Category Archives: Uncategorized


2016-11-17

No place like the Holy Land . . .

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

.

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

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

palestinianwalks

 


2016-11-14

Bible Heroes in Heaven Before They Came to Earth

by Neil Godfrey
300px-leloir_-_jacob_wrestling_with_the_angel

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Leloir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2016-11-13

Proof for the Resurrection

by Neil Godfrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2016-11-09

Time to do some serious work

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

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

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

Michael Moore: Morning After To-Do List

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

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

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

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

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

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

(posted with permission from AlterNet)

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


2016-10-29

List of Posts on the Bart Ehrman-Robert Price Debate

by Neil Godfrey

I’ll try to update this page regularly . . . . — and do let me know of others I miss.

For the Mythicist Milwaukee sponsored debate video go to MythCon III and Price-Ehrman Debate Round-Up

Since the debate MM has posted the following:


29 October 2016: Planned Maintenance — Expect Outages

by Tim Widowfield

Hello, Vridarians. We’re about to undergo some changes here. You will likely see rather long outages this weekend as we move to a new platform.

–Tim


Richard Carrier on the Ehrman-Price Debate

by Neil Godfrey

Richard Carrier has posted his response to the Mythicist Milwaukee sponsored debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert Price on the question of Jesus’ existence. See The Ehrman-Price Debate.

After examining each of the arguments made Carrier concludes:

There are two major takeaways from all this.

First, the biggest loss in this debate was that nothing new got said. Because Price never challenged hardly anything Ehrman asserted. So by the end of the debate Ehrman said everything I already expected him to (because it was the same stuff he always says), and nothing else. This was an opportunity for Price to push Ehrman on any of those standard arguments that Ehrman has been repeating for years (just like William Lane Craig, Ehrman only has the same arguments every time, so it’s super easy to prep for). He would then have gotten Ehrman to elaborate or defend those assertions, which he has consistently avoided doing for years—and now, thanks to Price, he still hasn’t done. So we got no new arguments to evaluate, thus making no progress in the overall history of this debate. We still don’t know why Ehrman thinks his claims and fallacies are valid. And the reason we got nowhere, is that Price just didn’t debate Ehrman. Maybe because Price lacks formal skill at debate or didn’t realize what was happening on stage. He seems to have thought this was just a casual conversation, and not a fact-finding mission. “Why do you believe that, Dr. Ehrman?” is a question that just never got asked, of any claim Ehrman made.

Second, why is Ehrman ignoring the peer reviewed literature in his own field? Why will he not address that, the case for mythicism actually vetted by Ehrman’s own peers, and instead debates Robert Price, whose arguments for mythicism have never passed peer review, many of which are even outright strange? This is a really weird thing to see happen in a supposedly professional academic field. If in any other field a consensus was challenged in its own peer reviewed literature, experts would analyze and respond to it in the peered reviewed literature, and there either publish flaws in it sufficient to warrant not changing the consensus, or they’d change the consensus. But here, everyone in the field is ignoring the peer reviewed challenges to the consensus in their own field (even Craig Evans didn’t read my book when he debated it with me), and fallaciously, circularly, citing “the consensus” as the reason to not even examine or respond to a peer reviewed challenge to that consensus—a methodology that would end all progress in every field were it adopted as a principle. Which is why no sane science would adopt such a principle. In fact, abolishing that principle is precisely what demarcated modern science from medieval and launched the Scientific Revolution. So how can any other field remain credible today, when it is still using the same irrational reasons to reject challenges to its authority as were decisively repudiated hundreds of years ago?

This debate, alas, will not give you an answer. It just re-asks the question.

 


2016-10-26

Another Review of the Ehrman-Price Debate

by Neil Godfrey

René Salm has begun a series discussing the Mythicist Milwaukee sponsored debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert M Price: See The Price-Ehrman debate—Pt. 1

I’ll be resuming my own posts on the debate soonish. And I am long overdue for posting more about Salm’s NazarethGate.


Following that Debate: Do we follow the Facts or Do we choose what “Facts” to believe?

by Neil Godfrey

So why do you side with mythicism? Or why do you think mythicism is bollocks and mythicists are agenda-driven ignoramuses? And if you do know a lot about either the mythicist side or the historicist side of the question it might be even harder for you to answer honestly, given that your one-sided knowledge may well be shutting out a clear understanding of what the other side is actually saying.

The scholar Gleb Tsipursky has written an article for The Conversation explaining how so very often it is not “the facts” that persuade us, but the way arguments are framed and presented that does the trick. The context of his article is the American election debate but the points apply anywhere.

Savvy politicians can take advantage of what scholars call cognitive biases, which make us believe something is true because we feel it is true, regardless of the evidence. This phenomenon is also known as emotional reasoning.

We may think of ourselves as rational creatures who form our opinions based on logic. In reality, our emotions play a much larger role in influencing our beliefs than we think.

We make quick and intuitive decisions based on our autopilot system of thinking, also known as system 1. This is one of the two systems of thinking in our brains. It makes good decisions most of the time, according to Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, but is more subject to bias than the other thinking system – known as the intentional system, or system 2. The intentional system is deliberate and reflective. It takes effort to use but it can catch and override the bias committed by system 1. Kahneman describes these as “fast” and “slow” thinking.

Politicians skilled in the art of public speaking can persuade us by playing to the more powerful autopilot system that guides our fast thinking and avoiding arguments based on evidence, reason and logic.

I have written about Daniel Kahneman’s system 1 and system 2 type thinking model in three earlier posts. And who can think of a potentially more emotive subject — for biblical scholars perhaps even more than for many people outside that field — than the question of Jesus’ existence?

Ever wonder why some people like to go out of their way to compare mythicism with creationism or hostile anti-Christian agendas?

Hillary Clinton stated that Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.” This invoked a bias likely to cloud the minds of the audience – the halo effect. This bias emerges when we see something we like or dislike, and associate this emotional reaction with something else.

Clinton knows that many Americans do not like Putin. Plus, the image of being someone’s puppet is quite distasteful. Combining Trump with Putin and puppet is bound to create a negative emotional association.

Of course, some mythicists really do appear to be hostile anti-Christian bigots. And this makes it all the easier for some people to impute the sins of a few to all. Similarly, it may well be unfair for mythicists to accuse all biblical scholars of harboring a lurking theological or faith bias.

And ever wonder why we hear the same old, the same old . . . . Ehrman repeated the arguments he made in DJE? as if nothing has ever been said in response to them; McGrath in his post-debate discussion repeated more of the same old, the same old. . . .

For his part, Trump used repetition to drive home his claims, invoking the so-called “illusory truth effect.” This bias causes our brains to perceive something as true just because we hear it repeated. In other words, just because something is repeated several times, we perceive it as more true.

You may have noticed the last two sentences in the previous paragraph had the same meaning and a similar structure. The second sentence didn’t provide any new information, but it did cause you to believe my claim more than you did when you read the first sentence. In fact, much of advertising is based on using the illusory truth effect to get us to buy more goods.

One may wonder if Tsipursky’s next point has any relevance here:

Turning once again to Clinton, we see her utilizing the illusion of control. This bias occurs when we perceive ourselves as having more control over a situation than we actually do. For instance, Clinton attributed the decline in the U.S. national debt in the 1990s primarily to her husband’s policies. This exaggerates the actual impact that any president can have on the national debt.

Indeed, I think it does. Aren’t pesky doubters told in various ways, often directly, that they don’t have the skills to evaluate the question. They need to do years of training in a raft of ancient languages, to study the finer points of palaeography, to publish in all the right journals, to attain tenure in the right institutions before they can be considered competent to offer an opinion on the question?

And then there’s desirability bias . . . what each side desires to be the way it was (or was not) at the beginning of Christianity, for whatever reason.

Clinton also insisted – as did Trump – that her policies would add nothing to the national debt, despite independent reports by experts showing that Clinton’s economic reforms would likely add billions of dollars and Trump’s plan add trillions to the debt. Clinton’s statements on debt, along with Trump’s, showed both illusion of control and the desirability bias, which leads one to believe their idealized outcomes will come true.

Another claim often repeated by Trump ties in to his core message – America is much worse than it used to be. He conveys a rosy picture of an idealized American past, when everything was right with the world. It’s reflected in Trump’s motto: “Make America Great Again.”

This motto speaks to our tendency to view the past through rose-colored glasses, a bias known as rosy retrospection and also as declinism.

 


2016-10-23

Woops …. with gaffes like these. . . . (will anyone dare to discreetly tell the professor that David was right all along?)

by Neil Godfrey

Most readers with an interest in the mythicism debate are well aware that Paul never uses the term for “disciples” in any of his letters but only ever speaks of “apostles” — e.g. 1 Cor 9:1-5; 12:27, 29; 15:7, 9; 2 Cor 11:5; 12:11f; Gal 1.17, 19.

So what are we to make of the following exchange in the Ehrman/Price Post-Debate Show @ 22 min 30 sec . . . ?

David Fitzgerald: [Paul] never even uses the word disciple in any context ever in any of his [writing]. He never implies that Jesus had twelve of them. He never identifies the twelve. . . . .
James McGrath: Are you thinking of apostle? Are you thinking of apostle?
David Fitzgerald: He talks about apostles but when he describes what an apostle is it has nothing to do with being a disciple of Jesus who followed him around. . . .
Moderator: [Attempts to intervene and redirect the discussion]
James McGrath: It’s characteristic that mythicists don’t know the terminology that’s used in these sources. You have a superficial familiarity with it and then they’re confused by it and think that proves something. I think this actually illustrates an important point.
David Fitzgerald: I don’t know why you’re here James, to be honest with you, because what else are you going to say besides shitting on mythicism?
Daniel Gullotta: Because he’s an expert in [the New] Testament?
James McGrath:
(shouting!)
I’m going to point out you don’t know what the sources say. You don’t know the terminology. When a student in my class says the Bible is important and they talk about the Book of Revelations with an s at the end, I’m like, they haven’t even looked at the title carefully. I know there’s a [certain] familiarity; they’re paying lip service to the text. They don’t actually know it.
David Fitzgerald: I’m not going to get into a pissing match about . . .
James McGrath: No, this is not a pissing match. I’m talking about the evidence. I want you to talk about the evidence!

read more »


2016-10-20

Price-Ehrman Debate Wish

by Neil Godfrey

No doubt there will be to-and-fro on “the brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19. I would love to see any such discussion go beyond the face-value interpretation of the words and to explore both the provenance and nature of the source containing that line. That is, some serious discussion of the historical evidence itself:

 


And the Mysterious Unknowns of Other Historical(?) Figures

by Neil Godfrey

following on from the previous post . . . .

What is wrong with living with doubt and uncertainty as to the historicity of any figure of the past? Unless one is a fundamentalist or ideological nationalist whose very identity depends upon the literal certainty of past figures and events, what is wrong with simply accepting that we cannot know for certain if there was a historical Buddha, or Moses, or David or Solomon, or even Socrates, or Honi, or Hillel, or Muhammad, or Jesus . . .

What difference would it make? Certainly it would make an enormous difference to certain fundamentalists or believers whose personal identity hangs upon the certain reality of some such figure, but for scholars, for academics, for the general public…..? Very little, if anything, of history would have to be re-written. Maybe just the wording of a few lines here and there would need to be tweaked, that’s all.

Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey, as I understand their publications, have misrepresented my reference to a quotation from Albert Schweitzer. My point is not that Schweitzer is casting doubt on the historicity of Jesus — not at all — but that he is saying that religious faith should not rest upon the mundane. Our certainty of what we know of the mundane can rarely be secure and the focus of spirituality belongs elsewhere. Albert Schweitzer’s conclusion in The Quest of the Historical Jesus (pp. 401-402, my emphasis):

[S]trictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.

. . . . Seen from a purely logical viewpoint, whether Jesus existed or did not exist must always remain hypothetical. . . .

. . . Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus. Hence it must not artificially increase his importance by referring all theological knowledge to him and developing a ‘christocentric’ religion: the Lord may always be a mere element in ‘religion’, but he should never be considered its foundation.

To put it differently: religion must avail itself of a metaphysic, that is, a basic view of the nature and significance of being which is entirely independent of history and of knowledge transmitted from the past . . .


The Secret Mysteries of the Historical Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

Mythicists have often gotten upset with me for pointing out that almost no one with any qualifications in the requisite fields of scholarship agrees with them.  I can see why that would be upsetting.  My sense is that some of them think that I’ve been rubbing their noses in it.  But that isn’t really my intent.  My intent is to point out to anyone who is interested – for example, someone who just doesn’t know what to think – that those who are qualified to speak knowledgeably on such subjects are virtually unified on one view (there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth) and opposed to the other (he is a complete myth).Bart Ehrman

So it seems the establishment of the historical existence of an ancient figure requires a level of expertise comparable to physicists who tells us that such things as quarks really do exist. If you’re not a physicist you just have to take the word of the scientists for it.

History and historical evidence was never that complicated when I was at school or doing undergrad studies in ancient, medieval and modern history. And I don’t know of a single figure historians say can only be confirmed by esoteric skills of those trained for many years in the required specialist fields — apart from Jesus.

Now Jesus may have been a historical figure, of course. But to claim academic privilege as the key to being able to prove it strikes me as . . . . well, . . . . [you fill in the blank for yourself].

That the only scholars who supposedly are emphatically and wholeheartedly agreed that Jesus existed happen to be those who are religiously devoted to Jesus or who have been closely associated with an interest in that figure of worship (e.g. ex believers) does not strike me as a strong point in favour of the grounds for Bart Ehrman’s confidence.


2016-10-18

A “Richard Dawkins” Project to Help Atheists Talk to Believers

by Neil Godfrey

By Alana Massey, on Alternet:

A new app called Atheos aims to help non-believers have friendly, thoughtful discussions with people of faith.

Tired of the shouting matches? Want to find a calmer way to try to tell believers they are mentally deficient idiots engage in a potentially fruitful, thought-provoking exchange with the faithful? Then this app could be just the place to start. Beware the condescension, though. (But at least condescension is a one grade improvement on direct insult, or is it?)

Here’s the site: http://www.atheos-app.com/

I’d go one step further and invite everyone to explore what the research in anthropology etc is learning about what religious beliefs actually are, why we have them, and even whether or not the world would be any better off without them. (One of my favourite quotables, Pataki, said something about it being a nice idea to get rid of all the garden pests in the world but then who knows what damage would be done in the end by doing so!)

And while we’re at it, how about an app for a more civil discourse with Muslims and about Islam …. or again, how about actually trying to inform ourselves about the whole shebang by taking a look behind the sound bytes of the mass media?