Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 9: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel (conclusion)


This post continues my discussion of the Vision of Isaiah.

It will briefly consider some additional aspects of that writing that make it an attractive candidate as the source Simon/Paul’s gospel.


An Assembly of Prophets

The Vision of Isaiah gives a significant role not just to Isaiah himself but also to a group of unnamed fellow prophets. Isaiah’s arrival at King Hezekiah’s court is the occasion for a gathering of forty of them who “came that they might greet him, and that they might hear his words, and that he might lay his hands on them, and that they might prophesy and that he might hear their prophecy” (Asc. Is. 6:4-5).

With Isaiah seated in their midst and his higher ranking confreres on his right (an arrangement that matches the Vision’s description of the lower levels of heaven), they hear, together with the king, the door to the heavens opened and the voice of the Spirit (Asc. Is. 6:6). And afterwards they are part of the select group that is allowed to hear Isaiah relate what he saw:

And after Isaiah had seen this vision he recounted it to Hezekiah, and to Josab his [Isaiah’s] son, and to the other prophets who had come. But the officials, and the eunuchs, and the people did not hear, apart from Samnas the secretary, and Jehoiakim, and Asaph the recorder… but the people did not hear, for Micah and Josab his son had sent them out… (Asc. Is. 6:16-17)

. . . it could explain why in Paul’s communities prophets played a prominent role, one second in importance only to that of apostles

The amount of attention and the role given to the prophets have led a number of scholars (Enrico Norelli, Robert G. Hall, Morton Smith, and Michael E. Stone) to surmise that the author was projecting his own community into the time of Isaiah. That is to say, the practices the author describes may well be the practices of his own community. Norelli, for instance, is of the opinion that

the Ascension of Isaiah reflects two phases in the history of a group of prophets who laid claim to a role of very high authority in the Christian community, a role much like the prophets who, gathered around Isaiah, are center stage in chapter 6. (Ascension du prophète Isaïe, p. 74, my translation).

Now if this is correct, and if the Vision was the source of Simon/Paul’s gospel, it could explain why in his communities too prophets played a prominent role, one second in importance only to that of apostles: “God has designated some in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets… (1 Cor. 12:28). Apostles who were also the recipients of revelations from the Lord were prophets too. But their apostolic ministry as itinerant preachers meant that those prophets who did not travel around were, in effect, the highest authorities on site in the various churches. read more »

Maurice Casey, Professionalism, and the Starless-and-Bible-Black Wall of Silence

Professional ethics

Back in the previous century when I was a captain in the USAF, I had the privilege of attending the Air Force Institute of Technology. I recall especially well a course on military ethics, taught by a tough old retired Marine with a remarkable command of history, philosophy, and rhetoric. Many memories of the class have stayed with me. I remember discussions about “just war doctrine,” and heated debates about Bomber HarrisProject Paperclip, Vietnam, and more.

Just lately, while reading Maurice Casey’s Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? I began to think of another subject we talked about in that ethics class from so long ago, namely, professionalism. We live in a world in which our dependence on professionals and experts increases every year. The depth of knowledge required for many areas of expertise is so great that you and I will never have the time or the necessary access to materials to become competent. If we have a problem with the law, we seek a licensed attorney’s advice. If we have a health issue, we go to a medical doctor.

The specific knowledge of each profession varies, but professionalism itself is constant. With great trust comes great responsibility. Some desirable traits or models of behavior for professionals include:

  • Knowledge: A deep understanding of your field and a commitment to keep up with new information as needed, along with the diligence to attain and maintain accreditation.
  • Honesty and Integrity: A commitment to your clients, students, customers, or patients, as well as your peers to be truthful and to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. People trust you because of your professional standing. Don’t betray that trust.
  • Accountability: Taking responsibility for your actions and making things right if you fail to deliver.
  • Respect: Treating others with kindness and respect, since you are a representative of your profession. You must balance confidence with humility.
  • Loyalty: Standing by the people who depend on you, especially when the going gets tough.

Conflicts of ethical behavior

Seven Days in May
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas confer in Seven Days in May

Sometimes these goals conflict with one another. For example, what do you do if witness a friend doing something wrong? Are you bound by your code of ethics to report him or are you bound by your to loyalty to your colleague? Different cultures have dramatically different ways to deal with that question. In some societies, it’s common for people to lie for a friend, because their loyalty to a friend or relative far outweighs any man-made rule. In other societies, such as many English-speaking countries, telling the truth is viewed as an absolute virtue.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with our choices. As an officer, I was taught not to lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do. For some of us, this dictum was hard to swallow. Since when did being a snitch become praiseworthy?

If you’ve ever watched Seven Days in May, you’ve seen an excellent portrayal of a fictional officer dealing with that very problem. Deep down, Kirk Douglas’s character knows he must tell the President what his boss is planning, but that doesn’t make the breach of loyalty any easier.

So we all know from fiction and probably from firsthand experience the struggle people experience when they witness incompetence or bad behavior by a fellow professional in their field. Is it your duty to tattle on that person? Does honesty trump loyalty?

read more »

My Last Days In the Cult: My Exit Story

caf43cedf899d2c59372b595867434d414f4141About 15 years ago I placed online a short account of how I came to find a new life, a new way of thinking and of self-acceptance after too many years as a dedicated member of the Worldwide Church of God Armstrong cult. I was one of many ex-members of that cult to add their little bios to that site. We felt it worthwhile to share our experiences to encourage others who were grappling with the various stresses and challenges of unraveling the thought-habits of years and finding a much healthier way of life as we had done. Above all we wanted to assure them that there really was a better life beyond and it was never too late to change one’s life’s direction. Recently I realized that there was one aspect of my final years in that cult, the years immediately preceding my leaving that cult, that I have very rarely spoken about in public forums. Given that there has recently appeared in print a charming little account of my former life that conveys a bizarre image of my former and current psychological makeup I thought it might be worthwhile for me to share for anyone half interested what my final years in that former religion were like.  (I say it was a “bizarre” account. I must refrain from using the word “dishonest” because I am sure the author would certainly have taken the trouble to have interviewed me and asked a few basic questions had he the time. It is quite understandable that busy people would need to rely upon stereotyping and armchair psychoanalysis to find the profile they need to prove their points about someone they wish to denigrate.)

First chinks in the armour

The first slight cracks in my faith in the teachings of the cult came when I decided to study in depth each book of the Bible as a discrete unit, as if it were not part of the canon. I would even try to read it as if I knew absolutely nothing at all about anything else in the Bible. That is, I would try to read each book to try to ascertain what it was saying in its own terms — without any reference in my own mind to any other canonical work. Of course most books, especially in the New Testament, do contain references to other biblical books. But I did not want to read, say, Romans, with any baggage in my head from what any other letter or gospel said. That process led to some interesting results. I began to see that some of the church’s teachings were really founded on unjustifiable interpretations. What’s more, I began to notice many passages that I had once read so often but also passed over so often without realizing their full import for the message the author was trying to convey. I took a number of questions to our ministry and earned myself a few worried looks. I was beginning to realize I was coming to understand and know more about what the Bible says than our trained ministry. I could see that they had not been taught to study the Bible as such but only to study the church’s teachings in the Bible. read more »

Constructing Jesus and the Gospels: Apocalyptic Prophecy

destruction_jerusalemPassages that for modern fundamentalist readers refer doctrinally to Jesus’ death and some imaginary “end time” in some indefinite future:

Luke 12:49-53

49 I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled?
50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished
51 Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
52 for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three
53 They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law.

Luke 21:23

23 Woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! for there shall be great distress upon the land, and wrath unto this people.

Luke 23:28-30

28 But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
29 For behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck
30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.

Luke 21:6

6 As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Luke 21:20

20 But when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand.

Luke 21:24-27

24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive into all the nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
25 And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows
26 men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.
27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Luke 17:33-37

33 Whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
34 I say unto you, In that night there shall be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
35 There shall be two women grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
36 There shall be two men in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left
37 And they answering say unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.


The Literary Form of the Gospels

quote_begin A proper understanding of literary form gives us a historical meaning. quote_end

Much depends on our analysis of the literary form of the gospels. If we conclude on the basis of Gospel passages like those above that the gospels are novella-like apocalypses or apocalyptic prophecies, a variant of writings like Daniel, then by definition they are written with reference to historical events known to their original audience.

When the above passages are read with the knowledge of those events, the war with Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem, then they refer both to the death of Jesus and the catastrophic fate of Jerusalem.

Thus a proper understanding of literary form gives us a historical meaning. (Clarke W. Owens Son of Yahweh: The Gospels as Novels) read more »

Constructing Jesus and the Gospels: Messianism and Survival post 70 CE

Black Elk Speaks
Black Elk Speaks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the previous post we saw how Clarke W. Owens (Son of Yahweh: The Gospels as Novels) drew the inference that the evangelists created the type of Jesus they did because of the impact of the Jewish War.

Just as the Jewish people and their centre of worship had been destroyed through fire and mass crucifixions, and just as many were subsequently finding new hope and a new life in Christianity, so Jesus, the suffering servant who was resurrected, was a personification of the ideal Israel. That would explain why Jesus was depicted as the Temple, destroyed physically but restored spiritually; why he was depicted as an antitype of Israel thrust into the wilderness for forty days; and why hosts of other such allusions were attached to him.

There are additional supports for Owens’ inference.

One of these is the nature of messianism “as a cultural survival tactic”. He writes

Messianism as a cultural survival tactic is attested to as recently as 1889, when the Lakota people . . . were threatened with extinction.

The Jewish people were being threatened with “cultural extinction” with the destruction of the physical and ideological centre of their cult along with the rest of the bloodshed. Owens quotes the 8th, 9th and 10th paragraphs of the Messiah chapter from Black Elk Speaks to

[demonstrate] the same sort of collective, cultural need and motivation described by Spong, Josephus, and other writers who describe or acknowledge the effect on the Jewish War on the First Century Jews.

A book I read many years ago reflects similar social responses to distress, although at a class level rather than a cultural survival one. The Pursuit of the Millennium by Norman Cohn is a fascinating study of millennial movements among distressed peasantry of Europe through the Middle Ages.

read more »

Constructing Jesus and the Gospels: How and Why

Jerusalem falls

Once Clarke W. Owens extracts the Gospels from the Bible and studies them as literary creations on their historical context something most interesting happens. (Owens, I should point out, is not a mythicist. I believe on the basis of his entry in the Christian Alternative website that he is a Christian though one with a radical perspective.)

If you’re one of those readers who has somehow suspected that Christianity as we know it took shape and momentum as a consequence of the catastrophic events of the Jewish War that culminated in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple then you’ll especially enjoy the way Owens ties the details of those historical events with the literary genre and details of the Gospels.

In the previous post I mentioned Owens’ disappointment that Goulder/Spong attempted to explain the Gospels by reference to the historical context of their authors (i.e. the existence of Jewish Lectionary readings that the authors desired to replace with Christian ones) without taking the next step of investigating why. What would have motivated them to want to do that?

I am not so sure that Goulder/Spong are correct with the lectionary hypothesis, but the real question Owens believes he can answer is “Why did the evangelists write the Gospels at all?” By the Gospels I mean those works that are largely woven together out of the warp and woof of the Jewish Scriptures (and a few related books like Enoch).

Digression on the ‘m’ word

Spong calls this technique midrash; Goulder, I believe, stopped using that term because it raised too many objections among many critics. I have no problem with the term because I have found Jewish scholars specializing in Jewish literature, including the Bible, have also written that the Gospels are largely midrash. If anyone wants to quibble I direct them to my series of posts explaining the use of the term ‘midrash’ in both Jewish and New Testament studies:

  1. Midrash and the Gospels 1: Some definitions and explanations
  2. Midrash and the Gospels 2: debates in the scholarly sphere
  3. Midrash and Gospels 3: What some Jewish scholars say (and continuing ‘Midrash Tales of the Messiah’)

But if you still reject the term ‘midrash’ in this context but still acknowledge that the bulk of the Passion Narrative was stitched together out of dozens of allusions to the Jewish Scriptures, and that so much else in the Gospels are based on passages from the Psalms, the Prophets, the tales of Moses, David, Elijah and Elisha, then follow on. Owens explains why such a form of literature was created to tell a story of a crucified saviour by reference to the historical context of the authors and original readers/hearers.

Literary criticism answering the historical question

Owens finds the answer through a literary criticism that understands a work through the historical context of its creators. He accordingly finds the explanation for the Gospels in the Jewish War as we know it through Josephus. read more »

Extracting the Gospels From the Bible

ClarkeOwensTime to return to one of my favourite books at the moment, Son of Yahweh: The Gospels as Novels by Clarke W. Owens. I have posted on this book five times before but have not yet got to its most interesting ideas. By scholarly training he knows how to read a text. That means he knows how to understand what sort of literature a text is. And that means he can be a most valuable asset for a historian who wants to know what sorts of documents the New Testament Gospels and Acts are. After all, how can a historian know how to interpret a primary source if he does not understand what sort of document it is? How can a historian know what sorts of questions a document is capable of answering if she does not understand its nature?

The trouble with most analysis of the Gospels by those who use them as primary materials for reconstructing Christianity’s origins is that it to a significant extent depends upon interpreting the nature of the Gospels as “Bible books”.

In literary-critical studies, definition of the text is an obvious first step, but critics seldom spend much time on it, because in most cases the text is readily defined.

When we (whether literary critics, students, interested readers, historians) pick up a piece of literature that we wish to learn about and understand more deeply, we may well first ask, “What is this work?”

The answer to that question is nearly always quickly understood. The answer is simply a matter of historical record. We identify and understand a work by both its form and its place in history. If we pick up Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we know we are studying a discrete work, something clearly understood by author and audience alike to be a work distinct from any other work. If we did not know the author of a work we would still be able to define the work according to its form and understand that it has been composed at a particular time and place in history.

The historical context of composition is important for understanding how and why the work came to be composed the way it is.

Owens points out that we (scholars included) all too often bring in addition an entirely different set of perspectives to books in the Bible. He writes:

I can think of no examples [outside the Bible’s books] in which the definition of a text would include works by different authors who were not by their own intention co-authors of a given work.

In the previous post we saw the two ways the Gospels are widely interpreted as literature. Jack Miles and John Meier were representative. read more »

What the Context Group (and Casey) Missed

What Is Social-Scientific Criticism?
What Is Social-Scientific Criticism?

Social-Scientific Criticism

In an earlier post — Casey: Taking Context out of Context — we discussed the disturbing habit in NT scholarship of explaining away textual difficulties by playing the high-context card. For example, in What Is Social-Scientific Criticism? John H. Elliott of the Context Group writes:

Further, the New Testament, like the Old Testament and other writings of antiquity, consists of documents written in what anthropologists call a “high context” society where the communicators presume a broadly shared acquaintance with and knowledge of the social context of matters referred to in conversation or writing. Accordingly, it is presumed in such societies that contemporary readers will be able to “fill in the gaps” and “read between the lines.” (John H Elliott. Kindle Locations 125-128)

Similarly, Bruce Malina explains why Paul’s writings are often “misunderstood”:

The New Testament was written in what anthropologists call a “high context” culture. People who communicate with each other in high context societies presume a broadly shared, generally well-understood knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing. (Bruce J. Malina; John J. Pilch. Social-science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (p. 5). Kindle Edition.)

Hoping to explain away the messianic secret, David F. Watson says:

The necessity of protective secrecy was exacerbated in the ancient Mediterranean context by the “high-context” nature of the culture. A high-context culture is one in which people are deeply involved in the everyday activities of those around them and in which information is widely shared. . . . Within the high-context setting, secrecy would be an important and necessary means of protection. (Watson, Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret, p. 25)

Useful but misused

I want to be clear up front. I would never argue that social-scientific criticism is in itself a misguided approach, but I do wish to point out a few observations that indicate a pattern of misuse. We continually read that the people in Jesus’ and Paul’s time lived in a high-context culture, with little in the way of demonstration.

However, a scientific approach demands that scholars provide evidence for their assertions. Besides proving that NT writers lived in high-context cultures, scholars must also prove it follows that their writings will always reflect that high context. Because it is stated flatly as a “known fact,” we miss out on important points of the discussion. For example:

read more »

How Ancient Historians Worked — Summary

I’ve decided to wrap up this series with this post. The book I have been discussing is online for anyone interested in following up the issues in more depth. In the future I may have time to discuss how the same points about Thucydides can be found to apply to other ancient historians like Tacitus, Josephus, Polybius, and so forth, too.


Here are the key points:

  1. A historian may inform readers he is relying upon eyewitness testimony and personal investigations in order to encourage readers to have confidence in the superiority of his narrative, but the reality may in fact be quite different. In fact the historian may well be re-creating historical scenes from other literature (epics, plays, works of other historical times and places) that are vividly realistic mental images for the reader.
  2. It was believed important for historians to select noble topics to write about. Their historical narratives were meant to serve the interests of both education and entertainment.
  3. Educational and inspirational messages were in the form of setting before readers actions that demonstrated the noble or right way to act in various circumstances, or conversely illustrating cases where the ignoble or foolish course of action brought disaster and shame. In this sense historiography belonged to what rhetoricians called the epideictic function. The point was to praise (and sometimes to praise the good by demonstrating the converse) what was good and noble in the past as an inspiration for contemporary audiences.
  4. Truth was a matter of what was plausible given all we know of the human nature and the natural world. Hence gaps in historical knowledge could be validly filled in by the historian creating scenes that were “true to life”. Historical facts were those details or events that fulfilled the purpose of the historian’s narrative. read more »

Once a Fundamentalist . . . Never Again

3295218This post is dedicated to all those who were once fundamentalists and are fundamentalists no more. I post here extracts from testimonies of a number of people who have described the changes in their lives since they left fundamentalism behind.

I initially thought I’d dedicate it to those informed lay and erudite scholars who contemptuously snort at anyone who had, let’s say, an ultra-conservative, somewhat extreme religious past and who currently has come to entertain questions about the historicity of Jesus. But are such persons really worth a dedication?

Once a fundie, always a fundie.

That’s their claim. They mean by it that a person who once was mixed up with a religious fundamentalist type of past will, on leaving that past, inevitably switch to some other cause with all the fundamentalist pig-headedness and fervour that characterized their former religious commitment.

It’s a vacuous slogan, of course. It’s nothing but a cheap way to dismiss someone holding a view or asking questions they have no time for.

The truth is that people do indeed change. The number of books that have been published about leaving a sect, cult or fundamentalist religion of one kind or another surely number into the hundreds. Right now I’m sure most people browsing through any sizable general bookstore in the English speaking world will scarcely be able to avoid seeing at least one work about someone having left behind the confines of a rigid Muslim past. Anyone who has recently left or is in the process of leaving a Christian-influenced cult or religion will soon become aware of dozens of helpful titles. Bibliographies on the web abound. Some of my favourite and most helpful authors were Steven Hassan, Edmund Cohen, Marlene Winell.

These names alone belie the trite slogan. They are all fundies who have done much to help others leave behind and rebuild lives after the fundamentalist experience.

Many readers here know of Dr Robert M. Price’s fundamentalist background, current very liberal “Christianity” and of his books such as The Reason Driven Life.

In a future post I should explain what experience and research shows about why people join these religious outfits. There are gross misconceptions about that, and about the sorts of people who do join and endure in them for any length of time.

Both Tim and I have written about our own changes in outlook since we each left our respective religious coffins. Links to them can be found in the Vridar authors’ profiles. I have since written an update to try to dispel some ignorant nonsense being written about me on Hoffmann’s blog.

Hoffmann point-blank refused to let it be posted there as a correction to what he and others were saying. Perhaps such people think anything coming from me cannot be trusted. So here for the sake of the record I want to bring to everyone’s attention the testimonies of thirteen others who have also left fundamentalism behind never to return . . . .

The extracts come from a book available online (or at least via Kindle), Leaving Fundamentalism: Personal Stories, edited by G. Elijah Dann. Read them and know just how far ex-fundamentalists do indeed leave behind their former mind-sets. (Bolded emphasis is mine.) I know, I can’t resist my own comments throughout, either, sorry.

read more »

How Ancient Historians Constructed Dramatic Fiction: Thucydides and the Plague

Plague of Athens by Neapolitan School

The plague of Athens is one of the most detailed, vivid and life-like accounts of any event from ancient times. The historian who penned it (Thucydides) assures all readers that he relied upon eyewitness reports and that he personally investigated what had happened in order to be sure of leaving a record that would be of use (as well as interest) to posterity.

But how historically true is it? Is it hyper-sceptical to even ask that question?

I ask because a few New Testament scholars who study Christian origins claim that those who raise doubts that the author of the two-part prologue to Luke and Acts was really relying upon eye-witness testimony as he appears to be claiming are “hyper-sceptical” and unreasonably biased against the Bible. This post is part of a series showing that such critical questions are indeed applied to works other than those in the Bible and that they are perfectly legitimate and gateways to deeper understanding of the texts.

Further, among ancient historians and classicists we find the rule that we can never be certain of the historicity of a narrative without external or independent corroboration. This, too, is another detail dismissed as “hyper-scepticism” among some New Testament scholars who have built “bedrock history” upon their biblical sources.

Before resuming with Woodman’s discussion of the way the historian Thucydides worked it’s worth pausing to consider an extract by Henry R. Immerwahr from the Cambridge History of Classical Literature:

The close association of history and literature produced a distinctive manner of presentation which creates difficulties for anyone who tries to use the ancient historical works as source materials. Especially through the influence of epic and drama Herodotus and Thucydides set a style followed by almost all ancient historians, which may be called mimetic, that is, they write as if they had been present at the events they describe. (An exception is the Oxyrhynchus historian who aims at a more dispassionate narrative.)

When Herodotus describes the conversations between Gyges and Candaules or the feelings of Xerxes after Salamis we can hardly believe that this is based on evidence; it is rather an imaginative, ‘poetic’, reconstruction aiming at authenticity in an idealized sense.

The same is true of Thucydides when he supplies motives for actions by delving, so to speak, into the minds of the participants (e.g. the feelings of Cleon and the assembly in the discussion of Pylos, 4.27*1″.) without mentioning his informants.

The use of speeches is only the most obvious device of the mimetic method; it reaches into the smallest narrative details and tends to destroy the distinction between ‘fact’ and interpretation. This factor, more than any other, gives ancient historiography its unique character. (CHCL – pp. 456-7)

It is often forgotten that Thucydides is our only evidence for the plague, as for so many other events of the war. It is not mentioned by Aristophanes or in any contemporary medical writing. It is mentioned by Plato (Symp. 201d), but many years later. (The contemporary Sophocles makes no mention of it.) Woodman, p. 66

This post does not argue that there was no plague in Athens during the Peloponnesian War — although see the side box for the status of the evidence for its historicity.

What this post examines is Professor of Classics A.J. Woodman’s case for Thucydides having constructed a fictional scene based upon that apparently historical event. We will see the way “historical” writing was conceived in the Hellenistic, Roman and Jewish worlds in the Classical-Hellenistic-Roman eras.

I am focusing on Thucydides because he is generally considered the historian to be most like the moderns, taking scrupulous care to establish the certainty of any fact he writes, avoiding any mythical or miraculous tales, striving for an almost modern form of “scientific accuracy”. If it can be shown that this image of Thucydides’ work is accurate then we may indeed read ancient historical works in hopes of finding that others, too, have at least to some degree written the same way, especially those for whom we have evidence that they aspired to be compared with Thucydides in some way. Thinking specifically here of Josephus and the author of Luke-Acts.

This continues from my previous post on A.J. Woodman’s argument. His book can be found online at Scribd.

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The Author of Mark: Master of Suspense?

English: Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitc...
English: Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitchcock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What Is Suspense?

A.H. [Alfred Hitchcock] In the usual form of suspense it indispensable that the public be made perfectly aware of all the facts involved. Otherwise there is no suspense. (Truffaut: Hitchcock (1983), p. 72, emphasis mine)

Back when I was an undergrad at the University of Maryland at College Park, I took a film class that focused on British director Alfred Hitchcock. Our main text, based largely on interviews that you can listen to at the Internet Archive, was Francois Truffaut’s book, which I still highly recommended for any film buff.

The difference between suspense and surprise

Hitchcock, of course, had a keen interest in suspense, as distinguished from surprise.

A.H. There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it is seen as an absolutely ordinary scene. Now let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen an anarchist place it there.

The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.

The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb beneath you and it’s about to explode!” (Truffaut, p. 73, reformatting and bold emphasis mine)

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Vridar’s Second Resurrection

Resurrection Pinacoteka-3
Resurrection Pinacoteka-3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re back!

Did you miss us?

Our recent downtime was self-inflicted. (I know Watts you’re thinking.) But anyhow, we’re on a new server in the Netherlands now, and so far everything seems to be working fine.

Casey: Taking Context out of Context

English: Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud glowers disapprovingly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Observant readers will recall that we tackled this subject once before in When Is Paul’s Silence Golden?]

Ad hoc soup

The standard historicist response to the question of Paul’s silence on the historical Jesus relies heavily on Freudian Kettle Logic — to wit, “(1) Paul did mention Jesus quite a bit; (2) We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul didn’t mention Jesus very much at all, for the following ad hoc reasons; (3) You’re an idiot for bringing it up.”

The different ad hoc reasons given for Paul’s silence vary over time. And it’s hard to justify spending too much time refuting them, because they’re functionally equivalent to yelling “Squirrel!” in the middle of a sentence. Perhaps it’s because of the honor/shame society Paul and Jesus lived in. Maybe Paul was an egomaniac. Maybe . . . Squirrel!

Say what you will, but at least there’s plenty of variety. If you don’t feel like hopping on the current ad hoc bus, stay put; another one is coming in 15 minutes. Quote miners in the Apologia Mountains are working ’round the clock to serve you. Pardon the mixed metaphors.

A cave-in down in the quote mine

While reading Maurice Casey’s new book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?, I was dismayed (but not surprised) to find that he’s still using that tired old Context Canard to explain Paul’s silence on the historical Jesus. His preferred ad hoc rescue for Paul’s silence has to do with cultural context, as described in Edward Hall’s Beyond Culture. Apologists argue that the people of the Ancient Near East (including, apparently, Asia Minor and the entire Mediterranean basin) lived in a high context culture.

What does that mean? On the high end of the Hall scale people use implicit language to express themselves. Body language, gestures, facial expressions, shared cultural memory and subtexts, along with other nonverbal modes of communication provide the full range of expression that outsiders will often miss. On the low end, people use explicit language to express themselves. They will often repeat themselves, just to be clear. They do not rely as much, if at all, on nonverbal cues or cultural subtext.

Casey argues:

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