2011-08-27

The Earl Doherty — James McGrath discussion continued

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by Neil Godfrey

I am posting this (posts found on Dr McGrath’s ExploringOurMatrix blog) here solely for the sake of having what I consider to be significant blog exchanges involving Earl Doherty in the one place. (If I miss anything that others think should be collated in the one site then do let me know.)

Dr McGrath responded to Earl Doherty (see the post previous to this one) thus:

@Earl Doherty, thank you for your detailed comments, and I am sorry to hear that you had trouble posting them. I am glad that it seems to be working now.

Let me just address two points in is comment. First, with respect to the language you used about heavenly things determining earthly realities, I can certainly see how such a phrase could be used for what we see in Hebrews, with a tabernacle being constructed based on a heavenly archetype. The wording seems to fit equally well, and the concept seems not entirely distinct from, what we find in Daniel and Revelation, which are more apocalyptic than Platonic (although that is not to suggest that the two are mutually exclusive by any means). In one, heavenly princes battle and determine the outcome of competition between earthly princes and empires. In the other, demonic forces are said to be behind the powers of the earthly Roman emperors and empire.

Long before Descartes’ attempt to connect the spirit with the flesh by way of the pineal gland, people long assumed that there was a connection even when they had no rational explanation for how the connection worked. That the question seems obvious to us does not mean that it was obvious to pre-scientific minds, nor does their failure to provide an explanation mean that they didn’t accept that it was happening in some unexplained, or unsatisfactorily explained, manner.

Second, and mainly for the benefit of those who may not have read your book, would you agree that, in general, in an ancient Greco-Roman context, a reference to a figure bleeding and having blood would more naturally be understood to be a reference to an actual terrestrial human being? I think it would be useful for others involved in this discussion to hear a bit more from you about this.

Here is Earl Doherty’s response:

James: In one, heavenly princes battle and determine the outcome of competition between earthly princes and empires. In the other, demonic forces are said to be behind the powers of the earthly Roman emperors and empire.

While I am not sure off the top of my head which verses in Daniel and Revelation you are referring to, just by your description we can see that these two statements are still not the same. In the first, an activity in heaven by warring heavenly princes determines a corresponding competition on earth between earthly princes. That conforms to the archetype-copy pattern, although “determines” does not have to mean conscious and deliberate direction on the part of the heavenly upon the earthly. In the second, demonic powers are acting as ‘puppet masters’ directing the activities of earthly empires. The two are not the same; in the second, the demonic powers are not themselves engaged in a corresponding heavenly activity between themselves, creating an archetype. Also, in the first, there may be no conscious direction between the warring heavenly powers and the warring earthly powers; there is simply a paradigmatic parallel, with spiritual forces (in the sense of natural laws) seen as operating between the two realms which produces the parallel effect. (This may be largely gobbledygook to our modern ears, but the ancients believed in these forces; Paul’s soteriology is built on them, as in Romans 6:1-5. Of course, they still survive in Catholic sacramentalism.)

Second, and mainly for the benefit of those who may not have read your book, would you agree that, in general, in an ancient Greco-Roman context, a reference to a figure bleeding and having blood would more naturally be understood to be a reference to an actual terrestrial human being? I think it would be useful for others involved in this discussion to hear a bit more from you about this.

I could give a simple answer by saying that, taken in isolation, a reference to bleeding and blood would more naturally be understood as involving a human earthly figure. But none of the references in view in our debate is in isolation. Moreover, we moderns don’t have any alternative, because we no longer believe in gods and divine beings who possessed blood and other elements of spiritual substance that are “analogous” (Cicero) to those of humans; it’s fine to specify “in an ancient Greco-Roman context,” but are we immune to bringing our natural modern understandings to bear in that context?

If Paul and the early Christ cultists have a pre-established heavenly understanding of their Christ’s activities and the concept that gods possess forms of blood and flesh/body (in some kind of spiritual material: see my quote from R. Carrier on p.186), we can’t just apply, case closed, my simple answer to your question to our interpretation of their words, since we can’t ignore the context which may be in their minds. And that context, I maintain, has been strongly indicated at many points in the texts as a whole.

Here is another response by Earl Doherty although not to Dr McGrath:

Mike: Doherty understands “rulers of this world” to be demons and not humans. You believe that it could mean, in isolation, demons or humans or both, am I correct? Does Doherty allow that it could also, in isolation (without clues from sources outside this verse) mean humans or demons and humans?

My preceding answer to James clarifies this, though I am not sure if James is quite ready to acknowledge that taken in isolation, “rulers of this age” could mean either demons or humans. And I am hardly the only one to understand the phrase in my way. Note 46 in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man lists a significant number of respected scholars, past and present, who so understand it, and that list is not exhaustive, but only those I have been able to ascertain. One of them, Paul Ellingworth, expresses the opinion (I assume it is not a guess on his part) that “A majority of scholars think that supernatural powers are intended here.” (A Translator’s Handbook for 1 Corinthians, p.46)

//So the question becomes — at least for those who acknowledge that Paul’s “rulers of this age” refers to angelic powers (argued elsewhere) — whether Paul meant to imply that those spirits acted through humans by inspiring them to kill Jesus or whether they themselves crucified Jesus. Either is a quite reasonable and valid explanation within the context of the ancient belief in paradigmatic parallelism between heaven and earth.//

I don’t know whose quote this is (maybe I missed it above or elsewhere), but once again this is not really accurate. The demons ‘puppet-mastering’ the earthly rulers to kill an earthly Jesus is not paradigmatic parallelism. It would only be if the demons killed a heavenly Jesus in the heavens while, copying them, the earthly rulers killed an earthly Jesus on earth. (G. A. Wells once took this meaning from what I was saying, an error and a ridiculous idea to think anyone would advocate.)

Now, I have not seen anyone argue that ‘paradigmatic parallelism’ could take place solely on earth, that the death of Jesus, a divine Son of God, on Calvary could have a parallel effect on earthly believers in the form of guaranteed salvation/resurrection. That sort of parallel effect, of course, is what two millennia of Christian soteriology has amounted to, as in the interpretation of something like Romans 6:5. Jesus resurrected on earth, therefore we are guaranteed our own resurrection (though to heaven). But that concept is not what is labelled in scholarship as “paradigmatic parallelism” or a similar phrase. Such a term is understood in the context of a parallel between heaven and earth, between heavenly paradigms/archetypes/champions, etc. and their earthly counterparts or those joined to them (see my p.98 and 102-3).

The usage in Colossians and Ephesians of similar terms would be only indirect evidence of what Paul meant, if those that dispute the Pauline authorship of these works are correct, since they reflect the usage of the term not by Paul but someone pretending to be Paul; yes?

But one could hardly maintain that between genuine Paul and pseudo-Paul only a decade or two later, the concept had switched from a Jesus crucified by earthly rulers to one crucified by heavenly rulers. That is highly unlikely. Nor that these communities somehow within those couple of decades became obsessed over the activities of and struggles with the demons if there was no such preoccupation in Paul’s lifetime.

I’m not sure though if Daniel’s Son of Man would fit this model, apocalyptic works I would think play by different rules than Platonic philosophy. For instance the beasts in Daniel’s vision aren’t monsters in Heaven or in the satanic realm but simply vision metaphors for the kingdoms of the world, so wouldn’t the son of man be a metaphor for the righteous?

Paradigmatic parallelism was not restricted to Platonism; Jews and other near-easterners had their own, somewhat cruder, versions. And you are missing the distinction in Daniel 7 between visions of the beasts, which are not portrayed as taking place in heaven (they are typical apocalyptic metaphor for historical events on earth), and the vision of the “one like a son of man” coming on the clouds of heaven and being presented to God on his throne. While scholarly interpretations of this whole visions passage can be varied, I think that the verse 7 vision is not simply a metaphor for something taking place, or soon to take place, on earth. (Note that contrast between the historical ‘beasts’ visions and the future ‘one like a son of man’ vision.) It is presented as a heavenly event, forecasting the inheritance of the earth by the righteous Jews. It is similar to the Similitudes vision of the Messiah in heaven and the future inheritance of thrones and crowns by the righteous on earth, to Christ’s entry into the heavenly sanctuary scene in Hebrews and the future entry into God’s rest by believers on earth. Neither of the latter constitute metaphors.

On 1 Corinthians 2:8, since Paul just discussed the teachers of the law and the philosophers of the age who are paralleled with the Jews and the Greeks, and the wisdom of god is contrasted with human wisdom, doesn’t it make sense that 2:6’s wisdom is also human and thus its rulers are human too? And if 2:6’s rulers and wisdom are human, we would expect 2:8’s rulers to be human. I’m not sure why one would switch to thinking demons here unless “ruler” uses a word used exclusively for demons.

You are not sufficiently taking into account the context of this passage (from 1:18 to 2:8). The whole thing arises from Paul reacting to criticism of his gospel: “This doctrine of the cross is sheer folly to those on their way to ruin…” So to begin with, he is speaking of his critics, people in the wider world, who do not see the ‘wisdom’ of God’s salvation system he is preaching. Thus, he is disparaging the “wisdom of the world” as foolish in the light of God’s “wisdom/folly” of the cross. He praises his believers as God’s weak and lowly instrument to overturn the pride of worldly wisdom. (Note that in this passage, there is no reference to “rulers”.

In chapter 2, Paul continues to discuss relative “wisdoms”. He has presented to his converts the “power of the Spirit” as a counter to the “wisdom of men” (v.5) as a basis for their faith. That power of the Spirit has given his faithful (whom he calls the “perfect ones”, probably a borrowing of gnostic terminology) their own form of wisdom. That wisdom, he goes on to say, is not two things:

(1) it is not “the wisdom of this age” (sophian aiōnos)

(2) neither is it the wisdom “of the rulers of this age” (tōn archontōn tou aiōnos toutou) who are being brought to naught.

And it is those same “rulers of this age” who in ignorance of God’s wisdom crucified the Lord of Glory (v.8).

While there is certainly room for ambiguity in this whole passage (otherwise we wouldn’t be here today), we can attempt to extract certain deductions. Note a couple of observations:

Whereas previously Paul speaks of the “wisdom of the world” or “of men”, in 2:6 he switches to the “wisdom of this age,” broadening his scope to a terminology which can encompass the demon spirits, who are looked upon as those who divide heaven from earth and hold sway over the latter. This is immediately followed by two references to “the rulers of this age”–not rulers of this world, and I have to reject Mike’s automatic assumption that the phrase in v.6 refers to human rulers, especially as we are now on somewhat different ground than in ch. 1. If “wisdom of this age” is simply a synonym for “wisdom of this world,” why does he essentially repeat the idea in “(the wisdom) of the rulers of this age” if that phrase simply means earthly rulers? And would the Sanhedrin and Pilate reasonably constitute “the rulers of this age,” the entire period of the world’s history leading up to the Parousia, which is what that term was used for? Have all the rulers of that age been instrumental in crucifying Christ? If only the Jewish elders and Roman governors were guilty of the crime, would Paul bother to say that only they were “coming to nothing”?

Verse 8 is a sweeping statement not so compatible with the historicist Gospel scenario, and yet fully compatible with the idea that Christ’s sacrifice would spell the death knell of the inimical spirits, an idea encountered elsewhere in the non-Gospel literature, such as Colossians 2:15 and the Ascension of Isaiah. 1 Cor. 2:7’s reference to God’s hidden secret wisdom nicely parallels Ephesians 3:10’s “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities [tais archais (a word variant of archōn) kai tais exousiais] in the realms of heaven.” Here the clear linkage of God’s wisdom (i.e, the mystery of Christ and his redeeming role) being made known to the previously ignorant heavenly “rulers” almost guarantees a similarity of meaning in the association made in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 between God’s hidden wisdom and the ignorant “rulers of this age” who crucified Christ.

For the “ignorance” motif, see also the Gnostic Hypostasis of the Archons which says that the creator “archons” are ignorant in thinking that there is no power above them; Ascension of Isaiah 9:14 also attributes ignorance of Christ’s identity to “the god of that world” who hung him on a tree (location in the firmament, and no involvement of earthly rulers until it was later interpolated into chapter 11). The Apocalypse of Elijah (1:6) also suggests a hiding of identity from the angels and other spirit powers. Similar allusions are found in the Gospel of Truth (18,21), the Apocryphon of John (30,20), the Paraphrase of Shem (36,14) and the Hymn of the Pearl. All tending to support an understanding by Paul of the agency of the crucifixion being the ignorant demon spirits, the “rulers of this age.”

So Mike’s opinion quoted above is quite superficial and based on its own ignorance. Ignatius uses the term “archontes in referring to “rulers visible and invisible” (Sm. 6:1) but offers no opinion on Paul’s 2:8 phrase. Marcion apparently regarded 2:8 as referring to the demon spirits of the Creator god, since Tertullian disputes this by insisting that Paul only meant earthly rulers (though not the demons working through such rulers). As I pointed out, if it was known that Paul meant the demons working through earthly rulers, Tertullian would have argued it this way, which he does not, making it very unlikely that such an interpretation of 2:8 was current. That rationalization began only with Origen, with everyone until today following suit as a convenient ‘out’. Tertullian’s silence on this alleged meaning by Paul pretty well puts the lie to Origen’s and modern scholarship’s appeal to that meaning.

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  • Steven Carr
    2011-08-27 19:50:17 GMT+0000 - 19:50 | Permalink

    DOHERTY
    Note 46 in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man lists a significant number of respected scholars, past and present, who so understand it, and that list is not exhaustive

    CARR
    We keep being told that Doherty has to present his theses in peer-reviewed form.

    When a great deal of Doherty’s ideas are already well-received , mainstream scholarship.

    DOHERTY
    And would the Sanhedrin and Pilate reasonably constitute “the rulers of this age,” the entire period of the world’s history leading up to the Parousia, which is what that term was used for? Have all the rulers of that age been instrumental in crucifying Christ?

    CARR
    Romans 13 has an entirely different picture of the ‘rulers of this age’ ( a phrase not used by Paul in that passage, but historicists would have to claim that Paul meant the governing authorities of Romans 13, when he spoke about the rulers of this age in other letters).

    In Romans 13, these ‘rulers of this age’ (to use historicist terminology that Paul does not), , these rulers of this age do not bear the sword for nothing, and are God’s agents sent to punish wrongdoers and who do not bear the sword for nothing.

    How can ‘the governing authorities’ and ‘the rulers of this age’ be identified when Paul writes about them in two totally contrasting ways?

    In Romans 13, there is no way of getting at the idea that the rulers of this age are the sorts of people who would kills Sons of God.

    Whatever Paul thought, the governing authorities were not the rulers of this age.

  • John
    2011-08-28 00:25:21 GMT+0000 - 00:25 | Permalink

    I’ve been following the exchanges between Neil, Doherty and Mcgrath on the latter’s blog, and Doherty wrote in one comment that certain gnostic writings “support an understanding by Paul of the agency of the crucifixion being the ignorant demon spirits, the “rulers of this age.””

    I don’t know what the “right” understanding of 1 Cor. 2:8 is, but how it is any different to say this than to say that other writings support an understanding that ignorant humans killed Jesus (or that Jesus had a family, etc.)?

    Steven wrote in the comment above:

    “How can ‘the governing authorities’ and ‘the rulers of this age’ be identified when Paul writes about them in two totally contrasting ways?

    In Romans 13, there is no way of getting at the idea that the rulers of this age are the sorts of people who would kills Sons of God.”

    But isn’t the idea that the “rulers of this age” acted in ignorance, and that if they had understood God’s wisdom “they would not have crucified the Lord”?

    • Steven Carr
      2011-08-28 00:54:16 GMT+0000 - 00:54 | Permalink

      I see John just chopped out the bit of Romans 13 where Paul says the governing authorities do not bear the sword for nothing,and hold no terror for the innocent. It was not something he cared to discuss and so it was not discussed.

      Once again, Paul is silent , or rather, Paul is silenced. Paul has to be silenced by people arguing Paul believed the Romans killed the Son of God.

      • John
        2011-08-28 02:34:13 GMT+0000 - 02:34 | Permalink

        Paul says that the “rulers of this age” were ignorant of God’s wisdom because it was secret and hidden and “not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away” (2:6-7). He then gives human examples of this ignorance: “As it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, not ear heard, nor heart of man conceived …'” (2:9), and “The unspiritual [or natural] man does not receive the gifts of the spirit of God” (2:14).

        If the “rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away” had understood God’s wisdom, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (2:8)

        That these rulers are “passing away” is similar to what Paul says of ignorant humans in 2 Cor 4:3-4 that, “[E]ven if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

        Paul says that human rulers were “not a terror to good conduct” and did not “bear the sword in vain” because they were “servant[s] of God to execute his wrath on wrongdoers” (Rom. 13:3-4), but perhaps in Jesus’ case “the god of this age has blinded [their] minds.”

        • GakuseiDon
          2011-08-28 07:54:39 GMT+0000 - 07:54 | Permalink

          John: Paul says that human rulers were “not a terror to good conduct” and did not “bear the sword in vain” because they were “servant[s] of God to execute his wrath on wrongdoers” (Rom. 13:3-4), but perhaps in Jesus’ case “the god of this age has blinded [their] minds.”

          Exactly. And Paul says that very thing: Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers to stop the word of God. According to Paul himself, he ran afoul of various rulers. He fled from the governor of Damascus; he was whipped “forty times minus one” several times, as punishment by the Jews; and at various times he was both the persecutor and the persecuted. I think “Satan made me/them do it!” is an excuse as old as the belief in Satan itself.

          In Rom 13:3, Paul writes, “rulers [archons] are not a terror to good works, but to the evil”. Paul describes Satan as “archon”; according to Doherty, “archons of this age” refers to demons (ignoring for a moment my transliteration of “archons”!)

          I doubt anyone thinks that Paul needed to write “archons — except Satan and demons and those whose minds are blinded by Satan and demons — are not a terror to good works…”. Or am I wrong on that? Should Paul have spelled that out, in case people in that time were confused? Stephen, what do you think?

          • Steven Carr
            2011-08-28 16:30:54 GMT+0000 - 16:30 | Permalink

            I’m just astonished at people’s ability to produce confabulations to explain away what they read. It is simply flabbergasting, and a symptom of humanity’s immense ability to deceive itself.

            The Americans killed Osama bin Laden.

            Once I hear Al-Qaeeda claim the American Governments are God’s agents , sent to punish wrongdoers, and who hold no terror for the innocent, but killed bin Laden because Satan had blinded them, then I might accept these confabulations that GDon produces to explain why Paul is full of praise for people who beat, flogged, whipped, and crucified the Son of God. .

            With not a hint to his readers in that passage, or anywhere else, that the Son of God was the exception which proved the rule.

            Contrast Paul’s praise of the killers of Jesus with what Hebrews 10 says about people who merely take the blood of Jesus in a cultic meal in the wrong manner.

            Hebrews 10
            Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

            I wonder why the author doesn’t just praise these people as God’s agents, but temporarily blinded by Satan, instead of promising them a fate literally worse than death?

            • GakuseiDon
              2011-08-28 19:47:34 GMT+0000 - 19:47 | Permalink

              Steven, I doubt anyone thinks that Paul needed to write “archons — except Satan and demons and those whose minds are blinded by Satan and demons — are not a terror to good works…”. Or am I wrong on that? Should Paul have spelled that out, in case people in that time were confused? Steven, what do you think?

              • Steven Carr
                2011-08-29 16:45:16 GMT+0000 - 16:45 | Permalink

                GDON
                Steven, I doubt anyone thinks that Paul needed to write “archons — except Satan and demons and those whose minds are blinded by Satan and demons — are not a terror to good works…”. Or am I wrong on that? Should Paul have spelled that out, in case people in that time were confused? Steven, what do you think?

                CARR
                I think Paul should have spelled it out just like you claim he meant to write ‘The governing authorities hold no terror for the innocent, but might well crucify you, because they are God’s agents, blinded by Satan.’

                Mind you, Paul probably didn’t spell it out along the lines of what you claim he meant, because he did not want to look as dumb as a box of rocks.

        • Steven Carr
          2011-08-29 16:50:55 GMT+0000 - 16:50 | Permalink

          JOHN
          Paul says that human rulers were “not a terror to good conduct” and did not “bear the sword in vain” because they were “servant[s] of God to execute his wrath on wrongdoers” (Rom. 13:3-4), but perhaps in Jesus’ case “the god of this age has blinded [their] minds.”

          CARR
          So how can they hold no terror for the innocent, when you claim Paul thought their mind has been blinded by Satan?

          Mind you, Christians are always claiming that people possessed by demons are thoroughly good eggs, and you have nothing to worry about from them. At least, that seems to be the view of historicists.

          • John
            2011-08-29 21:46:53 GMT+0000 - 21:46 | Permalink

            Even if the “rulers of this age” were demons, Paul says that unbelievers will perish, and though he also says that a ruler is a servant of God, I assume that most rulers did not believe in Paul’s gospel and thus would perish, unless being a ruler gave an unbeliever a free pass.

  • 2011-08-28 21:58:12 GMT+0000 - 21:58 | Permalink

    John writes: “Paul says that human rulers were “not a terror to good conduct” and did not “bear the sword in vain” because they were “servant[s] of God to execute his wrath on wrongdoers” (Rom. 13:3-4), but perhaps in Jesus’ case “the god of this age has blinded [their] minds.””

    Is not this the sort of “what if” argument that Dr McGrath accuses mythicism of undertaking? But it does seem that the “what if” method might be necessary for historicists. We can only work with the evidence we have.

  • John
    2011-08-28 22:17:59 GMT+0000 - 22:17 | Permalink

    Regardless of what Paul says about rulers being God’s servants, he expects that unbelievers will perish. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The “god of this age” has blinded the minds of unbelievers, which causes them to perish (2 Cor. 4:3); likewise the wise man, scribe and “debater of this age” do not understand God’s wisdom and will be destroyed (1 Cor. 1:19-20). So too the “natural man” does not understand it (1 Cor. 2:14). Every example of ignorance near 1 Cor. 2:8 is human, and the scripture that is used to support 2:8 says “What no eye has seen, not ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (2:9).

    Unless the rulers in Rom. 13 believed in Paul’s gospel (or, as he might put it, unless their minds were not blinded by the god of this age), I would assume that Paul expected them to perish. The deutero-Pauline 2 Thessalonians also understands this idea: “Satan wil be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish [same word as 1 Cor. 2:8], because they refused to love truth and so be saved” (2:9-10).

    “We are an aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance of death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15). To which group do you suppose most rulers, Jewish or Roman, belonged, according to Paul?

    I can accept that “rulers of this age” could be demons, but the context indicates to me that they could also be humans.

    .

    • John
      2011-08-28 22:33:37 GMT+0000 - 22:33 | Permalink

      Correction: The word used in 2 Thessalonians 2:10 for perish is not the same word Paul uses in 1 Cor 2:8, which is also 1 Cor. 2:6. Same idea, though. Every time I don’t double check something … 🙂

  • John
    2011-08-28 22:44:32 GMT+0000 - 22:44 | Permalink

    Neil,

    I would like to point out that in this discussion I am for the most part using Paul to understand Paul, and trying to stay within the context of 1 Cor. 2:8 as much as I can, and I consider this to be working with the evidence we have. This is not an angry retort, just saying what I think is the case.

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