It turns out he has a book on the way that will explain his argument in detail. No word yet on its release date, but here’s a tempting preview:
[David Noel] Freedman added that this had implications for the historicity of the exodus. Many scholars and archaeologists say the exodus never happened. 90 percent of their argument is based on the lack of artifacts in Egypt or Sinai and on finding few items of Egyptian material culture in early Israelite sites, which we would have expected if the Israelites had lived in Egypt for centuries. But that isn’t evidence against the historicity of the exodus. At most, it is evidence (more correctly: an absence of evidence) against the tremendous number of participants that the Torah pictures.
I had included the idea of a non-millions exodus in my Who Wrote the Bible? back in 1987, and I raised the idea there, just as a possibility, that the smaller exodus group was just the Levites. That possibility looks substantially more tangible today than it did in 1987.
Some recent news (and not quite so recent) that has come to my attention via the social media —
A forest of crosses and names of martyrs in the desert of Saudi Arabia
A Franco-Saudi archaeological team is responsible for the discovery. Prof Frédéric Imbert dated the graffiti to 470-475, a time when anti-Christian persecution began, culminating under the usurper Yusuf. Even the Qur’an refers to it indirectly. The findings show how far Christianity had spread at the time, until the arrival of Islam.
I have had correspondence with Craig Evans and have his permission to confirm that he has not seen the alleged first-century manuscript of Mark and does not know the identity of the scholar or scholars to whom it has (presumably) been assigned for publication.
This is an Italian site so most of us will need an online translator. No doubt by now there are some sites with this story in English but this is the one that came to me first. From my Google translator:
A source in Nineveh province revealed on Wednesday, that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “ISIS” terrorist organization has resumed bombing historical buildings and monuments in the province, noting that it has blew up the historic wall in the center of Mosul.
The source, who asked for anonymity told “Shafaq News”, that “ISIS terrorists have destroyed on Tuesday night large parts of the historic wall of Nineveh in Tahrir neighborhood in the left coast of the Mosul area, noting that terrorists have used large quantities of explosives”.
Ah, how I miss Saddam …
Xray imaging and the Herculaneum Papyri
This one I can’t wait to learn more about. I suspect the results won’t be known for many years, however.
Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.
I have just completed reading one scholar’s work that does argue that Paul spread Christianity throughout the Greek world by means of such a movement and have begun another that argues the same with respect to Jesus.
Wandering “spirit possessed” preachers of the ancient world
One popular stereotype in the era that saw the emergence of Christianity was the “spirit possessed” traveller who would disrupt communities with his bizarre “signs” of the spirit within him, including the babbling of “tongues”, attracting women predominantly to become his followers, and thought to be introducing new gods or unconventional religious observances.
Anyone familiar with that famous fifth century Greek play Bacchae by Euripides will recognize the above character. I had always thought this play was about the conflict that resulted from the introduction of the Bacchic mysteries (or worship of Dionysus) to Thebes. Hanges, however, references scholarship that suggests this surface narrative was originally understood to be representative of the controversies that accompanied the arrival of any (and many) new religious movements to challenge the status quo. Continue reading “Was Christianity Born from a “Pentecostal” Movement?”
I’ve often wondered the extent to which ancients suffered the same sorts of traumas we hear so much about today. Did ancient Roman, Assyrian and other soldiers experience post traumatic stress disorders and if so, how were these difficulties expressed, dealt with, etc?
“The sorts of symptoms after battle were very clearly what we would call now post-traumatic stress symptoms.
“They described hearing and seeing ghosts talking to them, who would be the ghosts of people they’d killed in battle – and that’s exactly the experience of modern-day soldiers who’ve been involved in close hand-to-hand combat.”
That article takes us to a PubMed page abstract and that’s as far as anyone can go without subscribing — or waiting for the embargo period to end before it is freely available. Damn. The best we can see for now is the abstract:
Herodotus’ account of the Athenian spear carrier Epizelus’ psychogenic mutism following the Marathon Wars is usually cited as the first documented account of post-traumatic stress disorders in historical literature. This paper describes much earlier accounts of post combat disorders that were recorded as occurring in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) during the Assyrian dynasty (1300-609 BC). The descriptions in this paper include many symptoms of what we would now identify in current diagnostic classification systems as post-traumatic stress disorders; including flashbacks, sleep disturbance and low mood. The Mesopotamians explain the disorder in terms of spirit affliction; the spirit of those enemies whom the patient had killed during battle causing the symptoms. Continue reading “Battle Trauma Afflicted Ancient Assyrians, Too”
Before going further, we should note that Halbwachs’ study was seriously deficient in several ways. The first is that he relied heavily upon the account by pilgrims of Bordeaux and neglected any part that Constantine played in the localization of holy sites. Also, he inexplicably presupposed that the Synoptic Gospels took written form in the second century and perhaps over a century after the events to which they attest. This poorly defended position was foundational to Halbwachs’ conclusion that the Gospels are mostly invented and fictive in nature. Halbwachs also misrepresented (and oversimplified) the relationship between Jewish and Christian religious belief.
 Eusebius, Vita Constantine, 2.46; 3.30–32. Constantine’s wife Helena is also reputed to have traveled to Bethlehem and Jerusalem to establish monuments at the place of Jesus’ birth and at the Mount of Olives. See H. Lietzmann, From Constantine to Julian: A History of the Church, vol. 3 (London: Lutterworth, 1950), 147.
This post is in some ways a response to the Jerry Coynes and Sam Harris’s and others who blame religions for human actions; it is also a response to my reading a certain professor’s study of Christian origins from a perspective that yields no quarter to any explanation that resorts to “something unknowable to the modern historian”.
In this post I will outline a way of understanding the nature of religion — as well as an understanding of what religious believers are really engaged in with their beliefs and practices — from a considered empirical perspective. Religion is a human creation and should be understood like any other human activity.
Yet in reality religion is rarely seen as something so natural or as something that can be evidently explained in mundane human terms.
If someone religious does something crazy or cruel many of us are likely to blame the religion itself as a cause as if the religion is a monstrous force that took possession of willing or unwilling slave. Some even speak of religious memes as if there are free-floating genetic-like forces that can infect and plague the unwary.
If someone joins a bizarre cult many of us will likely say brainwashing was to blame.
Religions can appear to be mysterious powers, divine or demonic.
Religious scholars and even those not so religious can scarcely bring themselves to understand the origins of a great faith in terms of the same sorts of historical forces that are assumed to give rise to other institutions.
Despite the diversity of Christian views on the subject, Christians almost universally assume that something extraordinary stands at the very beginning of Christianity. Whether this extraordinary moment is understood in terms of the singular intrusion of the divine into history, or in terms of the revolutionary way in which the historical Jesus awakens the numinous in others, the origin of Christianity for Christians remains unique.[Citations here to works by Crossan, Borg, Keck.] Apparenty, as Rodney Stark’s recent account demonstrates, the power of this presumption of uniqueness is great enough to immunize the extraordinary nature of Christian origins against even the explanatory efforts of sociologists. (J.C. Hanges “Durkheim and Early Christianity” in Reappraising Durkheim for the Study and Teaching of Religion Today ed by T.A. Idinopulos and B.C. Wilson, 2002, p. 143, my bolding)
For James Constantine Hanges (quoted above) as a historian of religion this is not good enough. Christianity, indeed any religion, “must be explicable in terms of empirical processes, especially in terms of the processes of social formation.” (p. 144)
Returning to Durkheim cannot be done presently without recognizing the serious criticisms to which his theory of religion has been subjected. While we have started with Durkheim’s analysis of the totemic religion of clans, in light of Durkheim’s almost total dependence on what subsequent fieldwork has show to be fundamental misapprehensions of the ethnographic facts, we can continue only by extracting from Durkheim’s work the sociological principles that guided it. We must then speak of social groups and the unifying role of symbols, instead of clans and totems. If Durkheim’s system is to prove useful, we should find these funda- mental principles and observations helpful in understanding the truth of the social formation of early Christianity, as it is expressed in the cult itself. (Hanges, “Durkheim and Early Christianity”, p.144)
For this understanding Hanges turns to Émile Durkheim‘s sociological understanding of the nature and origins of religions. The beauty of this approach is that it enables a
a means by which to disrupt [our] accepted religious categories and to make something familiar seem suddenly very strange. (p. 144)
Reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote about travel:
The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.
Everything that follows is based on my reading of some of Hanges’ explanations of Durkheim’s sociological explanation of religion (from Reappraising above and other works) and a perusal of Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (online). So understand these are elementary student notes cut very bare for a basic overview. With apologies to genuine students of sociology!
The Two Truths of Religion
To understand religion in modern societies Durkheim began by examining how religion worked in primitive societies. This way he expected to understand the fundamental principles of social institutions that become increasingly complex in the societies we know. Though religious ideas and institutions in modern societies are complex they can nonetheless be more easily understood if we can see the more primitive forms from which they have derived.
There are probably only two truths that are expressed in any stable religion —
the nature of the individual
the nature of society
Every individual is aware that he lives at two levels: as a private individual limited by his physical body and as a member of society, as part of a group that transcends any individual.
Society wields a power external to us and that is far greater than any of us. It represents an identity that is greater than any one person. Each of us has a very close (and subordinate) relationship with it. We each live in some sort of communion with this power.
Daniel Gullotta expresses his disappointment over Price giving as much space as he does to some of the more bizarre (and generally obscured from the wider public’s consciousness) Christ myth theories extant today:
Some of these people [reviewed by Price] are household names to Bible geeks, such as John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, and James D. Tabor, but others are for more obscure and less known. This is where the main problem lies with The Historical Bejeezus.
Some of the writers and theories that Price tackles are simply so minor, so fringe, and so insignificant it is hard to imagine why Price wasted his time and energy writing on them. Some of the chapters that were extremely difficult to finish were the ones related to the works of Hugh J. Schonfield, Joseph Atwill, and Charlotte Allen. . . .
[D]espite the outlandish claims of Atwill’s conspiracy theory about the origins of Christianity and Price’s own criticisms of Atwill’s work, Price nonetheless calls Atwill “an innovative thinker” and says that Atwill’s theory “does not sound unreasonable on the face of it.”
By contrast, writes Gullotta,
Even Richard Carrier is willing to distant himself from figures like Atwill and Murdoch with far more hard hitting reviews and criticisms, despite their shared overall thesis.
I think I can understand where both Gullotta and Carrier are coming from but I also think it is worth taking note of Price’s own explanation for why he “wasted his time” with such “fringe” authors. From Price’s Introduction:
I take quite seriously even works considered eccentric by the (often dull) mainstream of conventional scholarship. It is only by taking such books seriously, rather than offering facile mockery and disdain, that one can tell the difference between nonsense and brilliant new theories. But I have no wish to defend nonsense, and my book’s title pretty well indicates that I find a good bit of it in several of the books I review. And, again, it is my job to show why they are nonsense if indeed they are. . . . (My bolding) Continue reading “Robert Price’s New Book: A Comment”
Time to catch up here with blog posts that have appeared in recent weeks addressing mythicism.
There’s now a blog devoted to mythicism: The Mythicism Files. A good many of its articles look like good future reference material. I was worried at first by the the apparently large space that appeared to be devoted to Acharya S (D. Murdock) but relieved to see Quixie’s very fair discussion of her contribution and criticisms it faces. The Otagosh blog addresses questions a number of us will have about the anonymity of the blog’s provenance. If Quixie is a regular contributor, however, that’s certainly a positive attribute. I’ve seen him write good stuff around various discussion groups and blogs (and in comments on Vridar iirc).
Speaking of Otagosh, he also tells us about the current leader of my old cult wading into the mythicist debate. Predictably a pabulum effort from the great apostle or whatever he’s called now.
Peter Kirby has endeavoured to bring some serious balance into the discussion by posting a detailed case, or rather “best case”, for the historicity of Jesus that he thinks can be made. The Best Case for Jesus. This is good to see. So few anti-mythicists [not that Peter himself falls into that “anti” camp — see his comment below] appear willing or able to argue their case with any real awareness of what mythicists actually say. They also seem to fall back on ad hoc responses too often. Comments are welcome in Peter’s blog, of course, but there is also a discussion on the same at the Biblical Criticism & History Forum. Continue reading “What they’re saying about Mythicism”
If you are frustrated by Bart Ehrman hiding behind a paywall the views of the only expert in papyrology he has found to comment on the current Gospel of Mark fragment controversy behind his blog’s paywall (An Expert Talks About Mummy Masks and Papyri) I suggest we turn to that expert’s own updated blog page:
Unlike so many other writers in the field of religion (on both ends of the spectrum), Marcus was humble. Once one of my parishioners asked him during Q&A, “But how do you know that you’re right?” He paused, looked at her thoughtfully, and said, “I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m right.”
Dorothy adds pics of something she thinks she recognizes from … — one of several attached here. Interesting comments, too, such as. . .
Interesting similarity of handwriting … between these fragments I posted photos of yesterday from the Turkish eBay seller “Zelis eksioglu” …and the newly discovered Gospel of Mark 😉
These top three photos of material he was touting to sell “off eBay” and below the ones of the Gospel of Mark Josh McDowell recently ‘discovered’ … although frankly when the seller is boasting of what it is …
And more interesting observations on Dorothy’s blog.
Another scholar, Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica.com has some interesting background links via:
I can’t deny that finding new and perhaps much older papyrus fragments of NT manuscripts sounds fascinating, but it’s a bit gut-wrenching to see apologists ripping apart archaeological items, destroying them forever. It doesn’t matter if they’re “low quality” masks or not. They’re priceless and irreplaceable. Furthermore, they’re part of the heritage of humanity; they shouldn’t be thought of as “owned” by private individuals who can do whatever they want with them.
Bart Ehrman has posted his thoughts about it on Facebook.
This complete disregard for the sanctity of surviving antiquities is, for many, many of us not just puzzling but flat-out distressing. It appears that the people behind and the people doing this destruction of antiquities are all conservative evangelical Christians, who care nothing about the preservation of the past – they care only about getting their paws on a small fragment of a manuscript. Can there be any question that with them we are not dealing with historians but Christian apologists?
In Appian of Alexandria’s The Mithridatic Wars, we read that in preparation for the third war against Rome, Mithridates VI of Pontus performed sacrifices to Zeus Stratius “in the usual manner.” Then he propitiated the god of the sea by sacrificing “to Poseidon by plunging a chariot with white horses into the sea.”
Adrienne Mayor, author of The Poison King, embellishes upon Appian’s laconic narrative. [Note: Both spellings, Mithradates and Mithridates, are commonly found in the literature. The first is more common in Greek inscriptions, while the Romans preferred the latter.]
Four snow-white horses pulled the golden chariot, encrusted with gems flashing in the sun’s first rays. There was no driver. The beautiful horses galloped at full speed across the windswept cliff and plunged into the sparkling sea below.
Mayor, Adrienne (2009-09-28). The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy (Kindle Locations 4605-4607). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
Mayor recounts how this startling image captivated peoples’ imaginations over the centuries.
Some five hundred years later, for example, the early Christian writer Sidonis Apollinaris described a splendid castle in Gaul adorned by a dramatic painting of Mithradates’ sacrifice. In 1678, the English playwright Nathaniel Lee pictured Mithradates sending “a chariot, all with emeralds set, and filled with coral tridents, [and] a hundred horses, wild as wind” over the precipice.
Mayor, Adrienne (2009-09-28). The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy (Kindle Locations 4610-4612). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
While reading Mayor’s book over two years ago, I immediately began to wonder whether this act of Mithridates might have been on Mark’s mind when he wrote the story of the Gerasene demoniac. Off and on since then, I’ve half-heartedly searched for scholarly articles that might link the two stories, but so far to no avail. Continue reading “Drowning the Gerasene Swine: A Mock Sacrifice?”