Tag Archives: Old Hebrew

In Response to David Elkington

On his Facebook page, which he continues to pretend he does not author, David Elkington has responded directly to the comments I posted the other day in response to his radio interview and subsequent clarification regarding my concern. Someone found my blog and thought my concerns merited sharing on the Facebook page, so they posted them. Here are David’s comments in full:

Dear Daniel, The question you have raised has already been responded to by David both on the show and posted on this site (before the Dr. Barker posting). It is the academic and linguistic assessment of the Jordan Codices team (including expert Jordanian epigraphers). This is very much a work in progress and more will be revealed in the coming months, but we would be very interested to know who has performed this ‘analysis’ particularly in view of the fact that very few people have had physical access to the Codices as well as all of the images of the large collection of artefacts. One of the world’s foremost professors was also challenged on this point and he was very firm on his view. As for a ‘mish mash’, this simply proves the point that the caller does not know what he is talking about, as our professor can read the codices like a newspaper and much has been translated already. As has already been mentioned, paleo-Hebrew came out of the Sinaitic languages, both proto and western. What question must be asked is why it was used in this form in the first century period – not that this is an attempt at ‘archaizing’ something that is supposedly gibberish to a non-expert eye? The answer to this question resides in the very form the Codices take and in this sense there are certain elements shared with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this the use of language is specific and offers us a further clue – a reference is being made to the language that emerged from Sinai in the second millennium BC however, it is contemporary in form to the languages used in Jesus’ day: the question to be asked is why it is being used in this form? It is all very well to offer up a google search but the answers to these important questions will only be found in obscure academic journals, not on amateur blog sites, which might be good for initial research but not for the more specific and rarer elements needed for detailed answers to historical and linguistic enigmas. The caller claims not to know of Western Sinaitic, therefore we can recommend him to the Palestine Exploration Quarterly – an excellent journal on this very specific question. We will find him a good reference in due course, as his passion for the subject is to be encouraged. More evidence and analysis will be revealed shortly, though Dr Barker’s work offers a good insight into this. The caller makes some good points; however, he is going around the essential points of ‘why’ and ‘how’ instead of ‘where’ and ‘when’ – as he well knows first century Judea was a mish mash of different opinions, languages and Judaisms. And here it is interesting that he has taken a brief posting and confused it in such a way as to create an argument from out of nothing. In essence these are opinions and naturally he is welcome to them, but as stated on the radio show by David, the caller in this instance will be going against the grain of the world’s leading experts on this particular issue. Bon Courage!

I would first note that David continues with his condescending tone. He refuses to acknowledge that I’m well aware of what I’m talking about, but prefers to presume to speak down to me. This is obviously for the sake of appearance. He can’t have his readers believing that he’s been shaken, when anyone with even a modicum of training cannot possibly be fooled by the ruse. I find this to be the second surest sign that these leading experts don’t exist outside of David’s mind. The surest sign is the fact that nothing he says at all aligns with the relevant scholarship.

Now, David did not respond to my concerns from the show or the subsequent post. On the show he just insisted that I was wrong because the greatest scholars ever said it was the square script and it was paleo-Hebrew, and thus I need to return to the textbooks. When he commented on Facebook, he tried to make the argument  that paleo-Hebrew had by the first century CE developed qualities that turned it into the square script, which is demonstrably false. David has not responded in a substantive manner to either of my concerns; he has simply dodged them and hidden behind the invented experts.

If David and his cohorts are not aware of the analyses that have been performed, then they can search my blog, as well as those of Thomas VerennaSteve Caruso, and others. There are numerous analyses out there that show conclusively that the codices are modern forgeries. We do not need physical access to the codices to be able to read the texts that are visible in the photos. I’ve gathered a rather large collection of those photos, and many of them have visible text on them. Elkington has tried to hedge his bets by insisting some of the codices out there are fake, but of those that have text on them, not a one has a single authentic text. They are all utter gibberish, and between the orthography, the iconography, and the other designs on the codices, they can pretty much all be connected to each other. They were all produced by the same group, if not the same person. The most damning evidence is the fact that the small credit card-sized codex that Elkington showed off on his BBC interview (which he has claimed is genuine) is easily analyzed (see the photo below) and is absolute gibberish, just like the others. His explanation of the item as an identification card of sorts is completely fabricated. In fact, the text comprises the meaningless repetition of a series of letters carved into a stamp and then twice impressed into whatever mold was used to create the codex. Following is the codex and Steve Caruso’s helpful charting of the repetitions:

Several things can be noted about this text. First, the text is absolutely and utterly meaningless. It is a meaningless jumble of a limited number of letters, and the stamp that made this pattern is used on multiple other codices, as Steve Caruso was so kind to point out:

It should also be pointed out that the date palm iconography and the other patterns on several of these plates are absolutely identical to the iconography of the copper codices that were shown conclusively to be modern forgeries by Peter Thonemann (see here and here, and here for good measure). They all came from the same forger. Additionally, ever since Thonemann’s analysis has been widely regarded as perfectly accurate, Elkington has claimed he was suspicious of the copper codices to begin with (initially he accused Thonemann of being the wrong kind of expert). You wouldn’t know that from reading his email or his initial responses to Thonemann, though, and he continues to attempt to pawn off their brothers and sisters as genuine. Two conclusions are possible. First, these are all fake and Elkington knew it. Second, these are all fake and Elkington did not know it, but does now. Whichever conclusion you draw, Elkington very obviously knows he is dealing with fake codices, and his “experts” are very obviously not real. There is not an epigraphist or Hebraist alive that would insist these are genuine.

Next, the script is neither paleo-Hebrew nor the square script. Now, some of the letters do appear closely related to the script from the Bar Kokhba coins. For instance, the shin, mem, aleph, and lamed on the following coin appears similar to those of the codices:

There are problems with this, though. The text on the codices is still distinct enough that the scrips cannot be linked. The closest match is the shin, but that’s a simple enough shape to not provide much evidence. The mem is similar, but the superior strokes are much larger on the codices than on the coins. The biggest difference between the letters that do seem similar is found in the aleph and lamed, which are reversed on the codices, a bizarre idiosyncrasy of the codices script (see here). Additionally, the inferior strokes on both letters have exaggerated curvatures that are not characteristic of paleo-Hebrew. One of the main reasons the scripts cannot be identified, however, is the complete absence of several of the Bar Kokhba letters from the codices. The script of the codices is limited to about a dozen characters (far too few for a coherent text). The vav is common on these coins, but it appears nowhere on the codices. The he and the het are also common, but they only appear once on the codices, and that’s in a sequence of letters clearly ripped out of context from another text:

Those are the only real legitimate “Hasmonean paleo-Hebrew” letters in all of the codices, and they’re clearly ripped from another text. They do not at all fit into the context of the code on which they appear. To continue, a completely different style of vav is found on the codices, although in the one reading that Elkington offered from the codices, he identifies the vav as a kaph, which it’s very clearly not (see my discussion here).

These analyses are quite conclusive, and do not require physical access to the codices. If Elkington intends to insist the codices discussed above are really fake ones, then we haven’t seen any of the genuine ones, and he needs to give the public some kind of indication that he has anything at all that is actually genuine. To briefly conclude this section of my response: there is not a single codex that has been revealed publicly that shows indications of anything other than modern forgery. If Elkington has authentic codices, he’s never shown them anywhere.

Regarding Elkington’s claim that his professor has been very firm and is so erudite he can read these texts like a newspaper, one need only point out that he is leaning on the authority of anonymous figures he has repeatedly refused to identify for reasons that have nothing to do with standard academic decorum. That can hardly serve as a legitimate response, and it would be no different if I simply said that I am in touch with an authority who knows far more than any of Elkington’s authorities, and she has confirmed that there is not a single word of actual Hebrew anywhere on any of the codices. You don’t need a leading authority to acknowledge the absence of anything even remotely resembling an actual text, here. That is just a fallacious appeal to authority meant to convince a lay audience that those who are criticizing the codices just aren’t informed enough.

Next Elkington states, “As has already been mentioned, paleo-Hebrew came out of the Sinaitic languages, both proto and western.” This is false, though. There are not two scripts, much less languages, in the background here. Also, Elkington has never before mentioned proto-Sinaitic. He only claimed that “Western Sinaitic” was a “proto-language”:

The most egregious error here is his confusion of the proto-Sinaitic script with an actual language. I stated in a recent comment to an interested party that every time Elkington claims to pass on conclusions from his experts, they turn out to be completely riddled with amateurish logical and factual errors. This is one of them. We’re talking about scripts, not about languages. A commenter from Israel stated the same earlier today. No expert, and certainly not the world’s leading experts, would confuse the two. We’re dealing with scripts, which are comparatively basic. This is one of the more ridiculous aspects of his claim that paleo-Hebrew is only understood by four or five people. It’s simply a matter of memorizing less than 30 graphemes. Any idiot can learn the paleo-Hebrew script, and only a decent grasp of Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic is needed to work through a text putatively written in the first century CE in paleo-Hebrew. Next, Elkington obviously retreated to Google to try to figure out what to say, which is why he came back with the suddenly accurate notion of a proto-Sinaitic script (although he called it a language). He previously only referenced “Western Sinaitic,” which he called a “proto-language.” The story changes with every opportunity Elkington has to check up on his comments on the internet.

Next Elkington confuses Old Hebrew with paleo-Hebrew in his attempt to speak down to me about my assessment. He states, “a reference is being made to the language that emerged from Sinai in the second millennium BC however, it is contemporary in form to the languages used in Jesus’ day.” No, it’s not. The paleo-Hebrew of the turn of the era is vastly different from the Old Hebrew of the second millennium BCE. The former is an archaizing script. It is intended to look really old in a time period when a different script had become commonplace. It would be like me using “ʃ”today  in place of “s,” only using a slightly different version of it.

Next, we find more condescension in his attempt to flippantly dismiss my claims:

the answers to these important questions will only be found in obscure academic journals, not on amateur blog sites, which might be good for initial research but not for the more specific and rarer elements needed for detailed answers to historical and linguistic enigmas. The caller claims not to know of Western Sinaitic, therefore we can recommend him to the Palestine Exploration Quarterly – an excellent journal on this very specific question.

Notice the warning to the lay audience: the answers are in obscure places to which you don’t have access, so you have to listen to me. Don’t listen to “amateur blog sites.” Note that the “amateur blog sites” that have commented critically are managed by a Harvard-trained scholar of Second Temple Judaism and Old Testament pseudepigrapha, a UCLA-trained archaeologist of Second Temple Judaism, an Oxford-trained professor of New Testament, a Durham-trained professor of New Testamentand many other professionals and students (including me).

Next, PEQ is hardly an obscure academic journal, but the journal in general does not deal unilaterally with “this very specific question” (“Western Sinaitic” as a language?). It deals with Syro-Palestinian archaeology in general. Such a broad reference is hardly helpful. It seems an evasive attempt to allay suspicion and nothing more. Additionally, I have direct access to the last ten years of the journal, and I find no occurrence of the phrase “Western Sinaitic” in any article. I also performed a search of the journal’s entire history on another database and found no occurrences of the phrase. Perhaps instead of speaking in broad generalities, Mr. Elkington can point me directly to an article wherein “Western Sinaitic” is discussed as a language. He says he will find me a reference “in due course,” but why the delay? Now, I would not be particularly surprised to see someone using the phrase “Western Sinaitic” 75 years ago (although I’ve been unable to locate such a usage), but it certainly never became a standard designation, which would only further corroborate, in my mind, that much of this information is being drawn from an uninformed perusal of the internet, and not from actual experts who are aware of the modern academic vernacular. Mr. Elkington is certainly welcome to prove me wrong.

Elkington concludes with some confusing statements about ideological pluriformity in first century Judaism, or something along those lines, and then insists I am confused and am going against the world’s leading experts. I don’t believe I am, but as I just said, Elkington is more than welcome to prove me wrong. He can name one or two of these experts. He can have them email me (my email address is on the About Me page). He can produce a discussion of the script that is not riddled with uninformed misunderstandings. He can do any of these things to prove me wrong. I think he will do none of them. He will only continue to try to drum up excitement prior to the publication of his book. This is offensive to me as an academic and a consumer, and because I know there are lots of people out there who feel very strongly about this and are having their emotions manipulated quite callously by Mr. Elkington, I will continue to point out the fraudulent nature of his claims. I suggest anyone else out there with the skills and resources does the same.