Category Archives: Uncategorized


2016-02-07

This book looks interesting

by Neil Godfrey

vanguardLook forward to reading this one:

Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by Afshon Ostovar:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are one of the most important forces in the Middle East today. As the appointed defender of Iran’s revolution, the Guards have evolved into a pillar of the Islamic Republic and the spearhead of its influence. Their sway has spread across the Middle East, where the Guards have overseen loyalist support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria and been a staunch backer in Iraq’s war against ISIS-bringing its own troops, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite militias to the fight. Links to terrorism, human rights abuses, and the suppression of popular democracy have shrouded the Revolutionary Guards in controversy.

In spite of their prominence, the Guards remain poorly understood to outside observers. InVanguard of the Imam, Afshon Ostovar has written the first comprehensive history of the organization. Situating the rise of the Guards in the larger contexts of Shiite Islam, modern Iranian history, and international affairs, Ostovar takes a multifaceted approach in demystifying the organization and detailing its evolution since 1979. Politics, power, and religion collide in this story, wherein the Revolutionary Guards transform from a rag-tag militia established in the midst of revolutionary upheaval into a military and covert force with a global reach.

The Guards have been fundamental to the success of the Islamic revolution. The symbiotic relationship between them and Iran’s clerical rulers underpins the regime’s nearly unshakeable system of power. The Guards have used their privileged position at home to export Iran’s revolution beyond its borders, establishing client armies in their image and extending Iran’s strategic footprint in the process. Ostovar tenaciously documents the Guards’ transformation into a power-player and explores why the group matters now more than ever to regional and global affairs. The book simultaneously serves as a history of modern Iran, and provides a crucial and engrossing entryway into the complex world of war, politics, and identity in the Middle East.


2016-02-01

The Madness of King Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

H/t a BCHF thread: A book due out in a few months from now, The Madness of King Jesus: The Real Reasons for His Execution by Justin Meggittmadness

Given the understanding that the crucifixion of Jesus is “one of the most secure facts” we have in history Justin Meggitt tackles one of the perplexing conundrums that the crucifixion has left us: why did Pilate crucify Jesus yet not lift a finger against his followers, even allowing them to continue preaching about Jesus after his execution?

Some of us will be familiar with Paula Fredriksen’s answer to this question in Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Fredriksen’s argument is that Pilate knew Jesus was harmless — he had, according to the Gospel of John, travelled to Jerusalem for several years running where he preached quite harmlessly. For some reason on that last journey, however, the crowd got out of hand in their response to his preaching about the coming kingdom, and Pilate needed to nip in the bud early signs of trouble. Jesus was the one they were agitated over, so a quick crucifixion solved the problem. The disciples were of no account according to this equation.

Meggitt explains his confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion on page 380:

  1. multiple attestation in earliest Christian and non-Christian sources (Josephus, Tacitus);
  2. the absence of doubt by any of the early critics of the new religion;
  3. and “it is hard to imagine anyone in the early church would have wanted to fabricate [such a datum] about their founder”

These points (based on criteria of authenticity; an ideologically framed chronology; and the appeal to incredulity) are virtual mantras that are too rarely seriously questioned.

Another scholar, Fernando Bermejo-Rubio, in a 2013 article in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, “(Why) Was Jesus the Galilean Crucified Alone? Solving a False Conundrum”, resolves the dilemma by denying that Jesus was crucified alone but was indeed crucified with followers:

The view that those crucified with Jesus had nothing to do with him is not only exceedingly improbable from a historical standpoint, but it uncritically relies upon the story told in biased sources: only the theological necessity to distance Jesus from any rebellious connection can account for the tenacity with which this view is held.

Meggitt proposes a different solution. The book is not yet published but he has had an article on the same theme published in the same journal in 2007 (JSNT 29.4: 379-413), “The Madness of King Jesus: Why was Jesus Put to Death, but his Followers were not?” The abstract:

To argue that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by the Roman authorities because they believed him to be a royal pretender of some kind, fails to explain satisfactorily why he was killed but his followers were not. A possible solution to this conundrum, which is supported by neglected contextual data, is that the Romans thought Jesus of Nazareth to be a deranged and deluded lunatic.

The first part of the article outlines the evidence that it was standard practice for Roman rulers to pursue and execute followers of would-be insurrectionists along with their leaders. read more »


2015-12-30

Death of D.M. Murdock / Acharya S

by Neil Godfrey

With great sadness we note the untimely passing of D.M. Murdock (a.k.a. Acharya S). She died on Christmas day, having succumbed to breast cancer. Over the years we’ve had our differences with Murdock’s ideas (and her followers) here on Vridar, but we always respected her energy and tenacity.

In the United States, unfortunately, illnesses like cancer can leave the living with large medical and burial bills. If you would like to help Acharya’s survivors, you can donate to a GiveForward fund set up in her name.

Requiescat in pace.


2015-12-24

So God is Only Human?

by Neil Godfrey
For God so loved the world that he did what many other people would have done — only to undo all his good with a much worse act later.

trolley-switchOne mind-game that keeps recurring in my recent and current readings in the nature and origins of our moral sense is the trolley experiment.

You see a trolley is running out of control along railway tracks and is about to kill five people hedged in by high banks on the track ahead. You have the option of pulling a lever to re-route the trolley to a side-track but there is another person similarly trapped there and who will die of you do.

Is it permissible to pull the lever so the trolley kills the one but saves the five? Most people say it is.

Then it occurred to me that isn’t this a bit like what the Christian gospel is about? God sees many people doomed to die, so he flicks a switch so that only one dies instead. (Okay, there are more theological trappings to this: those five have to repent or believe or they’ll find themselves in the same situation again and then God will decide not to pull the lever and they’ll all die anyway!)

So far, apart from the theological monstrosities, does not God’s great act of salvation appear to be little more than a perfectly natural human act in accordance with perfectly natural human ethics?

The mind-game gets more interesting if we introduce some variations. What about tossing a very heavy bulk of a man onto the track to stop the trolley if there is no lever to save the five; or what about pulling a lever that will drop the heavy bulk of a man on to the track so you don’t actually push him, and so forth.

Then there are other types of variation to introduce. One of these is having the solitary person on the side track being a close friend or relative of yours, perhaps your child? What if the five people are all staunch supporters of [fill in your most hated politician/party here]?

Then try the variants of scale. What if not just five people were doomed but an entire city by something accordingly matching the trolley?

If you saw the entire population on earth was doomed and the only way to save them was to allow your child to die, what would you do? It would be horribly painful but I suspect some, even many, people would even sacrifice their child.

Would God, then, have been any better than many mere mortals?

(Come to think of it, how many mere mortals, lacking awe and mystery, would then doom that entire population in a re-run if they failed to believe God had not lost his child after all but had magically brought him back to life?)


2015-12-14

How Young People Become Radicalised

by Neil Godfrey

A former jihadist is interviewed for his views on the question “What makes vulnerable young Muslims prone to being recruited by groups like the Islamic State?”

It seems a silly question to many. After all, they’re Muslims. They believe in a holy book that commands them to kill, kill, kill. What else is there to know? If a specialist scholar in Islamic studies and advisor to government anti-extremist programs fails to mention the word “religion” when summing up the essential radicalisation process in a Time article then many will dismiss his words as an apologetic whitewash. If innumerable Muslims are themselves the victims of Islamic terrorism (with death tolls higher than Westerners by orders of magnitude) it seems to make no difference to the determination to insist that it is the Muslim religion itself (whatever that is) that is to blame!

Well this article was an interview with a former jihadist, not an ivory tower egg-head.

For those interested in garnering a wide expanse of data from which to prepare a hypothesis on the reasons for radicalisation I point to We Spoke to a Former Jihadist About How Young People Become Radicalized. Others can ignore this post, return to an Islamophobic [I use the term of those who express a phobia of anything Islamic] or other hate site for reassurance that their viscera are on the right cerebral track, and perhaps return to share their convictions and denounce whatever is expressed here. Others interested in genuine dialogue, questions and alternative suggestions are most welcome.

The question asked was this:

What makes vulnerable young Muslims prone to being recruited by groups like the Islamic State?

The interviewee was Mubin Shaikh. Who is Mubin? . . . .

Born in Toronto and raised Muslim, Mubin Shaikh became a radical Islamist after a trip to Pakistan in the 1990s. Back in Canada, Shaikh recruited other young Muslims for the cause of jihad. But 9/11 led him to question his path. After a stint in Syria studying the Quran, he returned home changed once again, this time determined to fight the militarism he had espoused. Working with CSIS, Shaikh was a government agent in the “Toronto 18” case, where a group of mostly young Muslims were convicted of plotting to attack Canadian institutions. Today, Shaikh campaigns against Islamophobia while also trying to stop radicalization in his own community, using social media to engage directly with Islamic State sympathizers. And while he still works with Western governments, he’s not afraid to criticize Western policies that he says fuel the radicalization he fights.

And here is Mubin’s answer to that opening question:

You’re dealing with a social movement. It’s beyond a terrorist group. And social movements have grievance narratives. The reason why those grievance narratives resonate is because they are based in fact. It might not be complete fact and it might be their way of interpreting world events, but the reality is that when they say that their grievance is about Western foreign policy, particularly the bombing of Muslim countries—they’re not wrong when they say that.

When I was around in 1995, we would watch videotapes [of jihadist propaganda], and then [DVDs] came out and we watched DVDs. But what modern day social networking has done is it’s accelerated that exponentially. You’re sitting there at a television screen or computer screen, you’re watching these images over and over and over—it’s traumatizing you. Your eyes will be overwhelmed with visual images of death, destruction, killing, torture, oppression [of Muslims].

The psychological term is “vicarious deprivation.” So now, I’m not deprived myself individually, but I’m watching these videos about my people being oppressed and suddenly their deprivation and their oppression becomes my deprivation and my oppression, and enter that extremist message, “OK, you see that now? You feel that now? What are you going to do about it?”

Following questions:

And what are the social conditions that young Muslims live in that make them susceptible to that?

You’re involved right now in efforts to stop Muslims from being radicalized, how do you go about that? What do you tell them and what do they tell you?

But you have the Islamic State themselves and also [critics of Islam] like the New Atheists, quoting passages like Chapter 9, Verse 5 saying, “Kill all the non-believers.”

I won’t take the time to discuss. It appears this discussion is more about polarisation than it is about mutual learning. There are several additional follow-up questions, too. (Only) For those interested.

 

 


2015-11-17

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!

 


2015-11-09

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:

procession

Entering the temple gate . . . . read more »


2015-11-08

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 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/10/does-coffee-prevent-temple-tantrums.html. 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 »


2015-11-04

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 12.14.59 pm

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 12.18.29 pm
Others were crowding around the body to lay on it their parting gifts and offerings. read more »


2015-11-03

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.

 

 

 

 

 


2015-10-27

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 gmail.com) 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.


2015-10-24

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.
Hercules_on_the_pyre_by_Luca_Giordano.jpg

Hercules_on_the_pyre_by_Luca_Giordano.jpg

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 »


2015-10-22

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 »


2015-10-14

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.