By Jeff Gill
A remarkable discovery in the desert outside of Tucson, Arizona has scholars buzzing around the world, and checking their closets for shirts without stripes that can be worn on TV interview programs, since stripes can create odd patterns on the set and distract the viewer. Published first in the Journal of Occasional Studies, a twice-annual periodical found in all the libraries to which it is sent, Dr. Ferb Forster has written a potentially revolutionary study of the “Tucson fragment” as it is now known, since I just told you that, entitled “Did Jesus Have a Dog?”
While scholars of the Greco-Roman world had long known that mosaics with the letters “Cave Canem” were a dead giveaway that Greeks and Romans had dogs which could speak Latin, the status of canines in the world of 1st century Judea is largely a Terra Incognita (all of which has used up my allocation of Latin allusions for 2012 in this column). The “Tucson Fragment” is a corroded, bent, rusty partial dog license tag on which the Roman letters “…over” can be seen on the top line, “ll shots and fe” on the second, and excitingly on the third line is (pretty much) clearly the word “Jesus” followed by “Martinez” and some numbers and another, illegible word.
Some have pointed out that metal dog license tags are not known to have been used in ancient Israel (or even in Rome, for that matter); a few have also observed that the location of the discovery in Arizona, almost half a world away from the Galilean lake and Judean hills where the historical Jesus walked, would seem to discredit the find on its face. Dr. Forster is undeterred by such nay-sayers, however, and suggests that the somewhat mysterious circumstances of the object’s discovery are an indication that the “Tucson fragment” is not of local origin, but was brought over by some later traveler, such as Welsh explorers of the fourteenth century, or a wandering itinerant rabbi dealing on the side in antiquities from his homeland.
Prof. Kibble Conway, a long-time foe of Dr. Forster in the annual faculty picnic tug-of-war, has stated firmly to anyone who would listen that the so-called “least hypothesis” or application of “Occam’s razor” to this bristly problem would point anyone with even a small dose of good sense to the realization that this is a recent, modern dog tag of an animal owned by a Jesus Martinez, which either died in the desert having run off, or was running about the desert with the Martinez family on vacation when the tag simply fell off the dog’s collar.
Forster notes the unresolved and frankly inconsistent explanation offered by his academic nemesis, and lifts up the fact that “Mar Tinez” in Hebrew could, with the adjustment of a few letters, be a reference to “Mar,” the respected one, and “Tinez” an Aramaicization of Thomas, who is called “the Twin” and may even be a twin for Jesus depending on which Dan Brown novel you’ve last read. Seen in such a light, the “Tucson Fragment” is a mysterious window into the ancient past: and what might it tell us about Jesus?
There are no references to dogs in any of the canonical gospels, but Conway insists that there are a number of dogs roaming through some of the “deutero-canonical” gospels, rejected by the early church, for which he had citations in a pile on his desk just a minute or so ago. If Jesus did indeed have a dog, it would radically change everything we thought we knew about the man; as a dog owner, and dog lover, his image would be much more warm, humane, and approachable claims Forster.
“Nonsense,” sputters Conway, “at the most, it would mean Jesus had a dog. Which he didn’t.” Despite the best efforts of deniers like Prof. Conway, students and scholars plan to continue their investigations, and find out more about this tantalizing possibility: that when Jesus walked on water, he had a dog splashing along doing a dog paddle right beside him.