Category Archives: Uncategorized


2014-09-27

New Page Added — a who’s who of contemporary mythicists and others open to the question

by Neil Godfrey

I have added a new page in the side bar for ready reference: WHO’s WHO: Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics

Do add comments where you can see a need for any corrections or additions. Or email: see the Contact Info page for details.


2014-09-22

The Deep Mystery of Peter Cutting Off the Ear of Malchus

by Neil Godfrey
Updated 3 hours after original posting.

ou_camh_32_large

In the land of Laputa modern-day inhabitants contemplate the deep mysteries hidden in the incident of Peter cutting off the right ear of the servant of the high priest and what such a very strange event could possibly mean for the reconstruction of the life of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Indeed, this scene is so mysterious that professors fervently desire more minds would deeply reflect upon it and share their discoveries in serious peer-reviewed research publications.

The story in the Gospels is puzzling enough that it ought to be the focus of far more attention than it has been. Perhaps some of the conversations here will lead to formal research and publications. One can hope! (comment by JFM)

Should we believe such an event to be historical? Why, of course:

[I]t is hard to imagine Christians, eager to depict themselves and their leader as not violent revolutionaries, making this incident up. Why would they have done so? Is it not more likely that the incident reflects something that actually happened, and the oddities of the story reflect an attempt to reinterpret the event? (Case of the Severed Ear)

And it contains deep meaning and significance, too:

It has long seemed to me that this incident might have had a significant impact on the way things unfolded for Jesus. If the arresting party was hoping to reason with Jesus and get him to avoid causing a stir during the feast that might draw in Roman troops, or if they were hoping at worst to lock him away until after Passover, they may well have been trying to avoid an eruption of violence, even when provoked. Moreover, for all we know, they may have subdued, or even killed, the person who sliced off the ear (assuming it wasn’t Peter), after which Jesus prevented his followers from doing anything further. Perhaps none or very few of the rest of them were armed. And perhaps this incident was a major reason why the authorities persecuted the subsequent Christian movement, more than anything they believed about Jesus. (Case of the Severed Ear)

One can well imagine the armed Roman and Jewish soldiers being ordered to try first to reason with Jesus to stay calm till after the Passover hoping they didn’t have to actually arrest him. read more »


2014-09-05

The Jesus Challenge

by Neil Godfrey

Jerry Coyne, a scientist whom I and many others respect for his efforts in advancing a popular understanding of evolution, has invited a guest post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, by Ben Goren on the historicity of Jesus.

He begins (and I quote this much to whet appetites to read the full post on Jerry’s blog):

Many æons ago, in the heyday of USENET, I was first exposed to the idea that maybe there simply wasn’t any “there” there at the heart of Jesus’s story. It was, of course, at first a bizarre notion…but one that eventually become overwhelmingly compelling to me — and especially, ironically enough, after I took the time to look up the original sources Christian apologists offered as evidence for Jesus’s existence.

Somewhere along the line, I started challenging apologists to offer a coherent apologia, a theory of Jesus that was both self-consistent and supported by evidence. In all the years since then, I cannot recall even one single person, Christian, atheist, or other, who argues for an historical Jesus who has ever taken me up on this challenge, despite repeatedly offering it and even begging people to take a whack at it. And, so, I’d like to thank Jerry for letting me use his own soapbox to present this challenge to what’s, I’m sure, the largest audience it’s yet received.

read more »


2014-08-29

“It’s time to rethink our assumptions, and look at the evidence anew.” — Carrier

by Neil Godfrey

There are at least six well-qualified experts, including two sitting professors, two retired professors, and two independent scholars with Ph.D.’s in relevant fields, who have recently gone on public record as doubting whether there really was a historical Jesus. – Richard Carrier

Six names?

Arthur Droge

Kurt Noll

Thomas Brodie

Richard Carrier

Robert Price

Thomas Thompson

. . . a recognition that [Jesus’s] existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability.  –  Philip Davies

The  most recent appearance of the above claims is in Richard Carrier’s post on The Bible and Interpretation, Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt: Should We Still Be Looking for a Historical Jesus?

Carrier opens his article with an anecdote that sounds all too familiar to some of us here. read more »


2014-06-01

On Intellectual Property and Other Random Thoughts

by Tim Widowfield

As we draw near to the anniversary of the death and resurrection of Vridar, a time of commemoration and solemn reflection, I’ve been thinking again about how easy it was for us to get shut down, simply on suspicion of a DMCA violation. We’re hardly unique, of course; these takedowns keep happening, and they’ll continue to occur, because the law holds the poster of the content (i.e., us) and the agency hosting the content (i.e., WordPress.com) equally responsible.

You may have read earlier this year how AIDS-deniers tried to censor Myles Power (a warrior against pseudoscience) by getting Google to take down some YouTube videos that debunk their false claims. As Techdirt put it, “This is censorship in its purist form, and it’s using the law to get away with it.” True, Google did eventually restore the videos, but this disturbing series of incidents shows how malicious people can use the law to their own advantage without any fear of repercussion. Cory Doctorow at boingboing wrote:

The DMCA’s takedown procedures have no real penalty for abuse, so it is the perfect tool for would-be censors. What’s more, the entertainment companies — who are great fans of free speech when defending their right to sell products without censorship, but are quite unwilling the share the First Amendment they love so dearly with the rest of us — are pushing to make censorship even easier, arguing that nothing should be posted on Youtube (or, presumably, any other online forum) unless it has been vetted by a copyright lawyer.

I used to bristle at the idea of lumping copyrights and patents into the larger category of “intellectual property,” but that ship has sailed. And in a larger sense the intellectual property that modern corporations jealously guard, as evidenced by the DMCA, which forces content providers to act first and ask questions later, is in fact real property of the purest kind. Specifically, I’m talking about possessions to which legal entities (i.e. people or corporations) claim exclusive title and which generate wealth.

read more »


2014-05-10

Maurice Casey has died

by Neil Godfrey
Maurice Casey

Maurice Casey

Jim West announced on the biblical-studies yahoo group a few hours ago that Maurice Casey has died. We express special condolences to his dearest friend Stephanie Fisher who has had a special relationship over the years, both critical and sometimes supportive, with this blog.

Maurice Casey’s better known contributions in biblical studies (and among those addressed on this blog) are his publications as listed in his Wikipedia article:

  • From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God : The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology. Cambridge, England. Westminster/J. Knox Press, 1991.
  • Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • An Aramaic Approach to Q : Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • The Solution to The “Son of Man” Problem, Library of New Testament Studies 343. London ; New York: T & T Clark, 2007.

In his later years he took on mythicism and mythicists, contributing to Joseph Hoffmann’s Jesus Process and publishing:

  • Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. T&T Clark in London, New York, 2010.
  • Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths? 2014

 

 

 


2014-04-11

If you want to read about Jesus’ wife . . . .

by Neil Godfrey

. . . . then go to Peter Kirby’s blog where has a list of Blogs Abuzz for Jesus’ Wife.

I saw the Harvard Theological Review article was out around midnight last night so decided to shut down my computer and get some sleep.

Sorry, not interested.


2014-04-03

God’s Apocalyptic Bluff

by Neil Godfrey

The Book of Enoch, The Watchers, 1:3-7

_end-of-the-world_2433119bThe Holy Great One will come forth from His dwelling,
And the eternal God will tread upon the earth, (even) on Mount Sinai,
[And appear from His camp]
And appear in the strength of His might from the heaven of heavens.

And all shall be smitten with fear
And the Watchers shall quake,
And great fear and trembling shall seize them unto the ends of the earth.

And the high mountains shall be shaken,
And the high hills shall be made low,
And shall melt like wax before the flame

And the earth shall be wholly rent in sunder,
And all that is upon the earth shall perish,
And there shall be a judgement upon all (men).

Matthew 24:29

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken

Revelation 6:12-17

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;

And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

What does all this mean? Such apocalyptic had a long heritage, as passages from Enoch (above) and Micah, Jeremiah and Isaiah (below) testify. How did the authors expect readers/hearers to interpret such language?

Again from Richard Horsley, this time from Scribes, Visionaries and the Politics of Second Temple Judea . . . 

read more »


2014-04-02

The One-Liner Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

Richard Horsley has produced a couple of books I have found far more enlightening than his earlier work on bandits and prophets in first-century Judea. One of these is Scribes, Visionaries and the Politics of Second Temple Judea from 2007; the other, The Prophet Jesus and the Renewal of Israel, 2012. One of several points that has hit me already from these two works is a deeper appreciation of the literary way the Gospels convey the sayings of Jesus.

Take the Sermon on the Mount. I think we all know that Jesus could not really have stood up and pronounced a long list of aphorisms the way Matthew depicts. So we hear the more learned ones explaining to us that Matthew was recording a summary of the sorts of things Jesus often said.

But stop and think for a minute. Aren’t the evangelists (authors of the gospels) supposed to be writing something akin to a history or biography? And weren’t ancient historians known for the way they would construct speeches they believed were “true to life” or “appropriate” or “realistic” in the mouth of certain historical characters? But that’s not what we read in the gospels when it comes to the speeches of Jesus. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain are anything but reconstructed “speeches”.

Rather, they read like a chapter or so from the Book of Proverbs. Not like speeches. Jesus is not “preaching” about forgiveness and an appropriate speech is not constructed for any such message. Jesus simply delivers a proverb or saying or edict, brief enough to be remembered and recorded in a list of one-liners. It’s not unlike the way he is portrayed as speaking in the Gospel of Thomas when he drops line after line of mystery saying.

The evangelists — at least the Synoptic ones (Matthew, Mark and Luke) — are not even trying to reconstruct speeches of Jesus.

They are writing a set of one-liner sayings.

Okay, but what is the problem with this? Horsley puts his finger on it exactly:

read more »


2014-03-28

Astrotheology, A Religious Belief System (as per D.M. Murdock/Acharya S)

by Neil Godfrey

TabulaThe more I have read of the works of Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) and the more engagement I have had with those who fervently advocate her views the more I have suspected that some form of cult-like belief system lies beneath their surface appearances. Part of the reason for my suspicions has been the vitriolic reactions on their part against any attempt to honestly critique their views and engage them in argument that consistently follows the norms of scholarly or “scientific” reasoning. I have been portrayed in some very colorful terms by both Acharya and those I believe it is fair to say are her followers. In effect I have been lumped together with others as deliberately closed-minded, bigoted and out to lyingly slander them. My record of defending Acharya against some of the worst insults I have read on the web counts for nothing.

Finally one of Acharya’s fairly prominent online supporters, Robert Tulip, has “come out” and made it very clear that my suspicions were right all along. Astrotheology — the view they propagate — is a form of religious belief. They believe as strongly as any fundamentalist that they are right and anyone who does not agree with them after they explain it all is perverse or willfully blind. Expressions of disagreement are interpreted as expressions of hostility or even persecution.

And like religious cults, they curry good relations with prominent or respectable names that they believe will give their cause a benign public face. Anyone with public standing among those they seek to influence and who has had a positive word to say about Acharya’s books is promoted as a witness that they really are a genuinely scholarly (even scientific) group of truth-seekers. I have finally come to believe they are as scientific as Scientology; their efforts to claim to follow the scientific method are a falsehood. I doubt that people like Earl Doherty really do understand exactly what it is their names are being used to support when they insist that such people have made supportive comments about their publications.

My full awareness of all of this did not come quickly. I have hoped my suspicions were not true often enough. If I can be shown to be mistaken I would greatly welcome it and apologize for this post and withdraw it.

What finally led me to give up any remaining doubts I had about their religious or cult status was a series of posts on the EarlyWritings Forum. The most recent of these posts, under the title Loaves and Fishes, were prompted by pressure from a few of us for Robert to demonstrate the scientific or scholarly basis for his rejection of normal (“midrashic”/literary-critical) explanations for the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Gospels and his belief that this narrative was written as a code of some sort for “astrotheology” beliefs. The result is the epitome of parallelomania (as I have explained this through Sandmel’s definitions a couple of times recently); but the worst part comes at the end when it is made very clear that Robert himself takes his interpretation as a personal belief system along with the fundamentalist-like view that anyone who fails to share his enlightenment is willfully perverse.

Here is Robert Tulip’s explication of the Gospels’ Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. After reading this I finally realized I have been wasting my time taking many of his remarks testifying to an interest in the hypothetico-deductive method at face value. He — and I can only presume the same applies to Acharya S herself — are evidently not interested in scholarly approaches to Christian origins and really are about peddling a quasi-religious type of belief-system.

I have bolded the text that I consider to be the evidence that “astrotheology” as advocated here is indeed a genuine personal belief-system that shuts down any possibility of genuinely scholarly engagement and criticism.

At the end of the post I add a couple of scholarly reviews of David Ulansey’s argument that it was the ancient discovery of the precession of the equinoxes that prompted the rise of Mithraism and possibly even Christianity.

read more »


2014-03-27

James McGrath the Parallelomaniac

by Neil Godfrey

Professor James McGrath is a parallelomaniac. Every time he sees an argument for a parallel that he does not like or from which the author draws an uncomfortable conclusion he claims that the parallel is actually a parallel to Samuel Sandmel’s notion of “parallelomania”.

Samuel Sandmel introduced the term “parallelomania” into English-speaking New Testament studies and explained it as that “extravagance” where one took excerpts out of context from some source and applied them willy-nilly to a text under study. It could also include one making much ado about real parallels if they were also quite meaningless (e.g. We would not be surprised if two different Jewish texts spoke about God and Moses, so we cannot assume one is copying from the other in such a case.)

I spelled all this out in my recent post explaining the difference between legitimate parallels and parallelomania. The same post links to the original 1962 article by Samuel Sandmel.

How do we know a parallel is potentially legitimate and not “parallelomania”? Sandmel was very clear. Detailed study is the most essential criterion of a genuinely plausible parallel; the actual words used, the syntactical structures, the contexts, the larger argument structure, the literary culture in which the act of copying is alleged to have occurred, etc. Sandmel even wrote that he encouraged such studies that helped us identify genuine cases of literary borrowing.

What he warned against was taking excerpts (words and phrases) out of their contexts and fortuitously applying them to the target text. I have been showing (in some comments here but especially in discussions on the EarlyWritings forum) that this is the flawed methodology that in many cases makes D.M. Murdock’s (astrotheology’s) arguments invalid.

Here is a classic example of how parallelomania works. It comes from James McGrath: read more »


2014-03-09

Vridar Subscriptions and Email Notifications

by Tim Widowfield

Hi, everybody.

Mr. ZIP

Mr. ZIP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently we had some trouble with the WordPress JetPack plugin and outgoing emails. I’ve moved us over to a different plugin called Subscribe2. You may have noticed a slight change in the sidebar over on the right.

Issues:

  • If you think you haven’t been getting mail from Vridar even though you used to, first check your spam or junk mail folder. If you don’t see any mail there, let me know. You can reach me here:  widowfield (at sign) gmail (dot) com.
  • If you would like to receive entire posts in your email messages from Vridar rather than just an excerpt, drop me a line. With Subscribe2, I think we can finally do that now.
  • If you would like to be removed from our subscriber list, let me know.
  • In the future, we may be able to send out weekly digests instead of an email notification for each post. I’d be curious if anyone is interested in that feature.

Thanks for reading Vridar!

–Tim

Enhanced by Zemanta

2014-02-12

Vridar’s Second Resurrection

by Tim Widowfield
Resurrection Pinacoteka-3

Resurrection Pinacoteka-3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re back!

Did you miss us?

Our recent downtime was self-inflicted. (I know Watts you’re thinking.) But anyhow, we’re on a new server in the Netherlands now, and so far everything seems to be working fine.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

2014-02-06

Divine Placebo: A Request to Readers

by Neil Godfrey

Dr Patrik Lindenfors

Dr Patrik Lindenfors, an associate professor at the Stockholm University, has asked me if I would be willing to help him by advertising his crowdfunded research project on this blog. I am honoured to do so and have just sent a donation to help out as well. He’s asking for public assistance because it’s outside his normal area of research.

His university website lists his areas of research and publications. He also has a personal webpage.

His Facebook page contains summaries of the new project.

The following is extracted from his webpage dedicated to explaining the project and the campaign for public assistance.

I propose to review potential placebo effects of religion and how these may explain why religious beliefs and practices are so common across human populations.

In my regular work I am a researcher of cultural evolution at Stockholm University. I have previously authored the books God Probably Doesn’t Exist, which has been translated into seven languages, and “Samarbete“, a popular science book in Swedish about the biological and cultural evolution of cooperation, currently being translated into English.

Now, I want to explore a proposal that has circulated in books and on-line discussions for a while – if there are any placebo effects of religion and whether these may be a partial explanation of the spread of religious beliefs and practices across human societies. . . . . . 

You can read more and find out how to assist on the above links, in particular at the Divine Placebo webpage. Don’t delay though. He’s running out of time.

More from the site: read more »