2012-09-12

McGrath as mcmuddled as ever over mythicism

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by Neil Godfrey

Dr James McGrath’s technique for slaying mythicism is to mount a snorting charger, grab a sword by the blade and don his full face helmet backwards so he cannot see, and then charge like hell in any direction his angry steed takes him.

He simply chooses not to read what mythicists say. He sees a windmill in the distance that he thinks looks like a silly monster and, without further ado, proceeds to blather some ignorant sophistry that completely ignores reality. But he has a cheering audience among that section of academia (theology) that scholars (e.g. Jerry Coyne and co) in real disciplines think is a bit of a joke.

I hasten to add that I don’t think that all biblical studies scholars are a joke by any means. I would not bother discussing and addressing so many of them and so many of their insightful ideas on this blog if I did. But when it comes to defending the historicity of Jesus — something Bart Ehrman suddenly realized none of his peers had ever thought to do before — well, they have a remarkable propensity for regurgitating circular arguments, question begging, and even outright falsehoods about what either they seem to think mythicists say or even what their own peers have published or both, usually both.

I put it that Dr McGrath never read the reasons Earl Doherty accepts Q. Why would he bother? He never takes up any of Doherty’s actual arguments anyway. I know he has never read the reasons he does not accept the historicity of Jesus and why he argues that Paul’s concept of Jesus was a heavenly-spiritual entity start to finish. I know that because by his own admission he reviewed Doherty’s book on mythicism before he even read more than a few pages of it. I have also read what he called “reviews” of a few of Doherty’s chapters and demonstrated, point by point, that he completely failed to address Doherty’s actual arguments, even in places saying the very opposite of what Doherty actually wrote or did not write.

That sounds bizarre, but I can understand it if I imagine him with book open, mind totally disengaged from what is before him as his eyes glaze over the pages.

Dr McGrath even said in response to one of my criticisms that I made Doherty’s argument sound plausible. But that was not a virtue. It was a cardinal sin in his eyes.

So our good doctor does not read Doherty’s arguments. He doesn’t need to in order to write an Amazon review of them. Had he read Doherty’s book with any attention as he claimed he had he would have known full well before now the reason Doherty accepts the Q hypothesis. He would have known the arguments, the logic, the evidence.

He would also have known the same logical rigour undermines the circular and question-begging arguments he and others have ever submitted in defence of historicity and supports the case for the creation of Jesus in the Bible entirely without reference to any historical person.

Here is muddling:

But they [he means Earl Doherty] will then go on to try to argue that the sayings in this source, which are now only to be found embedded in Christian sources which agree in attributing those sayings to Jesus, have no connection with the figure to whom both Matthew and Luke attribute them.

Ya gotta love this guy! He will never engage seriously in an argument with Earl Doherty. It is enough for him to dismiss Earl’s arguments with a sweeping “he tries to argue that”! McGrath has made it clear in earlier exchanges that he refuses on principle to repeat any mythicist argument, even in a review or criticism, because he fears it will lend it respectability if he does so! A bit hard to then turn around and try to say he has publicly actually engaged with the arguments!

More muddles:

They thus try to use something about which there is (despite it remaining the consensus position) a fair amount of dispute and discussion, in order to argue against something about which there is, because of the strong evidence, unanimity among historians.

This is McGrath’s style. He has no ability to use a pointy end of any argument against mythicism. He must always avoid that and do what he’s best at: drawing vague abstractions out of something mythicists have said and then huff and puff against these cloudy generalizations.

McGrath also says it is important not to ignore mythicists. What he demonstrates to all but his fellow divines is that he has nothing but bluster and generalization and suppression of the details and insult to throw at mythicists. Not quite the way evolutionists are known to respond to creationists. No wonder theology departments are a joke among evolutionists.

His antidote?

The only antidote to them is true critical thinking – which forces you to not merely be skeptical of what those you are already inclined to disagree with have to say, but to ask whether you would find the arguments you currently use persuasive if you did not already adhere to the worldview that you do.

Ah, and this is from the professor who was completely flummoxed when he was asked to set forth his argument according to logical premises. I have attempted in the past so many times to pin McGrath down on the logic of his arguments — or rather the circularity of them — and his response has been the same trumpet retreat every time.

I wonder what McGrath says about those mythicists who have changed their minds and no longer espouse mythicism and about those historicists who subsequently favoured mythicism. Don’t they undermine McGrath’s claim that mythicism is a sign of a closed mind? But details, facts, . . . Reality is often just a windmill after all.

(Supporting links to several of the claims I made in this post are to follow.)

79 Comments

  • 2012-09-12 18:17:40 UTC - 18:17 | Permalink

    Will one of you guys please let me know if ol’ McG ever decides to engage the actual arguments?

    Until then, I am not the slightest bit interested in anything he has to say about anything.

    I am not holding my breath.

    Thanks.

    Ó

    • 2012-09-12 19:27:12 UTC - 19:27 | Permalink

      He has made himself a laughing stock with his pomposity, arrogance, logical fallacies and blatant ignorance of what he thinks he is talking about. It is sadly comical to see him from time to time commenting on several blogs of evolutionary scientists only to be dismissed as an ignoramus by scholars from a discipline he wants us all to think is the authoritative equal of his own. He rails against creationists but evolutionists dismiss him as just as much an anti-evolution creationist as those he condemns. He has no idea what the debate is about — whether evolution or mythicism.

  • brettongarcia
    2012-09-12 20:05:31 UTC - 20:05 | Permalink

    No doubt many of us, being human, would not like to adequately represent the virtues of their enemies: would even Vridar publish a sustained, reasoned counter to its own arguments?

    Personally I believe in the bare existence of Q; but believe in practically none of the extrapolations “scholars” have made from that existence, for instance.

    Your own championing of Marcionist origins in fact, countered Doherty.

    • 2012-09-12 20:30:12 UTC - 20:30 | Permalink

      “would even Vridar publish a sustained, reasoned counter to its own arguments?”

      Vridar’s answer: Yes! A few have been made and I have welcomed them. I wish I had more. The pity is there are so few. Most who have disagreed with the views expressed here have reacted with vitriol. And when I have engaged those who do begin with civil engagement they have very rarely stayed to defend their view or counter mine. (One or two of us have opted to agree to disagree — but I have always found myself afterwards thinking about why we disagreed and questioning.)

      You speak of my “championing of Marcionist origins”. The fact is I post on topics mostly for my own benefit because I am seeking to explore or understand them better. (I enjoy blogging because it is also a pleasure to share my own interests with others who may find them of interest, too.) I am open to the question, but you will be hard pressed to find me “championing” it. Even in very recent posts I have pointed out that I am undecided on the question of Paul. So I can hardly be “championing” any views.

      My views are always in flux. I am always learning and revising my thoughts in the light of new information. I’d be mad to want to “champion” any particular view I hold today knowing I cannot guarantee I will think the same in the future.

      I think anyone who has read a few of my own thoughts — or even just my “About Vridar” page — will know that I have sought to present a range of views that I find worthy of being better understood or simply worthy of being more widely known and discussed. I have considered it an enormous privilege to have been able to host Earl Doherty’s responses to Bart Ehrman’s book, but I have never hidden the fact that Doherty and I have significant differences of view. But I nonetheless respect his views — including those I disagree with — because I know and respect the reasons he holds his views.

      I am also very conscious of my own biases and ability to be wrong — enough to avoid dogmatism with respect to anything I think now.

      • 2012-09-13 06:28:19 UTC - 06:28 | Permalink

        “I am also very conscious of my own biases.”

        Methodologically, avoidance of bias is key to better understanding. I think Neil is among the smartest and most coherent and objective people now discussing Christian origins. That is why Vridar is attracting such a level of interest.

        Even so, it is valuable to discuss bias, so that people with different perspectives can engage and not simply talk past each other. Neil’s key bias, in my view, is the entirely justified scientific stance that any argument must be based on strong evidence.

        Fair enough. However, this focus on scientific method presents an immediate problem in engaging with traditional approaches to religion, where belief is grounded in metaphysical speculation rather than evidence. Metaphysics as a scholarly discipline stands in some disrepute because of its extensive links to false theories of conventional faith.

        Why is this a problem? To explain the evolution of the Christ Myth, we have to reconstruct ancient thought. This means we have to try to get inside their metaphysical minds. The ancients thought very differently from moderns. It is too easy to transpose a false corrupted view held in modern religion, for example about heaven or Christ, on to the ancient texts. This is done routinely in conventional theology, for example with the assumption that Paul is discussing a historical Jesus, or with the idea that heaven is a physical place where the good individual soul goes for ever after death.

        But there are big parts of ancient thought that are unknown, especially in view of the heavy Christian efforts to obliterate what they saw as heresy. So the reconstruction is far from easy. Evidence has emerged of systematic bias in scholarship. For example Martin Bernal’s work Black Athena presents a plausible account of how classics has constructed racial myths about Greece which ignore the role of the old big civilizations of Egypt and Babylon. Other scholars have shown how astrology permeated ancient thought in a way that moderns find repugnant and incomprehensible, for example with the fatalist idea that events on earth reflect observed events in the heavens.

        Religion as a topic is notorious for bias, with personal experience creating psychological attitudes that are often unconscious to the individual holding them. This is as true among believers as among atheists, and unfortunately makes bias an uncomfortable topic.

        • 2012-09-13 07:15:50 UTC - 07:15 | Permalink

          Yes, I am biased against non-scientific and non-secular approaches to the Bible. Others will just have to accept that bias on my part and live with it. I do not allow regular comments from those arguing a fundamentalist or faith-based view, or a mysticism, or spiritualism or any other such non-scientific approaches to the question. I allowed many comments in the past from Robert Tulip because I was completely ignorant of where Robert was coming from. I am also biased towards giving the benefit of the doubt and leniency if I have uncertainty.

          I am biased towards studying the mindsets of ancients scientifically without embracing their pre-scientific views for myself. Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Earl Doherty are classic cases of being able to explore the mind-set of Paul and other ancients this way. I can study the role of the irrational, astrology, mysticism, etc among ancient thought without jettisoning scientific methods.

          Studies of the type such as Black Athena are interesting responses against Orientalism in scholarship but do need to be scrutinized for their own biases, too.

          I have skimmed several of D. M. Murdock’s books but never been able to get into them in detail, so have ignored them on this blog. But if, Robert, you are an advocate for her views then you have explained to me why I was never able to get into her books — if she is not coming from the “scientific” approach to studies.

          Now I am fully prepared to concede that our human brains are limited and there are things the scientific method may not be able to address — but I am biased towards leaving those questions as mysteries or unknowns till some way in the future we have reliable means of addressing them — if ever.

          My bias towards the scientific method is based on the fact that it has produced secure, testable results in so many areas while alternatives have not.

          Sometimes commenters come here disguising their real motivations for some time — some manage to conceal their agendas longer than others. But once they emerge I do draw the line in what comments are allowed to appear here from them.

          • 2012-09-13 08:54:39 UTC - 08:54 | Permalink

            Neil, Murdock is completely scientific, as I am. I have not disguised my motives. The problem is that both Murdock and I apply scientific method to topics that are generally assumed to be unscientific, and this creates a visceral reaction among others who have not studied the material in question. If you look through my writing, you will not find me arguing unscientifically. If you do, then I will concede and retract. I have changed my views over time, for example shifting from assumption of a historical Jesus to a mythicist view on the basis of the evidence.

            “Getting inside the mind” of the ancients is not the same as embracing their views – rather it is about understanding them and not jumping to prejudiced conclusions.

            The problem is that I am interesting in questions where the evidence base is thin, and where I argue conventional opinion is seriously wrong and uninformed. It is possible to formulate scientific hypotheses in such matters, for example the role of precession in ancient myth, without getting sucked in to woo woo mystery.

            • 2012-09-13 10:45:46 UTC - 10:45 | Permalink

              Robert, I am addressing my reply to a wider audience as well as you. Topics themselves are not unscientific. Scientific does not refer to topics but to methods. So it is a misunderstanding to say that you “apply scientific method to topics that are unscientific”. That makes no sense. Anthropologists, mathematicians, testers of paranormal, can study astrology, for example. I have studied the myth of Atlantis and astrology from a scientific point of view.

              Scientific method can be used to test “woo woo” hypotheses like von Danekin’s about aliens building the pyramids.

              When you say “the problem” is that you are exploring a “thin evidence base” then I agree. That is a problem. And yes, I will be biased. Thin evidence base opens the room for so much untestable speculation. It is possible to build up a Michelangelo ceiling in the clouds of one’s imagination. By piecing strands of thin evidence together I know from experience it is possible to “prove” many things. The point of the scientific method, though, is not to find all the reasons to argue for a hypothesis, but to be able to make predictions and test those. If you cannot do that — if you cannot explain how your thesis can be falsified — it is not a scientific one.

              This is where the principles Carrier spells out in his book on Bayes’ theorem come in. The best way for you to prove your own thesis is to demonstrate the inadequacy of others. And you need to marshall all the alternative explanations to your own thesis and test their claims against your own explanation of the evidence, and your own claims against theirs.

              It won’t do to simply ask others to suspend all of these methods and to consider whether or not your hypothesis makes sense on its own terms. Any hypothesis can make sense on its own terms if it is given that privileged status. Yes, if others say they reject your hypothesis because they have more testable and predictable ways of explaining the data then they really are biased towards the scientific method and that is why they reject your hypothesis.

              I have not posted on methodology for a while. I used to do that quite a bit. Maybe it’s time to return to more posts along those lines.

              • 2012-09-13 14:06:41 UTC - 14:06 | Permalink

                I didn’t say topics are unscientific but they are “generally considered” to be so. The possibility of precession informing Biblical cosmology is one example. Contrary to widespread assumption, that topic is quite different from asking, say, whether people born under Taurus should marry those born under Cancer. The personal horoscope advice is unscientific, but analysis of precession in myth can be approached in an entirely scientific way, even though much writing on it is unscientific.

                Science often takes thin or fragmented evidence and fits it in to a coherent explanation. For example the changing speed of Uranus was a very thin piece of evidence, but it successfully enabled discovery of Neptune. The similar application regarding precession and Biblical exegesis would examine the texts to assess if they fit better together against what we know the ancients understood of the slow apparent movement of the stars. My analysis suggests there is abundant material here, although as yet the literature is quite weak.

                Falsification is a somewhat contested idea for historical method. We cannot falsify the claim that Jesus existed in the sense of proving it is untrue, which is why conventional theology is unscientific.

                Mythicism seeks to piece together the available evidence to find the most plausible and persuasive explanation. I don’t expect that any evidence proving the existence of Jesus will emerge, but that would falsify the mythicist hypothesis. I’m not sure what positive predictions mythicism makes, although you (Neil) set the ability to make and test predictions as the hallmark of science.

              • 2012-09-13 17:15:09 UTC - 17:15 | Permalink

                Hypotheses for mythicism or historicism can indeed make predictions and be tested. What would one expect to see in X if Y were true? That’s a prediction. It can be tested by looking at the evidence.

                When some theologians posing as historians say they do not find such and such an explanation “persuasive” they are — as Tim and I and no doubt others have pointed out — merely voicing subjective opinion. That is worthless in the contexts we are addressing. If they had any rigour they would be able to spell out why exactly they find it unpersuasive and base their conclusion on clear premises, predictions and tests. That they don’t do that only demonstrates how flaky their “historical methodology” is.

                (I have made a point in some posts of addressing this very thing in my criticisms of historicist arguments. McGrath, for example, will say mythicism is unpersuasive without explaining in detail and logical steps why it is unpersuasive, but I will demonstrate with predictions, tests, why his alternative argument is indeed the objectively “unpersuasive” one.)

                It sounds to me like you are falling into the very trap I spoke of above with your precession hypotheses — looking for all the evidence you can find to support it. Almost any hypotheses can be argued that way, but it will not face up to testing among those you might like to persuade. Your Uranus example confirms my point about making predictions and testing those predictions.

              • 2012-09-14 08:57:20 UTC - 08:57 | Permalink

                Robert: “I didn’t say topics are unscientific but they are “generally considered” to be so.”

                Neil: You missed my point. I don’t believe any “topic” per se is “generally considered” unscientific. There are unscientific or seriously flawed methods and assumptions. Even astrology and the Myth of Atlantis can be studied scientifically.

            • 2012-09-13 10:55:59 UTC - 10:55 | Permalink

              I should add that Carrier is, I believe, reasonable in arguing that Bayes’ theorem is not without some use in historical questions. I recently completed another book covering the history of Bayes’ theorem and the many applications it has served. It really is the right tool to help one assess the values of any interpretations of “very thin evidence bases”. “Very thin evidence bases” is exactly what it is designed to resolve. But you don’t need the maths. Just awareness of all the factors that go into the thinking of “very thin evidence bases”. Maths helps keep one honest.

              • brettongarcia
                2012-09-13 16:59:05 UTC - 16:59 | Permalink

                I essentially agree that we need very scientific explorations of ancient beliefs. We need to study ancient cultures objectively, without getting too involved in their orientation. And it is easy to do this: Anthropology has shown that it is possible to rationally explore ancient beliefs in magic, for instance. Though to be sure, this is always difficult, the method is easy enough: in part it is a matter of simply describing the beliefs, rationally, without advocating them.

                Or rather, sometimes maintaining a strict appearance of objectivity here is difficult. Can we talk about “magic” influences in christianity for example? As a matter of fact, when we study the impact of the ideas of the East, from Persia, on Christianity, to we are often dealing literally, with “magical” beliefs. Our very word “magic” is derived from the Persian word for persian wise men; the “magus” or in the plural, “Magi.” In ancient times, the wisest men we had, were rather confused; and their beliefs sometimes included simple chemistry … intermixed with beliefs in magic, and spirits.

                Yet though of course, magic is held in disrepute, these things can be investigated and objectively described by scholars who specialize in eastern cultures.

                In recent times, unfortunately, Edward Said gave “orientalism” a bad name (as Lewis noted in 1984, in the New York review of books; (https://www.amherst.edu/media/view/307584/original/The%2BQuestion%2Bof%2BOrientalism%2Bby%2BBernard%2BLewis%2B%257C%2BThe%2BNew%2BYork%2BReview%2Bof%2BBooks.pdf). But the dictionaries confirm that technically, “Orientalist” merely refers to anyone who studies Eastern cultures. And it is considered a respectable study in academe … if treated rationally and scientifically.

                Many people have noted “magical thinking” in Christianity for instance; belief in miracles and so forth. This of course, is an objective, Anthropological comment; and in no way advocates belief in the subject of inquiry.

              • 2012-09-13 18:20:59 UTC - 18:20 | Permalink

                My understanding of what Robert is wanting to do is not the same as studying “magic” or “precession” or anything else according to the normative scientific or historiographical principles. He is asking that us to consider his thesis on “persuasiveness” in the way it explains all the data that he points to, if I understand him correctly, even though he bypasses any explanation of tthe weakness or fallacies of other hypotheses that posit entirely different explanations for the same data.

                A few comments in the past in which I have raised questions about his interpretations of specific details have gone unanswered. One example is his apparent reliance upon very late Christian symbols apparently to interpret thought processes etc of earlier generations.

                Lewis’s review of Said’s work is only one of many. Having read Said’s “Orientalism” myself I have to disagree. You are not the first to appeal here to dictionary definitions as some sort of authority on what words mean. But that’s not the purpose of dictionaries. Dictionaries only express how a word is used at any given time and place. There is no “authoritative” meaning of a word beyond the way it is used — and usage is always changing. And scholars generally DO need to have their own languages and definitions of terms because they are dealing with more nuance etc than is generally the case with popular or public usage of words.

              • 2012-09-13 20:16:12 UTC - 20:16 | Permalink

                Comments on another topic are not the place to debate such complex questions. If I have overlooked questions I am happy to be reminded of them in specifics. I offered to debate the issues Neil has raised in a thread devoted to the precession hypothesis. That offer still stands.

              • 2012-09-13 21:51:09 UTC - 21:51 | Permalink

                So you have no response to my core criticisms above. If you want to start a debate about something specific then do so here. So far I have only seen you avoid my key points about scientific method. If I am wrong then make your case here.

  • Niels Peter Lemche
    2012-09-12 21:42:53 UTC - 21:42 | Permalink

    May I recommend David Henige’s contribution to the Philip Davies Festschrift, just out. He deals with exactly this kind of fighting, although in the OT.

  • Nikos Apostolakis
    2012-09-12 22:53:08 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

    Dr McGrath even said in response to one of my criticisms that I made Doherty’s argument sound plausible. But that was not a virtue. It was a cardinal sin in his eyes.

    Ha! did he actually say that? It reminds me of “Wagner’s music is not as bad as it sounds”.

    • 2012-09-12 23:11:40 UTC - 23:11 | Permalink

      He said it here: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/dohertys-chapter-7-2-reviewing-mcgraths-review/#comment-17141

      He said, in effect, that I made Earl Doherty’s argument sound attractive and his own historicist argument incompetent. But of course that only meant, in his eyes, that I was a charlatan. Plausible and reasonable sounding arguments must never be allowed to trump an incompetent sounding one if the incomptent one is in fact the “right” one! 😉

      Doherty responded a few comments later.

    • brettongarcia
      2012-09-13 03:02:30 UTC - 03:02 | Permalink

      Here’s where Dr. McGrath 1) reviews a book by Marurice Casey, and 2) even calls it a “nail in the coffin of Mythicism” … even before, apparently, he has read the book. And … even before the book was published.

      Talk about 1) McGrath having a bias, and 2) McGrath neglecting to do responsible scholarly reviews….

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/08/two-nails-in-the-coffin-of-jesus-mythicism-coming-soon.html

      • 2012-09-13 06:58:42 UTC - 06:58 | Permalink

        McGrath, according to evolutionary scientists, is himself a Creationist. (See http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/theistic-evolutionists-are-creationists/) So we have a Creationist attacking other Creationists (their difference is over at what point/s God intervenes to get things right) and mythicism. Who cares? McG does not even know what mythicism is — in his latest post he repeats his gaffe of confusing mythicism per se with just one specific mythicist conclusion and fails to realize he is excluding most mythicists from his definition — and to be consistent he would even have to stop calling this blog a mythicist blog.

        But in that pre-publication “review” of Casey’s book he demonstrates he has never read Brodie or MacDonald or any other works looking at literary mimesis, either. If he had, he would know that there is no incompatibility between Gospels weaving together influences from pagan and Jewish literature. The practice of weaving themes and tropes from several literatures into a new whole was well-known among classical authors of the day. One gets the impression some biblical scholars know nothing outside their own little enclave.

        • 2012-09-13 19:10:48 UTC - 19:10 | Permalink

          http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/its-time-to-jettison-criterion-of.html would appear to put Casey’s lifetime work into its proper perspective – failure.

        • steph
          2012-09-14 09:57:22 UTC - 09:57 | Permalink

          I’m unsure who you are implicating here. I have met both Brodie and MacDonald and meet with them at conferences, particularly Tom Brodie whom I especially like. I have read and discussed their work with them at conferences over lunches and breakfasts and during sessions. So has Casey. I have seen McGrath at the American SBL but have no idea whom he meets or what he reads.

          • 2012-09-14 10:41:48 UTC - 10:41 | Permalink

            Though I said “one gets the impression that some biblical scholars know nothing outside their own little enclave” I clearly should have made my words doubly clear and added, “even though the converse is also clear that some other biblical scholars have actually read Brodie and MacDonald, too, and that not all biblical scholars are in their own little enclave of unfamiliarity with the contents of works such as theirs — “though some are.” Would that have made suspicious readers happy? I have read the same sorts of criticisms from others, not only from McGrath. I was implicating all whom the shoe fits.

  • 2012-09-14 00:53:20 UTC - 00:53 | Permalink

    “Hypotheses for mythicism or historicism can indeed make predictions and be tested. What would one expect to see in X if Y were true? That’s a prediction. It can be tested by looking at the evidence.”
    “If you want to start a debate about something specific then do so here.”

    Neil has asked me to comment here on how precession informed the Jesus story, so I am happy to oblige.

    What would we expect to see if in fact the Christ Myth was based on actual observation of the cosmos? We would expect that mythic themes within Christianity correspond to mythic themes in ancient cosmology. Is this the case?

    Yes. From more than a century before the time of Pilate, the Greek world was aware that the equinoxes were slowly precessing against the stars. Knowledge of precession is possibly far older in India, Babylon and Egypt. The equinoxes crossed from their previous locations in the constellations of Aries and Libra into the constellations of Pisces and Virgo in 21 AD, by modern astronomical calculation. At Easter/Passover, the sun and full moon had traditionally been opposite each other in Aries and Libra, but from the time assigned to Christ the Easter sun and moon were henceforth in Pisces and Virgo. This shift was readily observable to astronomers who were tasked to calculate the dates of such festivals as Passover based on close observation of the heavens.

    Symbolically, Pisces and Virgo are represented by fishes and by the virgin or bread. Spica the main star of Virgo means ‘ear of wheat’. So, if a religion wished to mark this theme of loaves and fishes as a new cosmic alignment of the sun, how would it do so? The single miracle that appears in all four gospels is the feeding of the multitude. Seeing this story as a coded explanation of precession is supported by the texts in Mark 6 and 8 where Jesus looks up to heaven as a basis to perform the miracle, castigates the disciples for their failure to see the meaning, explains to the pharisees that this is not a sign, and uses numbers corresponding to sun and moon (two fish), five planets (five loaves), twelve months/signs (baskets of broken pieces), and 5000/4000 men (visible stars).

    Against a precessional gnostic cosmology, the loaves and fishes miracle is a parable for how creative abundance emerges from cosmic attunement – thy will be done on earth as in heaven. The precessional axis of Pisces/Virgo appears as a main central mystery of faith, in a miracle story that is otherwise largely inexplicable. Matthew 13:34 says “without a parable spake he not unto them”, indicating that such miracle stories as the loaves and fishes, indeed even the whole miracle of the incarnation, are allegories for a deeper natural truth. That deep truth is observation of the cosmos.

    The zodiac begins with Aries in spring and ends with Pisces in winter. The shift of the spring equinox at the time of Christ was therefore a shift from first to last, from alpha to omega, in the roughly 24,000 year vision of twelve ages of the great year (what the Gnostics called the duodecad of the aeons). Is this natural observed turning point of time encoded in the story of Christ as would be expected from a precessional reading?

    Yes it is. Apart from the BC/AD dating convention, we have the alpha and omega, the first and last, and the idea that an eternal truth of reason (logos) was manifest at a specific time. The ancients were well aware that only at the time assigned to Christ did the seasons match the stars, with the sun entering the constellation of Aries precisely at the equinox. So, this cosmic attunement in the natural cycle of the Great Year, as mapped by ancient cosmology, matches precisely to a claimed spiritual attunement in the story of Jesus as word made flesh.

    What about Paul? Elaine Pagels argues that the line in Romans 1:14 “I am debtor both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to the wise and to the foolish” is allegory, with Greeks symbolising the Gnostics and the foreigners symbolising the ignorant. Paul presents his key idea of the shift of ages from the age of Moses to the age of Christ at Romans 6:14 “For you are not under law, but under grace.” Libra, the scales of justice, represents law, while Virgo, the virgin full of grace, represents grace. So Paul’s metaphysics matches precisely to the observed movement of the heavens with the autumn equinox sun and the spring equinox full moon moving over precessional time scales from Libra (law) into Virgo (grace) at the BC/AD turning point.

    Biblical eschatology presents a strong case for being framed against the observation of precession as the natural marker of time, with the idea from Peter and Psalm 90 that a thousand years is as a day to God. Mapping this timeframe against the allegory of the seven days of creation, and the idea that Adam lived in 4000 BC, the imagined millennium as a sabbath of rest is placed from 2000 AD to 3000 AD, a scheme supported by Augustine and Irenaeus. So when Christ speaks at Matthew 24 of the end of the age as the time when the gospel of the kingdom will have been preached to the whole earth, it makes sense to assume this is based on a very long time frame, and that he is in fact speaking of the 2000 year long Age of Pisces, based on real observation of nature, with the stars as the slow moving hands of the clock marking time.

    Revelation is the book with the most abundant precessional imagery, and indeed precession is a key to unlock the bizarre symbols of the apocalypse. The Holy City New Jerusalem coming down from heaven encodes several precessional images. The city is 12,000 units from side to side, matching the estimated 12,000 years from side to side of the Great Year. By old tradition, which scholars in the middle ages asserted was from old Babylonian texts, the twelve jewels of the foundations of the holy city symbolise the twelve signs in reverse from Pisces to Aries, directly matching the twelve ages of the Great Year starting from the time of Christ. The cosmic framework of the holy city becomes obvious when we see it contains the river of life and the tree of life, with the tree growing on both banks of the river, with twelve fruits one for each month. Trees do not grow on both sides of a river, and they do not have twelve different fruits. The only natural reality that directly fits this symbol is the zodiac as tree and galaxy as river, as the intersecting wheels of heaven.

    The North Celestial Pole is the axis of stability around which the heavens revolve. Hipparchus explains Gnostic ideas about this. Observation of precession indicates that at the time of Christ, the celestial pole was shifting from the constellation of the dragon to the constellation of the bear, adjacent to the lion. Rev 13:2 provides a clearly encoded description of this cosmic observation, with the dragon giving power, throne and authority to the bear-lion-leopard. If we expected to see a description of knowledge of the movement of the pole, the throne of the sky, here we have it.

    This cosmology of zodiac ages is directly encoded in the figure of Aion, the god of time worshipped in Mithraism. Aion has the head of a lion and body of a man, symbolising the zodiac axis from Leo to Aquarius, wrapped by six coils of a snake, one coil for each zodiac age, with the snake’s head at the lion’s brow. As in Augustinian eschatology, the Mithraic cosmology looks forward to the time when the equinox will move into Aquarius as a consummation of time.

    There are many more related examples where themes expected from a precessional reading are in fact to be found as basic structural pillars of Biblical cosmology, such as the wheels within wheels described by Ezekiel and the allegories between Christ and the sun, such as light of the world. How and why this material has been suppressed and forgotten presents a fascinating topic in cultural history. Precession as a guiding theme for Biblical symbolism has capacity to shed great light on Christianity in terms of how its core messages have a coherent natural message.

    • 2012-09-14 14:38:12 UTC - 14:38 | Permalink

      Robert;

      I think you took too much peyote once upon a time.
      Honestly.

      • 2012-09-14 18:17:07 UTC - 18:17 | Permalink

        Quixie, your comment illustrates how difficult it is for people who are not familiar with this material to understand it. Precession is really a fairly simple framework, seeing the stars as a slow clock for history. Once you comprehend the astronomical starting point the rest follows as a logical analysis of what the Biblical authors were saying. The orthodox dogmatists also found this basis of the Christ myth incomprehensible, which is why they suppressed it. Many people experience these ideas with some anxiety, as likely to wrench their mind out of its established track, so dismissive comments like yours are rather common.

        Proto-Mark may have been far more astrological than the text we have, but its language would have been toned down to make it acceptable to a mass audience through a process of censorship. Only hints were retained, such as Jesus lambasting the disciples for failing to comprehend his original cosmic vision.

        The entire concept of zodiac ages often gets wrongly condemned through guilt by association, even though it is a simple piece of astronomy. The astrology that usually goes with discussion of zodiac ages lacks evidence, but the point here is to understand and reconstruct what the biblical authors thought. The fact is, astrology was a big part of their world, and the references I have cited are actually there in the Bible. As with other Biblical texts that people find discomforting, the common tendency is to ignore these passages. The systematic elimination of this cosmic material from the main perspectives of faith and reason makes it hard for people to comprehend astrotheology as a legitimate scientific research agenda. So people often prefer cheap shots rather than engaging on content, in fear they might be convinced. And no, for the record I have never taken hallucinogens.

        • 2012-09-14 19:37:55 UTC - 19:37 | Permalink

          I will be replying in detail later, Robert. But meanwhile, your arguments up till now, including your response here, appears to be following the same logic (though mercifully without the vitriol) of Steph Fisher who insists that the problem is always with others who are not informed enough of all the facts — it simply takes more space than can be given on a blog, etc — or bias or both.

          • 2012-09-14 22:05:42 UTC - 22:05 | Permalink

            Neil, I am surprised that you imply I am illogical or engaged in special pleading when the only substantive response here so far is a wild accusation that I must be a drug addict, to which I responded politely. Ms Fisher is defending a tradition that is extremely well known to all. I am discussing completely new interpretations with which very few people are familiar.

            It is perfectly reasonable for me to assert others are not well informed regarding precession and its relation to the Bible. There are simple big questions over which there is no consensus, such as when the equinox precessed into Pisces, which could themselves be the topic of their own thread, were anyone interested. Many people regard the Age of Aquarius as nothing more than a counter culture movement from the 1960s. There is simple information which deserves to be put on the table for a serious discussion, not marginalised with mere derision.

            I have not said it requires more space or that you are biased, exept in favour of sound method, but I do request the courtesy of substantive engagement.

            • 2012-09-14 22:53:57 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

              Robert, you remind me of Acharya S (and of Kent Hovind, actually).

              http://leoquix.blogspot.com/2010/10/advice-from-mythicist-troll.html

              • 2012-09-15 15:23:43 UTC - 15:23 | Permalink

                I am a moderator at Acharya S’s freethoughtnation discussion forum, so yes, I agree with Acharya’s views on astrotheology, as already raised by Neil in this thread.

                Thanks for the link to the anonymous discussion at your blog Quixie. I agree that people should ‘get a name’ as you put it, and further, they should use their real names, as I do here. Use of real names helps to ensure accountability for comments, such as the trolling you rightly deplore.

                Astrotheology does not seek to “explain away” Christian origins as you put it at your blog. Taking your analogy of the observation that humans are vertebrates, the fact is that physiology has to build on skeletal understanding. We cannot understand muscles and organs outside the skeletal framework of the body. The accurate cosmic framework provided by precession does indeed provide a skeleton around which the detailed explanation of Christian origins (eg Midrash, intercultural links, political agenda, order of composition) can be analysed and built. The skeleton of astronomy helps to explain (not explain away) and enrich findings from other disciplines.

                Your comparison of me to the young earth creationist Kent Hovind, (who I had not heard of – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_Hovind ) reminds me of McGrath’s baseless assertion that mythicism is a form of creationism. It makes me wonder where you are coming from that you can sling such an insult, but I suppose it is unsurprising after your peyote comment. Again for the record, I entirely support science and oppose creationism.

              • 2012-09-15 18:00:41 UTC - 18:00 | Permalink

                You remind me of Kent Hovind in your “if X happened, one would expect to see Y” analogy. Your whole theory is so ad hoc and indefensible (at least from a historiographical standpoint) that it reminds me of his tack in defending his similarly baseless ideas. To be fair, yours are at least more esoteric and therefore less explicitly clear. It reminds me of Hovind also in your implication that if we would only “think about it” we would finally see astrotheology at work informing the tradition’s formation.

                I think it is silly to assert that one needs to have a firm understanding of “astrotheology” in order to talk about Christian origins or the origins of any other tradition in which “astrotheology” has some tiny minor symbolic role to play.
                The trouble with Acharya (and yourself) is that you are using 30 grit sandpaper on everything . . . . when a nuanced understanding requires a whole gamut of grits to tease out a final picture/form.

                You are both what used to be called “one note johnnies.”
                In fact, devotees of Acharya further remind me of the devotees of Ron Paul. Ron himself is not that bad a thinker or individual, but his followers are very often out to lunch —and smug about it to boot.

                I hope that answers your question.

                In the meantime, I will leave it to Neil to continue to point out EXACTLY where your ideas are coocoo for cocoa puffs. He’s doing a really good (and extremely generous and patient) job at it.

        • 2012-09-14 21:54:26 UTC - 21:54 | Permalink

          Robert: “but its language would have been toned down to make it acceptable to a mass audience through a process of censorship. Only hints were retained, such as Jesus lambasting the disciples for failing to comprehend his original cosmic vision.”

          Neil: Robert, don’t you see that you are indeed stooping here to “conspiracy theory” to explain the lack of evidence for your hypothesis? And not only conspiracy theory, but also begging the question. In my reply which I plan to make in full to your comment I will refer to your selective referencing of details of the feedings of the 5000/4000. You select some numbers, but not all, and you select some elements from one gospel and others from another — presumably because you want us to accept that there is some common plan or broad concept from which they all draw. But the only evidence for this “common higher concept” from which they all draw is the product of circular reasoning.

          You made a faint attempt to comply with what I said about the importance of predictions and testing, but your attempt was so generalized as to miss the point entirely. More significantly, you failed to deliver on my point about addressing alternative hypotheses. We have near-at-hand literary references to the same numbers and images (fish, bread, baskets; two, five, seven, twelve) that most adequately explain the story in the gospels. Yet you are asking us to look for a “source” in a “parallel” for which we can see nothing in the near-at-hand-evidence.

          I find it instructive when I look back on our past on- and off-line exchanges and see the questions of mine that you failed to respond to. Over time I see that where you failed to respond to a question of mine about method, that yes, that is exactly where your own argument falls to the ground.

          Till I get a chance to write up my more detailed response, I invite you to go back and re-read my past comments and emails and really ask if you have indeed answered all of the questions I raised in criticism of your thesis and/or methods.

          • 2012-09-15 01:13:58 UTC - 01:13 | Permalink

            Neil: “conspiracy theory””
            R: The so-called conspiracy theory is the assertion that orthodox Christianity selectively accepted some arguments and rejected others. This is abundantly attested in the institutional process of formation of the canon, where Gnostic cosmic ideas were systematically rejected in favour of orthodox literalist ideas. The Nag Hammadi texts were only preserved from destruction by advancing legions by being buried in jars in the desert. All other copies of these texts were lost. You are using the fallacious argument of guilt by association, implying that analysis of real church coordination in suppression of heresy is analogous to fanciful conspiratorial claims. The Church Fathers themselves said all heretical texts should be burnt and systematically carried out this edict. Against this real historical context, it makes complete sense that if authors wished to preserve references to forbidden ideas, they would have to conceal them.

            Neil: “begging the question”
            R: Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which a proposition relies on an implicit premise within itself to establish the truth of that same proposition. That is not what I am doing. My hypothesis is that the gospel authors use observation of the stars as a blueprint for their theory of time, suggesting observed movement of the heavens is reflected in events on earth. This is an idea widely present in hermetic literature, and as I have shown above, provides a plausible explanation for biblical texts.

            N: “selective referencing”
            Rather than assuming that my references are selective, it would be more constructive to enquire how specific texts could fit against this cosmic framework.

            N: “circular reasoning.”
            R: The premise is the ‘as above so below’ cosmology. The evidence is the Bible texts that use this premise. That is not circular.

            N: “importance of predictions and testing”
            R: The hypothesis of embedding of precession as a framework for the Bible predicts that specific symbols will appear in concealed form in the text, such as the equinox stars, the celestial poles, and the twelve ages of the Great Year. I showed that these predictions are satisfied.

            N:”addressing alternative hypotheses.”
            R: Different inputs to the construction of a text can be complementary, not exclusive. I doubt you can point to coherent alternatives that exclude what I am saying and are not enriched by it. The alternatives I am aware of do not present plausible explanations for why these precessional themes are so central. But this hypothesis helps to explain the links to other religious practices of the time in which stellar motifs were strongly present. The use of precession as a temporal blueprint has high explanatory power. It is a claim that can be considered on its own terms, while recognising that of course there are other inputs to the Gospels such as midrash. The midrash was used to support the observational cosmology, and does not exclude the cosmology.

            N: “nothing in the near-at-hand-evidence.”
            R: The idea of a new age in the Common Era is widespread, for example in Virgil’s Eclogue 4, and in the extensive Gnostic discussion of the aeons, supported by the Mithraic example I gave. Virgil says “Now the last age by Cumae’s Sibyl sung has come and gone, and the majestic roll of circling centuries begins anew: Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign, With a new breed of men sent down from heaven. At the boy’s birth in whom the iron shall cease, the golden race arise, only do thou befriend him, chaste Lucina; ’tis thine own Apollo reigns.” http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/eclogue.4.iv.html

            Just as the heavens indicated a new age of the fishes, so too Christians saw a new age on earth in their secret sign of the fish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichthys

            N: “questions of mine that you failed to respond to … about method”
            R: My method here is entirely scientific and rigorous. I start with a hypothesis, and point to a range of texts in support of it, as a consistent, coherent and predictive explanation. There is nothing circular, question begging or selective in what I have said.

            A star map of the equinox point in 21 AD is at http://rtulip.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/Equinox_21_AD.25781032_std.gif
            It is notable that this traditional depiction of the zodiac figures shows Aries the Ram pointing its foot to this point where the ecliptic crosses the line of stars making the first fish of Pisces, marking the equinox at the time of Christ. It takes more than 2000 years for equinox point, shown here as the intersection of the zodiac ecliptic (the yellow line) and the celestial equator (the white line) to move through one zodiac sign, hence the concept of zodiac ages, as known to the ancients.The equinox point is now near the spot marked 330 degrees on the yellow line, nearing the end of Pisces and approaching Aquarius.

            Thanks again Neil for the opportunity to discuss this interesting topic.

            • 2012-09-15 16:10:51 UTC - 16:10 | Permalink

              Neil: “conspiracy theory””
              R: The so-called conspiracy theory is the assertion that orthodox Christianity selectively accepted some arguments and rejected others. This is abundantly attested in the institutional process of formation of the canon, . . . . Against this real historical context, it makes complete sense that if authors wished to preserve references to forbidden ideas, they would have to conceal them.

              Whoah! We are talking here about Christian origins. Not Church power politics generations down the track. What institutional fears did the author of the first gospel have to fear that led him supposedly to encode his message?

              Neil: “begging the question”
              R: Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which a proposition relies on an implicit premise within itself to establish the truth of that same proposition. That is not what I am doing. My hypothesis is that the gospel authors use observation of the stars as a blueprint for their theory of time, suggesting observed movement of the heavens is reflected in events on earth. This is an idea widely present in hermetic literature, and as I have shown above, provides a plausible explanation for biblical texts.

              You say the idea was widely held in hermetic literature, but to interpret the Gospels on the assumption that this idea was also embedded in those gospels IS begging the question.

              N: “selective referencing”
              R: Rather than assuming that my references are selective, it would be more constructive to enquire how specific texts could fit against this cosmic framework.

              As I have said several times both on and off line now, I can, if I wish, find arguments or evidence to support any theory I like. Recall that poor boy who found in every word and look of a girl who had not interest in him some sign that she did love him after all! Besides, I recall in your original post that 5000 and 4000 represent the numbers of visible stars. What is your evidence for that? And recall that in one of those accounts we learn that the number applied to men only yet there were also women and children there. (I always thought that there were only about 2000 stars visible to the naked eye.) And what of the 7 baskets gathered up? Are we to imagine that the numbers already listed in terms of fish and bread get a double count?

              N: “circular reasoning.”
              R: The premise is the ‘as above so below’ cosmology. The evidence is the Bible texts that use this premise. That is not circular.

              We can all accept a general understanding of “as above so below” among ancient cultures. But to argue that this particular framework is applied to references to fish in the gospels — that is, to argue that fish in the gospels represents Pisces in the heavens — needs to be argued, not assumed. Fish had many metaphorical connotations throughout the Biblical texts. Do we assume that they always pointed to Pisces in the sky?

              N: “importance of predictions and testing”
              R: The hypothesis of embedding of precession as a framework for the Bible predicts that specific symbols will appear in concealed form in the text, such as the equinox stars, the celestial poles, and the twelve ages of the Great Year. I showed that these predictions are satisfied.

              The hypothesis that aliens visited earth in the past predicts that specific resemblances will appear in the artwork of ancient peoples, such as shapes that can be interpreted as space helmets, flying machines, perspectives from high altitudes. Erick von Daniken showed that these predictions were satisfied.

              My point is that a prediction needs to be clearly tied to the hypothesis proposed. If what is predicted can have a multitude of explanations within the frameworks of existing understandings, then it is hardly a “test” prediction. (Another example: to test the hypothesis that shadows are caused by evil spirits hiding from the sun, then I predict everything will cast a shadow away from the position of the sun.)

              N:”addressing alternative hypotheses.”
              R: Different inputs to the construction of a text can be complementary, not exclusive.

              But if those “complementary” inputs are sufficient to explain the texts — and I believe they are — then why add more hypotheses? Remember Mr Occam.

              N: “nothing in the near-at-hand-evidence.”
              R: The idea of a new age in the Common Era is widespread, for example in Virgil’s Eclogue 4, and in the extensive Gnostic discussion of the aeons, supported by the Mithraic example I gave. Virgil says “Now the last age by Cumae’s Sibyl sung has come and gone, and the majestic roll of circling centuries begins anew: Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign, With a new breed of men sent down from heaven. At the boy’s birth in whom the iron shall cease, the golden race arise, only do thou befriend him, chaste Lucina; ’tis thine own Apollo reigns.” http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/eclogue.4.iv.html

              Just as the heavens indicated a new age of the fishes, so too Christians saw a new age on earth in their secret sign of the fish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichthys

              Virgil was speaking of the new age at the end of a century of civil war. The new age was ushered in by the new political order under Augustus. That is the clear message and context of his works.

              When is the earliest evidence that Christians represented their age by a fish? What is this evidence? Is any reference to a fish in a Christian text to be interpreted as the sign of a new age? It is much simpler to take the first Christian metaphors of fish (Mark’s Gospel) from Jeremiah and other OT texts on which they were developing their new ideas.

              A star map of the equinox point in 21 AD is at http://rtulip.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/Equinox_21_AD.25781032_std.gif
              It is notable that this traditional depiction of the zodiac figures shows Aries the Ram pointing its foot to this point where the ecliptic crosses the line of stars making the first fish of Pisces, marking the equinox at the time of Christ. It takes more than 2000 years for equinox point, shown here as the intersection of the zodiac ecliptic (the yellow line) and the celestial equator (the white line) to move through one zodiac sign, hence the concept of zodiac ages, as known to the ancients.The equinox point is now near the spot marked 330 degrees on the yellow line, nearing the end of Pisces and approaching Aquarius.

              Who drew that image with the hoof at that point? When? What sort of argument is this about the Gospels and letters of Paul?

            • 2012-09-17 22:22:27 UTC - 22:22 | Permalink

              Just as the heavens indicated a new age of the fishes, so too Christians saw a new age on earth in their secret sign of the fish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichthys

              Fish was associated with the name Jesus hundreds of years before Christianity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nun_(Bible)

              • 2012-09-18 07:21:54 UTC - 07:21 | Permalink

                Of course. I had forgotten that little snippet.

    • 2012-09-15 20:24:58 UTC - 20:24 | Permalink

      Robert, you wrote: “What would we expect to see if in fact the Christ Myth was based on actual observation of the cosmos? We would expect that mythic themes within Christianity correspond to mythic themes in ancient cosmology. Is this the case?” You then give us the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 as an instance of this correspondence.

      But you have not shown us that the theme in that Gospel narrative corresponds to the precession of the equinoxes. All you have shown us is that the Gospel narrative includes 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread and 12 baskets of scraps and 5000 men. But there was also a time of evening specified, and sheep and a shepherd, and “green grass” (a point that strikes many commentators), and 200 denarii, and groups of 100 and 50, and a wilderness with villages in the distance and a mountain and lake nearby. And the fish and bread were broken up into 12 baskets more than 5000 thousand parts. And we read in the following pericope that this miracle had a direct relationship with Jesus walking on water. Then we read the same miracle repeated “a second time” (specifically said to be “again” in Mark) and this contains different numbers, and is followed by Jesus’ commentary on the two miracles together. How does any of this — or more correctly all of this — “correspond” to the theme of precession or even two constellations in the heavens?

      When all of those images, including the numbers, are read in relation to the entirety of the Gospel, and in relation to Jewish literature, in particular Scriptural books, and when one reads the very following words of Jesus to his disciple in which he discusses it all, it is very clear that the themes being addressed by these images and numbers is the theme of Jewish and Gentile inclusion into the one body (the one loaf), which is Christ. Others have explained this in detail (e.g. Kelber). The imagery, the symbolic numbers, all make complete sense with this explanation. There is absolutely nothing in the text that you have shown us that gives us any reason to link any of this to Constellations, let alone the precession of the equinoxes.

      Why would 2 fish represent the sun and the moon? Do you know of any mythical image of the day that used fish to represent both the sun and the moon? The gospel speaks of becoming fishers of men. This is taken from Jeremiah (iirc) — God says he will send hunters or fishermen to haul people ashore like fish- – as an image of death. Christ turns that around “midrashically” (or through transvaluation) to give life. There is no hint of the fish being symbols of Christianity or anything else — the fish symbol only took on importance for Christians generations later as far as I am aware.

      You proceed to give us what you believe is a clear meaning of the parable. But you do not give us that from the text. That is entirely your own interpretation. There is no evidence that links the fish and bread with the constellations and no evidence that the miracle must be interpreted the way you explain it.

      When you speak of Christ being first and last etc and relate this to the precession, you again are letting your imagination run uncontrolled by any supporting evidence. The first and last is a motif that long pre-dated Christianity. You have nothing but your imagination to support the suggestion that it refers to precession.

      Paul was speaking of precession, of Libra and Virgo, when he spoke of law and grace? What evidence do you have to support this? This is entirely fanciful unless you can demonstrate this linkage.

      Your argument reminds me of the way astrologers “prove” astrology and the influence of the planets on our destinies. They “predict” a Leo will be a proud and generous person and then when they see traits of nobility and generosity they say their thesis is confirmed. But of course there are no controls with such “tests”. How many others likewise show the same traits — but are they interpreted differently to accord with their particular birth sign? And so on.

  • 2012-09-14 05:23:20 UTC - 05:23 | Permalink

    Jesus of Nazareth “most certainly did exist” – Bart Ehrman.

    That’s dogma.

    This sect of Christendom also has doctrines – That Jesus was from Nazareth, that Jesus was an obscure apocalyptic preacher, that Jesus (contradictorily) was well known to be a Galilean, that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, that Jesus instituted a ritual called the “last supper”, that Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the Sanhedrin, that Jesus was turned over to the Roman authority by the Sanhedrin, that Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate, that Jesus was buried in a tomb.

    The only difference between this sect of Christendom and the rest of Christendom is that in the historical Jesus sect, Jesus was only an ordinary man.

    Other sects of Christendom have Jesus as either 100% God manifestation (as in Marcionism) or 50% God and 50% man (as in Arianism) or 100% man and 100% God (as in Trinitarianism).

    Not all that much difference, really, it’s the converting of atheists to this new sect of Christendom, called historical Jesus, that’s the real bitch.

  • 2012-09-16 14:31:39 UTC - 14:31 | Permalink

    N: “Whoah! We are talking here about Christian origins. Not Church power politics generations down the track. What institutional fears did the author of the first gospel have to fear that led him supposedly to encode his message?”
    R: The theme that the real identity of Jesus Christ was not recognized by those who encountered him pervades the Gospels, and goes back to the Isaiah statement that the man of sorrows would be despised and rejected. The mentality of suppression of esoteric ideas, especially those that present a natural theology, has strong roots in Old Testament Judaism. The idea that the stars provide a blueprint for the Christ Myth was just as unacceptable for public opinion in the early church as in later power politics.

    And yet, the importance of natural theology is manifest from Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world..” What is this mysterious voice of the stars? Surely it can only be inferred by imaginng a terrestrial reflection of patterns visible in the slow movement if the sky? That is exactly what precession delivers as an explanation of the Christ myth, although one hidden for good reason.

    The prologue of John has several verses that appear to describe Jesus Christ as analogy for the sun, which the actual light of the world. Interpolating sun for Christ gives the eminently sensible reading, “without the sun was not anything made that was made. In the sun was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not… The sun is the true Light, which lights every man who comes into the world. The sun was in the world, and the world was made by the sun, and the world knew the sun not.

    Why, in implying that Jesus has these solar attributes of providing light and life for the world, is the author of the Fourth Gospel so oblique? We know he is speaking metaphysically, and therefore metaphorically. As mythicists have shown, there is no real evidence these ideas are based on a historical Jesus as founder. So who is this spiritual word, and how did the idea of Christ arise? The correspondence with the sun at least suggests that the writer developed his theory of Jesus in dialogue with solar religions, anthropomorphising an accurate natural story.

    To understand why this metaphor of Christ as the sun is concealed, some points about the social context are important to note. One key text is Deuteronomy 4:19 “when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” Judaism held to Mosaic monotheism. Christian roots in this old tradition meant that explicit description of Jesus as a symbol of the sun was impossible even in the early Gospel times. But this solar symbolism was at the source. And it helps to explain why precession was of such interest, since the precession of the equinoxes is all about the observed position of the sun against the background stars.

    John tells us in 1:17 that “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Again, we see Paul’s trope of the essential change of age brought in Christ from Libra (law) to Virgo (grace).

    N: “You say the idea was widely held in hermetic literature, but to interpret the Gospels on the assumption that this idea was also embedded in those gospels IS begging the question.”

    R: The Lord’s Prayer expresses the hope that God’s will as done in heaven will also be done on earth, an idea best explained by reference to such texts as Psalm 19 discussed above. The Lord’s Prayer paraphrases the hermetic idea ‘as above so below’, which I argue provides a hidden organising principle for Biblical cosmology. Neil raises a legitimate question of method here. I have a scientific hypothesis that observation of the sun and stars provided the blueprint for the Christ myth. This hypothesis involves predictions about what we should expect to find in the symbolic descriptions of Christ in the Gospels. We do in fact find abundant support for a precessional cosmology in the Bible, but it is concealed for good reason, that the Bible speaks in parables because people could not cope with the truth. The authors were aiming for a mass audience, and tailored their text to this objective. There is no question begging, because the premise is not contained in the confirmatory examples.

    N: “I can, if I wish, find arguments or evidence to support any theory I like.”

    R: In science, theories are judged by their explanatory power. The hypothesis that Christianity is grounded in accurate observation of nature on the largest available scale helps to explain Christian success, and also explains the prominence of symbolic motifs that are otherwise mysterious. All the talk of ages in the Bible should be read as grounded in ancient observation of the actual cycles of time. The mandate of God is symbolised by the fish and the virgin, reflecting the observed shift of the position of the sun for a new age. This heuristic presents a coherent method to explain the mystery.

    The idea that the new age brought by Jesus Christ is symbolised by the movement of the Easter stellar axis from the ram and scales to the fish and virgin involves a prediction that a similar symbolic shift occurred in the previous age shift, two thousand years earlier. The symbolic shift from the Age of Taurus to the Age of Aries in ~2000 BC does in fact find matching ideas, such as the condemnation of worship of the golden calf by Moses, and the use of ram symbolism to indicate the mandate of God, as in Joshua’s destruction of Jericho. As with the esoteric gnostic discussion of Moses and the snake at Numbers 21:8-9 (and its destruction at 2 Kings 18:4), the story of the golden calf has an esoteric cosmic meaning, available to initiates but invisible to the ignorant.

    N: “I recall in your original post that 5000 and 4000 represent the numbers of visible stars. What is your evidence for that?”

    R: Context. This miracle is allegory for something, otherwise it would not have been retained six times in the Gospels as such a core story. Jesus did not actually produce something from nothing. Loaves and fishes are presented as symbols of cosmic abundance. Mark 8 explains as follows, with my commentary interpolated.

    Mark 8:12 He sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Most assuredly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” [This statement comes immediately after Jesus has supposedly performed a major public miracle. Mark indicates here that the loaves and fishes story is not a sign or miracle, inviting interpretation of it as allegory] 8:13 He left them, and again entering into the boat, departed to the other side. 8:14 They forgot to take bread [failed to understand the message of cosmic abundance through seeing bread as allegory for Virgo]; and they didn’t have more than one loaf in the boat with them. 8:15 He charged them, saying, “Take heed: beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” [Understand that degraded materialistic interpretation of the symbolism is incorrect.] 8:16 They reasoned with one another, saying, “It’s because we have no bread.” [They sought to understand the esoteric mystery in terms they could comprehend] 8:17 Jesus, perceiving it, said to them, “Why do you reason that it’s because you have no bread? Don’t you perceive yet, neither understand? Is your heart still hardened? 8:18 Having eyes, don’t you see? Having ears, don’t you hear? Don’t you remember? [The story originated as an archetypal symbol of the observed shift of the cosmic ages. But hardness of heart and refusal to engage with this big mystery led to misinterpretation of the allegory as actual miracle.] 8:19 When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They told him, “Twelve.” 8:20 “When the seven loaves fed the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They told him, “Seven.” [As in the two creation stories in Genesis, there are two versions of the loaves and fishes story, one referencing the twelve signs of the zodiac, the other referencing the sun and moon and five visible planets.] 8:21 He asked them, “Don’t you understand, yet?” [Mark pleads with readers to look behind the surface text to explain its symbolic meaning.]

    Reference to the multitude of stars is found in Deuteronomy 1:10, 10:22 and 28:62, and in Hebrews 11:12. Given that the rest of the parable uses numbers with apparent cosmic reference, this allegory of a multitude makes sense as coded reference to this central old idea of stars.

    N:”I always thought that there were only about 2000 stars visible to the naked eye.”

    R: There are about 6000 visible stars above 6 magnitude. Uranus has magnitude about 5.9, putting it at the limit of observation. So four or five thousand is a good rough estimate. It depends on location. Closer to the equator, with clear skies, for example in Southern Egypt, you can see far more stars than in Europe, including all the northern stars and more of the southerly ones. Perhaps the 2000 estimate is another piece of the arrogance of Europe, assuming its own limited northern perspective was universal.

    N: “And what of the 7 baskets gathered up? Are we to imagine that the numbers already listed in terms of fish and bread get a double count? ”

    R: I’ve addressed this above in comparing to the contradictory Genesis creation stories.

    N: “We can all accept a general understanding of “as above so below” among ancient cultures. But to argue that this particular framework is applied to references to fish in the gospels — that is, to argue that fish in the gospels represents Pisces in the heavens — needs to be argued, not assumed. Fish had many metaphorical connotations throughout the Biblical texts. Do we assume that they always pointed to Pisces in the sky?”

    R: Any such symbol that keys in to subsistence identity as fish does will have multiple meanings. So no, I would not assert a priori that all fish references are about Pisces. They have to be considered on a case by case basis. In this miracle, the association with loaves matches to the emerging cosmic axis of the new age of Pisces. Other fish references do have intriguing possibilities. For example, the 153 fish caught in the net on the advice of Christ at John 21 suggest a reference to the esoteric topic of sacred geometry, since Archimedes had estimated the width of the mandorla (Vesica Piscis) at 153/265. (Ask if you want detail). Overall, fish references that link to a new age in Christ are enriched by explanation against the as above so below cosmology of precession.

    N: “von Daniken”

    R: There are in fact big mysteries, such as the construction of the pyramids. Any speculation on such topics needs to be very robust while recognising we simply don’t know the definitive story. As I recall, Von Daniken has been shown to have made some mistakes. But that is a side issue; here we see there are numerous mysterious symbols in the Bible which appear to make no scientific sense, but can be explained as part of a coherent observation of precession in ancient terms, explaining the myth of the incarnation as a reflection of what could be seen happening at the same time in the sky.

    N: “A prediction needs to be clearly tied to the hypothesis proposed. If what is predicted can have a multitude of explanations within the frameworks of existing understandings, then it is hardly a “test” prediction.”

    R: What about the example I gave of the river of life as the galaxy and the tree of life as the zodiac? This has no obvious sensible alternative explanation. And, this cosmic symbolism keys into a clear link to the holy city as metaphor for the visible heavens, within the view that fallen alienated human society was incapable of looking at reality in a way that connects us to what is actually there. There are other texts in Revelation that are not well known but which support this cosmology. For example Revelation 11:18 says the wrath of God will be directed against those who destroy the earth, an idea hardly in keeping with rapture traditions.

    N: “But if those “complementary” inputs are sufficient to explain the texts — and I believe they are — then why add more hypotheses? Remember Mr Occam.”

    R: My claims here are entirely driven by the scientific principles of parsimony and elegance encapsulated in Occam’s Razor. The Biblical ideas I have discussed here do not have better explanations. Consider the view of the Jesus seminar on the loaves and fishes – they suggested taking Jefferson’s razor to it, even though its six appearances testify to its original importance. The alternatives tend to suggest the Bible was either literally inspired or crazy. I am saying it makes good scientific sense, but its message is hidden.

    N: Virgil was speaking of the new age at the end of a century of civil war. The new age was ushered in by the new political order under Augustus. That is the clear message and context of his works.

    R: That is an interesting sidebar. Virgil also said the south celestial pole is the realm of the dead, indicating a stronger cosmic interest than you imply. His reference to Hesiod’s old ideas about the Golden Age of Saturn indicates a longer time frame and a transformative hope.

    N: When is the earliest evidence that Christians represented their age by a fish? What is this evidence? Is any reference to a fish in a Christian text to be interpreted as the sign of a new age? It is much simpler to take the first Christian metaphors of fish (Mark’s Gospel) from Jeremiah and other OT texts on which they were developing their new ideas.

    R: The Dendera zodiac, a relief allegedly dating to ca. 50 BC, is said to be the first known depiction of the classical zodiac of twelve signs. The tangential reference at Jeremiah 16:16 “I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD” hardly explains the central place acquired by the fish symbol in Christianity, such as the Ichthys acrostic used in the Sybilline Oracle 8. As you know, dating of early Christian texts is murky. I have argued the fragments indicate systematic concealment of a driving oral tradition.

    Some assert the concept of zodiac ages is modern, primarily promulgated by Carl Jung and theosophists. But if public discussion of this topic in earlier times could result in condemnation for heresy, it is hardly surprising that the traces are hidden. One excellent example is the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, who used the zodiac stars as his template for the twelve disciples, and Pisces for Jesus Christ. His Baptism of Christ models Christ on Pisces and John on Aquarius. But Leonardo was extremely secretive in view of the suppressive attitude of the inquisition, although he does refer to the as above so below cosmology of Hermes the Philosopher in his extant notebooks.

    N: “Who drew that image with the hoof at that point? When? What sort of argument is this about the Gospels and letters of Paul?”
    http://rtulip.net/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/Equinox_21_AD.25781032_std.gif

    R: I made this diagram using the astronomy software Skygazer 4.5. Anyone can replicate it for free by downloading the software, setting the date to 21 AD and using the setting for traditional constellation figures. The software does not provide information on its source for the figures.

    The lamb symbolism in the New Testament is somewhat ambiguous against a precessional reading. 1 Cor 5:7 says “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Then see Rev 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22. As first and last, it makes sense to consider Christ’s eternal identity as marking both the age leading up to the turning point of the Great Year (the lamb) and the subsequent age (fish).

    The relevance of this diagram is primarily that it shows the equinox point crossed the line connecting the stars of the first fish of Pisces during the rule of Pilate, a fact readily calculable for ancient astronomers. Whoever drew the ram with its hoof pointing to this exact spot was illustrating a conventional view that this spot marks the boundary between the constellations, which matched the signs of the tropical zodiac only at that time. Before Christ, the equinox point was still in the ram’s hoof, and since Christ it has travelled right across Pisces. So this drawing matches to the idea that the shift of ages from Aries to Pisces occurred at the time of Christ, and not before or later.

    • 2012-09-16 20:24:34 UTC - 20:24 | Permalink

      I can see nothing I have said registers with you and we will only be going around in circles so I will leave you with this last word.

  • 2012-09-19 09:11:01 UTC - 09:11 | Permalink

    Quixie said “Your whole theory is so ad hoc and indefensible (at least from a historiographical standpoint)”

    This comment warrants response. The historiographical fit of the precession hypothesis as the ideational basis of the Christ Myth is strong. One of the best analyses of this topic is The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God? by Freke and Gandy. My review is at http://www.amazon.com/review/R2UVE1IPRUQIXA Earl Doherty was very complimentary, saying “”You’ve captured the essence of Freke and Gandy’s book in a beautifully written review. I hope it gets some attention. Best wishes, Earl Doherty”

    I have noticed that this line of work elicits hysterical reaction, where the logic and evidence is ignored in favour of bigoted slurs. We see this especially from Ehrman, but also from Carrier, both of whom condemn The Jesus Mysteries without analysis or engagement. There are psychological blockages to this area of scholarship, perhaps because it touches on deep questions regarding the meaning of religious ideas.

    An extract from my review is as follows:

    The question here turns on the most plausible explanation for the rise of Christian faith. Freke and Gandy argue there was originally an inner church that only revealed part of its secret teachings to the public outer church. The ignorant masses called for signs and wonders before they would take any interest in new ideas. The early church serviced this mass demand for a new wondrous religion with the allegorical story of a historical messiah. The aim was to attract members to the cult, so secret mysteries could then be revealed to initiates. The Gospels as we have them were written for the outer church, as a simplified and `dumbed-down’ historicized account of the inner spiritual myth.

    As Christianity spread, Freke and Gandy argue the outer church took on a life of its own, gradually losing contact with the secret mysteries. The `orthodox’ soon found a source of temporal power in denial of the inner church teaching that the story of Christ was a cosmic myth. By allying with the ignorant, the Church Fathers isolated and suppressed the cosmic mysticism of the old inner church, which they branded as Gnostic heresy. In an ironic parallel with the purging of the Old Bolsheviks by Stalin, control of institutional power became a more decisive criterion for influence than spiritual purity. As Orwell said in 1984, ignorance is strength.

    The mystics had taught that salvation comes from within the heart, but the Literal church needed a belief system that placed no burdens on a mass audience. They insisted that salvation is objective, resulting from belief in the once-for-all atoning blood of the suffering messiah.

    And yet, despite these efforts to simplify the message, some of the mystic material still found its way into the Bible.

    • 2012-09-19 10:08:17 UTC - 10:08 | Permalink

      Do you characterize my own responses as hysterical or bigoted slurs? (I am also curious by your earlier reference to Erich von Daniken. Did you mean to suggest he had some good ideas or approaches but unfortunately made some mistakes along the way? Not saying you meant this — sincerely asking.)

      • 2012-09-19 14:08:04 UTC - 14:08 | Permalink

        Neil, I think you have been reasonable in opening a dialogue, which I really appreciate, although of course I disagree with you as readers can see in this thread. My reference was to Bart Ehrman, who called for Freke and Gandy and Murdock not to be read, and to Richard Carrier who has done much the same. Carrier called for the populist movie Zietgeist to be burnt, a call that indicated his hostile stance towards more nuanced expressions of astrotheology and showed some unfortunate historical inquisitorial associations. Exclusion by auto da fe is hardly a way to promote collegial dialogue, especially when writers like Earl Doherty are still excluded from the mainstream media by totschweigtaktik. Carrier’s debate with Murdock over what he termed “parallelomania” did not reflect well on his openness to new scholarship, in my opinion.

        I have not read von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, although I have a copy. The issue of ancient mysteries is vexed, as there are a lot of ignorant charlatans with crackpot theories. What I question is the labelling of all unorthodox speculation as irrational. Such labelling sometimes seems more aimed at enabling the labeller to suck up to the establishment. Hancock and Bauval are examples of writers who have been forced into an antagonistic stance vis a vis mainstream scholarship, seemingly more due to the emotional reaction of their critics than genuine weakness in their work. Use of terms such as “pyramidiots” may be justified in some cases, but there is a lot of good research that is rejected by academic Egyptology.

    • 2012-09-19 10:43:05 UTC - 10:43 | Permalink

      Mocking? Yes. Sardonic? Yes.
      Hysterical? Hardly.

      PS I read Freke and Gandy’s book and thought it pretty much sucked.

      • 2012-09-19 11:20:43 UTC - 11:20 | Permalink

        I would like us to attempt reasoned arguments against this thesis. I think it counter-productive to avoid addressing specific fallacies in the logic or methods or facts. We don’t want to stoop to the level of the McGraths and Hoffmanns.

        • 2012-09-19 12:45:07 UTC - 12:45 | Permalink

          I’ll lay out, but even you already said that this gentleman is not listening to a word being said.

          • 2012-09-19 13:26:43 UTC - 13:26 | Permalink

            I don’t mind your commenting — I’d just like us to try to give Robert a bit to think around or about. He cannot grasp what we are saying — it appears to go right over his head (sure sign of the true believer) — but there are others also reading and not so clued up on how valid arguments work.

        • 2012-09-19 13:35:01 UTC - 13:35 | Permalink

          It seems to me that this gentleman is confusing prolixity with cogency. I prefer economy.
          With that in mind, in my view (and in Neil’s, as he has indicated in other words), his worst sin is violating axioms #5 and #7 of historical method (which Richard Carrier proposes in “Proving History”):

          Axiom #5: Any argument relying on the inference, ‘possibly, therefore probably’ is fallacious.

          Axiom #7: Facts must be distinguished from theories.

          Regarding axiom #7, Carrier writes:

          […] if a myth proponent wants to propose that a certain name in the Gospels symbolizes a particular astrological sign, he cannot simply claim that as a fact. It’s a theory, and it can only be credible to the degree that it’s the best explanation of the facts alleged to prove it (which entails considering what some other explanations of that name might be). By conflating facts with theories, very often an entire burden of evidence that is actually required is ignored or never met. This distinction is all the more important for lay readers, who will not know the difference if it’s not made clear to them. Consequently, historians should be clearer than they have been in distinguishing confirmed facts from proposed theories.

          Stated succinctly, Robert, this is why I cannot take you seriously, no matter how eloquent or prolix you may wax.

          Is that better, Neil?

          Ó

          • 2012-09-19 13:36:17 UTC - 13:36 | Permalink

            Sorry . . . which Richard Carrier propose, I meant to say about the axioms.

          • 2012-09-19 13:59:55 UTC - 13:59 | Permalink

            Much better. A koala stamp for your efforts!

            [caption id="attachment_31927" align="aligncenter" width="107"] Australian Koala Rubber Stamp[/caption]

            • 2012-09-19 14:03:46 UTC - 14:03 | Permalink

              Laughs . . . now I actually WILL lay out . . .

          • 2012-09-19 16:21:24 UTC - 16:21 | Permalink

            Quixie wrote: “Richard Carrier proposes in “Proving History”): “Axiom #5: Any argument relying on the inference, ‘possibly, therefore probably’ is fallacious.”
            R: Glad you are taking this discussion back to first principles. There are many preconceptions which can usefully be cleared up to enable dialogue on unstated assumptions. In this case, the supposed axiom is badly worded. An axiom should be universal and incontestable. But Carrier badly overstates the case, as “fallacious” is far too strong a critique of the method of inference from similar observations to a probable conclusion. In fact, the scientific method of induction, strictly considered, is guilty of this ‘fallacy’. Inductive reasoning constructs general propositions from specific examples. For example, we observe that all life conforms to evolutionary principles such as cumulative adaptation. Induction moves from the observation that it is possible all this similarity is explained by a law of nature to the conclusion that such a law is probable. Without this step, violating Carrier’s sloppy ‘axiom’, we could have no confidence in any scientific laws of nature. It seems though that Carrier has in mind particular cases of error from which he draws his invalid universal law. Inductive reasoning has to assemble a range of evidence in recognition that correlation is not causality. When the correlations are numerous, coherent and independent, induction says we should move from possible to probable. Such inductive logic supports the hypothesis of precession as a natural observation that guided the construction of the Christ Myth.

            Q: “Axiom #7: Facts must be distinguished from theories.”
            R: Well yes in general, but again there is a lot of wiggle room in these concepts. For example, it may be a fact that a man called Paul wrote the Epistles attributed to him. But this claim is contested, and there is no definitive proof if it is a fact or not. So really, the existence of Paul has the status of a theory, which could shift to fact if conclusive proof emerged. When a theory becomes abundantly predictive, as in evolution or celestial mechanics, it acquires the status of fact. But the principle of falsification means there is always some theoretical level of uncertainty about facts. So again, Carrier’s elevation of this heuristic principle to the high status of logical axiom conceals a serious level of uncertainty about scientific demarcation. His wielding of the term ‘axiom’ here becomes more like a bludgeon to impress with the appearance of logic.

            I have tried to be careful to present my ideas as hypothesis where they are not confirmed fact. Even so, there are some facts I have presented here, such as that the equinox moved into Pisces in 21 AD, which ignorant people would reject as only theory. If I had said something like ‘Judas symbolises Scorpio’ based just on speculative character assessment, Carrier’s ‘axiom’ would be relevant. But that is not what I have done. I have pointed to symbols in the New Testament and said these correspond to the actual observation of the sky available to the writers, and make sense as an encoding of these observations.

            As an example, Ezekiel and Revelation describe the four living creatures which also symbolise the four evangelists. Astrotheologists assert these creatures are symbols of the four cardinal points of the path of the sun, and point to simple coherence with evidence of the senses and with a plausible interpretation of the coherent underlying natural intent of these texts. This interpretation is ignored or rejected for a range of reasons, including the absence of an explicit ‘smoking gun’ proving beyond a doubt that the stars are the basis of the symbols. But a basic problem with this rejection is that we know evidence about such topics was systematically destroyed by the church, and that malice towards natural theology remains pervasive. So there is obvious motive for the writers and redactors to conceal the meaning. It becomes a forensic exercise to decipher the real meaning through a coherent explanation.

            Reconstructing the plausible process and intent of the construction of the Christ Myth has to be guided by a theoretical framework. “As above so below” (which by the way is a real axiom, unlike Carrier’s) provides the coherent framework to deconstruct the tradition and reconstruct the original intent and meaning of Christian symbols.

            • 2012-09-19 17:13:03 UTC - 17:13 | Permalink

              RT: “When the correlations are numerous, coherent and independent, induction says we should move from possible to probable.”

              NG: No. This is not a valid way to determine a causal relationship.

              RT: “When a theory becomes abundantly predictive, as in evolution or celestial mechanics, it acquires the status of fact.”

              NG: No. Prediction is only one condition. Your specific example is scarcely even “predictive” anyway. You write: “I have pointed to symbols in the New Testament and said these correspond to the actual observation of the sky available to the writers, and make sense as an encoding of these observations.” Just pointing to fish and bread in a story and saying they correspond to constellations representing fish and grain is nothing but making stuff up. How do you know the author meant this? What is the evidence? The only evidence you offer is your theory that everything can be explained that way — that’s the same sort of evidence Creationists use for God or astrologers use for the influence of the planets.

              You say the evidence was destroyed.

              Well, that’s a problem. There are many things I wonder about, even suspect, that may have happened in the past but I can’t talk about them or even waste time thinking seriously about them because the evidence is lost. I have no way of verifying my suspicions. So there is nothing to discuss, except maybe a few speculations over a beer when in a flippant mood.

              The only way astrotheology is going to find a place on the table of serious consideration is if a young shepherd by chance tosses a stone into another cave and investigates the sound of it hitting something unexpected . . . .

            • 2012-09-20 22:55:27 UTC - 22:55 | Permalink

              Quixie wrote: “Richard Carrier proposes in “Proving History”): “Axiom #5: Any argument relying on the inference, ‘possibly, therefore probably’ is fallacious.”
              R: Glad you are taking this discussion back to first principles. There are many preconceptions which can usefully be cleared up to enable dialogue on unstated assumptions. In this case, the supposed axiom is badly worded. An axiom should be universal and incontestable. But Carrier badly overstates the case, as “fallacious” is far too strong a critique of the method of inference from similar observations to a probable conclusion. In fact, the scientific method of induction, strictly considered, is guilty of this ‘fallacy’. Inductive reasoning constructs general propositions from specific examples. For example, we observe that all life conforms to evolutionary principles such as cumulative adaptation. Induction moves from the observation that it is possible all this similarity is explained by a law of nature to the conclusion that such a law is probable. Without this step, violating Carrier’s sloppy ‘axiom’, we could have no confidence in any scientific laws of nature. It seems though that Carrier has in mind particular cases of error from which he draws his invalid universal law. Inductive reasoning has to assemble a range of evidence in recognition that correlation is not causality. When the correlations are numerous, coherent and independent, induction says we should move from possible to probable. Such inductive logic supports the hypothesis of precession as a natural observation that guided the construction of the Christ Myth.

              What Carrier is talking about is the fallacy of “it’s certainly possible that aliens built the pyramids, therefore it’s probable that aliens built the pyramids” without adding any additional supporting evidence between the possible-probable scale.

              What you’ve just illustrated with the ToE is a ‘possible -> accumulate loads of evidence -> probable’ move, which is how it’s supposed to be done. That’s not fallacious, and that’s not what Carrier is talking about.

              When the correlations are numerous, coherent and independent, induction says we should move from possible to probable.

              By definition, correlations are not independent. A correlation is weak Bayesian evidence for a hypothesis, thus will – by definition — increase (or decrease) the probability of the hypothesis. Independence is when the prior probability of the hypothesis is equal to the probability of the hypothesis given some evidence; this means that the evidence is independent of the hypothesis.

              • 2012-09-21 17:07:43 UTC - 17:07 | Permalink

                I agree Carrier meant what you say but he could have worded it better to specify direct inference. My disagreement with Quixie was that I contend there actually is an evidentiary process between the possible and probable in this case. I am not simply making a speculative leap as Neil suggests.

                An example of what I meant by independent correlations is that both Xenophon and Plato discuss Socrates, as independent sources, unlike the Gospel discussion of Jesus which depends on Mark. Correlations often are independent of each other in this sense, although the reality of the correlation between Xenophon and Plato depends on the actual existence of Socrates.

              • 2012-09-21 19:16:05 UTC - 19:16 | Permalink

                RT: “I am not simply making a speculative leap as Neil suggests.”

                NG: Take one instance in the New Testament and explain to me what is the evidence that links that NT passage to precession. If your evidence is merely your belief that the author meant such and such though there is no evidence remaining in NT book itself to confirm this, then your “evidence” is speculation.

              • 2012-09-21 19:39:14 UTC - 19:39 | Permalink

                There are many strange coincidences of names common to Kennedy’s and Lincoln’s cabinet. Moreover, they also share the honor of both having been assasinated. Is there a metaphysical link here? Is there some kind of continuity?
                Symbols are universal, Robert.
                Archetypes will weave their way into our myths every time, whether we like it or not. This is what Jung was about. That there are similarities between different mythologies is undeniable, myths and religions are molded in these forms, but you go as far as forwarding these basic structural forms as evidence of a continuity of intent, of collusion, of subterfuge. This is nonsense.
                You have been repeatedly challenged to explain any one episode in Mark can better be explained by your “depreclescentionalistic” model than by the methods that are ordinarily used to weigh evidence in the New Testament.

              • 2012-09-21 19:43:56 UTC - 19:43 | Permalink

                (or I should say … methods that should be used)

  • brettongarcia
    2012-09-20 18:52:53 UTC - 18:52 | Permalink

    Well, as I threw a rock into the great cave, the great black hole of ancient, eastern Astrological belief systems … i thought I DID hear the rock strike a hollow-sounding earthen vessel. If not quite the fullblown modern astrology Robert almost seems to speak of.

    There is no doubt that many ancients believed in a Cosmology, that assigned much importance to changes in the “stars” (cf. Astarte), and in effect to the procession of the earth, and the changing of the seasons. Though of course, any investigation of astrological beliefs (famous in Babylonia and Persia, for instance; both contriubuters to Jewish culture), should always be quite scientific and Anthropological; and very, very clearly note that we are DESCRIBING beliefs; not ADVOCATING them.

    There is a particular element of Mythicism that has traditionally attracted huge amounts of criticism from the scholarly community and the likes of people like McGrath: its attempts to note “parallels” to ancient myths, and even popular supersiitions. This side of Mythicism to be sure, is quite speculative. And interfaces all too easily and notoriously, with popular superstition. And yet however, there is a way to speak of such things, that is reasonably objective. As students of Mythography and the Science of Anthropology well know.

  • 2012-09-20 19:36:43 UTC - 19:36 | Permalink

    Ideas that are built on faulty methods are easily ridiculed. The unfortunate side effect of this is that those promoting such ideas fail to see the reason their ideas are fallacious. They interpret such responses as unfair bigotry. That’s why I think it important to always find a place for getting back to the basics of explaining why the ideas are fallacious.

    Unfortunately, those who expound such ideas are often very committed to them by the time they encounter such responses and this makes an objective reconsideration difficult.

    I would welcome Robert addressing the methods themselves and the logic or rationale underpinning them. Does Robert really disagree with me and Richard Carrier and co over the methods? If so, I invite Robert to discuss the rationales — and to choose another subject as a set of examples with which to apply the methods. It is easier to see fallacies or rationales if we look at an analogous case.

  • brettongarcia
    2012-09-20 20:37:24 UTC - 20:37 | Permalink

    Robert etc:

    As you know, I support the study of mythic parallels, a bit more than Neil. However, I’d have to agree with Neil, that often amateurs and others can assert more parallels between myths, and between myths and objective realities, than evidence presently justifies.

    I’ve been working formally and informally, all my adult life (and more), in the field essentially, of structural mythography. From the days of Freudianism – when Freud saw everything essentially as a symbol, structural parallel, to some aspect of sexuality. Through Claude Levi Strauss and Vladimir Propp and Roland Barthes; who found that many things in culture, including our religion, turn out to parallel hidden desires, and myths. After this, I went through PostStructuralism; which suggested that that’s all we have in culture: paralleling, accreting myths, not true facts, or realities. Finally though my own serious academic research was devoted to helping to formulate a somewhat more scientific, empirically-based Poststructuralism.

    The reason I began to emphasize Science more – as Neil does – is in part because, as extremely useful as the method of noting parallels, structural correlations between myths may be, this process CAN be – as Neil notes – quite subjective. And in effect, in looking for structures, we often fall prey to our subjective fixations and obsessions. As we found historically: Freud’s assertion for example that everything we say, ultimately parallels sexual concerns, was finally found to be … partially useful, but finally, excessive. While even the brilliant mythographer/mythicist Max Muller of Oxford, is thought to have eventually fallen to subjective obsession and oversimplification; when he tried to suggest that ultimately, everything in culture is some version of a “sun” or “solar” myth.

    Finally therefore, I think the truth is somewhere between parallelomanics, and Neil: there ARE parallel structures out there. But we need to be very, very careful when we begin to look for parallel structures. No doubt there are many structural parallels there. But we need to beware of our own subjective desires. The inherent propensity of the mind is to try to find patterns, impose order … even when there isn’t one there, often. Often, looking into the chaos of cultures, is like looking at a Rorschach Blot: the mind imposes an order, that is not necessarily there. Or that is not there to the degree we thought.

    In the present specific example I am quite sure that a VERY solid historical case can be made for the existence of some kind of Astrological beliefs in and around Christianity. Though the exact nature of that belief – and especially its relation to modern, 12 Zodiac astrology – remains in doubt; and would require extensive proofs. And more than correlations and parallels, in fact. To prove to a critical academic audience, that we are not just reading a Rorschach blot.

    However to be sure, there is much historical material out there. And if you want to take the time to accumulate and present it, you might be able to come up with a good academic paper. As a matter of fact, there is no doubt that the “Heavens” were extremely important to early Christians. While Earl Doherty, recent in effect makes the case that the new “cosmic” Middle-Platonistic cosmology (of heavenly vs. earthly spheres ?), was a major influence on say, Paul.

    At present I’d have to say that much of the structuralist/parallelist thinking of today, remains as yet, not as fully documented as it should be to be fully accepted in academic circles. But in fact? It’s clear that there is much material out there. It’s just a matter of how objectively and systematically you present it.

  • 2012-09-20 21:42:28 UTC - 21:42 | Permalink

    Thanks all for the interesting comments on method. This comment responds to Neil’s points at 8. By the way, I see the Great Scholar himself, Thomas Verenna, has drawn attention to this discussion on his esteemed and erudite blog. Unfortunately I am not able to respond there, and again I express my thanks to Neil for hosting this discussion.

    RT: “When the correlations are numerous, coherent and independent, induction says we should move from possible to probable.” NG: “No. This is not a valid way to determine a causal relationship.”
    RT: But that is exactly what you argue regarding Jesus – the absence of ‘numerous, coherent and independent’ correlations to the Gospel story is a core piece of the case for mythicism. Induction is the main way knowledge advances, with anomalies leading to new hypotheses.
    NG: Your specific example is scarcely even “predictive” anyway. You write: “I have pointed to symbols in the New Testament and said these correspond to the actual observation of the sky available to the writers, and make sense as an encoding of these observations.” Just pointing to fish and bread in a story and saying they correspond to constellations representing fish and grain is nothing but making stuff up. How do you know the author meant this? What is the evidence?
    RT: Neil, I don’t think you have read my arguments carefully enough. The evidence is in the coherent vision it provides, together with other examples, of the observed presence of divinity in the world, in terms of ancient thought. I’m not ‘just pointing’. The fish and bread became the Easter axis of sun and moon at the time of Jesus, presenting the core ‘above’ structure of heaven that was expected to be reflected in the ‘below’ of the historical patterns seen on earth. The expectation goes back to many sources, such as Old Testament analogies between Jesus and the Sun (eg Malachi – hail thou Sun of Righteousness), and the Psalm 19:4 line that the voice of the stars has gone out through all the earth. Recall Hadrian’s alleged statement of close association between Serapis, who was commonly depicted with zodiac aura, and Christ.
    One of the most interesting pieces of the puzzle is Philo’s idea of the Logos, which opens the idea of archetype in a way that only makes sense by reference to observable nature, and leads to precession as a key observable anomaly.
    Philo said, in On the Creation, “the sun makes the spring equinox in Aries, and the autumnal one in Libra, at which time men celebrate the greatest festivals, since it is owing to both these seasons that all the fruits of the earth are engendered.”
    I’ve just read this full text by Philo. He doesn’t mention precession, but he does emphasise the ‘as above so below’ cosmology as the basis of religion. Philo was obviously not up with the latest astronomy of his day, which knew the equinoxes were no longer where he said they were as the basis for the ‘greatest festivals’. Putting the pieces together, early readers of Philo would have asked exactly what these movements of heaven that he discusses actually are. The equinoxes were perceptibly shifting from the Aries – Libra axis described by Philo to the Pisces-Virgo axis. Noticing this fact is like a window on eternity, the slowest regular perceptible motion of time.
    I will write an essay on how Philo’s Logos cosmology provides a basis for the precessional symbols in the Gospels. For now http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo%27s_view_of_God#The_Logos gives some useful hints which can be expanded against his description of the equinoxes. Philo’s concept of Logos combined the Stoic idea of vivifying power and the Platonic concept of archetypal idea. As such, the Logos was the aspect of the divine that operates in the world—through whom the world is created and sustained, the universal substance on which all things depend, the bond connecting the individual creatures, uniting their spiritual and physical attributes. The Logos is the type; man is the copy. For the shaping of his intelligence, earthly man has the Logos or “heavenly man” for a pattern.
    These ideas display a match between the role of Logos and the role Philo has assigned to the equinoxes. His discussion of logos as cosmic archetype matches well to Biblical references such as the hymn in Colossians 1:15ff describing Christ as the image of the invisible God. In terms of the historical process, the combination of Philo’s Logos with astronomical observation of precession provides a basis for the Christ Myth, since the annual festival axis had visibly shifted to a new age.

    NG: You say the evidence was destroyed. Well, that’s a problem.
    RT: Yes it is a problem. It means the data we have from the first century is fragmentary. So, to interpret this data we have to place it within a plausible cultural and scientific framework. That is what Earl does when he uses the argument from silence regarding Paul, he places the available evidence in a plausible context. In suppressing the formative vision of the cosmic Christ, one way of looking at it is to say the early church leaders climbed to the top of the ladder constructed by the Gnostics and then burnt the ladder to conceal their sources. But the original writers were too smart for these destroyers; they included references to precession but hid them to preserve them. The precessional symbols in Revelation – the shift of the north celestial pole from the dragon to the bear-lion-leopard, the twelve jewels as the twelve signs in reverse starting with Pisces, the river of life as the milky way, the tree of life as the zodiac, the alpha and omega as the observed turning point of the Great Year – are all explicable against this political agenda of concealing an original cosmic vision from ignorant bigots. These mysterious symbols otherwise make little sense. They match well to cosmic observation of precession as the structure of time, but are concealed to protect them – in the face of a hostile suppressive literal orthodoxy.

    • 2012-09-21 07:24:05 UTC - 07:24 | Permalink

      RT: “But that is exactly what you argue regarding Jesus – the absence of ‘numerous, coherent and independent’ correlations to the Gospel story is a core piece of the case for mythicism.”

      NG: You will have to support this assertion with some reference to my actual arguments. I thought I was arguing primarily from the demonstrable positive evidence (not speculations) for the sources of the Gospel stories, and that combined with the absence of evidence for the alternative hypothesis.

      RT: Long section about Philo etc.

      NG: Robert, no-one is disputing “as above so below” or a link between the Logos and the cosmic order. But you are going overboard with speculation piled upon speculation and connecting dots without any rationale except your own speculations. That is not how I argue causal or explanatory links.

      RT: Missing evidence.

      NG: You are giving Earl Doherty’s methods a bad name through misrepresenting them. (You are even misrepresenting my own arguments when you say I am arguing the same methods as you.) If you can produce an argument by pointing to the same quality of evidence, through the same logical processes, as Earl does, then you would have a case. Reading your arguments and Earl’s is as different as different as day and night.

    • 2012-09-21 08:17:32 UTC - 08:17 | Permalink

      Other commenters have complained of tedium and headaches and I am reaching the same point. Instead of repeating myself I think it might help if you tried to explain in your own words what it is you believe is my argument against your views.

      • 2012-09-21 12:32:00 UTC - 12:32 | Permalink

        NG “what it is you believe is my argument against your views”

        Neil, you have argued the evidence for use of precession as a basis for Biblical cosmology is too weak and incoherent to be plausible or persuasive. You have focussed on what you see as the weakest link in my argument, the loaves and fishes miracle as symbolic of the observed movement of the equinox axis at the time of Christ, and have not engaged with the other examples, especially from Revelation, where I provide a scientifically reasonable explanation of otherwise inexplicable texts. You think non-precessional sources, such as the midrash from Jeremiah, are sufficient to explain the fish motif, and do not wish to engage on how the Christian fish correlates to ancient observation of the sky as the basis of their concept of the age. You appear to consider it illegitimate to attempt to reconstruct the theological thinking that informed the archetypal symbols of the Bible, because such a method is inherently syncretistic and speculative and based on scanty sources, so any reconstruction deserves extreme skepticism whatever its evidence. So the detail of my argument is of little interest to you, because you reject my premise that the writers were imagining Christ as the presence on earth of a natural structure they could observe in the heavens.

        I do not think you are at all bigoted in this argument, but I do think there are large scale issues regarding the reconstruction of Biblical thought that strike up against strong psychological blockages regarding the limits of science. For example bretongarcia suggested I am bringing modern astrology into this theory, when in fact I have restricted my arguments to concepts that were entirely available to the authors of the New Testament. The ancients had far stronger knowledge of the visible heavens in terms of naked eye observation and match between the stars and the calendar than most people do today. Recognising the place of this actual observation in their cosmology is made very difficult by the pervasive wrong premise that the original source ideas about Christ were conceived as supernatural rather than natural.

        • 2012-09-21 14:44:23 UTC - 14:44 | Permalink

          RT: “Neil, you have argued the evidence for use of precession as a basis for Biblical cosmology is too weak and incoherent to be plausible or persuasive.”

          NG: Let’s be specific. I have argued that the evidence for use of precession the interpretation of the Gospels or other New Testament literature is non-existent.

          RT: “You have focussed on what you see as the weakest link in my argument, the loaves and fishes miracle as symbolic of the observed movement of the equinox axis at the time of Christ, and have not engaged with the other examples, especially from Revelation, where I provide a scientifically reasonable explanation of otherwise inexplicable texts.”

          NG: I did not think the loaves and fishes was any weaker or stronger than any other example you gave. I could have addressed the ones from Revelation exactly the same way. Your explanation for that was just as void of evidence. You gave us no evidence at all that anything in Revelation related to precession. Malina has explained Revelation plausibly in terms of the constellations and ancient mythology. (http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/the-book-of-revelation-its-original-meaning-and-modern-misunderstandings/)

          RT: “You think non-precessional sources, such as the midrash from Jeremiah, are sufficient to explain the fish motif, and do not wish to engage on how the Christian fish correlates to ancient observation of the sky as the basis of their concept of the age. You appear to consider it illegitimate to attempt to reconstruct the theological thinking that informed the archetypal symbols of the Bible, because such a method is inherently syncretistic and speculative and based on scanty sources, so any reconstruction deserves extreme skepticism whatever its evidence. So the detail of my argument is of little interest to you, because you reject my premise that the writers were imagining Christ as the presence on earth of a natural structure they could observe in the heavens.”

          NT: No, Robert. You have my argument quite wrong.

          The reason I do not consider how the Christian fish correlates to sky observations is because I see no evidence that the Christian fish has anything to do with the fish in the miracle story in the gospels. I see no prima facie reason to open the question. There is nothing in the gospels to suggest that the fish in the miracle has anything to do with cosmology. Zilch. I would not even link it with Jeremiah if it were not for the saying about fishers of men earlier in the gospel. That phrase does directly point to Jeremiah. But I am also quite prepared to accept that that connection with the miracle story is speculative and invalid.

          Syncretism has nothing to do with my reasons for not accepting your argument. Speculation does. Nor do I see “scanty sources” as an issue. I see no sources whatever giving us an evidential reason to link the Gospel image to cosmology, let alone precession.

          Extreme scepticism whatever its evidence? No. I don’t see any evidence at all. So my scepticism is quite healthy, I would say.

          The details of your argument are nothing but speculative applications of your premise. There is no evidence linking precession to the images you speak about in the Gospels. I have also pointed out that the Christian fish symbol only appears relatively late and not at the foundation of Christianity.

          RT: “I do not think you are at all bigoted in this argument, but I do think there are large scale issues regarding the reconstruction of Biblical thought that strike up against strong psychological blockages regarding the limits of science. For example bretongarcia suggested I am bringing modern astrology into this theory, when in fact I have restricted my arguments to concepts that were entirely available to the authors of the New Testament. The ancients had far stronger knowledge of the visible heavens in terms of naked eye observation and match between the stars and the calendar than most people do today. Recognising the place of this actual observation in their cosmology is made very difficult by the pervasive wrong premise that the original source ideas about Christ were conceived as supernatural rather than natural.”

          NT: Stop telling yourself that the reason I don’t accept your argument is psychological and just stick to the logic of the argument I have expressed here.

           

           

  • 2012-09-21 20:06:50 UTC - 20:06 | Permalink

    Robert Tulip objected that I picked on the weakest part of his case and failed to address his evidence from Revelation.

    Here is RT’s evidence from Revelation:

    Revelation is the book with the most abundant precessional imagery, and indeed precession is a key to unlock the bizarre symbols of the apocalypse. The Holy City New Jerusalem coming down from heaven encodes several precessional images. The city is 12,000 units from side to side, matching the estimated 12,000 years from side to side of the Great Year. By old tradition, which scholars in the middle ages asserted was from old Babylonian texts, the twelve jewels of the foundations of the holy city symbolise the twelve signs in reverse from Pisces to Aries, directly matching the twelve ages of the Great Year starting from the time of Christ. The cosmic framework of the holy city becomes obvious when we see it contains the river of life and the tree of life, with the tree growing on both banks of the river, with twelve fruits one for each month. Trees do not grow on both sides of a river, and they do not have twelve different fruits. The only natural reality that directly fits this symbol is the zodiac as tree and galaxy as river, as the intersecting wheels of heaven.

    There is absolutely no evidence supplied by Robert that can be used to persuade us that the 12,000 stadia of each of the 4 sides has anything to do with a “Great Year”. Nada. Zilch. The number twelve most obviously represents the number of apostles and the number of tribes of Israel in this book. There is nothing in it to suggest that we turn our attention to precession. I would not be surprised if the magic of the number 12 could be traced back to ancient astronomical/astrological observations. But even if so, that would bring us not a whit closer to any notion of precession here.

    If the total measurement of 12,000 stadia by 4 sides = 48,000 stadia, we arrive at nothing comparable to precession mathematics. If we take the common maths of precession and begin with a one degree movement every 72 years then we end up with a complete precession circuit every 25,920 years. That is, in round figures, 26,000 years.

    Robert then places the 12 jewels beside the 12 zodiacal signs. Robert supplies no evidence to give us a reason for thinking that these represent the 12 signs in reverse order, (or any order for that matter). Nor does he give us any reason (evidence) to relate these stones to the “twelve ages of the Great Year”– nor does he give us any evidence to assure us that the author of Revelation had any such notion as “twelve ages of a Great Year” — “from the Time of Christ”.

    What is “obvious” to Robert concerning the tree and its fruits is not at all obvious to me — unfortunately I fear Robert will attribute this to some psychological blockage on my part. He insists on finding a “natural reality” to fit the symbol, but does not explain why he believes the author was representing some sort of “natural/cosmological” reality. He speaks of “galaxy as river”. But what galaxy was that that was visible to the author? I have a hard time visualizing John’s image in the cosmic reality Robert wants me to match it against. But even if I could, so what? How would I proceed that this is what the author intended? And what does this have to do with precession, and not some general bland zodiacal layout of any age?

  • 2012-09-21 23:53:35 UTC - 23:53 | Permalink

    A relevant scholarly article is The Twelve Jewels of Revelation 21:19-20: Tradition History and Modern Interpretations, William W.Reader, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 100, No. 3 (Sep., 1981), pp. 433-457 http://www.jstor.org/pss/3265963

    Reader discusses the theory that the twelve jewels that form the foundation stones of the Holy City symbolise the zodiac in reverse beginning from Pisces. He explains this theory is from Athanasius Kircher’s 1652 work Oedipus Aegyptiacus, and that Kircher attributes it to lost ancient Arabic manuscripts. Information on Kircher is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_Aegyptiacus Unfortunately it seems that Kircher’s book is only available in Latin, but at least it is on line. I have not found a translation of his discussion of the twelve jewels.

    Kircher, a Renaissance scholar, alleged that ancient manuscripts stated this reverse zodiac theory. This source is plausible, unless you want to argue he made it up for some reason. The symbolism matches to the correspondence between the twelve jewels of the high priest’s ephod and the twelve signs of the zodiac attested by Philo and Josephus, although the zodiac order of the breastplate is not explained in extant ancient texts. Kircher’s claim is plausible because it matches to the actual astronomy available to the ancients.

    Kircher’s claim is accepted as true by Biblical scholars such as GB Caird and W Barclay. What this symbolism of the twelve jewels presents is an accurate encoding of the sky over millennial time. In about 12,000 years from now, past or future, the equinoxes are opposite their current spots, a fact known to the ancients. So, the other side of the temporal ‘holy city’ of the heavens is about 12,000 units away. The difficulty of exact measurement of precession is indicated by Hipparchus’ estimate of a century per degree, against the accurate figure of 71.6 years. A more accurate measure appears to be encoded in the Vedic Day of Brahma, with the 4.32 billion years equating to two zodiac ages with a few zeros lopped off.

    If the holy city is the Great Year, the ‘coming down of heaven to earth’ means scientific understanding of the structure of time as governed by precession. There is a close match between the real climate cycle driven by precession and the 7000 year structure of traditional eschatology, interpreting the millennium as reversal of the alienation of human life from nature. In the physical cycles of light and dark of the earth, the 21,000 year cycle of glaciation is primarily driven by precession of the equinoxes as the basis of climate science. The low point of this cycle, when the northern winter solstice was at perihelion, was in 1245 AD.

    Neil, I thought your review of Malina’s book on the stellar wisdom in Revelation was superb. But you just didn’t take the final step of asking what the stellar wisdom actually was. I content it was an accurate astronomical understanding of the structure of time, concealed throughout the esoteric subtext of the Bible going back to Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels, as precession of the equinox as the millennial cosmic clock.

    You have to remember that mysteries were held as secret on pain of death. We don’t know what these mystery teachings were, so have to look for them in the allegory of the extant material. Allegory for precession as a central mystery is abundant. I explained why natural mystery is expected in my discussion of Philo.

    • 2012-09-22 09:03:51 UTC - 09:03 | Permalink

      Robert, you have written a lot but managed to avoid providing any evidence that the author of Revelation was talking about precession. You say, “If the holy city is the Great Year, the ‘coming down of heaven to earth’ means scientific understanding of the structure of time as governed by precession.” But that is not evidence. It is a hypothesis. You do not provide evidence, only speculation, that the holy city represents the Great Year.

      Not to mention why the city should be 4 squares of 12,000 stadia each side and not a circle; and your repeating your fudging of the numbers to make them come to a neat 12,000 when the ancients themselves worked with 12 and 72 etc quite well on other grounds having nothing to do with precession; and then your talking about Vedic Days of Brahma and glaciation cycles is just going troppo — none of that has anything to do with evidence for what the author of Revelation understood.

      Just listing a lot more “could be’s” does nothing to advance your argument. You regularly speak of what “the ancients” understood but that is very vague and tells us nothing about the author of Revelation.

      You speak of my not taking a final step in my reiew of Malina’s book. Maybe that’s because I don’t believe in speculative final steps. Let’s stick with the evidence.

      But you pulled out Kircher as your evidence for precession in Revelation. I read the relevant section of the article you cited:

      H. Charles (1920) operated in a similar vein, but took his cue from C. Clemens (1909) before him who had referred to a thesis of A. Kircher (1653), a famous Jesuit polymath, who claimed to have discovered in Arabic documents the following ancient Egyptian correlation between zodiac signs and precious stones:

      aries – taurus
      amethystus – hyancinthus
      gemini – chrysoprasus
      cancer – topazius
      leo – beryllus
      virgo – chrysolithos
      libra – sardius
      scorpio – sardonyx
      sagittarius – smaragdus
      capricornus – chalcedonius
      aquarius – sapphirus
      pisces – iaspis

      These are the same stones as those listed in John’s Apocalypse, but the sequence is the exact reverse. Hence, in the Apocalypse the zodiac equivalents of the stones are in the exactly opposite order of the actual path of the sun through the zodiac signs. According to Charles this inversion can be no accident; it was intentional and shows that the seer wanted to negate every astral speculation or pagan conception of the divine city. Therefore, in the view of Charles and those who uncritically follow him the stone catalog in John’s Revelation contains a veiled polemic against pagan astrology. The Achilles’ heel of this interpretation is that Kircher’s sources have never been located or identified. Whether it is necessary to deduce that he fabricated them out of his own fantasy may remain open, yet until they can be verified and dated it is methodologically unsound to assume that these enumerated correspondences between stones and zodiac signs were known to John or his readers. Furthermore, Charles’s deduction from the inversion of the zodiacal sequence is not compelling. In the Talmudic and post-Talmudic periods the signs of the zodiac were utilized as cultic symbols in synagogues, prayerbooks, and Torah crowns whereby the counter-clockwise order could appear as easily as the clockwise arrangementand that apparently without any polemical purpose.

      So we have no way of knowing if Kircher’s sources had any relevance for the period of the author of Revelation.

      And the counter-clockwise presentation was found in synagogues, prayerbooks, and more. Were all of these really coded references to precession? Only in speculation.

      You have provided no evidence for Revelation containing any reference to precession.

  • 2012-09-22 10:20:19 UTC - 10:20 | Permalink

    Neil, you know as well as anyone that the real origins of Christianity are extremely murky, and that source texts were lost or destroyed. Elaine Pagels, in The Gnostic Paul, supports the idea of an inner esoteric cult which used allegory in the public texts which became the Gospels and Epistles and Apocalypse. For example she contends that the Greeks of Romans 1 etc are code for the inner church, and the Jews are code for the outer church. My review is at http://www.amazon.com/review/R2803T62V90MTR

    Now, this need for secrecy, common to all the mystery religions, indicates that core teachings were hidden. If a core teaching is met with public hostility or derision, it faces incentive for concealment both by its advocates who want to communicate it and by its opponents who want to suppress it. So, it makes sense that any hidden code in the Bible would lack explicit obvious evidence, simply because such evidence would have been hunted out and removed on sight.

    The question then becomes what this organising principle may have been, providing the coherence and rank of the central ideas of Christianity. Could it have been based on accurate observation of nature?

    This is where the tedious analysis of the possible critical path of development of Christian ideas becomes central, such as the use of Philo’s ideas on the Logos. Matching Philo’s conceptual framework to actual observation of reality provides the motivating energy for the evolution of the teachings.

    Setting precession as the hypothetical organizing principle of this secret tradition makes perfect sense. It is an accurate explanation of time, linking observed cosmic reason to the eternal stability of the universe. It was available to the writers, having been explicitly known in the Greek world from the second century BC. It links to numerous veiled teachings, such as Plato’s Timaeus and the shifting of the axis of stellar temples in Egypt, Babylonia and Majorca.

    I accept your argument that the twelve jewels are not a smoking gun, especially given Budge’s criticism that Kircher invented hieroglyphic translations. But when put together with all the other clues, a clear pattern is apparent.

    Another one I mentioned was the shift of ‘power, seat and authority’ from the dragon to the bear-lion-leopard at Rev 13. Again, this matches well to the observed precession of the north celestial pole from the constellation of Draco to Ursa Minor observed in Biblical time. So when Job says at 35:5 “Look to the heavens, and see. See the skies, which are higher than you,” we should take this as a practical instruction, and should read supporting texts as allegory for what this process will reveal.

    • 2012-09-22 14:08:04 UTC - 14:08 | Permalink

      You are now sounding comical. I addressed your plea that “the evidence was destroyed” above so what is your point in repeating it?

      So your argument does indeed come down a propensity to see patterns for which you sometimes say (incorrectly) that there are no other explanations. There are indeed other explanations, and when I point one out to you you reply that I should go beyond the evidence and leap to your speculation.

      Rather than address the problems of the method and logic of your argument you seem to think that by throwing in more parallels (subjectively interpreted — no controls — the evidence was destroyed) thinking, it appears, that the sheer weight of cumulative speculations, of imaginary patterns, will eventually materialize as factual evidence. Indeed, the evidence is not only hidden in the Christian documents, but you even say it is hidden in the pagan literature as well, now.

      That’s how Erich von Daniken argued, if I recall correctly. And your response my question put to you about what your thought of his approach is disturbing.

      Earl Doherty, Robert Price, Thomas Thompson, Thomas Brodie do not have to plead, “But the evidence for my arguments was destroyed.” They limit their arguments to what the evidence allows and build their respective cases on the evidence — not speculative patterns that they assert fit some “coherent” pattern they want you to see.

      Elaine Pagel’s, I thought (is my memory failing me? — I don’t have her book with me at the moment), was arguing how Valentinians interpreted Paul. But even so, I found her book tedious after the first few pages because it was repeating over and over the same baseless argument from speculation. There was no evidence to support any claim that Paul really meant in his own mind that Greeks meant the spiritual ones, etc.

      I have never taken the time before to explore astrotheology, not because I have some psychological block against the very idea, but because I have never seen any pointers to actual evidence or valid methodology. I have only seen “parallelomania” and subjective patterns being constructed across all the data the way we sometimes see magnificent shapes in the clouds.

      Fortunately the clouds keep changing shapes to remind us that the patterns we saw were nothing but our own imaginations projected onto them.

      Your final appeal to Job 35:5 reads so very much like an evangelist drawing a personal admonition from a text to prove his own set of doctrines that he, not unlike you, sees patterned all through the Bible.

      That’s enough from me. I tire of repeating myself and going in circles.

  • 2012-09-22 16:51:38 UTC - 16:51 | Permalink

    Elaine Pagels is the Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and among the most distinguished scholars of early Christianity. But you say she is tedious. Might that not indicate Neil that there may be something in her method that conflicts with your basic assumptions about the possible relation between Gnosticism and orthodoxy?

    All this speculation, whether it is the argument from silence regarding Paul or the use of precession as a cosmic blueprint for the Christ Myth, requires that we reverse engineer the available evidence to work out the plan that was used to construct it. We don’t have the plan, because the church destroyed and forgot it. That is a fact. It does not help to say there was no plan, or that its destruction means there is no point looking for it. When the owner of a house or a machine has thrown away their construction plans, renovators often have to work out how it was built in the first place using every clue they can find. That is what I am doing here, and for that matter what Earl Doherty is doing with his ideas about the heavenly Jesus.

    The difference between my use of Job and traditional proof texting is that I am using it to find a scientific basis for the Bible, whereas evangelists use it to justify supernatural traditions. There is a big difference. The Job text on the centrality of looking at the sky is similar to the despair of Christ at Mark 8 where he looks to heaven in order to multiply the loaves and fishes and then bemoans the inability of the disciples to understand the meaning of the miracle.

    • 2012-09-22 17:10:31 UTC - 17:10 | Permalink

      No, Robert, I did not say “Elaine Pagels is tedious”. I think you’re beginning to become mischievous with your responses. Read again what I did say.

      The arguments for mythicism does not rely upon “silence” from Paul or anyone — Silence is a problem acknowledged by historicists for which an explanation is required and mythicism answers that with positive evidence with what Paul DOES say.

      Your arguments have no scientific basis that you have been able to demonstrate here. They are entirely — entirely — based on your projection of certain patterns that you read into selective data and when I ask for evidence you can only plead that it was destroyed or lost but that we should still accept your speculations because they explain it all. I can argue the same way for the divine inspiration of the Bible and for astrology. You are following the same fallacious methods as did Erich von Daniken. Your thesis is no more valid than what we find in “Chariots of the Gods”.

      Your replies have been always to give me analogies or more parallels or excuses for lack of evidence or precision in the numbers. What I want is evidence that can establish a causal relationship — not just loads and loads of more correlations.

      Doherty is doing something far more solid with his arguments than I have read in anything from you. You are doing his arguments no favours by comparing yours with his.

      Your conclusion with Jesus looking to heaven and complaining about the lack of perception among his disciples is simply absurd given the abundance of near at hand coherent and causal relationships we have that explain all of this with evidence-based historical terms than anything you have given us with your fantasies.

  • 2012-09-22 19:36:18 UTC - 19:36 | Permalink

    Okay, with Elaine Pagels, you “found her book tedious after the first few pages because it was repeating over and over the same baseless argument from speculation” and that does not mean she is tedious. I’m happy to retract my misunderstanding.

    I’ve found this a valuable discussion to illustrate the strength of resistance to my views and how I need to present them in a very simple and logical way. I’m not sure how much further back and forth in comments will add. But I do want to respond to your comments on the galaxy, the yuga, climate science and other speculative ideas.

    Neil: “He speaks of “galaxy as river”. But what galaxy was that that was visible to the author? I have a hard time visualizing John’s image in the cosmic reality Robert wants me to match it against. But even if I could, so what?”

    If you look at the sky, as Job recommends, you will see the Milky Way coursing across it like a river. That is our galaxy, and was well known to the ancients. It appears to form a circle around the earth. It intersects with another circle, the zodiac, which forms the path of the planets. These two circles (wheels within wheels) are angled at 60 degrees to each other, like the letter Chi (X) described by Plato in the Timaeus as the circles of the same and the different. For six months the sun is on one side of the Milky Way, and for six months it is on the other side. So when John says in Rev 22 that the tree of life has twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, and grows on both sides of the crystal river of life, it matches precisely to the relation between the zodiac and the galaxy, as observed in the sky. John says these symbols are at the centre of the holy city.

    N: “your talking about Vedic Days of Brahma and glaciation cycles is just going troppo”

    The Vedic sky God Dyaus Pita links etymologically to Zeus Patera, Jupiter and Deus Pater, in English God the Father. The Vedic Agastya is Argo and Noah’s Ark. There are strong ancient cultural linkages between the Middle East and India. The conventional estimate of the Platonic Month is 2160 years, so two months/ages make 4320 years. The encoding of this number into the Vedic Yuga cycle of light and dark matches not only to precession, but also to the actual climate cycles of light and dark driven by precession. Precession is central to the orbital drivers of climate science as described in Milankovitch cycles. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles

    My view on this is that ancient astronomy was far more advanced than we recognise, but cultural upheavel led to the scientific basis being lost, and only retained in fragments. The challenge is to piece the extant fragments into a coherent explanation.

    Perhaps what you mean by talking about Chariots of the Gods is that I refuse to simply accept baseless mainstream claims such as that the Great Pyramid was a tomb. People rule out such topics a priori, but that locks them in to an inadequate appreciation of the difficulty in coming to grips with how human culture developed. I would not endorse von Danikin any more than I would Velikovsky, Hubbard or Joseph Smith. All these myth makers need to have their ideas tested against evidence.

    • 2012-09-22 21:39:15 UTC - 21:39 | Permalink

      You may think you have gained some value from the discussion but I don’t think you’ve gained anything but a deeper entrenchment in your delusion that you have anything approximating a scientific or methodologically valid method.

      So what if the author of Revelation was speaking of the stars with his images? Others have addressed that very possibility with a lot more groundedness in the real world of the authors than anything you want us to opine about all of this cosmological speculation being the actual foundation of Christianity. Sure, it could have been. Sure. There are many “could have been” scenarios. And just mounting correlation after pattern after parallel advances your case not one inch. Look at how many scholars have argued for literary mimesis and see what they have had to do to mount an argument that rises above mere parallelism. You have done nothing similar except dig your own ditch with more and more patterns.

      The longer you look at the clouds the more patterns you can see. When tired and gazing at curtain patterns from my bed I can do the same.

      Sure astronomers then might have known a lot. Ulansey presents an argument with evidence in relation to this. You don’t.

      If your case is what D. M. Murdock or Acharya S is advancing then I reject it outright on the strength of my exchanges with you. I suspect you will see the problem as lying with my prejudices or psychological make-up or whatever, but from my perspective you have failed to meet the fundamentals of logical and methodological validity. I don’t reject astrotheology for any reason other than that I fail to see any valid methodological basis for it. You do not accept Carrier’s points on what constitutes a logical argument but I do. To me, he has listed nothing but truisms that one will find in any text on basic logic or method. But they don’t support your ideas so you reject them. So we must part company.

      Your methods come with black and white over-simplifications, too, and that also leaves me cold. Your remark about the “mainstream” reasons for the Great Pyramid is one case; your regular assertions that evidence was maliciously destroyed for political reasons is another, and your extension of this claim to presumed prejudice by moderns against certain ideas (as opposed to ideas founded upon fallacious methods) — these are all oversimplifications or worse. I have attempted to ignore them for most part in our exchange because I tried to steer clear of your ad hominem innuendo and subjective judgmentalism in order to stick to the logic of the main argument.

      If what you argue is what Murdock/Acharya argues then I fear that there is some disingenuousness in her books that omit any reference to such a point of view. I am reminded of religious cults who use updated PR tactics to win favour by secularizing or toning down their real beliefs, and through the pablum seek to gradually wean readers into their more esoteric beliefs.

      I will be on the alert now that I am better informed against commenters attempting to slip in astrotheology here as much as I am on the guard against those who have other agendas like mysticism or fundamentalism and such.

  • 2012-09-23 00:11:47 UTC - 00:11 | Permalink

    One final comment if I may. I promise not to comment here again.
    You misrepresent my comment on Carrier’s axioms. I agreed with his intent but disagreed with Quixie’s use of it to claim that my argument lacks supporting evidence. I made a pedantic point on Carrier’s generalised use of the concept of inference which it seems you misunderstood.
    Pareidolia – finding patterns in clouds – is completely different from the observation that the ancients encoded accurate stellar observation. We can still see the same stars, which have shifted in an orderly and predicted way. Their symbolic use of these observations fits into a coherent and accurate cosmology.
    How you can reject the observation that texts were destroyed for political reasons is amazing. While this did not achieve full steam until later, eg the Edicts of Theodosius, early attacks on Gnosticism such as by Irenaeus showed the scale of the division. We have almost no Mithraic texts, and it is hard to imagine that this absence is just accidental.

    • 2012-09-23 07:04:26 UTC - 07:04 | Permalink

      My analogy with seeing patterns in the clouds was not aimed at the ancient observers of the heavens but at your method of argumentation. You are projecting your own patterns onto the data without any controls.

      I did not say there was no wilful destruction of texts but that to use that as a rationale for your own need to explain the absence of evidence for your ideas is a gross oversimplification of the factors that are involved in the state of current evidence. Your thinking comes across as quite black and white, with little awareness of the facts, let alone strengths, of alternative ideas.

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