Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jesus crucifixion date NOT proven by geologist

OK, let's spot the errors in this story that claims paleogeology, or whatever the word, proves Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 CE.

Error No. 1? Geologists treading WAY beyond their area of expertise.

Error No. 2? Geologists taking what is poetic license, at least, as literal truth.

Error No. 3? Geologists taking a story with legendary elements, at least, to be literally true, if even in parts.

Error No. 4? Taking the New Testament Gospels as anything close to history. That includes assuming that Jesus was crucified over a Passover period. If the “Palm Sunday” story is true, this would actually fit other festivals more closely, as Hyam Maccoby, among others, has argued.

Error No. 4A? Assuming that (outside of Luke, who still blows it) these books were written to be taken as documents of history, not polemic.

Error No. 5? Assuming that a Yeshua bar Yusuf, if he existed, had the approximate life and death dates that literalists and semi-literalists claim.

Error No. 6? Assuming we can know enough about this Yeshua, from the Christian New Testament, to even guess at facts that might mitigate Error No. 5.

Error No. 7: Assuming that this Yeshua was a historic personage.

Ohhh, other than THAT, there’s nothing wrong with geologists, on what’s probably shaky (pun highly intended) evidence, assuming that something from the geological record proves a Jew named Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 CE.

Now, they do leave the door to the world of rationality cracked open a small bit:
In terms of the earthquake data alone, (Jefferson) Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.” 

“If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write. 
Only to then shut it even more firmly:
Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion — darkness. 

Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 p.m. after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a duststorm, he believes. 

Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the earthquake that took place in the Jerusalem region during the early first century.
Go BACK to studying sedimentary rocks, Mr. Williams, and stay there.



Greg said...

I think you are over-reacting here a bit. Just so happens I know the original author, he is my neighbor. I remember when he was submitting this. You clearly haven't read the original paper, because in the manuscript they are very careful about their interpretations, and only provide a speculative exploration of how the geological record might reflect historical aspects of the bible. They are not creationists, and they do not say anything resembling "earthquake evidence proves when Christ was crucified" etc. Sure, it's true that many aspects of biblical writing are not accurate - of course - but there could be ways to date certain events. I think after discussing this for a couple of minutes with Jeff Williams, you would have never written this post.

Gadfly said...

NO, I still would have written it. Nobody but conservative Christians, inerrantists or nearly so, or people otherwise uninformed about biblical criticism would take Matthew's earthquake comment as anything close to historical rather than poetic license.

Since it's not history, why would you then try to link it to seismic records of the area?

Greg said...

Seems to me the bible is a perfect case of how history and myth blend together - so while it is your opinion that there is no historical basis AT ALL for the earthquake, that doesn't seem to me to be verifiable one way or another.

Just to be clear, I view the bible as a work of fiction, and I am an atheist, as is Jeff Williams. But like most fiction, there are often historical references and allusions. I assume you agree with scholars that believe the translation to "earthquake" in the verse is an error and really "commotion" would be better? Seems like this might be a matter of debate.

Well, I'm not an expert, and frankly I don't care at all about how much of the bible is historically accurate, but I think that Jeff does think that references to earthquakes could potentially be based on real geological events. When you do research in this area of the world, these are potentially interesting questions.

What really bugs Jeff is that people think he is motivated by some Christian agenda - I can assure you that this is definitely not the case. Here is a quote he wrote at Bible History Daily:

“I am the primary author of the research article and the original Discovery Article grossly misrepresented our work… Our article had very little to do with the date of the crucifixion. The article discussed Earthquake Geology and primarily how we arrived at a date for this earthquake (31 AD +/- 5 years). Because of uncertainties associated with the text of Matthew 27, we departed from previous Dead Sea Paleoseismology and dated the earthquake based purely on what we saw in the sediments. We then used an article by Humphreys and Waddington to compare our earthquake date with the date range of the crucifixion and the two years most commonly cited; 30 AD and 33 AD. If I had a do-over, I never would have mentioned those years since the only relevant textual information for our 3 conclusions was the date range of 26-36 AD. We are not New Testament Scholars and did not try to add textual information to come up with an exact date. Unfortunately, that was the impression of the Discovery article and this spread all over the internet.”

Gadfly said...

I think you, and he, still miss the point on the Matthew passage. NO, I can't prove it's not historical, but in light of the chapter talking about the sky turning totally black and the earthquake opening graves with dead returning to life and walking back out, it's pretty damned clear it's poetry and not history.

So, for Williams to treat it as history (especially if he is an atheist) indicates either a level of naivete about not just the Bible but literature in general, or else that he was trying to make a name for himself on the Net.

In other case, the reaction he's gotten is well-earned, I'd say.

Gadfly said...

And, if by Bible History Daily, you mean BAR's Bible History Daily, puhleeze. Herschel Shanks makes big bucks off getting evangelical but not fundamentalist Christians to believe that a lot of the NT story is history.

I cite the James ossuary BS as Exhibit A.

So, that explains a hell of a lot more.

And, therefore, please, stop trying to PR flack for Williams.

Greg said...

The elements of the chapter you cite sound like a totally plausible mixture of poetry and history. It may be biblically naive to assert any history there, sure, but naive about literature too? Come on, now you're just going ad hominem. Poetry and history intertwine throughout all of literature.

It's also interesting that you criticize Bible History Daily, like it's relevant or I would care. I was just quoting Jeff, but why he posted there, I don't know. It makes sense, if what you say is true, for him to try and separate himself from the NT scholars there.

Anyhow, like your thoughts on other topics we have discussed in the past here, your apparent strength of opinion far outweighs the strength of your arguments. You're a little reactionary, and could use a dose of humility, I would say.

That said, perhaps there is no basis for examining earthquake references in the NT - fine by me. But Jeff did not create the uproar - he just published a paper, quite some time ago really, in the International Geology Review, and someone got a hold of it. He wasn't trying to "make a name on the net." Like I said originally, clearly you haven't read it. Sometimes reading the source helps.