The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

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The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Peter Kirby »

In scholarship, there are some things that are known to be true, some things that are known to be false, some things that are simply unknown (whether true or false), and some matters of opinion and speculation that are keenly debated. But there are also things that are known to be false that are often taken as true, and of such things it is said: "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself."

One of these urban legends is the idea that the texts or the cartonnage of the Nag Hammadi Library have been examined with C-14 radiometric dating.
http://peterkirby.com/nag-hammadi-carbo ... -myth.html

I don't think you're going to like this essay very much, Pete...
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Peter Kirby »

I now see that Pete has known about this since April 1, 2012. (And apparently not an "april fools" joke...)

http://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/showthread586e.html

Why haven't you updated your website?
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Leucius Charinus »

Peter Kirby wrote:
In scholarship, there are some things that are known to be true, some things that are known to be false, some things that are simply unknown (whether true or false), and some matters of opinion and speculation that are keenly debated. But there are also things that are known to be false that are often taken as true, and of such things it is said: "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself."

One of these urban legends is the idea that the texts or the cartonnage of the Nag Hammadi Library have been examined with C-14 radiometric dating.
http://peterkirby.com/nag-hammadi-carbo ... -myth.html

I don't think you're going to like this essay very much, Pete...
On the contrary PK it is one of your usual well presented and objectively assessed essays.

In the winter of 2007 I took a course on Suetonius' "Twelve Caesars" run by Dr. Michael Birrell. Our discussions on the Epoch of Constantine resulted in him lending me his own copy of RL Fox's "Pagan and Christians". This I rapidly read and rapidly made notes and returned to him at the end of the course. During this I made a mistake about the mention of a C14 date on the codex containing the gThomas. I have no idea why I made that mistake at that time, and I did not notice it until many years after the event. Because I did not have the book I did not double check my notes when I started numerous discussions about the validity and limitations of combining two separate C14 tests. There is no doubt that I operated under the delusion that the field could boast 2 C14 tests, when in actual fact, the only C14 test to have been undertaken was that by Nat Geo on gJudas.

DIVERSION: Combining two independent C14 tests on "Gnostic Codices"

The following graph was invented to analyse two such C14 tests. As we don't have two tests now (due to an error on my part) the results are moot. However it is quite possible that someday a C14 test will actually be conducted on some of the NHL material. For the moment, assuming that such a test finds a date of 348 CE plus or minus 60 years (where 348 CE is notionally taken from the catonage - as is being separately discussed).

Gospel of Judas ... 280 CE plus or minus 60 years - between 220 and 340 CE
Gospel of Thomas .. 348 CE plus or minus 60 years - between 288 and 408 CE
These results may therefore be depicted graphically as follows:

Image

As you have noted I had a large number of discussions about the theory behind combining two C14 dates.
We don't have two dates - due to an error on my part - but the theory behind this is interesting.
Hopefully another result will be obtained and it can be plugged in to this calculation.
Unless the principles behind the validity of the calculation can be shown unsound.

I now see that Pete has known about this since April 1, 2012. (And apparently not an "april fools" joke...)

http://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/showthread586e.html

Why haven't you updated your website?

I don't claim to be anything other than an amateur ancient historian who uses a website to gather up his own research notes. My lifestyle at the time was one of long distance commuting between city and country, with extended journeys all over the east coast of Australia following my own SQL database consulting business. Using the web to store notes on my own personal research projects was efficient for me at that time.

When the mistake was pointed out to me of course I was horrified. The argument for combining two C14 dates could now not be made in real-time. I had been operating for years under a false hypothesis. None of this was intentional. It was just a mistake. Amateurs and professionals alike make mistakes.
PK wrote:There may indeed be some merit to the discussion of the Gospel of Judas. A lot of the issues raised hinge on the difference between uncalibrated C-14 results and calibrated C-14 results, which ones have actually been published regarding the Gospel of Judas, how they should be interpreted, and how one should go from the uncalibrated to the calibrated results in the case of the Gospel of Judas, all of which is best left for another time

- See more at: http://peterkirby.com/nag-hammadi-carbo ... lmTnV.dpuf
FWIW anyone can produce the C14 calibration graphs, which I did by downloading Oxcal (from memory from the Oxford Radio Carbon Unit). I thank you for being so objective as to leave this for future discussion and research. I communicated by email with people here in Australia about this, and they maintain that they could be a problem with the gJudas result, and of course asked to get hold of the final paper to check for themselves. But as we know, after a decade has past since the 2005 gJudas test, the final paper has not been submitted for peer-reviewed publication.


I was unaware of the google rankings on my website. I am not selling anything. When I discovered the error I did not immediately correct it. Life goes on as you know. It has its high points and low points just like the tides. I viewed my website as my own notes. It's a bit of a mess as some people have commented. It is loosely held together by chronology. It is a collection of articles, research notes, essays, lists, evidence, texts, etc. It is a whole pile of bits and pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle that needs to be put together into the "Big Picture". Since that time research went on, but the C14 error on the Gospel of Thomas was simply forgotten.

So I thank you for going to the trouble of writing that essay, because I will amend those pages at my site which make reference to this "Fictional/Mythical C14 date". To make matters even worse, and I really hate having to mention this, but I think it may have been Stephan Huller who first drew my attention to the fact that I had in fact been perpetrating a myth. Either that or it was someone else who I thanked for pointing out the error.

Perhaps other, new myths will arise out of other, newly-misinterpreted references? Time will tell.

TIme indeed will tell PK. It has been an interesting journey so far. I hope to write a book about it someday.




LC
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Peter Kirby »

Thanks for this explanation. Yes, I did not imagine that the error was intentional. I appreciate that you will take the time to correct the webpages.
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by jayraskin »

Hi Peter and Leucius,

I posted this on the website, but I might as well repost it here.

Fascinating stuff.
It does seem that the dating of the Nag Hammadi text is more problematic than we thought. The error of saying that it was carbon dated or found to be from after 348 by the cartonnage in the cover doesn't seem that significant.
The use of the cartonnage dates to date the codices seems problematic to me. How do we know that the cover was produced at the time of he codices. I know that because of the expense of books, it was standard practice up to the 20th century to have books rebound when the covers were damaged or worn out over time. I assume this practice would have existed much earlier, even in the earliest days of codex. Could not the cover be a replacement binding and therefore the text would be hundreds of years older? For example most of my books date from the 1970's and 1980's, but I have some from the 1910's and 1920's and even a few from before 1900. They are generally in poor condition and they are the ones I would want rebound if I could afford it. If I used receipts that I did not need for new covers, I would most likely use ones just a couple of years old. Thus receipt dates of 2013 could be found in the bindings of books from 1915 or even 1890.
I guess the question is if there is anyway to know if we are dealing with a rebinding or original cover?
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Peter Kirby »

Jay: It's completely legit as a criticism, I think.

It is also one of several examples of the differences that result from knowing what kind of dating technique was used ("dated papyri in cartonnage" or "C-14").

Another example of the fruits of said knowledge, is that the dated papyri help us with Codex VII, not codex II or any of the others, not directly anyway.

Another example is that radiocarbon dating uses a very broad range, and dates the papyrus' death. Meanwhile dated papyri date the binding of the cover and gives a very sharp terminus a quo for said binding.

There's also a relatively small dating range between this terminus a quo and the median probable dating of the binding (less than 25 years on that side of the curve, according to the data regarding dated papyri in general that I can ascertain), while C-14 dating has a range of a century or more.

....

As to reply to your criticism, I'm not sure if there's anything much more than how desperate it looks (if that's the right word? or perhaps a better way to put it is "how hopeful we are" to the contrary, to be able to have something) to write off what little solid bits of info we have.

Someone might try to make a go at it with Ockham's razor alone.

It's also a very well-preserved codex, apparently, but I don't know if that means it was rebound or was not rebound. Maybe someone might know such things.

Last but not least, whatever else it does, it does give us a terminus a quo for the burial of the Nag Hammadi Codex VII (and, presumably, the lot).
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Leucius Charinus »

jayraskin wrote:Hi Peter and Leucius,

I posted this on the website, but I might as well repost it here.

Fascinating stuff.
It does seem that the dating of the Nag Hammadi text is more problematic than we thought. The error of saying that it was carbon dated or found to be from after 348 by the cartonnage in the cover doesn't seem that significant.

The use of the cartonnage dates to date the codices seems problematic to me. How do we know that the cover was produced at the time of he codices. I know that because of the expense of books, it was standard practice up to the 20th century to have books rebound when the covers were damaged or worn out over time. I assume this practice would have existed much earlier, even in the earliest days of codex. Could not the cover be a replacement binding and therefore the text would be hundreds of years older? For example most of my books date from the 1970's and 1980's, but I have some from the 1910's and 1920's and even a few from before 1900. They are generally in poor condition and they are the ones I would want rebound if I could afford it. If I used receipts that I did not need for new covers, I would most likely use ones just a couple of years old. Thus receipt dates of 2013 could be found in the bindings of books from 1915 or even 1890.
I guess the question is if there is anyway to know if we are dealing with a rebinding or original cover?

Hi Philosopher Jay,

The mainstream theory at present sees these codices hand-produced within a monastery which had been established by Pachomius_the_Great
  • Pachomius established his first monastery between 318 and 323 at Tabennisi, Egypt.[5] His elder brother John joined him, and soon more than 100 monks lived nearby. Pachomius set about organizing these cells into a formal organization. Until then, Christian asceticism had been solitary or eremitic-- male or female monastics lived in individual huts or caves and met only for occasional worship services. Pachomius created the community or cenobitic organization, in which male or female monastics lived together and held their property in common under the leadership of an abbot or abbess. Pachomius realized that some men, acquainted only with the eremitical life, might speedily become disgusted, if the distracting cares of the cenobitical life were thrust too abruptly upon them. He therefore allowed them to devote their whole time to spiritual exercises, undertaking all the community's administrative tasks himself. The community hailed Pachomius as "Abba" (father), from which "Abbot" derives.

    The monastery at Tabennisi, though enlarged several times, soon became too small and a second was founded at Pabau (Faou).[4] After 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at Pabau. Though Pachomius sometimes acted as lector for nearby shepherds, neither he nor any of his monks became priests. St Athanasius visited and wished to ordain him in 333, but Pachomius fled from him. Athanasius' visit was probably a result of Pachomius' zealous defence of orthodoxy against Arianism.[3] Basil of Caesarea visited, then took many of Pachomius' ideas, which he adapted and implemented in Caesarea.

    Pachomius continued as abbot to the cenobites for some forty years. During an epidemic (probably plague), Pachomius called the monks, strengthened their faith, and appointed his successor. Pachomius then died on 14 Pashons, 64 A.M. (9 May 348 A.D.)

    By the time Pachomius died (c. 345) eight monasteries and several hundred monks followed his guidance.[5] Within a generation, cenobic practices spread from Egypt to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe.[6] The number of monks, rather than the number of monasteries, may have reached 7000.[7][8]

    His reputation as a holy man has endured. As mentioned above, several liturgical calendars commemorate Pachomius. Among many miracles attributed to Pachomius, that though he had never learned the Greek or Latin tongues, he sometimes miraculously spoke them.
All this seems to mean that if the books were manufactured somewhere between 323CE and 348 CE (perhaps later) and then buried in a jar, then the bindings would be original and not replacements. It looks to me that there was a bunch of renegades trying to preserve non canonical literature well away from Alexandria. These people may well have been performing the Greek to Coptic translations. As a result of the age of the books when they were buried, it is very unlikely that they would be in any need of rebinding (IMO).

Another issue is the age of the spine and covers and bindings compared to the age of the papyri sheets upon which the scribe will write. The papyri sheets for writing seem always to be not as old as the covers etc, because the covers etc may be re-used from older codices. Especially when some of the NHC were then also covered with leather bindings. The C14 results as they are available for the gJudas show different ages for
  • ◾Papyrus from interior of leather cover: AD 209 +/- 58 years;
    ◾Leather with attached papyrus from binding: AD 223 +/- 51 years;

    ◾Papyrus from page 9: AD 279 +/- 50 years;
    ◾ Papyrus from page 33: AD 279 +/- 47 years.
    ◾Loose papyrus from fragments associated with codex: AD 333 +/- 48 years;
It's all very interesting stuff, almost like a time capsule. Every field needs new discoveries.



LC
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Peter Kirby »

Leucius Charinus wrote:Image

As you have noted I had a large number of discussions about the theory behind combining two C14 dates.
We don't have two dates - due to an error on my part - but the theory behind this is interesting.
Hopefully another result will be obtained and it can be plugged in to this calculation.
Unless the principles behind the validity of the calculation can be shown unsound.
Actually it does look completely invalid on principle, IMO.

I'd have to develop the math behind it (and we'd need numbers to start with), but...

When we're discussing several different manuscript dates, in terms of what they tell us for the age of the underlying text...

(a) We are not interested in an average.

(b) We are interested in the earliest such manuscript.

As such, for every given manuscript find, it can do one of two things:

(a) It can push the terminus ad quem for the underlying text lower, on the basis of the manuscript find.

or (b) It can tell us nothing at all.

If I were to redo a chart like that, and if I had actual data with which to redo it...

It wouldn't have a normal distribution.

Instead, it would look more or less like an asymptotic graph.

The earliest dates would be "100% consistent" (or near-to) with the manuscript finds. There would be no manuscript finds that rule out such dates.

However, as we pass into the area under the curve of the dating of a manuscript, this leads to less-than-100% consistency. The manuscript can disprove such a late dating of the underlying text.

So we would have a part of the chart where the probability that such a date is ruled out by a manuscript date is between 0% and 100%.

At near-100% chance of being ruled out by a manuscript find's date, the graph would approach 0% chance of a possibility of the date of the underlying text's date.

Basically, it doesn't matter if you find an 8th or 18th century copy of the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Bob or whatever. It's not going to pull the date of the original forward (especially when we already know there's an earlier manuscript). That's nonsense.

Now I know you have had some ideas before on measuring the likelihood of various lapses of time between the original and the first known manuscript, but that's not really where you have to start.

You have to start with finding the range of probable dating that we assign to the first known manuscript; or, and getting towards the same general concept, you need to graph the likelihood that any of the manuscripts that are known could have dated to a given year (with this info for each year). And the chart above is not how we do that. In fact, the Nag Hammadi find, if it overlapped with the Codex Tchacos find, should have pushed the graph (in the part where they overlapped--it would no longer be a normal distribution) to the left (compared to the graph of the dating of Codex Tchacos), not to the right.

I.e., in the dates where it is possible that either manuscript came from that date, and where we want to figure out the date of the first manuscript of the two, the later dates on the Tchacos curve (the ones later than the earliest possible dates for NHL) are made less likely to be the date of the earliest manuscript (we don't know which that is!) because you must account for the odds that the first manuscript wasn't Tchacos but actually Nag Hammadi, in the range where it is possible that NHL is before Tchachos. (I'm sorry if this explanation doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I'd be happy to work on the math sometime, as it is genuinely interesting.)

Also, your graph cuts off prematurely on the left-hand side, as the first manuscript could have been earlier than the first possible date for NHL.

What your graph does show (whether it was meant to or not) is what the likely date is for both Tchacos and NHL (given their starting curves), assuming that they were made in the same year. That's sort of a non-starter. It's silly to assume that they were from the same year. Now I know that's not what you are trying to graph. But it's also a bit silly, accordingly, to assume that this graph represents what you are trying to find.
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Leucius Charinus »

In the graphical presentation both of the two separate C14 results are displayed together with their respective median peaks and error bounds. A third analytical curve is shown which represents both curves, on the basis that both results are in respect of the one category of test material - ie: "Gnostic Coptic codices".

The dimensions of the individual uncalibrated normal distributions is probability density, while the dimensions of the derived overview distribution is a measure of probability.


The Analogy of Bunyip Bones

We could probably forget the fact that we are dealing with books, and instead be dealing with 2 independent C14 dating citations conducted on the bones of two bunyips, dug up in an Australian Billabong expedition. The purpose of averaging provides an estimate for the chronology of all known bunyips, the epoch when they lived - etc. I hope this is a reasonable analogy.

It is a visual probabilistic assessment for "Coptic Gnostic Texts" in antiquity. And yes if we found a Coptic Gnostic text dated from the 6th century then it would shift the whole epoch in history in which we would expect to find Coptic Gnostic Texts.

But AFAIK I don't think that is going to happen. The way I see the evidence at the moment (but there may be evidence I am not aware of) is that "Coptic Gnostic Texts" seem to be a feature of codex manufacture in the 4th century, and not before the 4th century, and most likely not before the Pachomian monastic settlements were founded by Pachomius 400 miles up the Nile from Alexandria. The end point of the production oif such codices may have also been within the 4th century, after the death of Pachomius, when the power of the Orthodoxy became extremely critical of heretics. For example, the Law Codes 381 CE of Theodosius.

I think that the manufacture of codices containing Coptic translations of [non canonical] Greek material may possibly be an entirely 4th century phenomenom. The derived additional probability curve being discussed is representative of the probabilistic dating for the epoch of such codices. It was just intended as a visual guide to the probability distribution based on the hypothetical C14 test results. It will change when a 3rd test result is added, and change again when a 4th test result is added, etc, etc, etc.






LC
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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Re: The Myth of Nag Hammadi's Carbon Dating

Post by Ulan »

Leucius Charinus wrote:In the graphical presentation both of the two separate C14 results are displayed together with their respective median peaks and error bounds. A third analytical curve is shown which represents both curves, on the basis that both results are in respect of the one category of test material - ie: "Gnostic Coptic codices".
I think everyone understood that. As Peter said, that's a logically meaningless operation. If both of those manuscripts belong into the same category, the borders of the earlier manuscript alone determine the terminus post quem for the category. The existence of the other manuscript is meaningless for determining the earliest possible date of the category.
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