Monthly Archives: November 2016

What’s the Difference Between Frequentism and Bayesianism? (Part 1)

English: Picturing 50 realisations of a 95%-co...

English: Picturing 50 realisations of a 95%-confidence interval (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As my thesis partner and I gathered up the evidence we had collected, it began to dawn on us — as well as on our thesis advisers — that we didn’t have enough for ordinary, “normal” statistics. Our chief adviser, an Air Force colonel, and his captain assistant were on the faculty at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), where my partner and I were both seeking a master’s degree in logistics management.

We had traveled to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia to talk with a group of supply-chain managers and to administer a survey. We were trying to find out if they adapted their behavior based on what the Air Force expected of them. Our problem, we later came to understand, was a paucity of data. Not a problem, said our advisers. We could instead use non-parametric statistics; we just had to take care in how we framed our conclusions and to state clearly our level of confidence in the results.

Shopping for Stats

In the end, I think our thesis held up pretty well. Most of the conclusions we reached rang true and matched both common sense and the emerging consensus in logistics management based on Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. But the work we did to prove our claims mathematically, with page after page of computer output, sometimes felt like voodoo. To be sure, we were careful not to put too much faith in them, not to “put too much weight on the saw,” but in some ways it seemed as though we were shopping for equations that proved our point.

I bring up this story from the previous century only to let you know that I am in no way a mathematician or a statistician. However, I still use statistics in my work. Oddly enough, when I left AFIT I simultaneously left the military (because of the “draw-down” of the early ’90s) and never worked in the logistics field again. I spent the next 24 years working in information technology. Still, my statistical background from AFIT has come in handy in things like data correlation, troubleshooting, reporting, data mining, etc.

We spent little, if any, time at AFIT learning about Bayes’ Theorem (BT). I think looking back on it, we might have done better in our thesis, chucking our esoteric non-parametric voodoo and replacing it with Bayesian statistics. I first had exposure to BT back around the turn of the century when I was spending a great deal of time both managing a mail server and maintaining an email interface program written in the most hideous dialect of C the world has ever produced. read more »

Couchoud’s Creation of Christ: Full Text Now Available Online

370bee6f5c943e1597730346151434d414f4541Thanks to Frank Zindler the full text of P.L. Couchoud’s Creation of Christ (translated by C. Bradlaugh Bonner, published 1939) is now available online.

Back in 2012 I posted outlines of Couchoud’s work here on Vridar. Since then Frank Zindler has digitised both volumes and made them available for public download.

For future reference the PDF files are on my vridar.info resources website under the heading: “The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity” by P. L. Couchoud.

You can also access them here:

No place like the Holy Land . . .

Religious practice in the Land of the Bible tends to encourage exclusivity and discrimination rather than love and magnanimity. There is no place like the Holy Land to make one cynical about religion.

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In this land of turbulence and wars there have always been oases of tranquility and peace where monks have been able to hide themselves away, never bothering with the worldly events taking place outside their door. This perhaps was the only saving grace of religion in the Holy Land.

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Both quotes come from Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape — Winner of the Orwell Prize 2008. (pp 141, 154)

palestinianwalks

 

The Christos Mosaic – A Novel About the Christ Myth Hypothesis

A new book arguing a mythicist case has been published. If you like your serious intellectual pursuits spiced with vicarious adventure then Vincent Czyz (a winner of the Faulkner Prize for Short Fiction) has written for you a novel that weaves its plot around protagonists gradually discovering Jesus was less a historical figure than a mosaic of facets of many ancient figures, both mythical and historical. As you can see from the side image we are talking about The Christos Mosaic. One reviewer describes it “a serious tome, which prompts readers to think“, a “scholarly novel that required serious research“.

Earl Doherty appears to have had a similar project in mind when he wrote a novel titled The Jesus Puzzle: A Novel About the Greatest Question of Our Time to complement his formal scholarly arguments. I enjoyed Doherty’s novel because it hit on the main points of his argument in easy to digest doses against dramatic backdrops and in that way producing a true “teach and delight” experience. Czyz’s novel is more action-packed than Doherty’s. It’s a mystery thriller set in the world of the black market for antiquities, peppered with a little sex and a little more violence, with the narrative ebbing and flowing through the main character’s discovery that the Jesus figure evolved as a mosaic of diverse religious ideas, motifs and persons.

Another “Christ Myth” novel that I read was Vardis Fisher’s Jesus Came Again: A Parable. That was first published sixty years ago but getting it published caused the author all sorts of grief back then. Fisher created his own version of the gospel but wrote it as a modern version of how the first gospel appeared to be written: as a parable, not as history or biography.

Perhaps novels like these are “mythicist” answers to apologist authors writing novels about encounters with Jesus or personal takes on what Jesus was like.

Vincent Czyz’s novel contains a “cast of historical characters” in the opening pages to prepare the reader for what is to come. The cast includes names like Judas the Galilean, Philo, Josephus, Simon Bar Giora, Ebionites, Papias, and Father Roland de Vaux. The entry for the last mentioned is:

Director of the Ecole Biblique et Archaeologique, a Dominican school based in Jerusalem. Deeply conservative, both religiously and politically as well as reputedly anti-Semitic, he grew up in France and ultimately led the international team that studied a trove of Dead Sea Scrolls and scroll fragments found in Cave 4 in 1952.

This is followed by a historical timeline listing events from 198 BCE (Judea coming under the control of the Seleucids) through to 95-120 CE (the composition of the Gospel of John).

Readers familiar with this topic will be particularly interested in Czyz’s Afterword. It is titled: Mythicists and Historicists. A couple of excerpts:

Clearly the idea that Jesus never existed isn’t new. What is new is that the idea is gaining currency. . . .

If you read Ehrman’s book without the benefit of having made some sort of in-depth study — formal or otherwise — of the Bible, or if you fail to give equal attention to the counterarguments of those who have, Ehrman’s case seems persuasive. It is rather convincingly refuted, however, in Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus . . . . In this collection of essays, Frank Zindler, Richard Carrier, and Earl Doherty, among others, take Ehrman thoroughly to task, highlighting some rather unscholarly mistakes and some that are downright embarrassing.

Czyz describes the reading that led him to question the historicity of Jesus, his critical engagement with both mythicist works and mainstream works (e.g. Burkert, Koester) on ancient religions, mythology and the Christian gospels. Robert Price and Earl Doherty are singled out for special influence on his thinking.

The intellectual exploration of the novel takes us through not just Q but the hypothetical earliest layers of Q, Q1 and Q2, the Logos, Philo’s heavenly Adam, Wisdom Sayings, Cynic philosophy, the Therapeutae, the Gospel of Thomas, Mystery cults, Josephus and key figures in the Jewish War, Greco-Roman deities, the Bacchae, and many more.

Finally towards the end we read how the various parts of the mosaic were coming together in the mind of the inquisitive Drew:

But after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and the reestablishment of Roman hegemony, Mark sees the futility of a military messiah and cobbles together a spiritual redeemer . . . from pieces of other religious leaders, pagan magicians, messianic figures, and Paul’s letters. Why else does Christ talk sometimes like a Cynic, sometimes like John the Baptist, sometimes like a Zealot, sometimes like James the Just?

Mark’s gospel was not a deliberate deception. It was part of a tradition. It was midrash — religious fiction. Allegory. Entirely acceptable at the time. Wasn’t Serapis a composite god? Weren’t the rites of Mithras grafted onto the Saturnalia? Even the Qumran community did the same thing in its own way: past scriptures were interpreted as though they applied to the first century AD. . . .

After acknowledging Frank Zindler’s hope that he will see in his lifetime “the recognition that Jesus of Nazareth is as much a mythical figure as Osiris or Dionysus”, Vincent Czyz professes to be “somewhat less ambitious”:

I hope this novel will lead readers to do their own research . . . and perhaps heed Emerson’s exhortation to establish “an original relation to the universe.” . . . It is time to stop looking outside ourselves for a savior and start doing work on our own. 

I must confess that the intellectual play interested me more than its fictional stage setting. But that’s probably just me. I have not taken up fiction reading in a serious way for a long time now; non-fiction dominates my personal craving at the moment. There may be an occasional detail in the novel that some readers would find problematic, but that’s the case with most serious arguments that we read. Those details do not sidetrack us from appreciating the main journey and fresh insights into old information.

 

Bible Heroes in Heaven Before They Came to Earth

300px-leloir_-_jacob_wrestling_with_the_angel

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Leloir

Looking beyond the books of the Bible and into other ancient Jewish writings containing some very different views of biblical heroes can be a most interesting experience.

Have a look at The Prayer of Joseph (1st or 2nd century CE):

[1] “I, Jacob, who is speaking to you, am also Israel, an angel of God and a ruling spirit.

[2] Abraham and Isaac were created before any work.

[3] But, I, Jacob, who men call Jacob but whose name is Israel am he who God called Israel which means, a man seeing God, because I am the firstborn of every living thing to whom God gives life.

[4] And when I was coming up from Syrian Mesopotamia, Unel, the angel of God, came forth and said that I had descended to earth and I had tabernacled among men and that I had been called by the name of Jacob.

[5] He envied me and fought with me and wrestled with me saying that his name and the name that is before every angel was to be above mine.

[6] I told him his name and what rank he held among the sons of God.

[7] ‘Are you not Uriel, the eighth after me? and I, Israel, the archangel of the Power of the Lord and the chief captain among the sons of God?

[8] Am I not Israel, the first minister before the face of God?

[9] And I called upon my God by the Inextinguishable Name.”

Even Moses appears to have had a pre-existence in heaven before he appeared on earth to deliver the Israelites from Egypt: read more »

Proof for the Resurrection

My my, here it is …. bona fide scholars in the field of biblical studies can actually post arguments like the one found at The Bible and Culture:

The parts of the New Testament that really prove the resurrection are not Mt. 28, Mk. 16, Lk. 24, and John 20.21. These are the stories of the first Easter. . . . But taken in themselves and on their own, . . .  they could be deliberate fiction, invented to bolster up a case.

I like the word “deliberate” in there. If the resurrection accounts are indeed fiction they must of course be “deliberate fiction” — such diabolical cunning!

So what is the “proof” for the resurrection? (Actually the title header for the post did not speak of “proof” but of “evidence”. Can’t appear to be too dogmatic to the general reader. But read on if you are of a like mind and you will not find that word “evidence” repeated anywhere. Only the word “prove” (twice).)

The proof is the gospel narratives themselves, from chapters 1 right through. No room to even contemplate the possibility of fiction if we look at them whole. (After all, “fiction” can only be born of devilish malice.) The “proof” of the resurrection, says Ben Witherington, is found in this:

If nothing had happened at the first Easter, if Jesus had simply stayed dead in the grave, he should never have had these stories of his life and teachings. . .  It is because Jesus rose from the dead that we have the Gospel records. In other words, the risen Christ is the historical Jesus and there is no other.

What sort of academic field tolerates the inclusion of such utter nonsense in its ranks?

David, an Ideal Greek Hero — and other Military Matters in Ancient Israel

After too long a hiatus I am excited to at last return to writing about Russell Gmirkin’s new book, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible.

The previous two posts:

  1. Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  2. The Pentateuch’s Debt to Greek Laws and Constitutions — A New Look

The following post is far from what I originally intended, but I am posting it very much in the rough for the sake of getting the ball rolling again.

Comparing the stories of David
David the famous warrior was also renowned as a musician and loved by many (though not by his wife, Saul’s daughter) as a dancer.  In other words, David’s had the attributes of a well-rounded educated Athenian.

At age 18 Athenian males (we’re talking about the elite families) undertook an educational program that prepared them for formal citizenship by the age of 20. The three areas of the curriculum were:

  1. Letters — acquiring skills from the alphabet right through to reading Homer and the classics;
  2. Music — learning to play the lyre and training in voice and song;
  3. Gymnastics — a program of fitness training as well as in the use of weapons; dance was also included as a means of instilling a nimbleness necessary in battle.

Athenian festivals featured athletic and combat contests, military parades and mock battles, and dance.

hoplite

S0038429 David, frontal view. Pre-restoration. Image licenced to Stephen Forsling FORSLING, STEPHEN by Stephen Forsling Usage : - 3000 X 3000 pixels (Letter Size, A4) © Scala / Art ResourceThe David and Goliath conflict parallels the duels between Homeric heroes in the Iliad. Goliath is dressed as a Greek hoplite

  • helmet,
  • greaves,
  • broad sword,
  • long spear (sarissa)
  • and shield carried by shield-bearer.

The large spear indicates knowledge of the transition from the shorter to the longer spear in the Macedonian army from around 350 BCE. David opts to fight as a more agile Greek light infantry soldier (slinger).

David – 1 Sam 16.12; 17.42 – is portrayed in terms of the Greek physical ideal: “lean, athletic male warrior, tanned from exercise in the gymnasium”. “The description of the physique of the warrior hero is mostly absent from Ancient Near Eastern literature. . .” (n. 81 p. 47)

As a figure accomplished by Greek military training, David was also a skillful

  • lyre player (compare the “music therapy” David was able to provide Saul; a trope familiar in Homer and among Pythagoreans as well as in Plato’s Laws.)
  • dancer
  • and songwriter.

These qualities anomalous for a soldier in the Near East but consistent with a youth undergoing Greek instruction in the gymnasium.

Military tales involving David feature

  • familiar aspects of Greek military training:
    • target practice
    • races
    • mock armed contests
  • a familiar Homeric literary motif:
    • gift of armour as sign of friendship

read more »

Time to do some serious work

Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair.

Demolish workers’ unions and leave only churches to fill the void, demonize political ideologies that offer the people control over their lives (their workplaces, their media, their finances, their political parties) and you get trumped.

I’m an outsider so I will defer to two American commentators, the first of whom loudly predicted just this result.

Michael Moore: Morning After To-Do List

1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.

2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.

3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn’t wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that’s about to begin.

4. Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You’re fired!” Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.

5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: “HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!” The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we’ll continue to have presidents we didn’t elect and didn’t want. You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there’s climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don’t want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the “liberal” position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).

Let’s try to get this all done by noon today.

(posted with permission from AlterNet)

Then there’s an interesting post by Thom Hartman, author of The Crash of 2016: How a Small Group of Republicans Hijacked Our Democracy and Delivered Donald Trump

Just How Dangerous Is Mythicism?

Demon

Demon

In hindsight, I think we were unnecessarily cruel to Mr. Griffin, our misfit freshman science teacher. Behind his back, we referred to him by his initials, R.A.G., and sang that old “Rag Mop” song. He was a bit of a goof, but to RAG’s credit, he chose an innovative science text intended to take the student on an “odyssey of discovery.”

That high school textbook focused on a mysterious crystalline substance called bluestone. Over the course of the semester, we would test hypotheses and run several experiments trying to identify this stuff. I think it was my friend, Doug Simpson, who very early on sneaked a peak at the instructor’s edition lying on RAG’s desk and who shouted out, “It’s copper sulfate!

RAG was furious.

MacGuffins

You could, of course, consider bluestone as a sort of MacGuffin. To be sure, we were learning basic chemistry; however, the main purpose of the text was to teach us the scientific method. At the beginning the book invited the student to consider the demon hypothesis, the notion that tiny invisible beings were causing our bluestone to react to exposure to heat, dilution in water, combination with other chemicals, etc. After each experiment we’d evaluate the results and alter our hypothesis. Eventually, we would develop a new, more scientific hypothesis — one that better predicted future experiments and more rationally explained our observations.

Our so-called demon hypothesis had some features in common with other early natural theories such as the chemical theory of phlogiston, which postulated an imaginary, immaterial substance released during combustion. But it had even more in common with prescientific theories that required supernatural intervention in the natural world to explain mundane phenomena. We could also draw similarities with the concept of the devil’s advocate, inasmuch as our placeholder hypothesis was obviously wrong and decidedly nonscientific (or even antiscientific).

Pigeons

To hear Dr. James McGrath tell it, no variation of the Jesus Myth hypothesis has merit. In fact, he consistently compares it to creationism. Actually, he always takes care to call it Young Earth Creationism, in deference to Old Earth Creationism and Guided Evolution, pseudo-scientific theories he finds perfectly acceptable.

Incidentally, here on Vridar we did not adequately mark the passage of The Exploding Cakemix, which McGrath has renamed “Religion Prof.” Of course, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Hereinafter, I shall refer to his blog by a moniker that will “retain that dear perfection,” namely The Pigeon Trough. read more »