My Doctoral Program

I received word earlier today that my application to the University of Exeter’s PhD in Theology and Religion has been successful, and I start in September. It’s a distance program, so I will stay in my new home and keep my wonderful job. My advisors will be Francesca Stavrakopoulou and Siam Bhayro, and the title of the dissertation I proposed is “Divine Agency in Early Israelite and Jewish Literature and Cult.” If you’re interested in reading the proposal, you can find it here. The program will be funded thanks to a generous offer from BYU’s Religious Studies Dissertation Grant Program. I’m very excited to begin doctoral studies after so many unsuccessful attempts, and I greatly appreciate all the help and counsel I’ve received along the way from so many out there. Thank you!

Book Review: What Are the Jordan Codices?

What Are the Jordan Codices?Fresh on the heels of an announcement from the UK about a new Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books, the Elkingtons have published a third book defending the legitimacy of the Jordan codices, this one entitled What Are the Jordan Codices? The Mystery of the Sealed Lead Books. The articles contained in the book, with one exception, actually constitute a virtually untouched reprinting of the articles from the Elkingtons’ previous publication, The Case for the Jordan Lead Codices. Among some of the editorial changes is the inclusion of my own name where Jennifer Elkington had previously referred obliquely to me as “one particular student.” The anonymous author from the previous book has also now included his name under the title of his paper.

The largest change, however, is the addition of an article written by Dr. Samuel Zinner that draws from a larger paper he has recently published on that argues the Jordan codices are indeed modern, but are not forgeries. Rather, they are carefully crafted early modern Zionist “lag baomer” amulets. Zinner’s analysis is creative and thorough, although I believe he skirts around many of the issues that complicate the question of the codices’ origins and the involvement of the Elkingtons. See the full paper for the details of his argument (which are much too detailed to address here).

What Are the Jordan Codices? is, as with the previous volumes, an attempt to arrogate academic legitimacy to the thoroughly unacademic machinations of David Elkington and some compatriots. The articles penned by the Elkingtons and their psychologist colleague uses absolutely horrific personal attacks on me and several other scholars as a smokescreen to obscure and evade their own manipulations and dishonesty, all while accusing us of ad hominem.

I am happy to see that perhaps the codices will hopefully see the light of day so that they can be more directly and thoroughly studied. I still think, however, that the vast preponderance of evidence securely supports the conclusion that the codices are modern productions intended for sale and profit. I am more than happy to be proven entirely wrong, though. Despite the claims of the Elkingtons, I have never attempted to suppress the study or availability of the codices. In fact, as I have pointed out before, I have publicized more photos of the codices and analysis of their iconography and text than Elkington ever has. I would publicize any and all photos and reports and studies that he makes available. Unfortunately, and as anticipated, he saves those details for paying customers.

Review of The El-Amarna Correspondences

A fresh review by Kurtis Peters is up on Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies of Brill’s new two-volume set, The El-Amarna Correspondence. The late Anson F. Rainey provided the lion’s share of the collating, transcribing, and translating, with Zipora Cochavi-Rainey and Bill Schniedewind batting editorial cleanup. Check out the review for more. (HT James McGrath)

On Higher Education

Yesterday I read Jedediah Purdy’s recent New Yorker article, Ayn Rand comes to U.N.C., and it struck a nerve with me. The article highlights a series of politically motivated actions taken by North Carolina officials vis-à-vis university administration. Here’s a taste:

For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”

Of course, that “diversity of opinions” should not include such frivolities as gender studies or Swahili, which is just grotesquely ignorant and disingenuous. McCrory is further promoting the corporatization of the American university because that serves his political agenda.

I also thought I’d highlight this article from last month that discusses a change Scott Walker has proposed to the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement:

In Section 1111 of Walker’s proposed budget legislation, Senate Bill 21, he strikes language specifying that the UW has a public service mission to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campus” and to “serve and stimulate society.”

Walker adds “to meet the state’s workforce needs” as a core mission of the university.

Walker also strikes language ensuring that the mission of the UW is to extend “training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition,” as well as the language: “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

These are the first steps toward transforming higher education into little more than vocational training. Ed Silver made the following comments on Facebook:

Fellow scholars, don’t kid yourselves. This is a declaration of war. We can keep on doing what we’re doing and enjoying the life of the mind for now. But Walker is crossing a Rubicon here. Higher education is being redefined as job training and all the intangible goods the University creates are being redefined as luxuries–ones that can no longer be paid for in this ugly, brave new world. Scott Walker wants to become the standard bearer for the Republican Party; the agenda he lays out here is not his alone.

It’s time for us to start defending the academy with whole heart and full throat. These folks are vandals and they want to destroy what generations of scholars and students have built. And let’s be clear: what we are defending is an academy in which any kid in America, regardless of her class or income, has the right to enter into a critical and passionate dialogue with the best and most significant ideas that other human beings have had. Higher education has not always lived up to its ideals of equal access. Too many students are burdened with unmanageable debt. Curricula are not always crafted with humanism and informed criticism in mind. Administrations are bloated, and athletics and entertainment frequently eclipse schools’ missions to educate. But despite all this, we continue to think of the University as an institution dedicated to the formation of empowered and thoughtful citizens.

The University, at its best, helps people to become critical, engaged and decent human beings. If this redefinition becomes the norm, it will be deformed into a shallow machine for the training of a servile labor force. The full fruits of human existence will be reserved for those the wealth and privilege to buy them. And a vital, animating, egalitarian force in our culture will die.

Michael Law refers to Ed’s comments and asks the following question:

If you’re a religion scholar and still without a permanent position in a uni, is now the time to jump before you’re too old to transition to a new career?

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that.


Jim Davila on the Lead Codices

Jim Davila has a new post up on his blog briefly sharing some thoughts on an article on the lead codices recently written by Samuel Zinner. The article argues for interpreting the codices not as modern forgeries, but as modern Jewish amuletic art. Check it out if you’re interested in the codices.

Lead Codices Update

Jim Davila notes on his blog that The Economist is reporting the formation in London of a Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books. The Centre’s board will consist of some British politicians, and an “evaluation panel” will be headed by Richard Hayward of Durham University (a phenomenal scholar of early Judaism) and Fayez Khasawneh of Yarmouk University.

This is an interesting development, and I note The Economist’s anonymous article is still taking swipes at “intemperate things” said on the blogosphere. Stay tuned!

Septuagint Vocabulary: Pre-History, Usage, Reception on

Jan Joosten, the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford, has placed a pdf of his edited volume, Septuagint Vocabulary: Pre-History, Usage, Reception, on You can view and download it on his profile. He has dozens of his papers available for download as well. Check it out.



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