Monthly Archives: December 2014

Some Christmas Holiday Reading

A portrait of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynold...

A portrait of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a list of some of the posts I have read and starred for future reference over this past week or two.

From Valerie Tarico:

From Heather Hastie:

Repeated by Ophelia Benson, originally a comment by Dave Ricks:

From Steve Wiggins:


I have not included here those relating to studies of early Christianity or the bible. Maybe in another post….


DEBATE on the Historicity of Jesus – Dr. Richard Carrier vs Trent Horn

I may be one of the last to know about this but for the record here it is. Now why can’t all tenured academics learn how to debate this topic civilly and respectfully like these two guys? Such a refreshing — and very informative — debate.

Paul the Persecutor: The Case for Interpolation

the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus...

the Conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus as painted by Michelangelo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I posted Paul the persecutor? in which I suggested that Paul’s confession in his epistle to the Galatians to having persecuted the Church did not necessarily imply that he literally jailed, beat and killed Christians before his journey to Damascus.

J. C. O’Neill would have thought I was far too soft. Those passages in which Paul is confessing to have persecuted the church are late interpolations, he argued back in 1972 in The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

Here is his confession in the first chapter of Galatians:

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; 14 and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. . . . 

22 And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; 23 they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

O’Neill believes a strong case that those verses were interpolated by a second century editor wanting to glorify Paul (my bolding, formatting and added translations, pp 24-27):

read more »

Seven Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays

grinchBut only Six reasons if you live in the southern hemisphere.

Greta Christina on Freethought Blogs . . .

Seven Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays

(Originally published in AlterNet)

The Jesus Myth Question Comes to The Washington Post

Raphael Lataster

Raphael Lataster

Mythicism — the term widely assigned to the modern-day claim that there was no historical Jesus at the start of what became Christianity — has made its presence felt in The Washington Post today. At this moment Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up has attracted over 5000 comments. Be sure you read them all before you add your own: you don’t want to repeat what someone has already said.

The author is fellow Aussie Raphael Lataster and his article is a reprint of the one he originally posted in the academic blog The Conversation. There it was titled Weighing up the evidence for the ‘Historical Jesus’. He is a PhD candidate and tutor at the University of Sydney.

He is also the author of There was no Jesus, there is no God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism.

Among his articles published in the scholarly literature is one titled “Bayesian Reasoning: Criticising the ‘Criteria of Authenticity’ and Calling for a Review of Biblical Criticism” in the Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences (2012) Volume 5 No2, 271-293. Anyone who knows of Richard Carrier’s addition to Bayesian reasoning in historical studies by applying it to the question of the historicity of Jesus will understand what this article is addressing.

Predictably one theologian well known for his frenzied vendetta against mythicism has already protested Raphael’s “superficial”, “incomprehensible”, “ridiculousness”. (The most vocal critics don’t care what the arguments are; all that matters is finding some angle to attack and mix with a very large dose of ad hominem.) I imagine our crusading theologian will become apoplectic when he wakes up to find the same article has since reached The Washington Post.

That’s the trouble with mythicism. It’s not behaving itself. It was supposed to disappear into oblivion after a few sharp attacks on the motives and credentials of some of its exponents not too many years ago. read more »

Transvalued Folktales & Classifying the Bible’s Narratives

sinai7Recently I posted on the twenty-two typical incidents Lord Raglan found in certain types of mythical tales and that Richard Carrier uses to classify Jesus. I avoided dwelling upon “spiritualizations” of the elements. So when we come to Raglan’s point twelve,

(12) He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor

I resisted addressing the early Christian symbolism of Jesus marrying the Church or the “New Israel”, the “daughter” of the previous Israel who had been metaphorically married to God (Ezekiel 16).

So I was surprised to find another classification scheme for similar stories being transvalued (“spiritualized”) by a scholar responsible for a very well received commentary on Exodus and accordingly earning very high praise indeed in the reviews of his work.

Vladimir Propp

Vladimir Propp

While Lord Raglan identifies elements typical of the hero in the sorts of myths that can be associated with religious rituals, Vladimir Propp analyses the plots and structural elements of folk tales. (Lévi-Strauss takes another step and examines the relationships between such tales and how they reflect different cultural mores.)

William H.C. Propp

William H.C. Propp

Among the structural elements in the plots of folk tales identified by Vladimir Propp are the hero being assigned a difficult task, passing an ordeal, vanquishing rivals, undergoing a change of status, marrying a princess and ascending a throne. Another Propp (no relation), William Propp, a professor of history and Judaic studies, finds these elements in the story of the Exodus. He begins by explaining that the biblical narrative is more complicated than many folk tales given that it has three heroes — Moses, Israel and Yahweh. With reference to the elements just mentioned he writes on page 34:

In some fairy tales, when the Hero returns, he is assigned a difficult task (function M). After passing an ordeal (function N) and vanquishing all rivals (function Ex), he undergoes a change of status (function T), marries a princess and ascends the throne (function W). 

Now where is any of that in Exodus? William Propp continues: read more »

The Object of Torture

I have two reasons for spending so much of my free time on ancient history and Biblical studies. First, I have a genuine, lifelong curiosity about these subjects, but perhaps just as important (especially since 2001), I welcome the pleasant distraction from the awful present. With that background in mind, I reluctantly face the subject at hand: Torture. What is it? Why is it used? Who are its defenders?

Category:George Orwell Category:Nineteen Eight...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘. . . The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’ (1984, George Orwell)

Notwithstanding O’Brien’s explanation of persecution and torture to Winston Smith, people don’t normally engage in torture for its own sake. So, why do they do it? Rule number one of power is that it must protect itself. Any threat to power must be met by every tool available. Whatever public excuse the people in power give us for what they do, we must not forget rule one.

The Tool

Torture is and has always been a tool of the powerful, who need not justify its use. Of course, in Western nations the public voices who represent state power will often provide halfhearted justifications for certain acts of torture re-framed under other names. Hence we have Orwellian euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation,” which vaguely reminds me of the unexpected joy of being upgraded to a seat in first class. Who would complain about being upgraded to enhanced interrogation?

The Law

This fuzzy language could make us forget the legal meaning of torture. The federal code could scarcely be clearer:

read more »

One More Worthy Biblioblog

And it’s not even in the list of Top 50 as far as I can see. But it looks so good it could be thought to be a sibling of Vridar at its best.

Articles are well researched, attractively presented, informative, including recommended resources. Their author is

. . . Paul Davidson, a professional Japanese-English translator living and working in Japan. Paul also studies part-time in the Humanities program at the Open University of Japan, with a focus on language, archaeology, and Mediterranean history. At present, biblical studies is purely a personal interest of his.

Of particular interest to me: read more »

Jesus Mythicism: An Introduction

An English language version of Minas Papageorgiou’s book is due out in March 2015. (It has only been available in Greek until now.) You can find details on a dedicated Facebook page.


The range of names interviewed and types of mythicism represented in the book is very wide indeed. Here is the back cover blurb with some of the details: read more »

Paul the persecutor?

the-stoning-of-stephen-by-rembrandt-1625I’m taking a light diversion by challenging somebody on over his assertion that Christians were persecuted like crazy (as per the popular notion derived from the Acts and Eusebian tales). The posts have since met a bit stiffer challenge from more reasonable and knowledgeable participants — so the discussion has become even more rewarding.

Reasons I am questioning the assumption that Paul before his conversion persecuted the church in the sense of haling people off to prison, engaging them with enhanced interrogation techniques, beating them, sometimes too severely so they died:

  • The word for “persecution” is διωγμός — one could “pursue” [δίωκε] righteousness; Paul wrote that Ishmael “persecuted” [ἐδίωκεν] Isaac. The word can have very unpleasant associations when used negatively but does not necessarily mean to beat up and kill.
  • The notion that Paul did beat and kill Christians before his conversion is derived from Acts. I argue elsewhere (following several scholars) that this is theologically motivated fabrication. I am arguing from the evidence of Paul’s letters alone. read more »

49 days to go — Mark, Gospel on the Margins: the Reception of Mark in the Second Century

I have just pre-ordered The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century by Michael Kok. I have 49 days to complete my other reading before it arrives.

Michael has stopped regular blog posting but fortunately keeps his blog as a great resource for studies of the Gospel of Mark:

Here’s what sold Gospel on the Margins to me (taken from Kok’s blog post):

“Controlling abundant primary evidence with fine analysis of biblical and patristic scholarship, Michael Kok reopens the question of Mark’s ambiguous authority in second-century Christianity. That the Gospel lay in the crosshairs of ancient disputes over incipient orthodoxy is a creative proposal, vigorously argued, which merits reflection and testing.”

– C. Clifton Black, Princeton Theological Seminary

“In this invigorating and informative study, Michael J. Kok surveys who knew what about Mark’s Gospel during the second century. In an extremely useful and readable form, he assembles the available evidence and advances the striking hypothesis that early Christian writers were often hesitant to use Mark because they viewed it as susceptible to misuse by rival factions. Kok’s thesis is bold, provocative, and argued with great energy. Moreover, if it is judged correct, it casts significant light on some of the significant forces and dispute at work in the early Christian movement.” read more »

OTAGOsh — Another blog I have too long neglected (till now)

Otago Region within New Zealand

Otago Region within New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OTAGOsh” made himself known to me a few years ago in the blogging world but only since finally getting serious with an rss reader this week have I discovered the extent of his brilliant and humorous posts. The name behind the blog is Gavin Rumney and he looks like a kindred spirit with respect to our religious background (we were both members of the Worldwide Church of God) and current views (even politically green ones!) I know I can come across here as far more serious and dogmatic than I am in reality so I like Otagosh’s line forewarning his readers:

I hope you enjoy your time here.  If it’s any consolation, in real life I’m much less opinionated!

Otagosh/Gavin’s posts are a real tonic. He knows how to write. And he knows exactly how to handle Robert M. Price, for example:

What does Bob Price have in common with Martin Luther?

They both got more crotchety as they aged. . . . . . .

As you might already suspect, I’m I big fan of Bob (Dr. Robert M. Price). Not of his politics, I hasten to add, but of his honesty, directness and humour in his chosen field of biblical studies. Again, not that I agree with him on everything, but his ‘take’ on the Bible and religion is always worth considering. He’s not called “the Bible Geek” for nothing.

My favourite line in I Slam Islam is his description of Martin E. Marty as “the very poster-boy for namby-pamby, “standing for nothing, offending no one” liberal Protestantism”.

And there’s much more polemic where that comes from.

Bob is of course a thorough conservative when it comes to politics, somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, which bizarrely puts him at the other end of the spectrum to most of his admirers in the world of atheistic biblical study.

I could read Otagosh for hours. He brings back memories of my old cult days in a way that leaves me with a grin on my face. Some favourites: read more »

P.OST — Another Scholarly Biblioblog Well Worth Reading

Its author, Andrew Perriman, describes himself as an evangelical. He sets out his agenda for all to see in plain view. Though we are in opposing camps I find his blog to be one of the most informative and interesting I have yet discovered. I wish I could address more books and ideas the way Andrew does, but then I suppose Andrew is doing a fine enough job and does not need a replica.

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 11.42.09 am

The first post of his that I read was about an author I have also posted on here, Richard Hays. His post, Richard Hays and the God who walks on the sea, questions head on an interpretation I have adopted for some time now — that the Jesus of the Gospel of Mark was depicted as God or some sort of hypostasis of God (whatever that really means). AP spells out the arguments in favour of this interpretation and then sets out why he disagrees. (That such a method in a public blog deserves comment is itself a great shame — it should go without saying, of course.)

One phrase AP uses pulled me up short:

I’m not saying that the idea does not occur, in some form or other, elsewhere in the New Testament, or that the later church was wrong to construct its theology in formal trinitarian terms. I am well disposed towards the view that the divine emperor paradigm was a significant factor in the development of the “kingdom” argument. . . . But I am concerned that in our zeal to establish an early high christology we risk misrepresenting what is actually happening in the Synoptic Gospels . . . .

I have been aware of Larry Hurtado’s and Richard Bauckham’s personal theological bias when they argue for a very early high christology but for some reason I had not quite gone so far as to connect it with a defence of the doctrine of the trinity. I am also reminded of my own “zeal” to see a very early high christology for other reasons: it seems to me that this is inevitable if we are transitioning from Paul and the other epistles to the gospels. But that’s another question entirely. The point is AP’s reminder of the need for scholarly caution. read more »

A Great Blog For Anyone Abused by a Church

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome (with Reba Riley) looks like  is an inspiring and reassuring resource for anyone who has been damaged by a church that abuses. I’m speaking of psychological abuse, mental and emotional scarring that too often comes with a history of damaged families and relationships and even physical and economic ruin.

I’ve referred to my own story a few times but Reba Riley’s experience and exodus is fresher reading. Reba has authored a book, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing in 30 Religions to share her experiences with others. The book that helped me much was psychologist Marlene Winell’s Leaving the Fold — a work I still find myself returning to from time to time. Reba’s book looks similar in some ways but less of a manual. From her page advertising it:

Written for everyone who crashes into religion when they go looking for peace, and for all those who value transformation of spirit and body, this poignant, funny and ultimately inspirational memoir reminds us healing  is possible, brokenness can be beautiful, and that –sometimes– we have to get lost to get found.  

A beautiful feature of Reba’s blog is the way her understanding and compassion for others shines through. She has learned a depth of self-understanding as a result of her experiences and is far more aware of the meaning of our shared humanity than some of us who haven’t suffered in the same sorts of ways. Anyone who says “once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist” is pig-ignorant.

Compare her response to the recent public release of information about torture practices with another by a respected colleague of the biblical scholarly establishment, both posted on the same day. Give me an ex-fundamentalist any day. (At least one who was one of the laity, one of the fleeced flock. I am not so sure about some of those who were once in the higher echelons of the power pyramids. To date I have been disappointed when I have met any of our former “shepherds”.)

Reba’s first post will resonate with those anyone who has struggled to break free from such a past. It begins: read more »