2015-07-12

What Is Vridar?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

When I started writing for Vridar, Neil pointed out that in one of my book references I had linked to a Google Books page. He said he preferred to use LibraryThing instead. I grumbled to myself, but dutifully created an account and complied with his request.

Vridar

Vridar — pronounced “VREE-dar”

Why are we here?

Eventually, I came to understand that he wasn’t making an arbitrary demand. Vridar doesn’t funnel people to Amazon hoping to collect a small fee. We don’t show ads — at least not deliberately. From LibraryThing, you can go to whichever online store you want. We don’t make that choice for you.

We’re not looking for Vridar generate income, even if it’s just to break even. Sometime back, when a certain fool nuked our blog and forced us to move to a different host, we deliberately chose a “dot-org” address to show that we mean business, or rather that we don’t mean business. We stand instead for the free and open flow of ideas.

But if that “free and open flow” means anything at all, then you need to know that we aren’t motivated by something else. You should know, for example, that we don’t take kickbacks for reviewing books or for linking to somebody else’s site. Nor will you ever see us block links to other biblioblogs, even when they routinely block us and assiduously pretend that we don’t exist. There are blogs out there whose moderators routinely delete or heavily edit Neil’s comments. We won’t do that here.

No adverts here

Recently, I received an email that was part of a PR campaign for celebrating 50th anniversary of the New International Version (NIV). This translation of the Bible began with a meeting of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) back in 1965. The lady who wrote the form letter encouraged us to share certain stories with our readers to help or enlighten them. Obviously, the PR firm who got our email addresses hadn’t read the countless times in posts wherein we’ve slammed the NIV as one of the worst English translations available, if you care about what the text actually says. She wrote:

Zondervan has given me permission to offer you a copy of the NIV Study Bible (current edition, 2011) in conjunction with mentioning some of the above [referring to a list of NIV-hyping URLs] on your blog. If interested, please send that request to Zondervan’s Helen Schmitt [email address redacted], including a link to what you’ve shared and your shipping address.

I didn’t bother writing her back. It felt an awful lot like getting voice mail from a wrong number. But in any case, I would never even consider doing what she had asked. It wouldn’t even matter if I liked the NIV; we’re just not in the business of passing off propaganda as if it were unbiased information.

Not asking for anything

We’re surely not the only people who found it strange when a biblioblogger set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for his education. Hell, I’d love to get a PhD in history or NT studies, but we’re not going to pass the hat around to make that happen.

Nor will we ever use Vridar to find dates or to pick up chicks. Seriously — admitting that you write for a blog that focuses on the Bible, history, culture, and science is the adult equivalent of bragging about being in the chess club. Ruy Lopez, baby! Huh? Am I right? Check out my opening lines!

Notice, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. It just isn’t what Vridar is here for.

The only things we want from you are to read Vridar and to engage in a conversation about the issues we raise here. And if you like what you see, let your friends know about us. Like us and share our posts on Facebook.

Why Bruegel?

For the cover photo on our Facebook page, I chose “The Suicide of Saul” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The painting represents a tragic event in the Old Testament, one that people rarely discuss. It’s also an unusual subject for a work of art, focusing as it does on failure and self-destruction.

That painting, like many of Bruegel’s works, has haunted me since the first time I saw it. Somehow it captures the sadness, desolation, and resignation of the ill-fated king.

I picked this image to signify Vridar’s willingness to cover aspects of the Bible that are often neglected and that may tend to make believers and non-believers uncomfortable.

Not here to debunk Christianity

Not a week goes by that some petulant commenter starts by implying that our overarching intent is either to disprove or to disparage religion in general and Christianity in particular. But that is not our purpose here. I freely admit that I do not believe in the supernatural at all, and anyone who reads my posts will clearly see my point of view. However, I would argue that my stance against gods, angels, monsters, ghosts, pixies, fairies, et al., does not affect my judgment with respect to evidence and logic.

It may come as a surprise to believers, but many atheists (myself included) do not focus on our unbelief in gods as our primary means of identification. It does not define us. For me, it’s just part of the furniture. I would more likely describe myself as a blue-eyed, bourbon-drinking, biped than as an atheist.

Nevertheless, because I’m immune to God-of-the-gaps arguments, you’ll note that I will never suggest that some supernatural explanation is more likely than a natural explanation. And that isn’t because I think they are inherently wrong, but because they are inherently very improbable. By definition, miracles describe a very rare event that either breaks or suspends the laws of physics. As such, any rational explanation is far more likely.

And that goes for any supposed supernatural event that I myself might witness. People hallucinate or misperceive things all the time. When confronted with miraculous claims, we don’t lower the standards for evidence. If anything, we insist on more evidence. As Pierre-Simon Laplace said, “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.

That being said, I’m not here to convert anyone to atheism. So, if you’re uncomfortable with what we write, you probably should go somewhere else. I find no joy in taking away someone’s cherished beliefs.

About our non-biblical posts

I’ve been studying the Bible since I was child, but I didn’t read it from a historical-critical perspective until I went to Ohio University in the late 1970s. And although I’ve read quite a bit in the decades since, I have no formal training in the field (other than one undergrad course). On the other hand, I do have a bachelor’s degree in history. I’ve read at least as much about the American Civil War or the Roman Republic as I have about the Bible.

I mention these facts, because, as Neil put it, when we write about history or philosophy we’re “not just spouting opinions but trying to contribute some hard evidence to the topics that we think should help inform any opinions.” And the same goes for current events. For reasons I’ve yet fully to understand, many people who embrace mythicism are also extremely conservative. Perhaps it’s related to their overall predilection toward iconoclasm. I can sympathize; I don’t care much for herd behavior, either.

If you’re a conservative or libertarian (especially of the American variety), you many find some of our political posts a bit jarring. I know that whenever Neil comments about the plight of the Palestinians, the usual suspects show up, telling him he ought to quit it, apologizing for the behavior of the Israeli government, placing the blame solely on the Arabs, and even going so far as to say the people who lived in Palestine really don’t have a claim to the land — apparently, they were just temporary tenants, waiting for the true owners to return.

So I would ask anyone who came here for the mythicism to read the rest of what you find here with an open mind. We aren’t offering knee-jerk opinions based on our left-leaning bias. In fact, I hold some positions that seem leftist (or American “liberal”) for conservative reasons. For example, I’m against the death penalty, not because of some misguided compassion toward people who deserve none, but because I’m for limited government — I’m reluctant to confer a power to the state that I would never give to an individual. Or, to put it another way, I find it odd that the same people who trust the government to decide whom to execute don’t trust it to deliver a letter across town.

Conclusion

I began by saying that we aren’t here to make money or impress the ladies. We’re real, honest-to-goodness amateurs, in the true sense of the word. I can’t begin to tell you how liberating and exhilarating it is to know that I can write about whatever I want. Consider the plight of professional scholars who must “publish or die,” but who have very little say concerning what they write about.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who reads Vridar and who contributes either privately or publicly to the discussion. It’s nice to feel that we’re doing something that’s worthwhile and that others find useful or at least entertaining. If you enjoy Vridar, please send no money! If you’re really feeling generous, contribute to organizations that stand for the open flow of information — e.g., Wikimedia. We agree with many of their founding principles, including the following:

Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here.

11 Comments

  • John MacDonald
    2015-07-12 19:23:21 UTC - 19:23 | Permalink

    I miss the exchanges Neil used to have with James McGrath.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2015-07-12 19:51:29 UTC - 19:51 | Permalink

      McG just isn’t up to the task. He’s retreated behind the walls of Cakemix.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-07-12 23:06:12 UTC - 23:06 | Permalink

    The Librarything book pages include “quick links” to enable anyone to follow up the title for purchase or other sources . . .

    links

    The Librarything info also includes leads to related works. Amazon may do the same sort of thing, and occasionally I do break my own rule and link to the odd Amazon page — but that’s usually as a last resort when I cannot access it reasonably quickly through some other more generic link like Librarything or Worldcat. (Re Amazon see 5 reasons to wish Amazon an unhappy birthday and More reasons to hate Amazon.

    If you are looking for less expensive copies of works I can usually find something through bookfinder.com and other second hand book sites — or usually cheapest of all via Interlibrary Loan. Searching on http://www.worldcat.org/ allows you to see which library nearest you has a copy.

    (Thanks, Tim. Appreciate this post.)

    • Tim Widowfield
      2015-07-13 01:11:15 UTC - 01:11 | Permalink

      You’re welcome Neil. BTW, I will still rarely link to a Google Books page if a preview shows some passages of interest within books that (irritatingly) cost well over $100. Why should the right to gain access to electronic media cost so much?

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-07-12 23:23:54 UTC - 23:23 | Permalink

    This is a good time for me to mention mythicism since Tim spoke of atheism and our stance towards Christianity.

    I recently replied to R.G.Price with my wider thoughts on this question.

    Though some people see this blog a a “mythicist blog”, and though I do very occasionally post something on that theme and welcome significant contributions from Earl Doherty and Roger Parvus along those and related lines, I am far more interested in exploring the evidence and scholarship related to Christian origins — which includes the nature and origins of the biblical literature.

    In these documents Jesus is by definition a theological construct and literary figure. That is the Jesus we have at hand and the only one we can work with if we are interested in applying evidence and valid historical methods. Any other Jesus is surely speculative — even ad hoc — when it comes to explaining the narrative and theological content.

    Until we have evidence for such a figure that stands independently of the Christian texts then I cannot see how we can validly justify introducing such a construct into our interpretations and explanations of the NT texts — especially when we find in the mainstream scholarly literature ample explanations for the constructs therein. My position is not so much “mythicist” as it is about studying the evidence in hand — and that includes studying the only Jesus we have in hand, the literary and theological construct.

    So in effect the mythicism question is really by-the-bye as far as my primary interest is concerned.

    Re those posts of mine that do relate to mythicism, many of them are directed more at the shoddy and even dishonest (certainly unprofessional and unscholarly) treatment of certain serious mythicist arguments.

    • David Ashton
      2015-07-14 00:28:30 UTC - 00:28 | Permalink

      The crux: “ample” explanations. Alan Ross’s “Stanley Matthews” is a concise literary tour de force which I have used in English classes to illustrate poetic techniques, but there was a real footballer and this hero-worship was inspired by real deeds.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-07-13 23:05:50 UTC - 23:05 | Permalink

    Re those “other topics”, Tim reminded me of something I had once said: “not just spouting opinions but trying to contribute some hard evidence to the topics that we think should help inform any opinions.” — What I meant by that is generally trying to bring scholarly research and investigations into the issues.

    I have changed my own views in significant ways since I left my own fundamentalist brand of religion mainly because I came to see just how wrong I can be, and recognizing the need to never accept anything at face value but to examine where all information etc is coming from. For years I studied in depth the mass media and I still like to keep up with serious works about its workings.

    I deplore the way a number of scholars use their reputations in fields of science to fan ignorance on current affairs that have life and death implications for others. In these latter they are no better informed than anyone else who takes selections of media reports at face value but they are worse because they deliberately shun the scholarly research into these areas. I say “deliberately” because in the case of Jerry Coyne, for example, I have written him personally several times to ask him why he avoids addressing the research of his scholarly peers in anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology, etc and he has yet to reply or allow any such query to appear on his blog.

  • Greg Pandatshang
    2015-07-14 03:11:58 UTC - 03:11 | Permalink

    Thanks for making Vridar happen, gentlemen. It was a year and change ago when I first discovered its existence. I thought, “where have you been all my life?”

  • Mark Erickson
    2015-07-15 02:51:10 UTC - 02:51 | Permalink

    It’s been a pleasure to read and comment on this blog. Thanks, guys! Speaking of which, and as we’re getting somewhat meta, any guesses as to male/female readers or commenters? I bet it skews heavily male, but how heavily? Any female writers to ask for submissions or ways to increase female participation?

  • Nick Tavani
    2017-08-02 00:40:48 UTC - 00:40 | Permalink

    If you haven’t, you really ought to interact with this world class Edinburgh scholar, Dr Larry Hurtado. A sampling: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/the-cinderella-century-in-early-christianity/

    He writes: I’m a scholar of the New Testament and Christian origins, with posts in higher education since 1975. In August 2011, I retired from my post as Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology (University of Edinburgh) in which I served from 1996. Prior to that, I was in the Department of Religion, University of Manitoba (Winnipeg). My own research over the decades has focused mainly on the origins and development of “devotion to Jesus” in earliest Christianity, and also on textual criticism and the study of earliest Christian manuscripts as informative artefacts of ancient Christianity.

    In retirement, I reside in Edinburgh, and continue to pursue my research interests in the area of New Testament & Christian Origins. For more about my own work, consult my University staff page here.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-08-02 02:01:20 UTC - 02:01 | Permalink

      I have read several of Larry Hurtado’s books and found much of interest in profit in them, though not always agreeing with all of his points.

      I have indeed attempted to interact positively with Larry Hurtado but unfortunately in both online and email responses he appeared to take a hostile position against me, apparently on the (mis)understanding that my criticisms were negatives towards Christianity or scholarship generally, accusing me of being akin to a Holocaust denier and Creationist, etc. I was quite disappointed that I could not seem to have an uncontentious discussion with him about methods etc.

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