Category Archives: Uncategorized


2016-12-21

Breitbart’s War on Jesus “Mythicism”

by Neil Godfrey

America’s alt-right news site, Breitbart, has lumped anyone questioning the existence of Jesus in with those seeking to destroy Western civilization by finding excuses to eradicate the celebration of Christmas from our cultural landscape.

Thomas D. Walker

The author is Catholic theologian Thomas D. Walker PhD (follow the link to his homepage).

Walker begins as follows:

Anti-Christmas grinches have upped the ante in the annual war on Christmas, moving beyond opposition to Nativity scenes and Wise Men to denying the very existence of Jesus.

A new article in Big Think claims that more and more, “historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.”

Trendy atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens also dabbled in the denial of the historical Jesus, with Dawkins asserting that it is possible “to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, and Hitchens averring that Jesus’ existence is “highly questionable.”

Walker’s main counter arguments seems to be . . .

Perry fails to note the very obvious fact that we actually have very little evidence for anyone in the ancient world, especially if the person wasn’t an emperor, general or aristocrat.

As one more sensible atheist has written, we possess “about as much evidence for Jesus as we have for other, analogous preachers and prophets of his time. In fact, we have slightly more for him than most.”

And who is that “sensible atheist” upon whom Walker relies? Why, none other than Tim O’Neill:

Atheist scholar Tim O’Neill notes that almost all non-Christian scholars fully accept evidence from Tacitus and Josephus, “as being evidence that Jesus was, in fact, a historical figure.”

“The mentions of him by those writers are exactly what would we expect if someone like Jesus existed,” he observes.

Anyone not aware of Tim O’Neill in this context can observe his level and style of argument in responses to an article by Valerie Tarico questioning the historicity of Jesus and published on several websites. I have also had several encounters with Tim on this blog and elsewhere and have invited him to a serious discussion of the question in any forum on one condition: that he refrain from abusive language and insult. He has evidently found the condition too onerous to take up.

Tim is not a historian, by the way, any more than I am. We are both amateurs and I think I have more training in historical methods and certainly more knowledge of the methods and philosophies of historical inquiry and writing than he. His degree was in medieval literature, I believe.

And an examination of Thomas Walker’s website indicates he has no background studies in history at all.

I have not yet read Perry’s article, but will do so as soon as the chance arises. No doubt I’ll post more soon on both Perry’s and Walker’s articles.

 

 


2016-12-20

Miscellany

by Neil Godfrey

Some of my recent reading . . . .

On an alternative historical Jesus

— Once more from Lena Einhorn, an interview with Mythicist Milwaukee: Who Was Jesus? w/ Lena Einhorn

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On a tiresome Christian (or any religious) trope

— From Valerie Tarico: Why It’s Time to Call Bullshit on Prayer Requests

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More to discover in Qumran

— From Haarez: New Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments Found in Judean Desert

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Identifying those time-wasting tricks

— From Jeremy Sherman @ Alternet: People Who Will Say Anything to Win an Argument: The art of deciding when you’re talking to a brick wall (See how many academics, not just lay folk, you find deploying these tactics)

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And something important

— From Will McCants: Donald Trump’s sharp contrast from Obama and Bush on Islam has serious implication (Sam Harris tweeted that he found this piece “obscurantist”. He appears to have forgotten some of the moves towards understanding the issues in his book co-authored with Maajid Nawaz.)

 

Updated: I forgot to include this one earlier. . . .

Mehdi Hasan in The Guardian: We accept that Russian bombs can provoke a terror backlash. Ours can too

 


Rise of Religion Worldwide and Belief in God in Australia, Europe

by Neil Godfrey

God belief in Australia

The 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes conducted by the Australian National University found that 67 percent of Australian adults believed either in God (47 percent) or in something they preferred to call a ‘higher power’ (a further 20 percent). A less nuanced Nielsen/Fairfax poll in the same year reported simply that 68 percent believed in God. (To put his in a historical context: in a 1949 Gallup poll, 95 percent of Australians declared their belief in God.) The figures for Australia almost exactly match those for New Zealand and the European Union. (Hugh Mackay 2016, Beyond Belief, Kindle loc 2280)

Unfortunately in the Introduction to the same book we read:

According to John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge in God is Back (2009), ‘the proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism — rose from 67 percent in 1900 to 73 percent in 2003 and may reach 80 percent by 2050’. (Kindle loc 66)

We’ve had predictions of the demise of religious belief before: around the turn of the last century, I think, and then in the 1960/70s, yes?

 


2016-12-19

The Relevance of the Historical Jesus for Christian Faith and Theology

by Neil Godfrey

Nils Alstrup Dahl

It is easy to think that scholarly interest in the historical Jesus stands independently from the Christ of faith and theological preferences. Don’t theologians “doing history” on the “historical Jesus” come up with a figure who does not align with the Jesus of their faith? Don’t theologian-historians deserve to be credited with hard-nosed intellectual integrity for “discovering” such a real-world Jesus?

My views [that the historical Jesus’ disciples believed he was the Christ before his death] are based on the scholarship of one of the great New Testament of the twentieth century, whom most of my readers here (possibly all of them!) have never heard of, Nils Dahl, a Norwegian scholar who taught for many years at Yale University.  Dahl was an amazingly insightful scholar who preferred writing essays to writing books.  When I was in graduate school I and all of my colleagues were heavily influenced by Dahl’s insights (e.g., in his book The Crucified Messiah). . . . (Bart Ehrman, Jesus the Messiah Before the Resurrection)

Bart Ehrman and Larry Hurtado have reminded us of the influence of the Norwegian theologian and Yale professor Nils Alstrup Dahl so I have been following up their notices to learn more about the sorts of things he taught. One of Dahl’s chapters in The Crucified Messiah is “The Problem of the Historical Jesus”. What he says about the importance of the study of the historical Jesus for theology and faith is interesting.

David Strauss had written a book undermining the historical plausibility of many of the accounts of Jesus in the gospels. Dahl addresses the significance of Strauss:

The crisis called forth by Strauss led to an even more intensive preoccupation with the historical Jesus. Thereafter the Life-of-Jesus research not only stood under the aegis of the struggle for freedom from dogma, but also under that of the apologetic defense against Strauss. In the period of empiricism there was also the desire to erect a secure historical basis for Christian faith.  It was assumed that the necessary basis in the sources had been found by means of the Marcan hypothesis and the two source theory. (p. 51)

What lay behind the critical investigations into the historical value of the gospels is also of interest.

The Life-of-Jesus research, in its classic period of the nineteenth century, was in the main a gigantic attempt to get free from the [Chalcedonian] christological dogma of the church, but at the same time to maintain the uniquely religious significance of Jesus. (p. 50)

Hence,

All the liberal biographies of Jesus shared the conviction of having in the historical Jesus an ally in their efforts toward a modern theology and a broad-minded Christianity. Accordingly, the historical Jesus was modernized. (p. 53)

Albert Schweitzer saw right through this dogmatic agenda of historical Jesus studies when he wrote:

He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb. (p. 56)

That particular historical Jesus had to some extent been influenced of the “history of religions school” with its close attention to other dying and rising gods in the Greco-Roman world. More conservative scholars reacted as follows:

The conservative theologians showed a preference for the Jewish background in order to find a support for the historical credibility of the gospel tradition. (p. 57)

But there was a looming threat. Radical criticism could take Jesus right out of the church altogether and comparisons with other ancient religions led to the very questioning of the historicity of Jesus himself:

At first it appeared that the radical Gospel criticism and the history-of-religions school would lead to the assumption of an unbridgeable gulf between Jesus and the church; in this situation it is quite understandable why outsiders proceeded to deny the historical existence of Jesus. (p. 82)

So it was imperative that the study of the historical Jesus be kept in “godly hands”:

The curiosity which underlies all science will certainly lead to a continually new treatment of the problem. If we theologians ignore this task, others will undertake it. Even if the question should be theologically irrelevant (more of this later), we cannot call it illegitimate. The scientific ethos requires that we do not avoid it, but rather work at it in all sincerity, for God’s law lies behind the scientific ethos. The historical critical concern with the problem of the historical Jesus is at least an honorable task which is subject to the distress and promise of every honorable profession, and certainly to the Pauline hos me (“as if not”) as well. (pp. 62-3)

Although god-fearing scholars should be the main body of researchers it was also necessary to include a non-Christians (even Jews!) as well for the following reason:

Scholars with different starting points co-operate and are able mutually to correct each other. For that reason also, it is not desirable that non-Christian scholars remain aloof from this work. In certain respects even antipathy can be illuminating; Jewish scholars, e.g., can have a clear eye for what is characteristic of Jesus. (pp. 63-4)

But is there not a risk that some historical Jesus findings will stand at odds with the Jesus of religious beliefs?

Dahl is not perturbed. Most believers would scarcely be aware of the scholarly studies or if aware of them they could safely ignore them:

It is obvious that the Christian faith and the church would have only a very limited interest in such a presentation of what actually occurred, even if it could be given with a very high degree of historical probability. . . . The believing community could therefore tranquilly disregard the historical description of Jesus’ death and his previous life for the sake of holding to the Gospels and to the rest of the New Testament writings. Once more it would be clear to the church that only the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the witness of the Holy Spirit through the apostles disclose the meaning and the significance of Jesus’ death and his previous life. It will therefore firmly maintain that in the New Testament and nowhere else is it revealed who Jesus really was — without being required to contest the results of historical science. (pp. 75-6)

But what of the theologians themselves? They could scarcely ignore the research. Besides, a communications revolution has happened since Dahl wrote and the academic research has no longer been well hidden from lay believers. The benefits of historical Jesus studies for the faith of theologians (and since Dahl, for the better informed lay Christians) are most remarkable indeed . . . . read more »


2016-12-18

Atheism, Vridar and Blogging Research in Religion, History, Politics, Science. . . .

by Neil Godfrey

With Vridar’s addition to the Top 30 Atheist Blogs it is apropos to discuss my position on atheism and religion.

The Feedspot site Top 30 Atheist Blogs And Websites Every Atheist Must Follow updates atheist blogs regularly. From the site:

The Best Atheist blogs from thousands of top Atheist blogs in our index using search and social metrics. Data will be refreshed once a week.These blogs are ranked based on following criteria

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

The name Vridar originated as a pseudonym for the American writer Vardis Fisher who explored his personal journey from Mormonism to atheism in the two part novel Orphans of Gethsemane. From Wikipedia:

This is a book about what has led us to be the way we are, and makes sense of our male-dominated, Judeo-Christian western society, its families, its values, and its wars. The book is semi-autobiographical. The work is divided into two parts – For Passion, For Heaven and The Great Confession. The first novel deals with the Western, pioneer influences and especially the sexual evolution (and psychological implications) for ‘Vridar’ (Vardis). His actual life was tragic with divorce and suicide. The second book describes an intellectual journey, in particular the research, reading and discussions undertaken before writing the Testament.

Since I identified with so many aspects of the life portrayed in the first part of that novel and then again with his intellectual journey in the second, I chose the author’s fictional name, Vridar, for a blog where I discuss my own intellectual journeys, including lessons drawn from a religious background. (Thanks to Earl Doherty for introducing me to Vardis Fisher’s work, especially his Testament of Man series.)

Like Vardis Fisher what interests me is an exploration into what the scholarly research seeks to uncover about the nature of religion itself and why people embrace religious ideas. Simply attacking religion in today’s world “because it is irrational and bad” does not strike me as a carefully thought-through plan. Rather than react viscerally to religion I am inclined to believe that a more productive exercise is to find out what we can “know of our enemy”. That means serious engagement with the specialist research. That’s why I find myself so often at odds with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and others: they demonstrate over and over that they have not done their homework and instead of contributing towards public enlightenment they are doing more to fan public ignorance and bigotry. But don’t get me wrong. There’s certainly a place for exposing the dangers of particular religious groups and arguing for a more enlightened world, but let’s do it with some genuine understanding of what we are talking about and the psychology involved.

For a brief while after leaving religion and still raw with the pain I had both experienced and observed I was feverishly hostile to the very idea of any religious faith. My bias was obvious to others and I could scarcely ignore it myself. A more productive path, I soon enough decided, was to try to understand why people embrace all kinds of religious ideas. It was not enough to simply say faith and beliefs in unseen powers are irrational and therefore stupid and dangerous. If religion is the opiate of the masses as Marx wrote then it is difficult to accept that every religious person is partaking of the same doses. Some are best described as being on mild aspirin, others on heavy narcotics. There is a range. Does a single explanation really cover it all?

As for the posts on the Bible, ditto. There’s nothing “anti-Christian” or hostile about any of those studies. Again, what does the research tell us about the origins of our Judea-Christian heritage? That’s what interests me.

Then we have politics, history, science — all from the same perspective of wanting to understand what’s going on. I have learned enough about history and the media to know that news reports very rarely provide an understanding of the issues. News reports tend to act more like buttons that switch on public prejudices. National identities are often grounded in myths, the exposure of which can have the potential to foster more civil societies. To understand what’s going on and how we got to where we are is the main preoccupation of this blog.

I’m looking forward to a personal change in circumstances soon that will enable me to devote more time to reading and blogging ideas that should not be confined to the limited readership of academia.

 


2016-12-14

Top 30 Atheist Blogs And Websites

by Neil Godfrey

Vridar is proudly ranked high among Feedspot‘s “Best Atheist Blogs List

Feedspot explains:

The Best Atheist blogs from thousands of top Atheist blogs in our index using search and social metrics. Data will be refreshed once a week.

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Thank you, Feedspot! This is all the more unexpected given that for the past month we have been in a relative hiatus made necessary by everything associated my own major move interstate and miscellaneous special family occasions. Looking forward to returning to “normal” very soon.


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.

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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.