Monthly Archives: April 2007

Comparing the sources for Alexander and Jesus

We have 5 literary sources for the life of Alexander the Great (late 4th century bce):

  1. Diodorus Siculus (1st century bce): 17th book of Universal History
  2. Quintus Curtius Rufus (1st century ce): History of Alexander
  3. Plutarch (2nd century ce): Life of Alexander
  4. Flavius Arrianus Xenophon (Arrian) (2nd century ce): Campaigns of Alexander
  5. M. Junianus Justinus (Justin) (3rd century ce): epitomized the work of Pompeius Trogus (Augustan age)

Is it fair to accept these as evidence for an historical Alexander while not accepting the canonical gospels as sources for an historical Jesus? I think so for three reasons: read more »

The two-edged sword of Christian allegorizing

What if a second century attempt to allegorize the Christian holy books had succeeded in the way early Christians allegorized the Jewish scriptures? read more »

On an early date for Acts — and its problems

One of the historical giants of biblical scholarship, Adolf von Harnack, from 1908 argued for the Book of Acts being composed possibly as early as the 60s ce, in the lifetime of the apostle Paul. His reasons: read more »

Big Brother News tells us Europe meets U.S. on the Missile Shield

Duh . . . so Big Brother News Voice says Europe has now agreed to allow US to build a missile shield around much (not all) of that continent, to guard against the threat, of course, of ‘rogue states’ like Iran. (For ‘rogue state’ read state who does not submit to the will and whim of the U.S. and who has yet to pay the price for daring oppose the Boss of the Whole World back in President Jimmy Carter days.)

And why would European states now at this time finally agree to go along with the Missile Shield? Why no threat perceived before now? Well, one does wonder about how the U.S. usually goes about getting support for its projects — economic bribes and threats. So that’s why News reports sound so Orwellian — they make it sound like Europe has now seen ‘eye to eye’ with the U.S. More likely, as common sense and experience would tell us, they now see more clearly and in focus nice fresh American dollars.

And a Missile Shield for “defence”? So what wasn’t needed to defend againt the Soviet Union is now needed to defend against Iran who doesn’t even have a nuclear missile?

The threat of guaranteed total annihilation in retaliation for any nuclear strike is not enough?? This sort of fear-mongering is all from the same Monty Python cloth as Saddam threatening to launch missiles on the U.S. mainland!

Of course to any rational person the intent of the Missile Shield is clear. It is to position the U.S. to be able to threaten and attack any country without substantially reduced risk of their target being able to retaliate in any way at all. But you don’t get rational or two-sided reporting on the News bytes.

The US can now be proud of Iraq

America has without question successfully exported their way of life to the Emerald City in the Middle East, Baghdad, enjoying as it does the equivalent of 2 Virginia Techs every day!

The Jesus Tomb Part 1 — interview with Simcha Jacobovici

Never suspected I’d be putting up a link to this but here we are (only because I have some respect for interviewer Rachel Kohn’s judgment on what’s intellectual and fair despite/beneath marketing requirements) . . . .

Check out ABC Radio National’s The Ark, a 15 minute podcast — but it’s only in podcast and online for 4 weeks. More parts to follow — check the website to see the more critical interviewees in store. . . . read more »

Faith based empire

Amazing. Conquer a country and then select the loyal and the willing, the politically correct, often the youth with no experience, to run the country, flick off with scorn anyone with real knowledge or skills relevant to the country, — then set up your new ruling body in a sealed off area that is a little america, where once a year they have a cultural evening of entertainment to show what the culture is like on the outside — that’s how Rajiv Chandrasekaran discovered the US has misruled Iraq from the “green zone” in Baghdad! He discussed his experiences in “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone” (2007). Haven’t read it, but listened to a lengthy interview with him on Late Night Live last night.

Among the highlights:

A young man less than a year out of college with no experience in the stock market was put in charge of getting Iraq’s stock exchange up and running again. Result: he had it shut down for a year despite many locals willing and able to get it going immediately.

At the time of massive unemployment Bremer’s first task as he saw it was not to create jobs but to sit down and re-write the TAX laws.

Americans are so fearful of being poisoned that they import all their food into the Green Zone from outside Iraq. This includes pork and ham which of course is offensive to local Muslim workers in that zone.

Many employees in the Green Zone demonstrate not the slightest interest in life or the country outside concrete walls of the Green Zone.

But one thing not in the book, the comment on the recent bombing inside the Iraqi parliament — now that could well be a turninng point, as the bombing of the Shia mosque was that triggered the sectarian war. Without the most basic security able to be given the (supposed) rulers . . . .

And despite all the hype at the time on how hard it would have been to get past the security to blow themselves up, Rajiv explained it was not difficult at all. The only places where one goes through endless security checks is the entries to American areas. The parliament was being guarded by Iraqis with minimal checks.

What if Jesus intentionally acted out the OT “prophecies”?

This question keeps popping up all over the place. I’d like to kill it. read more »

America Right or Wrong / Anatol Lieven

Not sure if this series of posts is going to turn out to be more review or just notes and commentary on Anatol Lieven’s book, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (2004).

“This book seeks to help explain why a country which after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had the chance to create a concert of all the world’s major states — including Muslim ones — against Islamist revolutionary terrorism chose instead to pursue policies which divided the West, further alienated the Muslim world and exposed America itself to greatly increased danger. The most important reason why this has occurred is the character of American nationalism, which in this book I analyze as a complex, multifaceted set of elements in the nation’s political culture.” (p.2)

Lieven compares America’s nationalist popular bellicosity and foreign policy stance to that of the great imperial powers of the nineteenth century — Germany, Britain, Russia — and observes that it is the European countries who tasted the fruits of that sort of belligerent nationalism in World Wars 1 and 2 who today look down on America’s belated attempt to continue that same path.

Lieven notes the irony of American isolationism, too. It is not something that predictably pulls America inward and avoiding any involvement with the outside world, but manifests itself as a sense of being alone, the light on the hill, the misunderstood white knight, who unilaterally involves itself with other nations. It is her isolationist stance that prevents her from understanding and truly effectively engaging with the world except in ways that only ‘blowback’ the consequences of scorn and contempt.

But one difference between America’s position and that of the Europeans of the 19th century: America’s population does not have the motivation to expend the vast amounts of energy required to maintain their empire. Many even deny that it is an empire that they rule. They fail to see that though they may not always rule as directly as did the British in India, they surely do rule in a manner that is little different from the way the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries ruled the East Indies — indirectly.

to be continued of course….

A Literary Culture of Interpolations

In response to those who dismiss a priori the likelihood of interpolations in the letters of Paul, Walker lists the following: read more »

Breaking the Spell: Daniel Dennett on religion

Another Radio National transcript of interview with a leading scientist on God and religion. From the “All in the Mind” program: read more »

Why the misconceptions about Al-Qaeda?

Continuation of notes from Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror by Jason Burke.

Why do the misconceptions about Al-Qaeda persist?

Reason 1: It is convenient and reassuring to think of al-Qaeda as a traditional terrorist group. It promises an sure victory once the organization is defeated.

Reason 2: Repressive governments can avoid international criticism by labelling their opponents as having links with al-Qaeda. Jason Burke notes that in the autumn of 2001 previously undetected al-Qaeda cells were “discovered” in scores of countries:

  • Uzbekistan (Tashenk suddenly branded U’s local Islamic Movement as ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • China (the longstanding independence movement among the Uighar Moslems was branded an ‘al-Qaeda’ branch)
  • Thailand (bomb blasts in the south of Thailand by groups for many years in turf war between police and military over smuggling and racketing, and in which local Islamic gropus were sometimes involved, were now blamed on ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Macedonia (8 illegal economic immigrants shot dead at a border were accused of being ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Tunisia (left-wing opponents of the Tunisian government were re-labelled as ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Philippines (The Abu Sayyaf group, a local independence movement many decades old, that has largely abandoned militant Islam in preference for crime, especially kidnapping western tourists, has been branded ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Kashmir (As tensions mount between Pakistan and India over Kashmir claims of bin-Laden hiding there always arise.)

Reason 3: “Intelligence services lie, cheat and deceive. Propaganda is one of their primary functions.” (p.19) — e.g. the British intelligence dossier of 4 October 2001 claimed substantial bin-Laden links with the drug trade. Fact: everyone involved in the drug trade from Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere, including UN experts monitoring drugs production, deny bin-Laden’s involvement. The lie was akin to propaganda about German atrocities in World War 1. Similar false stories circulated about Saddam’s links with al-Qaeda.

Reason 4: The media knows what sells. Ironically information from security services is widely seen as having greater veracity and is exempt from normal journalistic scrutiny. A story containing bin-Laden will sell easily.

Reason 5: Bin Laden is happy to encourage myths about his power. He rarely confirms or denies his involement in any operation.

“Myth breeds more myth” (p.21)

I would add another here — that a few groups may well want to proclaim a link with al-Qaeda to provoke more fear than their real clout warrants. Such may be the case of the group claiming responsibility for recent bombing in Algeria (if indeed they did claim this and that news was not concocted by the Algerian government).

Part 6 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

Continuation of notes from Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror by Jason Burke.

3rd element: the idea, the worldview, ideology of ‘al-Qaeda’ and those who subscribe to it.

Bin Laden does not have power to issue orders that are instantly obeyed.

Bin Laden does not kidnap young men and brainwash them. People voluntarily travelled to the Afghan ‘al-Qaeda’ run military and terrorist training camps (1996-2001) and none was kept there against their will.

Bin Laden’s associates spent much of their time selecting which of the myriad requests for assistance they would grant. These requests were for help with bombings, assassinations and murder on large scale. (Burke, p.17)

These people share the same worldview as bin Laden and the ‘al-Qaeda hardcore’. They may or may not belong to any radical group. What unites them is the ‘way of thinking about the world, a way of understanding events, of interpreting and behaving’. (p.17)

A gnostic mind game with Paul and Mark

Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Paul cites the many gnostic interpretations of Paul’s letters. The point is well made that our interpretation of Paul is inherited from the founders of the orthodox church today. Yet this interpretation was not so universal in the second century. Irenaeus took issue with the gnostics for claiming to have secret traditions that they claimed had been handed down from Paul in order to explain the spiritual (“pneumatic”) understanding of his letters. read more »