In case you haven’t been keeping up, I recently went into critiquing the views of independent “scholar” Ralph Ellis who believes, among other things, Jesus was King Arthur, that he was the king of Edessa, that the events of the Gospels take place decades after the time they describe, that all pharaohs were Jews, and Jesus was a descendant of Cleopatra. Now, that sounds like a lot of odd conclusions, but the premises he uses are perhaps equally outlandish, and every engagement adds more twists of nonsense.
He recently responded to me, but first, a round-up of posts on the subject:
- Tom Verenna first criticizes an article about Ellis’ arguments and conclusions. Note that he was looking at an article, not any of Ellis’ books. This is important because Ellis has been adamant that Tom is inappropriately reviewing his book yet having not read it.
- Ellis responds to Tom, and even more criticism from Tom comes on down. This includes showing how Ellis conflates more than one king named Abgar together, along with Jesus, though he also confuses the matter even more so by using coinage on the cover of his book by an even later Abgar, though Ellis wants to use the iconography of that coin to show Jesus is actually at least one Abgar.
- Steven Caruso also gets in on the action, showing how the etymologies Ellis relies on show a very poor understanding of Aramaic.
- After some back-and-forth on Steve’s blog, comments are deleted because of issues of tone and language, which becomes rich given how the negative remarks by Ellis also carry with them even more stretched etymologies. Some of Steve’s remarks are at Tom’s blog. Ellis also has the conversation up at his blog, but Steve states that the conversation have been edited to make Ellis look less bitter.
- Tom takes another swing at Ellis’ claims, showing how even at the most basic levels he is tripping over the languages he is trying to manipulate. Ellis, for example, doesn’t know how to use the final sigma in Greek, even though sometimes he gets it right. Ellis claims that the problem was with the publisher, but considering sometimes he has the final sigma correctly used and sometimes not, this explanation is far-fetched. Plenty other elementary issues of classical language are pointed out along the way, of which Ellis must be wholly unaware.
- We learn that Ellis has been harassing Tom, including leaving libelous claims and links on blogs and at Amazon. Ellis has also been emailing Tom’s colleagues in Bible studies, stating how Tom is not a real scholar and somehow has multiple online personas. Friends of Tom, fortunately, have little time for this sort of ad hominem trash, so Ellis is either laughed out or banned. You can see examples of this from Joel Watts, James McGrath (here and here), Rod from Political Jesus, etc.
- Obviously, it’s not a fair fight, but I next get into the action because I want to also show what’s bunk in Ellis’ books as well as show that cyber-bullying is unacceptable and can be made ineffective. I look a lot into the strange etymological arguments used by Ellis, and find a single paragraph with more things wrong with it than should be wrong in any article that even passes peer review. Daniel McClellan also chimes in, agreeing with me and Steve about the oddity of Ellis’ etymologies, and he provides other points to consider.
- What’s left is a variety of responses at more of the complaints from Ellis, including from Tom, Daniel, and me. Along the way, Ellis finds himself banned from various blogging venues because of his treatment of others, not least of his continued libels against Tom.
So, to really break down what is happening, Mr. Ellis is an outsider trying to argue that just about everyone in academia is wrong, and he feels criticism of his ideas are a form of political repression. The Galileo card is obviously played. Steve best summarized it with a picture:
And I have to say, after all of this, I’d much rather look at Internet memes and movies than continue this. But one again, Ellis left a long comment at the end of my last critical blog post, though before I had told him it would be more productive if he made smaller comments to address particular points. However, it seems he needs the space because for each point he will try to counter with another improbable hypothesis, though this argument is newly emerging in the conversation and does not follow from the previous evidences given. In other words, it looks more and more like he makes stuff up as he has gone along to create his chimera of history.
I will go through the points he makes, but I ought to highlight first the new yet flabbergasting theses he proposes to make his ideas “credible.”
- Jesus had buttered-up general (and then emperor) Vespasian so he wouldn’t be killed, and he assigned the Star Prophecy (Numbers 24:17) to Vespasian. Odd considering this is what Josephus was supposed to have done; are Josephus and Jesus now the same person?
- The Kebra Nagast, a late medieval document, gives the real scoop on the Queen of Sheba, proving she came from Thebes; she was also the Queen of Heaven thus also an incarnation of Isis, and thus everything culturally derives from Egypt.
- Renaissance art (namely from Botticelli) proves that Mary Magdalene was Aphrodite/Venus/Morning Star/Isis. (Dan Brown, please don’t use this in a book.)
- The entire biblical monarchy (who are also Egyptians, mind you) is related to stars; same with the Parthians and Edessans. I am so surprised he hasn’t cited Acharya S. at this point.
- Saul/Paul/Josephus wrote Antiquities, War of the Jews, his biography (Vita), and the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles (all of them in the NT? all of Paul’s? does he include the pseudonymous ones like Titus?), as well as elements of the Talmud (whatever that means). It looks like he read the crazed ideas of Joseph Atwill, who argued it was Josephus who wrote all the NT as a joke on the Jews making them worship Emperor Titus. I’ll let Bob Price explain why that is nonsense, in case you thought otherwise.
Each one of these theses Ellis needs to support his arguments, and none are obviously true and probably false. And considering after every iteration of discussion, Ellis will either deny what is said or claim yet another thesis or interpretation that is at best dubious. At this point, I find more credible the obviously factual Adventures of Kim Jong Un.
Things are ridiculous, and what is worse is that Ralph has also been disingenuous in dealing with my points. I will show this as I go through. Moreover, in his attacks on me he has questioned my honesty, and when I showed him how we was wrong he does nothing to apologize and instead insulted me. For that, I am placing his responses into the spam filter.
Ralph, if you are reading this, you will not be allowed to post here until you apologize for calling me a liar when you agree you were mistaken (the situation I will explain below). Moreover, you have continued to lay flawed personal attacks at Tom here, not to mention elsewhere. For that you also need to apologize to Tom before you can post here further. You were warned, and you have seen similar responses to your libel, such as at Joel’s blog. You have had enough opportunity to stop, so you will be stopped until you make amends.
First, let me talk about what ground my gears up to at least temporarily block Ellis. In my first blog post on him, I said he called the prophet Zoroaster a god, getting his name wrong along the way. Not only did Ellis claim he didn’t get the name wrong by the power of denial, he also said he never claimed Zoroaster was a god, and I was being dishonest:
And where do I say that Zoroastra is a god? Please show us. Apologies please. You cannot simply make up criticisms out of thin air, like Verenna does. It is unprofessional and it makes you look foolish, not me.
So he libeled both me and Tom as liars. I then showed that in fact he did just that, putting Zoroaster into a list of other gods. He has now in his most recent long comment said it was “one mistake”, and he explains how this mistake in his book happened:
I usually differentiate between the line of goddesses and the line of monarchs like Esther. In this case, Zoroastra is in the wrong list. But since I only mention Zoroastra in passing – perhaps a total of half a page on this subject within two whole books – you are grasping at error-straws here.
What you won’t see here is an apology of calling me a liar and making things up. Instead, he further insults me as grasping at straws because I focused on his claim that I made things up. Sorry, Ralph, but insulting the person you should be apologizing to is a great way to make sure you don’t communicate with people. Make amends; until then, you are banned here.
(And it doesn’t help your case when you still spell Zoroaster’s Greek name wrong.)
So now I will go through Ellis’ statements. Along the way, I will point out more of either misreadings or deceptions in Ellis’ response to me. If fact, one doesn’t need to go far at all. Right at the beginning Ellis says that I was denying there was a connection between the kingdom run from Edessa and Judea. I simply did not; I said that just because there are connections does not mean someone ruling from Edessa is also someone that rules in Judea. I gave the example of Rome; there are tons of connections between Rome and Jerusalem, and Rome did rule Judea or chose who did rule there; Edessa cannot compete with Rome, and if that was doubted, one only needs to look to the several legions in Syria alone to make sure no one messed with Texas, I mean Rome.
Ellis also claims that because the Queen of Edessa, Helena, had the largest tomb in Jerusalem and financed the Temple, therefore Edessa had political control of the region. That is amazingly illogical. Again, Judea was either directly ruled by Rome or was ruled by a client king at this time. For example, Herod the Great was a client king, being in the good graces of the emperor. His son Archelaus ruled after his father, but in 6 CE he was booted out and his tetrarchy came under direct Roman control. It is in this period that we have prefects like Pontius Pilate keeping the order with the region under the larger governorship of the legate of Syria. After back and forth, the Holy Land would be under client kingdom status with another descendant of Herod the Great, Agrippa II. Notice that all of this is done by the Roman powers, either the emperor or the legate of Syria. Edessa at this time was not part of the discussion as it wasn’t even part of a Roman province. So any royal sending money for religious purposes or helping the hungry isn’t giving anyone political sway there.
In fact, Ellis shows he knows better when he says that “a foreign territory (Edessa) was indeed trying to rule another (Judaea).” If Edessa was “trying” to rule Judea, then that means it actually didn’t rule Judea. Simple logic; you don’t try to obtain what you already have.
Next up, I complained that it was difficult to unravel Ellis’ chronology of things. This is in part because he wants to move all the events of the Gospels to the 50s and 60s CE, and he also contradicts himself on the dating of things, such as Gamaliel’s death (I’ll be getting to that as well). In the process of stating that his chronology is rather easy to understand, he also claimed that Barabbas from Mark 15 was also a revolutionary with Jesus. Where does it say that in our ancient records? It certainly isn’t in the Annals of Tacitus; it must comes from the Anals of Ellis.
Now, we get into the conflation of the city of Antioch and that of Edessa. Now, Edessa was called for a time called Antioch by the Callirhoe, but this was only during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV (d. 164 BCE) as seen on coinage in that period (see Segal, Edessa: The Blessed City, p. 6). Ellis cites Pliny’s Natural History, but even Pliny agrees; he says that Edessa was formerly called Antioch (see ibid.). In other words, no one was calling the city of Edessa ‘Antioch’ anymore, at least in the first century. And a good thing to, considering there were many towns named ‘Antioch’, though one was particularly important. Other names for Edessa have their own, separate history, so the brief use of ‘Antioch’ for the city was over a century before the events of the NT (two centuries given Ellis’ chronology) and was out of use. You won’t find it on the coins of Edessa; you can check that out, starting here.
Now, to avoid this, Ellis decides to rely on someone else, in this case Robert Eisenman. After quoting him, Ellis asks if I “presume to criticize Prof Robert Eisenman.” Considering how Ellis is willing to question the whole consensus of scholarship, he reliance on a single scholar as fully trustworthy for such a claim is laughably hypocritical. In fact, as all things in the sciences have to be critically evaluated, so also in biblical and historical studies. Everything and everyone has to go through critical appraisal. And Eisenman’s claims are no less immune from a critical look. (Considering that Ellis’ also says that Eisenman is not open-minded enough, his love of his scholarship here in this case is a ruse.)
So how does Eisenman come to his conclusions? He is primarily relying on much less reliable sources, such as Moses of Chorene (5th century), and Daniel talks about some of the issues we know we have with him as a source. In fact, at this time when the Roman Empire was falling apart, our historical records in general become very bad, and it has aggravated historians for a long time, especially when they want to know why Rome fell. The only source Eisenman uses that is at least close to the time of early Christianity is one line from Acts 15:23 (I’m looking at Eisenman’s Jesus, the Brother of Jesus). In there, James produces a letter to be sent to “those in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia”, thus implying that Antioch is not in Syria. This is exceedingly weak. Could it not be emphasizing Antioch on the Orontes because it is the largest and most important city in all of the region of Syria? Besides, the author of Acts will be more specific about which Antioch is meant; for example, Acts 13:14 names Antioch in Pisidia.
But which Antioch does the author of Acts mean? Antioch on the Orontes has the greatest prior probability because it was the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire, was very wealthy, and was the seat of one of the most coveted governorships in the empire. But details from Acts will force us to keep with it rather than, say Edessa; prior and posterior probabilities strongly favor the famous metropolis. For example, in Acts 14:24-26, we have described a trip Paul took through Asia Minor. After leaving Attalia, which is on the southern coast of modern Turkey, Paul “sails back” to Antioch. This would have been impossible from Attalia to Edessa on the Euphrates (unless Paul went about the Horn of Africa, up the Persian Gulf, and then up the Euphrates), but it makes perfect sense of going to Antioch, which is a bit up the Orontes River that flows in the Mediterranean Sea. Seleucia Pieria would act as the port to Antioch. That port town is mentioned in Acts 13:4, from which Paul went to Cyprus. In the verses above, we see the plan to take off to various locales, and that planning was done in Antioch. Immediately then we are told of Paul using Seleucia to get to Cyprus. From this, it is crystal clear that Antioch on the Orontes was meant. It is also were, later, we would have Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, go from to be executed, so we know there was an important church there. It is also the most likely place the Gospel of Matthew was written. There is thus no plausible way to read the earliest evidence otherwise. Later authors with weak knowledge of the past and with the destruction of so much of the Roman intellectual superstructures with the collapse of the West and the survival throes of the Eastern Roman Empire, not to mention centuries of textual mishandling, we cannot use these less reliable, more removed sources to undo what we have in the more reliable sources.
(Ellis does try to use another argument about Agabus from Acts 11:28, but that person is said to be a prophet, not the king of Edessa named Abgar. But let me make this clear: Agabus =/= Abgar; prophet =/= king. Eisenman, in the article Ellis links, gets the connection there simply because he prefers it!)
Now, above I mentioned that, according to Ellis, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but he was taken down and survived by the efforts of Josephus; oh, and Jesus was also the Edessan king, so it was a king of Edessa that was crucified that Josephus then helped bring down off the cross. Now, how do we know one of the people Josephus helped save from dying on the cross was the Edessan king? Two things, Jack and Shit, and Jack left town. And this actually relates to how terrible a case Ellis has. His primary premise to combine Jesus with (a) king Abgar(s) is simply based on nothing but hot air, which he thinks is “axiomatic“. Unfortunately, Ellis doesn’t know what axiomatic means. ‘Axiomatic’ means it is a worthy starting premise, that it is effectively self-evident to all rational people. In math, one axiom is A + B = B + A where A and B are any real numbers. It seems so obviously true it’s almost impossible to question. But instead for Ellis, his conclusion is the premise of the argument and is probably false. At best he is being circular.
Speaking of circles, it’s now time to get well into the King Arthur connection with JC. According to Ellis, after Jesus was taken down from the cross (and having not died, unlike what all early Christians believed, including Paul), he was pardoned and lived in Rome. Later Vespasian sent him all the way to Britain to be as far away as possible from the lands he used to rule. Now, there aren’t any sources for Jesus being there, and you would think medieval scholars like the Venerable Bede would have noted if Jesus have spent that sort of time in England. However, Ellis looks at the fort of Deva, now in Chester, which was built up and had a temple constructed there in the mid to late 70s. And Ellis believes this temple was for Jesus because it was dedicated to the the Zodiac and in particular the sign of Pisces, the fish. And because of early Christian use of the fish, then the temple must have been for the exiled Jesus.
The (ab)use of Pisces for connecting to Jesus has a long history, but this is a bit unique. So first off, what is the reason most historians give for the use of the fish symbol for Christianity (that same symbol you see on cars)? In Greek, the word is ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ), that this becomes an acronym for the title of Jesus: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior (Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ). In other words, nothing astrological. Ellis in Jesus: King of Edessa, p. 45, claims that the real reason Pisces is the sign of the Christians is because in around 10 CE precession moved the vernal equinox from Aries to Pisces, leading to a new astrological age. This is highly dubious for several reasons. One is that there isn’t any good evidence that precession was a well-known phenomenon among the public. It was discovered first by Hipparchus in the 2nd century BCE, and it has been used by some to explain the Mithras cult, though Roger Beck has shown that the idea of precession explaining the cult is rather anachronistic. Moreover, the date that is figured for when the crossover happened is forced. Though I have had my disagreements with Michael Molnar, his book on the Star of Bethlehem has some good discussion about the location of the vernal equinox, and at about the time of Jesus’ birth it was at about 5 degrees within Aries. Since it takes a bit less than a century for the vernal equinox to move one degree, this isn’t going to be happening in the lifetime of the earliest Christians. You can see the level of disagreement among modern astrologers for the beginning and ends of astrological ages on the Wiki page. And before we forget, there is nothing in ancient records that showed precession had some great astrological meaning to the ancients, let alone to religious cultists.
But with this temple, would using a fish symbol even necessarily have anything to do with Christianity? Astrological constellations were used for things other than religious proclamations. For example, the coinage of Antioch on the Orontes would put the sign Aries above the city goddess Tyche. I have been looking into why this is, and best guess I have is that it was in April that Antioch was founded by Seleucus in 300 BCE, and then the Sun was in Aries. Other cities had different signs, including Pisces for Alexandria. Capricorn was also on the coins of Augustus. So having a zodiacal sign isn’t going to be telling enough; Pisces could be about Christians, or it could be about the founding date of the temple or fort.
But is there actual Christian iconography, or is it pagan? Instead, according to this book about Roman-era Chester, the temple was dedicated to the Roman pantheon of twelve gods (p. 82). In fact, I find no evidence for anything to do with the zodiac in this building at all. More importantly, there are no undisputed Christian symbols, such as the cross. So how does Ellis come to say this temple was dedicated to Pisces? Because of the shape of the building, forming what is known as the vesica piscis. There is a lot of New Age things attached to this, but Ellis provides no ancient evidence at all that this structure had any astrological meaning to the Romans. Then again, the archaeological reports of the semi-elliptical building do not say that it has the shape of a vesica piscis.
Now, why is that? Perhaps because the shape is not a vesica piscis! To form that shape, you need two circles of equal radius with each of their centers on the perimeter of the other circle. I can tell that this building doesn’t fit that shape with my mathematical knowledge. When you have a construction like this, joining the centers of the circles and either point of intersection of the perimeters of the circle will form an equilateral triangle. This was the first thing proved in Euclid’s Elements, and I remember doing this proof in geometry class. So, if an equilateral triangle is formed, that means that if I measure across the thin part of this building, that distance should be the same as from the side of the wall to either point where the doors are. You can check to see that it doesn’t work; the building is too wide. On p. 438 of Jesus: King of Edessa, Ellis also provides a picture with the circles, and you can easily tell that the center of one circle does not lie on the perimeter of the other circle. So no wonder the archaeological records don’t say anything about this shape; it isn’t actually there. And given how good Roman architecture was in the last first century, we know if the Romans wanted to, they could have made a vesica piscis.
How large of an error is this? Is it small? This can easily be measured. Since we know about the equilateral triangles that a vesica piscis would form, we know that the ratio between the length and width of that shape is the square root of 3 (about 1.73). The ratio of the building here, based on measures of the best blow-up of the building I found, had a ratio of 1.29. This gives an error from an actual vesica piscis of about 25.4%. That is a huge error for a design based on simple geometry, so we can be certain the Romans were not incorporating this bit of geometry into the building. And with this element of Ellis’ thesis gone, his only “solid” connection between Jesus and Britain disappears, all gone with just a little bit of math.
(And y’all thought you’d never use proofs from geometry in the real world. 😉 )
Alright, enough math for now. Let’s get back to historical BS. Ellis also claims that the unnamed Egyptian mentioned by Josephus that had gotten an army together, grouped up on the Mount of Olives, and planned to attack Jerusalem but was decimated by the Romans; that Egyptian was Jesus. Who was King Jesus-Izas-Manu. Amazing that someone who is unnamed is actually someone we can name. Moreover, this person was known as “the Egyptian”. But this is Jesus, a Jew? And Persian since he’s from Edessa? So Egypt and Edessa are the same region now? ¡Ay, caramba! Oh, and this person was the same person that Josephus got off the cross, even though he never says that; it’s just “axiomatic”. *eye roll*
But the whole thing is all the more strange because Jesus was supposed to have died. But Ellis is adamant that that didn’t happen to Jesus.
The gospels say that Jesus was crucified and came back to life again, just as does Josephus says of the leader of the Jewish Revolt in his Vita or Life.
And that’s just wrong, wrong, wrong, at least if you are reading the Gospels as historical. Remember, Jesus was taken down from the cross, believed dead, and put into a tomb or otherwise buried for three days. Dead and buried for days. That is exactly the opposite of what happened to the person Josephus saved from the cross. That person was taken down before dying (the other two people up on crosses taken down had perished), and he wasn’t buried for three days. Again, Ellis has to ignore the central tenant of the Christian dogma, seen in 1 Cor 15 and the Nicene creed. This isn’t some peripheral to Christian belief like how many times Peter denied Jesus (the correct answer is the square root of 3); Jesus not dying and rising from the dead contradicts every form of the Christian faith, so you can’t just say that that isn’t what any of our sources say, be they historically accurate or not. To do so is to write a biography of Julius Caesar without the Gallic wars and his assassination.
Alright, at this point I’m over 4000 words in replying to this crap. Do you really, really want more? Let me know in the comments below. There is plenty more crap and even potential deception to get through, but I don’t want to unless you ask for it.