2014-12-17

Transvalued Folktales & Classifying the Bible’s Narratives

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by Neil Godfrey

sinai7Recently I posted on the twenty-two typical incidents Lord Raglan found in certain types of mythical tales and that Richard Carrier uses to classify Jesus. I avoided dwelling upon “spiritualizations” of the elements. So when we come to Raglan’s point twelve,

(12) He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor

I resisted addressing the early Christian symbolism of Jesus marrying the Church or the “New Israel”, the “daughter” of the previous Israel who had been metaphorically married to God (Ezekiel 16).

So I was surprised to find another classification scheme for similar stories being transvalued (“spiritualized”) by a scholar responsible for a very well received commentary on Exodus and accordingly earning very high praise indeed in the reviews of his work.

Vladimir Propp

Vladimir Propp

While Lord Raglan identifies elements typical of the hero in the sorts of myths that can be associated with religious rituals, Vladimir Propp analyses the plots and structural elements of folk tales. (Lévi-Strauss takes another step and examines the relationships between such tales and how they reflect different cultural mores.)

William H.C. Propp

William H.C. Propp

Among the structural elements in the plots of folk tales identified by Vladimir Propp are the hero being assigned a difficult task, passing an ordeal, vanquishing rivals, undergoing a change of status, marrying a princess and ascending a throne. Another Propp (no relation), William Propp, a professor of history and Judaic studies, finds these elements in the story of the Exodus. He begins by explaining that the biblical narrative is more complicated than many folk tales given that it has three heroes — Moses, Israel and Yahweh. With reference to the elements just mentioned he writes on page 34:

In some fairy tales, when the Hero returns, he is assigned a difficult task (function M). After passing an ordeal (function N) and vanquishing all rivals (function Ex), he undergoes a change of status (function T), marries a princess and ascends the throne (function W). 

Now where is any of that in Exodus? William Propp continues: read more »


2014-12-16

The Object of Torture

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by Tim Widowfield

I have two reasons for spending so much of my free time on ancient history and Biblical studies. First, I have a genuine, lifelong curiosity about these subjects, but perhaps just as important (especially since 2001), I welcome the pleasant distraction from the awful present. With that background in mind, I reluctantly face the subject at hand: Torture. What is it? Why is it used? Who are its defenders?

Category:George Orwell Category:Nineteen Eight...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘. . . The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’ (1984, George Orwell)

Notwithstanding O’Brien’s explanation of persecution and torture to Winston Smith, people don’t normally engage in torture for its own sake. So, why do they do it? Rule number one of power is that it must protect itself. Any threat to power must be met by every tool available. Whatever public excuse the people in power give us for what they do, we must not forget rule one.

The Tool

Torture is and has always been a tool of the powerful, who need not justify its use. Of course, in Western nations the public voices who represent state power will often provide halfhearted justifications for certain acts of torture re-framed under other names. Hence we have Orwellian euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation,” which vaguely reminds me of the unexpected joy of being upgraded to a seat in first class. Who would complain about being upgraded to enhanced interrogation?

The Law

This fuzzy language could make us forget the legal meaning of torture. The federal code could scarcely be clearer:

read more »


One More Worthy Biblioblog

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by Neil Godfrey

And it’s not even in the list of Top 50 as far as I can see. But it looks so good it could be thought to be a sibling of Vridar at its best.

Articles are well researched, attractively presented, informative, including recommended resources. Their author is

. . . Paul Davidson, a professional Japanese-English translator living and working in Japan. Paul also studies part-time in the Humanities program at the Open University of Japan, with a focus on language, archaeology, and Mediterranean history. At present, biblical studies is purely a personal interest of his.

Of particular interest to me: read more »


Jesus Mythicism: An Introduction

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by Neil Godfrey

An English language version of Minas Papageorgiou’s book is due out in March 2015. (It has only been available in Greek until now.) You can find details on a dedicated Facebook page.

jesusproject

The range of names interviewed and types of mythicism represented in the book is very wide indeed. Here is the back cover blurb with some of the details: read more »


2014-12-15

Paul the persecutor?

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by Neil Godfrey

the-stoning-of-stephen-by-rembrandt-1625I’m taking a light diversion by challenging somebody on earlywritings.com over his assertion that Christians were persecuted like crazy (as per the popular notion derived from the Acts and Eusebian tales). The posts have since met a bit stiffer challenge from more reasonable and knowledgeable participants — so the discussion has become even more rewarding.

Reasons I am questioning the assumption that Paul before his conversion persecuted the church in the sense of haling people off to prison, engaging them with enhanced interrogation techniques, beating them, sometimes too severely so they died:

  • The word for “persecution” is διωγμός — one could “pursue” [δίωκε] righteousness; Paul wrote that Ishmael “persecuted” [ἐδίωκεν] Isaac. The word can have very unpleasant associations when used negatively but does not necessarily mean to beat up and kill.
  • The notion that Paul did beat and kill Christians before his conversion is derived from Acts. I argue elsewhere (following several scholars) that this is theologically motivated fabrication. I am arguing from the evidence of Paul’s letters alone. read more »

2014-12-14

49 days to go — Mark, Gospel on the Margins: the Reception of Mark in the Second Century

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by Neil Godfrey

I have just pre-ordered The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century by Michael Kok. I have 49 days to complete my other reading before it arrives.

Michael has stopped regular blog posting but fortunately keeps his blog as a great resource for studies of the Gospel of Mark:

Here’s what sold Gospel on the Margins to me (taken from Kok’s blog post):

“Controlling abundant primary evidence with fine analysis of biblical and patristic scholarship, Michael Kok reopens the question of Mark’s ambiguous authority in second-century Christianity. That the Gospel lay in the crosshairs of ancient disputes over incipient orthodoxy is a creative proposal, vigorously argued, which merits reflection and testing.”

- C. Clifton Black, Princeton Theological Seminary

“In this invigorating and informative study, Michael J. Kok surveys who knew what about Mark’s Gospel during the second century. In an extremely useful and readable form, he assembles the available evidence and advances the striking hypothesis that early Christian writers were often hesitant to use Mark because they viewed it as susceptible to misuse by rival factions. Kok’s thesis is bold, provocative, and argued with great energy. Moreover, if it is judged correct, it casts significant light on some of the significant forces and dispute at work in the early Christian movement.” read more »


OTAGOsh — Another blog I have too long neglected (till now)

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by Neil Godfrey

Otago Region within New Zealand

Otago Region within New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OTAGOsh” made himself known to me a few years ago in the blogging world but only since finally getting serious with an rss reader this week have I discovered the extent of his brilliant and humorous posts. The name behind the blog is Gavin Rumney and he looks like a kindred spirit with respect to our religious background (we were both members of the Worldwide Church of God) and current views (even politically green ones!) I know I can come across here as far more serious and dogmatic than I am in reality so I like Otagosh’s line forewarning his readers:

I hope you enjoy your time here.  If it’s any consolation, in real life I’m much less opinionated!

Otagosh/Gavin’s posts are a real tonic. He knows how to write. And he knows exactly how to handle Robert M. Price, for example:

What does Bob Price have in common with Martin Luther?

They both got more crotchety as they aged. . . . . . .

As you might already suspect, I’m I big fan of Bob (Dr. Robert M. Price). Not of his politics, I hasten to add, but of his honesty, directness and humour in his chosen field of biblical studies. Again, not that I agree with him on everything, but his ‘take’ on the Bible and religion is always worth considering. He’s not called “the Bible Geek” for nothing.

My favourite line in I Slam Islam is his description of Martin E. Marty as “the very poster-boy for namby-pamby, “standing for nothing, offending no one” liberal Protestantism”.

And there’s much more polemic where that comes from.

Bob is of course a thorough conservative when it comes to politics, somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, which bizarrely puts him at the other end of the spectrum to most of his admirers in the world of atheistic biblical study.

I could read Otagosh for hours. He brings back memories of my old cult days in a way that leaves me with a grin on my face. Some favourites: read more »


P.OST — Another Scholarly Biblioblog Well Worth Reading

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by Neil Godfrey

Its author, Andrew Perriman, describes himself as an evangelical. He sets out his agenda for all to see in plain view. Though we are in opposing camps I find his blog to be one of the most informative and interesting I have yet discovered. I wish I could address more books and ideas the way Andrew does, but then I suppose Andrew is doing a fine enough job and does not need a replica.

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 11.42.09 am

The first post of his that I read was about an author I have also posted on here, Richard Hays. His post, Richard Hays and the God who walks on the sea, questions head on an interpretation I have adopted for some time now — that the Jesus of the Gospel of Mark was depicted as God or some sort of hypostasis of God (whatever that really means). AP spells out the arguments in favour of this interpretation and then sets out why he disagrees. (That such a method in a public blog deserves comment is itself a great shame — it should go without saying, of course.)

One phrase AP uses pulled me up short:

I’m not saying that the idea does not occur, in some form or other, elsewhere in the New Testament, or that the later church was wrong to construct its theology in formal trinitarian terms. I am well disposed towards the view that the divine emperor paradigm was a significant factor in the development of the “kingdom” argument. . . . But I am concerned that in our zeal to establish an early high christology we risk misrepresenting what is actually happening in the Synoptic Gospels . . . .

I have been aware of Larry Hurtado’s and Richard Bauckham’s personal theological bias when they argue for a very early high christology but for some reason I had not quite gone so far as to connect it with a defence of the doctrine of the trinity. I am also reminded of my own “zeal” to see a very early high christology for other reasons: it seems to me that this is inevitable if we are transitioning from Paul and the other epistles to the gospels. But that’s another question entirely. The point is AP’s reminder of the need for scholarly caution. read more »


2014-12-13

A Great Blog For Anyone Abused by a Church

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by Neil Godfrey

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome (with Reba Riley) looks like  is an inspiring and reassuring resource for anyone who has been damaged by a church that abuses. I’m speaking of psychological abuse, mental and emotional scarring that too often comes with a history of damaged families and relationships and even physical and economic ruin.

I’ve referred to my own story a few times but Reba Riley’s experience and exodus is fresher reading. Reba has authored a book, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing in 30 Religions to share her experiences with others. The book that helped me much was psychologist Marlene Winell’s Leaving the Fold — a work I still find myself returning to from time to time. Reba’s book looks similar in some ways but less of a manual. From her page advertising it:

Written for everyone who crashes into religion when they go looking for peace, and for all those who value transformation of spirit and body, this poignant, funny and ultimately inspirational memoir reminds us healing  is possible, brokenness can be beautiful, and that –sometimes– we have to get lost to get found.  

A beautiful feature of Reba’s blog is the way her understanding and compassion for others shines through. She has learned a depth of self-understanding as a result of her experiences and is far more aware of the meaning of our shared humanity than some of us who haven’t suffered in the same sorts of ways. Anyone who says “once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist” is pig-ignorant.

Compare her response to the recent public release of information about torture practices with another by a respected colleague of the biblical scholarly establishment, both posted on the same day. Give me an ex-fundamentalist any day. (At least one who was one of the laity, one of the fleeced flock. I am not so sure about some of those who were once in the higher echelons of the power pyramids. To date I have been disappointed when I have met any of our former “shepherds”.)

Reba’s first post will resonate with those anyone who has struggled to break free from such a past. It begins: read more »


2014-12-12

A Scholarly Biblioblog Doing it Right: Diglotting

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by Neil Godfrey

IesusDeus1Kevin Brown of the Diglotting blog posts about some very interesting books. One of these is Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God which, being available on Kindle, meant I splurged on the spot and now have it waiting impatiently on my desktop to be read. But investigating this book led me to another by the same author, M. David Litwa. (An initial appeal of Litwa, by the way, lies in his being a historian and teacher of Greek rather than a theologian.) That other title is We Are Being Transformed: Deification in Paul’s Soteriology. I may read this one first though it’s only available on a database at the university where I work.

Here is part of Litwa’s conclusion to that book (and one of the big reasons I am keen to read it):

The argument of this book has been that aspects of Pauline soteriology fit the basic pattern of deification in the Greco-Roman world. I defined this basic pattern as sharing in the divine qualities which are constitutive of (a particular) divine identity.

In chapter 1, I narrowed these qualities down to two: immortality and power.

In chapter 2, I tried to show that (1) deification was a pervasive and multi-faceted idea in the Greco-Roman world, and (2) that it sometimes featured human beings as assimilated to specific Gods.

It was the burden of chapter 3 to show that deification (so defined) was not an idea foreign to the Judaism of Paul’s time. The Greek Bible already recognizes immortality as constitutive of deity (Gen 3:20; Ps 81 [82] :6), and calls Israelite kings “God” (Ps 44[45]:7) and “son of God” (Ps 2:7) as vice-regents of God. At the center of Jewish thought, there was thus always an analogy between theomorphic human beings and an anthropomorphic deity (Gen 1:26; Ezek 1:26-28). In Paul, this analogy was centered on Christ, the divine Messiah and image of God (2 Cor 4:4) to whom believers assimilate to regain their theomorphic status. Nevertheless their “theomorphicity” went far beyond what was imagined for original humanity. It involved sharing in Christ’s divine immortality ׳ and universal rule. These are the qualities, I argued, which constitute the divine identity of Christ. read more »


2014-12-11

Hector Avalos Nails It Again . . . . (& Greta Christina, too)

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by Neil Godfrey

The original letter sent asking about the vera...

The original letter sent asking about the veracity of santa claus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hector Avalos has an article in the Ames Tribune on Christmas TV shows. He identifies that “puke” moment that hits me when I watch them:

On the more traditional end, we find “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (1974). The story features a family of mice, one of whose members is Albert, a precocious youngster who is a hard-nosed believer in science and a virtual atheist.

Albert wrote a letter calling Santa a fraudulent myth. As a result, Santa Claus retaliates by threatening to stay away from Albert’s town on Christmas Eve. When Albert’s father discovers what he has done, he tells Albert that he should trust his heart, not his head. After Albert apologizes, Santa forgives the town, and shows up on schedule.

The message emphasizes that faith and looking with “the heart” are actually better instruments to understand the world, and a purely scientific approach is narrow-minded.

- See more at: http://amestrib.com/opinion/hector-avalos-christmas-tv-shows-are-animated-religion#sthash.Ut29Bebj.dpuf

Yuck! I hate that sort of thing in those movies. They are so maudlin-good they are evil.

H/T Debunking Christianity

Then there’s the honest reply to that infamous letter . . . .

No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus . . . . .
read more »


Christianity’s Rock of a Fictional Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 9.32.19 pmI have just completed reading How a Fictional Jesus Gave Rise to Christianity, a web article written by R. G. Price. It begins:

Having written several pieces on the historicity of Jesus (Jesus Myth – The Case Against Historical Christ, Jesus Myth Part II – Follow-up, Commentary, and Expansion, The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory), I think it is of critical importance to not simply cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus, but to actually put forward plausible explanations for the development of early Christian writings and how the widespread belief in a real life Jesus was established. This piece builds on the evidence laid out in my prior writings and ties everything together into a cohesive explanation for the origins of belief in a human Jesus and the development of early Christian history.

Price is not merely attempting to raise doubts about the historicity of Jesus. He hopes to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that there never was a real Jesus at the start of Christianity. He does not focus on the letters of Paul but rather on the Gospels themselves as his primary evidence. Since his argument examines the Gospel narratives and their literary sources he is led to discard even the concept of the “Jesus myth” and replace it with the “Jesus fiction”.

There is little I find myself disagreeing with in Price’s work. Or rather, I think I agree with almost all of it. Readers of past posts on Vridar will recognize some of the themes Price addresses: the literary indebtedness of Gospel narratives to Old Testament stories; the association of the Gospel of Mark with the Jewish War (compare earlier posts here addressing Clarke Owens’ “Son of Yahweh”. Price appears to have absorbed this sort of material from both his own analysis and a wide range of reading. My initial reaction was disappointment in the absence of citations but I soon learned that I was reading a print-out of a draft essay and that Price was at the time editing his work and adding citations.

While on the subject of negatives — there is one minor one I’d like to see Price address. His piece could flow more easily if he could avoid awkward language like “the Gospel called Mark” instead of more simply “Mark’s Gospel”. I can understand the desire to be particular but this sort of thing can be explained at the outset by simply informing readers that the colloquial use throughout does not represent a known fact.

I myself have been moving towards the view that the Gospel of Mark was structured around themes closely related to the (or at least “a”) Jewish War (strengthened by my reading of both Hanhart and Owens) so it is interesting to see Price strongly arguing a similar point. Price argues that the literary allusions are not simply “there” but that he can show how they acquire explanatory power or meaning when understood in the context of the recent Jewish War.  read more »


2014-12-07

A Pause – and What’s Been Happening on This Side

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by Neil Godfrey

The reason I’ve been slow to complete a new post lately is mainly because I’m buried in so much new reading. The major reading project that has taken most of my time is attempting to get on top of the relationships between the various Old Testament and Second Temple books as they address, in particular, the Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12) and the Suffering Servant. The Suffering Servant — and his Messianic function — did have an impact on some Jewish sects before Christianity emerged on the scene. The difficulty is – and this is why I’ve been so involved in more reading than writing lately — that each book I read raises further citations that I am keen to track down and also read more fully.

Recently I read and wrote about Raglan’s hero classification scheme. That, and hearing that another scholar (another one who is primarily an ancient historian and not a theologian) had applied Propp’s work on folktales to the story of the Exodus, prompted me to read Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale. I have nearly completed this now and have been wondering if and how it might apply to the Gospels. Reading this has meant I’ve had to pause my study of Lévi-Strauss’s The Raw and the Cooked that takes another perspective on the way mythology is put together. I don’t know yet how much of all of this I’ll find applicable to the Gospels but I’m interested in working on that project once I’ve got a handle on both Propp and Lévi-Strauss.

And I’m also reading several articles (some quite lengthy ones) that a few readers have asked me to take a look at and comment on.

So it’s been a time of learning more than writing lately. (But the act of organizing thoughts for writing, and double-checking things, is also when I learn the most thoroughly.)

My writing outlet has come in sporadic comments on the earlywritings.com forum and the occasional comments on other blogs.  read more »


2014-11-30

The Memory Mavens, Part 2: A Case Study at Ellis Island

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by Tim Widowfield

Legends that stick

Some myths have extraordinary staying power. Because modern media causes us to believe we’re witnesses to real events, we often reject good evidence that disproves what we think we saw and heard personally. I grew up thinking that the embarrassing mistakes Kermit Schaefer presented on his record albums were completely authentic. We all rolled on the floor laughing as we listened to cuts from Pardon My Blooper, but what my family and I didn’t know was that if Schaefer couldn’t obtain the actual recordings, he’d pay actors to recreate them.

“Goodnight, little friends, goodnight.”

Lots of people still think they know Uncle Don referred to his audience as “little bastards” over an open microphone. Even after you tell them that Schaefer forged the recording (with no warnings on the record, by the way), and even after you show them evidence that it never happened, they’re just so sure of their memories, they can’t quite believe it.

There’s something about hearing it on the radio or on a recording, or seeing it on television or in a movie that makes us complicit in the social memory of an event. We don’t think of the event as something “out there” in the past, but rather something we’re part of. In a sense, the event is part of us. So, for example, even a fictional story like The Godfather can become part of the fabric of our memory, especially the cultural memories of place and time: namely, the United States in the early 20th century.

Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries...

Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries–Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor. (Half of a stereo card) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“They changed our name.”

In The Godfather II, we learn that Vito Corleone’s real surname is Andolini, but that the workers processing immigrants at Ellis Island mistook his home town for his last name and made Andolini his middle name. In the public’s mind these sorts of mistakes went on all the time. Sometimes, it turns out, they just bungled the transcription, and people had to live with their new, misspelled names. Worse than that, sometimes, perhaps many times, those faceless bureaucrats would force immigrants who had strange names to change them to something that sounded more “American.”

Yet, despite the widespread belief in such events, it’s all a myth. In fact, in the novel Vito Corleone deliberately changed his own name. And in real life, we know immigrants were not given new names at Ellis Island. The workers who processed immigrants simply took the names from the ship manifests (usually compiled at the port of embarkation) and transcribed them. They had no authority to modify what they found on the manifests, and they would not have had any incentive to do so.

Nor were they confused by the foreign languages of the incoming passengers. Most of them could speak and read those languages (Italian, German, Polish, etc.), or they could rely on translators standing nearby to help them.

Family memories

This social memory of Ellis Island as a place where heartless government administrators arbitrarily Americanized people’s names corresponds to the family memories of many next-generation ethnic Poles, Italians, Serbs, Croats, Czechs, etc., who learned early on that their name in the Old Country was one thing, but upon arrival, “They changed our name.” Sometimes the new name began with the same letter, but was Anglicized. Or sometimes it was simply translated. So, perhaps Wallechinsky became Wallace or Schmidt became Smith.

read more »