Category Archives: Uncategorized


2013-12-24

A Christmas Thought

by Neil Godfrey
abstinence_fullpic_artwork

http://www.snorgtees.com/t-shirts/abstinence-99-99-effective

From http://www.snorgtees.com/t-shirts/abstinence-99-99-effective


2013-12-22

Richard Dawkins – Appetite for Wonder

by Neil Godfrey

As if on cue — given some recent discussion and a significant point of my previous post . . . .

 

HT ICH . . . .

read more »


2013-11-13

The Late Invention of Polycarp’s Martyrdom

by Neil Godfrey

I’m currently reading The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, by Candida Moss. (See her Wikipedia entry for her credentials and links to several reviews of The Myth of Persecution.) One aspect of her discussion of Polycarp’s martyrdom struck me more than the details alerting us to the fictional elements of the account, and that was the evidence suggesting our account of his death was composed a hundred years later than commonly thought.

One piece of evidence is the sub-narrative about Quintus, a clear foil for the true martyr, Polycarp. Of Quintus we read:

Now one named Quintus, a Phrygian, who was but lately come from Phrygia, when he saw the wild beasts, became afraid. This was the man who forced himself and some others to come forward voluntarily [for trial]. Him the proconsul, after many entreaties, persuaded to swear and to offer sacrifice. Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do.

Quintus was one who rushed to martyrdom. He believed Christians should actively seek out martyrdom. Yet his position is shown to be a complete sham once he confronts reality, and he departs the faith instead.

Candida Moss comments:

Some years after the death of Polycarp, around the turn of the third century, voluntary martyrdom became an issue in the early church. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, a Christian philosopher and teacher in Egypt, argued that those who rushed forward to martyrdom were not really Christians at all, but merely shared the name. (p. 101)

It may be significant, too, that Quintus is singled out as a Phyrgian. It was in Phrygia that the anarchic Montanist movement began from around 168 CE. The Montanists were notorious for their wild prophetic utterances and zealous seeking of martyrdom.

The problem of suicidal volunteering for martyrdom was a phenomenon of the late second and third centuries. Polycarp was supposed to have been martyred 155 CE. read more »


2013-11-01

The clergy are still fighting viciously to prevent the people from having . . . .

by Neil Godfrey

richardjeffersonA passing comment by Professor Richard Jefferson at an Open Access and Research Conference today struck me as very amusingly pertinent to today’s crop of theologians and other biblical scholars. Paraphrased, it was something like this:

The history of religion has had one constant: the clergy have fought viciously to prevent the people from having direct access to the answers.

And it continues today, though I doubt RJ was aware of what many readers of religion blogs have come to learn. But we know that even today the most venerable scholars of God and The Good Book frown severely down upon mere lay folk from daring to draw their own conclusions directly from their own readings of the sources and the scholarly pronouncements upon them. It is the lay person’s job to revere the opinions of the scholars — no matter that scholars are not agreed with one another or that they give contradictory reasons for believing or assuming what they all believe or assum

The people cannot be trusted to make tentative judgments or entertain honest questions about the fundamentals. Even the non-theological scholars of the Good Book warn the laity that they cannot handle the depths of necessary knowledge in ancient languages or sophisticated historical methodologies that require great finesse of intellectual tweaking in order to come to the “right conclusions”. read more »


2013-10-30

How would Jack Andraka ever be recognized if his interest were Biblical Studies?

by Neil Godfrey
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Andraka

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Andraka

Imagine a sixteen year old high school boy relying entirely upon Google, Wikipedia and freely available online scholarly publications claiming to have found a new explanation for Christian origins that was radically different from anything proposed to date. I suspect he will be ignored. If he makes enough noise to attract some popular attention he will be dismissed as a crank.

How could it be any different? Biblical studies are fundamentally ideological.

It is different in the hard sciences where tests for correctness can be devised to give an objective result open to all to see and accept. In the field of cancer research it is quite possible for a sixteen year old high school boy relying entirely upon Google, Wikipedia and freely available online scholarly publications to devise “a new, rapid, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer during early stages when there is a higher likelihood of a cure.”

The result of his project was a new dipstick type diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using a novel paper sensor, similar to that of the diabetic test strip. This strip tests for the level of mesothelin, a pancreatic cancer biomarker, in blood or urine, to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. The test is over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. According to Andraka, it is also 168 times faster, 1/26,000 as expensive (costing around three cents), over 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests, and only takes five minutes to run. He says the test is also effective for detecting ovarian and lung cancer, due to the same mesothelin biomarker they have in common. [Wikipedia article]

199 out of 200 scientists whom Jack Andraka approached asking for the assistance to conduct put his theory to the test rejected his idea. read more »


2013-10-27

Another Islamic study: John the Baptist, not Jesus, was Crucified

by Neil Godfrey

If anyone was upset at Reza Aslan’s book Zealot, a fairly tame view of Jesus by standards of orthodox biblical studies, they will self-destruct when they hear about another Muslim’s take on Jesus. . . .

Agron Belica has already written The Crucifixion: Mistaken Identity, John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. This work was preceded by a warm-up preface of sorts: Deliver a Messiah: Mistaken Identity. The book being advertized through Salem-News is The Passion of the Baptist, Not the Christ.

It’s interesting to look at the way the book is being promoted. I first was made aware of it through Gilad Atzmon’s regular newsletter. His blog post repeats what that contained. Atzmon finds it interesting just as Richard Dawkins was interested to hear Joseph Atwill’s thesis on the Roman invention of Christianity. It’s a harmless curiosity. I don’t believe either of these men will take either of these ideas and shout them from rooftops with conviction. They’ll simply take them as an interesting set of ideas to speculate about.

That won’t stop Fox interviewers or mainstream biblical scholars and theologians from going ballistic, however. If any of them take notice I can hear already their offended cries: But Agron Belica is not one of us! He is not trained in our schools! Therefore he is not qualified to write what he does and we think everyone should scoff at the book and insult its author and avoid reading it.

What is different about this work is that it is apparently based on a study of three pillars:

  • Gospels
  • Josephus
  • Quran and other Islamic texts read more »

2013-10-25

On the Shutting Down of D.M. Murdock’s Facebook Account

by Neil Godfrey
Updated about two hours after original posting. . .

Unlike Richard Carrier, I did not receive a request to sign a petition protesting Facebook’s decision to shut down permanently D.M. Murdock’s/Acharya S’s page. This is a shame in some ways, since I would have been willing to seriously consider joining in such an action. It’s a lesson in what can happen when you decide to publicly slander and treat as enemies those who attempt to make forthright, honest criticisms of your work. Had Murdock or several of her followers not so outrageously reacted against my eventual response to their requests to write what I thought of some of her arguments, she would have recognized another potential avenue for supporting her cause against Facebook now.

Having said that, I must also say that I do not agree with the public showing of the image of Nigerian girls being subjected to virginity tests. (Facebook’s terms of use ban any display of nudity.)

Murdock wanted the image shown to shock readers enough to be outraged and act in whatever way they could to doing their bit to having this practice stopped.

But I would beg Murdock and Carrier and others to stop and think:

Would they want such images being shown world-wide if the victims shown were their own daughters or sisters?

Does how we answer that question suggest something about our attitude towards anonymous Africans? Has anyone stopped to ask how any of the girls in the photograph might feel about having that experience posted around the world? Might anyone even think to try to identify and locate any of those girls and ask them for permission to show them undergoing that ordeal?

Is not publishing that photo only adding to the humiliation of the victims?

Another news story that has recently appeared is of a 16 year old girl who was gang raped, dropped unconscious in a sewer pit, and now confined to a wheel-chair. There is an image against the story of a black girl’s head with her face hidden by her hand. The same article says that the image is not of the girl in the story. It even says the name of the girl in the story, “Liz”, is not the real name of the victim.

I don’t believe anyone who knows the real victim would want any photos of her undergoing any of her humiliation (not that they would be likely to exist) being made public.

I can’t help but think that what we are seeing here with the demands that Murdock’s original image be shown (even with the offending sections being blurred out) is a case of dehumanization of Africans. The girls are anonymous, black, in Africa, therefore “we” feel free to use them for political causes without any consideration of their privacy, their personal individuality and right to be treated with dignity.

I am particularly surprised that Richard Carrier, who is so outspoken on women’s rights, seems to have not stopped to think through this one. The story of the rape I mentioned above is no less confronting for its absence of graphic images of the girl being raped or lying in the sewer pit. Humans are creative enough to find ways to outrage readers and motivate to action without violating the personal dignity of those who have suffered unspeakable humiliation enough.

And even Ophelia Benson has joined voices with Carrier on this one. Something somewhere was said about anthropology research. My understanding is that professional anthropologists are bound by ethics standards that forbid anything that violates the privacy and dignity of others.

Closing Murdock’s Facebook page permanently for this one breach, perhaps well-intentioned but also (I strongly believe) very misguided, is disproportionate.

By the way . . . .

read more »


When “Trusting the Expert Consensus” is Wrong

by Neil Godfrey

I am quite happy to defer to “the expert consensus” when that consensus of experts is grounded upon advanced mathematics, quantum physics or anything medical.

There is a blog out there with a curious byline:

A community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality.

The first post on this blog that I read, however, indicated to me that that byline was ironic. That article, Trusting Expert Consensus, is a mix of good and evil, impeccable logic and fundamental fallacies.

In the introductory section of the post we read:

Expert opinion should be discounted when their opinions could be predicted solely from information not relevant to the truth of the claims. This may be the only reliable, easy heuristic a non-expert can use to figure out a particular group of experts should not be trusted.

From that principle I concluded that the opinion among biblical scholars and theologians that there was an historical Jesus should be discounted. But LessRight disagrees. He/she concludes the opposite, in fact.

The reasoning appears to be basically along these lines:

  • Although an obvious minority in the field, there are a good number of scholars who reject traditional Christianity and espouse quite unconventional and “liberal” views (e.g. Crossan, Borg).
  • This subset of scholars, including even a few who are even atheists, for most part accept the historicity of Jesus.
  • Their liberal or non-religious personal views would not lead us to expect them to believe in the historicity of Jesus.
  • Therefore “non-experts” should defer to the view that Jesus was an historical figure.

(By the way, I owe a thanks to J. Quinton for alerting me to this post.)

Yet the same article also concedes that virtually all of even those liberal or atheistic scholars were at some time in their lives believing Christians.

That tells us something that the article nowhere addresses. read more »


2013-10-19

Beat Poem to Share with Critical Thinker / Sceptically-Minded Friends

by Neil Godfrey

Better to be a latecomer to the best on the net than never to discover it at all. Since learning more about Tim Minchin (hear/view the last half of the videoclip — from 11:55 on — in the video I added to the Kick Joe Atwill Week post in which Tim is awarded his honorary degree of Doctor of Letters) I have decided to seek out and watch much more of Tim Minchin to see why he is acclaimed a genius in music and comedy.

To see the lyrics and another presentation (more personally direct) of this work . . . . read more »


2013-10-12

Thank You God — Tim Minchin

by Neil Godfrey

Lyrics . . . . read more »


2013-10-06

New Biblical Criticism & History Forum

by Neil Godfrey

Dismayingly the old FRDB (Freethought and Rationalism Discussion Board) forum History of Abrahamic Religions & Related Texts has been closed down. I do hope others who recognized the value of that forum will add their voices in persuading the owners to preserve its archives for ongoing free access.

Peter Kirby has stepped in to help out by setting up an alternative site to continue the same sorts of discussions:

Biblical Criticism & History Forum – earlywritings.com

yes, the History of Abrahamic Religions & Related Texts (ye olde BC&H forum of IIDB) lives on…

Peter has a post discussing a little of the background on his blog. read more »


2013-09-11

Now this is worthwhile (big) history!

by Neil Godfrey

bigh-van_gogh_starry_night_over_the_rhoneWe surely need a new narrative to replace the nationalist and socialist narratives that have fueled the histories we have been taught, read and watched on film. And it looks like someone with money and interest has spotted one such narrative to give us a new perspective on where we are and where we’ve been.

The new course

gives students a wide-angle look at the universe and humanity’s presence on the cosmic timeline, by combining the sciences, history and economics into one cohesive story.

Check out the Macquarie University’s description of the course:

Big History is the attempt to understand, in a unified and interdisciplinary way, the history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity. Big History is ambitious – it seeks understanding by bringing together and linking the knowledge available in many different scholarly disciplines.

Further details on how Bill Gates has become involved

http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/history-but-with-a-bang-20120219-1thkq.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-10/bill-gates-big-history/4946140

 

 


2013-08-25

The Rich-Poor Divide Not So Extreme in Jesus’ Day

by Neil Godfrey
en:Lower Galilee

en:Lower Galilee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the discussions on the economy of Galilee in the time of Jesus, the presence or absence of large land-estates must play a significant role. Based on a reading of the parables attributed to Jesus, one could conclude that there were many estates of significantly large size and that they contributed to the economic conditions of Galilee causing loss of land and a growing rural proletariat. (From the abstract to “Did Large Estates Exist in Lower Galilee in the First Half of the First Century CE?” by David A. Fiensy, published in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 10 (2012) 133-153)

This is indeed the image that has been conveyed by scholars like John Crossan and James Crossley who have applied theoretical models of socio-economic development to the Galilee region and concluded that extremes of economic oppression and divides between rich and poor were critical in explaining the appeal of Jesus’ teachings.

More generally, however, many have taken the implications of Jesus’ parables as clear evidence of the economic conditions of early first century Galilee. This is so regardless of whether they have accepted the parables as having been literally spoken by Jesus himself.

David Fiensy informs us that scholars have assumed that the parables attributed to Jesus spoke of real economic conditions in Lower Galilee in the time of Jesus ever since the publication, in 1928, ‘Grossgrundbesitz in Palästina im Zeitalter Jesu’, Palästina Jahrbuch 24, pp. 98-113, by Johannes Herz.

Specifically, several of Jesus’ parables assume that there were large agricultural estates in ancient Palestine/ Israel. Certainly these estates were not as large as the celebrated ones listed above, but they were large enough to require tenant farmers, agricultural slaves, and bailiffs to care for the landowner’s farm.

Luke 16:1-7 speaks of debts of 100 measures of oil and 100 measures of wheat. According to Herz, such an amount could only be lent from an estate of at least 160 olive trees and 40 acres of wheat.

Similarly, great wealth and large estates are implied in the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30 / Luke 19:11-27), the Parable of the Debtors (Luke 7:41-43 / Matt. 18:24-34) and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:21-35).

Still other parables depict scenes on a large estate. The Parable of the Rich Fool (Lk. 12.16-21), for instance, describes an estate owner hoarding grain in a manner reminiscent of an account in Josephus (Vita 119) about the granary of Queen Berenice. Lk. 17.7 refers to a man’s servant plowing his field for him. Mt. 20.1-15 describes a large landowner who has so much land he must hire day laborers to work it. Lk. 12.42-43 alludes to a wealthy man who has a bailiff to run his estate.

The presence of large estates in Lower Galilee is crucial for understanding the society in the early decades of the first century. Their existence implies exploitation and dispossession of the small farmers and laborers. If they did not exist then we can infer “most peasants still lived on their own land and controlled their own economic destiny.”

This has significant implications for theories that relate Christian origins to Jesus’ appeal to economically oppressed and destitute — or some such variant of a Marxist hypothesis as we find in the works of the likes of Crossan and Crossley. Do economic conditions in Lower Galilee really contribute to our understanding of Christian origins? read more »


2013-08-15

Comments and Spam

by Neil Godfrey

Vridar is getting over 400 spam comments a day. This is too much for us reasonably to be expected to regularly check in any detail.

We do know that some comments for some unknown reason do get caught up in spam.

So if you post a comment that does not appear immediately please do email either Tim or myself (see the contact info page for how) and we will rescue your comment from the spam bin. read more »