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Bad scholarship. A rant.

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Ok, so I have never viewed the Discovery channel or their Discovery.com website as a citeable source by any stretch of the imagination, but I did credit them with generally trying to give accurate facts, even if the delivery were slanted in favour of one theory or another. However, this article has completely blown any faith I may have had in their credibility.

The article describes a bowl recently found and dated to between the 2nd century BC/BCE and the 1st century AD/CE as the "earliest reference to Christ". The bowl apparently carries a Greek inscription which the article transliterated as "DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS" and translated as meaning either, "by Christ the magician" or "the magician by Christ." A photograph of the bowl is provided for our edification.

Let's look at that, shall we?




Now, I don't read Greek, but I *do* know my Greek letters. Bear with me a moment here. Clearly visible in the picture is the "DIA CHRSTOU" part of the inscription. Let's take a look. For those of you who don't know the Greek letters, allow me to 'spell' it out for you:

Δ = capital D
ι = lowercase i
α = lowercase a (it's a little distorted here, but hey, they're carving on clay)
Χ = capital CH (in Greek, the hard 'Ch' sound as in 'Christ' is one letter)
ρ = lowercase r (yes, I know it looks like a 'p'. It's an 'r')
σ = lowercase s (oftentimes, like here, truncated so it looks more like a 'c')
τ = lowercase t
ο = lowercase o (short o, not long o)
υ = lowercase u (again, looks like a 'v', it's actually a 'u')

D-i-a CH-r-s-t-o-u yes? But wait! you say. You're missing something. There's an extra letter in there, nice and clear, between the ρ and the σ. Why, so there is! And look, it's η

η = lowercase e. Yes, 'e', not 'i'. Remember, 'i' is ι It's actually a pretty clear inscription. No amount of hemming and hawing is going to make that η a ι; make that 'e' an 'i'.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, our ever-helpful Oxford English Dictionary gives the root word (helpfully spelled out in both English and Greek) as Χριστος where ς is the lowercase 's' when it comes at the end of the word. In other words, "CH-r-i-s-t-o-s" The "-ou" instead of the "-os" in the inscription makes the noun possessive.

So, summing up, the bowl does *not* say "DIA CHRISTOU O GOISTAIS". It doesn't even say "DIA CHRSTOU O GOISTAIS" (note how the article conveniently omits the troublesome vowel entirely in its transcription). It says "DIA CHRESTOU O GOISTAIS". "Chrestou" ≠ 'Christ,' folks

Only hint in the whole article that this whole "earliest reference to Christ" thing might not be all it's cracked up to be? One sentence, buried on the second page: "Bert Smith, a professor of classical archaeology and art at Oxford University, suggests the engraving might be a dedication, or present, made by a certain 'Chrestos' belonging to a possible religious association called Ogoistais."

Yeah, way to show the unbiased scholarship, guys.
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angry ticked off
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On October 7th, 2008 03:21 am (UTC), 6_bleen_7 commented:
I also noticed the eta right away, though at first I thought it was a pi. In any case, isn't Christ a title, rather than a proper name? Now if the bowl had said "Iεσoυς", I'd be really impressed, but as it is, even if it did say "Christ," how much importance should we place on it?
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On October 7th, 2008 03:25 am (UTC), gwynraven replied:
Yup, it is. It simply means 'annointed one' and the Biblical Jesus is not the only one who was referred to by that title.
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On October 7th, 2008 03:28 am (UTC), gwynraven replied:
Moreover, even if it did say Iεσoυς or something similar, that *still* wouldn't be that impressive. Jesus is simply the Roman version of the Hebrew Yeshua, which was one of the most common Jewish names of the time. It'd be like seeing an inscription to 'John' or 'Bill' and concluding that it *must* be referring to John Wayne or Bill Clinton.
On December 25th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
two-handled cup
Why are the words from both sides of this two-handled cup being joined into one sentence ?

One side reads "Through Christ" the other side reads something else.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v344/Daveyh8/chrestus-bowl-540x380.jpg

http://www.ancienttouch.com/540.jpg
On November 10th, 2009 02:11 am (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
I recommend you study your Greek and especially the Greek letters you so confidently state that you know.

DIA CHRISTOU is EXACTLY what is written on the cup. Take it from a born and raised Greek.
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On October 7th, 2008 04:17 am (UTC), gwynraven replied:
Re: bad scholarship?
Yeah, but they don't usually suck so transparently.
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On October 7th, 2008 11:08 am (UTC), vimsig commented:
good call - kudos!
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On October 7th, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC), gwynraven replied:
Thanks. I actually did some trolling around on the internet (in the fishing sense, not the insulting sense) and found several experts making the same points as I did, and taking it further. 'Chrestos' was apparently a very common Greek name at the time, and so could refer to just about anybody. It was also a word that translated as 'good'. One scholar pointed out that the 'Ogoistais' that they have translated as 'magician' here could just easily mean 'magic' or 'enchantment'. The cup is of the type used to hold wine. So this scholar postulated that the inscription was actually an advertising slogan meant to describe the wine it contained - he parsed it as "Enchantment through excellence". I like that. And it's at least as plausible as any other interpretation out there.
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