Monthly Archives: March 2016

How Many Bible Verses Does It Take to Prove Jesus Existed?

The view from where I am writing this post.

A view from where I am writing this post.

There is no need for any argument to prove Jesus existed. In Galatians 1:19 Paul says he met Jesus’s brother so of course Jesus existed. What need is there for any further discussion?

That’s how the case for the historicity of Jesus goes. But some would say that I’m being unfair. Paul also says in Romans that Jesus was descended from David and again in Galatians that Jesus was born to a woman so of course Jesus was a real human being and mythicists who suggest Paul’s Jesus was an entirely celestial figure must be crazy. So some would say even though one verse is enough to prove Jesus existed they can nonetheless provide at least three — or more.

Hence some people (even scholars) can read Richard Carrier’s peer reviewed On the Historicity of Jesus and have nothing more to say of its 600 page argument than that it is wrong because Galatians 1:19 says Jesus had a brother.

I have said before that there is a chasmic disconnect between the way theologians or other biblical scholars “do the history” of Jesus or Christian origins and the way critical historical research is undertaken in history faculties. I don’t have ready access to some of the books I own explaining to doctoral students how to do historical research but I am sure my memory is not failing me when I say that one key step they all point out is that the historian must test his or her documentary sources before knowing what sort of information they might yield.

One form of test is to check to see if a document is genuine or a forgery. Another is to ascertain its provenance. That can have two meanings: one, to know where the manuscript was found, by whom, under what circumstances, etc; two, to know who authored it (not just the name, and not even necessarily the name, but the background and interests/motivations of the author) and when. It is also important to understand its genre in order to assess its probable function and/or purpose. The manuscript history is important. And also important is to learn of its context. It is one thing to make sense of the contents of a document but we fall into a circular trap if that’s all we have to go on. At some point we need to know where and how the document fits into its wider context. What other sources do we have that are related to it in some way? What was its status, or the status of its author, in relation to other sources? How does the content in the document cohere with that derived from other sources? read more »

Blocked Again … oh dear….

Someone alerted me to James McGrath’s general amnesty for all commenters and since that time I have posted comments twice on his blog. The third time I attempted to do so was in response to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/the-ethics-of-conspiracy-theories.html. My attempt to comment was met with the following message:

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 10.03.35 pm

Now why was that?

My first comment was in response to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/the-fundamentalist-mind.html — The Fundamentalist Mind:

I wrote:

Samantha Field does not speak of a desire for “clarity” as an indicator of fundamentalism. That’s been added by James McG in his post. Whenever speaking about fundamentalism we need to keep in mind the double binds (very conflicting “clarities”) in the thinking of fundamentalists.

I find myself agreeing with Samantha’s post, by the way (that is, the explanation she herself offers and not their slightly tilted paraphrase here). Her views gell with my own experiences completely.

I don’t know of any atheists who argue for mythicism who came out of fundamentalism. The few who once were fundamentalists, to my knowledge, actually came to atheism via a detour in liberal or progressive Christianity — the very sorts of people Samantha acknowledges are among her friends and who are NOT the “fundamentalist atheists” being criticized. It’s a matter of record that most mythicists came from liberal Christian backgrounds — some are still Christians.

My second comment was to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/without-using-the-bible.html#comments — which contained a fundamental factual/methodological error. I wrote:

Is this post a joke? Of course we have evidence attesting to Socrates from contemporaries and non-disciples. Everyone knows about Aristophanes for starters, surely.

Apparently that was enough to have McGrath ban all further comments from me on his blog. Some professors really do not like laypersons pointing out fundamental undergraduate errors in their posts, do they.

The Week Following Brussels

A week ago today it was Brussels. Since then — in a mere seven days . . . .

As in my previous post the numbers on the left indicate the number of terrorist attacks.

Mid East
(minus Africa)
Africa South and
SE Asia
Europe N and
S America
Afghanistan
2 — 9 dead
Burundi
2 — 2 dead
Bangladesh
1 — 1 dead
Scotland
1 — 1 dead
Iraq
2 — 50 dead
DR Congo
1 — 2 dead
Pakistan
1 — 72 dead
Libya
1 — 2 dead
Nigeria
1 — 4 dead
Syria
2 — 8 dead
Rwanda
1 — 1 dead
Turkey
7 — 10 dead
West Bank
1 — 0 dead
Yemen
1 — 26 dead

Bart Ehrman: Jesus Before the Gospels, Basic Element 3: Oral Tradition

English: Rudolf_Bultmann Deutsch: Rudolf_Bultmann


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the previous post, we looked at the basic element of form criticism. Bart Ehrman in Jesus Before the Gospels uses the findings of the form critics to explain a commonly held assumption in NT scholarship. Many, if not most, of today’s critical scholars believe the stories found in our canonical gospels survived orally over a period of decades before anyone wrote them down. We refer to this phenomenon as “oral tradition.”

Basic Element 3: Oral Tradition

Traditions, the form critics held, were transmitted orally within the Christian community until at some point people began to commit them to papyrus. The author of Mark presumably constructed the first gospel from (1) stories that were still only preserved orally, (2) written traditions preserved only as Jesus’ sayings (logia), and (3) narrative fragments already preserved in writing.

♦ The context of transmission

Most of them assumed that tradents preserved the bulk of the sayings and stories for many years orally within the context of the early church. Here’s how Rudolf Bultmann put it:

[T]he gospel tradition did not arise within a literary movement, but had its origin in the preaching of Jesus in the life of the community of his followers, in their preaching, teaching, missionary work and apologetics. This is what one would expect not only from the oriental origin of Christianity, but above all from the fact that the earliest community formed part of Judaism and carried out its activity in the forms of Judaism, which were those of the synagogue and the teaching of the scribes. The spoken word was dominant, fixed forms had come into being, great use was made of the memory in preserving and reproducing what was heard, and the basis of everything was scripture. (Bultmann, 1961, pp. 90-91, emphasis mine)

He has described the general form-critical understanding of oral tradition. More recent research has added to our understanding of this process. In the first phase, Jesus himself preached and performed certain acts. His disciples remembered and retold those stories. Jan Vansina and other experts in oral tradition would call this the oral history phase. Once the tradition moves outside the sphere of eyewitnesses and direct memory, either because of geographic or temporal distance, we reach the second phase.

In phase two, the community that inherited the traditions of and about Jesus preserved them through memory and the telling and retelling of the traditions. The context of the transmission is, above all else, a social setting. It depends on the community of believers telling stories in an internal (preaching to believers, worship, catechism, cultic practices) and external (preaching to nonbelievers, apologetics) setting.

Ehrman appears to understand that context quite well. For example, he writes: read more »

Historical Conditions for Popular Messianism — Christian, Muslim and Palestinian

A number of readers have questioned my own questioning of a popular belief and claim by Richard Carrier that

Palestine in the early first century CE was experiencing a rash of messianism.

I suggest on the contrary that evidence for popular messianism does not appear until the Jewish War in the latter half of the first century. See post + comment + comment and links within those comments to earlier posts. Certainly popular counter-cultural leaders prior to that time (but still well after the time of Jesus) did not imitate any known Danielic or Davidic notion of a messiah expected to challenge Rome.

In this post I will address some general background information that we have about popular messianic movements. If we are to be good Bayesian thinkers then we need to set out as much background knowledge as we can before we begin. This post will put two or three items on the table for starters. Other background data has been covered to some extent in the above linked “comment(s)” and “post”.

Medieval Messianism

cohnA classic study of popular millennial movements is Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium . After surveying such movements in the Middle Ages Cohn concludes:

They occurred in a world where peasant revolts and urban insurrections were very common and moreover were often successful. . . .

“Revolutionary millenarianism drew its strength from a population living on the margin of society – peasants without land or with too little land even for subsistence; journeymen and unskilled workers living under the continuous threat of unemployment; beggars and vagabonds – in fact from the amorphous mass of people who were not simply poor but who could find no assured and recognized place in society at all. These people lacked the material and emotional support afforded by traditional social groups; their kinship-groups had disintegrated and they were not effectively organized in village communities or in guilds; for them there existed no regular, institutionalized methods of voicing their grievances or pressing their claims. Instead they waited for a propheta to bind them together in a group of their own.

Because these people found themselves in such an exposed and defenceless position they were liable to react very sharply to any disruption of the normal, familiar, pattern of life. Again and again one finds that a particular outbreak of revolutionary millenarianism took place against a background of disaster . . . 

Excerpt From: Cohn, Norman. “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages.” iBooks. (My own bolded highlighting)

Examples of those camel back-breaking disasters and related messianic movements:

  • Plague –> the First Crusade and the flagellant movements of 1260, 1348-9, 1391 and 1400;
  • Famines –> First and Second Crusades and the popular crusading movements of 1309-20, the flagellant movement of 1296, the movements around Eon and the pseudo-Baldwin;
  • Spectacular rise in prices –> the revolution at Münster.
  • Black Death –> The greatest wave of millenarian excitement, one which swept through the whole of society . . .  and here again it was in the lower social strata that the excitement lasted longest and that it expressed itself in violence and massacre.

Islamic Messianism

read more »

Scholars Who Fear Sharing Knowledge Democratically

Anyone following biblical studies on the web soon learns that there are some scholars who fear the potential of the internet. Anyone following certain scientists with larger than average egos also soon learns that some of them, too, don’t like what damage the web can do to their influence. And anyone attempting to engage in a scholarly or professional manner with political and social viewpoints that are very controversial in some quarters soon learns that some people cannot handle a truly free exchange of ideas and information.

Everybody, but scholars especially, should welcome the full potential of knowledge sharing that the internet has made possible. The Open Access movement can be said to have begun with the Budapest declaration of 2002:

By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

What is the point of OA?

An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds.

One might also argue that those who have had the privilege of higher learning have a responsibility to others in society. How can anyone justify keeping knowledge that has a public benefit away from the public, or how can one justify setting up hurdles to leap in order to access it?

Another benefit of OA is that it has the potential to keep researchers and academics generally just a little more accountable and honest. Surely most academics would presume that anything that works at increasing the appearance of public accountability is a good thing. Why would any object?

This is where we also enter the realm of free discussion. It is clear that too many scholars are not at all comfortable with defending their views in a public arena unless it is filled with sympathetic supporters of their ideas. The excuse sometimes given is that there are “trolls” out there, and time-wasters, and all sorts of problem commenters. Yup, there are. But that’s the beauty of the web — each of us has the ability to ban/delete etc the undesirables. Unfortunately too many researchers define undesirables so broadly as to include serious critics. Biblical studies seems far more than some other disciplines to be populated with scholars who are more interested in a form of evangelizing their own biases than in engaging seriously with critical discussion.

Some scholars are very stuck in an elitist pre-web mentality. They scoff at Wikipedia as a source when they could quite easily make a correction to an article they find in error. Do they despise the idea of getting their fingers dirty by engaging in a democratic sharing of knowledge?

They scoff at the bizarre ideas found “out there” — forgetting, it seems, that what they read on the internet are the same sorts of “bizarre ideas” that have always been in the public domain. Some of them even viciously insult those who remain committed to ideas and beliefs that they themselves once held before they learned better. They seem to forget, some of them, how lucky they have been to have been in the circumstances that allowed them to know better, to acquire a superior education. Does not such luck and privilege bring a responsibility with it? Not all seem to think so, unfortunately. Perhaps they believe they have had no luck or privilege at all but have worked and sacrificed hard to achieve their good fortune. If so, they still have more to learn, like how lucky they have been to have had the genes, the make-up from birth or environment, the opportunities, to apply such effort so successfully.

Added later….

pay

(One prominent scholar has placed a different kind of hurdle to leap for anyone wanting to hear him air his views on his professionally developed blog. One is obliged to donate to a charity of his choosing. That, too, is another elitist technique that functions to filter out those less likely to disagree with his view or at least risk offending him; it is also a barrier to all but the more affluent who have the means to donate to charities above and beyond what they already do. (I say that on the basis of my past experience in collecting for charities: many of us who have done that sort of work door to door learn that it is often the poorest who are the biggest givers.) Perhaps Bart Ehrman thinks the minimal amounts he is asking are hardly onerous. I guess that’s true for many Americans.

Does Bart really think his own approach is one that others should follow — so that everyone would have to be paying every time they want to tap in to a more privileged person’s learning?

Sorry, but Bart Ehrman would do everyone a greater service if he joined up with the open access movement and accepted the public responsibility that comes with (educational) privilege.

 

Alternative view: What ISIS Is (Not) “Planning” for Europe

Thomas Hegghammer and Petter Nesser have published an alternative view to the thoughts expressed by Scott Atran in my recent post, What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond). Their article, Assessing the Islamic State’s Commitment to Attacking the West, is published in the Open Access journal Perspectives on Terrorism.

Of terrorist operations with links to a terrorist organisation like ISIS or Al Qaeda six types are identified:

  1. Training and top-level directives. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland, is tasked by top leaders to attack in the West, and is supported materially by the organization in the planning and preparation process. The classic historical example is the 9/11 attack.
  2. Training and mid-level directives. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland and is encouraged by mid-level cadres to carry out a more or less specified attack in the West, but has little or no interaction with the top leadership and receives little or no material support from the organization. Examples from al-Qaida’s history include the various plots by the Abu Doha network in the early 2000s or the Mohammed Merah attack in 2012.
  3. Training. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland, but is not specifically instructed by anyone to attack in the West. Instead, he develops the motivation to attack in the West himself, in the belief that he is doing what the organization wants. A historical example is Mohammed Geele, who trained with al-Shabaab in Somalia, returned to Denmark, and tried to assassinate the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in 2010.
  4. Remote contact with directives. The attacker communicates remotely (typically by telephone, email, or social media) and bilaterally with cadres of the organization and receives personal instructions to attack in the West. A good example from al-Qaida history is Rajib Karim, who in 2010 was instructed by Anwar al-Awlaki via encrypted email to attack airline targets in the UK.
  5. Remote contact without directives. The attacker communicates remotely and bilaterally with members of the organization, but does not receive instructions to attack in the West. An example would be Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hassan, who exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki without discussing operations.
  6. Sympathy, no contact. The attacker expresses ideological support for the group through his propaganda consumption, written or spoken statements, or some other aspect of his behavior, but does not communicate bilaterally with anyone in the organization. One example is Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed a British MP in 2010, having been inspired by al-Awlaki’s online lectures.

Hegghammer and Nesser examine ISIS related attacks against the West (Europe, North America, Australia) between January 2011 and June 2015. Their tabulated findings:

table1

Those frequency numbers combine foiled plots as well as successful attacks. Compare the following:

fig1

So up till June 2015 there was no evidence of ISIS commitment to launch increasing numbers of attacks in the West. The threat has come, rather, from Western sympathizers who have had no contact with ISIS itself.

The title of this post can be misleading. While ISIS may not be actively planning specific attacks in the West, it is nonetheless clear that it does encourage free-lancers to act in sympathetic response to its propaganda videos, whether by joining them, donating to them, or doing whatever one can to attack “the Grey Zone”.

See the article for the detailed discussion.

Carrier, Lataster and Another Small Stumbling Block

Raphael Lataster in Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists shows readers that one does not have to personally like Richard Carrier to agree and critically engage with his arguments. Lataster addresses the “stumbling block” of Carrier’s abrasive blog comments and his promotion of controversial relationships values that have made and makes it clear that in both areas he, Raphael Lataster, stands in diametric opposition to Carrier.

It is worth noting that I have no great inherent desire to promote Carrier or his work –he is certainly no friend of mine. Some of what he says and dies is annoying, seemingly egotistical, and even offensive to me, and we are otherwise quite different. . . . 

Nevertheless, apart from his frankness, none of this is truly relevant. The man is a rigorous logician and undertakes interesting and important research. I do not need to judge how he lives his life; nor do I wish to poison the well, especially since I am upholding him as the exemplar for the mythicist position. I only wish to highlight that our relationship is strictly professional. We are bound by the same dedication to truth, logic, and sound methodologies.  (JDNE, Kindle, loc 5661-5672)

Lataster’s comments on Carrier are just an aside and not related to what this post is about.

My own stumbling block is a different one and here I post another quibble I have with both Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus and Lataster’s review of it. (See Carrier, Lataster and Background Knowledge Element 4: A Quibble for my previous quibble.) Don’t think from these posts that Lataster blindly follows Carrier in all his arguments, by the way. Lataster does have a few of his own criticisms. Here I am commenting where I part from them both.

Quibble #2

Carrier writes in OHJ, p 614 in relation to 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Paul’s preaching Christ crucified being a stumbling block to the Jews):

It’s worth emphasizing here that we have absolutely no evidence that any ancient Jews (much less all of them) considered the idea of exalting a slain messiah to be blasphemous or illegal or even inconceivable — that’s a modem myth. To the contrary, the evidence we do have (from the Talmud, for example) shows they had no trouble conceiving and allowing such a thing (Element 5). Nor would such a notion be foolish to pagans, who had their own dying saviors, historical (Element 43) and mythical (Element 3 1 ). So the only thing Paul could mean the Jews were stumbling over was the notion that a celestial being could be crucified — as that would indeed seem strange, and would indeed be met with requests for evidence (‘ How do you know that happened?’).

Lataster appears to support Carrier’s analysis.

Something is amiss here. A couple of things, actually. The imaginary rhetorical questions posed by the Jews would scarcely have arisen if, as is soundly argued elsewhere, Paul “knew” it happened because of revelation and scripture. Those to whom God revealed it knew it to be so just as they knew anything else God revealed to them by his spirit.

One would expect if Paul was responding to such questions he would simply have pointed to the scriptural passages that midrashically (not literally, of course) revealed the point.

Carrier supports his interpretation by pointing to the preceding verse faulting the Jews for asking for signs to prove a claim said to be divinely revealed. The Jews failed to believe Paul, Carrier argues, because Paul could produce “no sufficient signs” to prove it was God’s truth.

Again I have difficulty here. Paul also says he produced signs more abundantly than other apostles. Besides, he goes on to say that the gospel itself is a power or sign far greater than anything else. The Jews simply fail to recognize the sign.

Besides, as Carrier rightly points out,

A martyred savior was never a stumbling block to Jews nor foolish to pagans (Element 43). Nor did it require signs or mystical evidence.

Why should a martyred saviour be any more of a problem if the event occurred in a heavenly realm? Recall Daniel 7’s suggestion that the Son of Man in heaven represented the slain martyrs and how from this seed the heavenly messiah evolved into a literal figure in the heavens; and again in the Book of Hebrews the sacrifice could be reasoned quite logically as happening in heaven.

I’m more persuaded by Morton Smith’s explication of 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Was Paul Really Persecuted for Preaching a Crucified Christ?). What was the offence was not the crucifixion of the messiah itself but what this death meant. Paul was preaching salvation, adoption as an eternal son of God, by the abolition of the wall of the Law dividing Jews and Gentiles from each other and both from God himself. Now that gospel really does sound like weakness to Jews and folly to gentiles.

Bart Ehrman: Jesus Before the Gospels, Basic Element 2: Form Criticism

In my previous post, I discussed the basic element of Bart Ehrman’s understanding of Maurice Halbwachs, the founder of the study of collective memory. This time, I’d like to focus on his remarks concerning Formgeschichte (form criticism) as it applies to the New Testament in general and memory theory in particular.

Basic Element 2: Form Criticism

“Forget it — he’s rolling.”

♦ Dibelius said what?

This is more like a scholar of American history saying that George Washington wrote the Declaration of Independence.

jesusbeforeBart gets on a roll in Jesus Before the Gospels, as he describes the early form critics. He writes:

The authors of the Gospels—all of them, not just Mark—wrote down stories that had been passed along by word of mouth for years and decades before they wrote. For that reason, when the Gospel writers produced their accounts, they were not simply inventing the stories themselves; but they were also not recording what actually happened based on direct testimony. They were stringing together stories that had long been circulating among the Christian communities. For [Martin] Dibelius, “stringing together” is precisely what the Gospel writers did. The Gospel stories are “pearls on a string.” The authors provided the string, but they inherited the pearls. (Ehrman, 2016, p. 46, emphasis mine)

It would appear that Ehrman wishes to attribute the well-known metaphor, pearls on a string, to Martin Dibelius. When I first saw it, I thought, “I must not be reading that right.” But then I noticed a post on his blog, entitled “The Next Step: Redaction Criticism,” in which he wrote: read more »

Why do so many terrorists turn out to be brothers?

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.48.50 pmAn article in The New York Times cites specialist researchers into terrorism some of whom I have been (again) discussing at length on this blog. I find that reassuring because it suggests the works I have been reading and writing about are indeed widely recognized as authoritative. In this case one of the researchers cited is Clark McCauley, a co-author of Friction — the series is being archived here. Another is J.M. Berger, author of ISIS: The State of Terror.

Referring to the two brothers responsible for the Belgium atrocity:

The Bakraouis join a list of brothers involved in nearly every major terror attack on Western soil since three sets of Saudi siblings were among the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Before then, the grim roster included 19th-century French anarchists, militants in Southeast Asia and the Jewish extremists who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in 1995.

Anyone who has read Friction or my posts on the book knows that Russian anarchists also had their siblings and lovers acting together.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.49.28 pmWhat advantage to brothers have?

For terror groups, brothers can be ideal recruits. They radicalize each other while reinforcing a sense of purpose and ideological calling. They keep watch on each other to ensure an attack is carried out. One new study suggests that up to 30 percent of members of terrorist groups share family ties.

How do intelligence agencies eavesdrop on every communication among brothers?

How do intelligence agencies infiltrate when the “group” ensures only members they can trust because of close family ties?

Mia Bloom, co-author of “All in the Family: A Primer on Terrorist Siblings,” cited scholarly research showing that as many as a third of the people terror groups send to carry out attacks came from the same family. Examples abound of jihadists marrying a sister or daughter to another jihadist family in order to build alliances.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.49.50 pmSiblings (or married couples) often work together, each one fearing to let the other down. On the other hand if one begins to buckle at the critical moment he can also potentially persuade the other to do likewise. A terrorist organisation will for that reason often send siblings out simultaneously on different missions. Mindful of each other they are motivated not to let the other down or lose face by failing their brother or sister.

Psychologists who study terrorism say that the two-person cell may be a recent adaptation to increased security measures — whether they are brothers, as in Brussels, Paris and Boston, or husband and wife, as in the San Bernardino, Calif., attacks in December that killed 14.

As discussed in an earlier post, a sense of imminent threat can be the catalyst to violent action.

Psychologists who study terrorism say that the two-person cell may be a recent adaptation to increased security measures — whether they are brothers, as in Brussels, Paris and Boston, or husband and wife, as in the San Bernardino, Calif., attacks in December that killed 14.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.50.04 pmWhen authorities are closing in they must know that that is a time when threats to the public are peaked.

And yet again we hear the same old story of the perpetrators not seeming to others to have been all that interested in religion in their earlier days:

Ms. Mertens recalled the brothers as ordinary teenagers, not especially religious, who then disappeared from the neighborhood about five or six years ago. During this period, they were separately convicted of crimes including carjacking and engaging in a shootout with the police.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.50.14 pmAnd of the future?

Ms. Bloom, the author who estimated that up to 30 percent of members of terror groups share family ties, warned that extremists were now trying to recruit entire families in Europe, portending the possibility of yet another evolution in jihadism. “Right now, we are seeing a lot of siblings carrying out these attacks,” she said. “The trend we are anticipating is parent and child.

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Acts is historically reliable because its anonymous author says it is

[T]he author of the book of Acts explicitly tells us that he was concerned and committed to present a historically accurate account of the history of the early church. The author of Acts, of course, was the author of the Gospel of Luke, and the preface to Luke served as the preface to the entire two-volume work.  In that preface (Luke 1:1-4) the author tells us that he had “followed all things closely” and that he based his account on reports from “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” – that is from those who were personally involved in the events he narrates and those to whom they told their accounts.  Moreover, he stresses that his ultimate concern is to provide an “orderly account” of all the things that had happened.  And so it was clearly his intention to write a historically accurate account.  That in itself does not prove that he did so, but it does prove that this was his goal.  He was not writing fiction but what he understood to be historical fact.  — Bart Ehrman, Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Argument.

Okay, that is the opening argument of an affirmative side of a debate. But it’s presented by “a critical scholar”. How can even a critical scholar come up with such a facile and naive argument for a work being written with the goal of genuine historical accuracy? Presumably Ehrman will in the reply of the Negative team respond with a bit more common sense, but how could a critical scholar even present something so naive as we read above in the first place? That is an argument of pure and simple apologetics. It has no place in a critical analysis of any literature.

A critical analysis obviously begins with the context and identity and motivation and audience and circumstances of the writing of the text. Only an anti-intellectual apologist would even suggest that we should apply a “hermeneutic of charity” and believe the unknown author’s words unless and until we are hit smack in the face with a reason not to. A critical scholar could argue an affirmative case without resorting to such puerile nonsense.

Next, Bart Ehrman like so many others in his academic guild is also closing his eyes to uncomfortable published scholarship that refutes his interpretation of the phrase “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”. Does anyone know of a scholarly rebuttal anywhere to an article by John N. Collins published in 2010? For details see

Ehrman also just blithely claims as unquestionable fact that the same author wrote both Luke and Acts despite critical arguments to the contrary or at least offering more nuance. Again, this is not the way a critical scholar is (or should be) expected to conduct a serious debate.

I won’t pay to read the rest of Ehrman’s debate. He is putting out bait for readers to do so but he is clearly opposed to the very idea of open-access of public research or simply doesn’t understand it. I give to charities of my own choosing and find Ehrman’s attempt to be different and opposed to public access of his knowledge to be old fashioned at best, snobbish, elitist and deplorable at worst.

Carrier, Lataster and Background Knowledge Element 4: A Quibble

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Magi in the House of Herod (Les rois mages (Wikimedia)

File:Brooklyn Museum – The Magi in the House of Herod (Les rois mages (Wikimedia)

It will be a little while before I set aside the time I would need to prepare a proper review of Richard Carrier’s book, On the Historicity of Jesus, and Raphael Lataster’s Jesus Did Not Exist, but till then I can drop the odd comment on this or that point.

But one thing I can say about Lataster’s book is that it provides an excellent chapter by chapter synopsis of Carrier’s larger work. Most of what Lataster says I agree with so overall I can say I have very little to add. The only point that I don’t recall being made is that I think it would be an excellent idea if Carrier or someone on his behalf re-wrote On the Historicity of Jesus without any of the Bayesian jargon. Perhaps then (we can dream) those academics who appear to have read it will not be able to excuse themselves from the main thrust of its argument by happily lamenting that “Bayes is not their speciality so they can’t comment”. Does anyone know of any critic of Carrier’s book who has actually dealt with the chapters on “Background Knowledge”? What I have seen in the few critical reviews to date are a complete bypassing of this absolutely critical section and a zeroing in on a controversial scriptural interpretation or two. In other words, they are not dealing with the argument at all. If the scriptural interpretations they disagree with are indeed crucial to Carrier’s argument they need to demonstrate that — but none has, as far as I am aware.

A Quibble

Anyway, there is one quibble I do have with one of Carrier’s “Elemental Background Knowledge”.

Element 4: (a) Palestine in the early first century CE was experiencing a rash of messianism. There was an evident clamoring of sects and individu­als to announce they had found the messiah. (b) It is therefore no oddity or accident that this is exactly when Christianity arose. It was yet another messiah cult in the midst of a fad for just such cults. (c) That it among them would alone survive and spread can therefore be the product of natural selection: so many variations of the same theme were being tried, odds are one of them would by chance be successful, hitting all the right notes and dodging all the right bullets. The lucky winner in that contest just happened to be Christianity.16

This element is often denied, or its basis not well understood, so I will pause to establish it before moving on. (OHJ, p. 67)

I might be one of those who denies it. Lataster supports Carrier, assuring readers that he supports the point well enough with evidence. I am not so sure, however. Though I should say at the outset that I do acknowledge a messianic fervour in the mid to late first century and on into the second century and that the gospel authors (“evangelists”) were influenced by this later development.

The Gospels as Supporting Evidence?

One piece of evidence Carrier cites is in the gospels themselves. There we read that Jews were so eagerly anticipating the Messiah that they could be plausibly portrayed as “seeing” Elijah among them raised from the dead. John the Baptist is also said to have been preaching a messianic message. My problems with Carrier’s argument here are:

  • the scenario of Jews thinking they see Elijah among them is an evangelist’s conceit; a theological foil to the larger theme of Jesus’ identity;
  • John the Baptist in the gospels is another artificial construct conveying the evangelist’s theological message of Jesus superseding the Prophets, and he is quite unlike the John the Baptist found in Josephus — where he is not a messianic preacher.

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What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond)

Less than a week ago I ended a post with

One holds one’s breath to see which way ongoing losses of ISIS territory might play out in the U.K. and other Western countries.

Today Scot Atran with far more insight posted something more pessimistically specific:

I suspect that ISIS is planning a coordinated attack across multiple cities in Europe to ramp up the process of extinguishing the gray zone, and to also shift the focus of its possible adherents away form its increasingly noteworthy military containment in Syria and Iraq.

Atran describes the “apocalyptic mindset” of ISIS inspired and directed terrorists and what it is about contemporary Western culture that they loathe.

In After Brussels, ISIS Has Plans for Even Worse, Uglier Things Across Europe: ISIS has a plan for taking down Europe. Do Europeans have one to stop them? he explains:

Today’s Brussels attacks represented only the latest in an ever-more effective series of hits intended to foment chaos in Europe and thereby “Extinguish the Grey Zone,” in the words of a 12-page editorial in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015.

The Grey Zone here is the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil—in other words, between the Caliphate and the Infidel—which the “blessed operations of September 11” brought into relief. The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir:

“The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,’ with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone everywhere.”

The idea is for ISIS to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and to create chaos that it can then fill—as its working to do in Europe.

I’ve posted on the Islamist plans for targeting the Grey Zone before and Scot Atran’s article further elaborates on the worst sorts of responses Westerners can have; the best responses to follow; and immediate (military) and long-term methods required to defeat ISIS. Meanwhile, he reminds readers of the key maxims found in the manuals followed by the terrorists (with my own bolded highlighting):

The following axioms are taken from “The Grey Zone”, and from The Management of Chaos-Savagery, published in 2004, that’s become required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir. The group’s actions have been, and likely will continue to be, consistent with these axioms:

Diversify the strikes and attack soft targets—tourist areas, eating places, places of entertainment, sports events, and so forth—that cannot possibly be defended everywhere. Disperse the infidels’ resources and drain them to the greatest extent possible, and so undermine people’s faith in the ability of their governments to provide security, most basic of all state functions.

Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the “Gray Zone” between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called “terror attacks” to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.

Use social media to inspire sympathizers abroad to violence. Communicate the message: Do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.

My god my god….

The first number (left) is the number of terrorist attacks since January 2016. Numbers wounded are not included.

Data collated from List of terrorist incidents, January–June 2016

Mid East
(minus Africa)
Africa South and
SE Asia
Europe N and
S America
Afghanistan
18 — 117 dead
Burkina Faso
2 — 36 dead
India
4 — 19 dead
Belgium
1 — 34 dead
Canada
1 — 0 dead
Iraq
33 — 698 dead
Burundi
2 — 2 dead
Indonesia
1 — 8 dead
France
3 — 1 dead
Uruguay
1 — 1 dead
Israel
3 — 6 dead
Cameroon
6 — 55 dead
Laos
1 — 2 dead
Ireland
1 — 1 dead
Saudi Arabia
1 — 5 dead
Chad
2 — 5 dead
Philippines
1 — 1 dead
Northern Ireland
1 — 1 dead
Syria
13 — 681 dead
DRCongo
3 — 21 dead
Pakistan
11 — 87 dead
Russia
2 — 3 dead
Turkey
13 — 118 dead
Egypt
16 — 59 dead
Thailand
7 — 11 dead
Sweden
1 — 0 dead
West Bank inc
East Jerusalem
8 — 8 dead
Ivory Coast
1 — 22 dead
Yemen
10 — 68 dead
Libya
5 — 77 dead
Mali
5 — 16 dead
Niger
2 — 8 dead
Nigeria
7 — 216 dead
Somalia
12 — 157 dead
Sudan
2 — 2 dead
Tunisia
1 — 63 dead