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Lawrence Wills: “The Life of Aesop and the Hero Cult Paradigm in the Gospel Tradition”

by Neil Godfrey

61klpcnpoql-_sy344_bo1204203200_Several times I’ve referred to comparisons between the ancient tale of Aesop with the gospel accounts of Jesus, referring readers to Lawrence Wills’ book, The quest of the historical gospel : Mark, John, and the origins of the gospel genre, and Whitney Shiner’s chapter “Creating Plot in Episodic Narratives: The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark” in Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative. (See Evidence for Pre-Gospel Oral Traditions and Related Questions and What Mark’s Episodes Do For Readers (and the real historiographical question to ask) where I discuss Wills and Shiner each; other posts make passing references.)

Well for all you readers who really did want to read those books or who were waiting in vain for me to get around posting on them in depth, this is your lucky day. Matthew Ferguson of the Κέλσος blog has given up waiting for both of us and posted the nitty gritty details on these authors and their studies of Aesop vis à vis the gospels:

Lawrence Wills: “The Life of Aesop and the Hero Cult Paradigm in the Gospel Tradition”

Thanks, Matthew!



More Scenes from Bali

by Neil Godfrey

I always dreamed of coming to Bali and getting locked in as a result of a volcanic eruption that would not allow my flight to return to Australia. But catching a cold while stuck here was definitely not part of that plan. Since the pace has slowed, however, I have time to post a few more scenes:

A procession to a local temple:


Entering the temple gate . . . . read more »


James the Brother of the Lord and James the Theologian of the Matrix

by Neil Godfrey

In his crusading zeal to slash and burn mythicism James McGrath is demonstrating once more his unfortunate lack of awareness of the actual content mythicist arguments and has done his readers a more general disservice by misrepresenting the nature of mainstream arguments on how various interpolations have worked their way into manuscript traditions.

Somehow a discussion on the authenticity of Galatians 1:19 (Paul meeting James “the Brother of the Lord”) in A misinformed comment so impressed the professor that he made a special post of it titled Interpolation Mythicism.

Somehow the only argument for interpolation that I am aware of is not addressed from what I have seen of the discussion. The evidence for interpolation is not rock solidly indisputable but it is suggestive: See James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation. There is evidence, as noted in this post, that the passage “brother of the Lord” was not original but a later copyists insertion.

And the evidence is of the sort that is used by mainstream scholars to argue for other cases of possible interpolation.

And the argument in this case is actually noted by someone arguing against mythicism.

And most mythicist arguments of which I am aware simply note that there is no mention of Jesus in the phrase and that the expression was has other known referents.

(Readers wondering why I have not made these points on McGrath’s blog should be aware that McGrath will not tolerate any comments from me on his blog.)

Interestingly James McGrath has “World Table” terms of service add-on for his blog comments. Conditions are most noble. I would be good to see James the Theologian practice them whenever he decides to address mythicism. read more »


Cremation on a Bali Beach

by Neil Godfrey

Sitting in a pleasant warung one morning when I heard clanging of gongs and rhythm of drums; looked out to see a street procession . . . .

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 12.10.06 pm

On asking the waitress I learned it was a cremation and I could go and see the ceremony on the beach just around the corner.

Come to Bali! Relax on the beaches. Witness cremations.

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By the time I arrived the body had been taken down from its carriage; some of those in the procession were sheltering in the shade.

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Others were crowding around the body to lay on it their parting gifts and offerings. read more »


The Good Professor on the Verge of Apoplexy

by Neil Godfrey

Our good professor and Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University James McGrath continues to distort consistent rational argument beyond all recognition with his frenzied attacks on both biblical inerrantists (somehow McG manages not only to accuse them of “attacking the Bible“, “self-righteousness” and, yes, “defending sin“, but finds his own words are even worth framing!). He has clearly never done a course or read a book on how to win wayward minds over to more reasonable and enlightened thinking. And right on top of those mental flailings comes Jerry Coyne, the scientist who once scoffed at McG’s pleading efforts to have theological authority given equal billing with the authority of the scientific academy, to see right through the empty pomposity of the claims that the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus is as strong as for any ancient figure of history.

The occasion in question was a BBC article, Jesus ‘not a real person’ many believe. It would appear that Wells, Doherty, Brodie, Freke and Gandy, Humphreys, Harpur and others have been having some impact. Coyne rubs salt into spear-wound with a blog post BBC poll: 40% of Brits don’t believe that “Jesus was a real person,” but BBC assumes he was!

McGrath in hysterics accuses Coyne of subscribing to “conspiracy theories” and “denialism”. Not just any denialism, but “history-denialsm”: Further History-Denialism from Jerry Coyne

Hoo boy. So a reasonably intelligent person can see the dubiousness of the arguments that the theologians need to be true to justify their existence (at least for many of them) and our good professor is as helpless and incoherent as when faced with fellow believers who see only naked flesh when due reverence would have them admire only the finest theological silk and embroidery.







Celebrate at the Biblical Studies Carnival

by Tim Widowfield
The float of the King carnival parading in Pat...

The float of the King carnival parading in Patras, Greece in Georgiou I square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over at the Reading Acts blogPhillip J. Long has announced the Last Call for Biblical Studies Carnival Links for October 2015.

I invite you to email me suggested links (plong42 at or a direct message via twitter (@plong42). What have you read this month that was challenging, simulating, or maybe even a bit strange? This is a good time to promote a less well-known blog you enjoy, or you can send a link to your own work. Sometimes you just need to flog your own blog to get it noticed.

If you read anything on Vridar this October that struck your fancy, why not drop Phillip a line and let him know about it? Neil and I would appreciate it very much. And thanks again for reading Vridar.


The Disappearances of the Bodies of Jesus and Other Heroes

by Neil Godfrey
The disappearance of the body of Jesus from the tomb presents likenesses to certain pagan traditions.


No, those words are not from a mythicist but from a professor of Classics, Arthur Stanley Pease, in an article in the Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 1942, Vol. 53, pages 1-36 — “Some Aspects of Invisibility“. 1942 may seem like ancient history but the article was referenced more recently in 2010 by Richard C. Miller, an adjunct professor at Chapman University in the Department of Religious Studies, in “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity” in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 129, No. 4. More recently still, 2015, Miller has published Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity which I am looking forward to reading and writing about. (It won’t be for at least some months before I can get to it, unfortunately.) Before I begin on the more recent works, however, I do like to track down their sources and that’s what led me back to 1942. So here we go…..

Noteworthy is the case of Aristeas, a poet and wonder-worker of uncertain date, who, Herodotus tells us, went into a fuller’s shop at Proconnesus on the Propontis and there died. The fuller shut up his shop and went to tell the dead man’s kinsmen, but the report of the death of Aristeas, now noised through the city, was disputed by a man of Cyzicus, who had come from the seaport of Cyzicus and said that he had met Aristeas going toward the town and had spoken with him.

While he so spoke, the kinsmen of the dead man came to the fuller’s shop with all that was needful for the burial, but when the shop was opened no Aristeas was there, either dead or alive.

Seven years later Aristeas appeared at Proconnesus and made that poem which the Greeks later called the Arimaspea, after which he again vanished. (p. 29)

You can read a translation of Herodotus’s account on the Perseus Tufts site.

Pease then refers to a similar story told about Cleomedes by Plutarch in his biography of Romulus. I quote here a translation of Plutarch: read more »


What the Grand Mufti and Hitler Talked About – November 28, 1941

by Neil Godfrey

2014-07-26-MuftiandHitlerThe Prime Minister of Israel used the World Zionist Conference to break the news to the world, unknown or suppressed by all historians till now, that it was a Palestinian Arab leader who gave Hitler the idea of exterminating all the Jews.

Here is the record of the Palestinian Grand Mufti’s conversation with Hitler according to the Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-45, Series D, Vol. XIII, London, 1964, pp. 881 ff. as printed in The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict: Seventh Revised and Updated E . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (2008-04-29).

I have highlighted sections for easier quick skimming of the main points.

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini: Zionism and the Arab Cause

(November 28, 1941)  

Haj Amin al-Husseini, the most influential leader of Palestinian Arabs, lived in Germany during the Second World War. He met Hitler, Ribbentrop and other Nazi leaders on various occasions and attempted to coordinate Nazi and Arab policies in the Middle East.

Record of the Conversation Between the Führer and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on November 28, 1941, in the Presence of Reich Foreign Minister and Minister Grobba in Berlin

The Grand Mufti began by thanking the Führer for the great honor he had bestowed by receiving him. He wished to seize the opportunity to convey to the Führer of the Greater German Reich, admired by the entire Arab world, his thanks for the sympathy which he had always shown for the Arab and especially the Palestinian cause, and to which he had given clear expression in his public speeches. The Arab countries were firmly convinced that Germany would win the war and that the Arab cause would then prosper. The Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies as had Germany, namely the English, the Jews, and the Communists. They were therefore prepared to cooperate with Germany with all their hearts and stood ready to participate in the war, not only negatively by the commission of acts of sabotage and the instigation of revolutions, but also positively by the formation of an Arab Legion. The Arabs could be more useful to Germany as allies than might be apparent at first glance, both for geographical reasons and because of the suffering inflicted upon them by the English and the Jews. Furthermore, they had had close relations with all Moslem nations, of which they could make use in behalf of the common cause. The Arab Legion would be quite easy to raise. An appeal by the Mufti to the Arab countries and the prisoners of Arab, Algerian, Tunisian, and Moroccan nationality in Germany would produce a great number of volunteers eager to fight. Of Germany’s victory the Arab world was firmly convinced, not only because the Reich possessed a large army, brave soldiers, and military leaders of genius, but also because the Almighty could never award the victory to an unjust cause.

In this struggle, the Arabs were striving for the independence and unity of Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. They had the fullest confidence in the Führer and looked to his hand for the balm on their wounds which had been inflicted upon them by the enemies of Germany.

The Mufti then mentioned the letter he had received from Germany, which stated that Germany was holding no Arab territories and understood and recognized the aspirations to independence and freedom of the Arabs, just as she supported the elimination of the Jewish national home. read more »


Richard Carrier Interview

by Neil Godfrey

Phil Robinson of Nuskeptix interviews Richard Carrier. The first half of the interview covers mythicism. The primary thesis (Carrier refers to it as “the Doherty thesis”) is discussed along with other interesting related questions. One of these is the relationship of the myth of Osiris and its overlaps with the Christian story.

The second half covers the Bible generally, its place in history — e.g. the Holocaust; was Hitler an atheist?, a Christian? — and general discussion comparing modern and ancient values in relation to, say, homosexuality; and the basis of ethical judgments.



Why the War between New Atheists and Other (“Progressive”) Atheists?

by Neil Godfrey

The Kyle Kulinski-Glenn Greenwald exchange arose as a response to Kyle’s earlier video calling for a “cease fire” between New Atheists and other atheists. This post backtracks and looks at that video before resuming the Glenn Greenwald exchange.

During the exchange we were advised to view Kyle’s earlier video, New Atheists Vs Progressives — Proposing A Ceasefire, the one that Glenn Greenwald was responding to specifically. So I dutifully paused to check it out and was glad I did.

I’ll start with Kyle’s proposals in that video before presenting another paraphrase/transcript of Glenn G’s subsequent remarks and commentary.

Kyle wishes that both sides, New Atheists and others he calls Progressives, would


His argument sounds mathematically reasonable. If we agree with someone on a dozen key points that are very important to both of us and disagree on only one other one, then surely we should not be pouring scorn upon each other as if the other is beyond the pale.

Glenn Greenwald’s response demolished that point’s mathematical certainty, however. If I agree with Picklzanjam on feminist issues, gay rights, religion-is-bad, beer-is-good, etc etc etc etc — but after ticking all those check boxes Picklzanjam says he is also a white supremacist racist, then I’m not going to treat him as a good buddy I can get along with just because we agree on all of the other issues.

Kyle appeared to understand this point but later he wanted to push home his belief that people like Sam Harris are not really extremist in any of their views. I will return to that objection later when I cite Glenn G’s views on that view.

Second, Kyle wishes critics of the New Atheists would….


Here’s where I part company, to some extent, with a number of other atheists who are more activist in their critical stance against religion. Firstly I need to say I wish people did not feel a need for religion. Second, on a personal level I think religion sucks for a whole range of reasons. Third, I particularly deplore fundamentalist type cults and organizations for the particular harms that they can do — people literally die because of their teachings and practices, and some suffer the pain of a living death as a result of other practices and teachings. read more »


Sam Harris: Intellectual Coward or Misrepresented Victim?

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 5.45.07 amThe following are my notes from the the video of my previous post. I have pulled out just the section discussing Sam Harris and will post the remainder later (after listening to Kyle Kulinski’s earlier video “cease-fire“.)

This discussion goes to the heart of the controversy over Sam Harris: why so many of his supporters insist that he has been misrepresented, lied about, slandered — that all he ever means is something quite ordinary and uncontroversial . . . . So why, then, is he so often “misunderstood”?

The minutes/seconds markers are approximate. Unless otherwise indicated the coloured indented quotations are by Glenn Greenwald. Uncoloured text is paraphrase.


“And I do think Sam Harris is a uniquely kind of inflammatory figure for a whole variety of different reasons in a way say that Richard Dawkins or even Christopher Hitchens aren’t and weren’t”


“I’ve never encountered in my entire life a public figure who immediately brands any of their critics as being not just wrong but [cannot catch his words] liars. It’s almost impossible to criticize Sam Harris without him claiming that you’re wrong or mistaken but that you’re viciously smearing and lying about what it is he’s saying — in a way Christopher Hitchens never did or that Richard Dawkins doesn’t do.”

[My own comment: Amen. This observation also explains why some of Harris’s defenders are so offended by any criticism of Harris and likewise accuse “us” of “misrepresenting” and “lying” about Harris. — And this is exactly the problem we have experienced from the followers of Acharya S/DM Murdock, too.]


Kyle Kulinski says Sam Harris seems to be becoming more rational. At first he sounded like he was in favour of racial profiling and people said “Hey! What?” but then he said “All I meant was….” — his hedges make his arguments a lot less bad…. read more »


Glenn Greenwald talks about the New Atheists

by Neil Godfrey

This is a “watch this space” post — PZ Myers has posted his own paraphrase of some points on the following discussion on his blog and I expect to be make my own notes to place here on Vridar asap.

The line that caught my eye was “New Atheists are engaging in rank tribalism. See Ashley Miller.” (I recently posted a reference to Ashley’s post here, as some readers will know.)

Updated 6th Oct 2015:– follow up post at Sam Harris: Intellectual Coward or Misrepresented Victim?



New Testament in the Greek Literary Matrix

by Neil Godfrey
Dionysus -- From Wikipedia Commons

Dionysus — From Wikipedia Commons

Recently an interesting collation of observations on thematic and literary similarities between New Testament narratives and wider Greek literature was posted by commenter John MacDonald. I’ve set his points out again here (with only slight editing) for those interested. (John’s more complete comment can be read here.) Some of the parallels are actually less to do with the Biblical narrative itself than the subsequent Christian tradition — something I am looking forward to addressing in a future post (from a perspective I have not read elsewhere, by the way). Reference is made to haggadic midrash — which Jewish scholars themselves note is a feature of the Gospels — but in relation to Greek texts I think it might be more correct to speak of intertextuality and mimesis.

It’s interesting to ponder the relationship between the Bible and the Greeks.

To take even one example, the parallels between Jesus and the dying-rising Greek god born of a god and a mortal woman, Dionysus, have long been posited, either in traditional myth or in places like Euripides’ ancient play ‘The Bacchae,’ with work ranging from scholars like Bultmann and others in the 19th century, to the more recent studies of scholars like Martin Hengel, Barrie Powell, Dennis MacDonald, Robert M. Price, and even popular writers like Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.  Parallels, for example, in the play ‘The Bacchae’ can be drawn as to general overarching themes, as well as to specific details of the New Testament Narratives.  In ‘The Jesus Mysteries,’ several striking parallels are drawn out between The New Testament and the ‘Bacchae,’ the latter being a much earlier work.  To begin with, Freke and Gandy in Jesus Mysteries write: 

According to the gospels, Jesus is an innocent and just man who, at the instigation of the Jewish high priests, is hauled before the Roman Governor Pilate and condemned to die on spurious charges.  Exactly the same mythological motif is found five centuries earlier in Euripides’ play The Bacchae, about Dionysus.  Like Jesus in Jerusalem, Dionysus is a quiet stranger with long hair and a beard who brings a new religion.  In the gospels, the Jewish high priests don’t believe in Jesus and allege that ‘His teachings are causing disaffections amongst the people.’  They plot to bring about his death.  In The Bacchae, King Pentheus is a tyrannical ruler who does not believe in Dionysus.  He berates him for bringing ‘this new disease to the land’ and sends out his men to capture the innocent godman …

read more »


When God Commanded the Worship of Adam

by Neil Godfrey

jesusMonotheismThe Judaism prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE and that was the Judaism known to those responsible for the birth of Christianity was not the rabbinic Judaism that emerged in ensuing centuries. In recent years scholars Hurtado and Bauckham have attempted to defend the historical roots of contemporary Christian orthodoxy in relation to monotheism by focusing on evidence that suggests Second Temple Judaism (i.e. the Judaism prior to 70 CE) did not know of cultic worship of any figure other than The One God. Other scholars have criticized Hurtado and Bauckham for being too restricted in their selection of the evidence and for being too pedantically narrow in their question framing. One of these critics, and the latest one whose work has been added to my “to read” shelf, is Crispin Fletcher-Jones. His 2015 work is Jesus Monotheism: Volume 1. Christological Origins: the Emerging Consensus and Beyond.

While it is too early for me to outline his arguments in this post, both those contrary to Bauckham’s and Hurtado’s theses and his own interpretations and broader implications for our understanding of Second Temple Judaism, I can at least for now quote the critical section of a Latin manuscript of the Life of Adam and Eve. (I’ll save the reasons for dating this text to the pre-70 CE era and other discussions of the various language manuscript lines till later.)

What is fascinating in this text is the reason God commands all the angels to worship Adam at the time of his creation — that is, before his “Fall”. The text throws us the first time we read it if we have always assumed that the Jews had as strict and narrow a conception of monotheism as we do and as we believe they have had ever since Moses.

The account of the command to worship Adam (Fletcher-Louis points out this analogy) reads remarkably like the challenge presented to Daniel and his friends by Nebuchadnezzar:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold . . . 

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

. . . 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar . . . we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3, NIV)

Setting up an image and commanding worship at its feet is a no-no — we all know that’s the rule of the God of the Bible. But think a moment about the creation of Adam who was made “in the image and likeness” of God.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. . . “ (Gen 1:26)

Adam is the image made by God. God made him in “his” image and in “his” likeness. The angels were commanded to worship the image of God. read more »