Category Archives: Book Reviews & Notes


2017-07-10

How Does One Date the Old Testament Writings?

by Neil Godfrey

I have been posting insights from Russell Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible (archived here) in which he argues that both many core and peripheral features of the text of the Hebrew Bible bear closer similarities to Classical Greek writings and practices than to what we find in ancient Mesopotamian and Levantine culture. Gmirkin’s hypothesis is that the authors of the biblical texts shared the wider intellectual ethos of the Hellenistic era with its interest in exploring ideal constitutional and legal systems. The Great Library at Alexandria, Egypt, was a repository of these ideas and resources that Judean scribes were known to access as freely as any other scholar of the day.

Another scholar who has argued for a Hellenistic provenance of the Biblical literature is Niels Peter Lemche, although his proposals have pointed Mesopotamia and Syria as possible centres where Judean scribes were exposed to Greek ideas and writings rather than Egypt. No doubt Judeans were exposed to Greek culture throughout the Middle East but Russell Gmirkin focuses on the Alexandrian library because we know that specific Greek texts (e.g. Plato’s Laws, Aristotle’s Politics) that contain some striking echoes in the Biblical literature were housed there and we further know that Judean scribes worked there.

In this post I thought it worthwhile addressing some of the context to Gmirkin’s book by reference to a chapter by Lemche from 2001, “How Does One Date an Expression of Mental History? The Old Testament and Hellenism” in Did Moses Speak Attic? Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Period edited by Lester L. Grabbe, pp. 200-224.

Lemche begins by reminding readers of the traditional circularity of the way scholars have dated the texts:

I have set out in table format the fundamental circularity underlying the scholarly arguments for not only the dating but also for the historicity of the Biblical narratives as argued by P.R. Davies (1992) at vridar.info.

A text that seemed to include historical information might well belong to the age when this historical referent seemed likely to have existed. At least this was the general attitude. The historical referent was the decisive factor. If the information included in the historical referent was considered likely or even precise, the text that provided this information was considered more or less contemporary with the event—that is, the historical referent—although the only source of this event was often the text in question that referred to it.

In those days, everybody knew and talked about the ‘hermeneutic circle’. It was generally accepted that the study of ancient Israel was from a logical point of view based on a circellus logicus vitiosum, a false logical circle, but nobody within biblical studies believed that it was possible to avoid this logical trap. (p. 200)

But there are ways to recognize general cultural matrices of certain texts. Intellectual topics come and go like fashions, to somewhat oversimplify the point. I was reminded of this point when recently listening again to the Foucault-Chomsky debate: scientific progress, they agreed, is not linear but lurches in fits and starts as new ideas arise and old problems that once preoccupied the community are simply forgotten.

Every period in the history of humankind will give birth to a number of questions— within philosophy, religion or simple politics—that are specifically related to this period, hot subjects for a while and then forgotten. (Lemche, 2001, p. 207)

Lemche illustrates with micro-references to the scholarly dialogues of recent generations: read more »


2017-06-14

Acts as a Rewriting of Gospels and Paul’s Letters, part 2

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from part 1…..

Expanding the Foundation Story

Notice how the author of Luke-Acts prepares for his second volume (Acts) from the outset of his new gospel:

  • Luke extends the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam and God themselves. Jesus no longer (as in Matthew) is contextualized within the Abrahamic family but comes with more universal credentials.

In the gospel Jesus is clearly the authority figure but our author manoeuvres the narrative to replace Jesus with the Holy Spirit as the new authority in Acts. To do so, Luke actually contrives a new concept of the Holy Spirit, at least one that is different from the spirit we read about in Paul’s letters and the Gospel of John. (That’s another topic of its own that I may write about soon, examining two works cited by Müller, Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit by Engberg-Pedersen, 2010 and “It is the Spirit That Gives Life”: A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in John’s Gospel by Buch-Hansen, 2010.)

The Holy Spirit to Jesus Becomes the Holy Spirit to the Church

Notice next how the author repeats the motif of the Holy Spirit with which he began Jesus’ work in Acts to begin the Church’s work.

As Jesus at his baptism became endowed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3.21-22), thus the church is also first established at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (p. 106)

To extrapolate from Müller’s work, I wonder if we have here an explanation for why in the Gospel of Luke the account of Jesus’ baptism is so incidentally presented (as an afterthought). The focus of Luke’s narrative is the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus through prayer. In Luke 3:21-22

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (NKJV)

Luke’s image is repeated so it appears like two columns side by side: as prayer and the descent of the Holy Spirit opened Jesus’ ministry and gave him the authority, so prayer and the Holy Spirit opened and authorized the ministry of the Church in Acts.

This is but one of several demonstrations of how Acts is being built out of material in the gospel.

We saw in the previous post that other evangelists shoehorned subsequent church situations (the law, gentiles) into the story of Jesus. Luke-Acts delays the completion of the foundation story, however. The foundation story is not complete until “the new Israel” is established as the church is withdrawn from “Judaism”. A series of historical steps in the life of the church replace the sayings of the earthly Jesus (as in Mark and Matthew) as the explanation for the church’s final stance on the Mosaic Law.

The Holy Spirit remains the new authority throughout Acts.

As Passover was set as the time for the covenant made by Jesus in the gospel so Pentecost was introduced as the time of the covenant with the church in Acts, Pentecost being in the Judean religion a feast of covenant renewal. With the Holy Spirit come all the fulfillments of  Scripture: new hearts, obedience, and proofs of the resurrection as promised in the Scripture, and proofs that the Scripture had been fulfilled with the messiah son of David reigning on God’s throne.

Luke’s gospel concluded with Jesus pointing to all the scriptures that had been “fulfilled” in his life, death and resurrection and Acts opens with all the scriptures being fulfilled now with the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church.

The Twelve to Israel first

read more »


2017-06-13

Biblical Scholar Watch #2

by Neil Godfrey

Anthony Le Donne

Ooh the irony the irony!! Back in 2012 when Anthony Le Donne read Vridar’s review of his book on Authenticity he could not resist dropping a complimentary comment here on Vridar:

Hi Neil, anthony here. Thanks for your very elaborate review! I realized that I hadn’t added your blog to our blogroll. This oversight has been corrected. Looking forward to more segments.

http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com.au/

Now the same book appears in another online article and bam! Our good professor has done a 180 degree turnabout!

Anthony Le Donne has posted the a complaint that Valerie Tarico and David Fitzgerald “misrepresented” a book he edited/wrote with Chris (Dr.) Keith. (Le Donne is addressing lay critics so it is important to impress with the title of who is speaking here.)

Associate Professor Le Donne tells his blog readers that the motive for this blatant “misrepresentation” by Tarico and Fitzgerald was to serve “a clickbait agenda”. Of course. Do not engage with the critics. Impute their motives. Denigrate them as unworthy charlatans.

Finally, Dr Le Donne declares that “clearly” neither Tarico nor Fitzgerald have actually read their (Keith and Le Donne’s) book.

In fact what Tarico and Fitzgerald said about it was nothing more the blandest summary of what I expressed in depth in the review Le Donne was so chuffed to see me write.

In all, I can spot three misrepresentations by anthony (as he initially introduced himself to me and evidently prefers to be known among his peers and sympathetic readers). I love the way the associate professor avoids discussion of exactly where any misrepresentation lay on the part of the authors of the article and what the article actually said about the book.

Anthony’s accusations of misrepresentation are at: Misrepresentation.

Valerie and David’s “clickbait” link he is complaining about is found at: Evidence for Jesus is weaker than you might think.

Vridar has posted several more times on the book, too. You can see our posts discussing it at the Keith/LeDonne: Jesus Criteria archive.

 

I would be interested in knowing exactly what I or David Fitzgerald have ever actually written about the book is a “misrepresentation” of it.

 

 


Acts as a Rewriting of Gospels and Paul’s Letters, part 1

by Neil Godfrey

This post selects a few of the highlights from Mogens Müller’s chapter in Luke’s Literary Creativity (2016) in which he presents a case for Acts being a “biblical rewriting of the gospels and the letters of Paul”. I omit several important questions that his thesis raises and that he addresses in the same chapter, attempting to focus here exclusively on some of the indicators that Acts could be such a rewriting.

Müller accepts the possibility that Luke-Acts was written well into the second century, possibly even as late as the 140s, as a revised foundational story for the church. Such a late date should not be a problem, Müller suggests, if we no longer accept that the author did not use Q as one of his sources but knew of and included both Matthew and even possibly John as among the previous lives of Jesus that he was critical of in his introduction. (For other arguments that Luke and Acts in their current canonical form were a mid second century product see the archive on Tyson‘s book and links within those posts to related archives.) Müller even points to recent scholarship that allows for the work of Papias as a possible source for the author of Luke-Acts.

Inclusion of the Non-Jewish World

If Paul’s letters are our oldest surviving Christian documents and the authors of our first gospels, Mark and Matthew, needed to find a way to explain how gentiles came to be incorporated into a church supposedly founded by a Jewish teacher in Galilee, we know they found the solution by creating “proleptic episodes and teaching” in their stories of Jesus. read more »


2017-06-05

Plato and the Hebrew Bible: Homicide Laws

by Neil Godfrey

After the introduction (covered in my previous post) Russell Gmirkin divides chapter three of Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, “Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Laws” into thematic sections:

  • laws relating to homicide,
  • laws relating to assault,
  • to theft,
  • to marriage and inheritance,
  • to sexual offences,
  • to slavery,
  • to social legislation (concerning resident foreigners, widows, orphans, the poor, disabled persons, etc.),
  • to livestock,
  • to property crimes and agricultural law,
  • to commerce,
  • to military law,
  • to treason,
  • to “religious” or laws concerning the sacred,
  • and finally general ethical laws.

Each section documents details the three sources of laws — biblical, ANE and Greek — and concludes with a comparative discussion.

Near Eastern law codes included Hittite laws, the law codes of Eshnunna (LE), Hammurabi (LH), Ur-Nammu, Neo-Babylonian and Middle Assyrian laws and palace decrees and the Telepinu Edict. Points of Greek law are drawn from the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Lysias, Demosthenes, Xenophon, among others including Aeschylus and Andocides.

The chapter extends to 109 pages and includes 369 endnotes and a bibliography of over 140 titles.

This post looks at one of the above sections and Russell Gmirkin’s observations on the extent of the biblical laws’ similarity or otherwise to counterparts in the Near Eastern and Greek worlds.

All three geographical regions unsurprisingly stress the importance of lex talionis, of vengeance and deterrence as intended purposes of their legislation with respect to murder or even accidental killing.

But there are a number of significant points Greek and biblical law share that are nowhere found among our surviving evidence for laws in Mesopotamian and Asia Minor civilizations. These Greek-biblical similarities include

  • the recognition of different psychological states in determining appropriate punishments
  • the idea of blood pollution in the land
  • the responsibility of the relatives of the victim to initiate prosecution of the murderer
  • the possibility of at least temporary sanctuary in a temple
  • and the option of exile
  • stoning by the community
  • the killing of an animal responsible for killing a person
  • killing a burglar entering a house at night was justifiable homicide (ANE law required the execution of such a burglar but it is not stated that a house-owner himself could justifiably kill the burglar in the act)

“State of mind”

On the first point, the recognition of “state of mind” factors in determining penalties, Gmirkin writes:

Plato’s Laws contained an innovation on the Athenian laws for intentional homicide by distinguishing premeditated and unpremeditated homicide. Plato held that those murders committed with cold premeditation received a greater punishment in the form of a longer term of exile than those commit ted on impulse with no forethought, despite an equal degree of malice (Plato, Laws 9.866d-869e; cf. Chase 1933: 168-9,171-2; Loomis 1972: 93—4; MacDowell 1978: 115; Gagarin 1981: 35).

Here is part of Plato’s explanation:

For murder is committed in passion by those who, on a sudden and without intent to kill, destroy a man by blows or some such means in an immediate attack, when the deed is at once followed by repentance; and it is also a case of murder done in passion whenever men who are insulted by shameful words or actions seek for vengeance, and end by killing a man with deliberate intent to kill, and feel no repentance for the deed. We must lay it down, as it seems, that these murders are of two kinds, both as a rule done in passion, and most properly described as lying midway between the voluntary and the involuntary. None the less, each of these kinds tends to resemble one or other of these contraries; for the man who retains his passion and takes vengeance, not suddenly on the spur of the moment, but after lapse of time, and with deliberate intent, resembles the voluntary murderer; whereas the man who does not nurse his rage, but gives way to it at once on the spur of the moment and without deliberate intent, has a likeness to the involuntary murderer; yet neither is he wholly involuntary, but bears a resemblance thereto. Thus murders done in passion are difficult to define,—whether one should treat them in law as voluntary or involuntary. The best and truest way is to class them both as resemblances, and to distinguish them by the mark of deliberate intent or lack of intent, and to impose more severe penalties on those who slay with intent and in anger, and milder penalties on those who do so without intent and on a sudden. For that which resembles a greater evil must be more heavily punished, that which resembles a lesser evil more lightly. So our laws also must do likewise. . . . .

Examples follow:

If a man with his own hand slay a free man, and the deed be done in rage without deliberate intent, he shall suffer such other penalties as it is proper for the man to suffer who has slain without passion, and he shall be compelled to go into exile for two years, thereby chastising his own passion.

Compare Exodus 21:13

12 “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. 13 However, if he did not lie in wait [i.e. there was no premeditation], but God delivered him into his hand [i.e. indicating this was an instance of intentional homicide], then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.

The explanatory phrases I have added are from Gmirkin’s endnotes.

Exile

We also have in this example a reference to exile as a form of penalty, something unknown in our records of ANE laws. read more »


2017-06-03

Expulsion of the Palestinians: Insights into Yishuv’s Transfer Ideas in World War 2

by Neil Godfrey

Dear Reader,

This post is for anyone who loathes racism, both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab, and who feels they have not heard details of the Palestinian side of the history of the establishment of Israel in 1948. It continues a series of posts I have been doing on a book by Palestinian historian Nur Masalha titled Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948. As the title indicates, the research Masalha addresses is the extent to which the Jewish Zionist movement was seriously preparing to transfer the Arabs out of Palestine prior to 1948. The significance of the research is that it indicates that the popular notion that the Palestinians virtually voluntarily left Palestine at the establishment of the state of Israel and the first war with the neighbouring Arab states is a myth.

So if you are someone who cannot tolerate any suggestion that there could possibly be two sides to the situation besetting Palestine today then don’t read any further. If you are obsessed with a one-sided narrative that Israelis are saintly innocent victims and Palestinian Arabs are devilish bloodthirsty monsters, go away.

Thank you.

Below are extracts from a diary of Yosef Weitz, director of department responsible for land acquisition and distribution in Palestine in the years leading up to 1948. Weitz was typical of many of his fellow-leaders of the Jewish settlements in Palestine, believing strongly in the necessity of Arab transfer from Palestine to make room for Jewish settlers. Nur Masalha describes his unedited diaries, now in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, as

One of the best sources of insight into the Yishuv leadership’s transfer ideas during World War II. (1992, p. 131)

All bolding of text is my own.

Josef Weitz

20 December, 1940:

Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. No “development” will bring us closer to our aim to be an independent people in this small country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted. When the war is over, and the English have emerged victorious and when the judging nations sit on the throne of law, our people should bring their petitions and claims before them; and the only solution is that the Land of Israel, or at least the Western Land of Israel [i.e., Palestine], without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point. The Zionist work so far, in terms of preparation and paving the way for the creation of the Hebrew state in the Land of Israel, has been good and was able to satisfy itself with land purchasing but this will not bring about the state; that must come about simultaneously in the manner of redemption (here is the meaning of the Messianic idea). The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found — even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews and a solution will be found to the Jewish question. There is no other solution.

18th March, 1941: read more »


2017-06-02

Mosaic Laws: from Classical Greece or the Ancient Near East?

by Neil Godfrey

[These Laws] will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say,

“Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:6-8 (NIV)

In the previous set of posts on Russell Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible we surveyed the broad constitutional framework of the Pentateuchal laws in comparison with Classical Greek and Ancient Near Eastern legal collections. Those posts are

  1. Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  2. The Pentateuch’s Debt to Greek Laws and Constitutions — A New Look
  3. David, an Ideal Greek Hero — and other Military Matters in Ancient Israel
  4. Some preliminaries before resuming Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  5. The Tribes of Israel modeled on the Athenian and Ideal Greek Tribes?
  6. The Bible’s Assemblies and Offices Based on Greek Institutions?
  7. Similarities between Biblical and Greek Judicial Systems
  8. The Inspiration for Israel’s Law of the Ideal King
  9. Bible’s Priests and Prophets – With Touches of Greek
  10. Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel

In the third chapter, “Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Laws”, Gmirkin undertakes a comparison of specific laws covering various social relations. Scholars have studied in depth the Hammurabi Law Code of Babylon in the light of the Pentateuchal laws but Gmirkin asks if it is valid to question whether ancient Greek legal codes also have relevance to the Bible.

Gmirkin draws attention to the Deuteronomy passage quoted above and asks us ot consider its international setting. Different nations are expected to observe and study Israel’s laws, comparing them with their own and with other law codes. It sounds as if the Deuteronomist had enough knowledge of other law codes to be confident that his stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Such a game-plan sounds quite odd and we know of nothing like this among the ancients of the Near East.

But we do know that elites among the Greeks did indeed write about doing just such multi-national comparisons of law codes. Is that relevant? Does that practice give meaning to Deuteronomy 4:6-8?

We have records from among the Greeks that when a new colony was to be founded or when a new government had been installed that legal experts would consult with other “nations” about their laws as preparation for drafting their own.

Gmirkin’s observation: read more »


2017-05-01

A Case for the “Easter” Appearances of Jesus BEFORE the Crucifixion

by Neil Godfrey

There is an inconsistency in a fundamental argument, or assumption, rather, among critical scholars of Christian origins that has long been bugging me.

The principle was set down by David Friedrich Strauss in the nineteenth century,

when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical. (Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, p. 89)

Now that maxim is frequently and sensibly deployed by critical scholars. It is the reason that Burton Mack  (no doubt there are others, too) denies the historicity of Jesus charging into the Temple and expelling the “traders” there.

It is a fictional theme derived from the scriptural citations. (Mack, Myth of Innocence, p. 292)

Many scholars, however, need the “Temple disturbance” to be historical in order to explain why Jesus was eventually arrested so many jettison the principle to make the narrative work as history. (Paula Fredriksen points out the flaw in their argument.)

David Chumney (whose book, Jesus Eclipsed, I have just completed, and which has many excellent points along with a few unfortunate flaws) makes the point loud and clear:

  • Matthew 8:16-17 (& 11:4-5) tell us that Jesus healed sicknesses in fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:4 (Unfortunately once again the Strauss’s criterion is put aside by most scholars who require Jesus to have been a healer in order to explain his “historical following”.)
  • The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is acknowledged by more scholars (e.g. E.P. Sanders, Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan, David Catchpole) to be a fiction created out of scriptures such as Psalm 118:25-26 and Zechariah 9:9.
  • The magi following the star (Matthew 2:1-12) is based on Numbers 24:17 and Isaiah 60:3, 5-6.
  • Herod’s massacre of the infants (Matthew 2:16-18) is crafted from Exodus 1:15-22 and Jeremiah 31:15.
  • The angel’s announcement of John the Baptist’s birth (to be) (Luke 1:8-20) is woven from Genesis 18:9-15.
  • Mary’s prayer, the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55) comes from 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

Robert Price draws attention to many more: the infant Jesus’ escape into Egypt; Jesus baptism; the 40 days in the wilderness and testing by Satan; the call of the disciples; the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and her response; Jesus healing of the paralytic; healing the withered hand; the appointing of the twelve disciples; the instructions given to them on how to go out and preach; Jesus calming the storm; the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac; the raising of Jairus’s daughter; Jesus’ family rejecting him; the execution of John the Baptist; the miraculous feedings of thousands; the walking on the sea; Jesus calling the people to listen to him; Jesus healing the daughter of the woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon; the transfiguration; the rivalry among the disciples for the most prestigious position; the story of the exorcist who did not follow Jesus; . . . . .

And the list could probably be just as long if we itemized each of the “prophesied” details in the Passion narrative. (See Price, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point” in The Historical Jesus: Five Views.)

John Shelby Spong concedes that pretty much everything in the gospels is fiction based a creative reworking of Jewish Scriptures. All except for virtually only one detail: the execution, the martyrdom, of Jesus.

That Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate,” as the Creed affirms, is historically the most stable datum we have concerning Jesus . . . (Joel B. Green, “The Death of Jesus” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, p. 2383)

. . . not that there is the slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate . . . (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, p. 375)

There is no doubt both that he was crucified and that after his death he was believed to have been restored to life. (John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. p. 236)

Yet it is the crucifixion of Jesus that is the MOST chock-full of Old Testament Scriptural allusions and citations.  read more »


2017-04-27

Did the Search for Meaning in Scriptures Really Lead to the Gospel Narratives?

by Neil Godfrey

To some extent, the followers of Jesus knew the basic facts: he was crucified by the authority of Pontius Pilate (with the complicity of the Jewish leadership?) outside the city of Jerusalem around the time of the Passover. Yet what was the meaning of those events? As Koester has noted, that question led the followers of Jesus back to the Scriptures, to familiar passages that seemed to describe some comparable situation. For example, according to Nils Dahl, “[E]arly Christians read Psalm 22, Psalm 69, and other psalms of lamentation, probably also Isaiah 53, as accounts of the passion of Jesus before there existed any written passion story.” 21 As Crossan explains, these believers did not read such passages “as referring exclusively and individually to Jesus but rather… to their original referents and to Jesus now as well.” 22 Thus, in addition to the examples cited by Dahl, one passage that helped Jesus’ followers make sense of what had happened was this verse from the Psalms: “The rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed” (2: 2). Another such passage— one that seemed to include what had happened to Jesus’ followers— was a verse from Zechariah: “Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered” (13: 7b). And after reports of the resurrection, Jesus’ followers saw new significance in this verse from Hosea: “After two days [the LORD] will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up” (6: 2). According to Crossan, these “passion prophecies” led the first generation of Christians to develop the belief that Jesus’ suffering and subsequent vindication had all been part of God’s plan.

Chumney, David. Jesus Eclipsed: How Searching the Scriptures Got in the Way of Recounting the Facts (Kindle Locations 1608-1621). Kindle Edition.

A new book titled Jesus Eclipsed has been introduced by its author, David Chumney, over three posts on John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity site (part 1, part 2, part 3). I have been reading both the book and David’s introductory blog posts and may discuss the work in more detail later. For now I can comment that Chumney is strongly opposed to mythicism (sometimes to the point of misrepresentation) even though his arguments are in all respects — except for two details — found at length in mythicist works by Robert Price, Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty. The two details on which he differs are that Josephus (his James passage) and Paul (his meeting with James) provide sufficient evidence to establish the historicity of Jesus. Unfortunately I think Chumney unwittingly slips into arguing from the same assumptions and with the same circularity as other New Testament scholars, perhaps not surprisingly given that Chumney has the same background in seminary studies. But here I address primarily a point that occurred to me just now as I read his sixth chapter.

Most readers will be familiar with the standard scholarly explanation for the passion narrative in the gospels being infused with allusions to “Old Testament”. The disciples were so stunned by the unexpected turn of events, it is said, that they turned to the scriptures to find some means of understanding the death of Jesus and their subsequent “Easter experience”. The passage by Chumney above sums up the idea.

The question that occurred to me this time on reflecting on this explanation for the scriptural echoes throughout the passion narrative was,

“But didn’t the scriptures provide a ready set of answers for exactly the sort of demise Jesus had met? Why were those traditional explanations apparently inadequate?”

We know the Bible and extra canonical Second Temple writings were riddled with laments and praise for the righteous one who suffers unjustly. Unjust suffering, persecution, martyrdom — such was the fate of the righteous man ever since Abel and on right through Job, the Psalms and to the Maccabees. Jewish scribes wrote plenty to remind readers of this “fact of life” and to console them, assuring them that God found their blood “precious in his sight”.

So why the need to take from Psalm 22 the line that spoke of dividing garments and casting lots for them? How did that passage add to the meaning of what had happened?

Did that really happen? Chumney’s argument is correct: he turns back to the nineteenth century and David Strauss’s point in The Life of Jesus:

 “[W]hen we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical.”

But the Psalm 22:18,

They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

I suggest, would have added no more meaning to their experience of loss than 22:17, 20-21

All my bones are on display;
. . . . .

Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

None of those lines has any association with a death by crucifixion and they are ignored by the evangelists who composed the passion narratives. Are we to infer that the disciples of Jesus did find deeper meaning for the death of Jesus in verse 18? If so, how could that be?

The obvious answer, of course, is that the disciples were reminded of that passage in Psalms when they learned from eyewitnesses that the clothes of Jesus were indeed taken by the soldiers.

Do we have a problem here?

But if that is what inspired the disciples to find meaning in Psalm 22:18 we run into a problem. read more »


2017-04-24

Jesus: Mything in Action

by Neil Godfrey

David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths that show Jesus Never Existed at All, has a new work out in three volumes:

Jesus: Mything in Action

A few of the 17 blurb responses . . . .

Richard Carrier’s comment:

A thorough and entertaining survey of what’s wrong with secular scholarship on Jesus, why most scholarship on Jesus isn’t really secular, and why the possibility that Jesus was mythical needs to be taken seriously. Every Jesus-myth enthusiast will want to read and reference this one. His demonstration that an alarming number of Jesus scholars are actually contractually required to deny mythicism is alone worth the price of admission. His also revealing the embarrassing truth of how historicist scholars contrive even more flawed or ridiculous theories than mythicists is just gravy.

—Richard C. Carrier, Ph.D., author of On the Historicity of Jesus

Co-blogger Tim Widowfield’s comment:

Jesus: Mything in Action, David Fitzgerald’s follow-up to Nailed, asks piercing questions that won’t go away. If Christianity began with a historical Jesus, then where is he? Why is he a no-show in every written work outside of the gospels? And if we can trace the literary and theological antecedents of every gospel story, is the historical Jesus even necessary? David takes us on a gripping journey through time to show where the myths of the heavenly Christ as well as the legends of the historical Jesus came from. But no matter where or when we look, Jesus of Nazareth himself is the man who wasn’t there. Don’t myth it!

—Tim Widowfield of Vridar.org

Frank Zindler’s comment:

Take your book off the shelf, Tom Aquinas, your Summa Theologica is being replaced by David Fitzgerald’s Summa Mythologica! Jesus: Mything in Action is the most nearly exhaustive synthesis of evidence indicating the non-historicity of Jesus of Nazareth ever written. Best of all, it’s written in breezy English prose—not the labyrinthine Latinate crime so often committed when discussing “sacred subjects.” The organizational logic of the book is impressive; it reminds me of Euclid’s Elements. Historical Jesus scholars should not be fooled by the ease with which this book can be read by the educated layperson: this book is a must-read for Jesus specialists also Mything in Action is a milestone along the long path to progress in Mythicist studies.

—Frank R. Zindler, American Atheist Press

And my own little addition to the blurb. . . .

Brilliant, very readable and comprehensive. A wideranging discussion of the evidence for Jesus demonstrating that it is exactly what we should expect if Jesus began not as a historical figure but as a theological and literary invention. David Fitzgerald’s opening chapters are especially noteworthy as a wonderful breath of fresh air for anyone who has read the diatribes of scholars hostile to the Christ Myth hypothesis. Partly with the assistance of some original research Fitzgerald exposes just how self-interested, strained and nonsensical those attacks have been.

—Neil Godfrey of Vridar.org

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Jesus: Mything in Action Volume 1

Mything in Action, vol. I (chapters 1 – 12) looks at the myths of Jesus Mythicism: what it is and isn’t; what biblical scholars are saying about it (and why); and examines our oldest “biographical” source for Jesus – the allegorical story we know as the Gospel of Mark.

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Jesus: Mything in Action Volume 2

Mything in Action, vol. II (chapters 13 – 18) discusses the changing Jesus from even before the earliest Christians, to Paul, to the Book of Hebrews, to the Gospels and beyond: the construction (and deconstruction) of the Gospels; how Jesus is presented in the rest of the New Testament; and examines the historical sources for Jesus outside of the Bible.

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Jesus: Mything in Action Volume 3

Mything in Action, vol. III (chapters 19 – 25) presents a bold thought experiment: “The Gospel According to H.G. Wells,”  a multi-chapter time travel expedition through the origins and evolution of Christianity.


2017-04-12

The Gospel of Luke As Creative Rewriting of the Gospel of Matthew – Hasert’s study

by Neil Godfrey

The following outline of ways the Gospel of Luke appears to rewrite the Gospel of Matthew is taken from a chapter by Vadim Wittkowsky, “Luke Uses/Rewrites Matthew: A Survey of the Nineteenth-Century Research” in Luke’s Literary Creativity (ed by Mogens Müller and Jesper Tan Nielsen, 2016). I focus here on just one of the authors discussed by Wittkowsky, Christian Adolf Hasert (1795-1864), who published a detailed analysis of the relationship between the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.


Luke’s Literary Creativity is a collection of essays from a 2014 conference on Luke’s creativity held in Roskilde, Denmark; Wittkowsky (photo) is listed there as based at Humboldt University, Berlin.

Hasert’s analysis indicates that the author of Luke’s Gospel was a “Paulinist” who objected to Matthew’s anti-Pauline views.

Every change, every omission or adding of details in parables, sayings and stories are of pure Pauline character (Wittkowsky, p. 11 – presenting Hasert’s summary of his research)

On the futility, impossibility, of seeking salvation by good works

Note, for example, 2 Corinthians 3:5,

By ourselves we are not qualified in any way to claim that we can do anything. Rather, God makes us qualified. (God’s Word translation)

That’s not what we see being taught by Jesus in Matthew 5:48,

Be perfect (τέλειοι), therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)

Luke changes “perfect” to “merciful” in Luke 6:36,

Be merciful (οἰκτίρμονες), just as your Father is merciful. (NIV)

For Luke one can only be like God insofar as one is merciful; perfection is out of the question. Notice also the concluding thought Luke adds to the parable of the dutiful servants in Luke 17:7-10,

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Recall the parable of the Great Banquet in Matthew that concludes with the king ordering the poorly dressed guest to be cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:11-13); Luke’s version of the same parable (14:16-24) drops that miserable ending.

Recall further Luke 16:15,

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

— a saying that might be interpreted as a snub to the teaching of Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew’s Jesus instructs the disciples to search out for someone “worthy” with whom they might stay in a town they are visiting:

“And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy (ἄξιός) in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. (Matthew 10:11, NASB)

Luke, on the other hand, has Jesus merely require that his disciples stay put in the one place wherever they visit (Luke 9:4). read more »


2017-04-10

Did Paul Learn the Gospel from Others? Bart Ehrman’s and Earl Doherty’s Arguments

by Neil Godfrey

I continue from the previous post with Bart Ehrman’s post and the query raised about its argument. Ehrman continues:

There is a second reason for thinking that Paul is not the one who invented the idea that Jesus’ death was some kind of atoning sacrifice for sins.  That’s because Paul explicitly tells us that he learned it from others.

Those of you who are Bible Quiz Whizzes may be thinking about a passage in Galatians where Paul seems to say the opposite, that he didn’t get his gospel message from anyone before him but straight from Jesus himself (when he appeared to Paul at his conversion).  I’ll deal with that shortly since I don’t think it says what people often claim it says.

The key passage is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.   Here Paul is reminding the Corinthian Christians what he preached to them when he brought to them the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Pay careful attention to how he introduces his comments:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.   Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep….”

Note: he indicates that he “passed on” this message of Jesus’ death and resurrection as he himself had “received” it.   Now, you might think that this means that he received it straight from Jesus when Jesus appeared to him a couple of years after his resurrection.  There are three reasons for thinking that this is not what he means.

Ehrman’s sentence I have bolded is false. “Pay careful attention to how [Paul] introduces his comments” indeed! Paul does not tell us “explicitly” (as Ehrman claims) that he learned of the death and resurrection of Jesus from others. Paul makes no such explicit statement and Ehrman acknowledges this fact in the very following sentences when he prepares his readers to listen to three reasons for thinking Paul somehow implicitly (not explicitly) means that he must mean that he learned of the gospel from others. If Paul told us explicitly that he learned things from others there would be no need to compile three reasons to persuade us that that is what he meant.

There are several other errors and problems in the ensuing paragraphs but time constraints prompt me to bypass those for now and skip directly to his last point, (B):

(B)

What does Paul mean in his letter to the Galatians when he says that he did not receive his gospel from humans but direct from God through a revelation of Jesus?  Does he mean that he was the one (through direct divine inspiration) who came up with the idea that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus, rather than, say, Jesus’ life and teachings, that brings salvation?  And if so, doesn’t that mean that Paul himself would be the founder and creator of Christianity, since Christianity is not the religion of Jesus himself, but the religion about Jesus, rooted in faith in his death and resurrection?

It may seem like that’s the case, but it’s not.  Not at all.   Belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection were around before Paul and that Paul inherited this belief from Christians who were before him.   But then what would Paul mean when he explicitly says in Galatians 1:11-12

“For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me – that it is not a human affair; for I neither received it from a human nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ”?

That sure sounds like he is saying that his gospel message came straight from Jesus, not from humans, right?  Yes, right, it does sound that way.  But it’s important to know – and not just to assume – what Paul means by his “gospel” in this passage.  He doesn’t mean what you might at first think he means.
read more »


2017-04-05

Reality Behind Arab Threats to Destroy Israel

by Neil Godfrey

Everybody “knows” that when Israel declared its independence the Arab states amassed their armies and marched into Palestine hoping to throw all the Jews out into the sea, but that tiny David overcame their onslaught and as if by divine miracle drove them back behind their borders. Everybody “knows” that again in 1967 tiny Israel launched a preemptive attack on her surrounding Arab neighbours who were secretly preparing to deliver a surprise attack to wipe Israel off the map. Everybody “knows” that Israel has lived daily in the shadow of a perpetual threat to her very existence from an alliance of Goliath-sized Arab neighbours.

Is that the reality, though?

Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy by Zeev Maoz provides excellent insights into the “behind the scenes” realities of Israel’s wars and responses to real and imagined threats since 1956. For some basic info on Zeev Maoz see his Wikipedia entry; see also the publisher’s promotion of Defending the Holy Land.

Some excerpts (all bolding and formatting is mine):

We noted that the Arab states never exerted a concentrated social, political, and military effort in converting the dream of destroying the state of Israel into reality. The rhetoric of genocide and politicide was not backed up by anything close to the kind of resources and diplomatic coordination that was required for realizing this dream. Most Israeli politicians and scholars accepted the fundamental asymmetry in resources as a constant in the strategic equation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet nearly nobody bothered to ask why — if the Arab states were so committed to the destruction of the Jewish state — they refrained from investing the resources required for such a “project.”

Maoz, Zeev. Defending the Holy Land (p. 574). University of Michigan Press. Kindle Edition.

Even if the human and material military burdens of the Arab states were to stay at their current levels, the Arabs could put together an incredible economic and social challenge to Israel simply by forming a military coalition that pooled their resources in an effective and rational manner. Saudi Arabia, for example, spends $22 billion on defense annually, more than twice the Israeli defense budget. It has fairly free access to American and Western European weapons markets. Had it decided to put its military hardware and financial resources at the disposal of this Arab coalition, Israel would have been under extremely precarious strategic conditions. Again, no shots have to be fired in order to erode Israel’s capacity to meet these challenges.

Finally, consider an effective implementation of the Arab boycott on Israel and on companies trading with it and couple it by a threat to deny or limit the exports of oil to Israel’s main trading partners. If the oil-rich Arab states had been willing to suffer the economic costs of such a threat, Israel’s trade with the outside world would have significantly declined. Since Israel imports much of its basic needs in food, energy, and industrial inputs, it would not have been able to survive economically. Thus, there exist several scenarios — none of them far fetched if we follow the logic of Israeli politicians and strategists — in which Israel loses the big war without having a single shot fired at it.

But the Arab states never came close to materializing the elements of these scenarios. Why?
read more »


2017-04-04

Primitive Democracy in Ancient Israel

by Neil Godfrey

Also he says that “Exodus to Joshua: depict the Elders and Assembly as “national democratic institutions . . . subordinate to . . . Moses and Joshua.”

Democratic? Really? From what does Gmirkin extrapolate any meaningful form of democratic process?

Austendw questioning a point made in relation to the post The Bible’s Assemblies and Offices Based on Greek Institutions?

James LaRoche has consolidated my posts on Russell Gmirkin’s book, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible,  into a single document and has kindly offered his work to anyone else interested.Review of Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible.zip
https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-K4Utar2XbFTVFoSk92Ql9zLXM

Below is an excerpt of the beginning of the document:

NEIL GODFREY REVIEWS
Russell Gmirkin’s
Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
Originally posted on vridar.org

Editor’s Notes
This is a compilation of articles posted from 10/16/2016 through 2/22/207:

  • Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  • The Pentateuch’s Debt to Greek Laws and Constitutions — A New Look
  • David, an Ideal Greek Hero — and Other Military Matters in Ancient Israel
  • Some Preliminaries before Resuming Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible
  • The Tribes of Israel Modeled on the Athenian and Ideal Greek Tribes?
  • The Bible’s Assemblies and Offices Based on Greek Institutions?
  • Similarities between Biblical and Greek Judicial Systems
  • The Inspiration for Israel’s Law of the Ideal King
    Bible’s Priests and Prophets – with Touches of Greek

Ancillary Articles:

  • Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible – Excerpt; Chapter I
  • The First Constitution, Bernard M. Levinson
  • The Bible — History or Story
  • Berossus and Genesis
  • The Genesis Creation Story and Its Third Century Hellenistic Source?

Minor editing omits some few sentences for the purpose of focused flow of the subject, and formatting without graphics and font colors.

I reply here with my own word in favour of Russell Gmikin’s portrayal.

It is a commonplace in the historical literature to acknowledge “democratic” processes evident in the surviving records of ancient Mesopotamian and pre-classical Greek civilisations, as well as in the tribal life of early European Germanic peoples and in traditional village life today across much of the world.

The term often historically indicates nothing more than that free men had a significant collective say in major community decisions such as waging war and in holding their kings accountable. That women and slaves were omitted would disqualify such a process from being a true democracy by today’s standards but that’s not the standard applied when historians speak of democratic processes in past civilisations.

Thus Thorkild Jacobsen explained at the outset of his article “Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotomia”,

We shall use “democracy” in its classical rather than in its modem sense as denoting a form of government in which internal sovereignty resides in a large proportion of the governed, namely in all free, adult, male citizens without distinction of fortune or class. That sovereignty resides in these citizens implies that major decisions—such as the decision to undertake a war—are made with their consent, that these citizens constitute the supreme judicial authority in the state, and also that rulers and magistrates obtain their positions with and ultimately derive their power from that same consent.

By “primitive democracy,” furthermore, we understand forms of government which, though they may be considered as falling within the definition of democracy just given, differ from the classical democracies by their more primitive character: the various functions of government are as yet little specialised, the power structure is loose, and the machinery for social co-ordination by means of power is as yet imperfectly developed.

Jacobsen, T. 1943. “Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotomia” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, volume 2, number 3, p. 159.

Prior to the days of absolute monarchs, even prior to the earliest historical inscriptions, we can infer from the myths of the Sumerians and Akkadians in which gods lived like humans that Sumerians and Akkadians once lived in “primitive democratic” societies.

The gods, to mention only one example, were pictured as clad in a characteristic tufted (sheepskin?) garment long after that material was no longer in use among men. In similar fashion must we explain the fact that the gods are organized politically along democratic lines, essentially different from the autocratic terrestrial states which we find in Mesopotamia in the historical periods. Thus in the domain of the gods we have a reflection of older forms, of the terrestrial Mesopotamian state as it was in pre-historic times.

The assembly which we find in the world of the gods rested on a broad democratic basis . . . . 

Jacobsen, p. 167

The “pre-historic” assembly of adult free males decided on issues such as war and peace and could grant autocratic power to one person for a limited period of time for the efficient execution of an assigned task.

In 1963 Abraham Malamat noticed striking similarities between a Sumerian Gilgamesh poem (though not the famous “epic of Gilgamesh”) and the account of the breaking away of the northern ten tribes of Israel from the Kingdom of Rehoboam (formerly the united Kingdom of Israel) in the Bible. This was published as “Kingship and Council in Israel and Sumer: a Parallel” also in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies (22, 4, 247-253).

Gilgamesh laid
the matter before
his city’s elders,

was seeking, seeking
for words:

“Let us not submit
to the house of Kishi …”

Met in assembly,
his city’s elders

answer gave
to Gilgamesh:

“Let us submit
to the house of Kishi …”

Trusting Inanna,

Gilgamesh,
lord of Kullab,

took not to heart
the words of his city’s elders. 

The second time Gilgamesh,
lord of Kullab,

laid the matter before
the lads of his city, …

Met in assembly
the lads of his city
answer gave
to Gilgamesh: ..

“Let us not submit
to the house of Kishi
let us smite it with weapons.”

Gilgamesh and Aka, trans. Jacobsen (1987)

read more »