Category Archives: Uncategorized


2016-03-25

Carrier, Lataster and Another Small Stumbling Block

by Neil Godfrey

Raphael Lataster in Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists shows readers that one does not have to personally like Richard Carrier to agree and critically engage with his arguments. Lataster addresses the “stumbling block” of Carrier’s abrasive blog comments and his promotion of controversial relationships values that have made and makes it clear that in both areas he, Raphael Lataster, stands in diametric opposition to Carrier.

It is worth noting that I have no great inherent desire to promote Carrier or his work –he is certainly no friend of mine. Some of what he says and dies is annoying, seemingly egotistical, and even offensive to me, and we are otherwise quite different. . . . 

Nevertheless, apart from his frankness, none of this is truly relevant. The man is a rigorous logician and undertakes interesting and important research. I do not need to judge how he lives his life; nor do I wish to poison the well, especially since I am upholding him as the exemplar for the mythicist position. I only wish to highlight that our relationship is strictly professional. We are bound by the same dedication to truth, logic, and sound methodologies.  (JDNE, Kindle, loc 5661-5672)

Lataster’s comments on Carrier are just an aside and not related to what this post is about.

My own stumbling block is a different one and here I post another quibble I have with both Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus and Lataster’s review of it. (See Carrier, Lataster and Background Knowledge Element 4: A Quibble for my previous quibble.) Don’t think from these posts that Lataster blindly follows Carrier in all his arguments, by the way. Lataster does have a few of his own criticisms. Here I am commenting where I part from them both.

Quibble #2

Carrier writes in OHJ, p 614 in relation to 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Paul’s preaching Christ crucified being a stumbling block to the Jews):

It’s worth emphasizing here that we have absolutely no evidence that any ancient Jews (much less all of them) considered the idea of exalting a slain messiah to be blasphemous or illegal or even inconceivable — that’s a modem myth. To the contrary, the evidence we do have (from the Talmud, for example) shows they had no trouble conceiving and allowing such a thing (Element 5). Nor would such a notion be foolish to pagans, who had their own dying saviors, historical (Element 43) and mythical (Element 3 1 ). So the only thing Paul could mean the Jews were stumbling over was the notion that a celestial being could be crucified — as that would indeed seem strange, and would indeed be met with requests for evidence (‘ How do you know that happened?’).

Lataster appears to support Carrier’s analysis.

Something is amiss here. A couple of things, actually. The imaginary rhetorical questions posed by the Jews would scarcely have arisen if, as is soundly argued elsewhere, Paul “knew” it happened because of revelation and scripture. Those to whom God revealed it knew it to be so just as they knew anything else God revealed to them by his spirit.

One would expect if Paul was responding to such questions he would simply have pointed to the scriptural passages that midrashically (not literally, of course) revealed the point.

Carrier supports his interpretation by pointing to the preceding verse faulting the Jews for asking for signs to prove a claim said to be divinely revealed. The Jews failed to believe Paul, Carrier argues, because Paul could produce “no sufficient signs” to prove it was God’s truth.

Again I have difficulty here. Paul also says he produced signs more abundantly than other apostles. Besides, he goes on to say that the gospel itself is a power or sign far greater than anything else. The Jews simply fail to recognize the sign.

Besides, as Carrier rightly points out,

A martyred savior was never a stumbling block to Jews nor foolish to pagans (Element 43). Nor did it require signs or mystical evidence.

Why should a martyred saviour be any more of a problem if the event occurred in a heavenly realm? Recall Daniel 7’s suggestion that the Son of Man in heaven represented the slain martyrs and how from this seed the heavenly messiah evolved into a literal figure in the heavens; and again in the Book of Hebrews the sacrifice could be reasoned quite logically as happening in heaven.

I’m more persuaded by Morton Smith’s explication of 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Was Paul Really Persecuted for Preaching a Crucified Christ?). What was the offence was not the crucifixion of the messiah itself but what this death meant. Paul was preaching salvation, adoption as an eternal son of God, by the abolition of the wall of the Law dividing Jews and Gentiles from each other and both from God himself. Now that gospel really does sound like weakness to Jews and folly to gentiles.


2016-03-24

Acts is historically reliable because its anonymous author says it is

by Neil Godfrey

[T]he author of the book of Acts explicitly tells us that he was concerned and committed to present a historically accurate account of the history of the early church. The author of Acts, of course, was the author of the Gospel of Luke, and the preface to Luke served as the preface to the entire two-volume work.  In that preface (Luke 1:1-4) the author tells us that he had “followed all things closely” and that he based his account on reports from “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” – that is from those who were personally involved in the events he narrates and those to whom they told their accounts.  Moreover, he stresses that his ultimate concern is to provide an “orderly account” of all the things that had happened.  And so it was clearly his intention to write a historically accurate account.  That in itself does not prove that he did so, but it does prove that this was his goal.  He was not writing fiction but what he understood to be historical fact.  — Bart Ehrman, Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Argument.

Okay, that is the opening argument of an affirmative side of a debate. But it’s presented by “a critical scholar”. How can even a critical scholar come up with such a facile and naive argument for a work being written with the goal of genuine historical accuracy? Presumably Ehrman will in the reply of the Negative team respond with a bit more common sense, but how could a critical scholar even present something so naive as we read above in the first place? That is an argument of pure and simple apologetics. It has no place in a critical analysis of any literature.

A critical analysis obviously begins with the context and identity and motivation and audience and circumstances of the writing of the text. Only an anti-intellectual apologist would even suggest that we should apply a “hermeneutic of charity” and believe the unknown author’s words unless and until we are hit smack in the face with a reason not to. A critical scholar could argue an affirmative case without resorting to such puerile nonsense.

Next, Bart Ehrman like so many others in his academic guild is also closing his eyes to uncomfortable published scholarship that refutes his interpretation of the phrase “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”. Does anyone know of a scholarly rebuttal anywhere to an article by John N. Collins published in 2010? For details see

Ehrman also just blithely claims as unquestionable fact that the same author wrote both Luke and Acts despite critical arguments to the contrary or at least offering more nuance. Again, this is not the way a critical scholar is (or should be) expected to conduct a serious debate.

I won’t pay to read the rest of Ehrman’s debate. He is putting out bait for readers to do so but he is clearly opposed to the very idea of open-access of public research or simply doesn’t understand it. I give to charities of my own choosing and find Ehrman’s attempt to be different and opposed to public access of his knowledge to be old fashioned at best, snobbish, elitist and deplorable at worst.


2016-03-23

What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond)

by Neil Godfrey

Less than a week ago I ended a post with

One holds one’s breath to see which way ongoing losses of ISIS territory might play out in the U.K. and other Western countries.

Today Scot Atran with far more insight posted something more pessimistically specific:

I suspect that ISIS is planning a coordinated attack across multiple cities in Europe to ramp up the process of extinguishing the gray zone, and to also shift the focus of its possible adherents away form its increasingly noteworthy military containment in Syria and Iraq.

Atran describes the “apocalyptic mindset” of ISIS inspired and directed terrorists and what it is about contemporary Western culture that they loathe.

In After Brussels, ISIS Has Plans for Even Worse, Uglier Things Across Europe: ISIS has a plan for taking down Europe. Do Europeans have one to stop them? he explains:

Today’s Brussels attacks represented only the latest in an ever-more effective series of hits intended to foment chaos in Europe and thereby “Extinguish the Grey Zone,” in the words of a 12-page editorial in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015.

The Grey Zone here is the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil—in other words, between the Caliphate and the Infidel—which the “blessed operations of September 11” brought into relief. The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir:

“The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,’ with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone everywhere.”

The idea is for ISIS to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and to create chaos that it can then fill—as its working to do in Europe.

I’ve posted on the Islamist plans for targeting the Grey Zone before and Scot Atran’s article further elaborates on the worst sorts of responses Westerners can have; the best responses to follow; and immediate (military) and long-term methods required to defeat ISIS. Meanwhile, he reminds readers of the key maxims found in the manuals followed by the terrorists (with my own bolded highlighting):

The following axioms are taken from “The Grey Zone”, and from The Management of Chaos-Savagery, published in 2004, that’s become required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir. The group’s actions have been, and likely will continue to be, consistent with these axioms:

Diversify the strikes and attack soft targets—tourist areas, eating places, places of entertainment, sports events, and so forth—that cannot possibly be defended everywhere. Disperse the infidels’ resources and drain them to the greatest extent possible, and so undermine people’s faith in the ability of their governments to provide security, most basic of all state functions.

Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the “Gray Zone” between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called “terror attacks” to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.

Use social media to inspire sympathizers abroad to violence. Communicate the message: Do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.


2016-03-21

It’s a living — being paid to pray

by Neil Godfrey

Today I returned to the Erawan shrine in Bangkok to see how it had fared since last year’s bomb attack (that the Thai government refuses to call an act of “terrorism”). There was very little to remind anyone of the carnage last August. It was very much business as usual. I do feel for the Thai dancers, though. They surely have one of the most gruelling jobs — hours every day sending up prayers to the god through their dance and chants.

Tourists (I’m sure they are mostly tourists, Chinese and Japanese mostly) and the occasional local drop by to pay for a blessing or prayer; the more they pay the longer of more effective the prayer, I think. Pay little and maybe only two dancers will do their act; pay lots and you’ll get the full house. The number of musicians remains constant.

It looks to me like the prayer or blessing one pays for is written on a piece of paper and handed to a lead dancer so she is sure to say the right things and decide how many should accompany her.

And whenever they get a chance for a break they get those crowns off their heads very fast and make the most of their short breaks — checking iphones, having a smoke. It was very hot work and they looked like they were fast wearing down in between dances.

I suppose you could call it a service industry. Those earning the money are giving hope and comfort, not unlike western psychiatrists, astrologers and priests, perhaps.

I try to imagine what Jesus would want to cast out here. Surely he’d have pity on the tedium and low pay that the dancers and musicians so stoically endure. Perhaps he’d be offended at the rip off prices charged for the holy trinkets, incense sticks, prayer scrolls — but he would want to be careful he did not leave the cleaners and maintenance staff without a job. But the prices don’t look all that “rip off” to an affluent Westerner like me. 25 baht is a little less than $1.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.16.26 pm

Those dints in the plaque are probably a reminder of last August’s bomb blast. They weren’t there in June 2015 (the bombing was two months later) when I took the photo below:

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 8.21.01 pm

A $1 for a garland would be very expensive for the poorer Thais but hey, this is a Hindu shrine in “the land of the Buddha”. (Though Buddhists do seem to me to pray to anything that looks sacred.) Maybe Jesus would be angry that the prices prohibited the poorer Thais from participating. But on the other hand there don’t appear to be an over abundance of those poorest Thais in this central part of the big city dominated by multinational brand names no matter what direction one looks.

Maybe Jesus would just like to see the dancers, musicians and maintenance staff get a bigger slice of the day’s takings.

A few short clips:

Looks like two Chinese tourists planning where to place their garlands and incense sticks and one local (left) who has done it many times before. . .

IMG_2860

 

 

 


2016-03-19

Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster on the Jesus Myth

by Neil Godfrey

The Jesus Myth Theory w/ Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 11.48.43 pm

My today began in Australia then spent most of its daylight hours in Singapore and is now in Thailand — and since it’s now over 26 hours since I’ve slept do kindly excuse the absence of comment. Just listen to a great discussion.


2016-03-18

Ethics of Conspiracy Theories

by Neil Godfrey

As a follow on from my recent posts on conspiracy theories here is a discussion from another slant:

The ethics of conspiracy theories

The page includes a link to the full audio interview with philosopher Patrick Stokes.

Previous posts:


2016-03-14

The Fundamentalist Mind of the Historicist Scholar

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the pots and kettles theme . . .

The Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University has posted the following under The Fundamentalist Mind:

Samantha Field has written an excellent post about the fundamentalist way of thinking. Far from being irrational, Field suggests, the fundamentalist might be called hyper-rational. There is a desire for absolute consistency and clarity, which is precisely why fundamentalist atheists who embrace mythicism, as well as fundamentalist Christians who embrace Biblical inerrancy, cannot tolerate the kind of uncertainty that historical inquiry, for instance, must treat as par for the course.

I think the Chair has missed some of the core points of Samantha Field’s article (an article that I largely agree with, by the way) and added some of his own elaboration (e.g. the reference to “clarity”) but it is interesting to compare his own dogmatic certainty about his opponents and his own absolute belief in the historicity of Jesus with the following passage from a mythicist who, I think, can be fairly considered to speak for Carrier, Doherty, Price and others:

All it [Bayesian reasoning in historical inquiry] does is indicate what theory is most rationally believed, at that time. Just like sound historical reasoning. There is a reason for that. Sound historical reasoning is Bayesian. Indeed, sound reasoning in general seems to be Bayesian. Bayesian reasoning simply symbolises and formalises what already takes place in the heads of logical people. In fact, we can take comfort by the fact that this probabilistic approach allows us to make judgements even when evidence is scarce, as it is with the issue of Jesus’ historicity. Bayesian reasoning informs us as to what is more reasonably believed, based on the currently available evidence. As we gather more evidence, our conclusions may change.

Even those that disagree with a scientific-mathematical representation of history can at least agree that history then becomes ambiguous and shall not give us certainty[ 545] – so that the inappropriateness of historicists claiming certainty is illuminated, and agnosticism over Jesus’ history is already justified. . . . 

While we may never know the truth with absolute certainty,[ 548] Bayes’ Theorem allows the scholar to objectively compare how revealed evidence and background knowledge fits various theories, and thus should prove to be very helpful in historical Jesus studies; more so than the popular Criteria.

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 3068-3086). . Kindle Edition.

Would that the Chair could demonstrate the same tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. . . . .

 


2016-03-12

The Ever Convenient Papias

by Neil Godfrey

I leave the following quotations from Bart Ehrman for readers to peruse and draw their own conclusions on what they indicate about pots, kettles and scholarly professionalism. My own bolded emphasis, I admit, is designed to lead you.

In Did Jesus Exist? (2013) Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .

. . . The great church historian of the fourth century, Eusebius, dismissed Papias by saying that he was “a man of very small intelligence” (Church History 3.39).

Intelligent or not, Papias is an important source for establishing the historical existence of Jesus. He had read some Gospels although there is no reason to think that he knew the ones that made it into the New Testament, as I will show in a moment. But more important, he had other access to the sayings of Jesus. He was personally acquainted with people who had known either the apostles themselves or their companions. The following quotation of his work, from Eusebius, makes the point emphatically:

I also will not hesitate to draw up for you, along with these expositions, an orderly account of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders; for I have certified their truth…. Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said, or what Philip or what Thomas had said, or James or John or Matthew or any of the other disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I did not suppose that what came out of books would benefit me as much as that which came from a living and abiding voice.2

Eusebius summarizes what Papias claimed about his sources of knowledge about Jesus, a passage worth citing at length:

This Papias, whom we have just been discussing, acknowledges that he received the words of the apostles from those who had been their followers, and he indicates that he himself had listened to Aristion and the elder John. And so he often recalls them by name, and in his books he sets forth the traditions that they passed along. These remarks should also be of some use to us….

And he sets forth other matters that came to him from the unwritten tradition, including some bizarre parables of the Savior, his teachings, and several other more legendary accounts….

And in his own book he passes along other accounts of the sayings of the Lord from Aristion, whom we have already mentioned, as well as traditions from the elder John. We have referred knowledgeable readers to these and now feel constrained to add to these reports already quoted from him a tradition that he gives about Mark, who wrote the Gospel. These are his words:

And this is what the elder used to say,

“When Mark was the interpreter [or translator] of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord’s words and deeds—but not in order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him; but later, as I indicated, he accompanied Peter, who used to adapt his teachings for the needs at hand, not arranging, as it were, an orderly composition of the Lord’s sayings. And so Mark did nothing wrong by writing some of the matters as he remembered them. For he was intent on just one purpose: to leave out nothing that he heard or to include any falsehood among them.”

So that is what Papias says about Mark. And this is what he says about Matthew:

“And so Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interpreted [or translated] them to the best of his ability.”

And he set forth another account about a woman who was falsely accused of many sins before the Lord,3 which is also found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews…. [Eusebius, Church History 3.39]

This is such a valuable report because Eusebius is quoting, and then commenting on, the actual words of Papias. Papias explicitly states that he had access to people who knew the apostles of Jesus or at least the companions of the apostles (the “elders”: it is hard to know from his statement if he is calling the companions of the apostles the elders or if the elders were those who knew the companions. Eusebius thinks it is the first option). When these people would come to his city of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, Papias, as leader of the church, would interview them about what they knew about Jesus and his apostles. Many conservative Christian scholars use this statement to prove that what Papias says is historically accurate (especially about Mark and Matthew), but that is going beyond what the evidence gives us.4 Still, on one point there can be no doubt. Papias may pass on some legendary traditions about Jesus, but he is quite specific—and there is no reason to think he is telling a bald-faced lie—that he knows people who knew the apostles (or the apostles’ companions). This is not eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus, but it is getting very close to that.

Where conservative scholars go astray is in thinking that Papias gives us reliable information about the origins of our Gospels of Matthew and Mark. . . .

Bart D. Ehrman (2013-03-18 17:00:00-07:00). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 1510-1540). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

In Jesus, Interrupted (2009) Bart Ehrman on the unreliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .

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2016-03-08

For and Against the Anonymity of the Gospels — without table format

by Neil Godfrey

Here I have copied the previous post without the table format (which can only be fully seen on certain browser settings).

Ever since my earlier post Why the Anonymous Gospels? Failure of Scholarship in Pitre’s The Case for Jesus I have intended to address Brant Pitre’s grossly misleading suggestion that all our earliest canonical gospel manuscripts come with the titles we know them by today — Gospel According to Matthew or simply According to Matthew…. etc. and that the argument that the gospels were anonymous until the end of the second century is baseless. Time and other things got in the way but then I read Bart Ehrman presenting the argument for the gospels being anonymous until towards 200 CE and thought that should save me the trouble. So below I have posted side by side Pitre’s and Ehrman’s respective arguments. (In places Ehrman appears to claim the argument as his own but in fact one finds it in works of earlier scholars, too.) I have also included material that is from sources other than Ehrman. I don’t claim to have covered all possible responses to Pitre’s assertions and suggestions in this post, but hopefully there is enough to make a sound assessment of his claims. Feel free to add other points.

—o0o—

The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ / Brant Pitre

[I]n the last century or so, a new theory came onto the scene. According to this theory, the traditional Christian ideas about who wrote the Gospels are not in fact true. Instead, scholars began to propose that the four Gospels were originally anonymous.
Pitre, Brant (2016-02-02). The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (p. 13). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It is especially emphasized by those who wish to cast doubts on the historical reliability of the portrait of Jesus in the four Gospels.  The only problem is that the theory is almost completely baseless.
Pitre, Brant (2016-02-02). The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (p. 16). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

–o–

Jesus before the gospels / Bart Ehrman

In short, the Gospel writers are all anonymous. None of them gives us any concrete information about their identity. So when did they come to be known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? I will argue they were not called by those names until near the end of the second Christian century, a hundred years or so after these books had been in circulation.
Ehrman, Bart D. (2016-03-01). Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (p. 93). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The first thing to emphasize about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is that all four are completely anonymous. The authors never indicate who they are. They never name themselves. They never give any direct, personal identification of any kind whatsoever.
Ehrman, Bart D. (2016-03-01). Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (p. 90). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

—o0o—

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2016-03-03

Theological Assumptions (Can Christianity handle a Jewish Paul?)

by Neil Godfrey

Not long ago I wrote The Jewish Jesus as a Christian Bias. This time I am writing about the Jewish Jesus and Paul as opposed to a Christian bias. Nothing is simple, is it. I do suspect that the focus on the Jewishness of Jesus was originally undertaken with the conscious belief that such a path was more truly historical and a step removed from traditional theological biases, but as with many good intentions others less pure in motive hijacked the process for their own ideological ends — hence my earlier post.

This post, however, addresses the pure in heart, or at least pure in print, and no doubt in intent.

And my motive is? To place on record yet one more instance where biblical scholars, in particular New Testament scholars, set down for the record evidence that the biblical studies guild is indeed ridden with theological bias. So often we hear protestations from certain biblical scholars how so alike they are to other “scientific” academics, so dedicated to “the objective truth”, that anyone who raises the mere possibility that they might be religiously biased can only be a god-hating, angry atheistic, degenerate secular-humanist.

From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (p. 32). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition. — That’s in the Introduction.

magnus-zetterholmMagnus Zetterholm is Associate Professor in New Testament Studies at Lund University. He is the author of Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship (Fortress Press, 2009); The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (Routledge, 2003); and the editor of The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity (Fortress Press, 2007).

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle . Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

The main criticism comes in the first chapter by Magnus Zetterholm. Zetterholm begins by doubting Christopher Hitchens’ assertion that religion poisons everything while at the same time conceding that in the case of Pauline studies

it could, however, easily be argued that this research discipline has indeed been negatively affected by Christian normative theology.

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (p. 31). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

What follows is surely a truism so it is remarkable that some New Testament scholars become quite defensive when a critical outsider attempts to point it out. Much safer, it seems, for such things to be admitted only within the confines of the club walls.

The study of the New Testament in general is, and has always been, a predominantly Christian affair. Christians study the New Testament, often within theological departments of seminaries and universities. Indeed, many scholarly commentary series are for Christians: The New International Greek Testament Commentary specifically states in the foreword that

“the supreme aim of this series is to serve those who are engaged in the ministry of the Word of God and thus to glorify God’s name.”

foreword
Similarly, in the editorial preface to the Word Biblical Commentary, it is stated that the contributors all are “evangelical,” understood

“in its positive, historic sense of a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation, and to the true power of the Christian gospel.”

Furthermore, it is not unusual to find that methodological atheism, a quite natural assumption in most scientific research,[2] is challenged from scholars advocating what must be understood as an alternative theory of science, where supernatural events are possible, and where gods and angels intervene in human affairs. For instance, in his, in many ways excellent treatment of the resurrection of Jesus, presented as a scholarly contribution, N. T. Wright states in the introduction that he will argue

“that the best historical explanation is the one which inevitably raises all kinds of theological questions: the tomb was indeed empty, and Jesus was indeed seen alive, because he was truly raised from the dead.”[3]

Theological conviction drives a comment expressed as if it were merely a historical reflection. From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

Mark D. Nanos (2015-01-01). Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (pp. 31-32). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition. (Italics original; formatting, bolded emphasis, graphics and hyperlinks are mine in all quotations.)

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2016-03-02

Cults & Terrorists in Christianity and Islam

by Neil Godfrey

Several scholarly works (and yours truly, too) have observed significant parallels between the mechanisms that lead people to join “extremist” Christian cults and those that lead others to join radicalised Islamic groups.

Many of us blame the religion of Islam and the Quran for terrorists. Should Christianity and the Bible be held to account for those cults that tear families apart and are directly responsible for deaths of children and others because of willful neglect of medical treatment and indirectly responsible for suicides, and a host of other financial, psychological and social pain and suffering?

Of course Islam is to blame for terrorism, many argue — Just look at those terrible verses in the Quran. And of course at one level it is self-evident that we could not have “Islamic terrorism” without Islam just as it is tautological to blame Christianity for “Christian cults”.

The critics I am talking about, however, mean something more than the obvious tautology. They dismiss the arguments of Muslims themselves to the contrary and point to the Quran or Hadith. Islamic terrorists justify their crimes by these Islamic works so it follows that the religion of Islam is responsible for terrorism, the argument goes.

I have run into this viewpoint most recently this morning in a post by “apologist James Bishop”. James attempted in vain to argue that a Muslim speaker was actually “lying” about her religion by trying to dissociate it from terrorism. James instead pointed to the passages that he believed the terrorists would use to justify their own religious beliefs. Others in his class replied that there are also terrible passages in the Bible. James wanted to argue his own interpretation (for him, the “plain reading”) of these “supposedly” terrible Biblical verses but was overwhelmed by the numbers opposing his claims.

Let’s compare this situation with a Christian cult. The cult to which I belonged emphatically took the Bible (so we sincerely believed) at its word. So much so that we believed other Christians were lukewarm or deceiving themselves (lying?) when they chose to respond differently to some of the Bible’s strongest demands.

  • All who followed Christ would suffer persecution, Jesus said. Most Christians were not being persecuted so “obviously” according to the Bible they were not truly following Christ. They may have been saying, “Lord, Lord” but Jesus said he would cast them out for not actually doing what he commanded.
  • Christ came to bring a sword; not peace. He promised divided families. He said anyone who loves mother or father more than him is not worthy of him. Leave the dead to bury their dead. We were commanded to leave and forsake all to follow God. And that’s what we did.
  • Have faith in God. Without faith we had no chance in the day of judgment. Could we trust God when he commanded us to keep the sabbath, to tithe, to rely upon him for healing — even to the point of losing one’s job, of being unable to afford decent food or clothes or pay the rent or petrol for the car to get to work, or death? If not, we had no chance of making it into the Kingdom of God. Would we refuse to be conscripted into the army and go to jail?
  • Would we live by every word of God in the Bible? Would we follow and submit to his ministry “as they followed God”? And knowing “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” would we submit even if we saw them sin?

Now most Christians would interpret and apply the biblical passages I refer to above differently from the way we did. Does that mean that most Christians are not “true Christians” or that they are “lying” about their religion?

Of course not.

It means that a person’s religious beliefs are to be found in the mind and practices of the person professing them, not in an outsider’s critical view of their holy book. In fact, if an outsider did accuse most Christians of “lying” or deceiving themselves about their own faith because they did not follow the Bible literally (or “fatuously” as someone preferred to describe it) they would in fact be asserting the prior truth of the cultist as the “true Christianity”. Maybe it was, originally. But that’s irrelevant for what it is and means for most Christians today.

Does it mean the Bible and Christianity are responsible for Christian cults. In a sense, yes, but indirectly, surely. To understand why some, a few, do become cult members we do better to look beyond the Bible and Christianity itself, however. That’s what my previous post (How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us) is in part about.

 


2016-02-27

J.P. Holding being sued

by Neil Godfrey

http://tektonticker.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/urgent-legal-defense-fund-for.html

In July 2015, 20 members of the TheologyWeb forum were named as targets of a “libel” lawsuit by a former atheist member.

So far only one of those 20 — me [J.P. Holding] — has been served with complaint and summons, and litigation is in process.

If you would like to help J. P. Holding with is legal expenses you may donate at Tekton/TheologyWeb Legal Defense Fund.

I have no idea about the who or the why in this lawsuit. If you know do inform us.

H/t a Vridar reader.

 

 


2016-02-24

Is Ehrman’s Pre-Pauline Quotation an Anti-Marcionite Interpolation?

by Neil Godfrey

howJesusRecently Bart Ehrman debated Michael Bird the question of how Jesus became God. Just as he had written in his book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee Erhman argued that

  1. the earliest devotees of Jesus viewed him as a normal man, a human messiah, who had been exalted to become God’s son at the resurrection.
  2. Later, Christians came to think that he was the Son of God prior to the resurrection and reasoned that he had been adopted as God’s son at his baptism, as we read in the Gospel of Mark.
  3. Still later others moved his divine sonship back to the time of his birth in Bethlehem. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus only came into existence as God’s son when born to Mary.
  4. Later still Jesus was thought to have been always divine, even before appearing as a man, as we read in the prologue to the Gospel of John.

My first response to this argument was that it ran counter to the pre-gospel evidence, the writings of Paul. But I double checked and saw that Ehrman does find stage #1 above in the writings of Paul. Paul does open his epistle to the Romans with a clear statement of #1 — Romans 1:3-4

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, 

A1 who was descended

  A2 from the seed of David 

    A3 according to the flesh 

B1 and was appointed 

  B2 the Son of God in power

    B3 according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead

Ehrman is well aware that the rest of Paul’s writings inform us that Paul had a much higher view of Jesus than we read in these opening verses of Romans. So I think his larger argument still founders on the reef of Paul. But my interest here is Ehrman’s use of Romans 1:3-4 as the starting point from which he builds his case.

Ehrman informs his readers that many scholars have long considered these verses, 1:3-4, to be pre-Pauline creed that Paul is quoting. Indeed, Ehrman writes (p. 223) that

it could represent early tradition . . . from the early years in Palestine after Jesus’s first followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead. 

Why early?

Part of the reason Ehrman thinks the passage is so early is because of the words translated “spirit of holiness”: such a turn of phrase is an Aramaicism and since Jesus and his first followers spoke Aramaic it follows that they probably formulated the creed. (I will leave the identification of the flaws in this argument up to readers.)

Another reason to judge the passage early appears to be the focus on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah. Ehrman calls upon the much later gospels to support him here. He uses their late testimony (in the belief that true historical data can be gleaned from them via criteria of authenticity) to affirm that the disciples of Jesus believed he was the Davidic messiah in his own lifetime and that they continued to believe this after his death (even though he failed to overthrow Rome as the Davidic messiah was supposed to do) because of the power he attained with his resurrection.

Why think the words are not Paul’s own but a quotation of a well-known creed?

Why does Ehrman (presumably following widespread and long-held scholarly opinion) believe these verses are pre-Pauline words being quoted by Paul? read more »


2016-02-21

Bart Ehrman-Michael Bird Debate & Comments on Mythicism

by Neil Godfrey