2016-02-10

Fear of All Knowing, Judgemental Gods Makes Us More Sociable?

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by Neil Godfrey

The following article or letter has just appeared in NatureMoralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality. (Or try this link.) Warning, however: high profile journals such as Nature are known to experience the highest retraction rate among scientific publications. Presumably this is because they attract readers (i.e. payers) by publishing articles sure to be popular even though their claims have not been properly tested or have an inadequate peer review process for determining final editorial decisions.

Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of human cooperation and societal complexity has dramatically expanded. This fact challenges standard evolutionary explanations of prosociality because well-studied mechanisms of cooperation based on genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice falter as people increasingly engage in fleeting transactions with genetically unrelated strangers in large anonymous groups.

To explain this rapid expansion of prosociality, researchers have proposed several mechanisms. Here we focus on one key hypothesis: cognitive representations of gods as increasingly knowledgeable and punitive, and who sanction violators of interpersonal social norms, foster and sustain the expansion of cooperation, trust and fairness towards co-religionist strangers.

We tested this hypothesis using extensive ethnographic interviews and two behavioural games designed to measure impartial rule-following among people (n = 591, observations = 35,400) from eight diverse communities from around the world: (1) inland Tanna, Vanuatu; (2) coastal Tanna, Vanuatu; (3) Yasawa, Fiji; (4) Lovu, Fiji; (5) Pesqueiro, Brazil; (6) Pointe aux Piments, Mauritius; (7) the Tyva Republic (Siberia), Russia; and (8) Hadzaland, Tanzania. Participants reported adherence to a wide array of world religious traditions including Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as notably diverse local traditions, including animism and ancestor worship.

Holding a range of relevant variables constant, the higher participants rated their moralistic gods as punitive and knowledgeable about human thoughts and actions, the more coins they allocated to geographically distant co-religionist strangers relative to both themselves and local co-religionists.

Our results support the hypothesis that beliefs in moralistic, punitive and knowing gods increase impartial behaviour towards distant co-religionists, and therefore can contribute to the expansion of prosociality.

 

 


2016-02-09

Why the Anonymous Gospels? Failure of Scholarship in Pitre’s The Case for Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

It is an abuse of one’s status as a public intellectual to write dogmatic apologetics for lay readers. Professor Brant Pitre cobbles together a grab-bag of rationalisations to promote Catholic dogma and presents it to his lay readers as a work based on superior scholarship. The title of this post might have as well have begun with “Betrayal of lay readers” as “Failure of scholarship”.

Take the second chapter of The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ as but one example. After having earlier stressed the importance of understanding the Gospels in their Jewish context, Pitre in this chapter abandons that Jewish context and flips to a non-Jewish Greco-Roman context, resorts to anachronisms, fallacious rhetorical arguments and some misleading statements about the manuscript evidence to pummel the lay reader into “just knowing” that our canonical gospels were composed as we read them today, complete with their author names, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, heading each one. The book could be ignored as another Catholic tract if it were not for his academic peers — some of whom have been known to react with indignation if one dares suggest they are not objectively engaged in intellectually honest pursuits — publicly complimenting the work.

In seeking to reassure faithful readers that the Gospels were not originally written anonymously Pitre time-warps out of his “spiritually enlightening” Jewish context of the previous chapter and appeals to modern Western reading preferences:

Imagine for a moment that you’re browsing the shelves of your local bookstore, and you come across two biographies of Pope Francis. One of them is written by a longtime friend and contemporary of the pope. The other biography is anonymous. Which one would you buy? Most people, I would venture to guess, would go for the one written by someone who had actually spent time with him, someone who was a friend of Jorge Bergoglio, the man who later became pope. At the same time, I think most people would also view the anonymous biography with some level of suspicion. Who wrote this? Where did they get their information? Why should I trust that they know what they’re talking about? And if they want to be believed, why didn’t they put their name on the book?

Pitre, Brant (2016-02-02). The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (p. 12). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Scholars who argue the contrary (which, incidentally, would probably be most critical scholars) do so because of religious prejudice, because they do not want to believe in the Jesus in the Gospels, according to Pitre. The lay believer is led to think of critical scholars as hostile to his or her faith and to be dismissed as some sort of enemy of the truth:

The theory [of the anonymous Gospels] is remarkably widespread among scholars and non-scholars alike. It is especially emphasized by those who wish to cast doubts on the historical reliability of the portrait of Jesus in the four Gospels.

Pitre, Brant (2016-02-02). The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (p. 16). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I’ll dwell upon the anachronistic analogy and the convenient abandonment of the Jewish context of Brant’s argument in this post.

Pitre explains:

[T]he Gospels are a form of ancient Greco-Roman biography. As experts in ancient biography have pointed out, “authors of biographies… normally were named.” Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 40. Moreover, one of the standard “opening features” of an ancient Greco-Roman biography was ordinarily some kind of “title.” Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?, 156– 57. These titles sometimes identify the author in the third person (see, e.g., Josephus, Life of Josephus; Tacitus’s Agricola; Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers). This makes perfect sense, since when it comes to biography, the reader will want to know who is giving the account of the subject’s life, and how they got their information.

Pitre, Brant (2016-02-02). The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (p. 207). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Has Pitre read beyond the works of fellow apologists like Craig Keener and Richard Bauckham in his investigations into this question? Nowhere in his bibliography or index does one find reference to the 2008 article in the reputable journal Novum Testamentum 50:2 120-142 by Armin D. BaumThe Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern LiteratureProfessor Baum’s article actually offers Pitre, Bauckham, Keener and others a way to consistently evaluate the Gospels without sacrificing their Jewish context. But that would also mean stepping away from what modern readers might look for in a biography and accepting that the gospels just might have been originally anonymous after all.

Anonymity: A Stylistic Device

Begin with the abstract of Baum’s article:

The anonymity of the NT historical books should not be regarded as peculiar to early Christian literature nor should it be interpreted in the context of Greco-Roman historiography. The striking fact that the NT Gospels and Acts do not mention their authors’ names has its literary counterpart in the anonymity of the OT history books, whereas OT anonymity itself is rooted in the literary conventions of the Ancient Near East. Just as in the OT, where the authors of books that belonged to the genre of wisdom and prophetic literature were usually named while historical works were written anonymously, only the NT letters and the Apocalypse were published under their authors’ names while the narrative literature of the NT remained anonymous. The authorial intent of the Gospels’ anonymity can also be deduced from its ancient Near Eastern and OT background. Unlike the Greek or Roman historian who, among other things, wanted to earn praise and glory for his literary achievements from both his contemporaries and posterity, the history writer in the Ancient Near East sought to disappear as much as possible behind the material he presented and to become its invisible mouthpiece. By adopting the stylistic device of anonymity from OT historiography the Evangelists of the NT implied that they regarded themselves as comparatively insignificant mediators of a subject matter that deserved the full attention of the readers. The anonymity of the Gospels is thus rooted in a deep conviction concerning the ultimate priority of their subject matter.

Three New Testament historical works, Luke, Acts and John, contain prologues, the literary place-marker where one would most expect to find a reference to the author’s identity. But no,

Whenever New Testament narrators address their readers, whether in the first person or in some other way they consistently remain anonymous. (p. 122)

It is in the prologues of Greco-Roman history that we normally find the author’s name.

The absence of a prologue was usually considered as a departure from long established standards. Therefore, Lucian could write disapprovingly:

There are historians who “produce bodies without any heads?works lacking an introduction that begin at once with the narrative.”

Thus, the Jewish historian Josephus prefixed elaborate prologues to his Bellum Judaicum and to his Antiquitates because he did not want his works to appear, in the eyes of his educated Hellenistic audience, like headless bodies. 

The same applied to Greco-Roman biography:

Greco-Roman biographies were published under the names of their authors (Euripides, Isocrates, Lucian, Philo, Plutarch, Suetonius etc.) as well. Only the lives that belong to the genre of popular literature (1st to 4th century A.D.) were an exception: the Vita Aesopi the Vita Alexandri Magni (later ascribed to Callisthenes), the somewhat more sophisticated narrative Lucius seu asinus and the Vita Secundi philosophi. These biographies have not only a rather low and episodic style but also anonymity in common. (pp. 126f.)

After surveying the range of ancient biographies and histories Baum concludes:

On the basis of these observations we may conclude: If a Hellenistic historian did not mention his name in (the prologue of) his work, he deviated from an ancient and widespread literary convention. (p. 127)

Baum then compares Old Testament and other Jewish historiography: read more »


2016-02-08

Highlights from Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Let’s get this thing out of the way. Here are some of the “highlights” of Brant Pitre’s new book, The Case for Jesus, supporting some of my criticisms in the previous post. More may follow. (I’ve only covered chapter one in this post.)

If Brant Pitre kept his book from the view of his academic peers and treated it as nothing more than a pastoral interest that was quite separate from his intellectual responsibilities as a scholar, no problem. What should be offensive to us is the fact that a constellation of scholarly authorities have muttered sweet scented somethings about it. These authorities otherwise claim to be serious scholars who never let their theological biases influence their work. But by treating The Case of Jesus as a worthy contribution for scholarly consideration (despite being primarily addressed to lay readers) they declare their true interests.

1. A historical religion

Note first of all a fundamental point that I do agree with (I do in fact agree with a number of Pitre’s observations and analyses but not the tendentious conclusions he draws from them):

Christianity is a historical religion which claims that the God who made the universe actually became a man — a real human being who lived in a particular time and in a particular place. As a result, the idea of searching for the historical truth about Jesus made sense to me. (p. 2)

read more »


2016-02-07

This book looks interesting

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by Neil Godfrey

vanguardLook forward to reading this one:

Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by Afshon Ostovar:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are one of the most important forces in the Middle East today. As the appointed defender of Iran’s revolution, the Guards have evolved into a pillar of the Islamic Republic and the spearhead of its influence. Their sway has spread across the Middle East, where the Guards have overseen loyalist support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria and been a staunch backer in Iraq’s war against ISIS-bringing its own troops, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite militias to the fight. Links to terrorism, human rights abuses, and the suppression of popular democracy have shrouded the Revolutionary Guards in controversy.

In spite of their prominence, the Guards remain poorly understood to outside observers. InVanguard of the Imam, Afshon Ostovar has written the first comprehensive history of the organization. Situating the rise of the Guards in the larger contexts of Shiite Islam, modern Iranian history, and international affairs, Ostovar takes a multifaceted approach in demystifying the organization and detailing its evolution since 1979. Politics, power, and religion collide in this story, wherein the Revolutionary Guards transform from a rag-tag militia established in the midst of revolutionary upheaval into a military and covert force with a global reach.

The Guards have been fundamental to the success of the Islamic revolution. The symbiotic relationship between them and Iran’s clerical rulers underpins the regime’s nearly unshakeable system of power. The Guards have used their privileged position at home to export Iran’s revolution beyond its borders, establishing client armies in their image and extending Iran’s strategic footprint in the process. Ostovar tenaciously documents the Guards’ transformation into a power-player and explores why the group matters now more than ever to regional and global affairs. The book simultaneously serves as a history of modern Iran, and provides a crucial and engrossing entryway into the complex world of war, politics, and identity in the Middle East.


Scholars Doing Over Lay Readers with Apologetics

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by Neil Godfrey

pitreA few pebbles dropped (by Michael BirdJames McGrath, Anthony Le Donne and Brant Pitre) into the pond of bible studies blogs alerting me to a new book by Brant Pitre, Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Brant Pitre recently joined The Jesus Blog as a regular contributor alongside James Crossley, Anthony Le Donne, Chris Keith, Christine Jacobi and most recently Rafael Rodríguez. The new book is “not written for scholars” (p. 10) but the blurb recommendations do assure us that

  • it “will benefit both scholars and laymen who read it” (Trent Horn),
  • its author “has a unique talent for putting scholarly work of the highest caliber into an accessible and engaging form” (Mary Healy),
  • it is the work of “wide-ranging research and careful rethinking” (Craig Keener),
  • it is an “important book” written by “one of America’s most brilliant young scholars” (Chris Tilling),
  • it’s content is “all supported by top-notch scholarship.” (Nicholas Perrin).

So scholarly book-lover that I am I grabbed a copy and started reading. I could not put it down. I’m normally a slow reader of scholarly books, taking time to check and follow up footnotes, backtracking to be sure I am registering the flow of argument, etc. But I finished The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ all within a few hours.

The experience reminded me of delving into books published by my old religious cult many years ago, proving decisively and with impeccable logic and thorough research that the Bible really was the word of God, genuine scholarship proved that fact, and all modern scholarship that cast doubts on this was under the sway of the stubborn minds who refused to read the evidence seriously and foolishly relegated the Gospels to folklore and fairy tales. Form criticism was likened to the folly of that favourite juvenile Telephone Game that only works because the players don’t take the message they are asked to relay seriously and make up any old thing as they pass it along.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having a difference of opinion, or interpretation of the evidence. But a scholar surely has a responsibility to treat lay readers with enough respect to keep them informed of where his or her views sit in relation to those of his or her peers. I once asked a linguist about a particular theory of the nature of language and he began his response with, “Well, it depends who you ask….” He did not give me his own view as if it was “the truth”. He told me a range of views and the basic reasons for each and then gave his own. That’s how a scholar shows a lay person respect.

It’s not like that among some biblical scholars. Some of them, like Brant Pitre, take the opportunity to deliver a propaganda message and try to convert you to their belief system. Along they way they invite you to scoff at other scholars who disagree. They are write dogmatically, fanning dogmatism among readers.  read more »


2016-02-06

A contemporary example of a status driven extremist?

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by Neil Godfrey

Unlike his inspiration Barannikov, however, Mirsky was unable to contain himself: he told everyone who would listen that he was the attempted assassin. . . . Soon [the police arrested him].

Only a few weeks later, Mirsky was already betraying his comrades from People’s Will and writing humble petitions to the czar. His loyalty to the radical movement evaporated completely; there is even evidence he was recruited to serve as an informant for the prison authorities. . . . 

Barannikov sought the thrill of adventure; Mirsky status. The two kinds of motives are often linked in experience and can be linked in theory. Gang activity is a familiar setting where certain young men seek status. In an earlier post in a series addressing factors that attract persons to extremist radical groups, Terrorists on Status Seeking Adventures, I did not discuss Mirsky. But this morning I caught up with a detailed investigation into another (ex)Islamist radical I have posted on a few times and am struck by some similarities.

The contemporary example of someone who was driven by a pursuit for social status in his involvement in an extremist Islamist group appears to be Maajid Nawaz.

Previous posts focusing on Nawaz:

harris-nawazIn at least one of those posts I did wonder why Maajid Nawaz appeared to approve of being a billed as an equal joint author (with Sam Harris) of a book in which some of Harris’s more extreme views went unchallenged and were even further promulgated through the advertising of a book whose arguments are opposed by Nawaz.

I had also heard reports that Nawaz had been responsible for falsely reporting peaceful Muslim groups to the British authorities as potential extremists. I was unable to find secure evidence in fairly quick searches to verify such claims. (Some have accused him of falsely presenting himself as a Moslem, but I have probably met more non-practising Moslems than devout ones when overseas, and see no reason to pronounce a spiritual judgement upon them and accuse them of not being Muslims at all. The identity cards of those who have them flatly state they are Muslims.)

This morning I read the following:

The Self-Invention of Maajid Nawaz: Fact and Fiction in the Life of the Counter-Terror Celebrity

The lengthy report is on Alternet; the authors are Nafeez Ahmed and Max Blumenthal. The byline reads:

Maajid Nawaz bases his credibility on a compelling personal story, but how much of it is true?

read more »


2016-02-04

Is Religion for the Gullible?

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by Neil Godfrey

Religion_Explained_by_Pascal_Boyer_book_coverIt is easy enough for us atheists to mock religion (and much of it is indeed “mockable”) but we cannot ignore the fact that some very intelligent and well-educated people hold these beliefs. So is it really gullibility that is responsible for people believing that they go to a heavenly paradise or agonizing hell when they die, that some other-worldly power made the universe for his own and our benefit, and even that he made it in six days only a few thousand years ago, and so forth?

I can’t forget how humiliated I felt after finally realising that much of what I had for long believed was nothing but a make-believe fantasy. Yet at the time preceding my conversion I was studying in one of the more reputable universities, and subsequently I studied at a post graduate level the processes of indoctrination and propaganda without my personal faith suffering the slightest dent. Crazy!

But are we crazy?

In my efforts to understand the scholarly research into extremist religious and political movements and behaviour, I have inevitably been led to try to grasp the nature of religion itself more clearly in the light of recent studies. I still have much to learn but in the meantime I think the following is worth sharing. It is from Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (2001).

Boyer observes that religious beliefs are restricted to a certain range of beliefs. People don’t just believe any impossible thing and make it part of their religion. That fact should alert us to something, he says. It may not be gullibility that is the responsible party. Maybe it is something about those specific types of beliefs that strike a plausible chord in many people. If so, we need to study what it is that distinguishes those beliefs from other types of nonsensical concepts and also, of course, the way the brain works in relation to beliefs generally.

Boyer sums up the main points of his argument on this specific question in three points:

• The sleep of reason is no explanation for religion as it is. There are many possible unsupported claims and only a few religious themes.

• Belief is not just passive acceptance of what others say. People relax their standards because some thoughts become plausible, not the other way around. 

• A different angle: We should understand what makes human minds so selective in what supernatural claims they find plausible. (p. 31)

He begins the question of gullibility by summing up his earlier discussion of other suggested reasons often posited for the origins of religion (my formatting) — pages 31-34: read more »


2016-02-03

A Historian Reviews Carrier: “The Bayesian perspective on historiography is commonsensical”

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by Neil Godfrey

dr_tucker

Aviezer Tucker

Thanks to a reader who has alerted me to an article by a philosopher of history, Aviezer Tucker, on Richard Carrier’s Proving History in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal History and Theory. I have since seen an rss feed alerting me to Carrier’s own comments on the review. I look forward to reading it but meantime I’d like to remind readers of a post I did a few years ago on the author:

Real Historians Do Bayes!

I also see that Tucker’s review has been made open access. (The journal’s policy is to make a work open access if the author or their supporting institution pays a fee of $3000. So do appreciate the access you have to this article. It’s free to you but the publisher is not giving it away free.)

The Reverend Bayes vs Jesus Christ.

See also Carrier’s comments. No doubt I’ll write something once I have had a chance to read it, too.

 


The Jewish Jesus as a Christian Bias

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by Neil Godfrey

mofficJesus and Jews have not always got along well together in Christian scholarship but today (and for some decades now, especially since Geza Vermes published Jesus the Jew) they have been rollicking along just fine. So close are they that some scholars have been known to censure anyone who attributes to Jesus Hellenistic tropes of “latent anti-semitism”.

Scholars like April DeConick and Louis Painchaud have suggested that the modern tend to find some good in Judas is an outgrowth of a powerful cultural need to absolve our collective guilt over the treatment of the Jews in the wake of World War 2 and the Holocaust and the widespread anti-Semitism preceding those years. Both scholars argue that the National Geographic presentation of the Gospel of Judas portrayed Judas as a hero as a result of wishful and tendentious translations the text. Both argue that in fact the Gospel of Judas by no means presents him as a would-be saint.

But back to Jesus. Of course Jesus was a Jew. But traditionally many Christians have been taught to think of him as opposing what was essential Judaism of his day, that is, the self-righteous, legalistic and judgmental Pharisees. That concept has probably historically fed in to waves of antisemitism throughout history.

Now I fully agree that that traditional perception of Judaism is a misplaced caricature, the product of hostile Christian invention. That that simplistic notion has been replaced by more nuanced reality in the scholarly literature is a good thing.

But does the emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus also indicate that Christian scholars are working outside the zone of their natural Christian biases? By no longer claiming Jesus “for themselves” and by implication as having no part with Judaism, are Christian scholars necessarily working towards a more neutral scholarly venture?

I think not. The reason is a new book I came across, What every Christian needs to know about the Jewishness of Jesus : a new way of seeing the most influential rabbi in history by Rabbi Evan Moffic.

Notice this passage from the Foreword to the book by Kent Dobson, Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church:

And discovering a Jewish Jesus is not just an academic exercise; it has widespread implications for the health of Christianity. In some sense, we cannot claim Jesus as our own anymore. He was Jewish, we need to hear him in his own Jewish context, and we need to hear from Jewish voices about how they read this rabbi from Galilee.

Personally, I learned more from my Jewish brothers and sisters about Jesus and his world than I ever learned in church. . . . 

I believe we are better people of faith when we bring our experience into a real conversation with those from other faith perspectives and convictions. The Jewish-Christian dialogue is not a politically correct game. We are conversing about meaning and truth, beauty and love, family and forgiveness, and the mystery of God. What could be better! . . . 

Jewish perspectives on Jesus clarify, strengthen, and take further some Christian convictions about his mission, teaching, and life. . . . 

This new era of Jewish-Christian dialogue is just dawning. In some sense, it’s still very fragile. It started in academia and now is spilling out into the Synagogue and the Church.

Moffic, Rabbi Evan (2016-02-02). What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus: A New Way of Seeing the Most Influential Rabbi in History (Kindle Locations 62-83). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

read more »


2016-02-02

Another review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

onhistoricityIt’s more of a few notes or a “book write up” than a review per se. PhD candidate and Bible scholar James Pate has posted Book Write-Up: On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier on his blog James’ Ramblings. He explains the purpose of his brief notes:

I would like to wrestle with some of Carrier’s arguments.  This post will not be comprehensive, but it will wrestle with key points that Carrier makes in his book.

Unfortunately what I missed from the “key points” that follow was an acknowledgement of the central methodology and case made by Richard Carrier. What troubles James Pate more appear to be some of the old chestnuts that I thought Carrier had addressed, but evidently not to the satisfaction of James. But credit where credit is due: James Pate does not engage in subtle or overt innuendo, put-down, and cavalier dismissal of Carrier as some other reviewers have done. Nor does he engage in outright distortion of the arguments. [There is one point made by James Pate that is incorrect, however, and I addressed this in a comment below.]

I suspect the limitations of Pate’s post are really the outcome of simply wanting to jot down notes of some key questions that a reading of Carrier’s book failed to dispel rather than write a formal review. We ought not be faulted for not doing what we did not set out to do. So I would like to think that Pate’s points should provide a good spring-board for further discussion and an opening into the wider arguments presented by Carrier.

Pate’s first point:

A.  Carrier does ask good questions. . . . 

Pate lists several of them. Of course Carrier does more than simply ask such questions: he raises such questions in the context of probabilities against the relevant background knowledge of Christianity and its wider cultural matrix. Potentially fruitful discussion topics here.

B.  On why first century extra-biblical sources fail to mention Jesus, many would respond that they would not mention a backwater Galilean peasant. . . . 

C.  . . . . Carrier notes that so many extrabiblical sources fail to mention Christianity. . . .  Why did so many first century sources fail to mention Christianity?  Was it because Christianity was obscure, or not well-established yet, or kept to itself?

read more »


2016-02-01

The Madness of King Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

H/t a BCHF thread: A book due out in a few months from now, The Madness of King Jesus: The Real Reasons for His Execution by Justin Meggittmadness

Given the understanding that the crucifixion of Jesus is “one of the most secure facts” we have in history Justin Meggitt tackles one of the perplexing conundrums that the crucifixion has left us: why did Pilate crucify Jesus yet not lift a finger against his followers, even allowing them to continue preaching about Jesus after his execution?

Some of us will be familiar with Paula Fredriksen’s answer to this question in Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Fredriksen’s argument is that Pilate knew Jesus was harmless — he had, according to the Gospel of John, travelled to Jerusalem for several years running where he preached quite harmlessly. For some reason on that last journey, however, the crowd got out of hand in their response to his preaching about the coming kingdom, and Pilate needed to nip in the bud early signs of trouble. Jesus was the one they were agitated over, so a quick crucifixion solved the problem. The disciples were of no account according to this equation.

Meggitt explains his confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion on page 380:

  1. multiple attestation in earliest Christian and non-Christian sources (Josephus, Tacitus);
  2. the absence of doubt by any of the early critics of the new religion;
  3. and “it is hard to imagine anyone in the early church would have wanted to fabricate [such a datum] about their founder”

These points (based on criteria of authenticity; an ideologically framed chronology; and the appeal to incredulity) are virtual mantras that are too rarely seriously questioned.

Another scholar, Fernando Bermejo-Rubio, in a 2013 article in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, “(Why) Was Jesus the Galilean Crucified Alone? Solving a False Conundrum”, resolves the dilemma by denying that Jesus was crucified alone but was indeed crucified with followers:

The view that those crucified with Jesus had nothing to do with him is not only exceedingly improbable from a historical standpoint, but it uncritically relies upon the story told in biased sources: only the theological necessity to distance Jesus from any rebellious connection can account for the tenacity with which this view is held.

Meggitt proposes a different solution. The book is not yet published but he has had an article on the same theme published in the same journal in 2007 (JSNT 29.4: 379-413), “The Madness of King Jesus: Why was Jesus Put to Death, but his Followers were not?” The abstract:

To argue that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by the Roman authorities because they believed him to be a royal pretender of some kind, fails to explain satisfactorily why he was killed but his followers were not. A possible solution to this conundrum, which is supported by neglected contextual data, is that the Romans thought Jesus of Nazareth to be a deranged and deluded lunatic.

The first part of the article outlines the evidence that it was standard practice for Roman rulers to pursue and execute followers of would-be insurrectionists along with their leaders. read more »


2016-01-31

Still troubled by mythicism

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by Neil Godfrey

It’s been a long time since I’ve addressed any of James McGrath’s regular little swipes at mythicism but it’s a dreary rainy Sunday morning and I’m in a mood for nostalgia.

The following has just popped up on my rss feed: The Real Difference Between Creationism and Mythicism. The point McGrath drives home is set out twice, once in a colourful box illustrated with a silly creationist trope of a man with his pet dinosaur:

Creationists can find 3,000 academics who will sign a statement against evolution. That’s not 3,000 academics in relevant fields, just 3,000 academics, including retired ones. I’ve yet to see mythicism show any sign of even coming close to that. And yet supposedly we are to believe that creationism’s 3,000 are irrelevant, but the 10 or so mythicist sympathizers show that the historicity of Jesus is “a theory in crisis”?

The point is to denigrate the very idea of mythicism in order to exclude its actual arguments a priori from any serious consideration. The idea is to associate mythicism with anti-intellectualism and an ideologically driven agenda. The comments to the post sing the chorus: a few ignorant atheists are misguidedly pushing an anti-Christian agenda.

There is no quotation from a mythicist (not even a decontextualised one) so what mythicists think and argue is entirely found in both the context and words set out by McGrath himself.

And here is the rebuttal:

Unless, of course, the evidence for that conclusion is considered so strong, and the alternative interpretations of the evidence so implausible, that there aren’t that many academics who would be willing to put their name on something that is, in the end, every bit as ridiculous as rejecting evolution, however different the fields in question may be.

Are we really to believe that as “many academics” who admit to being sympathetic to creationism have actually bothered to seek out and analyse the evidence for the existence of Jesus? Why would they? Is Jesus really so important to the non-religious? I hear that belief in Christianity is much more important in the U.S. than it is in other countries so I can understand the importance of fundamentalist types putting up their hands to declare support for certain beliefs there. I hear that in the U.S. it is even problematic in many regions to declare oneself an atheist!

And as long as Christian scholars like McGrath continue to accuse mythicists of being intellectually deficient then one can sense a climate that makes public discussion of Jesus’ historicity somewhat problematic for some academics who might otherwise be curious.

There are too many faulty assumptions and fault-lines in the reasoning leading to McGrath’s conclusion to address here. Besides, I don’t believe anything said to the contrary will make any difference to the anti-mythicist camp. There really is some truth to the proverb that says the accuser is in fact the guilty one.

The point is that the post is not an argument; it is a put-down, a dismissal. And that is what it is meant to be. There is no room for serious argument. There never has been. I think Raphael Lataster is right.

 

 


2016-01-30

Plato’s Thought World and the Bible

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Updated 5 hours after original posting. New section beginning with Monthly Religious Festivals added. 

Previous in this series:

  1. Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal Laws: Similarities 1:631-637  (2015-06-22)
  2. Plato’s and Bible’s Laws: Similarities, completing Book 1 of Laws  (2015-06-23)
  3. Plato’s Laws, Book 2, and Biblical Values (2015-07-13)
  4. Plato and the Bible on the Origins of Civilization (2015-08-13)
  5. Bible’s Presentation of Law as a Model of Plato’s Ideal (2015-08-24)
  6. Plato’s and the Bible’s Ideal States (2015-09-21)

The ideal state can only begin with the second generation

First generation to receive the laws has to die off before the state can be established on a secure footing:

Plato’s Laws, Book 6:

Laws 752 b-c Deuteronomy 1:34-39
Athenian. Let us remember what a courageously mad and daring creation this our city is.

Cleinias (of Crete). What had you in your mind when you said that?

Athenian. I had in my mind the free and easy manner in which we are ordaining that the inexperienced colonists shall receive our laws. Now a man need not be very wise, Cleinias, in order to see that no one can easily receive laws at their first imposition. But if we could anyhow wait until those who have been imbued with them from childhood, and have been nurtured in them, and become habituated to them, . . .  if this could be accomplished . . . -then, I think that there would be very little danger, at the end of the time, of a state thus trained not being permanent.

34 “And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, 35 ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!’37 Even with me the Lord was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. 38 Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. 39 And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.

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Twelve commanders, governors. . .

read more »


2016-01-28

Exodus as a Fairy Tale

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

800px-David_Roberts-IsraelitesLeavingEgypt_1828

David Roberts-IsraelitesLeavingEgypt 1828.jpg

Dr. Hector Avalos has posted at Debunking Christianity his thoughts on the documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus produced by Timothy Mahoney, and reasons to discount the historicity of the Exodus. Film trailer.

I posted various views of the origins of the Exodus story in a number of posts now.

So speaking of Exodus, hHere I want to continue on from a 2014 post, Transvalued Folktales & Classifying the Bible’s Narratives, and see how a contemporary specialist in Exodus identifies the signs of folklore or fairy tale in this biblical narrative.

William H.C. Propp sees in the Exodus tale the same nuggets that go into the making of folktales or fairy tales and that were set out by another Propp (no relation), Vladimir Propp in 1968, The Morphology of the Folk Tale. For an outline of these structural elements see the Wikipedia article on Vladimir Propp. William Propp’s argument is found in his commentary, Exodus 1-18: a new translation with introduction and commentary, pp. 32 to 34

William Propp begins by acknowledging that Exodus is far more complex than the ordinary folktale. For a start Exodus has not one but three heroes: God, Moses and Israel. Other tale types intrude as well. Nonetheless, “the overall sequence of events follows [Vladimir] Propp closely.”  read more »