The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus (photos and translations, with some ‘questions’)
… all of which led to quite a bit of media coverage … here’s a sampling:
- A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife (New York Times)
- Harvard professor identifies scrap of papyrus suggesting some early Christians believed Jesus was married (Boston Globe)
- Scholar: Jesus talks of wife in ancient script (Phys Org)
- Wife of Jesus’ reference in Coptic 4th Century script(BBC)
… and of course, the Daily Mail took it that one step further:
- ‘Proof’ Jesus was married found on ancient papyrus that mentions how son of God spoke of his wife and Mary Magdalene
We also saw some things from the Smithsonian, which may have added some gravitas to the story:
- The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus (Smithsonian Magazine … very lengthy and interesting)
- What is the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? (Video … different Gospels brought up)
… and it became apparent that this was connected to a documentary on the subject which was funded by the Smithsonian and which will appear on the Smithsonian Channel later this month.
After the initial wave, Dr King presented her paper and AP came out with a piece which — to its credit — noted the suspicion of scholars … some excerpts:
Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying “my wife.” But he questioned whether the document was authentic.
“There’s something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt.
“I would say it’s a forgery. The script doesn’t look authentic” when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said.
Wolf-Peter Funk, a noted Coptic linguist, said there was no way to evaluate the significance of the fragment because it has no context. It’s a partial text and tiny, measuring 4 centimeters by 8 centimeters (1.5 inches by 3 inches), about the size of a small cellphone.
“There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things,” said Funk, co-director of a project editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library at Laval University in Quebec. “It can be anything.”
He, too, doubted the authenticity, saying the form of the fragment was “suspicious.”
Some archaeologists were quick to question Harvard’s ethics, noting that the fragment has no known provenance, or history of where it’s been, and that its current owner may have a financial interest in the publicity being generated about it.
King has said the owner wants to sell his collection to Harvard.
“There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this,” said David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk and author of the Looting Matters blog, which closely follows the illicit trade in antiquities. “This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it.”
He cited the ongoing debate in academia over publishing articles about possibly dubiously obtained antiquities, thus potentially fueling the illicit market.
Hany Sadak, the director general of the Coptic Museum in Cairo, said the fragment’s existence was unknown to Egypt’s antiquities authorities until news articles this week.
“I personally think, as a researcher, that the paper is not authentic because it was, if it had been in Egypt before, we would have known of it and we would have heard of it before it left Egypt,” he said.
- via: Some scholars challenge authenticity of ‘Jesus’ wife’ papyrus (AP via the Register Guard)
If you kept up with the various Blogosphere posts, you know our biblioblogger friends were also on the suspicious side. Ecce:
- A Coptic gospel that mentions Jesus’ wife? (Jim Davila … questions authenticity)
- The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (Mark Goodacre’s initial reactions … suspicion)
- Jesus’ Wife – Coptic Fragment Examined by Karen L. King (Steve Caruso’s initial reaction was that at least Dr King was doing it properly revealing her findings at a scholarly conference, which is, in fact, a good thing)
- The ‘Wife of Jesus’ Fragment a Day Later: Some Concerns About Authenticity (Tom Verenna … self explanatory)
As an aside, as might be expected, both Simcha Jacobovici and Dr James Tabor are very interested in this because it adds weight to their Talpiot Tomb claims:
- Jesus Was Married. Something Has Changed! (Simcha Jacobovici)
- An Newly Deciphered Papyri: Does Jesus Address His Wife? (James Tabor)
- Morning After Thoughts on Jesus and his “wife” (James Tabor)
- Thinking Through the Implications of a Married Jesus: Talpiot (James Tabor)
… for more Bibloblogger reaction, see James McGrath’s compendia here and here … In addition, there was an NBC article which actually seems to have looked at assorted Bibliobloggers on this one: Reality check on Jesus and his ‘wife’ (NBC)
The common thread through most of this coverage is that people aren’t buying the authenticity of the piece and this seems to be a major sticking point. A major development in the questioning of authenticity came the other day when Dr Francis Watson posted an article (pdf) on Mark Goodacre’s blog pointing out why it is a forgery and whence came the ‘subject matter’ — mostly from the Gospel of Thomas:
The article’s findings are currently percolating through the press:
… and even the Daily Mail has become skeptical:
Finally (in terms of press coverage) we read that Harvard seems to be having second thoughts … an excerpt from an AP piece via PhysOrg:
[...] The research centers on a fourth-century papyrus fragment containing Coptic text in which Jesus uses the words “my wife.” On Tuesday, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King announced at an international conference that the fragment was the only existing ancient text in which Jesus explicitly talks of having a wife. Harvard also said King’s research was scheduled to be published in the Harvard Theological Review in January and noted the journal was peer-reviewed, which implied the research had been fully vetted. But on Friday, the review’s co-editor Kevin Madigan said he and his co-editor had only “provisionally” committed to a January publication, pending the results of the ongoing studies. In an email, Madigan said the added studies include “scientific dating and further reports from Coptic papyrologists and grammarians.”[...]
So that’s what others think; on to what I think (if anyone cares), with the caveat that I am not a papyrologist except in the looking-up-pOxy sense, and am not at all versed in Coptic … In any event when these sorts of claims come along, your friendly rogueclassicist generally pulls a Sheldon:
… and stares at the thing for much longer than is normal. What I was staring at were the Karen King’s photos which were posted on the Harvard Divinity School page:
So here’s what bugs me: in the initial press stuff we were told this fragment was from a codex, because it had writing on both sides. That would be a reasonable explanation, but also predisposes us to think that what we’re looking at was, in fact, a codex. Looking at the fragment itself, it seems rather strange, does it not, that the ink on one side could be so dark and nice, while on the other side it is barely legible? It seems also strange that the ‘legible’ side seems to comfortably hold eight lines of text, while the other side has barely six. Indeed, the other side is probably the best clue about the authenticity of this fragment — barring further testing — because it can barely be read and is so illegible that one really can’t say that it actually is some sort of religious text.
With that in mind, let’s think of some recent ‘sensational’ discoveries: the James Ossuary is still being debated, but the dates check out … perhaps a good indication that some ‘forger’ simply gave a less spectacular — but genuine — ancient piece some added value. Similarly, those Jordan lead codices are speculated to have been made from ancient lead which was reused for ‘other reasons’. Just looking at the condition of this papyrus fragment, does it not suggest that this is a situation where there was some vague, and probably of little value, fragment of papyrus which some forger decided to ‘add some value’ to by adding something interesting and controversial to the other side? It seems to be a modus operandi for many of these claims of late …
ADDENDA (the next day): this a.m. I realized I neglected to include some very apropos posts in regards to provenance from David Gill’s blog:
- The Papyrus Fragment about Jesus’s Relations: Cambridge comment
- The “dodgy” papyrus fragment: further comments
- The “dodgy” papyrus fragment: top question
- The “dodgy” papyrus: the Fecht connection
This is sort of interesting in a ‘closure of the story’ sort of way but also in a ‘never thought we’d hear him admit it’ sort of way too. Various versions of this one … we’re excerpting the Indian Express:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted to staging some of his most famous stunts, including meeting endangered big cats and the “discovery” of ancient Greek amphorae in the Black sea, a Russian journalist has claimed.
However, Putin complained that while he was ridiculed for his stage-managed photo opportunities, they at least raised awareness and encouraged people to “start reading” about history and environmental issues.
His comments came during a bizarre 20-minute conversation in the Kremlin with an opposition journalist, who claims to have recently lost her job over refusing to cover his most recent stunt, The Telegraph reports.
In an article published in Moscow”s Big City Journal, she said the Russian president unexpectedly rang her soon after she lost her job to express his regret at “inadvertently becoming the cause” of her sacking, and invited her to the Kremlin, where in an unexpected frank admission, he acknowledged that many of his stunts are stage-managed.
“Well, there was overexposure, and I was to blame for that,” he had allegedly said. [...]
- via: ‘Macho man’ Putin admits ‘stage-managing’ stunts (Indian Express)
You can follow the ‘thread’ back in this sordid tale here: Putin, Phangoria, Fake? Well duh …
Tip o’ the pileus to Ian Spoor for sending this one in from the BBC … I wasn’t aware of this controversy:
Every French schoolchild has learned about Alesia.
It was the battle in which Julius Caesar beat the Gauls under Vercingetorix, thus bringing France into the Roman world.
Had it gone the other way, the French might have ended up German.
In the Asterix comic book The Chieftain’s Shield, the opening scene shows Vercingetorix throwing his weapons not before, but on Caesar’s feet.
Right now, there is an added reason to contemplate this key moment in early European history.
An impressive new museum-cum-activity centre has just opened on the official site of the battle, in northern Burgundy.
The Alesia MuseoParc, beneath the village of Alise-Sainte-Reine, consists of a circular museum building containing artefacts and displays, and then – outside – a full-scale reconstruction of part of the Roman siege lines.
Visitors come away with a thorough grounding in Gaulish fighting techniques, or in Caesar’s strategic genius.
What they hear little of is a controversy that questions the museum’s very raison d’etre.
Understandable perhaps, because after 10 years of planning, and 75m euros (£60m) of investment, who wants to be told that the battle never took place here at all?
The more recent battle of Alesia – about its whereabouts, that is – goes back 150 years, to the time of France’s Emperor Napoleon III.
After the surrender of Vercingetorix in 52BC, the Gaulish town was said to have been obliterated and lost for good. In The Chieftain’s Shield, there is even a running gag about no-one knowing where Alesia is.
But in 1864, Napoleon issued an imperial decree stating that Alesia had now been officially identified as Alise-Sainte-Reine.
The emperor, the nephew of the original Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, saw Vercingetorix as an embodiment of France’s national identity.
Though he was the loser at Alesia, Vercingetorix had by then forged the first ever pan-Gaulish alliance of tribes.
Nearly two millennia later, Napoleon III, whose legitimacy was, to say the least, precarious, wanted to harness this unifying spirit.
So when archaeological evidence began to emerge that possibly linked Alise-Sainte-Reine to some kind of Roman-Celtic confrontation, Alise-Sainte-Reine in Burgundy became the officially designated site, and a monumental statue of Vercingetorix was erected on the hilltop where the citadel of Alesia was presumed to have stood.
Tellingly, behind his drooping moustaches, the chieftain bears the features of a young Napoleon III.
However from the start, there were doubts about the decision, which some said had been made in haste and with clear political motives.
It was not that there was no evidence for Napoleon’s claim. The very place-name – Alise – suggested a link.
And excavations carried out in the 1860s brought to light a wealth of remains – coins, weapons, trench-lines, armour – that seemed to lend further proof.
But there were suspicions that it was all too, well – convenient.
And then exactly 50 years ago, the story took the dramatic twist whose repercussions are still with us today.
An archaeologist called Andre Berthier was profoundly uneasy about the identification Alise-Sainte-Reine as Alesia.
His method was to go back to the only sure evidence – contemporary histories – and construct an “identikit” for a location. Then he would pore over detailed military maps to find places that might correspond.
Applying this technique to the Alesia conundrum, he absorbed himself in Caesar’s own De Bello Gallico, the general’s personal account – known to generations of Latin students – of the conquest of Gaul.
It provides a clear description of Alesia. It is on a “very high” hill, impregnable except by siege. The feet of the hill are washed by two rivers, and there is a plain in front extending for three Roman miles.
These and other details convinced Berthier that Alesia could not be at Alise-Sainte-Reine. The portrait simply did not fit.
The hill, he thought, was not sufficiently high to oblige Caesar to lay siege. The plain was too wide, and as for the two rivers – “flumina” in Latin – they were pathetic little streams.
In 1962, after eliminating 200 alternative sites one by one, he came to a place called Chaux-des-Crotenay in the Jura, about 35 miles (56km) from Geneva.
It was exactly as Caesar had described.
‘Lethargy, careerism and money’
Fifty years later, Berthier’s work is being continued by his disciple, Sorbonne classics professor Danielle Porte, who is fired by an overpowering sense of injustice.
“The archaeological establishment has never paid the slightest heed to our doubts. They are too wrapped up in their own reputations, and now there are the economic interests at stake as well, with the museum.
“No-one dares question the orthodox thesis. Lethargy, careerism and money are all taking precedence over historical truth, and that is something I cannot put up with,” she says.
Having identified the place from Caesar’s texts, Berthier’s next task was to explore the area for physical evidence.
Another ancient writer – the Greek Diodorus of Sicily – wrote that Alesia was an extremely important religious centre for all the Celtic peoples of Europe.
So the true Alesia should contain signs of that past. Excavations at Alise-Sainte-Reine had mainly revealed traces from the later Gallo-Roman period, in itself suspicious because the town is supposed to have been wiped out.
Berthier’s researches at Chaux excited him beyond his wildest expectations.
Buried in woods, he found the remains of an ancient rampart wall. Ms Porte says it is a classic “Cyclopean” bronze-age fortification, originally 10m (33ft) high.
They also found a rare anthropomorphic menhir – a stone “goddess” that would have guarded an entrance – as well as other Celtic and pre-Celtic artefacts.
In addition, a short distance away, the association claims to have found signs of a Roman siege camp, seemingly further confirmation.
In short, they not only believe the famous battle took place at Chaux, they also think Alesia itself was a substantial Gaulish centre.
This means that, lying beneath the woods, there is a wealth of ancient remains waiting to be excavated.
“We believe this is the most important unexcavated archaeological site in Europe,” says historian and broadcaster Franck Ferrand.
“And yet the French state refuses to authorise excavations here. Why? Because it might jeopardise the official theory.
“It is the only case in history of an excavation being banned for cultural reasons.”
The “Jurassics”, as the dissidents are known, are convinced that the original excavations at Alise-Sainte-Reine were deliberately falsified.
Ferrand quotes a worker who allegedly told a reporter at the time that the finds were so amazing, “it was if they had been put there!”
Some items are said to have been previously seen up for sale at auction, and there are questions over a chest of treasure that was supposedly found in the Roman lines.
According to the Jurassics, this contained quantities of coins from different Gaulish tribes in exact proportion to their reported presence at the battle. How perfect, they say. And how unlikely.
But these charges of what might be called skuldiggery are hotly contested by defenders of the official line.
Laurent de Froberville, director of the Alesia museum, will not quite say the Jurassics are cranks, but he does insist the vast body of scientific opinion supports the Alise-Sainte-Reine claim.
“So much evidence has been found in the ground here,” he says.
“Just one example: There were three types of horses in the battle, from the Roman, Gaulish and Germanic cavalries. And we have found bones here from all three breeds.
“The Jurassic people rely far too heavily on one element: Caesar’s texts. But we cannot be sure how accurate these writings are.
“Most experts rely on an accumulation of a different evidence. There comes a point – like in an detective enquiry – when everything points in one direction, and you have to say: It’s here.”
The arguments will no doubt run and run. Until Chaux is excavated, the dissidents will always be able to say the truth is buried in the earth.
For those tempted to ask “Why should we care?”, Ms Porte has several answers.
First, on the location of Alesia hinges a great deal of the reputation of chief Vercingetorix.
If Alesia is indeed at the Burgundy site, then one is entitled to question the chieftain’s leadership skills: The place is not particularly defensible.
However, if Alesia is in the Jura, Vercingetorix was blocking Caesar’s path from a position of almost impregnable strength, and loses only because of the last-minute defection of one of the tribes.
Second, much dating of Celtic and Roman weaponry and coins hinges on the identification of Alesia with Alise-Sainte-Reine.
If a certain type of sword has been found there, it means that sword existed in 52BC, so similar swords found elsewhere must be from the same period.
All that archaeological science would have to be re-written, if it turns out that the remains come from a different period.
Ms Porte’s third reason is that the site at Chaux-des-Crotenay needs to be preserved.
“I remember when I first came here with Andre Berthier, he said to me: ‘This is the biggest Celtic site in Europe, and we are the only two to know it.’
“But one day the truth will out.”
- via: France’s ancient Alesia dispute rumbles on (BBC)
If you want to follow up on this, there really isn’t much on the web. A l e s i a The Jurassic hypothesis is mostly in French and presents ‘the argument’ and has some publications to order. No indication of any archaeological evidence at this particular website, though. To judge by a forum discussion (in French), the apparent ‘lack’ of archaeological evidence for the claim is the main turning point — does anyone know if any of the finds associated with Chaux-des-Crotenay have been published in a peer-reviewed journal? I remain unsure about this one and — given past patterns — can only wonder if the BBC has a documentary in the works …
Time for the annual update from Dominican Today:
The biggest tomb of mummies, one Cleopatra’s masks and the temple of Isis are a few of the finds of Dominican Republic’s most famous architect, while fending off venomous snakes and scorpions, for which she’s “the only woman who dares enter the labyrinths”
Kathleen Martinez made the revelations Thursday, and noted that her excavation crews, all members of the Bedouin tribes, fear one labyrinth in particular, located at the site of the temple Taposiris Magna “They told me that anyone who goes in there vanishes forever, one snake there is particularly deadly.”
But more than snakebites and scorpion stings, Martinez said the seemingly endless tunnels guard an even deadlier secret. “We even found unexploded bombs, that’s why they fear it, people who went in there were killed by the blasts.”
“The men have to be shown that there’s no danger, so I go down any shaft first,” the arquitect said, interviewed by Huchi Lora on Channel 11.
To neutralize the bombs and even remains of soldiers Martinez affirms are the aftermath of the 2nd World War Battle of El Alamein in that zone, she contacted military authorities. “We’ve contacted the Army, we found remains of Italian and new Zealand soldiers. We’ve turned over more than 60 bombs, some soldiers were burned alive within the tunnels. There’s so much story in those tombs, from the pharaohs to the 2nd World War.”
Among the most harrowing experiences, Martinez says, was a bomb that “we tried to lift out with a winch, but it fell off the bucket and nearly detonated with a few of us still in the tunnel.”
New York exhibit
Martinez also announced the exhibit of her findings at the Metropolitan Art Museum, where Dominicans who live in New York can view them
The architect who has spent more than five years excavating to find the tomb of Anthony and Cleopatra, affirms that among the she artifacts has found are “what we believe is the true face of Cleopatra.”
The added that Egypt’s new government informed her last week that her license to continue the excavations has been renewed.”
- via: Fending off snakes and scorpions, Dominican architect seeks Cleopatra’s tomb (Dominican Today)
… sounds like a scary dig, but am I the only one who thinks that if soldiers and the like were in those tunnels, the likelihood of finding anything is pretty slim? FWIW, there is nothing up at the Met right now which seems like it’s connected to this; we should also note that this past January, Martinez was complaining that many artifacts had been stolen (along with excavation equipment). If you’re new to rogueclassicism, the last time we heard from Martinez was back in January: Latest Development (?) in the Search for Cleopatra’s Tomb; we’ve been following this muchly-overhyped dig at Taposiris for years and you can follow links back …
Israel Hayom has a very lengthy piece which provides further details of the claims being made by Benny Liss which we mentioned the other day … Here’s a lengthy excerpt from that lengthy piece:
[...] On Sunday, the main points of Liss’ theory were printed on the news pages of Israel Hayom. Since then, the foreign and local media have had Liss’ phone ringing off the hook. I went back to him as well, and together we watched the film again.
Laid out in an orderly fashion
First, here is a clear, succinct description of the footage. Night. Darkness. Liss holds a flashlight. The cameraman holds a lamp. The lighting is not optimal, but they make do. Liss goes down the stairs into the cave, the photographer following him. The floor of the cave is covered with skeletons, bones and fragments of bones. There is also a bit of carbonized material there. Some of the skeletons are not intact. One is missing a leg. Two of them look like they were laid there in a more orderly manner instead of merely thrown inside.
The images are reminiscent of a large mass grave. Thousands upon thousands of bones, if not more. Liss recalls: “It was very disturbing.”
“I wanted to see how deep the bones went. I lay on top of them and put my arm in as far as it would go, until my shoulder was also inside. I didn’t reach the bottom,” he says. The last images in the film are of Liss and his cameraman leaving the cave, breathing heavily and reciting the blessing: “Blessed is He who raises the dead.” Cut.
Liss offers a theory, “not a scientific statement,” he says. Unlike the adjacent burial caves, there are no Christian symbols, such as crosses, or accessories or sandals in this cave. The cave, which is near the Golden Gate, was the ideal place for the Romans, who stayed on the Temple Mount for a month after destroying the temple, to bury the thousands of corpses. The corpses could not be removed west of the area of the Western Wall because that was the way to the upper city, which the Romans had not yet occupied. They could not go north because that was the way they had come to conquer the city. Nor could they go south to the built-up area of the Hulda Gate, which was the entrance to the Temple — that was not proper. For the Romans, the caves to the east, near the Golden Gate, which were much lower down at the time, were a natural solution.
Liss relies on Josephus’ shocking description of the events and also on the research done by historian Nathan Shor, who documented the literature of travelers to the Land of Israel. Shor’s research cites evidence that Jews were among those buried on the slope that Liss and his associates visited that night. Shor quotes the account of an unnamed Jew, a student of Nahmanides, who wrote about the discovery of Jewish graves on the slope facing the Mount of Olives, at the foot of the city wall. He also quotes a similar account by an Italian monk, Niccolo da Poggibonsi, but relies mostly on the description of the region given by Rabbi Yitzhak ben Meir Latif, who was born in Italy in the second half of the 15th century. Latif reports that the Muslims took the Jewish cemetery beside the Golden Gate from the Jewish community and pushed the Jews to the lower slope that was closest to the Mount of Olives.
Retracing past excavations
Dr. Dotan Goren of Bar-Ilan University, who documented the Jewish efforts to buy land in the holy sites in Jerusalem and its environs during the Ottoman era, gathered quite a few accounts of ancient Jewish burial sites there. Liss believes that the cemetery that was taken from the Jews was the continuation of the Jewish settlement that existed there and of the disorderly burial that the Romans gave the Jews who had been killed during the destruction.
The big problem for Liss, and also for the archaeologists with whom we spoke this week, is that the burial cave was never sampled. The bones and any other findings that may be there were never dated. The cave was sealed by officials of the Antiquities Authority as quickly as it had been opened because the people in charge of the Ophel promenade project had promised that the caves would not be disturbed during the construction of the promenade and the improvement of the road nearby.
The attempt to retrace earlier archaeological excavations did not help to solve the mystery either. In 1869, Charles Warren, the well-known archaeologist, excavated, by means of shafts and tunnels, the lower portion of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. Robert Hamilton, the British archaeologist, dug there in 1935 and discovered graves from the Byzantine era. In 1995, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron excavated as part of the development of the Ophel road. Their dig uncovered findings that hint at dwellings, evidently Jewish ones, that existed in the area in Second Temple times. It also documented about 25 Byzantine burial caves along the length of the eastern slope.
Even the many renowned Israeli archaeologists whom we contacted kept their statements vague. They all spoke of the need to take samples from the cave before drawing any conclusions, and said that the footage was not enough. Professor Dan Bahat raised the possibility that the skeletons could be the remains of Christians massacred by the Persians in 614 C.E. Dr. Gabriel Barkai mentioned Muslim group burials in the area. Hillel Geva, the director of the Israel Exploration Society and the archaeologist of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, mentioned the possibility that the remains might belong to victims of an earthquake or an epidemic. He also mentioned the massacre of the Christians by the Persians. Everybody said that all options were open, including the option that Liss mentioned.
But Liss found himself in an impossible situation this week. Everyone wanted to know what had brought him to the cave, and he told a different story to each person who asked him. He wanted to protect his sources.
That is, until I reached Boaz Zissu, then an employee of the Antiquities Authority and now Professor Boaz Zissu of the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University. He also co-wrote, together with Professor Amos Kloner, a book titled “The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period.” Zissu was able to shed some light on the mystery for me.
“I was there that night,” he said. “Even though I didn’t go inside the cave that Liss and his crew documented, I went into one that was nearby. With us in there were people from the Antiquities Authority, including the late director-general, Amir Drori, the district archaeologist, Gideon Avni, and others. After studying still photographs from Liss’ film and comparing them to other photographs from that night, Zissu said that Liss’ film showed that the cave was a Byzantine burial site.
“What shows this clearly is the double trough where the skeletons and bones are placed,” Zissu said. “Also, the entrance shafts to the caves that I remember from that area were covered by stone slabs, which is characteristic of Byzantine burials.”
Which cave are we talking about?
Zissu also relies on Gideon Avni’s doctoral thesis, which was published in 1997, about a year after that night. In his thesis, Avni writes that at the junction of the Ophel highway (on the basis of conversations with Reich and Shukron), there was “a series of hewn burial caves, extremely crowded together. These included caves built of a single hewn room with curved walls and flat areas, and more complex caves that had several rooms and flat areas. Large accumulations of bones were found in each of the flat areas. Many glass vessels from the Byzantine era were also found in some of the caves.”
But the last word in this mystery-filled debate has not yet been uttered. Liss insists that the cave that he documented was higher up, near the wall. Zissu is talking about a few meters above the road, much lower down. Liss insists that in the cave he filmed there were no Christian symbols. Also, it was not a hewn cave but rather a natural one, unlike the nearby caves that he documented, which were lower down.
He also mentions the carbon remnants, which he says may hint that the skeletons do in fact belong to the victims of the massacre on the Temple Mount, and bones with cuts or other kinds of damage that could be evidence of wounds sustained in battle.
Officials of the Antiquities Authority say that they know nothing of this issue and would be happy to receive information from Liss about it.
One of Avni’s successors at the Antiquities Authority says that he heard about a large burial cave in the region that has never been investigated.
One way or another, the chances that the cave that Liss documented, with its thousands of skeletons, will be opened anytime soon, are slim. The cave is below the Muslim cemetery, which spreads out over a large area below the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. Only recently, the Temple Mount Rescue Committee won its battle to prevent the cemetery’s expansion southward, into uninhabited areas.
The Muslims will firmly oppose anyone who dares to approach their territory to try to solve the mystery, so Schmidl and his colleagues in Atra Kadisha can relax.
The story also shows us how little we know about Jerusalem in ancient times. It also shows the major archaeological role that the Temple Mount itself, which has never been excavated due to Muslim opposition, could play in drawing up a more precise map of Jerusalem’s past.
… there seem to be some big names in Israel archaeology commenting on this. From my poking around, all I can say is that Josephus doesn’t say anything about the disposal of the bodies. I’m not sure we really know what the Romans did in the wake of a successful seige with all the dead … did they just bury them? Or did they cremate them? Whatever the case, in this particular situation it’s obvious we won’t learn anything more until this is properly investigated and it doesn’t sound like that’s on anyone’s agenda …
This one’s obviously in its very early stages, but we’ll mention it and see where it goes … tip o’ the pileus to Jim West (Have The Remains of Jews Killed by the Romans in Jerusalem in 70 a.d. Been Discovered?) who alerts us to Antonio Lombatti’s post (Scheletri del massacro del Monte del Tempio?) pointing to this item in Israel Hayom:
Remains of thousands of Jews massacred by the Romans on the Temple Mount at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple may have been uncovered in Jerusalem, according to a veteran archaeological journalist.
During a conference on Thursday at Megalim – the City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies, journalist Benny Liss screened a movie recorded a few years ago that clearly shows thousands of skeletons and human bones in what appears to be a mass grave.
Liss, veteran archaeological correspondent for Israel’s Channel 1, told the amazed audience that the film had been shot in a spacious, underground cavern in the area of the Mercy Gate, near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, but just outside it. Liss raised the possibility that the skeletons were the remains of 6,000 Jews, mostly women and children, killed on the Temple Mount when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, as described in the writings of Flavius Josephus, who witnessed the destruction.
The movie shows a group of people accessing the cavern with construction tools. Liss goes in first, followed by a lighting technician and cameraman. The three first pass through a narrow passage and then enter the cave with the skeletal remains. Liss says he tried to work out the size of the pile of remains by putting his hand in as far as he could, but he could not reach the bottom. The movie shows Liss crumbling some of the carbonized materials near the skeletons. As soon as Liss left the cave, Antiquities Authority staff resealed the cave, he says.
During the lecture, Liss also cites historical sources that show that in the area of the Old City where the Muslim cemetery now stands, there was once a Jewish neighborhood and cemetery, which was moved to the Valley of Josaphat. He basis his theory that the skeletons are the remains of the people killed on the Temple Mount on the site of the mass grave, the soot in the cave and the written history.
“The Romans stayed on the Temple Mount for a month after the destruction of the temple until going on to conquer the upper city [today's Jewish Quarter],” says Liss. “They had to get rid of the thousands of decomposing bodies and the most obvious place to do this would have been the natural caves on the upper slope of the mount, around Mercy Gate.”
The veteran journalist emphasized that this was just a theory. “Now, after publishing this information, the experts should go into the field and examine what we found back then, evaluate it and publish their own findings,” he says.
Liss does not believe that the remains are Christian since on the lower levels of the mount he has documented systematic Christian burials where crosses, sandals and buckles clearly attest to the religion of the dead. The same cannot be said about the burial site closer to the Mercy Gate.
Asked why he waited until now to release his findings, Liss said that he was worried that they would ignite the situation and wanted to wait for a better time.
A host of senior archaeologists approached by Israel Hayom said that photographs were not enough to determine the history of the cave and that samples need to be taken from the site and dated.
Professor Dan Bahat, a former Jerusalem District archaeologist, said the bones could be Jewish, but also just as easily be Christian or Muslim. Prominent archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai said that Muslim mass graves had been found in the area in the past, though he does not discount other possibilities. Archaeologist Dr. Ayelet Mazar said that such a finding was unprecedented, but refused to come to any conclusions without further investigations being carried out.
The chances of the site being reopened are very slim as it is located in a particularly sensitive area, where the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf keeps a close watch and interprets every movement by Jews or Israeli authorities on the mount.
The Antiquities Authority said in response that it was unaware of the findings presented in Liss’ movie, and it would be happy to receive the materials. One official told Israel Hayom that he was aware of unsubstantiated reports of a cave with a large amount of human remains in the area, but because of the extreme sensitivity of the location and its close proximity to the Muslim cemetery, the cave had never been explored.
The article includes a grainy photo from the movie … kind of odd how Liss claims the cave was sealed by IAA people while the IAA denies any knowledge what was inside; seems unlikely that they’d stand around outside while someone else was poking around inside. We’ll do some poking around of our own on this …
UPDATE 1 (the next day): it also strikes me as suspicious that Arutz Sheva doesn’t appear to have been at this news conference, but consciously cites the above article second hand: Remains of Jews Massacred on Temple Mount Found?
I’ve got a number of rants percolating inside of me and need to get one out before I damage myself.
As regular readers of rogueclassicism might be aware, Richard Bauckham has recently made another foray into trying to translate that inscription on an ossuary in Talpiyot Tomb B, a.k.a. the Patio Tomb. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s available via Mark Goodacre’s NTblog:
… in which he proposes the inscription consists of two names; this contrasts greatly with what he originally proposed on the ASOR blog back in March:
At the same time, Dr Bauckham conveniently collected most of the variant readings of the inscription in a guest post at Larry Hurtado’s blog:
… we should also mention H. Gregory Snyder’s comments at the ASOR blog on Christopher Rollston’s efforts:
… and, of course, Dr Rollston’s own posts:
- Reflections of an Epigrapher on Talpiyot Tombs A and B: A Detailed Response to the Claims of Professor James Tabor and Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici
I won’t even bother with my own efforts at coming up with a translation, because as I stared at the available photos, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I (nor others) did not have photos of sufficient quality to come up with a transcription, let alone a viable translation. I think the variations just in Dr Bauckham’s contributions alone serve well to underscore this fact. Adding weight to this, if I may dangle a participle, folks may know that I run an obscure mailing list for epigraphy and many of the premier Greek and Latin epigraphers on the planet are members thereof. A request for suggestions of what the inscription might say garnered zero response. Adding even further weight to the suggestion that the photos we have been provided with by the investigators of the Talpiot Tomb(s), when a similar request was posted at the Current Epigraphy blog, the very first comment was a request for a photo with raking light (i.e. light from the side) — not that a lot of folks weighed in at all. Interestingly, though, one attempt at photomanipulation which was done in reverse order of something I tried, came up with a very different reading.
The point of this rant is this: the photos of the inscription from the Talpiot Tomb B, a.k.a. the Patio tomb, are of insufficient quality to draw scholarly conclusions from. I don’t know if it’s by design or what, but the handful of photos which have been released are those which ‘tend to’ lead the reader to whatever it is Drs Tabor and Jacobovici want them to see, but it is clear that professional epigraphers can see other things, but just aren’t sure what. Like the ‘jonah fish’, however, it is increasingly being seen that it isn’t what Drs Tabor and Jacobovici say is there (and yes, it is a valid criticism to point out what is claimed isn’t there without there being agreement on what is there — just anticipating a standard response which we witnessed when scholars didn’t agree on what the vessel on the ossuary depicted).
FWIW, I am not positive the amazing GE technology which was used to investigate the tomb is capable of producing a photo with the necessary raking light, although some combo of light + snake cam should have been able to do so. I am also doubtful, however, whether the small handful of photos which the investigators have released to the public are the only ones, or even the best ones. Surely there must be video as well. This sort of robot investigation of tombs holds great promise for archaeology in general, but it obviously is dead in the water if scholars are ‘holding back’ all the evidence they have available in order for it to have proper, scholarly peer criticism. This isn’t a situation where a questioning scholar can go to the museum and look at the inscription, or possibly track down a squeeze or rubbing to verify what is there. This isn’t a situation where we have to rely on some drawing made by some dead guy in the 18th or 19th centuries. This is a situation where — I’m sure — there are other images available and we aren’t deemed worthy to look at them, for whatever reason. Until such time as Drs Tabor and Jacobovici release more/all photos/videos of the inscription and make them available to scholars, their interpretation of this inscription — and by extension, their investigation in general — cannot and will not be taken seriously by the academic community or by the learned lay community and should be delegated the same category as the Ancient Aliens series.
There … I feel better now.