Monthly Archives: September 2010

Demonology: the basics of Middle Platonic beliefs as a background to early Christianity

Apuleius
Image via Wikipedia

This post completes a series on beliefs about demons that were widespread in philosophical thought at the time of the rise and early growth of Christianity. The previous two posts:

It seems strange to think of “demons” being a topic of “philosophy”, but one of the defining characteristics of “Middle Platonism” was its interest in religion. (See my earlier post, Middle Platonism: a few basics.) Other beliefs (e.g. Jewish sectarian) were extant, too, but here I am only addressing those of Middle Platonist philosophers.

John M. Dillon (The Middle Platonists) discusses the demonology of Apuleius in his De Deo Socratis (=The God of Socrates) at length because

There we find all the basic Middle Platonic doctrine on daemons set out . . . We have here, then, in the De Deo Socratis, the most complete connected version of Middle Platonic demonology extant . . . . (pp. 317, 320)

So though Apuleius was not born till about 123 CE, his writings are consistent with the thought that spanned the Middle Platonic era from the first century BCE to the second century CE, the same period relevant for the development of Christianity. read more »

Demons 101 – Early Christianity’s Middle Platonic Background

In my previous post I cited a “Distinguished Scholar”‘s textbook summary of Middle Platonic ideas that formed part of the background to early Christianity. I continue this post with a discussion of the philosopher who introduced ‘demonology’ into Platonic philosophical views during the century preceding that of Paul and the earliest Christians.

In an earlier post I quoted translated passages from two Middle Platonist authors given prominence by Everett Ferguson, Philo and Plutarch, that depicted their particular views of cosmology and the place of demons in the universe. That post upset some readers who appeared to take exception to the posting of evidence from primary sources that lent support to the discussion of Earl Doherty in his publications arguing that the Jesus originated as a mythical construct. A significant part of Doherty’s discussion focuses on the way certain Middle Platonic views informed the intellectual background to the New Testament epistles.

Since that post I’ve had more time to look a little more closely at one of Earl Doherty’s sources, The Middle Platonists, by John M. Dillon. read more »

Middle Platonism — a few basics

A handy reference for the background to early Christianity is coincidentally titled Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Author is Everett Ferguson. Since Doherty discusses Middle Platonism as one of the intellectual matrices to the New Testament epistles, and since relatively few nonspecialists know much if anything about Middle Platonism, here are some notes from Ferguson’s introductory explanation. (I tried to start out with John Dillon’s book but by far too detailed as a beginner’s reference.)

We all have heard of Plato, whose life spanned the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Plato was not as dominant as a philosopher in his own day as he came to be in the early centuries of the Christian era. Ferguson notes that the Church Fathers took their theology largely from the framework of Plato’s philosophy. (p. 335)

Middle Platonism is the name given to the philosophical ideas ultimately derived from Plato (Platonism) in the period from the first century BC to the second century AD. It stands between the original era of Plato and his followers, and the Neo-Platonism that dominated in the declining stages of paganism.

The first century B.C. saw a revival in the study of Plato and Aristotle, who returned to a position of predominance they have not lost since. (p. 387)

I cite common ideas running through Middle Platonic schools of thought as summed up by Ferguson.

Rather than discuss the names mentioned, I have given them all hyperlinks to Wikipedia articles. (The reason I often link to Wikipedia is given in this post.) read more »

The Myth of the Flat Earth Myth

The idea that the earth was flat was never part of medieval Christian doctrine.

Men and women of any education around AD1000 were perfectly well aware that the earth was a sphere.

I never knew that till I read God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam. The only thing I know about James Hannam is from the dust jacket blurb that says he is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge where he gained a PhD in the history of science, and that he has written a very interesting book.

So where did the idea that medieval folk believed the earth was flat come from?

James Hannan attributes this understanding to Sir Francis Bacon:

The myth that a flat earth was part of Christian doctrine in the Middle Ages appears to have arisen with Sir Francis Bacon (1562-1626), who wrongly claimed that geographers had been put on trial for impiety after asserting the contrary. (Hannam’s citation for this is John Henry, Knowledge is Power: How Magic, the Government and an Apocalyptic Vision Inspired Francis Bacon to Create Modern Science, 2003. p.85)

Hannan does add that “there were a few authentic flat-earthers in antiquity, but none among the scholars of the Middle Ages proper.”

So why have some historians fallen for the idea of the flat earth idea?

One of the main reasons that some historians have previously fallen for the flat earth idea is because of the existence of mappae mundi (Latin for ‘maps of the world’) like the famous example at Hereford Cathedral.

Hannan illustrates with the map depicted here. Known as the T-O map, the O represents the ocean that encircles the inhabitable land mass, while the T represents the Mediterranean Sea, the River Nile and either the River Volga or Don. This T sea/river pattern split the landmass into the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. Jerusalem was usually placed near the centre.

It is easy to assume from such a map that those who drew it thought the earth was flat. But in fact the map was only intended to show the area of the earth that is inhabited.

Francis Bacon, From a Painting
Image via Wikipedia


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Proving McGrath Wrong (again) By His Own Standards and Challenges

Apols in advance for another tedious post, but I am here posting a defence of mine since it has not appeared on the blog where accusations were made against me.

After McGrath happened to swallow something that appeared on the internet and that he thought supported his arguments against mine, he wrote:

I said in the post that I’d much rather discuss the books cited and summarized in the article, rather than the article itself. But I didn’t think I could assume that any proponents of mythicism would actually have read even one of them. I’d be happy to be proven wrong about this. (Source is here)

Well, as anyone reading recent posts of mine will know, I did prove him wrong by the standard he set in this statement. He has not apologized or acknowledged this, however. Nor has he expressed the happiness he said he would enjoy if I could prove him wrong.

It turns out that I had read the books in question some years ago. And I demonstrated that he himself had not read them but had uncritically swallowed them  from the internet on the naive assumption that what appeared in an internet article like wikipedia supported his views, when in fact they did not. And this is the doctor who accuses mythicits of naively swallowing things on the internet! read more »

Phuket, Thailand

May only be able to respond patchily if at all to comments till next week — am off on a weekend holiday away, and regular internet access is not a priority.

More on Luke being the Last

The evangelist portrait from the Gospel of Luke
Image via Wikipedia

There are some interesting articles discussing the place of the Gospel of Luke in relation to John and the other gospels:

Acts 4:19-20—An Overlooked First-Century Clue to Johannine Authorship and Luke’s Dependence upon the Johannine Tradition

and

The John, Jesus, and History Project-New Glimpses of Jesus and a Bi-Optic Hypothesis

I would prefer to take more time to explore literary relationships before going too far with the assumptions in these for oral traditions.

When I get time to digest some of these more, I would like to compare them with other studies that place Acts very late, and our canonical form of Luke also late. By late I mean the latter half of the second century, from the time of, or even very soon after, Justin Martyr. read more »

Historical Jesus scholarly quotes on historical methodology

Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned.

(From a scholarly review of a chapter of a book discussing historical methodology)

In a discussion of a Wikipedia article on Historical Method:

Is there anything in the method outlined there (or better yet in the books cited if readers know them well or have time to consult them) that is not in keeping with the practices of historians working on the historical figure of Jesus? Or is there any point at which this survey and summary (or the method set forth in the sources the article cites) is at odds with what most historians do?

I ask because mythicists regularly claim that what scholars investigating the historical Jesus do is different from what mainstream historical study does.

In those books cited in that Wikipedia article, and that are appealed to in order demonstrate that biblical historians use the same methods as nonbiblical historians, appear gems like the following:

The author of a historical source may be God, as well as man. Hence the distinction between divine and human sources.

The procedure of critics who reject the possibility of miracles is manifestly unscientific.

I know of course that most mainstream biblical historians do not openly admit to the supernatural when dealing with historical inquiry, but the fact that an associate professor of religion is blithely confident enough to make such a claim about books he obviously has never read and only thinks he understands demonstrates just how out of touch some biblical scholars are with the historiography outside their own ivory tower. This was a key point in Scot McKnight’s chapter on historiography in his Death of Jesus, and which I discuss in relation to key names in nonbiblical historiography that he sees as relevant for biblical scholars. The scholar who refuses to address this is the one who responded with the ignorant remark about sources for methodology on the Wikipedia article.

(I know I know. Someone said this is like shooting fish in a barrel with a shotgun. Let’s move on.)

Oh, just one more. . . .

I’ve tried being reasonable and respectful

(comment 11491)

Agreed, he is very trying

Response to James McGrath’s Argument from Wikipedia

Wikimedia Foundation
Image via Wikipedia

In response to my post in which I cited the Game of Avoidance as one played by some HJ scholars in relation to mythicist arguments, one such scholar has posted a series of comments with each one ironically avoiding my argument. Irony seems to be lost on some people.

So when challenged to address my statements on nonbiblical historical methodologies, the same biblical historian chose to avoid my argument completely and respond by going back to his own blog and posting up a discussion and link to a Wikipedia article titled Historical Method.

Aside on the insulting manner and false accusations of the scholar: The same gentleman and scholar also took the pains to explain how respectful he has been in his exchanges with me — (calling me a pretender, a bait-and-switcher, ignorant of what I am talking about or attempting to address, selectively cherry-picking supporting sources, and of complaining about things I have never uttered anywhere, all fall within the ambit of “respectful” dialogue in his view) — proceeded to insult me and anyone else who argues for a mythicist view as deserving to be ignored and being one with young-earth creationists. He also proceeded to infer that I am unaware of religious conservatives complaining about secularization of biblical studies and implies that I argue that nothing but religious dogma keeps mythicism from gaining a foothold in mainstream biblical studies. Of course he provides no evidence for these views he attributes to me because he will not find them. He will find in my blog several posts that belie his charges if he cares to look or ask.

Wikipedia?

So what to make of the Wikipedia article to which he refers and which he seems to claim fully supports the methodology of HJ historians as being just like that found in any other field of history? read more »

Mythicism and the HJ scholarly guild: the same old, the same old

German philosopher Arthur Drews (1865-1935)
Image via Wikipedia

“Whoever, though not a specialist, invades the province of any science, and ventures to express an opinion opposed to its official representatives, must be prepared to be rejected by them with anger, to be accused of a lack of scholarship, “dilettantism,” or “want of method,” and to be treated as a complete ignoramus. This has been the experience of all up to now who, while not theologians, have expressed themselves on the subject of the historical Jesus. The like experience was not spared the author of the present work after the appearance of its first edition. He has been accused of “lack of historical training,” “bias,” “incapacity for any real historical way of thinking,” &c., and it has been held up against him that in his investigations the result was settled beforehand . . . . .

“The author of this book has been reproached with following in it tendencies merely destructive. Indeed, one guardian of Zion, particularly inflamed with rage, has even expressed himself to this effect, that the author’s researches to not originate in a serious desire for knowledge, but only in a wish to deny.”

Arthur Drews, The Christ Myth, from preface to second edition, 1910, and reprinted in the 3rd ed.

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Games Historical Jesus Scholars Play

gamesA review of Dale Allison’s forthcoming book, Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History, illustrates both in its post details and subsequent comments how far removed Historical Jesus studies are from the way history is practiced in other (nonbiblical) fields.

These comments of mine on this review address

  1. starting assumptions of the reviewer
  2. problems left hanging by the reviewer’s discussion of Allison’s book
  3. the games played by HJ (Historical Jesus) historians when they claim they are doing what other (nonbiblical) historians do
  4. the game of avoidance used by HJ historians in response to radical critiques of their assumptions and methods.

read more »

The Refreshing Honesty of Jim West

Well this is bizarre. I find myself in agreement with a very substantial bulk of a recent article by Jim West in “The Bible and Interpretation”, A (Very, Very) Short History of Minimalism: From The Chronicler to the Present. Jim West argues that biblical studies of the history of early Christianity are largely circular, following the same flawed methodology that lay at the heart of the Albrightian approach to the history of Israel.

Jim West sums up so much of what I have been attempting to argue for some time now:

Most “histories” of Ancient Israel and Earliest Christianity are simply examples of circular reasoning. Many historians use the Bible as a historical source; they reconstruct a history which is often nothing more than a recapitulation of the biblical telling; and the Bible is affirmed as historical because of the history so constructed. Similarly, the life of Jesus, for instance, is gleaned from a reading of the Gospels. Said reconstruction is named a ‘history of Jesus’ life.” That “history of Jesus’ life” is then utilized to prove historically the life of Jesus as described in the Gospels. One need only pick up John Bright’s “History of Israel” or Joseph Ratzinger’s “Jesus” to see circularity in action. True, ancillary materials are added to these histories (on the very rare occasions that they are available)- but these only reinforce the circularly circumscribed reconstruction.

What can I say? Will Crossley, McGrath and others tell Jim this is “bloody weird” stuff and arguing “like a creationist”? It’s what Thomas L. Thompson has said, and Robert M. Price, and I have quoted the same understanding in publications dating back a century to E. Schwartz and Albert Schweitzer. It is where biblical historians differ from nonbiblical historians.

So what’s the catch? read more »

The Weizmann Plan to “Transfer” the Palestinians

This is the history and experience of Palestinians from a Palestinian view. This is, for many Westerners, the side of the story they have never heard. It is heartening to read the latest poll figures showing that most Americans do not agree that Israel should be building settlements in the West Bank and that the American government is out of step with its own people every time it reaffirms a “special relationship” with Israel. See John Mearsheimer’s article, American Public Opinion and the Special Relationship with Israel.

This post is another in my series highlighting key points in Nur Masalha’s historical research into the evidence for the Zionist plans to expel Palestinian Arabs from their lands that has been at the heart of the respective Israeli governments’ policies towards the Palestinians up to today (Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948).

The previous two posts in this series are:

  1. Zionist Founding Fathers’ Plans for Transfer of the Palestinian Arabs
  2. Redemption or Conquest: Zionist Yishuv Plans for Transfer of Palestinian Arabs in British Mandate Period

Chaim Weizemann, who was to become the first president of the state of Israel, but at this time was president of both the Zionist Organization and the newly established Jewish Agency Executive, actively began promoting the idea of ethnic cleansing (or more politically correctly, ‘Arab transfer’) in private meetings with British government officials and ministers against the background of the violence of the August 1929 violence between Jews and Arabs.

The Arab-Jewish clashes of August 1929

The British Government commissioned a report into the causes of the uprising and its findings are significant for what they indicate about the struggle between Zionist Jews and Palestinian Arabs ever since.

The uprising followed a political demonstration by militant Revisionist Jews at the Wailing Wall next to the Haram al-Shaif, Islam’s third holiest site.

133 Jews, including women and children, were killed.
read more »

Attis lifts his finger against the Christ-Myth (again), the “ideal type” and “the fatal flaw” — Dunn on Price (6)

The so-called “resurrection” of Attis cannot be compared with the resurrection of Jesus because all Attis ever managed to do was avoid bodily corruption, grow his hair and raise a single finger. With this assertion Dunn completely ignores and gives his middle finger to Price’s arguments about the relevance of pagan resurrections to the Christian myth.

Dunn’s attempt to rebut Price by slashing away at straw men also involves claims so muddled and contradictory that one can only assume that he is confident enough of his scholarly status to assume that most readers will thoughtlessly nod their heads to anything at all that sounds critical of the Christ-Myth theory.

Dunn’s raising of Attis’ finger follows directly from his attempt to contrast Jesus with pagan creations on the grounds that Jesus challenges the world about “sin” and calls for “suffering” and “rejection by the world”.

[I]s this Jesus . . . a god of human fabrication made to make the world feel good? (p. 102) read more »