The GOOD legacy of a fundamentalist and cultic life: 10

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Leaving the Fold Marlene Winell’s encouraging list of some of the good one can take away from the fundamentalist or cultic experience, mingled with my own thoughts . . . . (See also her newly established Recovery from Religion website.) — earlier posts under the Winell and Fundamentalism categories linked here.


Religious groups often provide opportunities for both training and experience in: Continue reading “The GOOD legacy of a fundamentalist and cultic life: 10”

Some reasons to question the authorship of Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

Herman Detering in The Falsified Paul [link downloads a 2 MB PDF file] lists a series of brief points to alert readers to “some questions and problems which could give a moment’s pause even for those who until now have never doubted the authenticity of all the Pauline writings.” (p.54) I have singled out those that apply (though not exclusively) to the letter to Galatians, generally taken as indisputably by Paul.

Reason 1: The introductory description of the author Continue reading “Some reasons to question the authorship of Galatians”

Human rights in China

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by Neil Godfrey

The Tibetan separatist movement is a red herring (post 1, post 2). Human rights issues in China deserve a far more comprehensive and incisive response from westerners.

For a more comprehensive picture see the 2007 Amnesty International Report on China for details of abuses:

  • against human rights defenders
  • against journalists and internet users
  • against rural migrants
  • against women
  • against spiritual and religious groups
  • use of death penalty against 68 offences, including non-violent ones
  • use of torture, arbitrary detention and unfair trials

not forgetting specific abuses and applications of the above in relation to:

  • Uighurs
  • Tibetans
  • North Korean refugees
  • refusal to apply the UN Refugee Convention to Hong Kong

Supporting, or failing to distinguish, separatist movements that are contrary to international law is doing a disservice to the thousands whose lives are destroyed and ruined throughout China through human rights abuses.


What is happening in Tibet (2)

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by Neil Godfrey

Related post now added at Tibet protests . . . hope for Diego Garcians. . .?

Update from my previous post on this topic. See also Human Rights in China.

Update 1: The ugly reality (Ahmed Quraishi)

Pakistani foreign affairs commentator Ahmed Quraishi has argues that the Tibetan issue has been orchestrated by Washington to isolate China, especially in respect to Iran and oil-rich African nations. An article of his in Global Politician, Pakistan Beware, They Are Cornering China, makes some observations worth further exploration and debate. They partly support my own interpretations of what I have observed in news film footage over the last several weeks, that the evidence points to the real issue being racial conflict and the manipulation of this by external and/or sectional political interests:

. . . the ugly reality of what . . . . separatists have done during the Tibet riots. They burned five young waitresses alive in a restaurant. They snatched a young Chinese boy from his father, put him on the ground and then stomped on his chest and abdomen. An ethnic Tibetan doctor who tried to save the Chinese boy’s life was beaten by Dalai Lama’s insurgents. The Tibetan doctor is hospitalized in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. The kid couldn’t make it. How about the infant who was burned alive in her parents’ apartment set on fire by the separatists? . . . .

And please don’t believe the U.S. propaganda depicting the riots as some kind of a Tibetan backlash against Chinese oppression. Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, is far ahead in modernization than India’s biggest northern cities across the border. This is the place where China spent a staggering U.S. $ 4.1 billion just to build the world’s highest rail track, a luxury service stretching 1,142km from Beijing to Lhasa. It’s part of an elaborate Chinese vision to ‘open up’ the country’s sparsely populated western regions and make them key to China’s growth in the 21st century.

The western focus now is to push the Chinese government to make one wrong move so that Washington and other ‘allied’ governments could drag Beijing into a costly confrontation. . . .

Update 2: Mythical images (Michael Parenti)

A lengthy article by Michael Parenti, Friendly Feudalism: — The Tibet Myth, examines the various political strains of Buddhism throughout Asia, pointing out that contrary to popular western images, not all Buddhists currently are or have been peaceful. Robert Pape’s Dying to Win documents Buddhists among other non-Islamic individuals being among the earliest and more numerous incidents of horrific violence among some sections of Buddhists.

Update 3: Democrats or feudal slave-owners? (Gary Wilson)

Gary Wilson looks at the history of the 1959 Tibetan uprising in Tibet and the March 10 commemoration of the CIA’s 1959 ‘uprising’. He argues that far from being a popular uprising it was more comparable to the Bay of Pigs fiasco where outside powers attempted to restore feudal rulers and slave owners who would back the right side in the Cold War.

Update 4: The financial and political backers of The International Campaign for Tibet (Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich)

Iranian-American Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich in The Tibet Card writes that the International Campaign for Tibet

receives grants from the National Endowment for Democracy – a State Department operation which engages non-suspecting NGOs to openly do what the CIA did/does.

Soraya adds

Neoconservative queen, Jean Kilpatrick was pushing The Committee of 100 for Tibet with artists such as Richard Gere as unsuspecting fronts.

and not to completely overlook a few other little goodies on the side . . .

Tibet has the world’s largest reserve of uranium, and in addition to gold and copper, large quantities of oil and gas were discovered in Qiangtang Basin in western China’s remote Tibet area. A friendly Dalai Lama would help reimburse the CIA subsidies, and much more.

Soraya’s main argument, however, is that the funding and political support for these protests are aimed at isolating China in particular from Iran.

With names like the National Endowment for Democracy and Jean Kilpatrick associated with the current protests over Tibet, anyone with any nous should surely think twice and ask for hard evidence of any claims and assertions being made by all sides before leaping in to the fray.

Yes the Chinese government is responsible for some of the most egregious human rights abuses that ought to be challenged. But we are not helping that cause by siding with the programs backed by the National Endowment for Democracy.

More on National Endowment for Democracy:

Trojan Horse (Blum)

Loose cannon (Conry/Cato)

Paying to make enemies (Paul)



The post 70 construction of Jesus’ tomb

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by Neil Godfrey

The earliest narrative involving the tomb of Jesus constructs that tomb from images and scenarios that suggest the author was looking back on the 70 c.e. destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Firstly, in none of the writings of Paul, generally dated well before 70 c.e., is there any mention of a tomb of Jesus. Even when Paul is attempting to advance his most persuasive arguments for the resurrection of Jesus, he does not even hint at any knowledge of a tomb, empty or otherwise.

Secondly, Crossan et al have pointed out that the hard realities of ancient crucifixions make the most likely historical scenario one where Jesus’ body was left to scavenging animals once (if) removed from the cross. (The character Joseph of Arimathea is a literary invention to ease the pain of this reality and/or develop another prophetic fulfilment scene.) This historical fact about crucifixions and the crude methods of Roman “justice” in relation to perceived troublemakers in Palestine make sense of Paul’s silence over a tomb.

The image of the destroyed Temple

The first narrative of the tomb burial of Jesus is in Mark’s gospel. The metaphor that comes to the author’s mind as he writes is one that reminds him of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. Isaiah, when speaking of an earlier destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, compared the Temple to a tomb hewn out of a rock:

Go . . . to Shebna who is over the house and say, . . . You have hewn a sepulchre here, as he who hews a sepulchre on high, who carves a tomb for himself in a rock . . . (Isaiah 22:15-16)

So Mark wrote:

And he [Joseph of Arimathea] laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock . . . (Mark 15:46)

The words for “hewn” in both the Greek Old Testament passage of Isaiah and Mark’s Gospel are variants of “latomenw”, and the same words for rock and tomb are also used. Given that the author of Mark’s gospel liberally constructs his entire Passion Narrative from allusions to OT passages, so the correspondence between Isaiah and Mark here is not likely to be coincidence.

The gospel author, it should further be noted, had this tomb scene in mind when he wrote his earlier narrative of the paralytic being lowered by 4 friends through the roof of the house to be healed by Jesus (Mark 2:1-12). There the place where Jesus was staying could not be accessed through the normal entrance because of the enormous crowd, and entry had to be gained by digging out the roof. Similarly with Jesus’ burial, the normal entrance to this place that had been dug out of the rock was blocked by a massive bolder. In both cases the one placed in this place rose up and miraculously walked through the main doorway.

So the gospel’s reference to the tomb being “hewn out of rock” is not an incidental aside, but an integral part of the image in the author’s mind.

And the origin of this image is its metaphorical use to describe the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem.

This was the origin of the earliest narrative image of the tomb of Jesus.

The image of Joshua’s captives in the cave

A few commentators have also suspected that the idea of the rock tomb for Jesus derived from the account in Joshua of the king of Jerusalem (with others) being “buried” in a cave, or at least sealed in the cave by rocks at its mouth, and then subsequently emerging alive from that cave, and being hung to die on a tree until sunset (Joshua 10:16-27).

Farrer raised the possibility that the author of Mark may have been drawing on the theology of Paul in order to make the link between these scenes in the Book of Joshua and the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

Before explaining that possible connection, it is worth recalling the tropes of dramatic reversals found throughout Mark’s gospel. One of these is the way the author portrays the crucifixion of Jesus in terms of a reverse Roman Triumphal march. Schmidt’s detailed argument for this can be read here. (One little detail not included by Schmidt is the description of Simon of Cyrene coming in out of the country. A third century c.e. Roman novel by Heliodorus speaks of those carrying the weapons used to make the sacrifice typically being brought in from and wearing the dress typical of the countryside.)

With the author’s penchant for ironic reversal with the way he plays on the Roman triumph to depict Jesus’ ironic victory on the cross, the possibility of a Pauline theological interpretation of the Joshua narrative comes more sharply into focus.

Colossians 2:14-15 (Colossians being one of the debated letters as to Pauline provenance) proclaims Jesus as making a public humiliating spectacle of spiritual enemies, of himself nailing them to the cross. Jesus’ crucifixion is seen as not a passive event but as an ironic action by Jesus crucifying all that stands against the people of God.

Given this theological understanding of the death of Jesus, it is less difficult to imagine an author reading a book of the namesake of Jesus (Joshua being the Hebrew, Jesus the Greek) conquering resoundingly the land of Canaan, tearing down city walls, enslaving or slaughtering the native population.

In Joshua 10 when Joshua/Jesus takes on the King of Jerusalem and his allies, there is a great sign in heaven (the sun stands still for a whole day). Similarly when Jesus is on the cross, there is a great sign in the heavens when darkness descends over the land for 3 hours at midday. (It is a miracle, not an eclipse, because it happens at the time of the full moon — the Passover.) Joshua/Jesus then orders the “burial” of his enemy king in the cave which is sealed with boulders, and then releases him, but only to hang him till sunset on a tree. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13 that Jesus was hanged on the tree. And in Colossians we read that in doing so Jesus was hanging the things that were against the godly on that tree.

But why would an author even think of a book about a military conqueror of Canaan in the first place, if that is indeed what he did, when constructing his story of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

The Book of Joshua follows the death of Moses. The Moses cult had suddenly ended with the invasion of Palestine by the Romans and their destruction of the Temple in 70 c.e. Mark 13 looks towards Jesus (Joshua) coming in clouds to usher in a new Kingdom in place of the old. The apocalyptic imagery used there is the same as we read in the Old Testament when it speaks of God descending and destroying cities and armies. Was the Roman invasion seen by some as an act of God or Jesus, coming on clouds with thunder etc, to destroy his old kingdom and declare its replacement with a new spiritual kingdom?

Destroy this temple . . .

Mark declares that those who accused Jesus were false witnesses when they charged Jesus with challenging others to destroy the temple to see if he would rebuild it in 3 days. But the gospel of John holds that Jesus said just that. The reason Mark claimed that this charge was false needs to be seen in the context of the other sayings of Jesus in his gospel and in the way they were falsely interpreted by the disciples. Mark’s gospel mocks the understanding of those hearers of Jesus who could not distinguish the spiritual meaning from the physical images. The disciples are criticized for not understanding the miracle of the loaves was not about bread supplies. Similarly, the reason that the witnesses were making false testimony in regards to Jesus’ saying about the temple, was that they wrongly took his image literally, and not figuratively about his body.

But what is significant about this “false testimony” is that it appears to be yet one more image that can be added to the constellation of images used by the author to relate Jesus’ death and burial to war, conquest, Roman Triumphal marches and the destruction of the Temple.

Finally, it should be further noted that Mark’s gospel is clear that Jesus will be seen again by those in his generation when he comes in his power to judge Jerusalem (Mark 13:26; 14:62). The imagery, as commented above, is the same as that found in the Prophets and Psalms for God’s coming down to destroy kingdoms and cities and peoples. He is seen in the bloody judgment of his rod, his axe, his spear, . . . . that is, the armies he uses to do his work (c.f. Isaiah 10:15).

Post 70 c.e. construction of the tomb narrative

None of the above of course “proves” that the tomb story originated after the fall of Jerusalem. But the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple does undeniably provide a most plausible backdrop for the development of the story. Indeed, the whole gospel story itself fits such a time. The era of Moses as traditionally known was ended, or at least under severe challenge and questioning in the wake of the 70 c.e. destruction. How natural to turn to images that spoke of a resurrection, a transformation, a new start with a new Israel, from the ruins of the old! Out of the invasions of Rome could be fantasized transforming and hopeful images of another invasion by Joshua; after the end of Moses hope could be found in Joshua; and out of the ruins of the old Temple could rise a new Israel, a new people of God, led by Joshua/Jesus rising out of that metaphoric tomb.


Luke denies an early (pre-70) date for the Gospel of Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

The gospel of Mark is said by some to have been written soon after the time of Jesus, possibly as early as the 50’s or even 40’s c.e. A significant part of this argument asserts that the events sequenced in the Little Apocalypse in each (Mark 13; Matthew 24) can be found in the historical events facing the church as early as that time. Luke’s gospel re-words this prophetic speech by Jesus in a way that informs readers that its author did not believe any of the events prophesied had happened so early. Firstly, a look at the sequence of events as found in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. . . .

Mark 13:6-8; Matthew 24:5-8 (all text references are hyperlinked)

The first prophetic event attributed to Jesus is that many deceivers would come in His name claiming “I am (Him).

Arguments for an early date for the recording of this in Mark’s gospel (the earliest written) say that this could have been fulfilled by Christian leaders boasting that Christ was speaking through them (Theissen). The Samaritan prophet who led a group up Mount Gerazim in search of Temple vessels according to Josephus, and the self-promoting claims of Simon Magus, are also tossed in as possible referents. This despite the fact that there is no evidence that either of these latter two made the sort of potentially deceitful claim touted by Jesus. The earliest evidence for what Simon Magus did say, Acts 8, in fact denies absolutely that he presented himself making his proclamations in the name of Jesus.

The next event are the wars, among both “kingdoms and nations (peoples/races)”

Early daters of Mark refer here to the Antipas-Nabatean war of 36-37 c.e. and rumours of war or at least intrigues involving more distant Parthians and Armenians. Greek-Jewish riots in Alexandria led to the Roman emperor Caligula sending legions to enforce the placement of his statue in the Jerusalem temple around 40 c.e. The only actual war then affecting Judea in any way at all was the Antipas-Nabatean war, but the other events can be talked up to create the impression of a more objective state of “wars and rumours of wars among kingdoms and nations” than everyone will feel comfortable accepting.

Next, earthquakes, famines, etc.

There was a major earthquake in Antioch/Syria in 37 c.e. Some have seen agrarian tax alleviation policies as signs of famines, although there could be other reasons for these. Occupying Roman legions, for example. Besides, does one earthquake to the north of Judea and several years old justify a claim that earthquakes (plural) point to Judea being under apocalyptic threat?

All of these are the beginning of sorrows; don’t fret; the end is not yet

Both gospels of Mark and Matthew make it clear that all of these things must first happen, but that readers should take them in their stride. They will be daily news when they happen and will not themselves be signs of the end.

Luke 21:8-11 follows the same sequence as found in Mark and Matthew above.

Luke changes direction

Comparing Luke 21:12 ; Mark 13:9-13; Matthew 24:9-13

Both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels structure the sequence of events, along with notices of what must first happen, etc, to lead readers to understand that after the above events, persecution will fall upon the church. Not only persecution, but betrayals from within.

Don’t worry, what you see is not the sign you want to see, just be careful you are not deceived. Next: persecution follows. Now it gets serious for believers. More than simply be alert to avoid deception, they must now consider whether they can endure to the very end. That’s the message of the first two gospels.

But not Luke’s gospel. Luke changes the words of Jesus to say something else, to throw the whole sequence up into the air. And there would appear this author had a good reason for this change which I will come to.

Luke 21:12

But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you . . . (The English translation accurately enough reflects the Greek here.)

In other posts I have argued (or will argue) that our gospel of Luke was a redaction of an earlier gospel, redacted by the same who authored Acts (Tyson). However that may be, many accept some form of unity of authorship or redaction of Luke-Acts. The final author of Luke worked with Acts in mind. And Acts establishes a foundational history of the church that begins, first and foremost, with persecutions. Persecutions had to come first in the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke.

So how does this impact on the dating of the gospel of Mark?

It establishes that the author of our gospel of Luke (and Acts) either did not know of, or rejected, the so-called historical fulfilments of the sequential events in the Little Apocalypse as found in the gospels of Mark and Matthew.

To the author of our Luke-Acts, the threat of mass deception of the faithful was still an event waiting to happen in the future, specifically after Paul departed Miletus and Ephesus for the final time (Acts 20:28-30).

In other words, the very first event Jesus warned about in the Little Apocalypse is still a future event as far as the author of Luke-Acts is concerned. It was an event that the author warned would begin from the time that the events in the Book of Acts draw to a close.

The author of the gospel of Luke, by changing the sequence of the prophetic events spoken by Jesus, in fact denied that any such events had been fulfilled until much closer to the time of the fall of Jerusalem, certainly after 60 c.e. He denied that Mark’s gospel was grounded in social and political events of the late 30’s and early 40’s c.e.

Other issues arising

This post has only touched on one sliver of one facet in relation to the whole question of the dating the gospels, and of questions arising from the various redactions of the Little Apocalypse. Perhaps I’ll touch on a few more in future post discussions — one sliver at a time.