Congressman Implies Archaeology Not in the "National Interest"; Plus: James Tabor Defends Talpiot Tomb
I don’t usually bring up political issues, especially not at the granular level of government appropriations, but a piece by anthropology professor Rosemary Joyce at Berkeley is important enough to call attention to. Joyce reports that Republican Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) implied that archaeological research is not in the national interest. The conservative representative issued a press release about HR 3293, a bill that would require the National Science Foundation to justify all of its funding requests by demonstrating how they meet the national interest. In that press release, Smith provided five examples of grants he considered non-essential to America’s national interest. Three of these five were archaeology projects, even though archaeology represents less than 0.12% of NSF research funding. All three archaeology projects, not coincidentally, had implications for how humans adapt to climate change, according to Joyce.
The remaining two examples involved funding for a video game and for research into National Geographic nature photography. Smith also criticized the NSF for other climate-related projects not on his bulleted list.
Smith said that archaeology and other “questionable” research takes money away from “worthwhile scientific research” into technological such as “lasers” and “nanotechnology.” His list made quite clear that he strongly prefers the applied sciences over research with less immediate practical application, or research that might threaten political or social ideologies.
Smith has been pushing to politicize the NSF since at least 2013, and he has consistently advocated for more House oversight (read: Republican supervision) of NSF funding, presumably so that only politically advantageous science be conducted.
HR 3293 was introduced in July 2015, passed the House last week, and is currently in Committee in the Senate, pending a vote.
Meanwhile, on a completely different topic, the religious studies scholar James Tabor wrote a lengthy blog post yesterday rebutting a 2014 CNN.com article criticizing claims made for the Talpiot tomb as the final resting place of Jesus and his family. I’m obviously no expert in first century Judea and can’t begin to evaluate the accuracy of Tabor’s various statements, but I was troubled by the underlying assumptions that are not, strictly speaking, logical. Therefore, for our purposes, I will assume that Tabor is correct about the names inscribed on the ossuary boxes.
Tabor believes that the Talpiot tomb in Jerusalem is that of Jesus of Nazareth, though what he means by that name is perhaps the crux of the argument. Tabor does not believe that the Gospels are an accurate account of the life and times of this Jesus, and as a result, he is free to reconstruct the story of Jesus using assumptions and preferences that happen to fit with the supposed evidence of the Talpiot tomb. The trouble I have is that if we discount the Gospels as a source for the life of Jesus, we aren’t left with very much to determine whether the Talpiot tomb is in fact that of the historical figure presumed to stand behind the Gospel accounts.
In his analysis, Tabor explains that we simply don’t know enough about Jesus to exclude the Talpiot tomb as the one belonging to him:
The main problem with this objection is the assumption that we have something called “the Jesus story” that can serve as a control for what fits or does not fit archaeologically with the historical Jesus. What we have to realize is that our textual traditions (primarily the N.T. gospels) are not only late (post-70 CE), but extremely limited and fragmentary theological proclamations. Understandably, they are mostly silent in providing any basis for such exclusionary statements as to who “belongs” or does not belong in the “Jesus story”–much less the extended Jesus family. So the assertion that “Matthew” is not a part of the Jesus family “according to the Bible” is naive and misleading.
But this claim undermines the entirety of the argument for the tomb being that of Jesus of Nazareth as well. If the Gospels are limited, incomplete, and unreliable, then how might we adjudge, other than through prejudice and preference, which verses to accept and which to reject? Tabor presents in another blog post a very long discussion of his preferred version of the Jesus narrative, which he assumes to be an authentic account abstracted through textual analysis by stripping away all of the later encrustations. However, logically speaking, Tabor, even if correct, does not discover the “true” story but rather the oldest account, which may or may not be true in a literal sense. I can’t help but (blasphemously!) think of how we would reconstruct the death of Elvis if all we had were National Enquirer stories about how his corpse was substituted for a wax mannequin. These articles name real people and refer to real events, even if the story itself is false.
Similarly, even finding the entire Gospel family of Jesus inscribed on ossuaries in one tomb doesn’t prove it was the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth in a strictly logical sense, even if one does not accept, as Tabor does not, that the collection of Biblical names could occur by coincidence. For example, it would be equally logical to argue that the Gospel writers might have generated character names for the family of Jesus by using the inscriptions from a known tomb that shared the name of Jesus, mistaking it for the “real” Jesus. (After all, as a family tomb, people went in and out all the time, so it wasn’t always sealed.) Once one admits that the Gospel accounts aren’t accurate or trustworthy, then there isn’t really any support for relying overly much on specific character names unless they can be shown to exist outside the Gospels.
All of this, though, is important primarily for Christians who accept the doctrine of bodily resurrection and would be very upset otherwise. Tabor believes that the first Christians believed only in spiritual and not bodily resurrection and therefore weren’t interested in bones. He’s probably right on that point. For our purposes, the tomb story is important because fringe believers don’t just want the Talpiot tomb to be the tomb of Jesus but to have been known and venerated as the tomb of Jesus, and the center of a cult built around the marriage and children of Jesus. That said, Tabor merely assumes marriage and children, and the tomb, even if genuinely that of Jesus, shows no evidence of marriage and children. Therefore, Tabor’s argument, which he presents as factual and logical, resolves into a series of assumptions, only some of which are supported by fact:
And the most important assumption of all: The Gospels are accurate when and where we want them to be accurate, and irrelevant where their factual accuracy cannot be proved or is demonstrably false.
2/17/2016 03:06:21 pm
I sometimes have the idea that in order to be in politics, one must be an idiot. Lamar Smith proposing a bill to regulate scientific research unless it promotes the "national" interest. How does one define what may be or may not be in the "national" interest. Who would define the "national" interest. Remember, years ago when a Senator from Alaska (I forget his name) pushed through a bill that built a highway to his home in rural Alaska. I suspect that also qualified as being in the "national" interest.
2/21/2016 10:51:08 am
"National interest", in political speak, translates to mean " that which enriches the people and corporations with which I an whoring."
2/17/2016 03:11:38 pm
>> Tabor believes that the first Christians believed only in spiritual and not bodily resurrection and therefore weren’t interested in bones<<
2/17/2016 06:21:10 pm
For a scholarly interpretation of resurrection as a spiritual experience see Margaret Barker, The Risen Lord (1996).
2/17/2016 07:13:15 pm
Alas, the conventional belief in the Resurrection as given in the Gospels lacks an interpretation --- the Gospels do not provide an interpretation.
2/17/2016 07:17:13 pm
I hasten to add that Paul's accounts of Christianity make the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ cognate with Baptism, thus suggesting a religious mystical ritual process.
2/17/2016 07:32:59 pm
This is evocative of the Raising of the Master within Freemasonry,
2/17/2016 03:22:30 pm
Bottom line for me - Tabor uses the so-called 'Jesus ossuary' as part of his evidence, non-contextual evidence at best and more likely a hoax.
2/17/2016 03:30:31 pm
James Tabor did not believe in the Jesus Bloodline when he first mentioned the Talpiot tomb during the 1980s.
2/17/2016 05:52:14 pm
Finally - "Biblical Scholarship" gets its own fringe theorists. Deja vu. Maybe there really is a God after all.
2/17/2016 07:21:24 pm
There are warehouses and warehouses of German critical scholarship dating from the 19th century that could do with translating into English --- to balance the uncritical nonsense found in Biblical scholarship of the 20th and 21st centuries.
2/17/2016 06:40:25 pm
"Tabor believes that the first Christians believed only in spiritual and not bodily resurrection and therefore weren’t interested in bones. He’s probably right on that point."
2/17/2016 07:29:22 pm
The Gospels were written in Greek. The claims that they were based on Aramaic original texts is currently the wishful thinking of the fundamentalist churchgoers.
2/17/2016 07:44:42 pm
I've never read the Bible all the way through but it has always seemed to me that one either has to believe what it says literally(contradictions and all) or reject it whole. If you start rationalizing parts to fit your personal beliefs or make it more palatable to you, you aren't believing THE BIBLE.
2/17/2016 10:00:29 pm
Jesus was a rabid rpg'er but dice bags hadn't been invented yet.
2/18/2016 10:56:39 am
>>>one either has to believe what it says literally(contradictions and all) or reject it whole<<<
2/19/2016 11:14:39 am
2/19/2016 12:14:05 pm
"A good christian is expected to evaluate the texts of the bible for there meaning as an individual."
2/18/2016 03:18:12 pm
That has been highly contested throughout the history of Christianity. It is far more complicated than that there are many religions that believe large portions of the bible are meant to be non literal or up to interpenetration. The bible didn't exist until the Romans adopted Christianity.
2/18/2016 07:59:47 pm
2/19/2016 06:08:44 am
2/19/2016 06:11:38 am
Uncle Ron - AGAIN
2/19/2016 06:53:47 am
>>>For the record: I am not a believer. And I was never to fond of interpenetration.<<<
2/19/2016 11:16:40 pm
<<...it has always seemed to me that one either has to believe what it says literally(contradictions and all) or reject it whole. If you start rationalizing parts to fit your personal beliefs or make it more palatable to you, you aren't believing THE BIBLE.>>
2/18/2016 12:59:02 am
What, I must ask, is with Texas? Must one leave their brains at the border before entering?
An Over-Educated Grunt
2/18/2016 09:29:57 am
It's complicated. The state is divided pretty sharply between rural and urban areas, also on an east-west divide running basically parallel to the Balcones Fault (or I-35, depending on which hat you want me to wear...). Most of the urban areas are either on or east of that line. Those areas generally tilt either blue or, at worst, common-sense. Unfortunately, districting is such that rural populations in Texas have a disproportionate representation per person because there's a higher percentage of registered voters per total population in those areas (there's a case at the Supreme Court about this right now, actually). Even east of the line, there's also a much stronger streak of individualism than in other states because of conditions dating back to the Spanish land grants to the empresarios, when it was basically every man for himself, quite literally, with law enforcement forever away. This is true in most of the western states, actually, but Texas is larger and has a bigger population than any of them, so it gets a bigger voice.
2/18/2016 10:26:32 am
Most of those politicians will be affiliated with Freemasonry.
2/18/2016 03:33:50 pm
While I didn't enjoy living in Texas for the several months I did it is the most culturally diverse place I have ever been, I am from Montana and I'm now living in Florida. Texas gets misrepresented in the media there are plenty of reasons to dislike Texas but the traditional view of Texas from outsiders is off. I have literal been in a country bar watching people from every race i can think of line dancing together. No insults no fight nothing just people having fun. I'm sure there are parts of Texas that are worse but the state is far from a sea of white cowboys.
An Over-Educated Grunt
2/18/2016 03:58:27 pm
How exactly is over-representation of any group in a democracy a good thing?
2/18/2016 04:48:50 pm
An Over-Educated Grunt- First off I disagree with in calling it over representation its more it only assure that these areas have some representation otherwise there representation would be nearly non existent. I am from Montana where we have basically no say in a presidential general election sure the elected president is supposed to represent us all but does he or she? No not really if the president has a Bill on his desk that greatly helps Montanans but is slightly inconvenient to people in New York what do you think the president does veto or sign? Probably veto its not politically advantageous. We saw this with the Keystone pipeline: it had very little environmental risk in fact would have been more environmentally friendly in the long run and would have provided work and an influx of money to the local economies but he rejected it. he admitted that there was very little environmentally risk so why veto? simple the people who would benefit had less political sway with him than those that where ideologically opposed. .Given that Ill ask this how has representation based on population worked out so far? pretty terribly right? we are racially divided and many minorities have virtually no true representation. Native Americans past the tribal government rarely achieve any true representation and many of the reservations suffer from systematic poverty among other related issues. redistricting and gerrymandering are supposed to be there to aid in this a area that is cultural economical and environmentally distinct from another should have separate districts top adequately represent the people. the notion that rural populations should be punished for being more involved in their communities is laughable. Perhaps urban areas should stop looking down on rural areas and learn a few lessons from them.
2/18/2016 12:33:57 pm
All of the names in that tomb are among the most common in the region at the time. Finding that set of names together means nothing. If they searched, most people could find another family with the same set of names as their own.
2/18/2016 03:29:57 pm
I live in Texas, and have lived here off and on for most of my life. I must say it's embarrassing at times over the past few years to admit that. Fortunately, I live in Austin where support for the ideas of Mr. Smith and Mr. Cruz is in the minority. (Not to mention our governor and attorney general.)
2/18/2016 05:26:26 pm
I too, on occasion vote, but it is always for my own personnel write in candidate, MYron OWeN DICK.
2/21/2016 01:46:16 pm
Don't be too hard on Texas. In Tennessee we have some awful legislators too who are desperate to turn back the clock. It's embarrassing sometimes to be a Tennessean when you have idiots like Marsha Blackburn wanting to dismiss evolution in favor of creationism and who thinks the planet is actually currently cooling, not warming.
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