Category Archives: Uncategorized


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

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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.

 

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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 »


2014-02-02

Vridar Maintenance: Downtime Ahead

by Tim Widowfield
Caution sign: constructionAreaAuthorized Perso...

Caution sign: constructionAreaAuthorized Personnel Only (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hi, everybody.  I doubt anyone is reading Vridar right now, but in case somebody is, please note that we’re going to be down for a bit.  If all goes according to plan, we’ll be back up soon from a new location.

Hope to see you again soon!


UPDATED at 7:19 UTC

Our attempt to transfer Vridar failed tonight. All changes are on hold. Stay tuned for future updates.


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2014-01-29

Ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:8) — ANNOTATED INDEX

by Neil Godfrey

I’ve added a new page in the side-bar:

IN DEPTH ARCHIVES, Annotated

This is the start of an attempt to gradually go over old Vridar posts and get them organized in some useful manner. We’ll see how it goes. It won’t be completed overnight, though. I’ll keep updating the “updated date” notice each time I add something new. The following post is now in the archives. read more »


2014-01-03

What R. Joseph Hoffmann Does Not Want (Anyone) To Believe About Me

by Neil Godfrey

R. Joseph Hoffmann on his blog The New Oxonian has been complaining about “the language and style” of “mythticists” — those he, Hoffmann, calls “disease carrying mosquitoes” and “buggers” — saying that they, the “mythticists”, lower the tone of the debate. In support of this assertion he has Tim O’Neill along calling mythicists’ arguments “conspiracist gibberish and pure bile”. I would love to ask Hoffmann to give examples of his own (and O’Neill’s) style of insulting language in any of Earl Doherty’s or Robert M. Price’s or Thomas Brodie’s books, but I don’t think he likes me very much and he is very selective about what comments of mine he allows to appear there.

For example, he begins his blog post by saying that this blog, Vridar, is some sort of rallying point for “a clutch of historical Jesus deniers” (deniers??) and that the reason for my role has something to do with my “conservative Christian background”. He was referring to my years in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) though much of the 1970s and 80s. He and his fellow “Jesus Prospect” participants — he once posted a long list of these but to my knowledge only two others have ever posted anything on his blog: Maurice Casey and Stephanie Fisher. I don’t know any of them personally but all three have psychoanalysed me and concluded I have been left as some sort of twisted mental and emotional cripple from my years in the WCG.

I at first thought this to be a perverse and tendentious reading of everything I have ever published on my experiences with the WCG and how I left that cult and how I managed my life and readjustment after it. So when Hoffmann re-posted the same article I tried to briefly point out to him and his readers that he was being very one-sided in his view of me.

Hoffmann and Casey have attacked my character and person viciously in recent years. That’s a pity, because Hoffmann once complimented a post of mine in which I discussed an article about the “history of Jesus” over the past two millennia. And there was much I liked in his thesis on Marcion. So there was once hope we could hit it off. But I spoiled it by pointing out his inexcusably false accusation of Earl Doherty in one of his print publications on Goguel. I do hate it and am always enraged when I see public intellectuals abusing their status by telling outright porkies. (Some scholars have interpreted this as meaning I am somehow “against all scholars”. Do some really think they are all liars by profession?)

Hoffmann has from time to time continued to go out of his way to direct some insult this way, but I decided this time to try to correct the record when he recycled his year old post. I wrote:

LOL. Oh Hoffy, you are hard up for material, aren’t you. Firstly, I was brought up in a very liberal Methodist church and was most happily in an even more liberal Anglican one before I decided to abandon faith altogether. So what is my theological agenda now that I have posted and support the views of Thomas Brodie who is one of several Catholic scholars who have acknowledged that Christianity can indeed survive without an historical Jesus? Sorry to disappoint you if I am not an angry atheist hell bent on attacking Christianity as you seem to need me to be doing.

Stephanie Fisher (she’s a doctoral student of Casey’s so we must presume she really does have fundamental reading comprehension ability when she tries) jumped in with this:

From minimal research into various Christian cults I would describe the WCG (Worldwide Church of God) as a particularly terrifying fundamentalist Christian cult and one which would take great strength and support to get out of, even leaving one quite bereft and possibly emotionally injured. I would not include ‘happy’ and ‘liberal’ if describing a devotee.

Er, yes, the WCG was certainly not liberal but what did Steph’s comment have to do with what I said?

My pre-atheist and pre-Vridar background

So I wrote the following to try to explain a few facts. Hoffmann deleted the comment. He did not allow facts to get in the way of a good kick-Neil session. I asked him again to post it but he declined: read more »


2014-01-01

NYE Best Wishes

by Neil Godfrey

Best wishes for 2014 for all from Tim and me.

We have had our fair share of blog difficulties this year. They were initiated by one of those Bible scholars we are told so often are such terribly very nice people. Thanks to Tim Vridar was moved to a new site where we are no longer at the mercy of server owners who are prepared to act precipitously on the whims of disgruntled members of the body of Christ. Tim has also been responsible for troubleshooting the difficulties we had since our move and regular readers would have noticed a steady improvement in the interface and loading times. Unfortunately we have learned that our new server does not offer the quality service it used to give — we were down for some hours earlier today — so Tim will be moving us once again soon to a new site with lots of promise governance-wise and technically.

So a special thanks to Tim as well as to all readers who have continued to appreciate some of our posts, critically and otherwise.


2013-12-28

Vridar Maintenance — Caution: Construction Zone

by Tim Widowfield

Watch your step

Loader in viaduct replacement construction zone

Loader in viaduct replacement construction zone (Photo credit: WSDOT)

Hey, everybody. I just wanted to warn you that at various points throughout the weekend, I’m going to be tinkering with the blog. We’ve been having quite a bit of trouble with WordPress performance, and it’s possible that the root cause is our antiquated “Rubric” theme.

So if you see Vridar with a new, strange skin, don’t panic. Don’t start thinking that some portly theology student has taken us down with another fraudulent DMCA claim.

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2013-12-26

Theology and the Historical Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

Peter Kirby has posted thoughts on the meaning of the question of the historical Jesus for Christian theology: see  Theology and the Historical Jesus. What he writes dovetails with recent posts here explaining why Thomas Brodie believes Christianity can and should thrive with a Jesus figure who stands beyond history. Peter shows Brodie is not alone in this view. He goes further, however, introducing readers to what the question means from different faith/theological perspectives.