Saturday, March 8, 2014

Debunking the So-Called "Messianic Seal of the Jerusalem Church"

If you've visited enough Messianic congregations, you've more than likely seen the Menorah-Star-Fish symbol depicted on the right.  It's supposedly the ancient symbol used by the first Messianic communities two thousand years ago. 

But is this symbol legit?  Or is it based on pseudo-scholarship?

I've blogged previously about pseudo-scholarship (LINK).  Pseudo-scholarship usually has the following three hallmarks:

(1) emotional bias ("This must be a sign from G-d!");
(2) unscientific or sub-standard methodology ("This skull proves that man evolved from monkeys");
(3) conspiracy theories ("The establishment wants to suppress my research because they know my research could change the world")

So what's the evidence for the so-called Messianic Seal?  

It all comes from "The Messianic Seal of the Jerusalem Church" by Schmalz and Fischer.  The story goes like this:

Shmalz and Fischer went to meet this guy named Schneider who claimed that an old monk gave him some ancient artifacts engraved with the Messianic Seal depicted above.  Schneider then presented these artifacts to the curator of the Israel Museum only to later learn that the curator decided to "suppress" them.  To make matters worse, the old monk died before he could bequeath any of the remaining artifacts to Schneider (talk about bad luck).  

So was there any pseudo-scholarship going on?  Let's check:

(1) Were there any emotional bias?

In the preface, Fischer describers how he and Shmalz looked “with awe” at these artifacts—before they were even told about the artifacts provenance!  

(2) Did the investigators use unscientific methodology?

Schneider's first impression of the artifacts was that they were obviously "a long-forgotten testimony informing the world about the true roots of the Church."  And this assessment was good enough for Shmalz (who incidentally was a "self-trained archeologist").  

(3) Did the investigators promote any conspiracy theories?

Only that Schneider claims the Israel Museum has suppressed the artifacts that he had entrusted to them and that Orthodox rabbis organized attack mobs to go after Fischer.  

In conclusion, this is a classic case of pseudo-scholarship.  

Further reading:


  1. Peter, I looked at your July article. Just completed an online course via Coursera from the Graduate School of Communications Netherlands that discusses some of these things.

    Every day we are hit with thousands of messages, and since we cannot examine and respond to all of them, we employ cognitive shortcuts as to which messages we will filter out, (things at odds with our current understanding) that which we will allow, (what already is in sync with our beliefs) and which we will focus on, such as hearing our name in a crowded room. One of these cognitive shortcuts is cognitive dissonance.

    Recently a number of people were "viralizing," a stupid, easily debunked urban legend about the Pope. Now, it would seem that if the leader of a billion Catholics seriously altered his theology, it would be all over the news, not some fringe blog from Africa that has no credibility. What happened (and this I find humorous) is the African blogger copied parts of an article from a spoof site, that was a parody. This guy treated it as truth. And people who already hate Catholics or believe in weirdo conspiracy theories accepted this without questioning or checking, because it fit with their belief system. And of course any site that checks out urban legends must be under the control of "them." I see it as slander to pass on something like this without checking it out.

    Pseudo-scholarship is rife because most people are too lazy to study real scholars, and the scholars and communicators of our generation are rarely the same persons. Clergy educational levels have become seriously dumbed down in the past 100 years. In the past, a seminary graduate would be fluent in Greek, Hebrew an Latin. At least traditional rabbis know Hebrew; your typical mail order smicha messianic rabbi barely has Bar Mitzvah level Hebrew, if that.

    I am taking two courses now, (all free) one with edX and the other with Coursera that examine irrational thinking and behavior economics. A course in basic logic for most would be helpful, but then that might put the pseudo-scholars out of business.

  2. It's not supposed to be a "Fish" that it represents (That makes no sense) Rather it is an ancient "Aleph"... So it would be Menorah - Mogan - Aleph... That changes things a little!

    1. Mogen not in use until the middle ages - not a graphic from 1st Century CE in Jerusalem.

  3. I heard that Joe Shulam was approached to 'authenticate' the said artifact, which he refused. This is one of the things in the messianic world that makes me cringe.

    1. You and me both, Anna. I am not sure what motivates these people to push such fiction, can you imagine?

  4. Princess,

    That sounds very interesting indeed. If you come across any articles that you would recommend, please forward them to me.

    Happy Purim!

  5. Peter, you can sign up for the free courses on Coursera and edX about Rationality, Thinking and Cognitive Science. You don't need to do the entire courses, but can peruse any of the videos or written materials.

    Dan Ariely, A French/Israeli/American is a really funny, entertaining guy and wrote several books about rationality, thinking and honesty. This is his course I am taking now: I suppose you can find his stuff on YouTube and via search engines.

    GoogleScholar is a good way to access peer-reviewed research on any subject.

    This is the other course:

    MOOC's are an incredible resource and opportunity - all free. I just learned about these in the past few months and am addicted :)

  6. try the netyviah website:

    I agree with Jonathan, that its not a bad symbol. and yet I also agree with you that the Menorah is perfect as it is. I'm not too keen on overusing symbols though. As to wearing them, I feel that my faith must show through my actions rather than through the symbols I wear.


    Early Church didn't observe old testament laws