Continued Interaction with Pellegrino on the Talpiot Theory

   I noted a few weeks ago a conversation that began on the Amazon website between myself and one of the two primary defenders of the Talpiot Theory, Dr. Pellegrino, co-author with Simcha Jacobovici of The Jesus Family Tomb. Dr. Pellegrino’s replies to me were rather lengthy and covered many topics. I replied to the first few on this blog, and began work on the next series, but was interrupted by all sorts of things, including tens of thousands of miles of travel. So I am trying to find some time, while recovering from this virus, to get back to my replies. There is a lot of development going on in the Talpiot arena, and those who stuck their heads in the sand a few months ago and tried the “laugh at it, it will go away” defense are so far behind now they will never catch up.

Dr White: I would gladly receive a copy of your book. And I do very much welcome a debate of the evidence (as opposed to some of your original blog postings equating our team to being in league with the antichrist – – and I agree with you, in fact, that anyone who compares his or her DNA to the DNA of “Jesus, son of Joseph” is embarking upon, at best, a foolish adventure).

Dr. Pellegrino:
   I checked my blog. The term “anti-Christ” was last used by me on my blog in 2004, outside of a citation of someone else in a completely different context. So, I am uncertain what you are referring to. There is surely no question that the claims of those promoting the Talpiot Theory are fundamentally anti-Christian, despite the less-than-accurate attempts to “soften” this in the book and the film. But I would like to know what you are referring to in your above comments.

Francois Bovon and other scholars are still debating the time and place of origin, with regard to certain textural strands that went into the Acts of Philip – and into the canonical Gospels, for that matter.

   There is no comparison, sir, between an analysis of first century documents such as the canonical gospels and the late 4th century Acts of Philip. When you refer to “textual strands,” please be specific. Are you referring solely to literary parallels, such as Bovon’s tracing the development of the historic Mary Magdalene from the canonical gospels to the mythical one of the gnostics into the even farther removed woman apostle of the Acts of Philip?

It is inaccurate to say that if I disagree with Bovon on interpretation of a piece of evidence, that I negate him, or he negates me. This is simply part of the usual scientific discourse, based always on doubt. What’s unusual here, is that the points and counter-points are being debated in a fish bowl, with the press looking on and with people of either religious or anti-religious agendas cherry-picking quotes from scientific discourse. The same exact thing is happening with the NASA-ESA Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons.

   I’m sorry, but the process of evaluation of the merits of ancient documents is far removed, in form and substance, from the Cassini mission outside of the presence of humans with their agendas. In any case, Bovon is not disagreeing on an interpretation. He is correcting a misinterpretation and misuse of his words. When the film presents him saying Mary Magdalene is Mariamne, the use by the film and book is, according to repeated statements made by Dr. Bovon (statements consistent with his published writings made prior to the film), inaccurate and misleading. Yet, without that connection (which the book admits is the linchpin), I see no means of rescuing the entire theory. This identification is the heart of the argument.
   So, what I’m saying is this: Dr. Bovon’s identification is literary only, and has never been meant to be used as a support for a historical claim about the woman, Mary Magdalene, mentioned in the canonical gospels. Yet, the book and film use his identification as a basis for a tremendous number of claims and a mountain worth of speculation. Yet, the vast majority of this speculation and assertion runs directly counter to first century sources. In essence, in your book and in the film, the Acts of Philip is not only given equal provenance with the canonical gospels, it is given superior provenance. Yet, as surely you know, there is no comparison between these documents, historically, textually, etc. A thousand years separates the earliest manuscript of the Acts of Philip we possess from its writing, yet P52 is barely 30 years removed from the time of the origination of its original (the Gospel of John). But beyond this, the very nature of the Acts of Philip differs fundamentally from the canonical gospels as well, and it does so in the very context that is most important to historical inquiry and utilization.
   What I’m saying, Dr. Pellegrino, is that on every level important to historical inquiry, the Acts of Philip, as a literary work, is irrelevant to the identification of first century ossuary inscriptions. I find it hard to believe that many will defend the idea that such a work, so far removed temporally, geographically, and linguistically, from Jerusalem in the shadow of the Roman legions, can stand up to the weight being placed upon it by yourself and the others promoting the Talpiot Theory.
   I wonder, Dr. Pellegrino, if you have read Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham?

Away from analogy, and back to ancient texts: My work at Herculaneum and at other extraordinarily well preserved first century AD Roman sites yields the overwhelming impression that people were not living under our usual “Dark Age” assumption of widespread illiteracy. In Herculaneum, even slaves were quite often educated. Being able to read and write appears to have been more rule, than exception. This would probably have been even more so in Jewish communities. From Pompeii’s Number 11 House, we even have prayers, dating to AD 79 or earlier, and praising “Maria,” the mother of Jesus.

   I would tend to agree, though you will find many, like John Dominic Crossan, firmly wedded to a very illiterate population as a whole in Judea. Be that as it may, I wonder if you have considered that this observation alone undercuts a large portion of the current scholarship upon which, it seems, your theory is dependent in reference to the marginalization of the canonical gospels? That is, the very late dating of the gospels, the completely “oral” nature of the nebulous “tradition” to which many scholars appeal (contra the compelling evidence provided by Bauckham noted above) are all based upon your own assertion here not being true. So, if it is the case that people were more literate than many assume, would it not likewise follow that the wholesale editing, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses of the life and ministry of Jesus, of the apostolic proclamation and message–an assumption so prevalent in modern scholarship–would be the exact opposite of what you would expect to find? But this cannot be true, for that would completely close the door on the entirety of your own theory, which requires one to view the gospels as seriously misleading, edited, compromised documents. So I again wonder if you are applying the same standards to the sources upon which you are dependent that you apply to the canonical gospels?
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