In my last post I went through and showed the breathtakingly poor arguments of Ralph Ellis who argues, among other things, is that Jesus was a descendant of Cleopatra, was the king of Edessa, and was exiled to Britain by the Romans to become King Arthur. There I showed how in a single paragraph of his book that his ideas were so full of wrong that it is hard to imagine it was accidental. However, the one person that didn’t see it that way was Mr. Ellis, who left a long comment for that blog entry. Ellis has also been leaving plenty of comments elsewhere across the Internet, including in Amazon review pages (of a book he did not read) and other people’s blogs. So when it comes to critical responses, he is asking for it. And why not give it to him? 😉
So, I’m going to respond to his comment and show that his bankrupt methods continue to make him make even more mistakes and look all the more foolish.
He starts off claiming I critiqued his work by reading and studying blogs, implying I haven’t done by homework. Considering every point of criticism I made (besides attacking his bullying tactics) was based on what he wrote in his books, points that no one else had brought up, probably because they were still laughing about other things too much, that bluster is without merit. His talk about me in the third person is also odd; this is my blog, so why write as if people don’t know who this “Aaron Adair” is? Minor thing, but strange to me nonetheless.
On to more substantial points (supposing he has any), Ellis doesn’t see the point of why Jesus being king of Edessa is so odd considering what we are told in the Gospels about him.
Do you think that people did not travel in the 1st century. Indeed, since both Acts of the Apostles and the Doctrine of Addai state that there were ambassadors shuttling between Edessa (Antioch) and Jerusalem, and since it was the Queen of Edessa who furnished the Temple of Jerusalem, I think there are many links between the two regions. Indeed, in the guise of King Izas of Adiabene, it was the king of Edessa who fomented and prosecuted the Jewish Revolt, and was captured after the siege of Jerusalem.
So do tell us in what way Edessa is NOT linked and related to Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, Ellis doesn’t understand plenty and shows even more of his fantastical ideas of the ancient world. First, the logic is simply not there. There were connections between the king in Edessa and Jerusalem. And that matters why? How does having connections between two regions means that a foreign territory rules another? Besides, there were also connections between Rome and Jerusalem; Judea was directly under Roman control, there were Christians in Rome (see Paul’s letter to said Christians), and the city becomes extremely important in the future of Christianity. By Ellis’ logic, being connected to Jerusalem is good reason to think the leader of that nation is also Jesus since the Edessa king is supposed to be JC; should we then conclude Emperor Tiberius was Jesus? Then again, Ellis’ timeline is hard to unravel, so it could be a lot of other potential Caesars (Nero? Vespasian?). The argument is simply a non-sequitur.
But the evidence for that illogical connection is also revealing. Apparently now the city of Antioch is the same as Edessa? Now, perhaps he is confusing Antiochs, since there are more than one, but considering he mentions Acts of the Apostles, then Antioch on the Orontes River must be meant. And that is far away from the city of Edessa, and it is outside of the boundaries of the kingdom that Edessa runs, Osroene (and Ellis has already conflated Edessa with another city, Arbela). Again, Antioch is on the Orontes River and almost on the Mediterranean coast; Edessa is east of the Euphrates River. Moreover, Antioch was the capitol of the Roman province of Syria at this point in history (no matter which chronology Ellis has come up with), and it was run by a Roman governor. There is no confusing Edessa and Antioch; it would be like confusing New Orleans on the Mississippi River and Austin on the Colorado River (and if you’re not sure you’re in Texas, there is a test for that). So both Ellis’ facts and logic are quite off.
Moving on, Ellis then thinks my point against Jesus being sent into exile rather than executed by the Roman authorities is mistaken. He brings up a defeated British chieftain, Caratacus, who after his defeat at the hands of the Romans was brought to the eternal city and was liberated (our main source here is Tacitus, Annals 12 and Cassius Dio, RH 60-1). But the tale we are told about him is that he was brought to Rome with the intention of being killed, not simply exiled as Ellis wants. Moreover, the reason Caratacus lived was because he knew what to do: lick boot. With some great platitudes about Rome and its people, he was pardoned and lived the rest of his life in Rome (and was not sent back home as Ellis said). And this is hardly the norm. For example, the leader of the last uprising of the Helvetii, Julius Alpinus, was captured and executed. Closer to the region of interest, bar Kokhba didn’t get any special favors from Rome, and instead he and all the defenders in the fortress of Betar were slain. So, if the analogy is supposed to hold, then Jesus had to also brown nose the emperor or be off with his head. Also, Jesus would be sent to Rome, not Britain, as the analogy goes. (For future reference, perhaps Ellis should consider the fate of Antiochus IV of Commagene. I’m so nice; am I not merciful?)
However, there are also two points that make Ellis’ analogy all the worse. First, it is premised on Ellis’ theory that Jesus was a king, namely of Edessa. Since that is, at the very least, suspect, then we have to believe Jesus would have been seen like any other rebel, such as Theudas, Judas the Galilean, and the unnamed Egyptian, all of whom Josephus tells us about and how they had some rather nasty ends because of their opposition to Rome. More important, I also pointed out with dripping sarcasm that we have some sources that say Jesus wasn’t exiled or pardoned, but instead was crucified and died. Mark 15 has Pontius Pilate note Jesus’ fast death, and the Gospel of John includes a spear in Jesus’ side to make sure he was super-dead. Now, we have reason to question the historical reliability of the gospel stories, but we also have to ignore Paul, who is adamant about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after dying on a cross and being buried (see Philippians 2; 1 Corinthians 15). The point is that Ellis has to ignore our sources about what happened to Jesus and pretend something about the Romans being nice to all their vanquished powers that rebelled. So once again, a failure of facts and reasoning.
Now, we move into the world of etymology. First off, Ellis complains about me mistreating his transliteration of the Egyptian word for ‘star’ because hieroglyphs do not act as vowels. While true that many have called Egyptian hieroglyphs an adjab alphabet, that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about pronunciation. So when it came to transliteration of the Egyptian word for ‘star’, I went to more than one dictionary. I linked to two different ones (here and here), neither of which are Wikipedia that Ellis complained about (because we can’t use somewhat reliable Internet sources when we can use Ellis’ linguistic fantasies). I also looked at a classical source, William Budge‘s Egyptian-to-English dictionary. They were all consistent with me. However, Ellis thinks he has a defeater by looking at Coptic. Already a dangerous move considering Coptic developed millennia after the rise of Egypt and has a lot of influence from Greek. But even so, the Coptic word for ‘star’ is not seba or even sba, but siou (spelled sigma-yota-ou-epsilon). Notice there isn’t even a beta; I’m not an expert in this, but this suggests that either the root used in Coptic didn’t have a b-sound, or it was elided with the s-sound, implying that there was not a vowel to space those consonant sounds out. So again Ellis’ derivations are suspect.
Ellis also mentioned how sba will in some cases have a “kite glyph” to denote an ‘a’ at the end of the word. If true (and I cannot find reliable info about a kite glyph in Egyptian writing), it doesn’t matter since I was complaining about a vowel added not to the end of the root but inside the word. Talking about suffixes is simply a red herring. I don’t think he really understands my point, or he refuses to. The point was that he is using an unsupported transliteration of the Egyptian, and he has a word for ‘star’ that has some unexplained suffix (which Ellis doesn’t care to address, so he may not understand he even screwed up).
Now, that was a fair bit of detail to get into there about some vowels, but now Ellis is firing nonsense with all 8 cylinders when he says how Ishtar and the Greek word aster are derived from the goddess Isis. That’s going to be a tough claim, considering the oldest written reference to Isis comes from the Fifth dynasty (25th-24th century BCE), though she may have been a local goddess as early as about 3100 BCE; however, the attributes of the goddess Ishtar are more in connection with Sumerian Inanna who is depicted even earlier, perhaps by as much as a thousand years. To see the connections between Inanna and Ishtar, just observe that first there was the story the Descent of Inanna into the Underworld; then Ishtar has an extremely similar story. Inanna and Ishtar also have a lot of the same iconography, including the eight-pointed star representing Venus. Isis, on the other hand, does not have a story of going into the Underworld, dying, and returning to life; at best, Osiris does something like that. Also, Isis wasn’t associated with Venus but with the star Sirius, an association that lasted even into the Greco-Roman era. Moreover, the linguistic connections between Isis, Ishtar, and aster are just non-existent. I already noted how aster and Ishtar are not even in the same language family; the Egyptian Isis has at least an Afro-Asiatic language name, so it has that much relation with Akkadian Ishtar, but these languages are still more distantly related than English and German.
Moreover, influence is more likely to go in the exact opposite direction from what Ellis wants. Egyptologists have known for a long time that the early Egyptian civilization had been influenced by the Babylonians, including using a lot of their imagery. It wasn’t until later that the Egyptians had developed their own, distinct icons. For a nice history of this and more, see The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson. So once again, the influence that Ellis wants is simply confounded by facts he is apparently unaware of. So much for that independent study.
Oh, and he must have mentioned this to piss me off: he also claims that Isis’ name is the source for the modern word Easter. I already noted how it was nonsense that Easter was related to Ishtar, but now the connection is made even more broken. Ellis, you need to actually learn how linguistics work. You can’t just look at English transliterations and squint.
In this same mess of a paragraph, he also says that Isis is the Queen of Heaven mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18 & 44:15-26. He also claims that my lack of biblical knowledge is something to apologize for. Sorry, but again there is a failure to note context on Ellis’ part. First off, Isis wasn’t known as the Queen of Heaven until the time of Ptolemy I, a general under Alexander the Great. Considering Jeremiah is writing centuries before then, and writing during the Babylonian captivity, it’s more likely he had something else on his mind. Perhaps instead Ishtar? Or how about Yahweh’s consort, a relative of Ishtar? There are plenty more likely possibilities than Isis being the point of reference here. And do I really also have to get into the Queen of Sheba? Best we can tell, Sheba is a region in Arabia, and has nothing to do with Egypt. Again, another false lead because Ellis doesn’t want to do real research and linguistic analysis.
Next up is some red herring about Mary Magdalene and water deities from Egypt. I think Ellis was trying to respond to the scholarship I brought out to show the etymology of the name ‘Ishtar’, but somehow in his ranting he forgot to even address it. And to repeat that point: Ishtar’s name has nothing to do with stars; it was never a viable option to linguists. So, what is there for me to respond to? However, he still trips over himself when he’s not even dealing with my point by screwing up who the Star of the Sea was. That was not a title for Mary Magdalene but for the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The connection between Mary and the Stella Maris is also based on a typo absorbed by Jerome in the 5th century. Several levels of fail here, and none of it even an attempt to rebut me. This is like watching a boxing match with the Three Stooges, but with more slap-stick. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.
In the next disaster of a paragraph, Ellis wants Aphrodite to be a derivative of Isis. Again, it would help if he actually looked at some scholarship. There has been some good work done in figuring out the origins of Aphrodite, and she seems to be another relative of Ishtar, not Isis (Miroslav Marcovich, “From Ishtar to Aphrodite” Journal of Aesthetic Education 30.2, Special Issue: Distinguished Humanities Lectures II [Summer 1996]: 43-59; Stephanie Lynn Budin, The Origin of Aphrodite ). But Ellis wants to connect Aphrodite to Isis because the former is born of foam. When was Isis born that way? I don’t get it. Perhaps he means a water connection? And again, there is the attempt to make Isis and the planet Venus/the morning star connected. Again, Isis’ star was Sirius, which would have its heliacal rising at about the time the Nile would start to flow strongly again and fertilize crop land. It wasn’t until much later that the Egyptians even connected the morning star and evening star as the same object (something the Sumerians had done millennia before); and when the Egyptians did learn about the singular object we call Venus during the New Kingdom, they associated it the soul of Osiris and not Isis (M. F. McDonald, “Phoenix Redivivus”, Phoenix 14, 4 [Winter 1960]: 196-7). Again, not a single fact is in favor of Ellis’ speculations.
Enough with Isis for now. Let’s move on to Zoroaster. Ellis thinks that Zoroaster and Zoroastra are equivalent and perfectly fine. Um, no. One is just made up and a feminine version of the original Greek transliteration (Ζωροάστρης). Making shit up doesn’t make it true. Same thing when you claim that we don’t know what the second root to Zarathustra’s name means; as I indicated, it is universally agreed that –ustra means ‘camel’. It does not mean star, and it is easy to show that. Let’s actually look at some Persian words for ‘star’. In the Avestan language, which was used for the oldest Zoroastrian literature, the word is staro; in Middle Persian (Pahlavi), it is starag; in modern Persian (Farsi), it’s setare. In other words, no connection to –ustra. But the root does mean camel in Avestan. Sorry, but even an amateur like me can tell which of the possibilities is more likely.
After that Ellis questions my honesty in presenting his views, because I claimed Ellis said Zoroaster/Zoroastra was a god. Is that really so? Well, here’s the quote from his book:
[A]nd so we find references to gods and goddess called Astarte, Ashtoreth, Ishtar, and Zoroastra…
King Jesus, p. 120-1
So no, I’m not putting words in his mouth; he really does claim Zoroaster was a god. Ellis either just don’t remember what he wrote or he is terrible at communicating his ideas. Or both. In general, there is an incredible collection of incompetence. Mr. Ellis, why are you commenting on my critique of your book if you haven’t read your book? (*evil grin*) So you should be careful to not impugn me and insult Tom when you clearly don’t even know what you made up! I think that I have an apology coming.
Now, on to ester/Esther. Ellis claims, using a Hebrew-English lexicon, the name comes from the Persian for ‘star’, and I am wrong when it comes to what I suggested another possible root meaning of the name. Ellis probably should be careful using resources from a century ago, especially before the advent of Old Testament minimalism and the realization that much of the OT is not historically all that great. Old info can reflect old assumptions, and that is potentially the case here. So take a look at the Oxford Bible Commentary on the Book of Esther. It mentions a few possibilities of the origin of the name of Esther, including a hypothetical Median word astra meaning ‘myrtle’, which is what Esther’s Hebrew name (Hadassah) means. The Persian derivation from stara seems weak and more likely had legs in the past because of the assumptions of the historicity of the story of Esther, so she had to have taken a proper Persian name. However, the Book of Esther is more in the category of the ancient Jewish novel, especially the Greek additions to it, and one needs to understand the way the story was crafted before interpreting anything in it. As I noted in my last post, I favor the Esther/Isthar connection because of another name in use in the story, Mordecai, from Marduk. In the Babylonian pantheon, Ishtar and Marduk are cousins, and the same relationship exists between Esther and Mordecai. That seems to be too much coincidence, and it has rabbinic support (b. Megilla 13a). Thrown in Esther and the sex contest, and you get another connection between her and Ishtar (who had some raunchy stories of intimacy; think of it as the more direct version of what is said in the Song of Solomon). That is at least suggestive, and I think it helps to indicate the purpose of the author.
Now, this is actually beside the point, because the name of Esther is not the source of all the other names from the Ancient Near East for ‘star’. In Persian it is it a different word (see above). Even if the name of Esther is derived from Persian, it is just that, derived, not the root. Heck, that is what his own source even says. You can’t claim ester is the root of all words related to ‘star’ with a source that said it is derivative. Sorry, but straight-out FAIL.
Moving from Esther, Ellis claims to have been resurrected.
So did Lazarus rise from the dead.
So have I been raised from the dead.
And if you still have not twigged as to the meaning, then go down to your local Masonic Temple and ask them what it is all about.
Um, does he mean a spiritual rebirth? Since he seems to parallel his experience to that of Lazarus, I’m getting the impression he means bodily resuscitation. I cannot comment on his experiences without info, so I will try and not make him seem highly imaginative without more insight. But really, this is a dodge from what I said about Paul and earlier Christianity Paul was not the first Christian, and Paul tells us so, giving a list of many people that saw the resurrected Jesus before him.
However, Ellis does finally get an attempt to justify himself in claiming a plethora of Christian groups existed very early on, but it’s another mess. He says Paul was of a different sect than that of Jesus, the latter known as a Nazarene. Well, considering how much he trusts the Acts of the Apostles, then he should know that Paul is also said to be a Nazarene (Acts 24:5)! Also, Acts has the story of Peter giving up on having to eat kosher, so that makes Peter a founder of Gentile-friendly Christianity before Paul did. And no scholar of Christian origins and development would call the Torah-observant sects of the early church(es) not Christian; there were Christianities, and of some amazing diversity as well. And if you don’t include Torah-based Christians, then what is up with the Gospel of Matthew? Is this not a Christian document? Is Ellis going to claim that book pre-dates Paul/Saul/Josephus? Every attempt to fix a mistake not only fails to get the point but adds even more layers of wrong. And this wall of shame has too many layers of paint now; it’s starting to peel off.
Turning to the life of Paul, Ellis claims that the story of Paul escaping from the ethnarch that ran Damascus under Aretas IV was “one of the most obvious interpolations in the N.T.” Amazing how he is so matter-of-fact when I know of absolutely no scholarship to back that up, nor do I see any indications that it interrupts the letter. Besides, the story is basically retold in the Acts of the Apostles. So is he doubting both sources, including the one that he usually does trust? Then again, I won’t be surprised if and when Ellis argues that Damascus is actually a pun on San Francisco and Jesus and Paul were gold-rush miners.
When it comes to Paul’s connection to Gamaliel, Ellis ignores the point that he blatantly contradicted himself from one book to another. Ralph, you can’t have Gamaliel dead in 50 and still alive in 66 CE. Pick a side, we’re at war! As for Paul being not too young given Ellis’ alleged birth year of 37 CE for Paul, Ellis has become very gullible in believing the child prodigy stories of Jesus and Josephus. When Josephus says how he was so smart at age 14 and everyone wanted to hear his opinions about matters of Law, there are two possible responses: bullshit or, well, no, there’s only one real possibility. Josephus is doing much to inflate his credentials. Hardly an unknown practice in the ancient world. Does anyone believe that a bunch of bees landed on the mouth of baby Plato to make his speech full of charm (Cicero, On Divination 1.36)? Now, if we consider real-world education in antiquity, we would not expect a 12-year-old to be a student of advanced interpretation of Jewish Law. At this age Paul/Saul would have more likely be learning his letters from a grammaticus, and after that even more work in rhetoric. Considering his ability to write, he definitely had a good education on that front. If he also had to learn a craft as a tent-maker (cf. Acts 18:3), then even more time away from learning exegesis; students of the Law were also supposed to have these sorts of hands-on skills, then go into study and practice of Law. As for ages, consider that rabbi Akiba was around 40 when he began to attend the academy. Similarly, Hillel was about 40 when he started his study of exegesis. That suggests rather well that no 12-year-old from Tarsus was learning biblical exegesis under Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
Before moving on, Ellis is impressed by the parallels between the story of Paul and Jesus and the story of the life of Josephus. Could it be because they are the same person? Well, there may be a simpler answer: Steven Mason and other scholars of Luke/Acts and Josephus have argued, persuasively in my opinion, than Luke is using the works of Josephus as a source (cf. here). So the parallels that Ellis sees can be rather nicely explained without the more incredible hypothesis, not to mention the one that contradicts so much more. That is, assuming his parallels exist; I’ll leave that to others for consideration, but either way there is an infinitely more plausible hypothesis than Ellis’.
Now, returning to Jesus, Ellis says that he does believe that Jesus was both a descendant of King David as well as of Persian lineage. I just had to read even more of his drivel to realize that. There was a queen Thea Muse Ourania, who was of the line of David as well as Egyptian (because for Ellis, all the pharaohs of Egypt were Jews), and she was sent by Caesar Augustus to become the Persian queen under Phraates IV. She later was kicked out in 4 CE and set up shop in Edessa to form a new dynasty of sorts with a Persian/Davidic lineage. And because of that, the Magi from Matthew 2 would have been interested in Jesus’ birth, and Herod would have worried about this birth.
So to defend his position, Ellis lays this turd of speculation, and please don’t ask me to shine it up. There is plenty wrong here besides the gross speculation. There is no evidence that Muse moved to Edessa, and in 4 CE there was someone else running Edessa, Abgar V. Then again, Ellis conflates several king Abgars into one person (it’s a trap), and that into Jesus, so I don’t know what in Seven Hells is going on here in Ellis’ imaginary history. Moreover, that the journey of Muse to Edessa in 4 CE worried Herod the Great is doubly stupid. One: Edessa is not in Judea. It’s outside of Herod’s dominion, even when Herod was procurator for Syria. Two: Herod was dead no later that Passover in 4 BCE. There is as much logic here as there is in believing that George Washington worried about the birth of Hugo Chavez (or is he Jesus, too?).
And if Ellis is going to be alright with the Magi story, does that mean he also believes that a magical star floated about, led the Magi to Bethlehem and stood over a particular house? Oh, and note that is Bethlehem of Judea, not Edessa. So, is Ralph going to support magic as well as bogus etymologies and geographies? I wouldn’t put it past him.
So, I really have to get a kick out of it when Ellis says this:
What is there in this theory that detracts from the established story? Indeed, this theory explains things that were previously inexplicable, like why Herod was afraid of this birth of a ‘lowly carpenter’ !!
What detracts from the story? How about doing real historical analysis? My book on the Star of Bethlehem coming out later this year (plug, plug, plug) will show what everyone in biblical studies has known for a long time: the story is, at best, hagiography, fitting into the stereotypes of the birth of the hero, and especially emulating the birth story of Moses. So why was Herod afraid of the birth of a baby? Because that is what the author wanted him to be and fit the Pharaoh/Moses typology. Or more generally, the Rank/Raglan hero pattern.
So, I think I have gone through every relevant points Mr. Ellis made in his long comment. And not only does he fail to show a single error on my part, he multiplies his own, making his theory even more untenable. The arguments from Ellis are basically how we define the Dunning-Kruger effect.