Tag Archives: Ancient Texts

The New Testament Writers Had the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in their Heads

I often get the question of whether I think books like 1 Enoch are canonical. I tell people I don’t — and that the question doesn’t matter. A book doesn’t need to be canonical to be useful, or to inform theological thinking. It’s quite evident the NT writers had the content of 1 Enoch and other non-canonical books floating around in their heads. They read them, and those books at times helped them articulate some point in their own letters, or molded their thinking. By way of illustration, if I read Calvin’s Institutes and his commentary on Romans, and then wrote my own Bible study guide about the meaning of the book of Romans, it would be impossible to not have Calvin in my head (no matter how predisposed I was to what Calvin said). Saying the New Testament writers were intellectually divorced from, and uninfluenced by, this material is dishonest and, frankly, uninformed.

For proof, check out this link (hat tip to Matthew for this): New Testament Allusions to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.

The material at the link is also available in a PDF I created:

New Testament Allusions to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

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New Book on Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds to the Hebrew Bible

Just a heads up, as I am often asked about such resources. This link leads to two reviews of this new book:


My “go to” recommendations for this sort of information, though, are Walton’s two volumes:

Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (1994)


Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (2006)


If you’re looking only for academic resources related to all this (bibliography) see Kenton Sparks’ volume:

Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature (2005)


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New Research on Nibiru Shows Sitchin is Still Wrong

I recently received this short note in email about some work done in the cuneiform sources regarding Nibiru:

Dear Dr. Heiser,

I have analyzed the extant cuneiform evidence in the peer-reviewed publication “The Marduk Star Nebiru” (CDLI Bulletin 2015:3).
I conclude that the hypothesis that the name Nēbiru may be assigned to any visible astronomical object that marks an equinox is supported by cuneiform evidence.   It is clear to me  that Zechariah Sitchin was confused by earlier translations.
Immanuel Freedman, Ph.D. SMIEEE
Member, International Association for Assyriology
CDLI = Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative at UCLA.  The article / PDF at the above link is their bulletin. It’s only four pages, and of course verifies what I posted many years ago, that cuneiform tablets do not have Nibiru as a 12th planet beyond Pluto.
My thanks to Dr. Freedman for this notification and link!


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Review of Edited Volume of Papers Delivered at Jerusalem Conference on the Alleged Jesus Family Tomb

The Society of Biblical Literature’s Review of Biblical Literature just published a review of James H. Charlesworth’s edited volume, The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs Near Jerusalem’s Walls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013). The review is by Jodi Magness, who begins the review this way:

This  volume  contains twenty-six papers  (plus  an  introduction  and  conclusion  by  the editor)  presented  at  a  conference  that  was  held  Jerusalem  in  January  2008  on  “Jewish Views  of  the  After  Life  and  Burial  Practices  in  Second  Temple  Judaism:  Evaluating  the Talpiot  Tomb  in  Context.” Although  most  of  the  papers  focus  on  some  aspect  of  the Talpiyot (or Talpiot)tomb and its ossuaries and/or the “James ossuary,” they are written by scholars with widely varying perspectives and fields of expertise, including archaeology, epigraphy  and  paleography,  theology,  social  history,  biology,  statistics,  New  Testament, rabbinics, religious studies, geology, women’s studies, and mathematics.

For  those  who may  not  remember,  in  March  2007the  Discovery  Channel  broadcast  a documentary by  Simcha  Jacobovici in  which  he  claimed that  the  lost  tomb  of  Jesus  and his family had been discovered in Jerusalem (also published in a related book). This was none other than the Talpiyot tomb (so-called after the Jerusalem neighborhood in which it is located), which was excavated by archaeologists in 1980 after it was discovered during construction  work. A  final  report  on  the  Talpiyot  tomb  excavation  was  published  in ‘Atiqot in 1996. The tomb contained ten ossuaries, six of them inscribed (five in Aramaic and   one   in   Greek),   while   the   remaining   four   are   plain   (one is now   missing). Archaeologists  noted  that  some  of  the  names  in  the  inscriptions  (e.g., Yeshua  son of Yehoseph;  Marya;  Mariam/Mariame;  Yoseh  [apparently  a  diminutive  of  Yehosef])  recall individuals  associated  with  Jesus  in  the  NewTestament  accounts but  considered  this  a coincidence, as  these  were  common  names  among  the  Jewish  population  at  the  time. However, in the documentary Jacobovici claimed that the inscriptions identify this as the tomb  of  Jesus  and  his  family, marshalling an  array  of  supporting  evidence that includes statistical  and  DNA  analyses. The  implications  of this  claim  are  that  Jesus  was  not resurrected  (as  his  physical  remains  were  placed  in  an  ossuary), that  he  was  married  to Mary Magdalene (who supposedly is named in one of the inscriptions), and that he had a son  named  Judah  (as  one  of  the  ossuaries  is  inscribed  Yehudah  bar  Yeshua). Jacobovici also has attempted to prove that an adjacent, unexcavated tomb (the Patio tomb) contains the remains of followers of Jesus and that the James ossuary (which has no archaeological provenience but surfaced in a private collection) is the tenth (now missing) ossuary from the Talpiyot tomb.

The review isn’t long, but it’s informative. Highly recommended.

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An Assyrian Origin for the Trinity?

Some readers may be aware of claims in this regard popularized on the internet. The idea is actually fairly old, but in recent years has gained steam via the work of a credentialed Assyriologist, Simo Parpola. A few years ago I had the role of soliciting papers for an Israelite Religion section of one of the annual scholarly conferences I attend. I asked Dr. John Hilber, a friend and an Old Testament scholar, to write a paper critiquing Parpola’s work. John has a strong background in Assyriology, as his dissertation was in Assyrian prophecy and its connections to the Old Testament. While working on my divine council bibliography today, I came across my copy of that paper (it is unpublished). Readers should note that I have a number of hand-scribbled notes in the margins that will likely not be decipherable. In any event, John’s critique is worth a read. In short, Parpola is using kabbalistic ideas as a filter for his Assyriology. Not a good idea.

Hilber Monotheism in Neo-Assyrian Religion An Appraisal

A much longer critique was published by long-time professor of Akkadian and Sumerian at Johns Hokpins University, Jerrold Cooper:

Cooper Assyrian Prophecies Mesopotamian Origins of Monotheism – critique of Parpola

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Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Forgery Subject of Latest NTS Journal – Free Access

Thanks to Mark Goodacre for the the notice on this. The latest issue of the scholarly journal New Testament Studies is dedicated to exposing the fraudulent nature of the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The editors have granted free access to the articles. No telling how long that will last, so you’d better download the material pronto. You can find the issue on Goodacre’s NT blog. The links work – jut tried them. Click the article title and then where it says PDF on the journal page. Then download the resulting PDF file.

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Review of Prof. Maurice Casey’s Scholarly Critique of the Work of Jesus Mythicists

I blogged a short time ago to alert readers about this book. Maurice Casey was a New Testament scholar and Aramaic specialist. He was also nowhere close to being a “Bible believer” – the sort of people that Jesus mythicists love to mock. It’s Casey doing the mocking here. All the familiar mythers (e.g., Acharya S) are in the cross-hairs and fare rather poorly.

Dr. James McGrath recently reviewed Casey’s book. The review (and of course the book) tracks through all the well-worn bogus methods and argumentation made by the tiny-but-vocal Jesus mythicist clique (think the Zeitgeist nonsense). Here’s one of McGrath’s concluding paragraphs:

I suspect that many will find the tone of Casey’s volume rather too acerbic—especially if they  have  never  had  to  deal  with  online  mythicists  themselves.  One  must  keep  in  mind the  risks  that  were  involved  in  writing  a book  like  this.  As  scientists  and  historians  who have tackled pseudoscholarship of other sorts have often learned, the very act of engaging proponents  of  these  views,  even  in  the  interests  of  debunking  them,  can  seem  to  add credibility  to  their  claims,  since  they  are  being  deemed  “worthy  of  engaging  with.” It seems  to  me  that  Casey’s  approach,  while  not  above  criticism,  strikes  an  important balance. He took the highly problematic character of mythicism seriously enough that he thought  it  worth  showing  unambiguously  why  it  does  not  deserve  to  be  taken  seriously. Casey shows in detail the ways in which mythicism is not merely wrong in the ways that scholars are often wrong but rather grossly incompetent, shoddily argued and evidenced, utterly lacking in plausibility, and often seeming to willfully distort the evidence, all while its proponents maliciously malign mainstream scholars.

Amen. Been there many times.

McGrath’s review is an excellent overview of the book, which is must reading for anyone who’s been annoyed or disturbed by the claims of those who insist Jesus never existed.

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Were the Gospels Originally Written in Aramaic or Hebrew?

I’m often asked this question, so it was nice to come across this paper by Jan Joosten online.

Joosten Aramaic or Hebrew behind_the_Gospels

Joosten is an excellent scholar in Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, and Hebrew. This is a worthwhile (and sane) introduction to the issue.

Readers will note that eventually Joosten gets to Matthew 1:23, where Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14. He makes the point that to Hebrew or Aramaic readers, the term almah would have been ambiguous (i.e., they wouldn’t have thought of virgin). That’s overstated. On lexical grounds, it has merit, but it’s a fact of the OT that almah — due to its interchange with betulah, the more precise word for virgin, and the culture, an almah could be conceived of as a virgin. Here’s a short popular essay I wrote on the subject, posted here some time ago.

At any rate, Joosten doesn’t bring up Matt. 1:25. Two verses after his quotation of Isa 7:14, Matthew makes the comment that Joseph didn’t “know” Mary until after Jesus was born. If the gospels had been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, that’s an idiom that would have been completely understood by an audience speaking either language as a denial of sexual intercourse between Joseph and Mary, far more readily than Greek speakers.

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Review of Recent Symposium Volume on the Debate over “Secret Mark”

Secret Mark (not to be confused with “Archaic Mark”) is an alleged ancient text that a number of modern scholars consider a forged hoax. (See the description of the document below). Recently a group of scholars with expertise in the pertinent matters met to discuss and debate the text and its controversy. The papers from that event have been published under the title: Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?: The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate: Proceedings from the 2011 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium (Burke, Tony, editor)

Here’s a description of the volume:

In 1958, American historian of religion Morton Smith made an astounding discovery in the Mar Saba monastery in Jerusalem. Copied into the back of a seventeenth-century book was a lost letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215 CE) that contained excerpts from a longer version of the Gospel of Mark written by Mark himself and circulating in Alexandria, Egypt. More than fifty years after its discovery, the origins of this Secret Gospel of Mark remain contentious. Some consider it an authentic witness to an early form of Mark, perhaps even predating canonical Mark. Some claim it is a medieval or premodern forgery created by a monastic scribe. And others argue it is a forgery created by Morton Smith himself. All these positions are addressed in the papers contained in this volume. Nine North American scholars, internationally recognized for their contributions to the study of Secret Mark, met at York University in Toronto, Canada, in April 2011 to examine recent developments in scholarship on the gospel and the letter in which it is found. Their results represent a substantial step forward in determining the origins of this mysterious and controversial text.

James McGrath’s excellent review of this volume can be read here. The book is a must-have for anyone interested in this debate and, more broadly, analysis of ancient texts for forgery.

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