2015-07-12

What Is Vridar?

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

When I started writing for Vridar, Neil pointed out that in one of my book references I had linked to a Google Books page. He said he preferred to use LibraryThing instead. I grumbled to myself, but dutifully created an account and complied with his request.

Vridar
Vridar — pronounced “VREE-dar”

Why are we here?

Eventually, I came to understand that he wasn’t making an arbitrary demand. Vridar doesn’t funnel people to Amazon hoping to collect a small fee. We don’t show ads — at least not deliberately. From LibraryThing, you can go to whichever online store you want. We don’t make that choice for you.

We’re not looking for Vridar generate income, even if it’s just to break even. Sometime back, when a certain fool nuked our blog and forced us to move to a different host, we deliberately chose a “dot-org” address to show that we mean business, or rather that we don’t mean business. We stand instead for the free and open flow of ideas.

But if that “free and open flow” means anything at all, then you need to know that we aren’t motivated by something else. You should know, for example, that we don’t take kickbacks for reviewing books or for linking to somebody else’s site. Nor will you ever see us block links to other biblioblogs, even when they routinely block us and assiduously pretend that we don’t exist. There are blogs out there whose moderators routinely delete or heavily edit Neil’s comments. We won’t do that here.

No adverts here

Recently, I received an email that was part of a PR campaign for celebrating 50th anniversary of the New International Version (NIV). This translation of the Bible began with a meeting of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) back in 1965. The lady who wrote the form letter encouraged us to share certain stories with our readers to help or enlighten them. Obviously, the PR firm who got our email addresses hadn’t read the countless times in posts wherein we’ve slammed the NIV as one of the worst English translations available, if you care about what the text actually says. She wrote:

Zondervan has given me permission to offer you a copy of the NIV Study Bible (current edition, 2011) in conjunction with mentioning some of the above [referring to a list of NIV-hyping URLs] on your blog. If interested, please send that request to Zondervan’s Helen Schmitt [email address redacted], including a link to what you’ve shared and your shipping address.

I didn’t bother writing her back. It felt an awful lot like getting voice mail from a wrong number. But in any case, I would never even consider doing what she had asked. It wouldn’t even matter if I liked the NIV; we’re just not in the business of passing off propaganda as if it were unbiased information.

Not asking for anything

We’re surely not the only people who found it strange when a biblioblogger set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for his education. Hell, I’d love to get a PhD in history or NT studies, but we’re not going to pass the hat around to make that happen.

Nor will we ever use Vridar to find dates or to pick up chicks. Seriously — admitting that you write for a blog that focuses on the Bible, history, culture, and science is the adult equivalent of bragging about being in the chess club. Ruy Lopez, baby! Huh? Am I right? Check out my opening lines!

Notice, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. It just isn’t what Vridar is here for.

The only things we want from you are to read Vridar and to engage in a conversation about the issues we raise here. And if you like what you see, let your friends know about us. Like us and share our posts on Facebook.

Why Bruegel?

For the cover photo on our Facebook page, I chose “The Suicide of Saul” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The painting represents a tragic event in the Old Testament, one that people rarely discuss. It’s also an unusual subject for a work of art, focusing as it does on failure and self-destruction.

That painting, like many of Bruegel’s works, has haunted me since the first time I saw it. Somehow it captures the sadness, desolation, and resignation of the ill-fated king.

I picked this image to signify Vridar’s willingness to cover aspects of the Bible that are often neglected and that may tend to make believers and non-believers uncomfortable.

Not here to debunk Christianity

Not a week goes by that some petulant commenter starts by implying that our overarching intent is either to disprove or to disparage religion in general and Christianity in particular. But that is not our purpose here. I freely admit that I do not believe in the supernatural at all, and anyone who reads my posts will clearly see my point of view. However, I would argue that my stance against gods, angels, monsters, ghosts, pixies, fairies, et al., does not affect my judgment with respect to evidence and logic.

It may come as a surprise to believers, but many atheists (myself included) do not focus on our unbelief in gods as our primary means of identification. It does not define us. For me, it’s just part of the furniture. I would more likely describe myself as a blue-eyed, bourbon-drinking, biped than as an atheist.

Nevertheless, because I’m immune to God-of-the-gaps arguments, you’ll note that I will never suggest that some supernatural explanation is more likely than a natural explanation. And that isn’t because I think they are inherently wrong, but because they are inherently very improbable. By definition, miracles describe a very rare event that either breaks or suspends the laws of physics. As such, any rational explanation is far more likely.

And that goes for any supposed supernatural event that I myself might witness. People hallucinate or misperceive things all the time. When confronted with miraculous claims, we don’t lower the standards for evidence. If anything, we insist on more evidence. As Pierre-Simon Laplace said, “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.

That being said, I’m not here to convert anyone to atheism. So, if you’re uncomfortable with what we write, you probably should go somewhere else. I find no joy in taking away someone’s cherished beliefs.

About our non-biblical posts

I’ve been studying the Bible since I was child, but I didn’t read it from a historical-critical perspective until I went to Ohio University in the late 1970s. And although I’ve read quite a bit in the decades since, I have no formal training in the field (other than one undergrad course). On the other hand, I do have a bachelor’s degree in history. I’ve read at least as much about the American Civil War or the Roman Republic as I have about the Bible.

I mention these facts, because, as Neil put it, when we write about history or philosophy we’re “not just spouting opinions but trying to contribute some hard evidence to the topics that we think should help inform any opinions.” And the same goes for current events. For reasons I’ve yet fully to understand, many people who embrace mythicism are also extremely conservative. Perhaps it’s related to their overall predilection toward iconoclasm. I can sympathize; I don’t care much for herd behavior, either.

If you’re a conservative or libertarian (especially of the American variety), you many find some of our political posts a bit jarring. I know that whenever Neil comments about the plight of the Palestinians, the usual suspects show up, telling him he ought to quit it, apologizing for the behavior of the Israeli government, placing the blame solely on the Arabs, and even going so far as to say the people who lived in Palestine really don’t have a claim to the land — apparently, they were just temporary tenants, waiting for the true owners to return.

So I would ask anyone who came here for the mythicism to read the rest of what you find here with an open mind. We aren’t offering knee-jerk opinions based on our left-leaning bias. In fact, I hold some positions that seem leftist (or American “liberal”) for conservative reasons. For example, I’m against the death penalty, not because of some misguided compassion toward people who deserve none, but because I’m for limited government — I’m reluctant to confer a power to the state that I would never give to an individual. Or, to put it another way, I find it odd that the same people who trust the government to decide whom to execute don’t trust it to deliver a letter across town.

Conclusion

I began by saying that we aren’t here to make money or impress the ladies. We’re real, honest-to-goodness amateurs, in the true sense of the word. I can’t begin to tell you how liberating and exhilarating it is to know that I can write about whatever I want. Consider the plight of professional scholars who must “publish or die,” but who have very little say concerning what they write about.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who reads Vridar and who contributes either privately or publicly to the discussion. It’s nice to feel that we’re doing something that’s worthwhile and that others find useful or at least entertaining. If you enjoy Vridar, please send no money! If you’re really feeling generous, contribute to organizations that stand for the open flow of information — e.g., Wikimedia. We agree with many of their founding principles, including the following:

Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here.
The following two tabs change content below.

Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

Latest posts by Tim Widowfield (see all)



If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!


16 thoughts on “What Is Vridar?”

  1. The Librarything book pages include “quick links” to enable anyone to follow up the title for purchase or other sources . . .

    links

    The Librarything info also includes leads to related works. Amazon may do the same sort of thing, and occasionally I do break my own rule and link to the odd Amazon page — but that’s usually as a last resort when I cannot access it reasonably quickly through some other more generic link like Librarything or Worldcat. (Re Amazon see 5 reasons to wish Amazon an unhappy birthday and More reasons to hate Amazon.

    If you are looking for less expensive copies of works I can usually find something through bookfinder.com and other second hand book sites — or usually cheapest of all via Interlibrary Loan. Searching on http://www.worldcat.org/ allows you to see which library nearest you has a copy.

    (Thanks, Tim. Appreciate this post.)

    1. You’re welcome Neil. BTW, I will still rarely link to a Google Books page if a preview shows some passages of interest within books that (irritatingly) cost well over $100. Why should the right to gain access to electronic media cost so much?

  2. This is a good time for me to mention mythicism since Tim spoke of atheism and our stance towards Christianity.

    I recently replied to R.G.Price with my wider thoughts on this question.

    Though some people see this blog a a “mythicist blog”, and though I do very occasionally post something on that theme and welcome significant contributions from Earl Doherty and Roger Parvus along those and related lines, I am far more interested in exploring the evidence and scholarship related to Christian origins — which includes the nature and origins of the biblical literature.

    In these documents Jesus is by definition a theological construct and literary figure. That is the Jesus we have at hand and the only one we can work with if we are interested in applying evidence and valid historical methods. Any other Jesus is surely speculative — even ad hoc — when it comes to explaining the narrative and theological content.

    Until we have evidence for such a figure that stands independently of the Christian texts then I cannot see how we can validly justify introducing such a construct into our interpretations and explanations of the NT texts — especially when we find in the mainstream scholarly literature ample explanations for the constructs therein. My position is not so much “mythicist” as it is about studying the evidence in hand — and that includes studying the only Jesus we have in hand, the literary and theological construct.

    So in effect the mythicism question is really by-the-bye as far as my primary interest is concerned.

    Re those posts of mine that do relate to mythicism, many of them are directed more at the shoddy and even dishonest (certainly unprofessional and unscholarly) treatment of certain serious mythicist arguments.

    1. The crux: “ample” explanations. Alan Ross’s “Stanley Matthews” is a concise literary tour de force which I have used in English classes to illustrate poetic techniques, but there was a real footballer and this hero-worship was inspired by real deeds.

  3. Re those “other topics”, Tim reminded me of something I had once said: “not just spouting opinions but trying to contribute some hard evidence to the topics that we think should help inform any opinions.” — What I meant by that is generally trying to bring scholarly research and investigations into the issues.

    I have changed my own views in significant ways since I left my own fundamentalist brand of religion mainly because I came to see just how wrong I can be, and recognizing the need to never accept anything at face value but to examine where all information etc is coming from. For years I studied in depth the mass media and I still like to keep up with serious works about its workings.

    I deplore the way a number of scholars use their reputations in fields of science to fan ignorance on current affairs that have life and death implications for others. In these latter they are no better informed than anyone else who takes selections of media reports at face value but they are worse because they deliberately shun the scholarly research into these areas. I say “deliberately” because in the case of Jerry Coyne, for example, I have written him personally several times to ask him why he avoids addressing the research of his scholarly peers in anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology, etc and he has yet to reply or allow any such query to appear on his blog.

  4. Thanks for making Vridar happen, gentlemen. It was a year and change ago when I first discovered its existence. I thought, “where have you been all my life?”

  5. It’s been a pleasure to read and comment on this blog. Thanks, guys! Speaking of which, and as we’re getting somewhat meta, any guesses as to male/female readers or commenters? I bet it skews heavily male, but how heavily? Any female writers to ask for submissions or ways to increase female participation?

  6. If you haven’t, you really ought to interact with this world class Edinburgh scholar, Dr Larry Hurtado. A sampling: https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/the-cinderella-century-in-early-christianity/

    He writes: I’m a scholar of the New Testament and Christian origins, with posts in higher education since 1975. In August 2011, I retired from my post as Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology (University of Edinburgh) in which I served from 1996. Prior to that, I was in the Department of Religion, University of Manitoba (Winnipeg). My own research over the decades has focused mainly on the origins and development of “devotion to Jesus” in earliest Christianity, and also on textual criticism and the study of earliest Christian manuscripts as informative artefacts of ancient Christianity.

    In retirement, I reside in Edinburgh, and continue to pursue my research interests in the area of New Testament & Christian Origins. For more about my own work, consult my University staff page here.

    1. I have read several of Larry Hurtado’s books and found much of interest in profit in them, though not always agreeing with all of his points.

      I have indeed attempted to interact positively with Larry Hurtado but unfortunately in both online and email responses he appeared to take a hostile position against me, apparently on the (mis)understanding that my criticisms were negatives towards Christianity or scholarship generally, accusing me of being akin to a Holocaust denier and Creationist, etc. I was quite disappointed that I could not seem to have an uncontentious discussion with him about methods etc.

  7. Thanks for the enlightenment on Hartmann’s theory on Paul’s conversion. Your critique is spot-on. I’m using the views for my Doctoral Thesis on The Call To Ministry. Keep up the good work.

  8. I came to this page by accident, as happens so often on the interweb. Neil Gregory’s article on whether (Gospel of) Mark is anti-Peter, pro-Paul or sympathetic to Peter was very interesting. I read that with no real sense of Vridar’s purpose. I do not mean that as a criticism, but that the article could have been published in any number of contexts and is not without value.

    Seeking more, I clicked on Roger Parvus’ “Simonian Origins” and was immediately disappointed. I accept that, given an apriori assumption that Jesus did not exist, you have to look somewhere, anywhere, else for your explanation of Christianity. However, it seems to violate your own tenet, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. How reliable is a thesis that simply asserts certain claims and conveniently redacts and redates inconvenient documents or persons just to bolster an argument? If mainstream Christians wrote in this way, their work would be ridiculed and rightly so. Since the birth of higher criticism, the NT has been subject to severe scrutiny, but both the more radical criticisms and the more “conservative” defence have been carried out in the public, academic, eye. While it is true that the critical wing carried the day in mid-19th to early 20th centuries in terms of the orientation of academic departments of theology, it is simply not the case that a more conservative position was or is confined to the churches. Some of the arguments for a mythic Jesus seem to be based on outdated sources – I still see people referring to Victorian “comparative religion” texts to make comparisons between Jesus and other deities that have either been debunked or have been shown to be overstated. Methodologically, some of the “assured results” of higher-critical scholarship are no longer quite as assured – for example, Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis or, indeed, the facile assumption that the Gospels are fictions created out of whole cloth – but any change in thinking on these topics rarely makes it out of the academy. Something that attacks the Bible, whether it’s The Da Vinci Code or some over-hyped study of the Gnostics, is sure to get headlines. Some discovery that suggests that the evidence is not all in one direction or that the NT might have some evidence behind it, just doesn’t hit the headlines.

    I don’t wish to be misunderstood here. I have no interest in defending the “Christianity” of the fundamentalist far right, nor am I impressed by a lot of poor scholarship presented by the less extreme elements of the Church (capitalised to represent the broad sweep, rather than individual churches or denominations.) I am also not arguing that what I have called “higher critical”* scholarship – for the sake of convenience – is necessarily bad. Scholarship that takes seriously the phenomena of the text and asks serious questions has to be respected, even when/if I might disagree with some conclusions. I am not even trying to defend Christianity, nor to take offence at the site for “attacking” it.

    I am trying to point out: a) scholarship is not just a matter of evidence, even extraordinary evidence, but what one does with it. While I would never suggest, in a reductionist manner, that one’s conclusions depend entirely upon how one is taught to interpret the evidence, it is clear that scholars will, consciously or unconsciously, seek evidence that tends to confirm their current stance and belief; b) poor scholarship doesn’t become good just because you agree with it, nor does disagreement with someone necessarily prove that they are bad scholars.

    Reading Parvus was too close to reading the poorest scholarship and felt like reading really poor quality Christian apologetics. It probably made sense to insiders, just as a lot of so-called Christian apologetics is aimed at believers and not at outsiders, as you might expect. (This is not a judgement on the truth-value or not of such apologetics, but merely identifying its use.) I admit that I did not read very far, but there were simply too many assumptions and “taken for granted” statements. Whatever you, or I, might believe, it is not the case that everyone accepts that Jesus was not historical or that the NT is not reliable, so the assumption that it is not is akin to an assumption of guilt before the verdict. Yes, I know that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” but there are two rejoinders. One, some extraordinary claims have sometimes been established on the basis of relatively simple evidence, such as some physics experiments in the early 1900s that proved Einstein correct and two, if extraordinary evidence is ruled inadmissible apriori, then the critic can continue to claim – no pun intended – that the extraordinary is unsupported. A number of scholars have shown how Hume’s argument against miracles functions in a circular manner, for example.

    Finally, I accept your honest intentions in claiming not to want to debunk Christianity, nor to cause offence. But, surely, you can see that if you begin from the position that Christianity is not and cannot be true (and implicitly, that you have already ruled out any contrary evidence, even if you claim that is not the case) then it is not surprising that people holding a contrary view might not agree with your claim? After all, given the evidence of this site, the claim of not debunking or offending is somewhat extraordinary. Speaking merely from an academic perspective, I would not see Mr Parvus’ writings as neutral, but as definitely slanted towards debunking, even if that is not the conscious intention. I wonder how atheists would feel if they encountered apologetics that sought to establish that the NT was entirely true but also claimed it did not intend to offend atheists nor undermine atheism?

    I do not know Dr Hurtado and so I do not know precisely why he would not engage with Neil Gregory, but one can guess that he might feel it is a waste of time if there is no possibility of common ground or openness to the other view. In my own, very limited opinion, that is not my response to Mr Gregory, based solely on his Mark and Peter article. It is, I am afraid, very much my feeling in regards to Mr Parvus’ writings.

    *Higher Critical/Higher Criticism is outdated, but other terms such as “liberal” or “radical” have come to have quite different meanings over the last century and here in the UK we do not use the term “mainline” to describe either churches or theological traditions or positions.

    1. Charlie, if you have specific criticisms of specific posts the please address your criticism there — and point out exactly what it is you think is at fault in some way. Just making sweeping claims — and even admitting you only read a portion of the posts! — is not the way to have a useful conversation. If you think any of the posts here have selected and reinterpreted evidence to suit their own theory while ignoring contrary or more straightforward interpretations then give us examples so we can correct them or comment further.

      But do please check our comments policy before deciding to post another comment. Normally such long comments that do not directly address a particular point or post do not get through.

  9. Hi, I published a comment with clear spacing between the lines, but your system seems to have removed all the line breaks, thus rendering what was intended to be a polite and well-presented argument (I hope) into a single, continuous, rant.

    I do not know what else I can do or could have done to ensure correct layout, but this is good way to reduce commentators effectiveness. As it is laid out, I would not want to try to read my own comments. I am extremely disappointed.

    1. Your comment’s layout is just fine with clear paragraph breaks and that is all that is required for all comments. I was hoping you would have responded to my own comments on your statement. That would be an effective way for a commentator to achieve more effectiveness.

Leave a Reply to Neil Godfrey Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.