Monthly Archives: October 2013

How would Jack Andraka ever be recognized if his interest were Biblical Studies?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Andraka

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Andraka

Imagine a sixteen year old high school boy relying entirely upon Google, Wikipedia and freely available online scholarly publications claiming to have found a new explanation for Christian origins that was radically different from anything proposed to date. I suspect he will be ignored. If he makes enough noise to attract some popular attention he will be dismissed as a crank.

How could it be any different? Biblical studies are fundamentally ideological.

It is different in the hard sciences where tests for correctness can be devised to give an objective result open to all to see and accept. In the field of cancer research it is quite possible for a sixteen year old high school boy relying entirely upon Google, Wikipedia and freely available online scholarly publications to devise “a new, rapid, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during early stages when there is a higher likelihood of a cure.”

The result of his project was a new dipstick type diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a novel paper sensor, similar to that of the diabetic test strip. This strip tests for the level of mesothelin, a pancreatic cancer biomarker, in blood or urine, to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. The test is over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. According to Andraka, it is also 168 times faster, 1/26,000 as expensive (costing around three cents), over 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests, and only takes five minutes to run. He says the test is also effective for detecting ovarian and lung cancer, due to the same mesothelin biomarker they have in common. [Wikipedia article]

199 out of 200 scientists whom Jack Andraka approached asking for the assistance to conduct put his theory to the test rejected his idea. read more »

Another Islamic study: John the Baptist, not Jesus, was Crucified

If anyone was upset at Reza Aslan’s book Zealot, a fairly tame view of Jesus by standards of orthodox biblical studies, they will self-destruct when they hear about another Muslim’s take on Jesus. . . .

Agron Belica has already written The Crucifixion: Mistaken Identity, John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. This work was preceded by a warm-up preface of sorts: Deliver a Messiah: Mistaken Identity. The book being advertized through Salem-News is The Passion of the Baptist, Not the Christ.

It’s interesting to look at the way the book is being promoted. I first was made aware of it through Gilad Atzmon’s regular newsletter. His blog post repeats what that contained. Atzmon finds it interesting just as Richard Dawkins was interested to hear Joseph Atwill’s thesis on the Roman invention of Christianity. It’s a harmless curiosity. I don’t believe either of these men will take either of these ideas and shout them from rooftops with conviction. They’ll simply take them as an interesting set of ideas to speculate about.

That won’t stop Fox interviewers or mainstream biblical scholars and theologians from going ballistic, however. If any of them take notice I can hear already their offended cries: But Agron Belica is not one of us! He is not trained in our schools! Therefore he is not qualified to write what he does and we think everyone should scoff at the book and insult its author and avoid reading it.

What is different about this work is that it is apparently based on a study of three pillars:

  • Gospels
  • Josephus
  • Quran and other Islamic texts read more »

Comedian Tim Minchin Explains McGrath’s Problem with Mythicism

The honorable associate professor of Butler has once again posted mischievous assertions that I wrote things I did not at all write in my recent post, When “Trusting the Expert Consensus” is Wrong. It makes perfect sense that James McGrath would want to misrepresent this post of mine since in it I explain why the sorts of appeals to authority that the theologian himself is fond of making are fallacious. (This is a common tactic of McGrath, Larry Hurtado, Maurice Casey, Bart Ehrman, Rabbi Joseph Hoffmann, and a handful of others.)

So there is no rule against calling McGrath a mendacious idiot?

Professor Paul Krugman could almost have had James McGrath’s (and the other names above) track records of responding to mythicists in mind when he wrote in an article, Do You Know Who I Am?,

But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them [see, for example, the “McGrath Wisely pretends he never said that” refrain in Carrier’s post], there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot — and no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.

Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background.

English: Tim Minchin at the Melbourne Comedy F...

Tim Minchin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If only the honorable theologian had taken time out from watching Dr Who to listen to the occasional address of Tim Minchin that he gave on the day he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters [See the video clip at this post]. He would surely have come to his senses and grasped what I actually wrote and never have ventured to resort, yet once again, to blatant falsehoods.

Tim Minchin’s point number five:

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

Note again that last paragraph about nuance. read more »

On the Shutting Down of D.M. Murdock’s Facebook Account

Updated about two hours after original posting. . .

Unlike Richard Carrier, I did not receive a request to sign a petition protesting Facebook’s decision to shut down permanently D.M. Murdock’s/Acharya S’s page. This is a shame in some ways, since I would have been willing to seriously consider joining in such an action. It’s a lesson in what can happen when you decide to publicly slander and treat as enemies those who attempt to make forthright, honest criticisms of your work. Had Murdock or several of her followers not so outrageously reacted against my eventual response to their requests to write what I thought of some of her arguments, she would have recognized another potential avenue for supporting her cause against Facebook now.

Having said that, I must also say that I do not agree with the public showing of the image of Nigerian girls being subjected to virginity tests. (Facebook’s terms of use ban any display of nudity.)

Murdock wanted the image shown to shock readers enough to be outraged and act in whatever way they could to doing their bit to having this practice stopped.

But I would beg Murdock and Carrier and others to stop and think:

Would they want such images being shown world-wide if the victims shown were their own daughters or sisters?

Does how we answer that question suggest something about our attitude towards anonymous Africans? Has anyone stopped to ask how any of the girls in the photograph might feel about having that experience posted around the world? Might anyone even think to try to identify and locate any of those girls and ask them for permission to show them undergoing that ordeal?

Is not publishing that photo only adding to the humiliation of the victims?

Another news story that has recently appeared is of a 16 year old girl who was gang raped, dropped unconscious in a sewer pit, and now confined to a wheel-chair. There is an image against the story of a black girl’s head with her face hidden by her hand. The same article says that the image is not of the girl in the story. It even says the name of the girl in the story, “Liz”, is not the real name of the victim.

I don’t believe anyone who knows the real victim would want any photos of her undergoing any of her humiliation (not that they would be likely to exist) being made public.

I can’t help but think that what we are seeing here with the demands that Murdock’s original image be shown (even with the offending sections being blurred out) is a case of dehumanization of Africans. The girls are anonymous, black, in Africa, therefore “we” feel free to use them for political causes without any consideration of their privacy, their personal individuality and right to be treated with dignity.

I am particularly surprised that Richard Carrier, who is so outspoken on women’s rights, seems to have not stopped to think through this one. The story of the rape I mentioned above is no less confronting for its absence of graphic images of the girl being raped or lying in the sewer pit. Humans are creative enough to find ways to outrage readers and motivate to action without violating the personal dignity of those who have suffered unspeakable humiliation enough.

And even Ophelia Benson has joined voices with Carrier on this one. Something somewhere was said about anthropology research. My understanding is that professional anthropologists are bound by ethics standards that forbid anything that violates the privacy and dignity of others.

Closing Murdock’s Facebook page permanently for this one breach, perhaps well-intentioned but also (I strongly believe) very misguided, is disproportionate.

By the way . . . .

read more »

When “Trusting the Expert Consensus” is Wrong

I am quite happy to defer to “the expert consensus” when that consensus of experts is grounded upon advanced mathematics, quantum physics or anything medical.

There is a blog out there with a curious byline:

A community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality.

The first post on this blog that I read, however, indicated to me that that byline was ironic. That article, Trusting Expert Consensus, is a mix of good and evil, impeccable logic and fundamental fallacies.

In the introductory section of the post we read:

Expert opinion should be discounted when their opinions could be predicted solely from information not relevant to the truth of the claims. This may be the only reliable, easy heuristic a non-expert can use to figure out a particular group of experts should not be trusted.

From that principle I concluded that the opinion among biblical scholars and theologians that there was an historical Jesus should be discounted. But LessRight disagrees. He/she concludes the opposite, in fact.

The reasoning appears to be basically along these lines:

  • Although an obvious minority in the field, there are a good number of scholars who reject traditional Christianity and espouse quite unconventional and “liberal” views (e.g. Crossan, Borg).
  • This subset of scholars, including even a few who are even atheists, for most part accept the historicity of Jesus.
  • Their liberal or non-religious personal views would not lead us to expect them to believe in the historicity of Jesus.
  • Therefore “non-experts” should defer to the view that Jesus was an historical figure.

(By the way, I owe a thanks to J. Quinton for alerting me to this post.)

Yet the same article also concedes that virtually all of even those liberal or atheistic scholars were at some time in their lives believing Christians.

That tells us something that the article nowhere addresses. read more »

Mythicism and Arguments from Authority

History is not rocket science. It is easy to explain to the general audience the evidence for the existence and career-outline and various assessments of the significance of Julius Caesar. Historical argument is as “easy” as presenting

  • the “historical events/hypothesis”
  • the sources upon which the above scenario is based
  • the evidence for our understanding of the nature of those sources
  • the reasons we interpret those sources and their contents the way we do.

That sort of information can be explained in a good, educational TV documentary.

Take Socrates, for example.

  • Hypothesis/events: Socrates was executed for inspiring others to question the traditional views and values of society
  • Sources: Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, Thucydides . . . . some self-attested pupils of Socrates testifying to Socrates as a contrary figure and the general social situation
  • Nature: Genre and style compared with other texts established by primary (“in situ”) evidence . . . apparent independence of sources of a “truth-message/fact-narrative” style . . .
  • Reasons: Analogy of past configurations to their equivalents in today’s first-hand established understandings . . . .

Now that’s not as strong as the evidence for Augustus Caesar that could be linked (at point #2, Sources) to coins and first=person imperial monuments, but it does have a lot of “probabilities” built in there and that your average literate person could understand.

So I cannot help but be quite dismayed reading a post commended by Richard Carrier, an academically qualified ancient historian, that tells all readers to rely entirely upon the counsel of the intellectual elite, to trust the academics, when it comes to questions about the historicity of Jesus.

Carrier commends an article by Finke, saying Finke Is Right. . . . when Dan Finke writes (my bolding)

I [Dan Finke] personally want to take this chance to discourage my fellow atheists who are not historians from publicly making a big deal out of the historicity of Jesus, and especially when engaging with Christians. Why? Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical JesusResponsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus. Could they be wrong? It’s possible. But if they are, that is for qualified historians to prove, not laypeople. And it is for the field of ancient history to be persuaded to change its consensus before laypeople go around making claims that Jesus did not exist.

I don’t recall ever having to assert that the historicity of any event is something that can only be established and preserved by an intellectual elite such that all others can do nothing more than defer to their asserted conclusions.

The first clause that needs to be stopped for questioning in the above quotation is this

the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus

Garbage. There has been no “historical consensus” on this. There have been theologians and biblical scholars writing from the assumption of an historical Jesus, but that is not the same as saying that “historians” themselves have established some sort of “consensus” on this question. For that to happen, “historians” (not “theologians”, most of whom, even the most liberal ones, have a personal interest in maintaining the belief in an “historical Jesus” of some kind) would need to come together in an effort to address that very question — “Was there an historical Jesus?” — as opposed to simply making passing references to him as a taken-for-granted figure of popular culture the same way they assume the earth orbits the sun. Have historians “come to a consensus” of astronomy through themselves addressing the physical arguments or simply deferred to popular understanding on this? read more »

Peer Review — current developments

Sian Harris has made some interesting comments about current trends in scholarly publishing, including observations of what is happening to peer-review.

On peer-review (my bolding) one of the developments noted is:

Peer review is another interesting trend to watch. Different journals take different approaches to this. One trend is from blind to open peer review, where authors and reviewers know each other’s identity. Another topic for discussion is whether the lion’s share of peer review should go on pre-publication or post-publication. The journal PLOS One has an interesting approach to this, of deliberately only assessing papers for things like originality, accuracy and ethics but not making a judgement on how interesting the research is before publication. The discussion of the value of the research goes on afterwards.

There’s a related article, New Approach to Peer Review.

(Not that any of this is necessary for the Humanities, according to Larry Hurtado. Everything is just fine there. It’s only where those scientists have the ability to fabricate data that we find any problems, according to his ostrich perspective.)

 

Beat Poem to Share with Critical Thinker / Sceptically-Minded Friends

Better to be a latecomer to the best on the net than never to discover it at all. Since learning more about Tim Minchin (hear/view the last half of the videoclip — from 11:55 on — in the video I added to the Kick Joe Atwill Week post in which Tim is awarded his honorary degree of Doctor of Letters) I have decided to seek out and watch much more of Tim Minchin to see why he is acclaimed a genius in music and comedy.

To see the lyrics and another presentation (more personally direct) of this work . . . . read more »

The Propaganda War Against Mythicism

As their weapon of choice against the Christ Myth hypothesis (“mythicism”), theologians, religion and Biblical scholars appear from where I stand to regularly deploy the instruments of propaganda. The motivations appear to me to be to maintain

  • their status and reputation in a society infested with critical and anti-establishment influences, and
  • their control over the terms of religious debates, dictating what are legitimate topics for review and what are not.

I use the term “propaganda” because it’s yet another valid way of explaining what is happening. Simpler expressions are “labeling” and “framing the debate”. Adding the concept of “propaganda” to the list might help us understand more clearly what is actually happening in these “discussions”.

Lasswell

Harold Lasswell

To me the word “propaganda” stands for the opposite of true education, democratic or honest intellectual engagement and dialogue. Here’s a description of “what propaganda is” from some passages from the classic article “The Theory of Political Propaganda” by Harold Lasswell and first published (as far as I am aware in 1927) in the American Political Science Review:

Propaganda is the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols . . . Collective attitudes are amenable to many modes of alteration . . . But their arrangement and rearrangement occurs principally under the impetus of significant symbols; and the techniques of using significant symbols for this purpose is propaganda. . . . [As opposed to education] propaganda to the creation of valuational dispositions or attitudes. [What I would call honest dialogue] implies the search for the solution of a besetting problem with no desire to prejudice a particular solution in advance. The propagandist is very much concerned about how a specific solution is to be evoked and “put over.” And though the most subtle propaganda closely resembles disinterested deliberation, there is no difficulty in distinguishing the extremes. (my bolding)

Propaganda, I suggest, is the primary weapon used by the academy of biblical scholars and theologians against the Christ Myth theory. I have encountered very few genuine efforts of academics to “educate” the public (that is, “educate” as opposed to sway them by “propaganda”, given that “propaganda” is a process akin to “indoctrination”) or even to “educate” their peers of the deficiencies in any one of the “mythicist” cases.

One of the key characteristics of propaganda is that it manipulates symbols with the intent of bringing about social control. The symbols must have major significance for the audience, significant enough for them to hold real power over tan audience’s emotional reactions — “ideally, symbols of the Sacred and the Satanic.” (Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, p. 12)

Understand the power of symbols.

Symbols are related to the psychological phenomenon of the stereotype. A stereotype is a seeming value judgment, acquired by belonging to a group, without any intellectual labor. . . The stereotype arises from the feelings one has for one’s group, or against the “out-group.” . . .  In propaganda, existing stereotypes are awakened by symbols. (Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, p. 163)

Probably the most used symbol in the propaganda war against mythicism is “The Scholar”. This symbol has siblings: “peer review”, “published in a reputable/academic journal”, “PhD”, “scholarly training”, “skilled in relevant languages”, to identify some.

Now I know some people will jump on that above sentence and accuse me of suggesting that “scholarly training” and being “skilled in biblical languages” are nothing more than worthless empty symbols. And such an effort will itself be demonstrating how propaganda works. By ignoring nuance they will be reinforcing the power of the symbol itself and the mechanics of propaganda. They will be reaffirming that “The Scholar” is sensible, wise, naturally right, while the critic who is associated with the enemy, “mythicism”, is vacuous, unavoidably silly, dumb and risible.

Recall the Sacred and the Satanic. read more »

If Peer-Review Does Not Work for Science Why Does It Work for Biblical Studies?

quote_begin

We have little or no evidence that peer review ‘works,’ but we have lots of evidence of its downside.

quote_end
Morgan as The Gatekeeper at the entrance to th...

The Gatekeeper at the entrance to the Emerald City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mythicists have been told so often (oh how so very often) that they should publish in peer-review journals to be taken seriously. Peer-review, the public has been repeatedly told, is the guarantee of true scholarship. In the recent scholarly outrage over Joseph Atwill’s thesis gaining more public attention than the works of the academy, Larry Hurtado reminded us that “peer-review” and “reputable” go together like carrots and peas and Tom Verenna was once again extolling peer-review as the magic gateway guaranteed to keep intellectuals worthy and honest.

Now I do understand the reasons for peer-review. But what these reminders from among biblical scholars are overlooking is the research that demonstrates that peer-review in the various ways it is practiced today is also a deeply flawed process. Or maybe all those studies demonstrating this have no relevance for theologians.

You see, there is a conflict between what I read on the web by Bible scholars about the how effective the peer-review process is in their profession on the one hand, and what I read about the flaws in the peer-review process in my professional capacity (coordinator of a research data management project and of a research publications archiving and access project) in an academic institution on the other.

While I read of the virtues of peer-review for maintaining the pure standards of biblical scholars after hours, during my work time I am reading published research findings that are not so sanguine about peer-review. Why the difference? Could it be that the research is focused mostly in the areas of the sciences. No doubt the nature of that sort of material makes objective analysis easier. Does that mean the demonstrated failings of peer-review could never apply to the field of biblical studies?

Given that scientists are increasingly being exposed to an understanding of the flaws in the peer-review process, are we to assume that biblical scholars are immune from these flaws and that their peer-review mechanisms really are guarantors of quality work?

One article that referenced several studies on the peer-review process is Richard Smith’s “Classical peer review: an empty gun” in Breast Cancer Research 2010, 12(Suppl 4):S13 doi:10.1186/bcr2742 (a peer-reviewed journal).

If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market

This is how the article begins. It is a quotation from the deputy editor of a leading medical journal and “intellectual father of the international congresses of peer review that have been held every four years since 1989”, Drummond Rennie.

Later the article makes this claim:

If peer review is to be thought of primarily as a quality assurance method, then sadly we have lots of evidence of its failures. The pretentiously named medical literature is shot through with poor studies.

One would think that in a field like medical studies that peer-review would ensure that only accurate information is published. Certainly we would not think that the peer-review process would let through anything that would cause public harm.

But the facts prove otherwise.

There is much that is published that is downright false. The editors of the ACP Journal Club find that less than 1% of studies in most journals are “both scientifically sound and important for clinicians”. There are also documented instances of bad studies being published that have led to patient heart attacks and measles epidemics.

Note the following and ask if we have the same types of human nature producing and reviewing articles in biblical studies (with my bolding and formatting):

Doug Altman, perhaps the leading expert on statistics in medical journals, sums it up thus: ‘What should we think about researchers who

  • use the wrong techniques (either wilfully or in ignorance),
  • use the right techniques wrongly,
  • misinterpret their results,
  • report their results selectively,
  • cite the literature selectively,
  • and draw unjustified conclusions?’

We should be appalled. Yet numerous studies of the medical literature have shown that all of the above phenomena are common. This is surely a scandal.’

Back to Drummond Rennie:

Drummond Rennie writes in what might be the greatest sentence ever published in a medical journal:

DrummondRennie

D. Rennie

‘There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature citation too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.’

Are biblical scholars more professional as a whole than doctors? Are their arguments and publications more rigorous? According to everything I read by biblical scholars themselves I must think they really are. No doubt our souls are worth much more care than our physical bodies.

Richard Smith continues:

We have little or no evidence that peer review ‘works,’ but we have lots of evidence of its downside.

What are the downsides? read more »

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 4: Excursus on Marcion, Valentinians, and the Pauline Letters

I have devoted my two previous posts to the part of my hypothesis that concerns the Pauline letters:

  • The earliest parts of the original collection of Pauline letters were written between CE 50 and 130 by Simon of Samaria and his successor, Menander.
  • Simonians were secretive, so the collection was likely intended for their use only.
  • But by the early 130s some proto-orthodox Christians came to know of it and, by making certain additions and modifications, attempted to co-opt it for proto-orthodoxy.

But at this point I expect that those who have read Robert M. Price’s book The Amazing Colossal Apostle are wondering: What about Marcion and gnostics like Valentinus? Didn’t they or their followers contribute something to the Paulines? Or, at least, weren’t they the targets of some of the proto-orthodox interpolations in the letters? Price would answer “yes” to these last two questions. His hypothesis is that:

The Pauline epistles began, most of them, as fragments by Simon (part of Romans), Marcion (the third through sixth chapter of Galatians and the basic draft of Ephesians), and Valentinian Gnostics (Colossians, parts of 1 Corinthians, at least). Some few began as Catholic documents, while nearly all were interpolated by Polycarp, the ecclesiastical redactor who domesticated John (as Bultmann saw it), Luke (as per John Knox), and 1 Peter, then composed Titus and 2 Timothy. (The Amazing Colossal Apostle, p. 534)

One immediately noticeable difference between our hypotheses is that I hold, as argued in the previous post, that the original letters to the Ephesians and Colossians were written by the Simonian Menander, not Marcion or a Valentinian. To me, the passages that Price sees as Marcionite or Valentinian in these letters can just as plausibly be identified as Simonian. The theological development present in them is nothing that could not have already occurred within Simon’s communities in the generation after him, and thus before either Marcion or Valentinus are thought to have been active. Forty years—say, from CE 60 to 100—seems like plenty enough time for that development. And if so, the proto-orthodox interpolations could have been inserted with Simonians in view.

The proto-orthodox reworking of the letter collection could have been a fait accompli by the time Marcion and Valentinus went to Rome in the late 130s.

To illustrate my point, let’s consider some specific instances.

Ephesians

Price, in his commentary on Ephesians, writes:

The first anti-Marcionite interpolation we can detect is in verse 1:7a, “the one by whom we have received release through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses.” In Marcionite soteriology, the death of Jesus was a ransom, manumitting the enslaved creatures of the demiurge, not a sacrifice for sins. The same problem occurs in 2:5 where another insertion, “even with us dead in trespasses, vivified us along with Christ—and by his favor you have been saved,” attempts to correct Marcionite belief. Verse 2:1 likewise contains an anti-Marcionite interpolation, “then dead in your trespasses and sins.No one was in trouble with the Father for having transgressed the commandments of the demiurge. (pp. 444-445 — Bolding added)

In regard to verse 2:5: I have already explained in my previous post how I would account for the realized eschatology expressed by “vivified us along with Christ.” This is not a doctrine the proto-orthodox interpolator would have added. It is rather a teaching of Menander that the proto-orthodox redactor allowed to remain in the text because it was rendered harmless by other offsetting insertions. Nor do I see the words “and by his favor you have been saved” as an interpolation. As already noted in my first post, Irenaeus clearly says that salvation by grace was a teaching of Simon of Samaria.

I do agree with Price that some tampering has occurred in the three verses in question. Specifically, I agree that the references to forgiveness of sin and trespasses have been added. These belong to proto-orthodox soteriology which put forward the death of the Son as an expiatory sacrifice or atonement for sin. But I’m not convinced these insertions were made to combat Marcionite belief. They could just as plausibly have been added to correct Simonian error. For ransom soteriology was not created by Marcion. In the extant proto-orthodox heresiological writings, the earliest figure to have a ransom soteriology attributed to him is Simon of Samaria.

priceParvus1Simon taught that he was in some way inhabited by the Son who had previously appeared to suffer in Judaea. And as a new manifestation of that Son, he had come in search of his lost First Thought, Helen. He came in order to free her from the world-making angels who, by holding her captive, had prevented her from returning to her home above. The moment of her actual release from that captivity was apparently tied by Simon to his purchase of her from a brothel:

She [Helen] lived in a brothel in Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, where he [Simon] found her on his arrival… And after he had purchased her freedom, he took her about with him… For by purchasing the freedom of Helen, he thus offered salvation to men by knowledge peculiar to himself (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19).

Thus it appears that, because the salvation of Simon’s followers from this world and its makers was modeled on the salvation of Helen, theirs too was sometimes referred to as a purchase, ransom or redemption:

The dissolution of the world, they [Simonians] say, is for the ransoming of their own people (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6, 19; my bolding)

Notice that the “ransoming” here is not a payment that will be made when the world is dissolved. It is not a payment made to anyone. It is simply release from this world. And from its makers, as comes through in the parallel passage of the Against Heresies:

Therefore he [Simon] announced that the world would be dissolved and that those who were his would be freed from the rule of those who made the world. (1, 23, 3)

The sense, then, of “ransom” appears to be release from those who keep one from returning home. That being the case, I would retain “the one by whom we have received release” in Eph. 1:7a as authentic, but reject the remaining words of the verse (“through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses”) as an interpolation. The purpose of the interpolation was to make to make the “release” look sacrificial and expiatory much along the lines of so many passages in the proto-orthodox Letter to the Hebrews.

The use of the word “blood” in the interpolation had an additional proto-orthodox benefit—an anti-docetic one. A real sacrifice requires real blood, not the mere appearance of it. So connecting the “release” with blood also counters Simon’s teaching that the Son of God, at his first entry into the world, had merely appeared to be a man and merely appeared to suffer. But note again how there is no need to see Marcion as the docetic opponent targeted by 1:7a. He was not the first Christian docetist. The proto-orthodox heresy-hunters give that distinction to Simon of Samaria. read more »

Protecting Our Institutions from “Meddlesome Outsiders”

The bewildered herd

Noam Chomsky’s recent piece in the Belfast Telegraph contained a fragment of a quotation from Walter Lippmann. It’s useful, because it helps to show how the ruling elites actually view the public: namely, not as a group of participants with legitimate concerns and ideas to offer, but rather as so much cattle that need to be prodded into going along with their betters.

English: Photograph of Noam Chomsky

English: Photograph of Noam Chomsky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Noting that public opinion and government action are today often at odds with each another, Chomsky explains that for the power elites in our so-called capitalist democracies public opinion is something to affect, something to change via public relations, not something to follow. The governments of modern Western nation-states see the public as “meddlesome outsiders.” This term echoes Lippmann in The Phantom Public:

With the substance of the problem it [the public] can do nothing usually but meddle ignorantly or tyrannically. It has no need to meddle with it. Men in their active relation to affairs have to deal with the substance, but in that indirect relationship when they can act only through uttering praise or blame, making black crosses on white paper, they have done enough, they have done all they can do if they help to make it possible for the reason of other men to assert itself.

For when public opinion attempts to govern directly it is either a failure or a tyranny. It is not able to master the problem intellectually, nor to deal with it except by wholesale impact. (p. 60, The Phantom Public, emphasis mine)

For Lippmann and indeed for today’s policy makers, following the will of the public is a folly that would end in “failure or tyranny.” And so:

The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd. (p. 145, The Phantom Public, emphasis mine)

Our spectator democracies

That herd, Chomsky tells us, needs to understand its proper function.

They’re supposed to lend their weight every few years, to a choice among the responsible men. But apart from that, their function is to be “spectators, not participants in action” – and it’s for their own good. Because as the founder of liberal political science pointed out, we should not succumb to “democratic dogmatisms about people being the best judges of their own interest”. They’re not. We’re [viz., the ruling elite] the best judges, so it would be irresponsible to let them make choices just as it would be irresponsible to let a three-year-old run into the street. Attitudes and opinions therefore have to be controlled for the benefit of those you are controlling. It’s necessary to “regiment their minds”. It’s necessary also to discipline the institutions responsible for the “indoctrination of the young.” All quotes, incidentally. (emphasis mine)

For any libertarians or conservatives out there, please note that Chomsky has plenty of scathing words to say about the ineffectual parties on the left who, when in power, act exactly the same as conservatives. Public opinion is very much against austerity in Europe, but those destructive policies continue no matter which party is in power.

. . . economic policies have changed little in response to one electoral defeat after another. The left has replaced the right; the right has ousted the left.

Why does nothing change? Because the smarter class, the intelligent minority, knows better than to follow public opinion. “No man can serve two masters,” and we know who the real master is. As John Jay put it:

. . . the mass of men are neither wise nor good—those who own the country ought to govern it.

Wanted: fans not friends, spectators not participants

As it is with politics, so it is with academia, especially in that extremely rarefied realm of Biblical Studies. If you didn’t catch the undertone in the blog posts Neil quoted from in his recent post on kicking Atwill to the curb, let me remind you. Atwill’s theories on Christian origins are pretty far out there. In fact, they’re so far out there that they’re rather easy to debunk on their own merits. Yet that wasn’t enough, was it? We had to be reminded that he didn’t have the proper credentials.

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Thank You God — Tim Minchin

Lyrics . . . . read more »

So this was “Kick Joe Atwill Week”

What a shameful week this has been. Three bloggers, Tom, Dick and Larry, have gone out of their way to heap personal attacks on Joseph Atwill, ostensibly in order to distance themselves from his views. What’s worse is that two of those bloggers have regularly censured the biblical studies and theology establishments for resorting to personal insults upon those who attempt to make a case for the Christ Myth theory — “intellectual bullying”, “verbal intimidation”, “unprofessional”, “shameful”, are said to describe this proclivity.

Clearly the abusive personal insults they have flung at Joe Atwill indicate these bloggers have no interest in winning over anyone sympathetic to Joe. So why do they do it? I can imagine two possible reasons:

  1. They want to prove to the establishment of respectable scholarly elites that they should not be associated with the ideas of Joe Atwill. That is, they kick Joe to be assured of the approval of those they personally want to impress or from whom they personally want respect; or/and
  2. They are desperate to bully or intimidate a wider audience from even being tempted to give serious consideration to the views of Joe Atwill.

None of this personal abuse is necessary. It only makes the perpetrators look as sick as the academic hypocrites they criticize for spewing the same types of ad homina against them.

This is comes with the free-speech we enjoy, but the original idea behind the ideal of free speech was that the best or truest ideas would eventually rise to the top as everyone had an opportunity to hear the arguments for and against them all. Our innate reasonableness would lead to the most reasonable ideas winning out in the end. But we can now see that Tom, Dick and Larry are just as prone to resorting to intellectual intimidation as those they criticize. Intellectual bullying was not the way a free speech society was meant to work.

But what if someone really is bonkers?

I think the Atlantis theory is bonkers. But if I were addressing someone who believed it I would not insult them by saying they were bonkers. If I felt it worth the effort I would argue the case just as soundly as I would expect an evolutionary biologist or palaeontologist to argue against Creationism with a fundamentalist. In fact, it was indeed because I discovered that someone I considered a friend did believe in the Atlantis myth (and a few other oddities besides) that I did take the time to do a bit of homework and make a serious effort to present a reasoned and evidence-based case against those ideas. One of them I eventually posted here. I don’t believe any of that effort was wasted. What would have been wasted would have been any energy expended in calling my friend a crackpot.

There is a place for certain kinds of language and expression. I do not speak at work planning meetings the same way or with the same language I use after work with friends over a few beers. I do not write policy or information sharing documents for work in the same language I use when expressing personal work frustrations with a trusted colleague. We have evolved to be social beings and we need to refine and maximize our social skills to the utmost if we want to achieve the best possible outcomes in the wider social context.

Now I think a number of readers here know I do not agree with the views of Acharya S. (D.M. Murdock). I have attempted to argue against her views and those of Robert Tulip on this blog. At no time did I utter a personal insult against either. Nor did I provocatively call their views “cow scat”. I did attempt to strictly address specific claims, words used, arguments made — and for my pains I was slandered like nobody’s business on the discussion forum of Acharya S. One does not argue against her or her followers in public and get away with it. I soon lost interest in continuing to argue my reasons for rejecting her thesis. I guess I let her win. She proved that personal insult and abuse can silence critics. Maybe I should continue.

There is much more to be said here (and yes, those in positions of power and responsibility should be held to higher standards than others), but I’ll save a more detailed discussion of the state of much of academia for another post.

Back to these “Let’s kick Joe Atwill” types.

Tom’s scatalogical critique

The first of these personal attacks came from Tom. He calls Atwill’s documentary (“what you are watching”) “golden cow scat”. He critiques the entire film before he has seen it (he only concedes that Joe Atwill has “apparently” made a documentary film) entirely from the blurb itself. Any blurb is, by definition, an attempt to persuade you to read or view the contents by suggesting they are something new and different. The blurb is not the argument itself. But that doesn’t stop Tom from writing an entire critique of what he calls the blurb.

If you are planning to go see this movie, please, bring a disposable bag so you can properly rid yourself of the dung that undoubtedly will be thrown at you during the presentation.

Now that’s a profound intellectual argument!

The personal character and mind-reading attacks continue:

Atwill clearly has no grasp of these concepts, probably because he didn’t bother reading anything related to this despite his self-acclaimed ‘bookish-ness’.

Like all sensationalist crap-dealers, Mr. Atwill claims to have discovered the secret, super-dooper, hidden code in the text. Amazing! I (sic) self-proclaimed “Biblical scholar”, with nor formal training in the material, has used his magic decoder ring and stumbled upon a code! How clever of him.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, which Mr. Atwill seems to think he knows so well. . .

It is just so beyond absurd. It really is.

Here is the thing. It may be that Mr. Atwill is completely clueless about this. Maybe he isn’t just trying to scam everyone and sell a bunch of books to a group of gullible people. Maybe he legitimately hasn’t read anything relevant on this subject or any recent scholarship on it.

And then we glimpse that shameful Freudian slip beneath the skirt. Joe Atwill’s real sin is that he is “not one of us establishment intellectual elites!” He is an outsider! Shock, horror, ultimate scandal — he even uses the “Popular Media”! If anyone takes him instead of us seriously they are nothing but a gullible, ignorant rabble. Whoever takes us seriously is wise and virtuous! You can tell the difference between us. We have the power to kick him and keep him locked outside behind the gates of character attacks and personal insults.

[Atwill is] not using ‘Greco-Roman’ correctly. [Don’t explain to the popular reader why Atwill’s use is incorrect. That only adds to the aura of intellectual superiority of the critical reviewer.]

He makes claims but doesn’t seem to realize how ridiculous they actually are; it is that scholars find his work “outlandish”. . . . I mean it is still crazy talk. . . [DO scholars really find “his work” outlandish? Tom finds the blurb to his documentary film outlandish. Have any scholars actually read his “work” and critiqued it? Or do they just scoff at the conclusions because they are so incompatible with anything they have studied.]

Steven Mason, a real scholar, . . . .

The difference between what these scholars have written and what Mr Atwill have (sic) written is threefold:

(a) all of them have academic training in Greek,

(b) all of them published through an academic press . . .

(c) None of them make the illogical leap that similarities between Josephus (a Jew) and the Gospels (written by Jewish authors) mean that the Romans did it.

[Note that 2 out of 3 differences are that Atwill is “not one of us”. The third is no doubt an unscholarly oversimplification.]

Despite Atwill’s unlearned claim that the Jewish people were expecting a ‘Warrior messiah’. . . . [Of course. Keep looking for mud. Never mind that one will read this misinformed claim in “Oh-how-many” scholarly works!]

He may sincerely believe he has discovered the secret code off a cereal box with his 3-D glasses he found inside; that doesn’t make him an expert in the subject. [Of course. His view is not our view. That is, he is not an expert like us!]

Mr. Atwill is just like all other amateur-Scholar-wannabes who refuse to put in the time and effort to earn a degree in the field who want to advance their pet theories to sell books and dupe you over. [I like the way “Scholar” is capitalized. We Scholars are superior in character because we are prepared to put in effort and time to earn degrees. Others are charlatans out to make money and dupe you poor ignorant peasant rabble who read their work.]

He relies on popular media and the ignorance of the layperson to score points rather than publishing in a credible academic journal or publishing academically. He knows he can’t do that, because he has no clue how academics work, how they think, or what they actually argue on the subject. [Tom knows all of this about Atwill? He must know him personally. But note that the main message here is that academics are a superior elite class and Atwill is not a member. Now I do accept that people who work in universities are the brightest and most learned of our populations. That’s why they are there. But when someone aspiring to be a capital S Scholar starts treating outsiders like this then he has lost my respect. I’m with Tim Minchin’s points #3 and #8 on this:

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