Monthly Archives: May 2013

Honour Killing (from Inside Muslim Minds)

insidemuslimmindsI was recently challenged over what some see as my defence of Islam and failure to condemn the many evils is apparently spawns — terrorism, honour killing, sexism, Sharia law, persecution of apostates, denial of free speech — and told I could easily do so without any fear of over-generalizing. I was surprised to find my recent posts being portrayed as a “defence of Islam”, as an apparent attempt to whitewash the religion and to overlook its monstrosities.

What I have been seeking to do in most posts is to provide factual information from reliable sources in order to do my little bit to try to correct what I see as general public misconceptions about Muslims. Of course there is much that is reprehensible in the Muslim religion (as I have said) but my intent is to try to point out that the present wave of Islamophobia (see The Word’s Origin and Meaning) is grounded in misinformed views about Islam, Muslims and Sharia law, as well as about terrorism and cultural heritage.

As an atheist I have no time, personally for any religious belief. Yet not too many years ago I found myself with the State leader of an Australian Muslim community inviting him to participate in a public information session so that anyone willing could hear and question first hand what Muslims believe about themselves and the world. My interest was then, as it is now, in public education and community harmony. (Around the same time I also found myself planning civil rights activism with leaders of the local Roman Catholic Church.)

The reference to honour killings in the challenge pulled me up with a start. I have always understood honour killings to be a horrific practice found among certain cultures (not religions) around the world: northern India (Hindu and Sikh), southern Europe and Latin America (Christian), Australian aboriginal desert tribes and probably a few other similar tribes around the world, and a cluster of Islamic countries (Pakistan in particular). So when I have from time to time heard of critics of Islam citing honour killings as one of the many sins of that religion per se I dismissed the criticism as ignorant or at best only partially informed. No-one that I know criticizes Christianity or Hinduism as being religions that inculcate the practice of honour killings because of the crimes found among their cultural subsets.

The following is based on what Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow and Emeritus Professor Riaz Hassan has to say about honour killings and Muslims in his book Inside Muslim Minds (pp. 200-208).

Honour killing is another ugly label that has come to be associated with Muslim countries. In Pakistan and other Muslim countries, prominent feminist organizations have taken up the cause to stop its occurrence.

Here Hassan singles out Shirkat Gah and Women Living Under Muslim Laws as the most vocal campaigners against the practice and responsible for well researched publications.

shirkatgah-preview_0

Shirkat Gah (SG) (“place of participation”) has a strong web presence:

logo
Women Living Under Muslim Laws similarly:

Hassan refers to UNICEF statements and the following are from my own search across UN publications: read more »

The Genre of the Gospels: How the Consensus Changed (Part 9)

Part 9: “A searching critical blitz of the Schmidt hypothesis”

London Library after the Blitz

London Library after the Blitz

The previous post in this series began a critical analysis of an essay by John C. Meagher, delivered at the Colloquy on New Testament Studies back in 1980, before such well-known figures in the New Testament world as Charles H. Talbert, Vernon K. Robbins, and William R. Farmer. This post continues with Meagher’s “searching critical blitz”* of what most scholars believe is Karl Ludwig Schmidt’s hypothesis.

What Meagher got right

Some of Meagher’s criticisms of Schmidt’s views on the gospels were correct. Schmidt sometimes displayed far too much naive optimism when it came to the fidelity of the evangelists (and the tradents they followed) to the Jesus tradition. It is quite clear that each evangelist altered the tradition to fit specific theological views. Thus, Meagher was right in criticizing Schmidt for asserting that the gospels have a certain intrinsic reliability simply by virtue of their genesis as folk books. He summed up Schmidt’s views in Colloquoy on New Testament Studies:

The content of the gospels was brought to the brink of compilation by a transmissional tradition graced by “the fidelity to the material which characterizes all popular tradition” and it is this that assures its reliability — “that the people as community became bearer and creator of the tradition makes its content reliable.” (p. 207, quoting Schmidt in The Place of the Gospels in the General History of Literature, emphasis mine)

While we may correctly view Schmidt’s comments as overly optimistic at times, we should also point out that at other times during his analysis in The Place of the Gospels, he is careful, rational, and properly skeptical.

What Meagher got wrong

However, on the whole, Meagher’s attack on the Schmidt hypothesis fails, because he — for whatever reason — was convinced that Schmidt believed that the gospels were utterly unique, and therefore any investigation into analogous works would be a waste of time because:

. . . the unprecedentedness is of the essence and that the possible analogues can only be misleading as an interpretive instrument. (Colloquy, p 213)

Here is the point at which Meagher went astray. He showed abundant familiarity with Schmidt’s work, as found in the German edition of The Place of the Gospels in the General History of Literature and in Twentieth-Century Theology in the Making (Harper, 1971). Meagher peppered his essay with footnotes and many quotes from both works. Hence it is all the more strange that he continually missed the clear evidence that Schmidt, in fact, did not think that “possible analogues [of the gospels] can only be misleading as an interpretive instrument.”

On the contrary, in Part Two of The Place of the Gospels, which spans 60 pages and examines 12 different literary examples as analogs to the gospels, Schmidt explained the purpose of the section in his introduction by affirming that “analogy is the only sensible and productive method.” (p. 27)

Meagher found Schmidt’s rejection of possible analogs (despite what Schmidt actually wrote) unwise and untenable. Moreover, it was unproductive. In other words, because scholars following Schmidt had thought the gospels were unique and that comparing them to other works would be fruitless, they had focused only on those four canonical books themselves. In Meagher’s words:

read more »

Is Sympathy for Terrorist Acts a Muslim Monopoly?

Reality check here

Question: If Muslim sympathy for terrorism is not driven by religious fanaticism, then why does support for terror seemingly exist more among Muslims?

Answer: Muslims hold no monopoly on extremist views and are, in fact, on average more likely than the American public to unequivocally condemn attacks on civilians.

A [2007] study shows that only 46% of Americans think that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justified,” while 24% believe these attacks are “often or sometimes justified.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 6.41.59 PMContrast those figures with data taken from the same year from some of the largest Muslim countries, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran.

Agree that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justified“: read more »

Someone get Scott Atran to tell us which soccer club these guys belonged to. — Tweet from Sam Harris

Nigeria's Street Football: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15257141

Nigeria’s Street Football: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15257141

The title was a tweet by Sam Harris: https://twitter.com/samharrisorg/status/337313832814919680 in response to the horrific terrorist murder of Lee Rigby in London. I told someone in a recent comment that I would do a post explaining my perspective on what lies behind Harris’s response. (In that same comment thread one can see a video in which Sott Atran goes some way to explaining what a soccer club has to do with terrorism.)

Firstly, who is Scott Atran? From Wikipedia:

Scott Atran (born 1952) is an American and French anthropologist who is a

  • Director of Research in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris,
  • Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University in England,
  • Presidential Scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York,
  • and also holds offices at the University of Michigan.

He has studied and written about terrorism, violence and religion, and has done fieldwork with terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists, as well as political leaders. . . .

. . . he received his PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. . . .

Atran has experimented on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature, on the cognitive and evolutionary psychology of religion, and on the limits of rational choice in political and cultural conflict. His work has been widely published internationally in the popular press, and in scientific journals in a variety of disciplines. He has briefed members of the U.S. Congress and the National Security Council staff at the White House on the The Devoted Actor versus the Rational Actor in Managing World Conflict, on the Comparative Anatomy and Evolution of Global Network Terrorism, and on Pathways to and from Violent Extremism. He was an early critic of U.S. intervention in Iraq and of deepening involvement in Afghanistan, and he has been engaged in conflict negotiations in the Middle East. . . .

Atran’s debates with “new atheists” Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and others during the Beyond Belief symposium on the limits of reason and the role of religion in modern society highlight the differences between “new atheists” who see religion as fundamentally false and politically and socially repressive, or worse, and those like Atran who see unfalsifiable but semantically absurd religious beliefs as historically critical to the formation of large-scale societies and current motivators for both conflict and cooperation.

Atran has taught at

  • Cambridge University,
  • Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
  • and the École des Hautes Études in Paris.

He is currently

  • a research director in anthropology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research
  • and member of the Jean Nicod Institute at the École Normale Supérieure.
  • He is also visiting professor of psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan,
  • presidential scholar in sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City,
  • senior research fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford University,
  • and cofounder of ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling.

I am belatedly catching up with two of his books, In Gods We Trust and Talking to the Enemy, after having read a few of his scholarly journal and online writings.

I mentioned Atran’s video presentation — there is also follow up to that and Atran’s exchanges with Sam Harris at The Reality Club, Beyond Belief webpage (note on that page there are several in depth comments by Atran). Of his exchange with Sam Harris he writes: read more »

Fantasy and Religion: One Fundamental Difference (Or, Why God’s Word Will Never Fail)

Fantasy&ScienceFiction_cover_Oct1978Some theologians like to study what they call the intersects between science fiction (which is a sub-genre of fantasy) and religion. That might be a cute way to spark interest in the gospel message, but in reality there is no intersection between the two at all, at least not cognitively. Scot Atran explains:

One clear and important distinction between fantasy and religion is the knowledge of its source. People generally attribute their personal fantasies and dreams to themselves and to events they’ve experienced. They also know or assume that public fictions (novels, movies, cartoons, etc.) were created by specific people who had particular intentions for doing so.

A religious text is another story. Followers believe it to be the work and word of deities themselves. Believers assume that sacred doctrine was first heard or transcribed in some long-forgotten time by chosen prophets or sages who were faithfully repeating or imagining what the deities had directly said or shown to them. (In Gods We Trust, p. 91)

As I have been showing in my posts on Dennis Nineham’s lectures collated in The Use and Abuse of the Bible, theologians of the modern day have salvaged the Bible from the ravages of standard literary and historical criticism by declaring that its authors were imbued with remarkable spiritual insights into the meaning of the events they witnessed and modern readers who have faith will recognize this gift of theirs in the Scriptures. This is, in effect, a more sophisticated version of the “divine inspiration” of the Bible. It’s a neat device for justifying the Bible as the fundamental source of their faith, filled with divine insights (a more intellectually respectable way of expressing the concept of “divine inspiration”), even though there are human errors evident in the text and even though some texts reveal a humanly flawed author.

sacredtextsThe need by some Christians to affirm the apostolic authority of the Gospels is worth commenting on in this context. It appears that affirming the traditional authorship — two apostles (Matthew and John) and two associates of apostles (Mark and Luke) — is necessary in order to further elaborate the faith narrative that holds these works are indeed products of divinely chosen eyewitnesses. Normal evidentiary means of confirming authorship are dismissed as “overly sceptical” in the need to affirm the faith that a religion grounded in historical events is indeed “historically true”.

But what does it mean to accept a text on faith as authoritative?

Why God’s Word Cannot Be Disconfirmed

Accepting a text on authority and faith implies that the listener or reader suspend the universal constraints on ordinary communication . . .

In ordinary communication, the listener or reader “automatically” attempts to fill the gap in understanding between what is merely said or written and what the communicator intends the listener or reader to think or do as a result.

Atran illustrates. Normal communication works like this: read more »

Science and Religion: Four Fundamental Differences

Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals. Anthropologist Scott Atran writes about current research on religion, including his own. One of his online 2012 articles, God and the Ivory Tower: What we don’t understand about religion just might kill us. Now I used to love Richard Dawkins’ colourful critique of religion. Who could possibly argue with:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (God Delusion, p. 51)

atran

Scott Atran

But Scott Atran is one scholar who is forcing me into a rethink lately. He argues that it is misguided to think that religion will go away if we can rationally disprove all of its beliefs and premises. Fighting religion with reason and facts just doesn’t work because that sort of tactic completely misunderstands what religion is. Religious people know their beliefs are counter-intuitive and do not conform to the commonsense systems of thought that govern our everyday functioning in the physical world. Indeed, Atran argues, that’s the point of religion, and there is a clear benefit to groups and individuals within groups because of this. I will explain the arguments and evidence in future posts.

Till then, there is a clue to Atran’s conclusions in the following observation:

Thus, a century ago, while visiting the United States, Max Weber (1946:46) observed that even the most hard-headed capitalist would make it his business to advertise his faith in order to display his trustworthiness to others. . . . [P]eople apparently infer that explicit professions of faith carry the implicit message that trustworthiness matters — in the unblinking and forever watchful eyes of God — and commitments will be met even at great cost and even when there is no hope of reward. Science and secular ideology are poor competitors in this regard. (In Gods We Trust, p. 276. )

I expect to post more articles referencing Scott Atran’s works (In Gods We Trust is only one of his titles that I have beside me to read) on the nature of religion in the coming year and more) but till I start in earnest I leave here his concluding distinctions between Science and Religion. read more »

Tom Verenna Debates James McGrath

Recently I was playing with the time capsule button of WordPress and managed to accidentally relocate an old July 2010 post to today. Since trying to undo and relocate events in time is forbidden by the Time Lords of the universe I quickly deleted it. But a few quick ones did see it and commented favourably — so here it is again:

From http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/jamesfmcgrath?v=wall story_fbid=573473118322

Tom Verenna

Thanks for this James. I’m not certain I really understand your thought exercise though. I could say the same thing about a number of figures from historiographical works which we no longer believe to be historically credible (Lycurgus the Spartan, again, is a good example). But why stop at just people? How many events which we find in historical treatises from the past make little or no historical sense, but for which we cannot prove nor disprove? Exactly how much of those speeches, which make up 24% of Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian war did he really make up and for how much might we say he had documents handy to copy, or even alter slightly?

The problem with saying, “Well we come to an impasse, so let’s break the impasse by the mere fact that he *might* have existed, possibly…” which is really what this comes down to, doesn’t it? I mean, if we’re just going to make the leap from the more honest position “I don’t know” to “it must have happened,” why should we stop making such logical leaps? Why not just say that, well, no history is repeatable, so let’s just say that everything happened because, after all, there is attestation for it. And where we have conflicting accounts of those things, we should still accept them as historical, but just accept the more plausible one as historical. That’s what all historians should do, right? I hope you haven’t been agreeing this whole time–because this is not what historians should be doing.

Historians are tasked with securing the memories of society’s past. If we were to just accept possibilities as fact, then we are doing society an injustice. Imagine if such testimony was given at a trial hearing? “Well, we have no evidence the defendant wasn’t at the place the crime occurred, so why not?” If you feel that is stretching, you might say that “well we have testimony he might have been there.” But if you examine that testimony, is it really admissible? Are the sources trustworthy? I do not think so. Any evidence of this caliber presented at a criminal hearing would be thrown out. Simply put, I believe the most honest answer is not positive, but agnostic. In that regard, we should never accept a positive until we have adequate reason behind it; otherwise, where would one stop at accepting things without evidence? Given your hypothetical thought experiment, there would be no positive evidence (by your own admission). Likewise, we have no positive evidence of elves, fairies, witches, or dragons–but don’t be so quick to scoff. At least 50% of Icelanders believe in elves yet and at one time a large part of the world believed in fairies, dragons, and witches (so much that they burned innocent people because of it). Do you see why I find your thought experiment a little backwards?

Yesterday at 8:37am ·

James McGrath

Tom, I confess I don’t really understand your objection. There is a lot that is uncertain, and mainstream historians recognize this. No mainstream historian, including those from Iceland, can affirm that Jesus did miracles and expect to be taken seriously within the context of academic historical study. And I’m not suggesting that we argue “No one says Jesus didn’t exist, therefore he existed.” Your caricature (if it is not in fact a deliberate attempt at misrepresentation) doesn’t seem to bear much resemblance to what I or any mainstream scholar investigating the historical Jesus argues.

Yesterday at 9:06am ·

Tom Verenna

James, you do realize I’m talking about your recent blog, not your scholarship, right? read more »

The Genre of the Gospels: How the Consensus Changed (Part 8)

Part 8: Attacking the foundations: The “uniqueness” of the gospels

A meeting of the minds

The form-critical consensus about the nature of the gospels had begun to crumble by the 1970s. No clear new way forward had emerged, but discontent with the current consensus was clearly growing. By the start of the next decade the time was ripe for someone to take a hammer to the rotting timbers and to begin laying the footer for the new structure that would take its place.

Colloquy on New Testament Studies, Mercer Univ Press (1983)

Colloquy on New Testament Studies,
Mercer Univ Press (1983)

On the 5th and 6th of November 1980, the Southwestern Theological Seminary hosted a “Colloquy on New Testament Studies.” (You can read the proceedings in a book by the same name.) An important event in the history of NT scholarship, this colloquy attracted around 200 scholars and students, with many of the field’s luminaries — E. P. Sanders, Bruce M. Metzger, Vernon K. Robbins, and several others — in attendance.

In accordance with the theme, “A Time for Reappraisal and Fresh Approaches,” the colloquy’s seminars covered:

  • The synoptic problem
  • Gospel genre
  • Pauline chronology

The first seminar was actually a two-for-one. Part one, led by Helmut Koester, focused on the development of Mark’s gospel. Naturally, the moderator in charge of the synoptic problem seminar, William R. Farmer, made sure his theory of Markan posteriority got a fair hearing. Hence, following Koester, David Peabody presented a kind of Griesbachian rebuttal. Similarly, the second half of the first seminar, “The Purpose and Provenance of the Gospel of Mark According to the ‘Two Gospel’ (Griesbach) Hypothesis,” was followed by a counterargument by John H. Elliot.

The seminar on Pauline chronology received comparable treatment, with a response following the “Seminar Dialog.” It was, after all, only fair to hear both sides of the story.

Enter John C. Meagher

Unfortunately, when it came time to demolish Karl Ludwig Schmidt in the seminar on gospel genre, nobody stepped up to provide a response. When John C. Meagher came forward to not praise Schmidt, but to bury him, no one uttered an opposing word.

By all accounts, the seminar’s moderator, Charles H. Talbert, had made an excellent choice. In selecting Meagher, he had picked a first-rate scholar with three doctoral degrees. If anything, as an expert in Shakespearean literature and the New Testament, with a solid background in the history of literature and widely hailed as a “brilliant” scholar, Meagher was perhaps overqualified.

Talbert writes that the program committee wanted a fresh perspective on the issue; so they . . .

. . . looked for someone who was not already registered on the genre question but who had competence in literary, theological, and exegetical matters. Professor John C. Meagher of St. Michael’s, the University of Toronto, seemed an ideal selection. Meagher was assigned the topic, “The Implications for Theology of a Shift from the K. L. Schmidt Hypothesis of the Literary Uniqueness of the Gospels.(Colloquy p. 197, emphasis mine)

read more »

How Literary Imitation Works: Are Differences More Important than Similarities?

Recently I disappointed the pastor of the Diamond Valley Community Church when I declined to respond to his point by point counter-claims to my comparison of the miraculous feeding of the 5000 as told in Mark 6:30-44 with Elisha’s feeding 100 followers with 20 loaves of bread in 2 Kings 4:38-44. This was a pity because he assures us that his efforts were “such a burden”, but we both know that those are the trials of a self-sacrificing follower of the Lord whose every breath is dedicated to banishing spiritual darkness from a godless world.

I have encountered the sorts of objections our burdened pastor made many times before and confess that by now I have lost all interest in engaging with them. Such objections — “this is not a real parallel because the story-reasons for the food shortage are different or because the prompts that led to groups of people sitting down are different in the two stories” — are a pointlessly puerile game of “spot the difference” where the pictures are quite different to begin with.

monlisas

Original images at:
http://alturl.com/uocjz http://alturl.com/57t8y (centre) http://alturl.com/quprv (right)

The differences in the above images are more striking than their similarities. One can search the net and easily find hundreds more and even more striking variations — different colour schemes, additional figures, different backgrounds, different positions and postures of the central figure . . . But one thing is clear: they are all adaptations of the original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

We can spot mimesis so easily in a graphic. And this sort of imitation is easily enough recognized in literature. But when it comes to the Bible there are many apologists (and scholars, too) who just can’t or won’t see it. read more »

Bart Ehrman and another unprofessional blow at mythicism

historical view of Heidelberg

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while ago I addressed key points in Bart Ehrman’s eagerly awaited response to Christ Mythicism, Did Jesus Exist? and was honoured that Earl Doherty accepted an invitation to post his initial responses to the book here, too. I had much more to say at the time about Ehrman’s efforts but let it all drop since so many others were busy doing the same thing.

I have gradually been getting to know a little more of Frank Zindler’s work since then, and comparing it with what Ehrman himself wrote about it. That, in part, led me to write a defence of Frank’s right to write a chapter about his personal correspondence with Bart Ehrman. A couple of readers disagreed with me on that point, but we will have to agree to disagree. I am still deciding if I will write a post on that chapter about the Zindler-Ehrman correspondence and what it quite fairly tells us.

This evening I revisited the following passage written by Bart Ehrman, but by now I have learned more about Frank’s own arguments. It’s hard to know how to say how I felt without sounding trite. I think it is a good thing not to forget the outrageously unprofessional and scurrilous ways in which Bart Ehrman treated the arguments of mythicists. Those mythicists have every right to reply and defend themselves. That’s not stooping to the level of Ehrman’s unprofessionalism. It’s the right thing to do. If the result is not a stand-alone compendium of mythicist arguments, that’s a loss, but at least we will hear the defence of those Ehrman has so blatantly misrepresented. (Richard Carrier calls Ehrman a liar, a probable liar, or a suspected liar, at least seven times in his chapter.)

Here is what Bart Ehrman wrote about one of Frank Zindler’s points. I will follow this with the quotation from Frank’s own book which Ehrman claimed to be reading and citing.

The [Mithras] cult was centered, Zindler claims, in Tarsus (the hometown of the apostle Paul). But then the astrologers involved with the cult came to realize that the zodiacal age of Mithra was drawing to a close since the equinox was moving into Pisces. And so they “left their cult centers in Phrygia and Cilicia . . . to go to Palestine to see if they could locate not just the King of the Jews but the new Time Lord” (that is, they invented Jesus.* Zindler says this in all sincerity, and so far as I can tell, he really believes it. What evidence does he give for his claim that the Mithraists moved their religion to Palestine to help them find the king of the Jews? None at all. . . . This is made up. (p. 212, DJE?, my highlighting)

The asterisk marks where Ehrman leaves his endnote marker: Zindler, “How Jesus Got A Life”, p. 66

Note that Ehrman distinctly leads his audience to understand that he, Ehrman, is reading Zindler’s argument as published. He implies he knows the context. He is not relying on a couple of decontextualized extracts. He gives the impression that he has read in Zindler’s original words exactly what he has outlined — that the Mithras cult astrologers left their cult centres and moved to Palestine and invented Jesus. Ehrman believes Zindler is arguing that the Mithraic cult moved to Palestine and invented Jesus.

Here is what Frank Zindler actually wrote on page 66. read more »

Jesus and Dionysus (3)

Continuing from the Jesus and Dionysus (2): Comparison of John’s Gospel and Euripides’ Play . . . .

It would be a mistake to confine our comparison of the Gospel of John’s Jesus with Euripides’ play. Bacchae has no reference to the Dionysian miracle of turning water into wine (see the first post in this series for details) yet numerous commentators on the Gospel’s Cana Wedding miracle of turning water into wine have pointed to resonances with the Greek counterpart.

Further, it would be shortsighted to dismiss any comparison of the Gospel’s Jesus with Dionysus on the grounds that there is no obvious link between Jesus’ crucifixion and the dismemberment (the sparagmos) of the enemy of Dionysus.

Suffering and Power

English: Dionysus (Richard Werner) in The Bacc...

Dionysus (Richard Werner) in The Bacchae, directed by Brad Mays, 2000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, when the god’s enemy undergoes humiliation and dismemberment he is really sharing in or identifying with the sufferings of the god. His name is, after all, Pentheus, with verbal resonances with “pathos” (suffering); and we have seen that the purpose of the god is to come to relieve the suffering of humanity through his gift of wine, and the play itself speaks constantly of the suffering that Pentheus must undergo as punishment for his attempt to thwart the purpose of the god. It is through the suffering of Pentheus (identifying with the sufferings of the god) that the god who comes in apparent weakness, as an effeminate mortal, is exalted — his victorious and divine power is displayed for all!

The “discovery of Dionysiac echoes in John’s story as a whole” (Stibbe, p. 2) — in particular with the miracle of Cana, (the identification, one might add, of Jesus with the vine itself), the binding of Jesus, the dialogue with Pilate and the pathos of Jesus’ crucifixion — requires us to look beyond the tragedy itself and to look at all that the myth conveyed.

Indeed, there are other myths where Dionysus inflicted the same punishment upon others apart from Pentheus. King Lycurgus of Thrace also opposed the worship of Dionysus. Dionysus punished him by sending him into a mad frenzy during which he dismembered his own son; subsequently his citizens pulled him apart limb by limb in order to remove the curse of Dionysus from their land.

An early form of the myth is that Dionysus was originally born to Persephone, queen of the underworld (Hades). (It is not insignificant, for our purposes, that some of the myths tell us Zeus intended this new child to be his heir.) The jealous wife of Zeus (Hera) who had fathered the child persuaded the evil Titans to destroy the infant. Attempting to avoid capture by the pursuing Titans Dionysus changed himself into a bull, but was caught in this form and pulled limb from limb. The Titans then devoured these dismembered pieces of flesh. Zeus punished them by destroying them with thunderbolts, and from the ashes humankind was created, a mixture of the evil of Titans and the divinity of Dionysus.

Twice Born, from Below and Above

Through all of that chaos one piece of Dionysus was rescued, his heart, which was returned to Zeus. Zeus used the heart (the myths and means by which he did this vary) to give Dionysus a second birth, so he became known as the “twice-born” god.

A later version of the myth, the one that lies behind the play by Euripides, is that Zeus had fathered Dionysus with the mortal woman, Semele. Again Hera sought to kill the child, this time before it was born, by challenging Semele to see Zeus in all his glory. When Zeus showed himself in all his godliness Semele, of course, was struck dead. But Zeus rescued the child from her womb and sewed it into his thigh until it was ready to be born a second time, from the god himself.

Anyone familiar with the Gospel of John does not need to be reminded of Jesus explaining the mystery of being born a second time from above. read more »

And inspiring news from another Muslim nation

Since a good number of Westerners have been led to fear Muslims as a whole partly because of the publicizing of violent events in Bangladesh, it is worth drawing attention to the actions of the overwhelming majority of an even larger Muslim nation.

Courageous Pakistani Muslims have been defiantly standing up against the murderous Taliban terrorists, risking their lives for the sake of democratic institutions and voting in democratic elections in their country.

About half of the 70,000 polling stations have been declared at risk of attack from Taliban who have warned Pakistanis to boycott the election. It hasn’t stopped voters from turning out to support the democratic process.

Read the news article from Michael Edwards and watch the video interview. It’s inspiring and encouraging news.

Pakistanis brave Taliban threats to cast their votes read more »

Latest News from the Middle East — PEACE just for the recognition of International Law

The caption that originally displayed beneath the Vridar title of this blog was

Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

Unfortunately I was unable to salvage that detail when I moved to the current WordPress theme. Nonetheless, it encapsulates the original intent of this blog. Even I need the odd breather from posts relating to biblical studies.

I don’t know how many Westerners were exposed to the latest news from the Middle East but, since the overwhelming majority of this blog’s readers are in affluent Western nations, I would like to bring to the notice of any reader with an interest in Israeli affairs the following news item that has emerged within the past 24 hours. It’s the sort of news item that tends to pop up at least once a year and then gets buried before anyone has time to notice it. Just as well. Otherwise the myths about Arab intransigence over the Israel-Palestine situation would be seriously threatened by an eroding of general public credibility.

Missing from the Arab Peace Plan: an Israeli Partner

Yep, once again, the Arab states are offering Israel a peace agreement. You never heard of any such thing before? Read on, and watch the video at the end. (I know, the Arabs really should lift their game and hire Western Public Relations firms to assist them with how they come across to the public. But I know Vridar readers are smart enough to read the core and dismiss the fluff.)

For reasons best left for another post (though addressed in previous comments here), most Westerners have been exposed to a constant barrage of “news” that depicts the Israeli government as bending over backwards, giving up land and all sorts of concessions, all for the sake of peace — yet in vain! The Arabs and Palestinians, our news media and official channels regularly inform us, are hate-filled war-mongers who want nothing but the complete eradication of Israel from the map.

This week, however, has seen the repeat of an annual event that this time has come with an added punch.

Every year since 2002 the Arab states have re-endorsed their offer to Israel for complete and full recognition of the State of Israel, an end to all hostilities and affirmation of peace, if Israel agrees to accept the borders still legally binding by the United Nations — the borders that existed before the Israeli attack on Arab states in June 1967.

A quick aside here. A few people old enough still cling to the propaganda that was fed to the Western media at the outbreak of the June 1967 attack by Israel on its neighbours and quaintly think David-Israel itself was being threatened with annihilation by Goliath-Arabs at the time and was thus fighting for its very survival. For the benefit of any Westerner still enamoured with that illusion, I present the following:

Israel Air Force Commander General Ezer Weitzman: Israel “faced no threat of destruction” but the attack on her Arab neighbours was justified so that Israel could “exist according the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.”

Menahem Begin: “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Chief of Staff: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to The Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.”

New York Times, 1997: “Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, as Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan . . . [said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for the farmland . . . [Dayan stated] ‘They didn’t even try to hide their greed for the land . . . We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot.

And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was . . . The Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.’”

At the time of the 1967 war, or at least in its immediate aftermath, the Israeli government declared that the territories that it had conquered in June 1967 were “a bargaining chip”. That is, at the time of their conquest, the Israeli state knew that it lacked any legitimacy to hold on to its conquered territories. It hoped to gain further concessions in the wake of the 1967 war of aggression through the territories it had conquered.

But this year, 2013, the Arab states have gone a step further. They have allowed Israelis living in the West Bank’ densest settlements to remain there!!!!!

And there’s a video presentation on The Real News network presenting the same recent event within a deeper historical context: read more »

Jesus and Dionysus (2): Comparison of John’s Gospel and Euripides’ Play

This post continues from my earlier one that concluded with Mark W. G. Stibbe’s “very broad list of similarities” between Euripides’ Bacchae (a play about the god Dionysus) and the Gospel of John. Stibbe discusses these similarities in John As Storyteller: Narrative Criticism and the Fourth Gospel.

What Mark Stibbe is arguing

0521477654Stibbe makes it clear that he is not suggesting the evangelist

necessarily knew the Bacchae by heart and that he consciously set up a number of literary echoes with . . . that play (p. 137)

What he is suggesting is that

John unconsciously chose the mythos of tragedy when he set about rewriting his tradition about Jesus and that general echoes with Euripides’ story of Dionysus are therefore, in a sense, inevitable.

Stibbe firmly holds to the view that the Gospel of John is base on an historical Jesus and much of its content derives from some of the earliest traditions about that historical Jesus. The evangelist, he argues, was John the Elder, and he has derived his information from

  • a Bethany Gospel (now lost) that was based on the eye-witness reminiscences of Lazarus, who was also the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel;
  • a Signs Gospel (now lost);
  • the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke)

His final chapter in John as Storyteller consists largely of a point by point argument that the events of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus in the Gospel are based on historical events.

At the same time, Mark Stibbe is arguing that the author, John the Elder, is constructing his supposedly historical source material in a quite literary manner. He has chosen to write about the life and death of Jesus as a tragedy, argues Stibbe, and this was quite a natural thing to do because, we are assured, Jesus’ life and death just happened to be acted out in real life like a tragedy. It was a natural fit.

That’s where Stibbe is coming from.

Mark Stibbe, a vicar of St Mark’s Church at Grenoside (Sheffield) and part-time lecturer in biblical studies at the University of Sheffield when he wrote this book, writes from the limited perspective of formal New Testament studies. So he writes from the viewpoint of a Christian studying why the Gospel of John wrote about the very real founder of his faith, Jesus, would echo aspects of a Greek tragedy.

What this post is questioning

I’m interested in a different perspective. A proper study of religion from a scientific perspective would be through anthropology, I would think. New Testament studies are primarily about analysing and deconstructing and reconstructing biblical or Christian myths. The end result must always be a new version of their myth, if we follow Claude Lévi-Strauss.

I last posted along this theme in 2011:

Since I began this new series I have found another who takes a similar perspective. Frank Zindler writes: read more »