2014-10-28

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 14: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses (continued)

by Roger Parvus

For all posts in this series: Roger Parvus: A Simonian Origin for Christianity

Previous post in this series:  A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 13: Simon/Paul and the Law of Moses

 

Heikki Räisänen, in the preface to the 2nd edition of his Paul and the Law, writes:

There is at least a general agreement that Paul’s view of the law is a very complex and intricate matter which confronts the interpreter with a great many puzzles… [A] vast host of interpreters has felt, and feels, that there are problems—logical and other—in Paul’s theology of the law. (p. xii)

And, continues Räisänen:

Differences come to light when one tries to synthesize the individual observations, which also entails deciding whether various tensions are apparent or real. On this level, very diverse syntheses stand in opposition to each other. Scholars quite often suggest that all previous syntheses are unconvincing—and then bravely offer a brand new one. (p. xii)

quote_begin If Marcion was right, what the letters say about the Law is likely a composite of what two people wrote: the Apostle and a Judaizing interpolator quote_end

But perhaps it is not the complexity of Paul’s view of the Law that has made a convincing synthesis so elusive. Marcion, the earliest known interpreter of the Pauline letters, contended that the text in circulation in his day had been interpolated earlier by someone whose rejection of Judaism was less radical than that of the original author. That means the alleged tampering would have occurred anywhere from 75 to 125 years before the time our earliest extant manuscripts of the letters are dated.

If Marcion was right, what the letters say about the Law is likely a composite of what two people wrote: the Apostle and a Judaizing interpolator who “corrected” them. And if so, a coherent synthesis will forever be impossible. Disentanglement will be needed, not synthesis.

I have been freely playing the interpolation card in this series, trying to see if Marcion’s claim can provide solutions to the puzzles in the Pauline letters. Specifically, I am trying to see if the letters make better sense when viewed as writings of Simon of Samaria that were later interpolated by a proto-orthodox Christian.

In my last post I started looking into the law-related inconsistencies in Galatians and Romans. I suggested that the apparent denial of the divine origin of the Mosaic Law in Galatians 3:19 may be Simon’s work, and the clear exoneration of said Law in Romans 7 the work of an interpolator.

Let’s now go back and take a look at the literary context of the denial. Let’s see if the context can be plausibly untangled into two different positions regarding the Law.

Faith and Works

In Galatians 3 the Apostle begins by reminding his readers that they received the Spirit by faith, not by works of the Law. Their reception of the Spirit and their experience of “mighty deeds” (Gal. 3:5) had been triggered by their faith in the message preached by the Apostle, a message he apparently confirmed by putting before their eyes the writing(s)—the Vision of Isaiah?—in which Jesus Christ was “forewritten as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). Moreover, continues the letter, it is not Abraham’s Law-observant descendants who have been blessed along with him, but rather anyone who has Christian faith. “So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham… those who are men of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal 3:7 and 9).

For all who are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law, for “He who through faith is justified shall live.” But the law does not rest on faith, for “The man who does them shall live in them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree”—that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Brothers, in terms of merely human relations no one annuls even a man’s covenant, or adds to it, once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, “And to seeds,” referring to many; but, referring to one, “And to your seed,” which is Christ. What I am saying is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (Gal. 3:10-18)

So far there is nothing here that could not have been written by Simon of Samaria.

It is the next section that brings in ideas that are hard to harmonize with each other and with the passages above. The attempts to do so, according to J.B. Lightfoot, already numbered in the hundreds when he wrote his 1865 commentary on Galatians (Galatians p. 146).

read more »


2014-10-27

The Fictions of the Laws of Moses, Hammurabi and the Gospel Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

The following words were written by a scholar of the Bible.  To what historical scenario of the Bible do you think the words were referring?

The fact that so many scholars work with the “historical” hypothesis does not make it the correct one. 

Bible scholars can get away with saying things like that about books in the Bible as long as they are not talking about the Gospels. Some even question the entire historical basis of David and Solomon. But the Gospels are sacred windows opening out to the historical details of Jesus Christ. Not that critical scholars for a moment think that the narrative details themselves are historically accurate; they apply various methods in efforts to divine traditions, memories and sayings that supposedly lay behind those stories.

The author of the above words also wrote in the same chapter:

This particular thesis [that the text is describing genuine historical events] is protected from critical scrutiny because we lack the means of corroborating the historical reconstruction . . . 

I am skeptical about the conventional approach not only because its results are beyond the reach of examination. The problem is also that the approach too readily assumes that the texts straightforwardly lend themselves to historical . . . analysis. 

That is, the author is expressing disagreement with the practice of merely assuming that the contents of an ancient text are informing us about a genuine historical past. The problem with this assumption is that we have no way of corroborating the supposedly historical account. Is it possible that what we are reading was not written as historical memory at all? How can we tell? read more »


2014-10-26

The Argument from Design Meets a Third Contender, and Bayes

by Neil Godfrey
William Paley

William Paley

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer.

But suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there.

Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not admissible in that second case as in the first?

For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive — what we could not discover in the stone — that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g., that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed in any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. (William Paley, Natural Theology, p. 1)

William Paley’s famous argument for creation by a designer consists of two distinct arguments joined together:

  • Artefacts like watches and living organisms like eyes have special functions. Watches to tell the time; various kinds of eyes to see in various types of environments: ”each such entity exists because of its function” (p. 42);
  • Such functionality implies a designer both conscious and intelligent.

Biologists accept the first argument.

The second proposition seems right given the axiom that a cause must precede every effect. The effect is the ability to see. It must therefore follow that the eye was caused to exist for this specific function. In other words we have a teleological argument for the existence of eyes. They appeared for the purpose of enabling sight.

According to Paley there are only two alternatives. A complex organism, such the eye, must have come about either by

1. a conscious designer

or

2. blind chance aided by no other mechanism

read more »


2014-10-25

Casey’s Calumny Continued: Response Concluded

by Neil Godfrey

Maurice Casey continues:

A number of Godfrey’s comments on himself when he was a member of the Worldwide Church of God are sufficiently similar to his comments on scholars as to give the impression that not only has he no clue about critical scholars, which is obvious from his many comments, but that he is basically expressing rejection of his former self. For example, he comments:

‘Only by lazy assumptions about their sources can biblical “historians” declare Jesus’ crucifixion a “fact of history”…” [Link is to the original source for this quotation]

Godfrey, however, comments on his previous self:

‘As a fundamentalist WCG believer I believed I had all the big answers to the big questions of life. I simply shut my mind to any idea that questioned those answers. In a little more detail, he comments on his movement out of the Worldwide Church of God in the 1980s, ‘So I seriously studied the origins and nature of the Bible for the first time in my life. Strange (or just lazy or cowardly or both?) that I had spent my whole life studying its content . . . but all that time I never before thought to study in any real depth, and with true open-minded honesty, the origins of that content.’

I do not doubt that these are fair comments on Blogger Godfrey, but that is no excuse for him to attribute similar habits to critical scholars. (p. 31)

(Well I’ve never accused biblical scholars of being cowardly but it would strengthen Casey’s argument if I had.)

When Casey originally posted this criticism on Hoffmann’s blog I pointed out — see the subsection Did Not Give Proper References in Concluding Response of Blogger Neil Godfrey to Blogger Maurice Casey of TJP®©™ – how he had so badly mangled the citation that he was in fact misrepresenting my words. In his book he has corrected the error but in so doing he has self-servingly removed all context entirely from my words.

Whether it’s laziness or something else I cannot say, but Casey does not address the context of the words he has quoted from my post. My laziness remark was a direct quotation from a biblical historian — one of Casey’s own academic peers.

I was actually quoting two of Casey’s peers making the “laziness” charge. One of them had been working at a university quite near to Casey’s.

Laziness is common among historians. When they find a continuous account of events for a certain period in an ‘ancient’ source, one that is not necessarily contemporaneous with the events , they readily adopt it. They limit their work to paraphrasing the source, or, if needed, to rationalisation.” — Liverani, Myth and politics in ancient Near Eastern historiography, p.28. From my post:  Lazy historians and their ancient sources

There has been a very strong tendency to take the Biblical writing at its face value and a disinclination to entertain a hermeneutic of suspicion such as is a prerequisite for serious historical investigation. It is shocking to see how the narrative of the Nehemiah Memoir has in fact been lazily adopted as a historiographical structure in the writing of modern scholars, and how rarely the question of the probability of the statements of the Nehemiah Memoir have been raised.(Clines, What Does Eve Do to Help, p. 164) From my post: Naivety and laziness in biblical historiography (Nehemiah case study 5)

The “laziness” of building a case upon “unquestioned assumptions” is a point regularly surfacing in the scholarly debates on research into the history behind the biblical narratives.

One thing my cult experience taught me: Never assume what you read or hear is true. Always check the sources for yourself. If scholars assume what they read is true (such as assuming what Casey writes is true) despite their training to know better then they deserve to be faulted.

Am I imputing my own past habits to critical scholars? There is no way anyone can compare the process by which I embraced the teachings of the WCG and the scholarly processes of critical scholars.

Casey could have read my little biographical statements on this blog where I happily admit that I have brought some positives with me out of my negative religious past. One of these is an acute awareness of just how easy it is for me to be wrong despite my best intentions otherwise. Another was a resolve to always strive to double check my assumptions and learn how to validly evaluate everything. If I see a failure to question assumptions in some historians’ works I am reassured to find others who are similarly aware and who avoid those pitfalls. Would Casey accuse scholars like Liverani and Childs of likewise expressing rejections of their former selves?

Always the anti-semitic innuendo
read more »


2014-10-23

Maurice Casey’s Calumny: My Reply

by Neil Godfrey

jesuscaseyWhen I first read Maurice Casey’s descriptions of me and this blog I couldn’t take them seriously. Anyone who knows me — even if only online — knows what absurd nonsense his accusations are. They are nothing but the malicious payback over my temerity to address critically what I believe are the unfounded assumptions and fallacious reasoning behind some of his and his friends’ arguments. Perhaps my biggest sin of all was that I sometimes resorted to “entertaining and somewhat naughty comments”, a bit of gentle satire, to drive home my points when they seemed to elicit nothing but abusive insults in response. “Entertaining satire”, I thought, was more appropriate than repaying insult with insult. “Entertaining and somewhat naughty comments” is Maurice Casey’s way of describing a colleague’s words. He has a different description for mine.

A few scholars, among them Jim West, James Crossley, Joseph Hoffmann and James McGrath, have indicated that they seriously believe Casey’s “research” (sic) into the biographical details of various “mythicists” is “valuable” and “informative”. This post tests their evaluation against the evidence relating to one case-study in Casey’s book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myth?

Casey accused this Vridar blog of being

ignorant, opinionated, rude and malicious. (p. 27)

Anyone can make up their own mind on that one just by reading a few posts.

Of me he has said that I

do not understand scholarship. . . love to misrepresent scholars, especially by portraying [them] as ignorant (p. 27)

And if you’re not just a lurker but sometimes comment on Vridar Casey says “most of” you are no different.

On this blog’s right hand column there is drop down box from which readers can select an archive on any specific topic I have posted about. Listed there are posts to 156 books by various authors, 223 posts in all. Anyone curious enough can select any one of those posts see how often I have ”loved to misrepresent” the work discussed and how many times I loved to portray the authors as ignorant.

I hardly have to defend myself where anyone interested can see for themselves the facts of the matter. read more »


2014-10-22

Dispelling the Jesus Mythicist Myth

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 6.57.16 pmJames McGrath directs readers interested in learning more about mythicism to read Dispelling the Jesus Myth, a blogpost by Simon J. Joseph. So I did. Simon’s post introduces nothing new into the discussion. It is the same litany of objections to mythicism one has run across countless times before so I was about to move on and forget about it when it occurred to me that the reason we keep reading these same weary objections may to some extent be because it is too easy to simply ignore them. So for what it’s worth this time I’m taking the time to respond to Simon’s post.

(“For what it’s worth” . . . . One does wonder, especially given the all too commonly observed failure of scholars who protest the loudest against mythicism to bother even to find out what the arguments of mythicists actually are.)

Discrediting and debunking?

Simon Joseph’s first criticism is that

For many, Jesus-Mythicism serves as an effective tool in discrediting the Cornerstone of . . . “Christianity”. Most mythicists are not interested in participating in Jesus Research; they want to debunk it.

From the outset we have here a criticism that is going to shut down any serious thought of genuinely looking into mythicist arguments. No doubt one will find many people among those declaring Jesus never to have existed who want to debunk Christianity. I posted about one such author only a few days ago. I also pointed out that polemics are not what seriously argued mythicism is about.

I have posted here at length on the views of Thomas L. Brodie whose mythicist views have served only to enhance his appreciation of Christianity.

Tom Harpur similarly speaks very positively about Christianity as a direct result, not in spite of, his mythicist view of Jesus Christ.

Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy likewise object only to fundamentalist or literal interpretations of the Gospels — a criticism shared by a significant number of non-mythicist liberal Christians such as John Shelby Spong.)

Robert M. Price has also spoken positively of Christianity since coming to his conclusion that Jesus had no historical existence.

A little while ago I presented in detail the views of an earlier mythicist, Paul-Louis Couchoud whose adoration of Christianity led him to write panegyrics to the faith. See, for example, his conclusion to The Creation of Christ.

Herman Detering remains a church pastor, I believe. I don’t believe anyone ever read a single “debunking” word on Christianity in anything published by Alvar Ellegård and G. A. Wells.

And I suspect names like Kurt Noll, Philip Davies and Arthur Droge who are not mythicists but have expressed an interest in seeing mythicist views addressed more seriously are not motivated by any wish to debunk anything. Thomas L. Thompson appears to hold views that I have also come to embrace with respect to the mythicist question. Debunking and discrediting Christianity are nowhere on the radar in any of his publications.

Very likely those who are the most seriously interested in mythicism are primarily interested in the historical question per se and are not likely to risk such a serious enquiry with polemical distractions. There are some exceptions, of course, but such names have certainly not featured often or always positively on this blog.

Yet the myth persists that “most mythicists” or “many” of them are motivated by a desire to debunk. “Most” and “many” are relative terms. I think I have demonstrated from the above that a good many mythicist authors are actually positive towards Christianity. Most mythicist authors, I would suggest (and see the Who’s Who tables to get some rough idea of the relative numbers), avoid any anti-Christian polemic in their publications.

So why do we regularly read this little bit of ad hominem? read more »


2014-10-20

New Blog by Author of Son of Yahweh, Clarke Owens

by Neil Godfrey

61bab5_d614c82a0cba479794c7ac684e7c3720
One of the most interesting and informative books I have read about the gospels is one that is probably (and most unfortunately) not widely known among biblical scholars, at least not yet. It is a study of the gospels from the perspective of literary criticism. Clarke W. Owens shows us the way literary criticism works and the insights it gives us into the nature of texts and to a certain extent the original intentions of their authors.

Son of Yahweh: The Gospels As Novels demonstrates clearly the role literary criticism plays in ascertaining the historical value of narrative contents. It is on this point that Owens is in sharp disagreement with many New Testament scholars who seem to assume that literary criticism has little or no value for the historian. Scholars using the gospels as historical sources for the study of Jesus sometimes mistakenly professes little or no need for the insights of literary criticism.

Several posts on Owens’ book appear in the Vridar archive.

We can catch up with more of Clarke Owens now on his website Clarke W. Owens and Blog

read more »


Bible Scholars’ Inability to Handle Mythicism: No Meek Messiah by Michael Paulkovich

by Neil Godfrey

nomeekmessiahRecently we have seen on the web more instances of otherwise reputable New Testament scholars demonstrating their apparent inability to actually read with any serious attempt at comprehension or publicly discuss radical views that originate from unwashed outsiders.  (The second case I will discuss here involves a quite unexpected and unexplained banning of comments from me on a certain blog.)

  • We have seen the way Professor James McGrath boldly wrote that Doherty said or did not say certain things in his “review” of his book and the way I could demonstrate word for word, page for page, that McGrath clearly had not read as much of Doherty’s book as he claimed he had.
  • Then we saw Bart Ehrman making so many gaffes in his self-proclaimed first-ever scholarly “sustained argument that Jesus must have lived”: among the very many howlers were attributing to G. A. Wells an argument he flatly opposes (that Jesus was crucified in the heavenly realm my demons) and attributing to Doherty as “one of the arguments he makes in his book” the actual central thesis of his book!
  • Next appeared an anti-mythicist book by Maurice Casey that erroneously accused several non-mythicists of being his hated targets and that again accused others of sustaining arguments they in fact do not hold.
  • Most recently I have experienced James Crossley ignoring titles, sub-headings and opening words of my sentences in order to lift part sentences out of context to sarcastically accuse me of writing the very opposite of the point I was making.

Why do scholars, professors, seem to be incapable of reading with minimal comprehension certain types of works they seek to refute or that they presumably merely fear they might find offensive?

Is there a certain measure of fear there? Fear that others might see that their research careers have been built on sand? Or is it just plain old intellectual arrogance?

For whatever reason it seems to me that such scholars approach certain types of works so emotively that they are incapable of reading the words on the page with any normal faculty of calm comprehension. Sometimes I’ve opened a letter or email I’ve expected to be outrageous in some manner and I’ve read it with that presumption and reacted just as I expected to react after glancing over it. Only later after calming down have I been able to see that I read my initial expectations into the words and that it was not nearly so bad as I had originally thought. Is that how scholars read works by mythicists (or even from me in some cases?) — except that they never return later for the second reading in a calmer frame of mind?

Earlier this month Candida Moss (noted recently for her Myth of Persecution) and Joel Baden (The Historical David), both reputable professors, combined to produce a bit of sarcastic “comedy” for The Daily Beast– ostensibly a review of a crazy mythicist publication. James McGrath couldn’t resist a good guffaw and immediately invited all of his readers to take a look and get a good belly laugh, too. Aren’t those mythicists such incompetent ignoramuses! That was the message and presumably the entire intent of posting the review and notice of it.

Maybe I’ve been around this business for too long now but I sensed something was not quite right. None of these professors actually explained what the book was about but only mocked a particular claim giving us all the distinct impression (but without actually explicitly saying so!) that this risible point was the central thesis of the book. So I bought a copy of the book to read for myself.

(Meanwhile I came across another criticism of the book,The Wrong Monkey, this time by a fellow atheist. This review was also critical, but again of just the one point magnified by Moss and Baden.)

The article I’m referring to was in the Real Deal section and given the title So-Called ‘Biblical Scholar’ Says Jesus A Made-Up Myth. In the article Moss and Baden (and subsequently the others) mock a list of 126 ancient names apparently presented as authors from whom we “should” have some evidence about Jesus had he existed. The book being targeted was No Meek Messiah by Michael Paulkovich.

Did anyone who wrote about No Meek Messiah ever read it?

I don’t think so. Or if they did they hid their guilt well from the public.  read more »


2014-10-18

Why Was the Gospel of Matthew Written?

by Neil Godfrey
English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of ...

English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Goulder’s thesis that the Gospel of Matthew was composed specifically to be read out week by week in churches (assemblies) may not have been widely adopted yet I am convinced that the core of his arguments is worth serious consideration. Of course Goulder applies his thesis to the Gospels of Mark and Luke, too, but I focus here on Matthew.

Here is the essence of Goulder’s argument as he himself sums it up in Five Stones and a Sling: Memoirs of a Biblical Scholar (2009). I also build on a simplified table Goulder uses to illustrate his argument in The Gospels According to Michael Goulder: A North American Response (2002).

  • The gospel can be divided up into discrete units or more or less the same length. It ends with the story of the resurrection, a suitable reading for “Easter Day”. (I can hear many of us wondering when “Easter Day” began to be observed and when does the gospel itself appear to have been written. Those questions require more detailed discussion for another time.)
  • Let’s imagine the gospel’s story units were intended to be read serially, week by week, throughout the year, with thematically relevant units meant for their appropriate seasons (such as the resurrection story at “Easter”).  If so, we would expect to begin reading the opening chapter of the gospel after Easter (or after the more Jewish sounding Passover/Wave Sheaf Offering). We would expect to find seven narrative units to coincide with the seven weeks leading up to Pentecost.

Here is what we find:

read more »


2014-10-16

The Origin of the Good Samaritan Parable and Other Lucan Favourites

by Neil Godfrey

David Teniers the Younger (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

John Drury, DD, in The Parables of the Gospels, explains why it is very doubtful that Jesus ever spoke the parable of the Good Samaritan. The evidence points towards the real author of this parable being the same person who was responsible for the work of Luke-Acts. For convenience we’ll call him as Luke.

The parables of Jesus in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew are strongly allegorical. In the Gospel of Luke their allegorical character takes a back seat. The parables in this third gospel are found to be more “realistic stories which are rich in homely detail and characterization.” (Drury, p. 111)

It is not likely that different traditions, one recalling allegorical parables spoken by Jesus and the other more realistic stories of his, went their own distinct ways so that Matthew heard one sort and Luke the other. I think it’s more reasonable to suggest that we see the creative hands of the authors at work.

The All Important Mid-Turning Point

Another indicator that Luke’s creative imagination was responsible for the parables unique to his gospel is their structure.

L [i.e. unique to Luke] parables have a characteristic shape of which the most striking feature is that the crisis happens in the middle, not, as so often in Matthew’s parables, at the end. (Drury, p. 112)

It is this “middle” part of the story, or the mid-point in time, that is the turning point. Not that this observation is original with Drury. It is a familiar pattern to students of Luke’s parables ever since Conzelmann’s The Theology of Saint Luke.

This pattern is in fact a characteristic of all of Luke’s work, so much so that Drury can say

The pattern in the L parables is deeply embedded in Luke’s mind. It is the pattern of the whole of his history. Jesus in his Gospel is not history’s end but its turning point, setting it on a new course in which Judaism drops away and the Christian Church goes triumphantly forward. (p. 113)

So the story of Jesus begins in a narrative rich in allusions to the patriarchal stories of Genesis and Judges, proceeds to portray Jesus as the new Elijah (contrast Mark and Matthew who gave this role to John the Baptist), and follows up Jesus’ mission with the growth of the church as seen in his parables and in Acts. Jesus is the mid-point or turning point of the grand narrative.

This carries over to Luke’s eschatology. In Luke we read less of the end of the age, period, than we do of the end of a person’s life. But that end of the individual’s life is not the end of the story. Consequences of the life led follow. The individual’s end is the turning or mid-point. In the parable of the rich fool, for example, the crisis comes with his unexpected death and this is followed by the punishment he must receive in his afterlife. For Luke the “end” is moved from the cosmic to the individual level.

It’s the way Luke thinks and the way he designs narratives. He didn’t just happen to inherit a subset of parables from Jesus that coincidentally matched his own literary-narrative style and no-one else’s. The parables of Jesus in Luke’s gospel are Luke’s own creations.

If only by symmetry of pattern, the L parables fit perfectly into Luke’s perception of the historical significance of Jesus’ biography. 

By contrast Matthew was “very ready to end his parables with the end of time.”

The All Important Individuals

read more »


2014-10-14

For Whom Were the Gospels Written?

by Neil Godfrey

the-gospels-for-all-christiansBefore Richard Bauckham wrote Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006) he had challenged another common assumption among his peers with The Gospels for All Christians (1998). Since the 1960s it had been the common assumption that each of the canonical gospels had been written for a local religious community. Each gospel had been written for a small “group of churches . . . homogeneous in composition and circumstances.”

Each gospel was generally thought to have addressed the particular situation facing its community. Accordingly the gospels could be read as allegories that told us more about those communities than they did about the events in the life of Jesus.

  • James Louis Martyn led the way in 1968 with History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. He argued that the Gospel’s account of the excommunication from the synagogue of the man healed of blindness was about ”the formal separation of the church and synagogue” occasioned by the decision of the rabbis at Jamnia to reformulate a standard curse against heretics to include Christians in the late first century.
  • Theodore Weeden followed in 1971 with Mark: Traditions in Conflict which persuaded many that when the Gospel of Mark characterized the disciples as completely failing to understand Christ it was in order to criticize Christians in the author’s own day who taught that Christ called them to perform signs and miracles to demonstrate the truth of the gospel. The author represented those in his community who believed Jesus called his followers to suffer and die with him.
  • Philip Esler, 1987, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts, finds in the image of the “flock” in both Luke and in Acts (the church at Ephesus) a symbol of  a small church that is beset by dangers both within and without. The implication (as described by Bauckham) is that the author is addressing that one small troubled community and not the entire church.
  • Andrew Overman, 1990, Matthew’s Gospel and Formative Judaism, explained the gospel as an expression of the struggle of a Galilean Jewish community in conflict with another Jewish sect moving towards what was to become rabbinic Judaism.

What grounds does Richard Bauckham offer for us to think that the gospels were not written for local churches but rather for “all Christians” in all churches everywhere? Or at least a very generalized Christian audience wherever its churches were to be found. read more »


Jerry Coyne, meet Hector Avalos

by Neil Godfrey

I don’t know if Jerry will permit the following words appear on his blog. He has trashed my comments in the past. I submitted the comment in response to Heather Hastie on female genital mutilation: Is it Islamic?  I avoided specific reference to FGM and spoke instead more generally of barbaric practices. (We all know the real instigation of all that has contributed to the current outrage is 9/11 and that FGM is just one more opportunity to kick Islam to the exclusion of other religions.)

Am I permitted to post an alternative view here?

Associate professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and author of The End of Biblical Studies and Fighting Words, Hector Avalos, shows us how ALL religions that are grounded in unverifiable beliefs are at various times and places susceptible to being used to justify a host of barbaric behaviours.

Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, ancestor worship — all have been used to justify horrific practices.

By focussing on just the one religion that is being used by certain peoples in certain times and places and with certain experiences to justify evils we are focusing on the symptoms and missing the real reason for the problems.

No-one blames Christianity or ancestor worship for the barbarisms that drenched pre-Communist China in blood even though these beliefs were used to justify all sorts of hideous tortures and cruelties. We did not always have terrorist Muslims crazed to kill Westerners.

There are reasons that prompt people to flick switches and use religion to justify horrors. The common factor in all of these contingencies is the way we give social respectability to belief systems that are unverifiable.

If we don’t recognize the causes (the real causes) of religious violence and barbarism we are not going to help progress civilized values but could in fact be contributing to the ignorance and chaos.

See, Muslim Violence: Understanding Religion and Humanity.


2014-10-13

The Politics of the Muslim Controversy

by Neil Godfrey

Salman Rushdie condemns ‘hate-filled rhetoric’ of Islamic fanaticism, The Telegraph:

It’s hard not to conclude that this hate-filled religious rhetoric, pouring from the mouths of ruthless fanatics into the ears of angry young men, has become the most dangerous new weapon in the world today.

If the rhetoric is the weapon then let’s find out why are we seeing so many taking it up today? Recent generations have seen several enemies — the rhetoric of nationalism, the rhetoric of corporate capitalism, the rhetoric of state socialism – and this is a new one. What has led to its emergence?

A word I dislike greatly, ‘Islamophobia’, has been coined to discredit those who point at these excesses, by labelling them as bigots. . . . 

It is right to feel phobia towards such matters. . . . To feel aversion towards such a force is not bigotry. It is the only possible response to the horror of events.

I can’t, as a citizen, avoid speaking of the horror of the world in this new age of religious mayhem, and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it, so that young men, including young Britons, led towards acts of extreme bestiality, believe themselves to be fighting a just war.

Salman Rushdie does not like the word Islamophobia but at the same time he self-servingly (probably without realizing it) distorts its meaning and the way it is used. I return to this word below where I address a Sam Harris quote.

Salman Rushdie is telling us that it is ”language that conjures it up”. The image is one of Islamic violence that has been smouldering for centuries like a vulcanic demon impatiently waiting beneath the surface of a bubbling geothermal mud pool for someone to chant the terrible magic words to unleash it.

Rushdie’s failure to reference any historical thinking, or any political-social understanding, is distressing and a little frightening. read more »


2014-10-11

A Secular Approach to Christian Origins Compromised by Faith and Theology

by Neil Godfrey

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This post concludes my series on Crossley’s Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins (26-50 CE).

The previous post is here.  All posts on this book, both the recent ones from 2014 and those from 2010-11, are archived here.


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Misguided equivalence

How is one meant to respond to the words of a secular historian who says it would be “foolish and arrogant” to claim that his approach is “inherently superior” to one used by a Christian apologist? How is it possible for a secular rationalist to engage with a faith-grounded apologist as if both perspectives should be evaluated on an equal footing? Does the virtue of ”mutual tolerance” require persons with opposing intellectual agendas to somehow find a way to exchange views constructively and productively? Does the pointlessness of ”preaching to the converted” mean one’s efforts to exchange ideas among others with a similar philosophical outlook is also pointless?

Imagine the impact if more and more nonreligious, secular-minded historians were to become NT scholars. But if such a hypothetical collection of scholars were to make its impact felt, there must be mutual tolerance and the avoidance of . . . preaching to the converted. It would be foolish and arrogant to claim that one approach is inherently superior to opposing ones. . . . (p. 32)

How can a nonreligious, secular-minded historian possibly not claim his or her approach is inherently superior to an opposing one that “proves” the bodily resurrection of Jesus?

How can a leopard change its spots? How can the Christian apologists ever agree that their methods and faith-assumptions are not superior to those of the secular-minded nonreligious rationalist? What would be the point of being a secular-rationalist if one did not believe that such an outlook was indeed superior to the methods that are justified by faith?

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 11.13.56 pmCrossley confuses particular historical methods and approaches with the philosophical underpinnings most of them have in common: a belief that testable knowledge is more reliably accumulated through secular-rational methods rather than through enquiry guided by and seeking to serve the agenda of religious faith:

Richard Evans has pointed out that the history of history is littered with examples of different hegemonic claims by a given historical theory or practice wanting to dominate the world of historical study but usually ending up as legitimate subspecialities. 

Richard Evans was not addressing faith-histories versus secular histories. He was referring to the various approaches within secular history: postmodernists, psychohistorians, Marxists, feminists, social historians. Crossley has badly misunderstood and misapplied Evans’ point. (See Kindle version of Evans’ In Defence of History, locations 2744 and 3688)

It is not a question of one new method claiming hegemony only to be sidelined to a subspeciality. The real issue is well expressed by Niels Peter Lemche: read more »