For those biblical studies people out there who use Macs, the new version of Pages released with the new OS X Mavericks operating system appears to have full support of right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic. I tested out some text that mixed English and Hebrew across several lines and paragraph breaks, and it worked beautifully. I could even use the SBL Hebrew font without screwing up the line spacing.
Simcha Jacobovici recently published a blog post insisting in no uncertain terms that the Ipuwer Papyrus is “proof” of the Exodus. For Jacobivici,
the Ipuwer Papyrus is basically the story of the Biblical Exodus, from an Egyptian point of view.
Now, on what is this conclusion based? Simcha provides only a few pieces of evidentiary support, among them the text’s putative uniqueness and a handful of narrative parallels:
1) The text states “the tribes of the desert have risen above the Egyptians,” which, in Simcha’s mind, can only refer to Israel.
2) The text states “the servant takes what he finds”; “poor men have become wealthy”; a man who could not afford to have “sandals for himself is now a possessor of riches.” These comments about the poor breaching class boundaries are taken as a “direct parallel” to Exod 12:35, which states that the Israelites borrowed gold, silver, and clothing from the Egyptians. According to Simcha, the Israelites “bankrupted” the Egyptians.
3) The text mentions earthquakes and the Nile turning to blood.
4) The text describes the exodus event itself, stating that “those who were Egyptians [have become] foreigners.” Simcha takes this to refer to the Israelites’ departure from Egypt.
The problems with this conclusion and the methods undergirding it are legion, but I start with a betrayal on Simcha’s part of his complete and utter ignorance of any methodological standards of literary evaluation:
Scholars have dismissed the Papyrus as a work of fiction and describe it as part of a “genre”. A “genre” is a French word for a series, class or category of stories that share common themes. If you’re unique, you’re not a “genre”. The fact is that there is no papyrus like the Ipuwer Papyrus.
Evidently Simcha thinks the Ipuwer Papyrus is not “part of a ‘genre.’” He obviously does not know what a “genre” is, or how the term is used in scholarship. His definition is also lacking, as it seems to indicate that texts of a similar genre have to share the same or similar subject matter, which they do not. What they must share are sets of stylistic features, which are never entirely unique. Every text is a part of some genre or another. If a text were not part of a genre, it would not be adequately understood. As an example, imagine I handed you a small piece of paper with the following written on it:
1 lb. monkey brains
a dozen eggs
1 gallon breast milk
cyanide (2 capsules)
football helmet full of cottage cheese (low fat)
Now, obviously, you’ve never seen a text exactly like this before. It’s a unique text. And yet, you can probably tell pretty quickly what I might want you to do with it. It’s a shopping list. The underlying implication is that this is a list of things I want you to go buy, for whatever bizarre reason. How do you know? Because “shopping list” is a genre, and you know the genre and its associated stylistic features. It is not the content of the list that screams “shopping list,” it is those conventional features (small piece of paper, items listed in specific quantities, etc.). Because you know the genre, you can interpret the meaning of the list. All texts belong to some genre or another. This is axiomatic. To insist that a text is not part of a genre is to betray complete and utter ignorance of the concept.
So is the Ipuwer Papyrus “part of a ‘genre’”? Obviously. It not only contains similar stylistic features to other texts, but also subject matter. First, it is a poem. It makes frequent use of conventional poetic elements, like parallelism and metonymy. That’s a genre, albeit a broad one. Next, it is a lament, which is a known genre of Egyptian literature (despite Simcha’s assumption that the pessimism is “remarkable” and uncommon). Laments for the dead, for instance, are full of pessimism and tragedy. Sumerian city laments are also strikingly similar in style as well as content. The Lament for Sumer and Urim, for instance, contains pleonastic lists of devastating circumstances following a deity’s actions against a region, just like the Ipuwer Papyrus. Most importantly for Simcha’s claims, the notion of the river turning to blood is actually not that unique. It occurs in Egyptian and other texts spread across a pretty broad period of time, and it is a metaphorical description of the reddening of the Nile when particularly heavy inundation washes a great deal of red sediment down from Upper Egypt. This process also kills off a lot of fish, making the river stink and the water bad.
So the Ipuwer Papyrus is certainly part of a “genre” and is not as remarkable or unique as Simcha seems to think. This lack of uniqueness also extends to the items he lists as direct parallels to the Exodus tradition. To begin, the notion of “tribes of the desert” coming against Egypt does not necessarily refer to Israel. The Egyptians frequently interacted with various nomadic peoples, both hostile and benign. The Hyksos (“rulers of foreign lands”) were a large tribal group ubiquitous in the historical record from the third to the second millennia BCE. They were thought by Middle Kingdom writers (2000 – 1700 BCE) to originate from Syria and Canaan, and they actually took over Egypt (during the Second Intermediate period). There’s no indication they were Israelites, though, and the dates of their accession don’t fit the biblical text at all. Obviously this makes for a far better context than the Exodus for “desert tribes” having “become Egyptians everywhere,” particularly in light of the statement by the author of the Ipuwer Papyrus that foreigners are attacking Egypt (this does not fit with the exodus tradition).
Next, the notion of the poor violating class boundaries is not unique. The intermediate periods in the history of Egypt were periods of political and social upheaval, not uncommonly attended by uprisings among non-royals and poorer classes. This was viewed as particularly horrifying to traditionalists among the Egyptian intelligentsia, and fits quite well with the lament of Ipuwer. The notion of Egyptians becoming foreigners also fits with the First or Second Intermediate period, when the country was taken over by outsiders, leaving the traditional Egyptians on the political fringes, making them “foreigners.” Jacobovici’s interpretation of these Egyptians cum foreigners as the departing Israelites is nonsensical, as the author of this text would never have considered Asiatic slaves Egyptians to begin with, and the designation “foreigner” does not refer to someone who departs Egypt. It refers to native Egyptians who have been displaced by incoming rulers.
To conclude, the Ipuwer Papyrus only provides support for the exodus tradition if one is woefully ignorant of broader Egyptian literature and history, and is only looking for points of contact (while ignoring points of conflict). The document most likely originates centuries before the traditional dating of the exodus (which itself doesn’t fit at all with the actual history of Egypt), and it conflicts with the exodus tradition as contained in the Bible more than it overlaps. Those areas of overlap are also not unique or striking. They are rather conventional literary elements that coincide with different periods and events from Egypt’s ideological past.
Mr. Jacobovici wants a debate, but there’s really nothing to debate. There is no evidence that the Ipuwer Papyrus has anything at all to do with a historical exodus. Jacobovici’s analysis is staggeringly uninformed and myopic, and there is nothing left for him to marshal in support of his reading. All he could possibly offer is restatement and argument by assertion, apart from the inevitable ad hominem and hypocritical decrying of my academic condescension. I would be happy to have him prove me wrong.
The Nantucket Project offers a video of a presentation given by Yale University professor Joel Baden entitled What Use Is the Bible? I highly recommend taking a look. Here’s the blurb:
There are two contradictory facts about how Americans read the Bible. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, nearly 80% of all Americans believe the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of god. The other fact, most Americans have no idea what’s in the Bible. In his presentation at TNP 2013, Yale University Professor Joel Baden, takes a look at an utterly familiar text and has us think about what the Bible says and just as importantly, how it says it.
Chris Henrichsen has been hosting a blog round table at Patheos via Faith Promoting Rumor and his own blog, Approaching Justice, focused on the question, “Are Mormons Christians?” So far, insightful contributions have been published by (if I may be indulged some simple labels) a Latter-day Saint scholar of early Christianity, a Lutheran feminist theologian, a scholar of Buddhism, a Jungian Neopagan, and a devoted Catholic. While not a formal part of the blog round table, I have addressed the titular question myself on this blog before, and religious identity has been a research interest of mine for some time. I would like to offer some reflections on the question and make a case for its continued circulation.
To start off, according to the only actual research I’ve seen done on the question recently, most Catholics and most Protestants believe Mormons are Christians. It is only within White Evangelicalism that the slight majority rejects Mormonism’s Christianity. The assumption that Christianity broadly rejects Mormonism as a Christian religion is simply not true. If it is to come down to a simple majority vote, Latter-day Saints are Christians.
If a majority vote is out, then we move on to the question of authority. Who gets to decide? The answer is simple: no one. Nobody speaks authoritatively on behalf of all of Christianity. Shoot, in most instances nobody speaks authoritatively on behalf of an individual congregation. There will be no authoritative answer to this question.
So now we move on to the necessary and sufficient features identified by those who would either include or exclude Mormons. These are the “foundational,” “central,” “critical,” or otherwise “defining” features that commentators come up with that mean you’re either in or out. The most common argument is an appeal to the Trinity, which is the appeal made by Kathy Schiffer above:
The thing is, the question of WHO JESUS IS is a singularly important question for all of us.
Christians know that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
While it is certainly true that the question of who Jesus is has and always will be a singularly important question (Matt 16:13–18), and the bolded portion of Kathy’s answer is fundamental even within the New Testament to identification as a Christian, her elaboration of that answer does not find universal support within the history of Christianity (it didn’t exist at all anywhere within a century of Christ’s lifetime), and it is upon that elaboration that she hangs her exclusion of Mormonism. If she insists on the Trinity as the single identity marker of Christianity, then she excludes the first one to three centuries of Christianity, depending on her specific views of subordinationism, Christ’s generation, etc.
Related to the Trinity concern is the accusation of polytheism. According to this accusation, monotheism is the foundation of Christianity, and Mormonism flatly rejects it. By way of example, in his ten-part blog series addressing my response to a video he posted, Mr. White insisted that monotheism is not just “a defining issue,” but “the foundation, the definition.” For White, it’s not Christ, but about God’s own singularity:
the consistent rejection of Mormonism as a Christian religion by the entire spectrum of Christian churches has been based, first and foremost, upon the doctrine of God.
As I pointed out (in addition to his “entire spectrum” claim being flatly false), this makes Christianity’s single foundational and defining feature a feature that is shared by most of Judaism and Islam. This is a laughable case against Mormonism, but it highlights the fallacy that attends virtually all attempts to include or exclude Mormonism in/from Christianity: begging the question. Most arguments about Mormonism within or without Christianity begin with the conclusion and then move on to finding justification. The scope of James White’s case was so narrow and unthinking that his dissection of Mormonism actually sewed Judaism and Islam right into the foundation of Christianity.
I also take issue with the accusation of polytheism. Few Mormons would call themselves polytheists. Most would consider themselves monotheists. Now, mainstream Christians like James White would laugh at the notion that Mormonism is monotheistic, but most non-Christians in the Greco-Roman world would have laughed at the notion that the Trinity was monotheistic. Christians took a long time to fashion a conceptual framework they felt justified the claim, but that claim to monotheism is certainly still criticized in many different places. They still assert that that is their belief, though, and that’s their prerogative, just like it should be the prerogative of any Mormon to insist they are a monotheist. The difference between a Trinitarian and a Latter-day Saint, in the end, is just the ontological level at which they place the “oneness” of their divine persons. Trinitarians see different divine persons included within one divine being, while Latter-day Saints see different beings included within one divine agency. Both positions are certainly attested in the christological milieu of of the early Church, and it’s no one’s right to make declarations about how another groups is allowed to see themselves.
What I would be interested in is a person’s real and personal view of what makes a Christian a Christian, apart from rhetoric aimed at including or excluding anyone else. When no one else is looking, what is a Christian? Does it even matter? James White accidentally betrayed this view in one of his responses to me:
I define the faith very clearly, but I do so not on the basis of a 19th century self-proclaimed prophet, but upon the basis of the consistent testimony of the ancient Christian scriptures, whose authority bears the stamp of approval of the crucified and risen Son of God Himself. I recognize the reality of God’s Spirit working in men and women who disagree with me on the non-essentials, and see a world-wide body of believers, the elect of God, united by a common confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and the Scriptures are sufficient for life and godliness.
Now, White’s definition here is not free from sectarianism, but that is the result of his particular brand of Christianity. What he shows is that his definition of Christianity is relative to his audience. When he’s trying to exclude certain groups, his definition takes one form. When he’s trying to show the unity of groups he includes, it takes an entirely different form.
My final reflection has to do with the nature of categories. There are a number of different ways to approach the human mind’s processes of categorization, but common to most of them is the rejection of simple and binary Aristotelian notions of absolute membership within, or exclusion from, clearly defined categories. Categories tend to have fuzzy boundaries, and particularly with abstract categories (like religious identity). The category “game,” for instance, was famously observed by Wittgenstein to not have any boundaries until we decide to draw them in. The specific boundaries we draw generally serve whatever rhetorical end or goal we may have in mind.
As an example related to Mormonism, some often criticize the Church’s self-reported membership numbers (15 million at last reported count), which are based on the pure number of members on the books, whether or not they attend. Critics will place the real number of “members” at the level of regular activity. Thus, an actively attending Latter-day Saint is a qualified “member of the Church” (the Church considers a member attending at least quarterly to be active). This serves the rhetorical goal of reducing the number of total members as much as possible. But how many people out there know completely inactive members of the Church who still self-identity as Latter-day Saints? I know several myself. This number obviously doesn’t add up to 15 million with the active members, but it illustrates the way our methodologies are often subordinate to our rhetorical goals. My own goal might be to assert as high a number as possible of Church members, so I may be looking for reasons to reject the argument from activity (in reality, I really couldn’t care less about the number).
As a second example, what makes a Mormon a Mormon? Are “Fundamentalist Mormons” Mormons? The official position of the Church is that they are not, but obviously this has more to do with PR than with a critical look at the category. The broader use of the category will inevitably lead to misidentification with The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that’s troubling for Church leaders when it comes to things like polygamous organizations. Any group that asserts ideological descent from Joseph Smith and/or the Book of Mormon probably has just as much a right to the designation as any Latter-day Saint.
In the end, there’s never going to be universal agreement on whether or not Mormons are Christians. As long as there are people out there who don’t want to be identified with Mormonism even in broadest religious terms, there will be attempts to draw Mormonism out. In light of this, and in light of the further insight the discussion can facilitate for all aspects of religious identity, however, I believe the question should remain an open one that finds circulation in ever wider circles. In Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Paganism, and other ideological groups, the question of who belongs will never end. Mormonism ought to have a place at this table.
In addition to the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, Brill is also publishing an Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics. They are offering a free preview that includes about 25 pages of material. I haven’t found any article PDFs on academia.edu or elsewhere yet.
Brill has given the contributors of their new Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics very strict guidelines regarding where they are allowed to post PDFs of their articles. Not everyone has followed those guidelines, so there are PDFs of numerous articles spread across the internet. Below are links to PDFs I have found over the last few days. There’s no guarantee these links will remain active. If you know of any I’ve missed, please let me know. (For a thematic list of the published articles, see here.)
Literacy: Biblical Hebrew
Rabbi David E. S. Stein
Gender Representation in Biblical Hebrew
Shalom E. Holtz
Lexicography: Biblical Hebrew
Elitzur A. Bar-Asher Siegal
Diglossia: (ii) Rabbinic Hebrew
Coordination: Modern Hebrew
Priestly Source of the Pentateuch (1st proof)
Grammatical Thought in Medieval Jewish Exegesis in Europe
Verbel System: Biblical Hebrew
Reduction of Vowels
Transcriptions into Arabic Script: Medieval Karaite Sources
Transcriptions into Arabic Script: Medieval Muslim Sources
Ketiv and Qere
Root: Medieval Karaite Notions
Morphology in the Medieval Karaite Tradition
Epenthesis: Biblical Hebrew
Guttural Consonants: Masoretic Hebrew
Biblical Hebrew: Linguistic Background of the Masoretic Text
Biblical Hebrew Pronunciation Traditions
Tiberian Reading Tradition
Resh: Pre-Modern Hebrew
Shewa: Pre-Modern Hebrew
Syllable Structure: Biblical Hebrew
Vowel Length: Biblical Hebrew
In response to Simcha Jacobovici’s video interview with Émile Puech, and Professor Puech’s own comments regarding the interview, Mark Goodacre published a post on his blog (A Tale of Two Replicas) in which he exposes some significant differences between the two replicas of the ossuary that Jacobovici has shown to the public and to other scholars. One of his main points is that the replica showed to Puech was crafted with the intention of showcasing the supposed YWNH inscription. The markings thought to form the inscription were amended toward a more easily identified form, and the superfluous markings were simply omitted. This stands in contrast to the situation with the first replica, which appears to have been produced without knowledge of any proposed reading of the marks at the bottom of the object. In short, Professor Puech read YWNH on the replica because that’s what the artist who produced it wrote on it (the form of the characters appears to be based on the outline provided here). More on the inscription in an upcoming post. (Edit: see now Steve Caruso’s illustration of the differences between the two versions of the inscription.)
Mr. Jacobovici has responded broadly to these and other critiques in a post of his own entitled Pants on Fire. In this highly rhetorical post, Jacobovici frames his criticisms of Drs. Cargill and Goodacre and those associated with them with the assertion that he (Jacobovici) knows he is getting closer to proving his case because the criticisms leveled against him are becoming “dirtier,” and “more personal and hysterical.” He then labels his critics “detractors” and “naysayers” who are “masquerading as scholars” and engaging in “pseudo-scientific analysis of photographs of the replicas,” as well as “pseudo-scholarship . . . to rewrite history in Orwellian fashion.”
What is abundantly clear in this rhetoric is that Jacobovici is working to paint a conceptual picture of himself as the rogue intellectual idealist (“I’ll continue to report honestly in an effort to find the truth”)—untainted by both the trappings of the academy and conservative Christian ideology—who is being bombarded by clumsily veiled personal attacks from a monolithic establishment bent on maintaining the status quo and quelling any voices that may dare to dissent. He has previously characterized colleagues of mine (and will he do the same for me?) as “underwear bloggers”—juvenile slobs who sit around in their underwear “spending their days and nights attacking me and others personally” (complete with editorial cartoon). Notice he never links the reader to the actual content posted by his “detractors.” This is not considered fair play by those who want the readers to be able to assess the evidence themselves.
The goal of this rhetoric is not to directly engage any actual concerns or arguments, but simply to garner third-party support by playing upon suspicions about ivory tower theologians who are fiercely protective of their orthodoxy and who denigrate and marginalize the contributions of non-academics (particularly those who challenge Christian orthodoxy). Those without the training necessary to assess the accuracy of the academic claims in and of themselves (but who have a stake in the argument) are usually left to pick a side based on ideology and rhetoric. Mr. Jacobovici is trying to make that decision as easy as possible by appealing to a Dan Brown-esque conceptualization of himself as the Robert Langdon to our Opus Dei. We are “enforcers of Pauline theology.” He is the champion of the people’s Jesus.
My biggest concern here is that Jacobovici is either unaware of, or flatly rejects, the notion that an academic might have a position informed by anything other than religious belief, and this is deeply troubling. My religious affiliation is no secret, but anyone will be hard pressed to find an example of that affiliation governing academic positions of mine posted here or anywhere else, and I hardly defend “Pauline theology.” Dr. Goodacre, as a matter of principle, leaves personal beliefs out of his academics. Mr. Jacobovici is the farthest off the mark with the critic he engages most frequently and most vehemently, Robert Cargill. Dr. Cargill has publicly declared his agnosticism and believes Paul made the “dumbest, most problematic arguments in the Bible.” So who are these “enforcers of Pauline theology”? Aside from Professor Puech, whom Jacobovici has shown is willing to rest his academic opinion on faith claims, I see none.
Mr. Jacobovici is fabricating an ideological opponent and juxtaposing characterizations of our work to rhetorical jabs at that strawman in order to associate us with it and thus appeal to a growing and popular ideological community that is interested in a specific anti-establishment and humanistic Jesus. I have no problem whatsoever with such an interest or community, but I do take issue with manipulative and deceptive attempts to marshal support from that community in an effort to marginalize and shout down the criticisms of legitimate academics with legitimate methodological and evidentiary concerns. That is not the way to go about this.