I am visiting the National Gallery of Art this weekend studying the various “faces of Mary” the mother of Jesus. The variety of portrayals is fascinating. Here are a few of my favorites.
I am absolutely fascinated with old photos, engravings, and maps of Jerusalem and the Holy Land–especially from the 19th century. I have written previously of the massive 13 x 17 foot Stephan Illes model of Jerusalem from 1873 here. When you visit Jerusalem you don’t want to miss this, it is part of the Tower of David museum–but now in the basement and overlooked by most tourists. There is a growing archive of photos, maps, and engravings, now being posted online from the Ottoman Imperial Library, linked here. I just downloaded a few dozen of Jerusalem. You will need to scroll down to find the relevant albums and you can download in various resolutions. Here are a few of my favorites so far.
To convey the meaning of Scripture, we commonly resort to words. That is how we explicate the text—with words. That’s also the case with those nonbiblical books denominated apocrypha, as in the Book of Judith, the subject of this column. But the meaning and interpretation of the text can be conveyed also through art. We have customarily used art in this magazine simply to illustrate the words that convey the meaning. In this instance, however, the art is the primary focus—a portrait of Judith by the great early-20th-century artist Gustav Klimt.
Don’t miss the fascinating by Hershel Shanks, “Art as Bible Interpretation,” in the January/February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. It is available on-line here.
Many of us have enjoyed browsing through art works treating biblical characters and themes since we were children. We find the portrayals endlessly diverse and alluring. Shanks offers an insightful analysis here to the portrayal of the “Judith” story from the “Apocrypha.”
A friend recently gave us a wonderful book by Patrick de Rynck titled How to Read Bible Stories and Myths in Art: Decoding the Old Masters from Giotto to Goya. I have been spending some happy hours flipping through this wonderful book. It is arranged alphabetically by figures or scenes related thereto: Abraham, Achilles, Adam and Eve, Anna and Joachim…Christ/Adoration of the Magi, Crucifixion, et al. That Rynck includes both Bible stories as well as figures from “mythology,” mostly Greek, makes it all the more fascinating as a comparative endeavor. I also like Rynck’s method. He focuses on a single painter/painting and then breaks it down into its components, trying to get at the innovations, intents, presuppositions, and interpretations of the artist, placing each in a wider art-history context. This is the kind of book one can “dip into.” I highly recommend.
Late last night Simcha Jacobovici posted a long and probing piece based on his more carefully reading of Kloner’s published paper in Hebrew, which you can read here. The various problems he notes with Kloner’s account of the events of 1981 are serious and myriad.
Last week on this blog I noted a lecture that Prof. Amos Kloner gave at Bar Ilan University on December 27th at the “New Studies on Jerusalem Conference” on his original exploration of the Talpiot “Patio” tomb in 1981. Kloner’s intention was to “set the record straight” and more specifically, to counter what he considers to be the sloppy and sensational interpretations of Simcha Jacobovici and me, based on our 2010 re-examination of this sealed tomb by robotic camera. Archaeologist Rami Arav and I obtained an excavation license from the Israel Antiquities Authority to carry out this new investigation. This is the 1st century tomb less than 200 feet away from the alleged “Jesus family” tomb in East Talpiot in Jerusalem.
We have argued that one of the ossuaries in this tomb contains an image of a fish spouting out Jonah and a second has a four-line Greek inscription referring to “lifting up” or resurrection of the dead. We further maintain that both the inscription and the Jonah image most likely came from Jewish followers of Jesus who are affirming faith in resurrection of the dead. The main outlines of my argument I presented in a technical paper posted on-line at Bible & Interpretation here, as well as in a co-authored book that extensively deals with the evidence from both of the Talpiot tombs, The Jesus Discovery (Simon & Schuster, 2012). We have also released photos and other relevant documents related to our investigation at our official web site on the “Patio” tomb here. When the book and the article were published in February 2012, the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) devoted the month of March to an open discussion of these finds and their interpretation on its blog, sparking a heated and controversial series of posts and comments with diverse points of view. The Israeli magazine Eretz made our discoveries and the resulting controversy a cover story of the May issue with the provoking article, “Who’s Afraid of the Tomb of Jesus?”
Prof. Kloner offered no input whatsoever to the month-long ASOR discussion so we now hear for the first time his views on the subject. He now reveals that he thinks the “Jonah” image is not a fish at all but a vase or “amphora,” and that the Greek inscription has nothing to do with resurrection but rather is a prohibition against disturbing bones. These various alternative interpretations, along with the idea that the “fish” is a “funerary tower,” were debated extensively on the ASOR blog and I have covered them extensively here on my blog though the month of March. I have read a transcript of his oral remarks, which I make available to readers here: Kloner Lecture Transcript. I have also obtained a copy of his much longer published paper on the subject in Hebrew, which can be viewed here.
Kloner’s paper immediately generated an Op-Ed in the Times of Israel in which Matthew Kalman offered a very balanced overview here. I offered my own preliminary reactions here and Simcha Jacobovici, who was present at the lecture recorded his initial impressions which you can access here.
Late last night Simcha Jacobovici posted a long and probing piece based on his more carefully reading of Kloner’s published paper in Hebrew, which you can read here. Simcha and I have very different styles and I consider Amos Kloner a colleague and a friend, but the various problems he notes with Kloner’s account of the events of 1981 are serious and myriad. What jumped out at me when I read the full paper was that there is nothing Kloner reports seeing in 1981 that adds anything to our own camera probe discoveries in 2010, other than his reported “count” of how many individuals’ bones were in each ossuary–the basis of which one has to wonder. All the rest of the data were precisely what we reported. ((One example. Kloner had previously written in the publications below that there were “two Greek names” inscribed on ossuaries in this tomb. He says nothing about iconography or a Greek inscription, which presumably he not only saw but drew. We were able to see one name, MARA, but the other was out of range of our cameras. The only hint we had of this name was from the 1981 B&W photos, but it is faded and unclear, but at that time the ossuary was turned differently and plainly facing out. Kloner also reports that he can not read the second name, though anyone actually inside the tomb, looking right at the ossuary, would have seen the letters clearly. There are three published reports on the tomb, each tantalizingly sparse in details with some differences between them: Amos Kloner, Excavations and Surveys in Israel 1982, vol. 1, 78-81 (October 1982), p. 51; Amos Kloner, Survey of Jerusalem: the Southern Sector (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2000), p. 84; Kloner and Zissu, Necropolis of Jerusalem, pp. 342, which contains a map by Kloner. The IAA files contain one single memo dated August 2, 1981 plus some photographs. An April 17, 1981 memo that Kloner wrote right after his team finished their work is referenced in the August 2nd memo but nowhere to be found. One early Roman period cooking pot was catalogued by the IAA as from this tomb, although excavators remember other items being removed. There is no copy of the excavation license. These are unfortunate losses and perhaps these and other materials will be recovered in the future. Curiously, Kloner reports that “three of the kokhim contained seven ossuaries” and does not mention removing an eighth one from a fourth niche, see Survey of Jerusalem: the Southern Sector (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2000), p. 84. Kloner later published a sketch of the tomb showing the locations of all eight ossuaries, distributed in four of the niches, see See Necropolis of Jerusalem, pp. 342, published in 2007 with Boaz Zissu.))
Most puzzling to me is the drawing Kloner publishes in his paper of the ossuary with the “Jonah and the fish” image. Kloner says that he made this sketch, along with another one of the ossuary with the Greek inscription, in 1981 while briefly inside the tomb. Why he had never revealed these before, not even to his co-author Shimon Gibson with whom he wrote his definitive paper on the Talpiot tombs for the forthcoming Charlesworth volume remains for him to answer. (( See Amos Kloner and Shimon Gibson, “The Talpiot tomb Reconsidered: The Archaeological Facts,” in The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs Near Jerusalem’s Walls: The Fourth Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins, eds. James H. Charlesworth and Arthur C. Boulet (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming, 2013) )) The sketches are not in the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation files nor has anyone to my knowledge ever seen them before. We do know that the positions of these two ossuaries was different in 1981 from where they are today in the niches and the “Jonah” ossuary was not blocked from view in 1981 as it is today. So Kloner could have easily made such a sketch, or even better, taken a photo of both ossuaries.
Here is the problem. We were not able to see the entire front of the ossuary with the Jonah image. That ossuary is blocked by the one with the Greek inscription right in front of it, butted up to a few centimeters against its face. You can see here our camera coming into the niche with these two ossuaries up against one another. The one in the back is the one with the “Jonah” image, and just enough of the left side of that ossuary was visible to us to make out the image and get fairly good photos. It was the right side of the ossuary that remained a mystery to us. Our camera caught the bare beginnings of the square “temple” like structure on the right side, but what was inside that structure that we could not see clearly. In his paper Kloner is quite interested in this structure and offers analysis as to its possible meanings–but without mentioning anything about its important internal features–which would surely reveal more as to what the artist was wanting to portray.
When we had our replicas made this became a real problem. Since we could not see clearly the right side of this ossuary how should it be presented? In our first attempt, which was the ossuary displayed in New York at our February 28th press conference, the artisan took our limited photos of the right side and could barely make out something inside the “temple” and tried to represent it partially. This caused no end of problems because what he ended up with looked like some kind of “hangman’s gallows.” This led to endless speculation on those who saw the reproduction as to what the mysterious hidden meaning of this marking might be. The truth is this was simply all we could make out with our camera shots and it would have been best to leave the space blank.
When we had a second set of ossuary reproductions made in Israel for our subsequent press conference in Jerusalem on April 4th we wanted to do whatever we could to improve our first attempt. We made the Jonah fish image a bit fatter, having reexamined all our photos, and most important Simcha and I advised Felix Gobulev who was working with the artisans to simply leave the inside of the temple-like structure blank. There was something substantial inside, but since we could not see what it was, why offer a partial sketch that could end up being misleading? Accordingly, the second reproduction looked like this:
When I saw Kloner’s drawing I almost fell off my chair. It was an almost precise copy of our Jerusalem ossuary reproduction. The only problem is, he also leaves the inside of the “temple” structure blank–just as we did, though it is clear that anyone who was looking at the full unblocked face of the ossuary would have seen what is obviously inside the “temple” like structure. The “blank” is not blank–there is a substantial architectural feature plainly visible. When I heard Kloner had presented his drawings I was quite excited. I was even wondering or hoping there might be some kind of inscription inside that “blank” space–and now we would know at last. I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions and I welcome any explanation from Prof. Kloner.
In lieu of Kloner’s drawing, purportedly drawn in full view of the entire face of the ossuary, I publish here the only three photos we were able to obtain so that anyone interested might have a tiny “peek” at what lies inside the blank space. One in particular shows the beginnings of a substantial internal rectangular pattern, which became the basis for our “hangman’s gallows” in the original reproduction. These are the original untouched photos from our probe cameras and I realise they will appear somewhat dark here on this blog but those who wish to download them can easily lighten them up and sharpen the quality and you will be able to see quite a bit. We thought it best to present them here in their original state for anyone to work with who might be interested.
Then they arrayed him in scarlet, and when they had plaited it they invested him with a victor’s wreath made of thorn, and saluted him with, “Hail! King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18).
According to the gospel of Mark, when Jesus is on trial before the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate he was asked if he claimed to be the “King of the Jews,” and his ambiguous answer was “You have said so,” which might be translated “as you say.” (Mark 15:2). Pilate then refers to Jesus as “the King of the Jews,” apparently echoing back a charge of Jesus’ enemies, that he claimed to be a “king” (Mark 15:9, 12). ((Such a claim would be considered the capital crime of lese majesty under Roman law, see Tacitus, Annals 4. 70; 6.7)) Later that morning when the Roman cohort of soldiers gathered inside the Praetorium ((See my post “Standing Again with Jesus: Ecce Homo Revisited,” here.)) to beat and mock their new prisoner, draping him with a purple robe and crowning him with a victor’s wreath of thorns, they saluted him, “Hail! King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18). Finally, the placard upon which was written the charge against him, placed over his head on the cross, read “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). ((John has an significantly expanded version of this trial scene in Mark that seems to be more theologically reflective than “historical,” see John 18:28-19:21))
What few Bible readers realize is that the claim to be “King of the Jews” was a highly charged political act of sedition or lese-majesty, considered a capital crime in Roman Law ((See Tacitus, Annals 4. 70; 6.7)). Robert Eisler in his classic work The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist (1931) as well as S. F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots (1967) have thoroughly explored these political dimensions ((Eisler, whose 1929 German edition was translated into English is long out of print but it can be found in most libraries and is available in a photocopy edition, see more here.))
The emperor Augustus gave Herod the title King of the Jews and his connections with Rome and the emperor Augustus and his court were extraordinary. ((See Peter Richarson, Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999.)) Throughout his long reign he desperately, but abortively, wanted to establish some kind of “dynasty” or royal line, as evidenced by his marriage to the Hashmonean princess Miriame. So obsessed was he with genealogical records that Josephus reports that he had the archives at Sepphoris destroyed lest any rivals challenge his pedigree or put forth their own. His son, Herod Antipas, tried much the same, seeking to forge royal connections through marriage and building his magnificent capital at Sepphoris, just a stone’s throw the northwest of the tiny village of Nazareth. Meanwhile, in Rome, Octavian, as the emperor Augustus, also sought to establish a dynastic line of succession by his adoption of Tiberius not long before his death. It seems that “Dynasties” were in the air in the 1st century CE Roman world.
I have collected books on Herod the Great for 30 years now and I find him endlessly fascinating and alluring as an historical figure, but much more so as a study in contrasts with that other “King of the Jews,” Jesus of Nazareth, crucified in 30 CE at Passover as a potential insurrectionist and heir to the royal throne of David. Unlike many of my colleagues in the area of Christian Origins who see Jesus as a healer, prophet-like figure, or teacher (all of which he surely was!), I have not the slightest doubt that he laid claim to the royal Davidic lineage and understood himself as the legitimate King of Israel or “messiah.” ((See my arguments in this regard in the article “Are You the One? The Textual Dynamics of Messianic Self-Identity,” in “Knowing the End from the Beginning: The Prophetic, the Apocalyptic, and their Relationships,” edited by Lester L. Grabbe and Robert D. Haak, Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2004), pp. 180-191.)) In my book, The Jesus Dynasty, I try to lay out the full implications of this understanding, one I consider key to recovering the “historical Jesus,” see my post here. ((If you have never read this book, published in 2007, I recommend it, modestly but highly! See http://jesusdynasty.com))
Our earliest source for Jesus as a Davidic “Royal” comes from Paul (Romans 1:3). Indeed, I believe that the Davidic messianic claims for Jesus are an essential factor for any interpretation of the figure of Jesus in his own time and context. I am convinced the Messianic self-identity of Jesus opens up a world of understanding of both of the man and his movement, and that without it any interpretation of the historical Jesus fundamentally fails. I have always been a bit puzzled as when I have been asked–but why would you think Jesus thought himself to be of Davidic lineage, when my question would be the opposite–how could he have possibly viewed himself otherwise, given what we know of the movement, its beliefs, and its history? Teachers, prophets, and charismatic healers are one thing, but the coming of the “Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” was at the heart of Jewish expectations of the future under the rule of a succession of Herodian rulers who were considered to be corrupt in illegitimate kings. (See my recent post here on the “Two Messiahs” concept).
I am further convinced that part and parcel of the Davidic lineage idea was that one was part of a dynasty, made up of brothers and sons. And this is what we find in the Jesus movement as James, the brother of Jesus, becomes his successor, and Simon, another brother (some say cousin but of the same royal lineage), takes the leadership at the death of James. Yose, Jesus second brother after James, has apparently died by the time of the death of James in 62 CE or he would have likely been next in line. All of this evidence fits “hand-in-glove” with what we find in the “Jesus family tomb” at Talpiot. (See posts here, here, and here for background.)
We known the splendor with which Herod was buried from the account in Josephus and the ruins of the Herodium, especially the more recent discoveries of the late Ehud Netzer (see here). Jesus, in contrast, was crucified as a criminal and hastily and temporarily placed in a rock-hewn tomb near the place where he died. Joseph of Arimathea, who had taken charge of his burial, likely provided a more permanent tomb for Jesus, and perhaps for the rest of his family, shortly thereafter, see my exposition on this here. Like other Rabbis and teachers of the time we can expect the followers of this “Branch of David,” would have made sure he and his family were well taken care of, in death as in life. The elaborately decorated sarcophagus of Herod stands in sharp contrast to the plain undecorated ossuary of Jesus son of Joseph of the Talpiot tomb. That the Jesus of the tomb also has a son named Judah makes the entire Dynasty concept all the more dynamic.
Several years ago, standing in the parking lot of the condominium complex overlooking the Talpiot Jesus family tomb I suddenly realized, looking to the south, that the Herodium, which became Herod the Great’s fortress Tomb, was clearly visible in the distance. I thought to myself–how appropriate! The two men called “King of the Jews,” but for very different reasons and in very different contexts, buried within sight of one another!
Few readers of the English Bible realize that the name “James” actually comes from the Hebrew name Jacob or Yaaqov, which adds to the confusion over the various “Jameses” mentioned in the New Testament. There is, of course, Jacob the Patriarch, grandson of Abraham; James the Apostle, the fisherman brother of John and one of the two sons of Zebedee (Mark 4:21); “James the Less,” and several others. Ironically, the most obscure, and surely the most important James as “James the brother of Jesus,” known subsequently as “James the Just.” Getting our “Jameses” straight takes a bit of analysis. You can read my own attempt to sort through the names here.
Our earliest reference to James the brother of Jesus, surprisingly, comes not in our New Testament gospels but in the letter of Paul to the Galatians. There he recounts his first visit to Jerusalem after his vision of “Christ,” where he says he had an audience with “James the Lord’s brother,” the leader of the Jerusalem followers of Jesus (Galatians 1:18-19). He goes on to list this James, along with Cephas or Peter, and John–presumably the fisherman son of Zebedee–as the “pillars” of the Church. Given the later reputation of Simon Peter as the titular head of the Church and in Catholic tradition, the first “Pope” or bishop of Rome, this listing of James first, ahead of Peter, comes as a surprise to many, though the primacy of James the brother of Jesus is well attested (Acts 15:12-21; Galatians 2:11-12; Gospel of Thomas 12; Eusebius, Church History 2. 1. 3).
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. This painting acquired from a private dealer in Italy in 1811 and now in the National Gallery of Art Collection in Washington, D.C., is by an unknown artist who was apparently influenced by Cimabue (1240-1302), the great Italian painter of Florence. Cimabue is known for his move away from flat and stylized Byzantine art toward a more naturalistic attempt to portray feeling and emotion. This painting with Jesus in the center, flanked by Peter and James the brother of Jesus, seems to say it all. Notice how James is almost a “twin” of Jesus, both in expression, hair style, clothing, and general demeanor, whereas Peter is clearly “odd man out” in terms of the way he is portrayed. He even seems to be scowling over at James, perhaps jealous of his status and closeness to Jesus. This negative caricature of Peter is also found, as I have recently noted, in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, see here, in which Peter is jealous of the intimacy and wisdom Mary apparently received from Jesus that seemed to put her above the traditional leaders among the Twelve Apostles. One has to wonder what this unknown artist knew or thought he knew about the complexities of early Christian leadership and any possible rivalry between Peter who is associated more with Rome and the West, and James the Brother of Jesus who receives great emphasis in the East–particularly among the Armenian Christians.
I am not archaeologist, my training is as a Biblical scholar, a historian of religions, but over the past 20 years I have had a considerable amount of archaeological experience. Surely all would agree that the most basic field instruction, truly Archaeology 101, is the obvious necessity at any excavation to correlate finds removed from a site with their loci or locations at the site! If any of our students found a coin, and just picked it up, ran over to show me or Dr. Shimon Gibson, with whom I work, our first question would be–why did you move it! Where did it come from? We have to record, either by photography or in written form, precisely where things were found before they are moved. The student, no matter how excited about his or her find, would have committed a grave mistake. Nothing is removed before it is recorded.
The two tombs in East Talpiot are quite in instructive in this regard, one discovered in 1980, the other a year later in 1981. In the case of the latter, which we have called the “Patio” tomb, or Talpiot tomb B, photos were made of the ossuaries in the tomb in situ before anything was moved. This has been a tremendous benefit to us as we have recently explored this tomb, now under the patio of a condominium building, remotely with cameras, particularly since the ossuaries were moved in the preliminary examination of the tomb and are not now in their original places. That is how we know the “Jonah” ossuary was the first on the right, when one entered the tomb, giving it a place of prominence, that we have taken as significant. See my original report with photos here what we have subsequently learned here.
But in the case of the former tomb, the so-called “Jesus” tomb, there are no such photos available! It is one of the many unanswered questions about how the excavation of that tomb was conducted over Easter weekend in 1980 which I have summarized here. We have are clear photos of nine of the ossuaries that were taken by the Israel Department of Antiquities (today the Israel Antiquities Authority) once they reached the Rockefeller where they were tagged and catalogued (IAA 80.500-509). We also have a very fine and detailed map done by young Shimon Gibson at the time of the excavation showing the locations of all ten of the ossuaries grouped in their various kokim or niches, with each numbered and lettered a, b, or c. Gibson has explained that when he did his map the ossuaries had already been removed but he was able to draw their locations based on their imprint in the soil around them.
What we lack, and this loss is rather astounding to contemplate, is any way to correlate the ossuaries removed from the tomb with their original locations as shown on Gibson’s map!
For example, notice the first niche on the right as you come into the tomb entrance had three ossuaries grouped together–but we have no idea which three, and whether they were inscribed or uninscribed with names. Can you imagine the difference it would make in our discussions of this tomb if it turned out that the ossuaries inscribed “Yeshua son of Joseph,” “Yehuda son of Yeshua,” and one of the women–either Maria or Mariamene, were in that first niche? That, along with the DNA tests we were able to do on skeletal remains of the Yeshua and Mariamene ossuaries might go a long way as to telling us who was most likely the mother, and thus the wife, of the Yeshua in this tomb. Or perhaps the ossuary inseribed “Yose” was paired with another in one of the three niches that had two ossuaries. Knowing these original locations would surely be of great interest.
When I did my initial research on the Talpiot tombs in preparation for my book, The Jesus Dynasty, published in 2006, I carefully checked with both Shimon Gibson and Amos Kloner as to whether there might possibly be any other records on this tomb. Gibson had nothing but his drawing and Kloner gave me his official reply in writing:
I don’t have any further information concern the location of each ossuary which matches the catalogue numbers. It should be explained that the burial chamber was filled with dirt of about 50 cms high and the ossuaries were not seen in the first visit of mine at the site. Very little was written by Gat and nothing concern this burial was included in the few papers submitted to me by Ruth Gat his widow, after he passed away. ((E-mail dated January 31, 2008))
I am not interested in assigning blame here so much as expressing regret at this loss of such basic information. It would be interesting to know if this kind of basic failure to record the loci of artifacts in various tomb excavations of the time was typical or atypical.
This gap in our knowledge has spurred some heroic efforts to make up for the loss, the most ambitious surely by John Koopman, who has helped me with my own research. John had the idea, knowing Shimon’s proclivity for accuracy and exactitude, of taking his map and trying to correlate the shape and sizes of the ossuaries in the drawing with the actual dimensions of the nine ossuaries in the Israel State Collection, that is their relative lengths and widths. Shimon Gibson later told me he had tried to do the same thing. John’s diligence is truly admirable and his results are quite fascinating, but unfortunately inconclusive.