2011-04-27

Interview with René Salm

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by Neil Godfrey

René Salm discusses Nazareth and Nazarenes, James and Paul, Christianity and Buddhism, and Ventures Old and New

René Salm is best known for his publication The Myth of Nazareth: the Invented Town of Jesus that reviews the state of the archaeological evidence for the existence of Nazareth at the supposed time of Jesus. I first came to know of Salm on the original Crosstalk discussion list where I was impressed with the way he debated the question with scholars. In the following interview Salm refers to his Crosstalk discussions and interested readers will find one of his earliest posts to that list on the topic of Nazareth here. Robert M. Price has reviewed Salm’s book here, and I have discussed another review of it here.

But René Salm has much more to contribute to the discussion of Christian origins than his studies on the archaeology of Nazareth, and the following interview will introduce readers to his investigations into Christian origins, including pre-Christian movements, such as the Natsarenes/Nazarenes and gnosticism, and the specific roles of James (“the brother of the Lord”) and the apostle Paul.

Salm is working on a new book and has been building a new website (Mythicist Papers) on Christian origins, both discussed below.

For a broader view of his interests and achievements, including as a writer and musician, follow these links:

Short story by René Salm

René Salm’s music page

Buddhist and Christian parallels

And of course his NazarethMyth.info webpage. This page includes further biographical information with a “personal statement” by Salm.

The Interview

1. What led to your interest in Nazareth archaeology?

René Salm: My interest in Jesus mythicism. As recently as ten years ago I was not a ‘mythicist’ and, in fact, would have considered the mythicist theory far too fringy to be taken seriously. On the other hand, I had not seriously considered it—because I hadn’t needed to. But, as my researches into Christianity deepened, I realized that Jesus’ very existence was much more open to doubt than I had previously imagined. This led to my Nazareth work. In the late 1990s I came across a couple of passages in obscure works which doubted the existence of Nazareth in the time of Jesus.

Online (in the original Crosstalk forum) this doubt met very strident and universal opposition. However, none of the scholars so vociferously defending Nazareth’s existence gave any reasons. They merely pointed the finger to other scholars. I realized that here was a critical ‘test case’ of Jesus’ existence. After all, if Nazareth did not exist at the turn of the era, that would indeed be a hard pill for historicists to swallow. So, I began to research the issue myself, becoming self-educated in archaeology along the way.

2. When did your nazarethmyth website first appear?

I believe that was in late 2006, a couple of years before my book was published. At that time I was self-publishing the book in fascicles. That’s how Frank Zindler of American Atheist Press got wind of it and immediately determined to edit and publish it.

3. You are clearly interested in both Buddhism and Christianity, and just as Marcus Borg published Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings you have published online Buddhist and Christian Parallels: Compiled from the Earliest Scriptures. In your view, was Christianity something new?

René Salm: Yes and no. I think Christianity is much less unique than Christians like to think. It’s like asking, “Is today new?” Well, yes, it is. But it has 24 hours, the sun rises and sets, and so on—as do all the other days. So, compared to days that have passed and have yet to be, today is not all that new. In my opinion, Christianity is a new expression of something very old, which I call ‘universal gnosticism.’ The essence of gnostic Christianity had already received extraordinary expression with the Buddha’s teaching, and also with that of Zarathustra. When one makes a detailed comparison of the saying of Jesus with those of these earlier figures, one sees immediately close and often astounding parallels.

4. And yet, wouldn’t you say that Christianity offers something different?

René Salm: Yes, I think it does. But what is radically different about Christianity (from, say, Buddhism) seems to be precisely what is false in it, beginning with the hyper-inflated biography of Jesus of Nazareth — including his virgin birth, his miracles, his resurrection after physical death, and even his provenance from Nazareth, which I have shown didn’t yet exist when Jesus was supposed to be alive. The Nazareth issue has revealed some very dark aspects of the religion to me. I don’t think it’s by chance that Christianity has a very bloody and ethically compromised history (as compared, say, with Buddhism).

The problems of the religion didn’t start with the pedophile scandals of recent years; nor with the extermination of heretics, witches, and — truth be told — often saintly people in the Middle Ages; nor with crusading conquerors, ecclesiastical degenerates, and Papal opulence. The problems of Christianity predate these symptoms. They go back to the very beginning, to lies in the basic fabric of the gospel story. Jesus of Nazareth is a myth. The doctrine that the divine Son of God sacrificed himself on earth and redeemed us from our sins is a myth. This is the so-called Pauline kerygma. It’s all a crock — an absolute crock. Yet it has been bought hook, line, and sinker by all self-professing “Christians.” The kerygma is the very foundation of the religion. But it’s a myth. Christianity, sadly, was created by a dedicated bunch of liars.

5. Your comments remind me very much of Burton Mack’s criticisms of the foundational Christian myth in the Gospel of Mark that he makes in A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Are you saying, then, that there is nothing good in Christianity?

René Salm: I wouldn’t say that. I would not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as might some of my atheist colleagues, those who repudiate all “religion.” You see, I believe that before Paul came along with his kerygma in the first century of this era, there was a sectarian religion in Palestine with a profound seed of truth. That seed was gnostic, stringently ethical, and had something to do with the Semitic term “Natsarene.”

Incidentally, that term goes back millennia. In the Akkadian flood story, “natsar” (“preserve”) describes the ark that saves Noah (who has the gnostic name Atrahasis, “Ultra-wise”) and the seeds of future life. The rest of living things, as we know, died in this story of early cosmic judgement.

What my research is showing is that a very different sort of Christianity predated Paul — one that we would not recognize today. The religion of the Natsarenes was far too difficult for the ordinary person. It was devoted to the search for understanding and required total commitment, total sacrifice. It left no room for the world, for the enticements of pleasure, riches, and power. This ascetic religion had little to recommend it to the great masses, to the gentiles. Paul took care of that. He basically took this profound religion and debased it, made is “easy.”

He turned the all-consuming search for understanding into a religion of mere belief. In Christianity, the hard work has already been done for us — by Jesus. He died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Paul created a ‘savior.’ All we need do is ‘believe.’ Very convenient!

6. So would you say that Paul ‘created’ Christianity?

René Salm: Yes, I think to a large degree he did. Of course, I’m not the only one to assert this. Paul concocted the abstract framework of the kerygma. This was his “aha” moment, the essence of his revelation on the road to Damascus. Subsequently, by his own admission (Gal 1:17), Paul went into Arabia for three years where in seclusion he patiently fleshed out the details: the Son of God, death on the cross, the dying and rising savior (familiar from older religions), divine atonement for everyone’s sins. Paul crafted a coherent package of beliefs, one he could ‘sell’ to the gentiles. This was Paul’s genius. When he came back to Jerusalem to confront the apostles he was armed with a powerful message and quite prepared. They, of course, were appalled.

7. Would you elaborate a little more on the religion which preceded Paul?

René Salm: We have clues in the New Testament, from the writings ascribed to James preaching ethics over works, practice over belief. The discovery of the Nag Hammadi writings some sixty years ago has finally validated the existence of a very different sort of Christianity, one exceptionally early and gnostic. These writings were found entirely by chance, buried in the desert sands of Egypt. We have independent validation that the early Church expended great effort to destroy such writings in ancient times. This is precisely why the Nag Hammadi material was buried.

In many cases, the Nag Hammadi material includes the only surviving copy of enormously important Christian writings, such as the Gospel of Thomas. That gospel knows no crucifixion, no atonement, no miracles, no virgin birth. It teaches that the purpose of life is to seek and find understanding, ‘enlightenment.’ This is gnostic.

Incidentally, the text lauds James “the Just” in the highest terms (GTh 12). The Gospel of Thomas is anti-Pauline. Today, then, we have the witness to at least two very different Christianities which are not at all compatible. It can be no coincidence that the figure of Thomas is the target of so much bile and caricaturing in the New Testament (cf. Jn 20:24 ff.).

8. Jesus is known as the Son of God. Did the pre-Pauline ‘Natsarene’ religion also have a Son of God?

René Salm: Yes, it did. The Son of God concept is not new with Christianity. Earl Doherty has noted that “In Christian devotion, the Son virtually eclipses the Father.” He is correct, but not enough recognition has been given to the fact that the divine “son” and “father” were important concepts millennia before the emergence of Christianity.

The Son eclipsed the Father in the second millennium BCE. Marduk assumed pre-eminence in Babylonia in the second millennium BCE. Marduk in cuneiform means “Calf [i.e. ‘son’] of the Sun.” He was a great sky god.

In ancient Arabia (Hadramaut), especially, the Son of God was supreme: he was the moon (with the name Sin). His father was Venus (Athtar) and his mother the sun (Shamash). These precursors of Christianity are very important, but have been long forgotten — and/or suppressed. I am presently researching them.

9. Why were they suppressed?

René Salm: Well, because in the marketplace of religion (and it is a ‘marketplace’), the Christians were competing with other religions for potential recruits. You see, for many centuries before the Christian era — in fact, for thousands of years — there was a struggle between two great camps, between two ways of seeing the world. Christianity represents the eventual victors, those of one camp which I call ‘solar.’ Christianity and Judaism are ‘solar’ religions: they worship the magnificence of that which can be seen by day, by the light of the sun — namely, the creation. Solar religions are this-worldly, materialistic, body-oriented. They believe that what is visible is ‘good’ and the creation of god.

Today, our orientation is very solar. But it was not always so. Lunar religions held sway in the earliest times, roughly before Hammurabi in the early second millennium BCE (this was the time of the Aryan invasions from the north). Lunar religions validate what is unseen, hidden, and not manifest. They are what we might call ‘feminine.’ Lunar religions value the spiritual more highly than the physical. They tend to disparage the physical world and the body, and are today labeled ‘dualist.’ Lunar religions are gnostic. They value hidden wisdom, gnosis.

10. Why was the moon associated with gnosticism?

René Salm: The ancients saw the planets as divine beings — or, more precisely, as universal symbols such as that which is manifest (the sun), that which is unmanifest (the moon and stars), that which communicates truth to man (mercury, the “messenger” Hermes or Nabu/the “prophet”); the life-giver and nurturer (Venus, the earth goddess Ishtar) etc. After all, the planets were ever-present, always taking their familiar positions in the sky generation after generation. The moon is the original and quintessential gnostic symbol because it is able to shine in the darkness, which the sun cannot do. In fact, the sun was originally conceived as the offspring of the moon. What this means is that the unmanifest and hidden were originally superior to the manifest.

The Sumerians, Akkadians, and early Babylonians conceived of the cosmos in this way. Today we might consider this view very subtle, very advanced. Indeed, it was that. In my view, religion has degenerated over the last four thousand years. In the early second millennium BCE, from about the time of Hammurabi, civilization is solar—the manifest is ‘real,’ powerful, meaningful. The unmanifest does not ‘exist.’ This is essentially the world we have inherited today.

Nevertheless, if darkness is equated with ignorance — a universal equation — the heavenly body which shines in the darkness is the primary symbol of victory, of enlightenment, of achievement. That heavenly body is the moon. This is the ancient link between the moon and gnosticism. The parallels between this view and the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel should not be overlooked (“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — Jn 1:4-5).

Incidentally, in the Mandean Book of John the Baptizer, John always “proclaims in the night” (Price’s “The Pre-Nicene New Testament” begins with this text).

11. Your work is associated with other works by atheists (Doherty, Price, Zindler), but it is also clear you have an interest in religious ideas and Buddhism. Do you consider yourself an atheist?

René Salm: Yes, I do. However, I don’t consider myself anti-religion. It all depends on how one defines terms. You see, I consider myself a seeker of enlightenment. To seek enlightenment one doesn’t need to believe in God, but in ‘truth.’ Buddhism is atheist, and I subscribe to what Buddhism teaches (at least, in the Theravadin formulation). For me there is no personal god, no soul, no life after death, no heaven and hell divorced from this life. It’s all right here to be realized.

12. What are you presently working on?

René Salm: I’ve just developed a second website, Mythicist Papers, which is in an early stage. Hopefully, that website will grow into a hub of resources for the objective study of Christian origins.

Then, I’m working on a major book project, “A New Account of Christian Origins.” The first chapter’s written and is available online. A New Account will probably take years to write (The Myth of Nazareth required eight years), and I consider it my most important life’s work, from a scholarly perspective. However, the views presented in A New Account are sufficiently removed from ordinary investigation so that I’m finding it necessary to educate both myself and my readers in a good deal of obscure background, such as South Arabian religion in pre-Christian times, and the links between Christianity and the still little-known mystery religions. This education has led me to embark on a series of translations, which I’ll be uploading to the Mythicist Papers website hopefully over the next year or so.

13. This has been quite informative. Is there anything you’d like to add?

René Salm: Only that the mythicist and the careful researcher into Christian origins must keep an open mind. My research shows that time and time again the actual evidence debunks assumptions that we often don’t even realize we hold. We are at a turning point in history. I believe that these first decades of the new millennium are witnessing an irreversible decline in Christianity.

Incidentally, the work of archeologists such as Finkelstein and of minimalists like Lemche, Thompson, and Davies, are also undermining normative Judaism. My work on the background of Christianity should support the view that both it and Judaism are primarily the repositories of myths and legends. We are asking now whether Jesus of Nazareth existed. But did King David exist? Did Solomon? Did Moses or Abraham? I think there will be irrefutable answers to these questions in the near future, answers which are altogether negative.

The world is moving in a new direction, towards a world in which the roles of normative Judaism and Christianity are much smaller than they’ve been. My small role is to help show that mankind’s quest for understanding is paramount and primordial, that it supersedes all religion and, indeed, lies at the root of all ‘authentic’ religion. I call that authentic religion universal gnosticism, and find it in the lunar religion of ancient Sumer and Arabia, in Buddhism, elements of Samaritanism, the Greek mysteries, the pre-Christian Natsarene movement, and Mandeism.

Thank you.

René Salm: You’re most welcome.

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James Randi discusses René Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth

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  • Bob Carlson
    2011-04-27 12:50:03 UTC - 12:50 | Permalink

    The moon is the original and quintessential gnostic symbol because it is able to shine in the darkness, which the sun cannot do.

    Bill Nye “the Science Guy” raised a bit of a ruckus in Texas for pointing out that the moon merely reflects the light of the sun. Perhaps Texas would be the exception to the rule that “these first decades of the new millennium are witnessing an irreversible decline in Christianity.” 🙂

  • John
    2011-04-27 22:12:39 UTC - 22:12 | Permalink

    Now here is something I can more easily accept. There likely was no Nazareth in the first century. I agree with the idea that it is a play on or cover-up of Nazoraean/Netzerim or Nazirite.

    And I agree with the idea that there is a solar connection between Buddha and Jesus, and this is discussed in depth in several articles at historyhuntersinternational.org, where they suggest that panhellenists created both figures as representations of Helios.

  • 2011-04-27 23:19:18 UTC - 23:19 | Permalink

    I look forward to Rene Salm’s researches into the apparent Mid-Eastern antecedents of Christianity. Thomas L. Thompson brought much of this to our attention in his The Messiah Myth, but Salm appears to be digging into this at the micro level (to whatever extent the evidence allows us to be ‘micro’ for this time and place). It’s good to see the mythical touches of John the Baptist being explored, too — I’ve been looking for more along these lines ever since I read many years ago mythologist Joseph Campbell’s intriguing questions about the “coincidences” between the NT John the Baptist and Mid Eastern myths.

    While I like the “feel” of Buddhism and Taoism when I’m rubbing shoulders with various Asian cultures, it does nothing for me personally. But I do relate to Rene’s ability not to be ‘anti-religion’ at one level while simultaneously deploring the negative roots of Christianity and the harm it continues to wreak today (albeit with some good for some, too).

  • john w.
    2011-04-28 00:42:32 UTC - 00:42 | Permalink

    For evidence of a 3rd or 4th century dualist gnostic Christian sect with a hierarchy similar to that of the later Bogomils, Cathars or Druze, and perhaps the Mandeans, see this book:
    RA Kitchen and MFG Parmentier, eds and translators;, The Book of Steps, The Syriac Liber Graduum; Cistercian Publications; Kalamazoo, MI; 2004.
    The book is a collection of 30 sermons possibly dating to the early 4th century.
    The implications of this collection would be even more disturbing if they could be placed at an earlier date. The beliefs of this sect owe nothing to Pauline orthodoxy, and there are strong similarities between this sect’s ethical mandates and those set forth in the Epistle attributed to James. This group probably lies on the evolutionary path that ended a thousand years later with the Cathars.

    Regarding the New Testament terms: Nazareth/Nazoraios/Nazarenos.
    Has any one considered if they are Greek transliterations of Aramaic words?
    It is not too much of a stretch to go from Jesus Nazareth/Nazarene to God’s liberating staff, or God’s liberating princeling (assuming bilingual word play Nasi-ene).

  • C.J. O'Brien
    2011-04-28 03:09:52 UTC - 03:09 | Permalink

    My question is this: what is the earliest known use of the term “Nazarene” (Ναζωραίων, Νασαραίοι, Heb. Notzrim, or any variant?). Pliny, who writes of a group called Nazerini, in Syria, believed by scholars to be referring to a late 1st c. BCE source? And what are we to make of Epiphanius’s attempts at disambiguation in the 4th century between two apparent sects with similar names, beginning Naza-, Naso-?

    And how secure is the etymology in any of these cases?

    It’s funny that Salm here should derive it from ‘“natsar” (“preserve”)’, as I just came across a similar etymology in a book on the DSS (The Library of Qumran, by Hartmut Stegemann) in which the author ascribes the term to the followers of John the Baptist. According to his assertion (irritating, as he discusses no alternatives) they were so known because the purpose of JtB’s baptismal ritual was to forgive sins and thus “preserve” the faithful from the coming Judgment. Also according to Stegemann, this was not a self-designation by the group, but a “somewhat dismissive” (paraphrasing) name given to them by other Jews.

    On my own, I have come to favor a derivation from “NZR”, “Netzer” as in Isaiah 11:1, the branch or shoot from the stump of Jesse, which got applied as a messianic prophesy to Jesus, but I believed was originally the name of a group so named to indicate “separation” (sectarian orientation, just as “Pharisee” does). The obvious Davidic, messianic overtones then being irresistable for the gospel authors, one of whom went so far as to derive a fictional place-name out of it.

    So many possibilities. Anyone have any insights here?

    • 2011-04-28 07:03:25 UTC - 07:03 | Permalink

      It’s somewhat misleading reading these terms in English. We’ve inherited writing the Hebrew Tsade as “tz” and pronounce it as a “z” sound, which is its closest representation in English. But 2,000 years ago — in Koine Greek — the Hebrew Tsade was almost always rendered in Koine Greek with a Sigma. Sadducee is from Tzadokim, Isaac is from Yitzak, “Zion” (Tsion) is actually written in the LXX as Sion not “Zion”, the book of Zephaniah is actually the book of Sofonias in the LXX due to the Tsade, and multiple other examples.

      So I’m kind of not convinced that Nazarene (always spelled with a Zeta and not a Sigma) is derived from Netser. On the other hand, Nazoraios (Ναζωραιος) is phonetically similar enough to the Greek rendition of Nazirite (Ναζιραιος) to think that this is where the connection comes from (remember people heard these spoken out loud in synagogues and house churches, they didn’t have a handy study bible to refer to or copy from. They had to recall from memory). Nazirite is spelled with the Hebrew Zayin and not a Hebrew Tsade so it makes sense that it would be rendered in Koine Greek with a Zeta.

      It’s also possible that the alpha-iota diphthong in Ναζιραιος was remembered as an Eta (η) by Mark and he ended up with Ναζαρηνος. He does switch an alpha with an eta at the beginning of the gospel when he renderes διακονος as διηκονος (Mk 1.13) so it might not be that much of a stretch.

      • C.J. O'Brien
        2011-04-28 07:26:45 UTC - 07:26 | Permalink

        Thanks. My facility with Semitic languages ends somewhere around “Shalom” and so I appeciate the insight into the phonetics and how they were customarily transliterated. It appears my preference for Netzer will have to be abandoned. (Though it’s not impossible that the author of Mark accepted the diffuse associations the name could arouse, or may have adopted an idiosyncratic transliteration if his education in Koine was self-directed and he lacked easy access to standard literary exemplars.)

        I didn’t mention Nazirite, though I have heard that as a possible derivation also. My problem there is that it doesn’t seem to make sense. Nazirite was not a sect as I understand it, but a term for “oathtaker,” one who pledged a greater than normatively required obedience to God on one term or another. How would that term come to be applied to a particular sect when a Nazirite could be a Saduccee or a Pharisee or an Essene? Or am I wrong there, and the term denoted more generally “a pious one” (but isn’t that the meaning of hasid, and isn’t that the derivation of ‘Essene’)?

        I’m full of questions on this subject.

  • vorpal
    2011-04-28 09:44:58 UTC - 09:44 | Permalink

    What about Islam? Why isn’t anybody debunking that? I have strong doubts about the historicity of Muhammad. Since we are undermining the myths of Judaism and Christianity, why not go for the trifecta?

    • 2011-04-28 10:04:35 UTC - 10:04 | Permalink

      I did make a little foray in that direction last year with Muhammad mythicism and the fallacy of Jesus agnosticism.

    • rey
      2011-04-28 14:44:44 UTC - 14:44 | Permalink

      I think to a great extent because its just naturally and correctly assumed to be false from the beginning. An illiterate camel herder 700 years after Christianity claims an angel appeared and told him that actually it was Ishmael not Isaac that Abraham almost sacrificed, and that he should kill all the Christians and Jews. His followers still look down on English translation and pretend Arabic is a holy language, because they know his writings are gibberish and don’t want us to be able to read them and see how nonsensical and insane they are. What need is there to even debunk something so stupid? People would rather buy a book bashing the religion they were raised in and rejected than one that is so laughably absurd and foreign that would never even give it a single thought of possibly being true. (So, economics, in other words. Wheres’ the money to be made?) Islam isn’t perceived as an intellectual threat. Even with all the books bashing Christianity, no real dent is made. Christians just ignore the contradictions and move on. Even the atheists are counting on that to keep Islam from taking over.

      • rey
        2011-04-28 14:48:01 UTC - 14:48 | Permalink

        Plus the holy history of the false prophet, the haddith, admits he was a child molestor. Muslims are allowed 4 wives but he had 9, one of which he married when she was 9 years old. And although the Muslims will say “yeah, but he waited till she was 12 before he bones yet” (as if 12 is all that old) there’s even actually a passage where he thighed her at 9 (Muslims get real upset when that one is pointed out, so be carefuly of Jihad!). I mean, do you really need a whole book to debunk these guys?

    • C.J. O'Brien
      2011-04-29 06:57:51 UTC - 06:57 | Permalink

      Since we are undermining the myths of Judaism and Christianity, why not go for the trifecta?

      Possibly since many of us aren’t really pursuing that as a project. Let the chips fall where they may: That may indeed be the result of the inquiry, but it seems to me you agree with those who say Jesus mythicism is a tendentious position, held only by “angry atheists” who want to undermine and discredit christianity at the cost of credibility and intellectual responsibility.

      For myself, my interest is in the period of history involved. I’m fascinated by the so-called Axial Age. My interest in the historical questions surrounding the gospels began as an interest in the Hellenistic and Roman periods generally. The reason I’m not interested in undermining the myths of Christianity is that I consider them sufficiently undermined simply by the virtue of them being myths, and I would feel that way whether I believed that Jesus existed as a historical figure or not. The reason I’m not as interested in the historicity of Muhammed is that I’m not as interested in that period of history as I am in the 1st century CE.

  • Bob Carlson
    2011-04-28 10:13:36 UTC - 10:13 | Permalink

    The discovery of the Nag Hammadi writings some sixty years ago has finally validated the existence of a very different sort of Christianity, one exceptionally early and gnostic.

    According to the Nag Hammadi Wikipedia, “…a 1st or 2nd century date of composition circa 80 CE for the lost Greek originals of the Gospel of Thomas has been proposed, though this is disputed by many if not the majority of biblical matter researchers.” 80 CE wouldn’t seem exceptionally early, given that Paul is thought to have died in 67 CE. Therefore, I am left wondering whether it can be demonstrated that Gnosticism wasn’t simply an offshoot of Paulian Christianity?

  • Toto
    2011-04-28 15:24:38 UTC - 15:24 | Permalink

    McGrath has accused Salm of spreading misinformation about Mandeans

    Mythicism meets Mandaism

    I don’t see any mention here of Mandeanism other than the reference to the Mandean gospel of John.

    • 2011-04-28 15:43:39 UTC - 15:43 | Permalink

      McGrath has had a long history of spreading misinformation himself. There are only two people on the web of whom I have used the L__r word: Tim O’Neill and James McGrath. But I’m told that’s a sin and I shouldn’t use that word.

    • Evan
      2011-04-28 23:56:47 UTC - 23:56 | Permalink

      It is odd, and perhaps I am too thick to see it, but I don’t see anywhere in the interview where Salm states what Dr. McGrath purports him to be saying. Salm states that the Mandeans didn’t like the sun … and that their religion was lunar — meaning hidden, occult etc, which certainly comports with what I have heard about their religion (I believe I once read that Mandeans were not to reveal their beliefs to outsiders and were permitted to lie about them to same if this would stop the questioning). Nowhere do I see any mention of their beliefs about the beneficence or maleficence of the astral bodies.

      Even more amusing — the fact that the Mandeans associate Jesus with an astral body and they theoretically can date their religion back to a “historical” John the Baptist would suggest a less than firm belief in a historical man who walked upon the earth. The dioscuri were associated with the evening and morning star, does this increase the likelihood there was a historical Castor and Polydeuces?

      • 2011-04-29 00:00:29 UTC - 00:00 | Permalink

        Admit it! McGrath sees himself as an authority on the Mandeans. So if a mythicist even breathes a word about his pet hobby horse McGrath is going to go ballistic on principle!

    • 2011-04-29 13:21:05 UTC - 13:21 | Permalink

      I have posted the following on McGrath’s site in response.

      Has anyone here actually read the interview with Salm? I don’t believe so because Salm nowhere suggests the the gnostic or Mandean evidence (second and third centuries onward) attributes a positive influence to the planets.

      Or if anyone did actually read what Salm wrote then they have incredibly poor reading comprehension levels or have a malicious motive in publicly accusing him of something he nowhere says, has to my knowledge never said, and from other readings of his, nowhere believes.

      Salm has elsewhere actually said that the gnostics and mandeans believed the planets were malevolent, but that his studies are looking at the hitherto inconclusive scholarship on pre-Christian ideas.

      A civil response, one from a public intellectual from whom we might expect an example of rationality, comprehension and honesty in public debate, would be to post a civil question in response to ask Salm to clarify his point if it was truly felt that there was some error of fact.

      But attention to facts would mean treating anyone who espouses a mythicist case seriously, and McGrath has already declared he does not believe he should do that.

      • 2011-04-29 14:15:58 UTC - 14:15 | Permalink

        Neil: “..if anyone did actually read what Salm wrote then they have incredibly poor reading comprehension levels or have a malicious motive…

        I used to think the choice was between incompetence and malice, but lately I’ve seen conclusive proof that they often work hand in hand.

        Speaking of which, O’Neill chimes in at the Matrix to insult uppity librarians and piano teachers. How nice.

        • 2011-04-29 14:39:23 UTC - 14:39 | Permalink

          When I read that page on McGrath’s blog I felt I had stumbled into one of those chat rooms of fundamentalists (Christian Cadre or J.P. Holding style) — nothing but giggling ignorance and childish insults — and McGrath said not very long ago how he intended to lift the tone of his criticisms. I was never holding my breath waiting for that change.

          As for their attacks on Randi for his mistaken biblical reference — I’d be a very rich man if I had a dollar for every mistaken biblical citation I read in academic publications. This is the sort of immature response one expects to find among naughty children who are cheekily looking for any excuse to make fun of someone. There, I’ve once again used that dastardly insult that so offended Steph!

          Where is their maturity? Where is their honesty?

  • 2011-04-30 20:32:34 UTC - 20:32 | Permalink

    I was just noticing that Salm’s book “The Myth of Nazareth” got hammered with a couple negative amazon reviews. If you’ve read the book it would be really helpful to leave a positive or at least more objective comment.

    • 2011-05-01 12:45:54 UTC - 12:45 | Permalink

      Good idea. I will do this. Anyone who has read the exchanges between Salm and academics on this matter on the old Crosstalk discussion group (linked in my above interview post) will see at a glance that critics had no answers for the facts he presented.

      I would be very surprised if many (any?) of the Salm’s critics have read his book. There is a youtube video of another bible-blogger blasting Salm for writing in some emotive and hostile style that is in fact nowhere to be found in the book. I asked that blogger to justify his criticism but never received a response to that.

      I would also like to do a series of posts on it on this blog some time.

  • rjosephhoffmann
    2011-05-03 10:36:19 UTC - 10:36 | Permalink

    Neil, you should revert to your post/interview with Salm (assessment withheld) and correct, disown or remove the video by James Randi. What possible authority on the matter does he have, except as a certified skeptic and magician; and even he did have credibility, he explodes it in the first 30 seconds by identifying Nazareth as the birth place of Jesus in “John 1″. The myth theory has problems enough without looking for the endorsements of bumblers.

    • 2011-05-03 10:38:02 UTC - 10:38 | Permalink

      Your selective outrage at incompetency and credibility is hilarious.

    • 2011-05-03 10:40:10 UTC - 10:40 | Permalink

      Selective outrage indeed!

      As I said in relation to the puerile responses on James’ blog about that mistake, I’d be a very rich man if I had a dollar for every biblical citation error published by a scholar — Hoffmann’s works included!

      As for bumblers, does Hoffmann still stand by his published comments that Doherty is a disciple of Wells?

  • 2011-05-07 11:46:19 UTC - 11:46 | Permalink

    Rene Salm has responded to the James McGrath’s and Tim O’Neill’s post and comments on the Matrix blog. As of the time of this posting there are 4 responses. Well worth reading.

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2011/04/mythicism-meets-mandaism.html

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