17+ Mantras of biblical scholarship

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by Neil Godfrey

242px-Aum.svgThis post is being regularly updated with links to responses to each of the mantras. 

Here are some lines that seem to me to have acquired the “power” of mantras in biblical scholarship. I call them mantras because I have seen each of them so often in the books, papers, theses and articles I have read by biblical scholars, and they appear to be used as statements whose words carry unassailable potency in an argument. Like Motherhood Statements or the Apostle’s Creed they do not require justification. They are their own justification. And their presence in an argument is clearly intended to have the power to ward off all that is contrary. They may read like formulaic debating lines, but I see them as substitutes for rigorous argument. They are, for the most part, dogmatic and circular assertions that really ought to be made to justify themselves. (Some that may not be circular are simply false; or if not false, vacuous.)

If you can apply them to any particular argument you can say you have won without even having to do a surveillance of whatever might exalt itself against “fair-mindedness and reason”.

Of course, if some do toss in one of these mantras as a cherry on top of a major serious argument, that is fine (I think). But one so often encounters them as complete “arguments” in themselves.

The points that follow were all most conveniently found in a single four-page article. Hence their convenience for isolating and repeating here. (Now I don’t mean to put down their author. Many biblical scholars use these, many of whose works I learn much and highly value. And the particular scholar whose article I took them from is one I have particularly found to be insightful and informative reading in other respects.)

I substitute ZZZZ of COCO etc for the name of a text or person. They represent blanks to be filled in with just about whatever text or name you like. Continue reading “17+ Mantras of biblical scholarship”


WikiLeaks is Asking for Urgent Help

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by Neil Godfrey

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This is from David Heath of ITWire:

Following the arrest of the person suspected of leaking the “Collateral Murder” video, WikiLeaks feels that it is under attack and is seeking urgent support.

iTWire received the following message in the past few minutes, it’s meaning is very clear.  We ask readers to assist where they can.

WikiLeaks may be under attack.

You were generous enough to write to us, but we have not had the labor resources to respond.

Your support is important to us. Please read all of this email to understand what is going on. We apologize for not getting back to you before. It is not through any lack of interest on our part, but an enforced lack of resources.

One of our alleged sources, a young US intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, has been detained and shipped to a US military prison in Kuwait, where he is being held without trail. Mr. Manning is alleged to have acted according to his conscious and leaked to us the Collateral Murder video and the video of a massacre that took place in Afghanistan last year at Garani.

The Garani massacre, which we are still working on, killed over 100 people, mostly children.

Mr. Manning allegedly also sent us 260,000 classified US Department cables, reporting on the actions of US Embassy’s engaging in abusive actions all over the world. We have denied the allegation, but the US government is acting as if the allegation is true and we do have a lot of other material that exposes human rights abuses by the United States government.

Mr. Manning was allegedly exposed after talking to an unrelated “journalist” who then worked with the US government to detain him.

Some background on the Manning case:


[ note that there are some questions about the Wired reportage, see: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/06/13/video-wikileaks-foun.html#comment-809677 ]

WikiLeaks a small organization going through enormous growth and operating in an adverserial, high-security environment which can make communication time consuming and the acquisition of new staff and volunteers, also difficult since they require high levels of trust.

To try and deal with our growth and the current difficult situation, we want to get you to work together with our other supporters to set up a “Friends of WikiLeaks” group in your area. We have multiple supporters in most countries and would like to see them be a strong and independent force.

Please write to friends@sunshinepress.org if you are interested in helping with Friends of WikiLeaks in your area. You will receive further instructions.

We also have significant unexpected legal costs (for example flying a legal team to Kuwait, video production. Collateral Murder production costs were $50,000 all up).

Any financial contributions will be of IMMEDIATE assistance.


Please donate and tell the world that you have done so. Encourage all your friends to follow the example you set, after all, courage is contagious.

Julian Assange
Editor in Chief

Continue reading “WikiLeaks is Asking for Urgent Help”


Christ Myth and Holocaust Denial

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by Neil Godfrey

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The comparison of Christ Mythicism with Holocaust denial is flippant and derisive (or maybe sometimes ignorant). So nothing I post here will deepen the thoughts of those who make the comparison.

But I also think it is not a bad idea to have some attempt on record — however brief — a simple exposure of the fallacy of this analogy.

From Wikiquote:

The very logic that tells us there was no Jesus is the same logic that pleads that there was no Holocaust. (Nicholas Perrin)

Most scholars regard the arguments for Jesus’ non-existence as unworthy of any response—on a par with claims that the Jewish Holocaust never occurred or that the Apollo moon landing took place in a Hollywood studio. (Michael James McClymond)

One has to look at historical evidence. And if you… If you say that historical evidence doesn’t count, then I think you get into huge trouble. Because then, how do… I mean… then why not just deny the Holocaust? (Bart Ehrman)

The denial that Christ was crucified is like the denial of the Holocaust. (John Piper)

And Richard Bauckham even uses the Holocaust to indirectly prove by inverted analogy the “historical truth” of the resurrection! (Bauckham 18d and 18g)

I personally think there is something obscene about biblical scholars using the Holocaust to leverage their intellectual positions. I can’t imagine being completely relaxed about it if the Holocaust had immediate personal associations in my own life.

The comparison of Christ Mythicism with Holocaust denial is flippant and derisive (or maybe simply ignorant in some cases). So nothing I post here will deepen the thoughts of those who make the comparison.

But I also think it is not a bad idea to have some attempt on record — however brief — a simple exposure of the fallacy of this analogy.

(Another common analogy is to insist rhetorically that there is as much or more evidence for the historical existence of Jesus as there is for Julius Caesar or other ancient figures. I have dealt with that argument several times now, most recently here. Those who say this might be absent-mindedly flippant or simply ignorant.)

Deniers answered by the Big E Continue reading “Christ Myth and Holocaust Denial”


Detectives make biblical historians look like Sherlock Holmes

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by Neil Godfrey

Sherlock Holmes
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A couple of months ago I tried to spotlight the fallacious circularity at the heart of historical Jesus studies by describing what it would mean if detectives were to use the same starting assumptions in relation to their evidence as biblical scholars use when studying the historical Jesus. (Biblical Historians Make Detectives Look Silly.) One biblical doctoral scholar regularly complained that my analogy was not valid because I “made it up”.  Well, of course I made up the analogy. I had no choice. Detectives are not really so silly as to approach evidence the same way HJ scholars do. They would only be that silly if they approached criminal evidence the way historical Jesus scholars approach biblical evidence.

Now on my iPhone some months back I downloaded the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, and I have since read quite a number of them commuting to and from work. After reading a dozen or more of them I am getting a feel for how to predict where and among which characters Sherlock Holmes is going to find his culprits.

The stories all start with either a mysterious set of facts or a narrative that seems on the face of it to point to but one conclusion but that Holmes realizes is not the solution at all.

It’s all clever stuff. Holmes pieces this little clue here with that little clue there. Generally, he will go out of his way to do extra research that takes him away from the immediate scene of the crime and return with fresh insights that astound the mystified.

What he is attempting to do is re-create what happened.

Sherlock Holmes is attempting to solve fictional narratives. And I’m not the only reader, no doubt, who attempts to enter the game and attempt to solve things before they are all revealed at the end.

Historians, on the other hand, can generally see what has happened, and seek to explain why or how it happened. Continue reading “Detectives make biblical historians look like Sherlock Holmes”


How to date the gospels

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by Neil Godfrey

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One who identifies himself as an Irish Anglican here has asked me if I would like to address the arguments of John A. T. Robinson in Redating the New Testament. While I have had such an exercise on my list of “to-do” items for some time, it is unlikely that I will get around to doing anything in depth for quite some time. I would have thought, from the fact that Robinson’s arguments for early dates seem to have made little significant impact on mainstream scholarship, we can see the arguments have not been overwhelmingly persuasive — apart from the more apologetically inclined who have a theological interest in seeing the gospels dated as early as possible to the events they narrate. (But not being a part of academia I might be misinformed on this point.)

As if the narrative is itself some external historical reality and not, indeed, just a lot of creative words making up the theological parable or story. Sound historical method, at least as found practiced outside the sheltered ranks of historical Jesus studies, and as well recognized by the likes of Albert Schweitzer himself, requires that there be some indisputable reference point or control that is external to the narrative itself before one can rightfully assume any narrative has some historical basis. But Schweitzer lost that battle and it appears that today many mainstream believers in the historical Jesus can only respond with insult in place of reasoned argument when challenged with this basic premise. That’s understandable. There is no reasoned rebuttal available to them.

Well, let’s see. I’m digressing. Back to dating the gospels.

There is one simple reason John A. T. Robinson’s dating arguments fail. There are a number of more detailed reasons. But one overall methodological reason undermines his entire effort. Continue reading “How to date the gospels”


How Jesus has been re-imaged through the ages to fit different historical needs

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by Neil Godfrey

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There’s a comment by humanist Dwight Jones in response to Hoffmann’s post titled Did Jesus Exist? Yes and No that begins

As a Humanist I view Christ as one too, a philosopher who was instructing our species

Jones’ and Hoffmann’s concept of humanism is too effete, elitist, esoteric and impractical for my taste, but that aside, Jones’ comment sums up what Jesus means as a cultural icon. Biblical scholars can see how the gospel authors put words into Jesus’ mouth so that He could serve as the spokesman for their own theological agendas. Schweitzer famously said that historical Jesus scholars each tend to recreate a Jesus in their own image. Existentialist John Carroll even finds an existentialist Jesus in Mark’s gospel. Jesus is not just for the religious. He is the focal icon of the western culture through whom religious and nonreligious alike have sought to advance their own philosophies, political programs, ethics, values.

Dieter Georgi had an article titled “The Interest in Life of Jesus Theology as a Paradigm for the Social History of Biblical Criticism” in the Harvard Theological Review in 1992 (85:1, 51-83) that surveys how evolving and changing societies simultaneously changed their views of Jesus to reflect their own needs and interests.

I summarize here a few examples to illustrate how Jesus has changed with the times. I conclude with a note on the context of current historical Jesus studies, and their fragile foundation in a certain defensive dogmatism.

Late antiquity and early Middle Ages Continue reading “How Jesus has been re-imaged through the ages to fit different historical needs”


Why being an atheist is better than being seriously religious

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by Neil Godfrey

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I must be bored. Here is a repeat of a few truisms.

Bishop John Spong has said that, as a matter of general observation, atheists are more relaxed than religious believers. The latter, by contrast, tend to have an up-tightness about them. Pastor Jim West says atheists are angry and forever attempting to deny what they “really know” — that torments of hell await them. But Spong is something of a liberal theologian, and West is, at least by my standards and definitions, a fundamentalist. Neither likes the thought of anyone becoming an atheist, but I can imagine their different religious stances explains their different observations of atheists.

When religious believers impugn some sort of intellectual dishonesty to atheists, accusing them of “knowing better deep down in their hearts” — a false accusation also found in the Bible, both in Psalms and the writings of Paul — they apparently fail to realize that they are declaring themselves to being ethically immature.

All the ethics taught in the Bible are meant to keep people at the level of children. One can even suggest, as Nietzsche did, that the ethical teachings of the Bible function to instill a mentality of subservience. But slaves are not part of our society and most of us can relate more easily to the immaturity of children.

I see nothing noble in the teachings of Jesus. They are all predicated on the threat of damnation if you don’t obey, and nice happy big fat rewards if you do. What sort of ethic is that? But even if we reflect on the noblest principles of Jesus quite apart from their reward-punishment matrix, they don’t ring an unambiguous clarion call for the ethical progress of humanity.

His most famous “love one another” passages in the Gospel of John are all about the importance of loving those in your own circle of like-minded subservients to the exclusion of others. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Love one another.

It seems that the Gospel of John is an attack on the sentiments put into the mouth of Jesus by the Gospel of Matthew. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

But Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is justified on some quite inhuman precepts. Jesus is appealing to his followers here to prove themselves to be “more righteous” than others in their community. His command is presented as a challenge, or more accurately a threat, to win the contest of showing themselves to be superior ethically to Pharisees and such. And to do this, they must set their minds to become as impersonal and perfect as an impersonal and perfect agent that sends rain and sunshine on the just and unjust alike.

Now all of this sort of rationale for a particular behaviour sounds very primitive, very immature, and very inhuman to me. I am reminded of Vardis Fisher’s novel, Peace Like A River, where one meets ascetics rivaling one another to show off badges of greater ‘godliness’. Or more close to home (at least here in Singapore), I am reminded of the devotees parading through the streets showing off their glorious feats of suffering and endurance at their Thaipusam festival.

Would not humanity be better off — more relaxed and “naturally” good for goodness’ sake — if it ever can eventually leave behind the immaturity of the extrinsic reward and punishment ethics that religion generally spawns?

Actually I do think that many people do tend to be “good for goodness sake”, even many of the ostensibly religious. But the religious rationale does still keep intruding itself far too often, and the result is not always the greater happiness for the greater number.

Image by TerranceDC via Flickr

The poverty of religiosity is also apparent when devotees cannot conceive of any reason to live if there is no reward for them in an afterlife. If only they could be reminded of Jesus’ injunction that to enter the kingdom one must be like a child. Now that can be too often a pernicious little saying in the hands of the religious in that it serves to keep people in a constant state of immaturity and failure to accept personal responsibility for their own lives. But turn it around and see how it can look without God. Children don’t need “a reason” to live. Life fills them with all that is meaningful without thoughts for tomorrow. Reasons and causes follow. They are not the engine.


Why might a study of the Bible benefit someone “not of the faith”?

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by Neil Godfrey

I think I am expected to write some sort of angry atheist or fundamentalist atheist type response to Jim West’s recent post (or should that be linked here?):

Well, so not to disappoint, here it is.

Jim’s post came to my attention through a pingback from Joel Watts’ blog with a link to my previous post titled Frederiksen’s Fallacy. (Joel calls me a “fundamentalist atheist” — I have no idea why or what that means even. So perhaps Joel or someone might like to explain to me what I am supposed to be. Which reminds me, Why did Joel retreat from all his recent posturing when it was pointed out to him that the evidence for historicity of other persons is tangible and real while Jesus really is the anomaly?)

Well, my first response on reading Jim’s post was “So what?”. What’s the fuss about? I have no problem with faithful Bible believers studying the Bible according to their agenda. I think seminaries or privately funded bible colleges are just the right place for it, too. As for Jim’s argument, it wasn’t so much an argument as a soapbox cry for attention. No evidence or justifications were supplied to buttress his many assertions. So why the serious responses?

One or two spoke of some who study the Bible with some sort of hostile intent. I don’t know who is guilty of that, and I can’t quite imagine how anyone could seriously “study” the Bible with “hostility”. That doesn’t make any sense to me. So I am confused about the responses to Jim’s post for a number of reasons.

But what astonished me was the number of responses from some of the most learned of scholars to this pastor’s complaint. I am still wondering what he said in his post that should elicit such apparently serious responses.

But to one of the points I think I am expected to respond —

To suggest that only “the faithful” might be the only one’s to benefit from a study of the Bible, or even to suggest that the Bible is uniquely the possession of “the faithful”, sounds like a bit of headline grabbing overstatement. Does anyone really think Jim truly believes this? Or maybe he does and I don’t know him well enough.

But for the sake of a response, that’s a bit like saying that no-one today can meaningfully study Homer’s epics because we don’t believe in the Olympian gods anymore.

Or if you don’t believe in the Ideas of Plato you shouldn’t study Plato.

Only Nazis can meaningfully study Hitler.

But I get the impression Jim is just writing to shit-stir.

But if he really is serious, and I have to concede the possibility, then I might go to the trouble of further spelling out that the reason the Bible is a worthwhile study is that it has such a central place in our culture. It is our history and has had a significant role in shaping our larger identities.

I certainly have no hostile interest in Bible study. Why would I bother? I gave my reasons for this blog and my interest a little while back. I love exploring clues as to how the Bible came to be put together, how its parts originated, and what it may have meant to its original audiences.

I find the study of the Bible rewarding for what I learn about the origins and makings of a significant part of our cultural heritage.

It is also good to understand it to help assess it’s rightful place in contemporary society and individual lives.

And if along the way I discover that a good deal of mainstream biblical studies should really be dismissed as pseudoscholarship, then yes, I do feel that is something that ought to be exposed. If I am mistaken, then I am sure the good scholars I address this way will be able to pinpoint concisely why I am in error and correct me. I am sure genuine scholars do not need to resort to insult and straw-man arguments.

And what’s wrong or meaningless with any of this?

And  where on earth does any “hostility against the Bible” appear even for a nanosecond?


Oh yes — one most remarkable comment I did see in one of the sites with Jim’s post: someone said that if all out thought processes can be explained naturally then we have no basis for morality or meaning of existence! Hoo boy! Is these people really products of the most advanced technological and scientific society in the history of the world? Such thinking must surely be more akin to something we would expect to find in the remote caves of northern Pakistan. The seminaries and private bible colleges are for this sort of thinking. Not public universities — how can even intelligentsia in public universities bother with this sort of thinking?


The Fredriksen Fallacy

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by Neil Godfrey

1243065_131007094825_Jesusof_001The title of this post is a lazy one. In fact, Paula Fredriksen is only one of many biblical historians who are guilty of this fallacy in their historical reconstructions of Jesus. I am merely using one detail from her book, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, to illustrate a basic methodological error that is so deeply ingrained in historical Jesus studies that I suspect some will have difficulty grasping what I am talking about.

Fredriksen begins by declaring that historical Jesus studies begin with one indisputable “fact” – that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, and crucifixion was a punishment usually reserved for political insurrectionists. She then links this to a “second incontrovertible fact” (p.9), that Jesus’ followers, his disciples, were not executed.

Fredriksen sees her task as an historian to explain this paradox: why a leader would be executed as an insurrectionist threat, while his followers were ignored. Fredriksen also believes that one of the “trajectories” that must be explained in this context, is the fact that the same followers began the movement that became Christianity soon afterwards. There is more to Fredriksen’s argument, but I am highlighting these aspects of it for the purpose of demonstrating a basic methodological flaw that no historian should commit.

What Fredriksen has apparently overlooked before commencing her work is:

  1. the external evidence for the date her main sources, the canonical gospels, were extant
  2. the politico-religious matrix in which the canonical gospels made their earliest appearance

If the gospels were composed before the second century, it appears we are left with little reason to think that they found a receptive audience until well into the second century. Many scholars seem convinced that Justin Martyr knew of the canonical gospels and referred to them as Memoirs of the Apostles. For the sake of argument I am willing to accept this proposition. I acknowledge this belief has some excellent support in the evidence. Justin’s successor, Tatian, certainly knew of these gospels and composed a harmony of them.

But what should be of significance to any historian who is assessing the nature of their source documents, in this case the canonical gospels, is the intellectual environment in which they make their first appearance. We know Justin was a propagandist, like most of the other “Fathers” of his century, and that one of his keen interests was to justify his theological views, or the views of the Christianity he represented, by tracing its roots back to Jesus through the twelve apostles.

Genealogies were a political tool used to justify the pedigree of one’s own position, and to demonstrate the error of one’s opponents.

Justin proclaimed that the Christian movement or philosophy he represented was sound because it could be traced back to twelve apostles who were witnesses of Jesus’ mission, and his resurrection from the dead. (He apparently knows nothing of any Judas to confuse things, so whenever he speaks of the twelve, he indicates that the same ones who went out through the world preaching the gospel were the same as who were with Jesus during his mission on earth.)

These twelve disciples make their first appearance in the evidence as tools or foils to prove the truth of the Christian message being taught by Justin. They serve an ideological or narrative function.

And that is how the disciples appear in the canonical gospels, too. They serve as dramatic foils in the first part of the synoptic gospel narrative to make Jesus look all the more insightful and righteous beside their own ignorance and cowardice. They are always there to ask the right question, or perform the right act, to bring the right answer needed for the edification of the gospel reader.

They are also there to demonstrate or witness the “fact” of the resurrection. In John’s gospel, we can be excused for thinking that the original author of that gospel only thought of 7 disciples. The few bland and disconnected notes of their being twelve could be later redactions.

So from the very first times we see reference to the disciples of Jesus, they are always there to perfectly fulfill a dramatic, narrative or theological function.

Now it could well be that in real life, in real history, this is what the disciples did really do. And it could be a fact that the only details that survive about the disciples from this time just happen to be those that do serve these most functional purposes.

But then again, one has to wonder. Paula Fredriksen rejects the historicity of the Temple Action (“cleansing of the temple”) by Jesus, and part of her reason is that its details fit too neatly into the dramatic plot structure of the gospels.

Actual history rarely obliges narrative plotting so exactly: Perhaps the whole scene is Mark’s invention. (p. 210)

If all the details of the temple action fits the plot so perfectly, then I suggest the same can be said for all the details about the disciples we read in the synoptic gospels.

Fredriksen’s fallacy is not in accepting the disciples as historical, but in accepting them as historical persons without clearly addressing her rationales for doing so. And part of that rationale needs to address the fact that every detail we read about the disciples serves a narrative or theological function. Why not presume, therefore, that they have been created for these purposes?

Historians often reject the historicity of a particular detail in a narrative, such as a miracle, or a fulfilled prophecy, if they can see that its inclusion is tendentious for the sake of a particular doctrine or narrative function. Why not apply the same logic to the disciples themselves?

When one reads history or biographical details of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, one encounters many details and characters that do not necessarily fulfill any plot requirement or serve any political or propaganda interest. We have, therefore, plausible grounds for accepting the probability of the existence of these people. Of course, sometimes additional and seemingly incidental details are created by fiction writers to create an air of verisimilitude. But when we are dealing with writings about which we have corroborating primary evidence, we can feel confident we are in the realm of reading something more or less close to “real history”.

I wish I had time to illustrate the particular points I have made with direct quotations from Justin and the gospels to support the argument I have made. Unfortunately, time constraints just don’t allow that at the moment. So maybe this post can serve as an outline draft for a more complete one some time in the future. Meanwhile, reference to Justin’s statements about the disciples can be found at my vridar.info site.


Jewish Ideology and World Peace by Gilad Atzmon

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by Neil Godfrey

If we want to understand religiously backed terrorism that “they” commit, we might first need to appreciate what our own religious heritage has contributed to the mix. The following is another by Gilad Atzmon.

Jewish Ideology and World Peace by Gilad Atzmon

Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:41AM

” …then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)

“…do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you…” (Deuteronomy 20:16)

I am here to announce as loud as I can, there is no need for any ‘International’, ‘impartial’ or ‘independent’ inquiry into the latest Israeli massacre on the high sea. Though the Israeli opposition to such an inquiry is there to suggest that the Israelis have much to hide, the truth of the matter is actually deeper. If you want to grasp what underlies the Israeli deadly barbarism all you have to do is open the Old Testament. Continue reading “Jewish Ideology and World Peace by Gilad Atzmon”

Peter and the 12 Disciples; Satan and the Fallen Watchers

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Rick Strelan’s article notes in Fallen Watchers of Enoch and the 12 Disciples in Mark’s Gospel

I’m taking notes from Strelan’s article without much modification and only little of my own comment. Readers can decide for themselves the strength of his case, how suggestive it might be . . . .

The Gospel of Mark

Rick Strelan sees the author of the Gospel of Mark, like the authors of the pseudepigraphic and Qumran writings, being most conscious of his time being the time of a faithless generation (Mark 9:19). The Gospel begins with a call to repentance, and follows with Jesus battling against and overcoming the powers that ruled and oppressed that generation. These powers of evil were demons, and according to the Enochian legend of the Watchers, were the offspring of fallen angels and human women (Mark 3:22-27).

Like the Enochian Son of Man in Enoch, Jesus gathers angel-disciples around him and gives them authority to cast out demons and unclean spirits (3:15; 6:7). But they can only execute that authority if they are faithful (9:14-29).

The gospel is about faithless generation in a time of testing. The disciples (and Mark’s Christian audience) are tested by persecutions, cares of the world and the desire for riches (4:14-19). Jesus’ followers are commanded to Watch.

He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8:12)

He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? (Mark 9:19)

And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch. (Mark 13:37)

The Watchers legend was used to condemn illicit priestly marriages. Strelan suggests the possibility that Mark had something like this in mind from the several times he does very strictly address marriage and sexual issues:

John the Baptist was executed over his condemnation of Herod’s marriage (6:14-29)

Jesus is very strict on divorce and remarriage (10:2-12)

Jesus calls his followers to stand out from “this adulterous and sinful generation” (8:38)

The sins Jesus singles out include illicit sex, adultery, and (possibly relevant for Strelan) “the evil eye” (Mark 7:21-22)

Reading the Gospel of Mark against the background of Enoch’s Watchers

Called to come after/follow behind

Peter, Andrew, James and John are the first and only disciples explicitly called to “come behind” (οπισω) Jesus. Hence they are the leaders of the band appointed to be with Jesus.

Strelan cites H. Seesemann in TDNT, V, pp. 289-92 to explain that this preposition, οπισω, is used in the Septuagint to express the relation between God and his chosen people, and implies full commitment and service to God.

Fishermen Continue reading “Peter and the 12 Disciples; Satan and the Fallen Watchers”


It’s not necessarily bad to be against religion

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by Neil Godfrey

This afternoon I was feeling a punch-gut of illness after reading blogs by classical humanist intelligentsia openly referring to “dumbshit masses”, “mob morality”, “village atheists”, “education for character” and the like, and was in dire need of some reassuring contact with the everyday people who make up those supposedly benighted masses. One of the hardest parts of those elitist writings to swallow was a cameo remark of the need to comprehend and embrace the fact of human frailty. Specifically, it was in this area that “new atheists” are said to have failed.

What depressed me so much was reading how such scholars are so free and easy with the way they label others and the pursuits of the less well educated, but so very self-conscious and finicky before suggesting any appellation that might be applied to themselves.

So to cut to the chase here. Sure, I call myself an “atheist”. But that’s in order to communicate the general idea of my position on the idea of god or gods. If pressed, I will not align myself with every nuance that the etymology and derivation of the word may suggest. It is simply a convenient way of letting others know, by means of very broad brush strokes, where I stand on something they are curious to know.

Similarly for the term “humanist”, or specifically “secular humanist”. Or for describing myself as a “naturalist”. Or a “rationalist”. I could go on.

None of this means squat, though, for anyone who is more interested in discussing and sharing the finer details of what we think and feel about issues.

People are not their religion, or philosophy, on life, much less any label that one might tie on them personally or collectively.

I am opposed to much of what strikes me as latent intolerance in the writings of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens in their attacks on religion. I think Harris, in particular, is very under-informed about the deeper historical roots of tensions that have expressed themselves through religious ideas.

But labeling such authors as ‘new atheists’ and relegating them all to some back room crate for waste combustibles, and wishing to replace them with a more sophisticated open acceptance of religious values, is misguided.

Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens, despite the many areas where I find myself at odds with them, do at the same time have some very valid reasons for fearing the dark potential of any irrational belief system. It is healthy to bring these fears out into the open where they can be publicly addressed.

One can be opposed to religion without being rabid about it, and not all people labeled ‘new atheists’ are fanatical as they have been accused. I can be opposed to smoking without making myself a total jerk with all of my smoker friends. I can even love and enjoy the company of my smoker friends.

Last week saw Vesak celebrations among Buddhist Chinese communities. One can’t escape the religiosity of the occasion. But there’s also something peaceful and tolerant about it all, a certain happiness and goodness comes through many people gathering at shrines and statues and to hear speakers etc. There was a poster in English explaining a particular gathering, and the focus was on removing hatred from one’s thoughts. The non-judgmental nature of the whole occasion was demonstrated by prostitutes taking time out to offer their prayers alongside everyone else.

How can I oppose a religion like that? Well, it’s easy to accept it because I’m a newcomer and know very little about it. I only see the goodness of it as an outsider.

But I’ve also seen the goodness of some very active Christians working to better the lot of the down and outs in very practical ways.

It’s the prescriptive religions — and philosophies and ‘isms’ — that are easy to oppose. Those that prescribe what people should do, how they should live, according to principles supposedly external to and above oneself.

People don’t need to be “taught” morals as if there are certain good ways of behaviour they would never otherwise think of applying in their own lives. We are, by nature, moral animals. And being social animals, our moral tendencies work in favour of the well-being of all in our various circles of self-identity. We don’t need to learn to build “character”, as some religions insist. We only need to accept ourselves and others, and the rest follows. Generally speaking, that is. Religion does have a tendency to toss up a lot of extraneous thoughts that get in the way of this simplicity.

There are the exceptions always to the generalities. Knowing how to handle and respond to these, especially when they are doing outright harm to others. And very often the harm can be related to a tolerance and support for irrational beliefs, including religious beliefs. Now that is where I think “character” comes into the picture. But it’s not something that one has to be a saint to acquire. It is simply a matter of being honest and true to oneself and the greater good. And if one finds that some atavistic religious or other irrational belief is getting in the way of that, then one has a responsibility to speak out against that. Like a cancer warning on a packet of cigarettes. Sometimes more than speaking out is necessary.

This is all truism and I’ve only spilled out the obvious.

All I mean to say is that one can be a “humane humanist”, one who acknowledges and respects the frailty of being human, and who embraces the fullness of human experience, including the healthy irrational, and still rightly oppose and believe in working towards ending, if possible, the role of god-centred religion in human existence.



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by Neil Godfrey

Have added a new Blogroll link on right margin – below the comments lists. The ** Biblioblogs ** link is intended to be a regular monthly update of biblioblogs.

Muhammad mythicism and the fallacy of Jesus agnosticism

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

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I used to say I did not see myself as a Jesus mythicist. That was because I thought the idea of Jesus’ existence or nonexistence was less important than being able to explain the evidence we have for the origins of Christianity — wherever that explanation might lead. The interest, surely, is in understanding how Christianity happened. (Many Christians may want to investigate a “historical Jesus” but that sounds to me more like a faith interest, not a historical one.)

R. Joseph Hoffmann describes himself as a Jesus agnostic because he has concluded that “the sources we possess do not establish the conditions for a verdict on the historicity of Jesus”.

That sounds reasonable to me.

(The essay by Hoffmann, and my reply to it and Hoffmann’s rejoinder, that prompted this post, can be found at Did Jesus Exist? Yes and No on Hoffmann’s New Oxonian blog.)

We have primary evidence to corroborate the existence of people such as  Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and George Washington.

Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm acknowledged the advisability of not assuming the historicity of a narrative of a particular Robin Hood type “social bandit” merely on the strength of narratives that lacked independent corroboration. Mere plausibility of a narrative, even claims of eye-witness memory, are insufficient without independent corroboration.

So thus far, given that “the sources we possess do not establish the conditions for a verdict on the historicity of Jesus”,  Jesus agnosticism is the only logical way to go.

So if someone like Doherty attempts to explain the origin of Christianity without a historical Jesus, and even sees the Jesus of that religion emerging over time as a mythical construct, as a Jesus agnostic I might express some interest in examining his thesis.

If the evidence is suggestive enough, I might even find myself leaning from agnosticism on Jesus towards the view that Jesus was always from the beginning a mythical construct, and not a historical person who was eventually buried beneath the later mythical overlays.

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