How Yellowstone’s ‘Old Faithful’ became an Angel copulating with a woman

In 1923, American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) created the marble sculpture, “The Sons of God Saw the Daughters of Men That They Were Fair”.

The sculpture depicts an unusual episode found in the Bible, narrated in Genesis 6.1-4:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them,  the Sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose…. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

The ‘Sons of God’ have often been interpreted as angels, who were so attracted to human women that they came to earth to have sex with them. Daniel Chester French adopts this angelic interpretation of Genesis 6.1-4 in his sculpture, which from 1924 has been on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

According to the museum’s acquisition records, French originally saw the silhouette of an angel copulating with a human woman while staring at the ‘Old Faithful Geyser’ in Yellowstone National Park. Admittedly, there are many people who imagine that they see faces and such things in the clouds and other objects. There is even a term for this: it’s called ‘pareidolia’. So Daniel C. French’s case of pareidolia is perhaps not so unusual. And yet… I can’t say I’ve ever looked at a cloud and thought: hey, that cloud looks exactly like an angel having sex with a woman! And the same goes with the shapes of geysers that I’ve seen. Who knows, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for Daniel C. French’s angel-erotic pareidolia. Perhaps he had very recently been reading about Genesis 6.1-4, and this image had simply been imprinted on his mind. Or perhaps he was just really into angelic-human sex, and told his lovers to dress up with feathers. Who can tell?

Side-note: Daniel C. French’s other sculptures are decidedly unsexy. French is best known for the majestic and slightly fascist statue of Abraham Lincoln (1920) at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, and also for the Four Continents at the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House, New York. None of his other sculptures offer any indication that the artist had an angel fetish.

But after French’s sculpture of “The Sons of God Saw the Daughters of Men That They Were Fair” was put on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, along with a notice that it had been inspired by Old Faithful, it came to the attention of photographer Frank Jay Haynes. He noticed that the sculpture not only bore a resemblance to Old Faithful, but to his own photograph of the geyser: “Old Faithful Geyser. Plume. Yellowstone National Park” (1885). The photograph had been sold for decades at Yellowstone as the main souvenir photo of the Geyser:



If you look carefully at the photograph, with the sculpture in mind, you can make out the angel’s right wing at the top left, the heads of the angel and woman at top right, the obscured left wing, the woman’s arse, and even her left leg extended on tippy-toes to reach eagerly up to her angelic lover, with the right leg crossed behind it. It’s all there, in watery geyser form. And on the left-bottom of the geyser and sculpture, you can see the cascade of water shooting up, later to take pareidolic shape as a Son of God about to copulate with a Daughter of Man.

It’s not just me and Daniel C. French seeing these things, is it?

As a result of these similarities, subsequent promotion of French’s sculpture made note that it had been modeled on Haynes’ photo of Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.

My major source for the information about the sculpture, French, and Haynes was Peter H. Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone: Artists in America’s First National Park (The Autry Museum of Western Heritage in association with University of Washington Press, 2002).


Gili Kugler on Caleb the Giant-Slayer

CalebFaithDr Gili Kugler (the University of Sydney) has recently written an article in which she discusses the different biblical traditions about Caleb’s involvement in the spy mission to Hebron and the eventual conquest of Hebron.

Gili Kugler, “Who Conquered Hebron? Apologetic and Polemical Tendencies in the Story of Caleb in Josh 14,” Vetus Testamentum 67 (2017): 570-580.

In the Bible, there are a number of inconsistent narratives about the spy expedition and conquest of Hebron/the southern Judean hill country. These narratives provide different identifications of:

  • The leader of the conquest: either Joshua (Joshua 11.21-22), or Caleb (Joshua 15.13-14), or Caleb after being allocated the land by Joshua, who now allocates land not yet conquered (Joshua 14.6-15), or the army of Judah (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The time of the conquest: either as part of Joshua’s conquest of the whole land (Joshua 11.21-22), or after the conquest of the whole land, as one of the areas still to be conquered in the second half of Joshua (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14), or after the death of Joshua (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The inhabitants who were killed: either the Anakim (Joshua 11.21-22), the Anakim who lived in great fortified cities as we saw the giants identified in Numbers 13 (Joshua 14.12), or the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Joshua 15.14), or the “Canaanites”, Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The ethnicity of Caleb: a Kenizzite (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14 – ‘son of Kenaz’), or part of Judah, or at least allied with Judah (Judges 1; as in Numbers 13).

Despite all these varied traditions, they all display a number of shared themes, characters, and geography – which makes it likely that we are dealing with related traditions.

So how do we account for the way these traditions developed? Scholars have usually dated the Caleb tradition as the earliest of the traditions, being placed into a pan-Israelite conquest involving Joshua. Kugler points out, though, that Joshua 14.6-15 appears to be a later supplement, interrupting the flow in Joshua 14 (and the land allocation to Judah), and also aware of Joshua 11 and its claim that the conquest of Hebron resulted in rest for the land as a whole.

Kugler views Joshua 14.6-15 as serving two apologetic purposes: (1) it justifies Kenizzite settlement and even integration into Judea, and (2) it disputes the idea that Joshua led the whole conquest, transferring the victory to Caleb the Kenizzite. She concludes that “Josh 14:6ab-15 can be viewed as a late formation in the Book of Joshua, responding to and disputing the pro-Joshuaic agenda found in the Deuteronomistic framework of the book” (p. 574). For Kugler, although Joshua 14.6-15 is directly dependent on Deuteronomy 1, it adds the detail that Caleb is a Kennizite, a detail not present in the Deuteronomistic source of the text.

This being the case, argues Kugler, the summary in Joshua 14.14, “So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day” gives us a clue about the historical context in which a non-Judean was portrayed as having the right to the city of Hebron. Kugler points to the Edomite connections of the clan of Kenaz (Genesis 31.11, 15, 42; 1 Chronicles 1.36, 53), and suggests that Joshua 14.6-15 was added during the time of Edomite settlement in southern Judah before the exile. Joshua 14.6-15 therefore justifies Edomite settlement and lessens Joshua’s role in the conquest of all Israel.

It’s a fairly nicely worked-out possible solution – but it also has some problems.

  1. Joshua 14 knows both the all-Israel tradition in Joshua 11 and the Caleb-alone tradition in Numbers 13, where Caleb gets fully behind God (i.e. wholeheartedly follows God). The latter is a statement from the near-final form of Numbers 13 (often termed the ‘Priestly’ or ‘post-Priestly’ layer, but final form will do) . Joshua 14 also interrupts the ‘Priestly’ land allocation in the second half of Joshua. So how can we place Joshua 14.6-15 in the pre-exilic period, if it is post-Priestly? That seems highly unlikely.
  2. Moreover, Edom continues to have significant control over the southern highlands in the exilic and post-exilic periods. So in fact almost any period during which the Hexateuch was written might fit the alleged Edomite interest in the text. It is arbitrary to allocate an Edomite genealogy to the pre-exilic period.
  3. More problematically for Kugler’s proposal, it is reasonably clear that the Calebite traditions were already inconsistent before Joshua 14.6-15 was composed. That is, the inconsistency is not a result of deliberate polemic, but is a pre-existing literary difficulty that the author of Josh 14.6-15 had to deal with. We already have two conflicting Caleb-traditions before the composition of Joshua 14: (1) Num 13-14/Deut 1.36 makes Caleb a Judean hero; (2) Joshua 15, Judges 1, AND Judges 3 – the latter not mentioned by Kugler – all call Caleb the ‘son of Kenaz’ (and this latter identification is multiply attested and arguably independent). So the inconsistency, where Caleb is either Kenizzite or Judahite, was already in existence before the writing of the supplementary Joshua 14. Joshua 14, therefore, is not easily explained as a response to a historical situation which introduces a polemic; it’s a literary harmonization. In response to contradictory traditions, Joshua 14 says: Caleb is a Judean AND Kenizzite!
  4. Moreover, if this harmonization had a chance of success, it is likely that people at the time Joshua 14.6-15 was written simply did not any longer distinguish a Kenizzite from a Judahite. At the very least, we don’t know if they did make a distinction between Kenizzites and Judahites. Noth for example assigns the distinction of Kenizzites and Judahites to a very early, pre-J historical stage, in which the Kenizzites were part of a 6-tribe alliance which later became the tribe of Judah. Although I don’t follow Noth’s historical reconstruction, it illustrates how the distinction of Kenizzites from Judeans might simply have been ‘ancient history’ at the time of writing Josh 14.6-15.
  5. And there’s no other indication of any pro-Edomite polemic in the passage, either, apart from the older Kenaz-Edom connections.

Sure this makes Joshua 14.6-15 inconsistent with Joshua 1-11, but we can say the same about much of Joshua 12-19, where Joshua’s total conquest of all Israel is changed into a partial conquest with many parts of the land still occupied by its previous inhabitants. And yet, pre-modern readers managed to interpret the final book of Joshua as a harmony. Is it too much to expect that the hamonizing supplementer who wrote Joshua 14.6-15 thought what they had written was in harmony with the account in Joshua 11, rather than engaging in some subtle ‘polemic’?

Caleb was inserted in Joshua 14 as a Judean hero. This was in tension with the Ephraimite/Northern basic tradition in Judges 1-12, and contrary to the older traditions in which he was a Kenizzite and possibly an Edomite. But it was consistent with the Judea- and Jerusalem-centred traditions in the final stages of the book of Joshua.

Why “Isaiah” of the Isaiah Bulla is not the Prophet Isaiah

In an article published this month in Biblical Archaeology Review, Eilat Mazar claims that she may have discovered “a seal impression of Isaiah the prophet, adviser to King Hezekiah”. The discovery was made from wet-sifted material originally uncovered from outside the building at Ophel, Jerusalem in 2009, within an archaeological layer dated ca. 700 BCE. In the interest of the full disclosure of provenance, I note that the excavations have been taking place behind the 1949 Green Line, so are illegal in terms of international law.

Isaiah bulla from Ophel, Jerusalem, with hypothetical identification of other letters by Eilat Mazar

In her BAR article, Eilat Mazar expresses some caution in identifying the “Isaiah” of the seal impression (‘bulla’) with Isaiah the Prophet. The top line of writing clearly reads “leyesha‘yah[u]” (Hebrew: לישעיה[ו]; [belonging] “to Isaiah”). But there is more debate about the bottom line, on which the letters n-b-y are fairly clear. This would usually be the place for writing the name of the father of ‘Isaiah’. So we would expect usually that the seal would read ‘Isaiah [son of ] Nobai’. The word bn (“son of”)  is often not included in seals from this period, so its absence here does not give us any reason to doubt that Nobai is the patronymic (‘father’s name’).

Given the break on the left-hand side of the bulla (the end of each line), it is unclear whether there were originally further letters at the end. Mazar believes that there was a vav (ו) at the end of Isaiah’s name, which is plausible given the biblical spelling. Mazar also contends that there was an aleph at the end of nby, forming the title “prophet” or nby’ (נביא), rather than the patronymic Nobai.  Yet there is no aleph or part-aleph visible at the end of the second line. By inserting a hypothetical missing letter, Mazar creates the reading “Isaiah the prophet”, i.e., the biblical prophet.

There are good reasons to conclude that the seal does not refer to “Isaiah the Prophet”:

1. As pointed out by Christopher Rollston, George Athas, and Jim Davila, the spelling of “prophet” with the ‘y’ marking a long vowel (not a consonant) would be very rare at this time.

You would expect the Hebrew term for “prophet” to be spelled n-b-‘ (with an aleph on the end, and with no yod at all). In later examples of letters from Lachish (3.20; 16.5), this is exactly what we get for the description of a son of a prophet: n-b-‘.

Lachish 3 20
Lachish 3.20

2. You would expect the definite article he to be prefixed to n-b-y if it spelled n-b-y[-‘].

Where the occupation of a person appears on an extant bulla, it always prefixed with the letter he, meaning “the prophet” or “the baker” or “the priest”, etc. In fact, Mazar acknowledges this: “no seals or bullae with single-word titles such as “prophet” (nvy’), “scribe” (spr), or “priest” (khn) that lack the definite Hebrew article “h” at the beginning are known from excavations or private collections” (Eilat Mazar). As can be seen in her drawing above, Mazar tries to squeeze a he in at the end of the first line. But there is clearly no room on the seal impression for a he after a vav.

[In addition, there is some doubt whether nby’ would be the term used by a prophet in ca. 700 BCE. The Deir Alla inscription has hozeh (חזה) or “seer”, which 1 Samuel 9.9 (6th-century BCE??) recognizes as the term formerly used in Israel and Judah for nby’. On the other hand, we see nb[y]’  used in the ca. 600 BCE letter from Lachish mentioned above (Lachish 3). While it’s far from clear whether “seer” or “prophet” would be expected on the Isaiah bulla, the point should be made that we might not expect to find nb[y]’ in ca. 700 BCE (and so there are less secure grounds to add a he and aleph).]

3. The word n-b-y already makes sense, without suggesting that there are other letters on the end.

As I noted earlier, lyš‘yh[u] nby would usually be translated as the patronymic “Isaiah [son of] Nobai”. It could, alternatively, mean “Isaiah the Nob-ite”, a resident of the hill of Nob, 2km away within Jerusalem – but again, usually with the definite article, he. Rollston lists other options, none of which require inserting (as Mazar does) an extra letter.

4. The same icon at the top of the seal was probably used by another ‘son of Nobai’.

Eilat Mazar has oddly identified the icon (picture) at the top of the bulla as “the lower part of a grazing doe”. What is odd about this identification is that the ‘hind legs’ would be much thicker than the front legs.


Mazar bases this identification on an icon of a grazing doe on a bulla found in her excavation of the so-called City of David (Mazar and Levyatan, “Hebrew and Non-Indicative Bullae”, 2015). I am obliged to note that this excavation, too, is illegal under international law, as it took place in occupied Palestinian territory.

But on that bulla, as in other bullae with does and gazelles, the legs are much thinner:

Compare other Hebrew bullae with grazing does – all of which also have very thin legs (collected by Tallay Ornan, “The beloved, Ne’ehevet, and other does”, 2016):

No, the alleged ‘hind legs” look a whole lot more like a bird’s tail-feathers, of which there are many examples on Hebrew bullae.

Compare Mazar’s Isaiah bulla to the bulla listed in Avigad & Sass, #693 (p. 255):

Despite the fragmented state of the Isaiah bulla, the bird, probably either a pigeon or dove, appears to be the same in each case. The bulla on the right is from the A. Spaer collection, and despite difficulties in provenance, also dates to ca. 700 BCE, and is also purportedly from Jerusalem.

And they share the same patronymic, “Nobai”. The bulla above, on the right (bulla #693 in Avigad & Sass) has the name “‘Oreb [son of ] Nobai”. Very similarly, the Isaiah Bulla has “Isaiah [son of] Nobai”. Both bullae therefore have the same bird and patronymic combination. It may even be the exact same bird, a dove or pigeon, and therefore a family icon. We could well have two brothers, sons of the same Nobai (although, I wouldn’t want to speculate).

Therefore, given the evidence of Bulla #693, the better conclusion is that the ‘Isaiah’ of the Isaiah bulla is “Isaiah [son of] Nobai”, possibly a brother of “‘Oreb [son of] Nobai”, and not “Isaiah the prophet”.

Mazar may well counter that she only mooted the possibility that the Isaiah bulla refers to the biblical prophet Isaiah. But as Christopher Rollston points out in “An Ancient Medium in the Modern Media: Sagas of Semitic Inscriptions”, scholars are responsible when they encourage sensationalist media reporting – which can remain in the public mind long after scholars have had the time to counter it. And already, several news outlets have misidentified the ‘Isaiah’ of the Isaiah bulla with Isaiah the prophet, both with and without qualifying that this was only a possibility: e.g., The Times of Israel, Jerusalem PostNewsweek, National Geographic, Fox News, The Daily Mail, and the National Post.

Joan Taylor knows what Jesus looks like: he is basically Bret from Flight of the Conchords

Professor Joan Taylor has written a book about what Jesus looks like.

In What Did Jesus Look Like? (T&T Clark, February 2018), Joan Taylor imagines what Jesus would have looked like “as an average man”, reconstructed from the most up-to-date scientific knowledge concerning average first-century-AD Jewish men.

According to Taylor, this is what Jesus would have looked like, “if he was average”:

Jesus, as drawn by Joan Taylor, from What Did Jesus Look Like? (T&T Clark, 2018)
Jesus, as drawn by Joan Taylor, from What Did Jesus Look Like? (T&T Clark, 2018), p. 192 (Figure 76)

So basically, Jesus is Bret from Flight of the Conchords:

Overall, then, we can arrive at a general image of Jesus as an average man: he was probably around 166 cm (5 feet 5 inches) tall, somewhat slim and reasonably muscular, with olive-brown skin, dark brown to black hair, and brown eyes. He was likely bearded (but not heavily, or with a long beard), with shortish hair (probably not well kept) and aged about 30 years old at the start of his mission.

I note that Bret is a New Zealander. So this fact allows us to reach a further significant scientific conclusion: Kiwi men are the most Jesus-like men in the world.

Go in peace.

[Update: See Joan Taylor’s short article in the Irish Times, “What did Jesus really look like, as a Jew in 1st-century Judaea?“, 27 February 2018]

Otago is a veritable Hotbed of Studies on 1 Corinthians 11.2-16

Within the last 12 months, two women who received PhDs from the University of Otago have published not one – but TWO – publications on the same, relatively short passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.

1 Corinthians 11.2-16 sets out a succession of reasons for making women wear veils. Some of the reasons, admittedly, are a bit of stretch. In fact, towards the end, Paul gets a bit desperate, and even cites the possibility that angels might see a mortal woman’s hair and want to shag her. (This was the first century AD, after all, so the possibility of randy angels with hair fetishes wanting to shag human women was a very real fear.)

Having listed five or so reasons why women should keep their hair covered, and realising that the the reasons were all quite unconvincing, Paul ends by proclaiming ‘well, that’s the way we do things around here, anyway’. Or words to that effect. So most people take 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 as a bit of a laugh. Not, I acknowledge, most people who are given to read it. And there are plenty of good laughs available in both of these books, for varied reasons.

Gillian Townsley is the author of the first book: The Straight Mind in Corinth: Queer Readings Across 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2017). Her book employs queer theory to examine “the sex-gender ideologies as well as the politics and power relations that lie behind both the text itself and various interpretations of it”.

Of quite a different flavour is Lucy Peppiatt’s book, Unveiling Paul’s Women: Making Sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2018). Peppiatt’s book is more theological than queer, at least by intent. It offers a “re-reading of the text that paints the apostle Paul as a radical, visionary, church planter who championed women in all forms of leadership”. Must be one of those radical reader-response books!

Is there something about the women at Otago that causes this remarkable literary output on 1 Corinthians 11.2-16? Is there something about Dunedin that inspires its students and past students to ponder Paul of Tarsus’ fashion tips for women?

Well, we have the answer this week in Queens Gardens, in the heart of Dunedin:

[nb. Also see the recent discussion on veiling in 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 and the “construction of European gender” in chapter 4 of Fatima Tofighi’s Paul’s Letters and the Construction of the European Self (Bloomsbury, 2017).]

On Trad-Historical Principles, Authenticity of “Son of Man” sayings a Non-Starter

On traditional-historical principles, every mention of “Son of Man” as future redeemer in the Gospel of Mark is most probably secondary and inauthentic. The historical Jesus never uttered the phrase in this eschatological sense.

The first tradition-historical ground is based on the well-recognized fact that the eschatological “Son of Man” sayings never overlap with any “Kingdom of God” sayings. What is the significance of this literary feature in Mark? It is clear that one of the primary concerns of the historical Jesus was to tell people that God’s Kingdom was about to arrive in some dramatic fashion. Although consensus among historical Jesus scholars is hard to find, almost all agree on this point: Jesus’ teachings were dominated by the theme of the Kingdom of God. Yet remarkably, Jesus never mentions the “Son of Man” in relation to this coming Kingdom. These are the two most distinct eschatological motifs on Jesus’ lips in the Gospel of Mark, and he never talks about the Son of Man in relation to the Kingdom. Or vice-versa. For example, in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13), Jesus makes a long eschatological speech leading up to the coming of the Son of Man, but never mentions the Kingdom of God. The closest proximity of the two themes is Mark 8.38-9.1 – where the two are clearly from separate traditions, separated in the text of Mark by a second introduction (“And he [Jesus] said to them…”).

As Philipp Vielhauer summarizes: “Already, however, the striking fact should be noted that in none of the individual synoptic Son of Man sayings is there a statement about the Kingdom of God; not even where the speech is about the coming Son of Man. The sayings about the Son of Man and those about the Kingdom of God are apparently two different strands of tradition in the sayings of Jesus” (Schon jetzt ist aber die auffällige Tatsache festzustellen, daß in keinem der einzelnen synoptischen Menschensohn-Worte eine Aussage über die Gottesherrschaft gemacht wird; auch dort nicht, wo vom kommenden Menschensohn die Rede ist. Die Worte vom Menschensohn und die von der Gottesherrschaft gehören offenbar zwei verschiedenen Überlieferungssträngen der Herrenworte an; “Gottesreich und Menschensohn” p. 53).

If that’s not enough, there is a further traditional-historical argument for seeing every “Son of Man” saying as secondary. Paul never uses the phrase. Like Mark, he’s writing to a predominantly Gentile audience, although one familiar with Jewish traditions. Yet by contrast, Mark has little problem in rendering the Aramaic bar enosh as a technical term in Greek (and the Aramaic phrase inevitably becomes a technical term when rendered in Greek as ὁ υἱος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, because it’s too awkward to be read as non-translation Greek). So there is no good argument for saying that Paul avoided the phrase “Son of Man” on mere translation grounds.

What makes it highly unlikely that Paul simply avoided a term previously used by Jesus (and presumably remembered by Jesus’ earliest followers) is that the concept of ‘Son of Man’ fits perfectly with Paul’s description of the exalted Christ. Like the Son of Man of the Gospels (and to an extent the Son of Man in the Similitudes), Paul’s Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God, and was going to return soon to take Christians to heaven, and was going to be involved in the final judgment, and possessed an exalted heavenly form. When Jesus described the person who was going to do and be all these things, he called him the ‘Son of Man’. The term was ready-made for Paul’s conception of Christ, and yet he doesn’t use it – because he hadn’t heard it from Jesus’ followers. Therefore, the absence of the term ‘Son of Man’ from Paul strongly corroborates – on traditional-historical principles – that the phrase was a post-Historical Jesus, post-Pauline development in Christianity.

On tradition-historical grounds, the idea that the historical Jesus called himself the “Son of Man” should be a non-starter.

So why does it have such support in New Testament studies? Could it be to do with the fact that the term always appears on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark? And that given the dominant demography of New Testament scholarship, this fact makes it hard to reject it as entirely secondary?


Poland and the Nazi Death Camps and Fake News

Agnon - Das Buch der Polnischen JudenThe News has been full of reports that Poland is criminalizing any mention of Poles being involved in the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.

According to Ha’aretz, “Polish Parliament’s Lower House Votes to Criminalize Mention of Polish Crimes in the Holocaust” (28 January 2018). According to the Times of Israel (27 January 2018), Yad Vashem protested that “restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion” of the Holocaust. The same report records Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as responding with the quip, “History cannot be re-written. The Holocaust cannot be denied.” Netanyahu later added that Israel had “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust” (The Telegraph, UK, 29 January 2018).

But all of these statements are highly misleading. The Polish legislation does nothing to stop people discussing the role of individual Poles in the Holocaust. The amendment is restricted to prohibit calling the actions of Nazi Germany in the Holocaust as actions of the “Polish State” or “Polish Nation”.

The legislation (Druk nr 806) introduces amendments to the Institute of National Remembrance Act (Instytucie Pamięci Narodowej). Article 55A(1) introduces a fine or prison sentence for anyone who

“ascribes to the Polish Nation or to the Polish State responsibility or co-responsibility for the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich”.

So the amendment does not apply to those who blame individual Poles for individual acts of collaboration with the Nazis. The scale of the involvement of Poles in the Holocaust is a matter of ongoing historical debate. Polish authorities tend to emphasize the role of those who assisted Jews during the German occupation, and minimize the role of those Poles who were complicit. Others have less favourable opinions of Polish involvement in the Nazi Holocaust. Yet this debate will still be allowed under the legislation, as the legislative amendments don’t apply to this debate. In addition, there is an explicit exemption even for attributing it to the Polish Nation or State, for “artistic or academic activity” (Article 55A(3)).

What the Polish legislation does deal with is the false attribution of the German Holocaust to the Polish Nation or State. This is beyond doubt, as the Polish State did not in fact exist after the German takeover during WWII, except in exile. Poles have been understandably upset that the German death camps have been regularly, but misleadingly, referred to as “Polish death camps” – including in a 2012 speech by the US President Barack Obama. They are especially aggrieved given the fact that 6 million Poles died at the hands of the German Nazis, including 3 million Jewish Poles and 3 million non-Jewish Poles.

As recently as 29 June 2017, Israel agreed that the description “Polish death camps” was incorrect. On that date, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (of which Israel is a member) adopted a statement that the use of the terms “Polish camps” and “Polish death camps” was “historically unsupportable”.

So Israel last year agreed that the term “Polish Death Camps” contravenes the Stockholm Declaration’s requirement to tell the truth of the Holocaust and to avoid denial and distortion. But now that Poland has made the very phrase “Polish Death Camps” illegal, Israel has taken the opposite stance, interpreting the Polish legislation as itself being a “denial of the Holocaust”.

The Israeli response is, at least, a badly judged response based on poor news reporting. I have read dozens of news reports on the controversy which has arisen in the last few days. None of them quote the actual legislation at the heart of the matter. That journalistic failure has led directly to Israel’s misguided opposition to the Polish legislation.