The Old Testament – A Hellenistic Book? (and other digressions)

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by Neil Godfrey

Niels Peter Lemche has a chapter in Lester Grabbe’s Did Moses Speak Attic titled, “The Old Testament – A Hellenistic Book?” Here are a few highlights from it. The first point here should stand out as equally relevant for New Testament studies.

NT studies digression

Historical Jesus/Christian origin scholars should have this framed and displayed on their work desks — or used as their computer wallpaper:

It is an established fact that a literary product must be considered a reflection of its age of origin, as nobody can escape being a child of his or her own time. This is absolutely commonplace but, on the other hand not to be forgotten by, say, narrative analysts who may claim that it is possible to understand an argument by a person in the past without knowing in advance the specific values attached to his age to certain beliefs and concepts. The same applies to the study of the biblical literature, although written by anonymous authors. It is surely extremely naive to believe that the meaning of biblical books can be properly exposed without knowledge of their date of composition, about the ideas current in that age or the beliefs common to their audience; and it is of no consequence whether the subject is a narrative as a whole or parts of it or just single concepts and phrases. (p. 295)

This statement here — surely a simple truism — goes to the heart of many historicists’ errors. Acknowledgment of Lemche’s point here is what gives Earl Doherty’s interpretations of Paul’s writings the lay down misère advantage over orthodox mainstream interpretations. I would go further than Doherty, however, and suggest the significance of the common themes in both Paul’s and second-century writings. But the most significant error that comes from New Testament scholars overlooking this basic fact is their interpretation of the Gospels themselves.

What Lemche’s paragraph builds on is an equally pertinent observation on historical method that is generally overlooked by mainstream New Testament scholars. Lemche complained that among OT scholars

Although it has become a standing procedure in the study of the Old Testament to begin where we know the least and to end at the point where we have safe information in order to explain what is certain by reasons uncertain and from an unknown past, it is obvious to almost everybody else that this procedure has no claim to be called scientific. We should rather and as a matter of course start where we are best informed. Only from this vantage point should we try to penetrate into the unknown past. (p. 294)

But though it is in the second century that we are best informed about the appearance of both the Pauline epistles and Gospels, to follow Lemche’s truism here and apply what would be considered standard scientific procedure by “almost everybody else” is generally dismissed as an extremist or fringe position!

So much for the digression. Now for some highlights of Lemche’s discussion arguing for a very late date for the Old Testament.

More Greek philosophical inspiration for Genesis

I recently posted on the possibility that Genesis myths were inspired by Plato‘s philosophical myths.

Lemche discusses another Greek philosophical concept found in Genesis 1. Continue reading “The Old Testament – A Hellenistic Book? (and other digressions)”

The worst thing about us being anti-Islamic bigots

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

by Neil Godfrey

From: http://wondersofpakistan.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/how-to-deal-with-americas-empire-of-bases/

As long as we tolerate any public attention directed at the Moslem faith itself in response to terror attacks against our western nations and those our governments support, we will be allowing the real cause of those terror attacks to continue unchecked. We will even be playing into the hands of those responsible for the provoking of those terror attacks. We will be encouraging those responsible for the occupation, dispossession, maiming and murder of hundreds of thousands of people who have the misfortune to have been born in the lands that contain “our” necessary resources and power interests.

Doug Bandow summed it up in a recent Huffington Post article:

Terrorism is not new. It was used against Russian Tsars, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and British colonial officials. Algerians employed terrorism against the French and later Algerian governments. Basque and Irish separatists freely relied on terrorism. Until Iraq, the most promiscuous suicide bombers were Tamils in Sri Lanka. In none of these cases did the killing occur in response to freedom, whether in America or elsewhere.

Robert Pape of the University of Chicago studied the most recent cases: “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign–over 95 percent of all the incidents–has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

The full article is found at informationclearinghouse.info and Huffington Post.

The reference to Irish separatists is most instructive. At the time of their terror campaigns there was no nation-wide surge of anti-Catholic fears. The culprits were our own race and we could identify the reasons for their attacks very clearly.

Another article that I would highly recommend as a perfect companion piece to Bandow’s is by Glenn Greenwald in Salon. He addresses a new study by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government demonstrating how “mainstream media” — NYT, Washington Post, NPR — voluntarily fall into line with as mouthpieces of government propaganda. A specific case study addressed was how the media uniformly condemned waterboarding as torture up until the day their own government was known to use it and said it was not torture. The article, New Study Documents Media’s Servitude to Government, is found here, but note also the link to the update at the bottom of it. Anyone following recent mainstream media reports on the apparent alleviation of Gaza sanctions, and the follow-up investigations into the Israeli piracy against the aid ships, and comparing these with the uncensored reports available from other sources, will find the Greenwald article unnecessary reading.

Some people have deplored publications by “new atheists” because of their sometimes crude attacks on religion. I have addressed what I also consider their fanning of anti-Islamic prejudice. Religion has been and remains responsible for both good and evil. I am not the least interested in any notions of religious humanism for this reason.

Studies such as those of Robert Pape’s instruct us that to focus on Islam as a response to terror attacks is about as useful as persecuting Jews in response to the plagues in the Middle Ages.

But this deflection of our focus suits those who profit from our wars. It assures them that they have the “democratic” support for their efforts to continue to control the resources of the Middle East. Oh, and also to support the gradual ethnic cleansing of “Greater Israel” and the genocide* of the Palestinians.

Genocide is defined by a 1948 UN Convention as:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

• (a) Killing members of the group;
• (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
• (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
• (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
• (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Again, I am sometimes met with outrage when I use words like ethnic cleansing and genocide in this context. This is a classic illustration of the findings of the study discussed in Greenwald’s article:

And the ultimate effect of this joint government/media obfuscation is to further entrench the destructive notion that we’re different, exceptional, better, and therefore we deserve even a different language to describe what it is that we do.  This Harvard study documents the exact process by which the political class convinces itself and others that bad and illegal things are, by definition, only what those Bad, Other Foreign Countries do, but never ourselves.