Monthly Archives: May 2010

End the levity of the previous post. These are my comrades.

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Israeli Butchery at Sea by Gilad Atzmon

Monday, May 31, 2010 at 11:58AM AuthorGilad Atzmon

As I write this piece the scale of the Israeli lethal slaughter at sea is yet to be clear. However we already know that at around 4am Gaza time, hundreds of IDF commandos stormed the Free Gaza international humanitarian fleet. We learn from the Arab press that at least 16 peace activists have been murdered and more than 50 were injured.  Once again it is devastatingly obvious that Israel is not trying to hide its true nature: an inhuman murderous collective fuelled by a psychosis and driven by paranoia.

For days the Israeli government  prepared the Israeli society for the massacre at sea. It said that the Flotilla carried weapons, it had ‘terrorists’ on board. Only yesterday evening it occurred to me that this Israeli malicious media spin was there to prepare the Israeli public for a full scale Israeli deadly military operation in international waters.  Make no mistake. If I knew exactly where Israel was heading and the possible consequences, the Israeli cabinet and military elite were fully aware of it all the way along.  What happened yesterday wasn’t just a pirate terrorist  attack. It was actually murder in broad day light even though it happened in the dark.

Yesterday at 10 pm I contacted Free Gaza and shared with them everything I knew. I obviously grasped that hundreds of peace activists most of them elders, had very little chance against the Israeli killing machine. I was praying all night for our brothers and sisters.  At 5am GMT the news broke to the world. In international waters Israel raided an innocent international convoy of boats carrying cement, paper and medical aid to the besieged Gazans. The Israelis were using live ammunition murdering and injuring everything around them.

Today we will see demonstrations around the world, we will see many events mourning our dead.  We may even see some of Israel’s friends ‘posturing’ against the slaughter. Clearly this is not enough.

The massacre that took place yesterday was a premeditated Israeli operation. Israel wanted blood because it believes that its ‘power of deterrence’  expands with the more dead it leaves behind. The Israeli decision to use hundreds of commando soldiers against civilians was taken by the Israeli cabinet together with the Israeli top military commanders. What we saw yesterday wasn’t just a failure on the ground. It was actually an institutional failure of a morbid society that a long time ago lost touch with humanity.

It is no secret that Palestinians are living in a siege for years. But it is now down to the nations to move on and mount the ultimate pressure on Israel and its citizens. Since the massacre yesterday was committed by a popular army that followed instructions given by a ‘democratically elected’ government, from now on, every Israeli  should be considered as a  suspicious war criminal unless proved different.

Considering the fact that Israel stormed naval vessels sailing under Irish, Turkish and Greek flags. Both NATO  members and EU countries must immediately cease their  relationships with  Israel  and close their airspace to Israeli airplanes.

Considering yesterday’s news about Israeli nuclear submarines being stationed in the Gulf, the world must react quickly and severely.  Israel is now officially mad and deadly. The Jewish State is not just careless about human life,  as we have been following  the Israeli press campaign leading to the slaughter,  Israel actually  seeks pleasure in inflicting pain and devastation on others.

(I have posted this in full. Previous correspondence with Gilad assures me that he would wholeheartedly approve of my copying this in full.)

Aw, gee, thanks guys

I have the honour of gaining a mention in two of the biggest biblioblogs in the whole wide internet now. Aw shucks, and they both really do such a thorough job of analyzing my work and studying my personal psychology. I hope I won’t get a bill for their services.

Between “Dr” Jim West and Joel Watts I find I am:

a genuine flinger

a genuine flicker

utterly unacquainted with Crossley’s work

accuse Crossley of playing favorites when it comes to historiographically centered methodological questions (wow, I’m not sure what that means but it sounds like I’ve done something serious or important)

utterly bereft of insight

ramble on about absolutely nothing with such aplomb (irishanglican would no doubt agree with this assessment)

have taken on a stern taskmaster belief system

possibly have a personality defect

appear to be comforting myself in my denial of Jesus’ historicity

absolutely hate my former self

‘need’ Jesus not to be real for my own personal comfort

create conspiracy theories

have refused to acknowledge scholarship that once denied my view of faith
(Baptists? Methodists?

and now deny the same scholars who deny my rejection of faith

forget how history is formed

am angry (part of an angry mob to be precise)

profoundly need there to be no god

leap any logical boundary to this end

but what’s really interesting is my motive in all of this — I know that hell and damnation await me if there is a god!

And all of this on the eve of me birthday too! Well, thanks guys, a good belly laugh is the best way to start a new year! 🙂

Belly Laugh

Image by Tojosan via Flickr

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Fallen Watchers of Enoch and the 12 Disciples in Mark’s Gospel

I found this article by Rick Strelan interesting reading:

The Fallen Watchers and the Disciples in Mark, Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha, 20 (1999) 73-92

Rick Strelan begins by showing the likelihood that the gospel authors knew and drew upon Enochian legends and themes.

The legend of the Fallen Watchers — those angels who left the high heaven and descended to marry the daughters of humans — is one of the myths most often cited in the Jewish-Christian literature of the period 200 BCE to 300 CE.

The ‘Book of Watchers’ of 1 Enoch is referred to in

  1. Jubilees
  2. 2 Enoch
  3. 3 Enoch
  4. 2 Baruch
  5. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
  6. Philo’s ‘On Giants’
  7. Josephus in Antiquities 1.3.1
  8. Qumran documents
  9. Jude 6
  10. 2 Peter 2:4
  11. 1 Peter 3:19-20
  12. Justin Martyr (2 Apology 5)
  13. Athenagoras (Plea 24-26)
  14. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.10.1; 1.15.6; 4.16.2; 4.36.4)
  15. Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (8.12-18)
  16. Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (4.26)
  17. Manichaean writings (The Kephalaia of the Teacher 92, 93, 117, 171)
  18. Nag Hammadi documents (e.g. Ap John 19:16-20:11)

Strelan writes that in nearly all of these references, the myth of the Fallen Watchers is told to illustrate the lesson that the present generation is sinful and is facing a test of faithfulness to the law of God.

A related theme that comes through, especially in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Reuben) is the evil of women. Women are lying schemers and seducers of men. They brought about the fall of the Watcher angels, and the faithful are warned to guard against sexual lust, and women.

Strelan refers to an article by George Nickelsburg in which he sees the Gospel of Mark’s Passion Narrative drawing on Jewish stories of Joseph, Ahikar, Esther, Daniel and Susanna. Strelan sees Mark as also constructing the disciples of Jesus according to the fallen Watchers legend of Enoch. And again, it is to present the same lesson: the unfaithfulness of his own generation. read more »

IN BRIEF: dates, Q, Aramaic, heavenly or earthly — they make no difference to the mythical Jesus view

  1. An early or late date for the gospels does not, of itself, make any difference to the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus;
  2. Whether one accepts or rejects Q, or whether one accepts Aramaic or other sources for the Gospels, makes no difference to the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus;
  3. Whether one views Paul’s Jesus as an entirely heavenly entity or an earth-dwelling human makes no difference to the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus.

Every detail of Jesus’ life that is asserted by Sanders, Meier, Crossan, Crossley, Fredriksen, Wright, whoever, to be historical rests on a circular argument. Every one of their arguments for whether Jesus said or did this or that begins with the assumption that there was a historical Jesus.

It is not true that this circularity of itself means that the was no historical Jesus. There may have been, but we need external evidence to break the circularity and increase the probability level.

Contrasting with other persons from ancient history

It is not true that these Jesus historians use the same starting assumptions and methods as nonbiblical historians.

Nor is it true that if my criticisms were taken on board by other historians then we would have to declare just about every other person we know about in ancient history to be a myth.

We have primary evidence — that is, physically contemporary evidence, for the existence of other persons from ancient times (e.g. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great) — and this gives us good probability grounds for thinking other persons, those associated with these definitely historical people in a literature that can elsewhere be independently verified, may also have existed.

Dating the gospels

What is important about the gospels as evidence is their nature as literature. If we can see that they describe Jesus in ways that are drawn entirely from other literature, and if after removing all that can be attributed to other literature from the Jesus accounts we have no-one left but an invisible man, then it makes no difference to the question of historicity as to when the Gospels were written.

Other historical figures are also described in mythical terms, but we always see a real person being described. The mythical is added on to other features and details about the real person; in the case of Jesus we have someone made up entirely of mythical or borrowed literary elements.

Equally important is that the gospels are but one small subset of early Christian literature. But that’s another discussion.

Q or Aramaic or other?

It makes no difference if the Gospels relied on an Aramaic or any other source, written or oral, to the arguments that Jesus was not historical. To assert that a particular source is earlier to when the events in a certain narrative are supposed to have happened, is to assume that the narrative is historical to begin with.

In other words, it is circular reasoning to claim that an earlier source of the gospels is evidence of the historicity of their narratives. It makes no difference whether we think that source was in Aramaic or Greek or merely oral tradition in either language.

Earthly or heavenly Jesus

It is “immaterial” to the question of historicity of Jesus whether Paul argued for a part-time earthly human or an entirely heavenly spirit Jesus. Doherty’s view of the mythical Jesus (an entirely heavenly entity) is recent, and mythicist arguments have been working with the ‘part-time earthly human’ Jesus ever since the eighteenth century.

The Fall of Jericho — inspired by an old Canaanite tale?

The Fall of Jericho, as in Joshua 6:8-20, illu...
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Marieke den Braber and Jan-Wim Wesselius published an article that argued the story of Joshua’s besieging of Jericho drew on literary precedents centuries old.

Gosh, maybe even the story of the fall of Jericho after 7 days of silence and loud blasts of trumpets on the 7th day was made up too.

These are a notes from “The Unity of Joshua 1-8, its Relation to the Story of King Keret, and the Literary Background to the Exodus and Conquest Stories.” — Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, Vol. 22, No. 2, 253-274, 2008.

The original article covers a much more complex discussion than the following table suggests. I’ve just picked out these bits for general interest here. Braber and Wesselius don’t suggest that the Joshua story necessarily directly copied or transvalued the Keret story we have, but that the evidence suggests that such a story, such tropes as 7 days besieging and 7 days noise bringing about the fall of the city, was known in the literature before the biblical author penned the Jericho story.

My primary interest in stuff like this is to explore the links between biblical stories and other narratives and themes in the wider area. Anything that helps understanding possible literary backgrounds to the Bible is A Good Thing in my view.

The Epic of Keret is a Canaanite/Ugaritic epic poem from around 1500 to 1200 B.C.E.  I admit I find it a little difficult to connect a king going crazy enough to surrender his city because of the noise of animals with walls falling flat at the noise of trumpets. So make of this what you will.

read more »

Why early Christians would create the story of Jesus’ baptism – and more evidence the gospels were very late

John the Baptist baptizing Christ

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The historicity of Jesus’ baptism is asserted on grounds that the event would not have been told unless it were true, because it implies views of Jesus that no Christian would invent:

  1. that John was up till that point superior to Jesus,
  2. and/or that Jesus had sins to be buried in the Jordan River.

This is hardly a solid method to determine whether or not an event is historical or not, especially when reasons do exist that could indeed explain why Christians might invent the story.

I have usually given just one of these possible reasons in other posts, and that is that the author of the Gospel of Mark viewed Jesus as an ordinary man until the moment of his baptism when he was possessed by the Spirit of God and declared at that moment, God’s Beloved Son. Such a view is supported by this Gospel’s depiction of Jesus as far more human than the way he is shown in later Gospels, and also by Mark’s description of the Spirit possessing and driving Jesus into the wilderness. It was this lowly view of Jesus that the later evangelists attempted to re-write: Matthew declaring that John protested that he should not baptize Jesus; Luke only indirectly implying that John baptized Jesus; and John not mentioning the baptism at all.

But there is another evident reason that this scenario might have been invented. This was to fulfill prophetic expectations held among the Jews. One criterion that some scholars (e.g. Robert Funk in “Honest to Jesus”) use to cast doubt on the historicity of any passage in the Gospels is that of intended prophetic fulfillment. If a passage appears to have been written in order to fulfill some “prophecy” of Christ, then the historian must at the very least accept the possibility that it was invented for that purpose.

G. A. Wells in The Jesus Myth alerts us to the evidence that the Jews were expecting the Messiah to be anointed by Elijah. And Mark’s Gospel specifically identifies John the Baptist with Elijah, and that at least one early Christian did point to Jesus’ baptism as another proof that Jesus was the Christ. read more »

How and Why Scholars Fail to Rebut Earl Doherty

Dunce cap in the Victorian schoolroom at the M...

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Anyone who is familiar with Earl Doherty’s site will probably find this post superfluous.

The mysterious origin of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views of Doherty

Dr Jeffrey Gibson is on record as saying he has no intention of reading any of Doherty’s books but that did not prevent him from pulling out a critical line from Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann’s preface to a publication reissuing Goguel’s rebuttal of mythicism, and placing it in a Wikipedia article.

A “disciple” of Wells, Earl Doherty has rehashed many of the former’s [Wells’] views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject. . .

To call Doherty a “disciple of Wells” who has “rehashed” many of Wells ideas actually indicates that Hoffmann has never really read Doherty’s books at all. Maybe Hoffmann was relying on something he read by Eddy and Boyd who in The Jesus Legend very often append Doherty’s name to that of Wells when discussing the argument that Jesus was fiction. But read what Wells says about Eddy and Boyd’s confusion:

Earl Doherty belongs unequivocally in category 1 of Eddy and Boyd’s 3 [categories — category 1 includes those who think Jesus perhaps entirely fiction], and they make it easier for themselves to suggest that my ideas seem at first sight strange by repeatedly grouping me with him, even though they are in fact aware that I differ from him significantly. Doherty argues that, for Paul, the earliest witness, Jesus did not come to Earth at all, that, under the influence of the Platonic view of the universe, salvic events such as his crucifixion were believed to have taken place in a mythical spirit-world setting. I have never espoused this view, not even in my pre-1996 Jesus books, where I did deny Jesus’ historicity. (p. 328 of Cutting Jesus Down to Size by G. A. Wells)

So if Wells finds little in common between his arguments and Doherty’s, what does he say about Doherty’s work?

“In spite of our differences, Mr. Doherty has appraised my work generously, and for my part I regard his book as an important contribution…” (From Wells’ summation of a couple of give-and-take articles appearing in the British magazine “New Humanist” 1999-2000)

And again in Can We Trust the New Testament? G. A. Wells writes of Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle:

In this important book [Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle], the whole of this chapter on these second-century apologists repays careful study. But I find his conclusion too radical . . . (p.202)

Anyone who has followed Wells’ books over the years may well come to the conclusion that it is Wells who has come to rely quite heavily on Doherty in some aspects of the mythicist case — particularly the second century apologists. As for the work being “academically inferior”, again one wonders if Hoffmann ever did read the same book that . . .

Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University, Stevan Davies, read. Davies said of Doherty’s work:

But in going along with Earl I’ve learned more than by going along with anybody else whose ideas I’ve come across anywhere. . . .

Crossan, or Johnson, Allison or Sanders, can give you slightly different views of the standard view. Earl gives a completely different view. His is a new paradigm, theirs are shifts in focus within the old paradigm. From whom will you learn more? (See Crosstalk #5438 for the full quote)

— Or that Professor of Biblical Criticism with the Council for Secular Humanism’s Center for Inquiry Institute, Robert M. Price, read. Price has the strongest praise for Doherty’s books, especially his recent one in the Youtube video linked at my earlier article on Robert Price’s view.

— Or that Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, read. Avalos writes:

Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle outlines a plausible theory for a completely mythical Jesus. (See earlier post Legitimacy of questioning)

Reading Doherty and Wells: the essential difference read more »

Why I’m doing this

Maybe it is not a bad idea to put on record why I’m bothering with my blog posts about biblical studies. I admit it is surely a nerdy thing to be doing. And I do sometimes get a few raised eyebrows from those who know me when they learn that I have such a blog as this.

After I left religion (both relatively extreme as well as the milder forms of it) and belief in God I had to find a new direction in life. After living “for God and the next life” etc all one’s life, and finding oneself no longer with any belief in that God or after life etc, the first thing one has to decide is “okay, what now, where to from here?”

Well after a bit of option weighing I figured that the most worthwhile direction would be to make use of my past experiences and turn them to something positive. The alternative seemed to be to declare all those years a total waste, and to try to start totally afresh without reference to my past as much as possible. That was one option. But I opted instead to use my past bads for something good.

One of the first things I did was to start up something of a support group for others who had been through the cult experience themselves. read more »

Birth of a Movement: some fresh insights from Earl Doherty

Let’s move on to something positive and evidence-based by way of explanation for the origins of Christianity and its early diversity, leaving behind the “scholarly” speculations based on narratives for which there is no external supporting evidence and that are full of fanciful tales.

Moving from Crossley to Doherty in discussing the birth of the “Jesus” movement is like moving from a wasteland of mirages and stubble to an oasis of clear-headed, well-supported insights.

Doherty? Yup. And I have the permission of Professor Stevan Davies of Misericordia University to quote his own views of Doherty’s insights. (Davies is the author of Jesus the Healer, summarized here.) From http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/5438

I haven’t read Kuhn in a coon’s age, but recall something to
the effect that a prevailing scientific paradigm gradually
accumulates problematic elements that are swept under the
rug until a new paradigm appears, accounting for those elements,
at which time it becomes clear (where it did not before) that
those problematic elements should have indicated fatal flaws
in the former paradigm.

Earl’s paradigm is a paradigm. It’s not simply a reworking of
the usual materials in the usual way to come up with a different
way of understanding them. It’s not an awful lot different than
the claim “there is no such thing as phlogiston, fire comes
about through an entirely different mechanism.”

New paradigms are very very rare. I thought that my J the H
gave a new paradigm rather than just another view on the
subject, but no. Earl’s is what a new paradigm looks like.

(And if he’s not the first to advance it, what the hell.)
A new paradigm asserts not that much of what you know
is wrong but that everything you know is wrong… more or
less. Your whole perspective is wrong. The simple thing to
do is to want nothing to do with such a notion
, which
simple thing has been violently asserted on crosstalk by
various people. Indeed, at the outset of this discussion,
more than one person asserted that since this is an Historical
Jesus list, we presuppose the Historical Jesus, therefore
a contrary paradigm should not even be permitted on the list.
I think this is cognate to the establishment’s reaction to Galileo.

But it’s not that Earl advocates lunacy in a manner devoid
of learning. He advocates a position that is well argued
based on the evidence and even shows substantial knowledge
of Greek. But it cannot be true, you say. Why not? Because
it simply can’t be and we shouldn’t listen to what can’t be
true. No. Not so quick.

The more you think about early Christianity from the perspective
of the new paradigm, the more the old paradigm can be seen
to be flawed. … and the more the rather incoherent efforts to
make those flaws disappear seem themselves flawed.
Ptolemaic astronomy does work, sort of, if you keep patching
it up. So we can say that the host of Historical Jesus scholars
haven’t got it right, but we know that they are going about
it more or less the right way because it’s the only way we
know of.
Or indeed we say that HJ scholars are going about
a task that is just impossible, but still their goal is in theory,
however impossible in practice, the right goal. Really?

This isn’t to guarantee that Earl’s arguments are always
correct…
I’m not at all pleased with the redating of Mark etc.
Or that he’s thought of everything… the normative Jesus
who is a Galilean Jew whose followers immediately were
subject to persecution by the pharisee Paul are huge holes
the standard paradigm just ignores… but he’s thought of a lot.

You cannot advance very far in thinking if you simply refuse
to adopt a new paradigm and see where it takes you. Even
if, ultimately, you reject it, the adoption of it, or at least the
effort to argue against it, will take you to places you have not
been before.
Hence Goranson (an intelligent knowledgeable
person, thus the foil for this letter) is wrong.

Stephen Carlson’s objections to Earl on the grounds that
Mark is evidence for an historical Jesus just takes the
standard paradigm and asserts it. That’s one way of going
about it, as pointing to the self-evident fact that the sun
goes around the earth will nicely refute Copernicus.
But it’s not that simple.

But in going along with Earl I’ve learned more than
by going along with anybody else whose ideas I’ve come
across anywhere.
I went along with Mark Goodacre, and
learned some there. Refusing to go along, refusing even to
argue against, being happy that nothing new is being
discussed except widgets of modification to the standard
paradigm, that’s where you really learn almost nothing.

Crossan, or Johnson, Allison or Sanders, can give you slightly
different views of the standard view. Earl gives a completely
different view. His is a new paradigm, theirs are shifts in
focus within the old paradigm. From whom will you learn
more?

Steve

Thanks for the intro, Steve. Now for my presentation of just one of Doherty’s insights:

Doherty begins a chapter titled The Birth of a Movement thus: read more »

Hoo boy, I have a headache

(Thinks) No, I don’t have a headache, but I feel like I should have one.

I wake up this morning as usual first check my iphone to see how the various media are spinning the Thailand events, check to see if there is any other news worth knowing about, then see if anyone has had a peek at my blog posts overnight. And what is waiting for me there but a very severe public chastising from a woman on the other side of the world — and a fellow Aussie, no less, a potential drinking partner!

I skimmed it and decided I needed a long walk. Haven’t had nearly enough exercise lately and I need time to myself to think through some major work projects too, and to appreciate the goodness of sunshine and smiling early morning faces.

Now I’m back reinvigorated and ready to go.

Well, where to start?

Thinking.

Okay — Why do I sometimes pick on certain scholarly works to criticize or share?

Answer: The ones I like to share are those that offer insights from a different perspective that I think is worth sharing. The ones I criticize are those that I have come to understand are looked up to as major contributions to the faith of believers, or are held up as benchmark works that establish and even extend the foundations of the core findings of historical Jesus and early Christianity scholarship.

An example of one widely esteemed as a major “wow” book for believers was Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”. Now I know what it’s like to be excited by new findings in research. And I especially can appreciate the thrill of new sensational ideas charging in honour and celebration of one’s own personal beliefs. But I also know that false beliefs, shoddy reasoning, has a lot to answer for. And that public intellectuals have a greater responsibility in this area.

So in the case of Bauckham’s book I felt some obligation to make available to anyone interested what I saw as the flaws in his arguments and methods. It’s good for choices to be made available.

In the case of Crossley, I did not think it worth saying much in any detail until a number of people began to give me the impression that his work was also taken much more seriously than I had expected after reading it for myself some time ago. I thought it was mostly smoke-and-mirror type scholarship with nothing substantial to say at all. Yet I was regularly seeing references to the strength of his case. But I never saw any detailed defence of his arguments.

It was as if people were so impressed by the complexity and depth of his arguments that they could not summarize them themselves, but they could always refer to his books and challenge anyone to deny their import.

One associate professor challenged me in a similar way to take on the way E. P. Sanders had so soundly proven the historicity of Jesus. I began to show in detail how Sanders did no such thing and he went quiet and changed the subject.

So I have shown what I see as the fallacies and shallowness of Crossley’s arguments, and I would expect that if they were really so sound I would have fact after fact fired back at me to show how and where I had misrepresented them, or failed to honestly rebut them.

But no, all I get is how it is impossible to point out where I am wrong in anything less than a full size book, and therefore I have to be content with accepting personal abuse instead. I find this surprising. I have catalogued over the years probably thousands of scholarly works, and I think just about every one of them, certainly most of them, has somewhere what is called an abstract — a summary of the arguments contained in a scholarly thesis, book, article or paper. The only bad and incompetent abstracts I have read are by those who are undergraduates. But everyone has to learn.

Yet no, not even an abstract (of what a book pointing out the wrongs of my critiques would contain) can be mustered against my arguments. Only demands that I explain what my religious background is that has made me supposedly so embittered and hateful of Christianity that I would dare argue against the basic model accepted by mainstream scholars.

Well, it sounds to me as if I have no need to spell out the details of my religious background since I am already being accused of such malicious motives stemming from some warped soul-bending past experiences.

So what is the point of bothering to remind such accusers that my complete religious history has been linked from my blog ever since I started it a few years ago. One only has to click the About Vridar button to access it. But it seems that this is not enough, and I am to be condemned for attempting to hide my past experiences in some nefarious attempt to conceal the root of my evil motives.

Oh, I almost forgot. I have also posted some of my experiences with fundamentalism here — including quite a few positive experiences. But I hide these in a secret place that can only be accessed by scrolling through Categories headings on the right margin on my blog.

I used to think that scholars were paragons of reason and enlightenment. That if I asked them a question they would enlighten me. That if I made an error they would instruct me. That if I disagreed with their conclusions they would point out my mistakes.

Instead, I find myself being painted as someone with an irrational vendetta against Christianity? Woops! Where on earth did that come from? Maybe someone can explain to me that it is impossible to pinpoint any specific evidence on my blog that demonstrates this vendetta, but if pushed they could write a book to explain it, but don’t ask for an abstract summary of that book.

Interesting how scholars who cannot defend their arguments resort to ad hominem. I discussed Craig Evan’s tendency to do this in his book Fabricating Jesus, too. It is truly an amazing way to respond to critiques and exposures of the shoddy reasoning underlying so much that passes for biblical scholarship. I feel these painful responses are really testimony to the truth of the critiques. There is nothing to defend that is based on sound reasoning and evidence.

Sometimes these scholars go on the attack and issue critiques of their own — usually of Earl Doherty’s books. But I do wish those scholars who do this actually demonstrate that they have read either some, or more than a few lines on a website, of what he actually argues.

But now I’m starting to go into a rant of my own. Okay, I’ve been ranting too long.

Will finish this, have breakfast, and maybe when I feel more comfortable see if it is worth responding in the comments section to my chastisement.

Jesus: a Saviour Just Like the Kings and Gods of Egypt and Babylon

The Good Shepherd, mosaic in Mausoleum of Gall...

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Thomas L. Thompson wrote The Messiah Myth to demonstrate that the sayings and deeds of Jesus in the Gospels (and David in the OT) are the product of a literary tradition about Saviour figures — both kings and deities — throughout the Middle East. The subtitle of the book is “the Near Eastern roots of Jesus and David”.

A number of New Testament scholars have expressed concern that contemporary classical literature is not widely read and studied by their peers. One’s understanding of the Gospels and Acts — and even the New Testament letters — is enriched when one can recognize links between them and other literature of their day. Thompson goes a bit further than this, and appeals for a greater awareness of the longstanding tradition of literary themes and images that were the matrix of both Old and New Testament narratives.

Some scholars see in Jesus’ sayings certain gems that are unique or holy or brilliantly enlightened and worthy of the deepest respect. They see in his deeds of healing and concern for the poor and weak a noble character worthy of devotion.

Some see the themes of concern for the poor and condemnation of the rich and powerful as evidence that Jesus was tapping in to popular revolutionary or resistance sentiments among peasants and displaced persons in early first century Galilee.

Other scholars see in the saying evidence of economic exploitation such that a sense of resentment could easily morph into a Jesus movement.

All of the above interpretations are thrown into question when one notices their echoes in the OT – and especially throughout the wider world of the OT. The wordings vary, but they are all clear reiterations of the same motifs.

But after one becomes more familiar with the literary heritage of the ancient “Near East”, one must legitimately ask if all those sayings and deeds of Jesus are nothing more than stereotypical tropes that authors wanting to describe any God in the flesh or Saviour King would inevitably use. What is said of Jesus was said countless times of your average typical Saviour Pharaoh or Mesopotamian monarch or deity.

Naturally we expect the Gospel authors to be more influenced by the Jewish texts than Egyptian or Mesopotamian ones, but Thompson shows that the this is all part of the same package. What we read in the Old Testament is much the same as we read among Egyptian, Syrian and Babylonian literature. It’s all part and parcel of the same thought world.

Thompson asks readers to re-read the Gospel narratives about Jesus in the context of the literary heritage of the Jewish scriptures — and to understand that heritage as itself part of a wider literary and ethical outlook throughout the Middle East. Don’t forget that Jews were not confined to Palestine but were well established in communities from Babylonia to Egypt, too.

The following extracts are from Thompson’s discussion of The Song for a Poor Man. It is only one of the several facets of this heritage that Thompson addresses. One sees that the ancient world was full of Saviours like Jesus. It must a have been a happy time and place (tongue in cheek). read more »

Why Christianity Happened: Origins of the Pauline Mission” (reviewing ch.5 of James Crossley’s book)

Arkansas Mass Baptism 2nd effort
Image by Uncle Jerry in Golden Valley, AZ via Flickr

Earlier I reviewed chapter 2 of Why Christianity Happened by James Crossley, and here I look at his final chapter (5), “Recruitment, Conversion, and Key Shifts in Law Observance: The Origins of the Pauline Mission“.

I was curious to understand what Crossley had to say in favour of a social history approach to explaining how antinomian Pauline Christianity can be explained if the earliest Christian movement began among circumcising, sabbath-keeping, synagogue-worshiping, food-law observant Jews. Crossley seeks to explain Christianity’s origins through socioeconomic paradigms. Social history, he argues, is where the truly historical explanations lie.

Paul’s views on the law and justification by faith can thus be seen as an intellectual reaction to and justification of a very down-to-earth and messy social problem. (p.172)

I fully agree with attempting to explain Christian origins in secular terms and according to the models of the social sciences and socioeconomic models where possible. Unfortunately, his attempt to explain the origins of the Jesus movement through the Lenski-Kautsky and Hobsbawm observations of how certain social movements arise flounders on the absence of evidence, or misapplication of Gospel evidence, as discussed in my earlier review of chapter 2.

The problems facing Crossley’s explanation in that chapter, and in chapter 5 which I will address here, arise from the default assumption that the narrative outline of the Gospels and Acts is grounded in genuine history. Although he treats these texts as if their narratives contain allusions to the real historical origins of early Christianity, he at no time justifies this assumption. (See “footnote in box at end of this post for further discussion of this point.)

The trap laid by the assumption of historicity of Gospels-Acts

When Crossley (or any) historian locks himself into the Gospel-Acts’ narrative paradigm of Christian origins he is stuck with just a single form of Christianity and must find a way of explaining how so many extremely variant forms of Christianity read more »

Okay, just one more early-dating of Mark critique, but quickly

Handwashing
Image by Toban Black via Flickr

(response to recent comments on earlier post Dating Mark Early)

Crossley presents three specific arguments to date Mark before 40 ce:

  1. the way he wrote about the disciples plucking corn on the sabbath could be interpreted by the unwary to mean that Jesus was abolishing the sabbath; but since other arguments “establish” this was not the case, the ambiguity in Mark’s narrative “demonstrates” that he wrote at a time when all Christians would have understood that Jesus plainly did not abolish the sabbath — and therefore at a time when all Christians were taking sabbath keeping for granted — i.e. before 40 ce.
  2. the way he worded Jesus’ saying in the divorce controversy appears on the face of it to mean that divorce is not allowed under any circumstances; but since it can be argued that Mark’s Jesus was always a stickler for the biblical law, and the biblical law did allow for divorce, it is “clear” that Mark did not mean his audience to read his words literally, but to assume that Jesus “meant” to allow for divorce for “the obvious reasons” anyway — and this also “proves” that Mark wrote very early before any divorce discussions arose in the church — i.e. before 40 ce.
  3. the way Mark chose his words in describing the handwashing controversy left it open for later readers to think that Jesus was declaring all foods clean, thus abolishing the biblical food laws; but since on other grounds it can be argued that Mark’s Jesus always observed biblical laws on principle, we can infer that Mark was writing at a time when his audience took this for granted and understood Jesus was not abolishing the food laws at all. — i.e. even earlier before 40 ce.

Any one of these arguments, Crossley admits, may not be persuasive for all readers, but together they become an argument of “cumulative weight” and therefore much stronger. The maths proves it: 0+0+0=3.

In one place in his book, The Date of Mark’s Gospel, he says that the first two arguments are the strongest case; but elsewhere he says the third is the strongest. I’ve dealt with one part of #1 here, and will deal with #3 in this post. read more »

The relevance of “minimalists'” arguments to historical Jesus studies

The arguments of the “minimalists” questioning the historical core of many of the narratives of the “Old Testament” — and ultimately the historical existence of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David and Solomon, and the biblical Kingdom of Israel — apply with as much logical force to questions of the existence of Jesus. The minimalists showed that scholarly beliefs in a historical Biblical Kingdom of Israel were based on circular reasoning. The same circular reasoning and assumptions underlie belief in the historicity of Jesus.

“Minimalist” arguments are not just about the archaeological evidence.

They are more fundamental and generic than that. They have, I believe, a direct relevance to historical Jesus and early Christian studies — any studies, in fact, that rely on reading the narratives in the Gospels and Acts as if they have some historical basis.

Time gaps and archaeological evidence are irrelevant to the fundamental logic underlying the arguments.

Below are statements by “minimalists” themselves that were originally directed at the way scholars once read the Jewish Bible as a historical source for “biblical Israel”. They are relevant for anyone who approaches the Gospels as historical sources. The Gospels are certainly historical sources, but the narratives they tell are not necessarily historical at all, nor even based on any core historical events.

Philip R. Davies on Tail Chasing

Philip Davies discusses only the study of ancient Israel. He does not address Jesus or early Christianity. It is my argument that his discussion applies equally well to these.

Philip Davies’ In Search of Ancient Israel (1992) is reputed to have been the publication that triggered the “minimalist”-“maximalist” debate over the historicity of biblical Israel. In the 1994 preface, Davies wrote of this book:

I feel that this book still makes a good case for an approach to the investigation of the Bible, its authors and creators, which is becoming more widely adopted.

The approach has not impacted New Testament studies, however. I think this is a pity and unjustifiable. But then, Jesus has a more solid iconic status in our culture than David or Abraham.

Read the following critique directed at “Old Testament” scholars back in 1992 and see if it is relevant to scholars of the Gospels and Acts: read more »