Tag Archives: Adiabene

Again on Ralph Ellis

Ralph has responded to my most recent blog post at great length after I invited him here to engage concerns with his scholarship directly. I told him I would not delete his posts, but I would not allow him to post if he showed himself unwilling or unable to address concerns with his arguments. I’ve consolidated my responses to his comments in the following:

Thank you for taking the time to post here, Ralph, but I invited you here to discuss Steve’s concerns with your claims, not your concerns with Tom or with his claims. Nevertheless, let it never be said that I am not accommodating. I’m not interested in engaging your personal attacks against Tom or anyone else, but I will respond to the claims you highlight from your book. However, I expect you to do me the same courtesy and fully address my concerns. If you refuse to do so, I will disallow future posting. I’m not going to delete anything unless it is vulgar or spamming, but I will ban you from commenting if you depart any further from the discussion I delineate, or attempt to sidestep my criticisms. I hope you understand that my time is important to me, as I’m sure your time is to you. I will not go diving down rabbit holes just to help you muddy the water.

Now, regarding your conflation of King Abgarus and King Monobazus, you don’t really provide any evidence, you simply assert their conflation at a sublevel. Instead of saying you conflated them because they were the same person (flagrant begging the question), you simply say you conflated them because their wives were the same person, as a result of Adiabene and Edessa being the same place. You’re still begging the question, you’re just moving the fallacy a couple steps away from your main claim to obscure it a bit. You do not provide a word of evidence for these identifications except for a forced inference you impose upon Josephus’ text in order to harmonize an artificial conflict. In other words, you see Josephus’ lack of reference to Edessa and assume—based on no evidence—that he would have had to have mentioned it.

Assumptions about what an historian would have had to have done do not form legitimate methodological bases for conflating toponyms and personal names, though. Historical authors frequently leave out quite important information for reasons that are not clear to us. For instance, some people claim that the absence of the mention of Belshazzar from Herodotus’ histories means Herodotus didn’t know about him, but they overlook the fact that Herodotus also never mentions Nebuchadnezzar, of whom Herodotus could not possibly have been ignorant. Josephus is actually quite infamous for glaring omissions from his retelling of Jewish history that he obviously felt did not reflect on Judaism the way he wanted. His Antiquities and his War are also inconsistent, crafting the narratives with different details to satisfy the rhetorical concerns of each composition. In short, I don’t see any reason whatsoever we are required to find Edessa or its rulers in Josephus’ text. If you wish to insist that we cannot leave the text without identiying Edessa within it, you will have to provide something well beyond the naked assertion that he just cannot have left it out.

Next, the existence of the kingdom of Adiabene is not in doubt, nor is there any historical need whatsoever to find some candidate from the archaeological record to identity with it. Its history, quite independent and distinct from that of Edessa, is narrated in a variety of ancient documents. For example, Strabo, Ptolemy, and Pliny all describe the geographic location of Adiabene, as well as the location of Edessa. There is some geographic overlap, but that is easily explained by the fact that Adiabene controlled the region for a time. See this text for discussion of the geographic descriptions of Adiabene. There is simpy no reason on earth to think that they are the same city. Josephus’ omission of Edessa is absolutely irrelevant. It certainly does not serve as evidentiary leverage for ignoring what other writers have to say about the two regions. The evidence unilaterally and unequivocally precludes your thesis, and there is simply no evidence whatsoever to support it. No responsible historian would ever subscribe to such a stunningly problematic thesis, and that is not rhetoric at all; the claim violates every single principle of historiography I can think of.

Next, you claim that you were constrained in your use of Greek and Hebrew fonts, and that you had to provide JPEG images of all occurrences of those scripts. You don’t make clear whether you produced the JPEGs or they were produced by Innodata using a text you submitted. If you did it, it would mean that whatever came through in the book was what was in the JPEG you submitted. They can’t edit the fonts in a JPEG image. If you mean to say you submitted the text and they turned it into a JPEG image, then there’s an interesting problem. The mistake was the confusion of a final sigma with a non-final one, which requires at least knowing the Greek alphabet and what the final sigma represents. I find it hard to believe that an Innodata inputer saw the final sigma, knew it was just the form of the sigma when it appears at the end of a word, but still managed to accidentally input a non-final sigma. No, the error found in your book is quite common to beginners who are typing out Greek from a transliteration. I am compelled to conclude that this was your error, but I am not going to pursue the argument any further; it does not seem to me that would admit it even if it were your error. The point of highlighting this error was to expose an obvious lack of familiarity with the relevant languages, which I believe is a valid and accurate conclusion, irrespective of the source of the error in your book.

As an example of some other concerns that are not based on inputter error, I would point to pp. 37–38, where you argue that the “Aramaic-Hebrew”  is a gentilic noun with the definite article, thus “The Adyab,” or “The Adia-bene.” You interpret it as a people because you understand the –bene suffix to represent the Hebrew word for “son” (thus “sons of Addai”). You also happen to fumble—or Innodata fumbled—the form of the final nun in the Hebrew בן (not בנ). You then accuse the Talmudic scribes of misunderstanding the word, resulting in the initial ḥet in two spellings and the final pe in one of those. Your analysis is staggeringly uninformed on several levels. The shorter form found in the Talmud and in the Syriac Chronicle of Arbela are original. The Greek Adiabene is secondary. We know this because the –ene suffix was one of a small number of Greek components attached to toponyms during the Parthian period when the Seleucid empire split up many Achaemenid satrapies into more manageable sizes. Compare “Adiabene” to the other names Osrhoene, Inigene, Tinigene, Akabene, Zabdicene, Dolomene, Sittacene, Mesene, Calachene, and Characene. The other widespread suffices that were added include –ena, -ia, and –itis. The –ene on the end of the toponym Adiabene has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Hebrew word בן. It comes from a Greek suffix added to the names of the cities after their annexation and division by the Seleucids. The Aramaic form without the suffix is original.

Anyone with a grasp of the Hebrew would not have understood it as “Sons of Addai” anyway, since the word you have read as “son” comes at the end of the word, rather than the beginning (Aramaic and Hebrew don’t do that), and also because gentilic nouns (“people of . . . , or “-ites”) end in yod (the long /i/ vowel). Finally, the Greek is based on the Aramaic word, which is represented in the Aramaic and the Syriac primarily with the ḥet. It is the Talmudic rendering with the he that is mistaken, the very spelling you naively think is original. Your etymology is stunningly uninformed and is flatly wrong.

It doesn’t seem to me you have much facility at all with the languages, but I’m willing to be proven wrong. Can you translate the following Greek sentence and parse the verbal elements:

εἰσέλθετε εἰς ἀγορὰν δῶρα παρά γε τῶν ἀδικούντων ληφόμενοι

And then translate this sentence from the Aramaic and parse the verbal elements:

שלם מראן אלה שמיא ישאל שגיא בכל עדן

Both of these sentences were taken from beginning grammars. I would appreciate a direct response to these two requests, whether that means providing the answers or acknowledging that you are unable.

Moving on (I’m skipping over much of your concerns with Tom’s treatment of your claims), you claim Josephus saw three “acquaintances” (ἐγνώρισα) being crucified and arranged to have them released and treated. You nakedly assert that these “acquaintances” are “three leaders of the Jewish Revolt.” There is no basis whatsoever for this identification, it’s just something you’ve conjured out of thin air. The text says nothing about the prisoners being leaders of the revolt, and the fact that Josephus mentions them as acquaintances in no way suggests they were leaders. Josephus uses even more intimate language for all kinds of men, women, and children. As Steve Mason points out, Josephus finds 190 “friends” and “close friends” among people locked up in the temple in §419, as well as others on crosses near a village in §420. Authors in this period inflated their importance by multiplying their intimate associations. These are unquestionably not leaders of the Jewish revolt. Finally, even if we assume that these three people were leaders of the Jewish revolt, the notion that because “King Izas” was a leader of the revolt, he had to be one of these three is flagrantly fallacious. To call that notion “axiomatic” is utter nonsense.

You say one may not agree with the speculation, but “the comparison is legitimate.” This is simply false. The comparison is not legitimate in any sense of the word, nor do the rest of the stories match. You are forced in your effort to make these things align to fudge meaning, ignore details, and subjugate the contexts to your conclusion. It’s flagrant begging the question. Your concluding remarks about Tom’s neglect of the context and of the relevant primary texts is laughable, as you repeatedly ignore the context and the historical data in the interest of your naked assertions. You’re attempting to talk down to him and his methodologies, but you’ve yet to show a single instance of respect for professionalism or the standard methodologies of biblical studies, historiography, or anything related. Youre primary concern is quite clearly whatever methodology you naively believe will support your presuppositions.

Now, getting on to what I actually asked you to come here to address. You claim Caruso is ignorant of the “true” history that Josephus was hiding. You go on to state the following:

 you cannot apply the rules of grammar and syntax on sentences that were written as ‘in jokes’ for a privileged few.

This is the most ridiculous claim you’ve provided to date. Basically, you’re saying the standard exegetical and historical methodologies cannot hold in instances where you believe someone is masking the details in pseudonyms in a way that only the initiated will understand. In this way you attempt to insulate your argument from actual informed scholarship. No matter what anyone says, you just have to point out that they’re not initiated, and so no matter what they don’t know what’s going on. You are the sole arbiter of the truth, and the sole proprietor of the exegetical keys to the text. This is amateur nonsense. Obviously, the claim that an author is cryptically hiding details underneath the text requires quite clear and definitive evidence, yet you can provide none. The lynchpin for your entire claim is the notion that Josephus could not possibly have omitted Abgarus from his texts. You can provide nothing to support this claim except the strength of your own assertion. I’ve already addressed the fallacy of asserting an ancient historian had to have included this or that figure. The additional fallacy here is the argument by assertion. Your entire claim quite literally comes down to “because I say so.” You obviously can provide nothing beyond your own word. Josephus’ comment about Adiabene being “beyond the Euphrates” doesn’t support your argument in the least. It’s not a clue of anything. Adiabene was located beyond the Euphrates.

Your claim that Queen Helena of Adiabene was living in Edessa and married to Abgar, the king of Edessa, is equally without merit of any kind whatsoever. Numerous historians have addressed the separate identities of the rulers of Adiabene and Edessa, particularly because the two locales were so important to early Christian proselytizing. The confusion of historical figures in later histories is quite widespread in antiquity, including within Syriac sources like Moses of Chorene, whose testimony you so naively prioritize. You are now the one cherry-picking sources by ignoring what the chonologically much closer texts have to say in order to assert the accuracy of some writing 400 years later. Several other authors from that period conflated Helena of Adiabene with Helena, the mother of Constantine. Are you going to write another book claiming they’re all the same Helena?

You’ve also obviously not considered the contemporary concerns with the text of Moses’ history. The oldest extant manuscript comes from the 14th century, and it appears to be based on heavily edited editions from the 7th and 8th centuries. For instance, Moses refers to four different Armenias that were not established until Justinian I organized the provinces in the 6th century. Moses claims the Iranians advanced into Bithynia, but that didn’t happen until a war from the early 7th century CE. Moses has also been criticized precisely for conflating figures and altering historical texts in the interest of his rhetorical aims. Some scholars defend him, however, pointing out that that was how history was written back then. In short, your dependence upon a much later and very tendentious historian is misguided. The propping up of your entire thesis on the legitimacy of that historian’s claim is pseudo-history.

The worst methodological mistake you make throughout all of your texts, however, is your insistance on synthesizing select data from various different disparate sources, while dismissing data that conflict with your preconceptions. You refuse to acknowledge errors where errors are beyond doubt, while asserting errors where the texts are clearly accurate, all in an effort to manipulate the sources in the aid of your presuppositions. Then you bark about people not being in the know, and not understanding because they’re trying to do history instead of acknowledging that the truth is cryptically hidden underneath the surface of the text. This is pseudo-scholarship, pure and simple. You don’t really defend any of your claims, as far as I can tell, you just hide behind rhetorical contrarianism that amounts to little more than “Nu-uh!” I’ve yet to see you respond legitimately to a call for references or for argument. Most commonly, you just reassert your original thesis without further argument. And this despite the fact that you accuse others of not providing direct evidence, or not providing scholarly support. You ignore all the standards of historiography only to prop up asinine claims on your naked assertions. Your research contributes nothing to history or religious studies.