James Whitehead’s “Mary on Joseph”

No one knows the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus or how the figure of Pantera the Roman soldier may or may not connect, as I have explored rather thoroughly in my book, The Jesus Dynasty and here on this blog (see “An Unknown Father of Jesus“). Careful readers of my writing on this subject know that I never say that the Bingerbrück Roman soldier from Sidon is in fact the father of Jesus. In the end I maintain that Joseph, who married her while pregnant, is not the father but if we were filling out Jesus’ birth certificate we would have to put “father unknown.”

James Whitehead, was free to follow his poetic imagination wherever he was led. I love his work and this is my favorite of his poems in the “Panthera” collection:


Lord, I’ve been a problem all my life,
Especially after the Panther. Joseph lied
And said he got to me before the wedding
And was rebuked by numerous local elders.

Decent heavy Joseph at his lathe,
He got me sons and daughters with little romance,
Down-home loving when we’d wanted to,
And I made a strong point of patting him
And holding his hands on the streets of Nazareth.

Love comes in various sizes, and I loved his,
While Jesus was getting stronger, year after year,
Preparing to raise hell eternally.
I’m talking Joseph. He was good in bed.
My pretty archer always on the ground.

Augustus Archer



Remembering James Whitehead and “The Panther”

I am in Germany this week carrying out some further research on 1st century CE Roman cemetery sites, remains, and fortifications on the northern German frontier area of the Rhine and Nahe Rivers around Mainz, Bad Kreuznach and Bingerbrück. Long time readers will of course immediately recognize my interest in the particular tombstone of one Tiberius Julius Abded Pantera, an archer of the 1st Sagittariorum cohort, discovered in 1859 in the course of construction on the Bingerbrück railway station. I have written extensively on this subject in my book, The Jesus Dynastyand on this blog, especially the summary of the archaeological evidence here, and further links here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 2.48.20 AMThis morning I am mainly thinking though about the late great poet James Whitehead who visited this area in the summer of 2001 on his own “quest for the historical Panthera,” whom he used as an inspiration for a series of poems now posthumously published in a slim little volume simpled titled The Panther. Jim suddenly and tragically died of a heart attack in August 2003.  The story behind those poems, how I became connected to Whitehead’s quest, and much more you can read here and here. Whitehead’s guides on his Pantera quest in Germany were the young and aspiring Mainz scholars Peter Haupt and Sabine Hornung, whom he affectionally called “the German kids.” I have corresponded with them but never met them and this week Dr. Hornung, who has done some extraordinary archaeological work on Roman camps and fortifications, see her report here on finding what is very likely a camp related to Julius Caesar’s Gaul campaign, is going to guide me us, retracing some of the same places Whitehead visited and expanding our inquiries regarding “The Panther” beyond what we presently know. It promises to be an amazing week, so stay tuned, but in the meantime if you have not these amazing poems of James Whitehead I highly recommend this handsome little chap book.

panthercoverrdBoth new and used copies are readily available through Amazon and other booksellers. One might say Jim was following in the footsteps of Thomas Hardy, whose fascinating poem “Pantera,” paved the way, but his body of work is surely the most thoughtful and poetic reflection on the notion of Jesus’ biological father I have encountered.

April DeConick Talks Some Sense on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Fragment

 I have kept a low profile on my blog about this fragment because I do not think that the blog is the best venue to vet manuscript finds like this.  Why?  Because the distribution of knowledge happens too quickly on blogs, before we have had time to really sort through everything, test our hypotheses, ask more questions that our hypotheses raise, and change them as necessary.  People make fast claims to be the first like a “news flash”, sometimes very bold and sensational, and then, because blog posts are public, reputations end up on the line.  So it becomes personal very fast. And this can crowd out the truth which most often is slow in coming after a long process of reflection and revising. Prof. April DeConick, Rice University

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.18.17 PMApril Deconick, as ever, talks some sense about the “Gospel of Jesus Wife” fragment and it sounds like some of the bloggers out there need to slow down a bit–especially those who have declared the case “closed” and are giving one another “high fives” for exposing the twin forgeries of the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragments. Assertions about “the same hand,” an “identical pen,” and “the same ink” seem a bit astounding coming from folks who presumably have no expertise or training in such areas. By and large the physical evidence published in the special issue of Harvard Theological Review is being ignored. Anyway, here is April’s very perceptive piece and one can only hope her cautionary warnings will have some effect:

On the “Ugly Sister” issue don’t miss this perceptive piece by Eva Mroczek–maybe the most important thing I have seen in print on the subject this week: “”Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Less Durable Than Sexism Surrounding It, as well as the totally off-base response of Jim West here, missing all her major points and basically demonstrating the case she makes, plus Deconick’s response to responses like West’s here.

Finally, on the whole complex and crazy controversy with all the players laid out, and all the relevant links, see Michael Grondin’s absolutely wonderful summary account here. Thanks Michael, from us all!

P.S. And while you are at April’s blog notice the wonderful new format and be sure and subscribe to her e-mail alerts–and no, she did not pay me to say this.