Monthly Archives: July 2018

That Name Above All Names

Still stranded here at Kuala Lumpur airport (though I’ve had a few opportunities to escape and check out the city itself) and now late at night checking up on mail, blog comments, etc, and I see again various views (see the comments on The First Gospel: History or Apocalyptic Drama) on what might be the “name above all names” that we read about in Philippians 2:9-10

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . .

Is that name “Jesus”? Is it “Lord”? Is it “YHWH”? Is it …. Jason/Jesus?

Have a close look at the classicist John Moles’ articles on the significance of the Greek name Jason (cum Jesus). I think he may have been on to something:

A Passing Note on Thailand

While waiting here in KL for my flight to Thailand I have been catching up with rss feeds from all over the place and one stood out as timely and appropriate: What The West Can Learn From Thailand About Loving One’s Heritage by Casey Chalk. Unfortunately it’s from The Federalist site whose articles I normally find way too “conservative” for my own tastes, but it does make some substantial points about Thailand that are worth noting.

Since the story of the Thai students trapped in a remote cave hit the international news wire, observers have been fascinated with the children’s expression of Thai religious piety and customs. Videos released by the Thai navy show the boys offering the “wai,” a traditional greeting where the palms are pressed together. Images that accompany related news stories often show large groups of Thais, including their classmates, offering Buddhist prayers for the stranded children.

The first time I was in Bangkok and greeted by two Thai nieces with the wai I gaffed by wai-ing back. It is not appropriate, I quickly learned, for the senior to wai the junior, or certainly not to bow in doing so. There are all sorts of rules about that.

Tourists visiting Thailand are usually taken aback by the signs prominently displayed at Suvarnabhumi Airport and on billboards along the highway into downtown Bangkok. One such billboard reads: “It’s wrong to use Buddha as decoration or tattoo. Means no respect. Don’t buy or sell Buddha.” Another sign asserts: “Welcome to Buddha Land. It’s wrong to buy or use Buddha symbol as merchandise, decoration, tattoo or to own Buddha head. Disrespect to Buddha is wrong by law.”

Thais are a very conservative people and the Buddhist religion runs deep. It is customary for boys to spend time as monks just as it is customary for young men to do “national service” in some other countries. I find Buddhism easier to stomach than western “Churchianity” but don’t think Buddhism is all the same here. There are serious corruption charges under way against certain Buddhist monks under way. Some monks come across as plain greedy. But those appear to be the extremes. As usual there is the vast middle of normality and by-and-large respectability.

Families are bound by values Westerners would regard as old-fashioned. It is not universally accepted, for example, that young people live together before marriage. For a young person to do so could well cause deep pain, even offence, to many parents.

Reverence for the Thai monarchy has been bound up with Buddhist conventions, too. I can discuss that side of things another time in more depth. Not everything connected with that question is a good thing.

Oh yes — when you go to a movie here in Thailand you will experience just before the main feature the playing of national anthem and a film of the king. Everyone stands, of course.

Casey Chalk talks about the infamous sex tourism but it is very easy to live and get around in Thailand without seeing that side of things at all.

I’m not sure I’d think of certain Western differences from Thai culture as “losses” as Chalk goes some way to suggesting. The “traditional ways” have their own challenges. There’s way too much poverty here and I can’t justify the status quo by appealing to (or hiding behind) “unifying traditions”.

Added note some time after original posting:

It doesn’t really work to compare values or social attitudes between different cultures as if there can be neat correspondences. Example: I’ve talked above about the ‘conservatism’ of the Thais but I would despite the West’s gains in acknowledgement of gay rights I still would not expect to walk into a very ordinary hairdresser shop in a major conservative-area suburban-type shopping mall and be attended by a ladyboy.



Right now I’m in transit between Australia and Thailand and as much as I hate flying I do love the experience of exploring new places — like today’s walks around the historical area of Kuala Lumpur, the national mosque, and seeing for the first time truly appropriate signage on those pull-push doors. For about the first time I can remember I had no trepidation over the embarrassment of getting the two mixed up as I approached.

Around this time last year I was in the UK and one place I could not pass up was Liverpool. I was 50+ years too late, though, so the stars were fossilized in bronze…

Rory Storm
You know who

THE Street to see … Mathew Street read more »

Looking for Trouble: Two Views

Interesting to compare two different responses to Southern Lauren‘s attempt to enter a Muslim area she opposes. Each links to a different report of the event. (I had thought Southern had been denied a visa to enter Australia; I’ve obviously been out of touch with the latest developments.)

Jerry Coyne’s Comment P.Z. Myers’ Comment
A darling of extreme right-wingers everywhere . . .  there’s no doubt that she’s a bigot. Nevertheless, she has the right to speak and the right to go anywhere she wants in public. In this encounter, though, she wants to enter to a “no go” part of Sydney, Australia inhabited largely by Muslims. There’s no doubt she wanted to stir up trouble. . . . The thing is, she has a right to do that; and, indeed, calling public attention to Islamic homophobia or sharia law has its beneficial side. . . . I emphatically defend Southern’s right to say and do what she wants in public. . . . [A]n Aussie police inspector . . . has “grave concerns that she might cause a breach of the peace” because the area is “highly religious”:===. . . . [H]er counterarguments are sound: any “breach of the peace” would be the fault of those who would cause the trouble, not Southern. . . . . Southern did her usual schtick of seeking out what she calls “no-go zones” to show how racist they are, as if she thinks racism is a bad thing. So she walks into an area with a high proportion of Muslims with camera and sound guy in tow, making a little bit of a spectacle of herself, and notices how suspiciously people are looking at her (surprise!) and that some people are yelling in Arabic (oh my god), and starts to head down a street to a mosque to stir up some real juicy footage. She’s stopped by a policeman, who tells her no: he knows that she’s there to provoke trouble, so he tells her that she may not go there. He also informs her that local white people have no trouble coexisting in this neighborhood — making it clear that the problem isn’t with respectful citizens, it’s specifically with her and her actions. . . . She knows nothing.

Even a Bayesian Historian Can Slip Up! (once)

I argue that the interpretation of Bayesianism that I present here is the best explanation of the actual practices of historians.

— Tucker, Aviezer. 2009. Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography. Reissue edition. Cambridge University Press. p. 134

Aviezer Tucker

I have posted aspects of Aviezer Tucker’s discussion of how Bayesian reasoning best represents the way historians conduct their research but here I want to post a few details in Tucker’s chapter that I have not covered so far.

(Interjection: it is not strictly fair to call Aviezer Tucker a “Bayesian historian” because, as is clear from the opening quote, what he argues is that all historians, at least at their best and overall, employ Bayesian logic without perhaps realizing it.)

Tucker includes discussion of biblical criticism in his book but in his chapter on Bayesian methods he unfortunately contradicts himself. The contradiction can best be explained, I think, by appealing to the power of the Christian story to implant unquestioned assumptions into even the best of scholars. I could call that my hypothesis and suggest that the prior probability for it being so in many historians is quite high.

No doubt readers will recall my recent quotation from Tucker:

There have been attempts to use the full Bayesian formula to evaluate hypotheses about the past, for example, whether miracles happened or not (Earman, 2000, pp. 53–9). Despite Earman’s correct criticism of Hume (1988), both ask the same full Bayesian question:

“What is the probability that a certain miracle happened, given the testimonies to that effect and our scientific background knowledge?”

But this is not the kind of question biblical critics and historians ask. They ask,

“What is the best explanation of this set of documents that tells of a miracle of a certain kind?”

The center of research is the explanation of the evidence, not whether or not a literal interpretation of the evidence corresponds with what took place.

(Tucker, p. 99)

One explanation for the documents relating the miracles is that the miracles happened and were recorded. Other explanations can also come to mind.

No doubt because the question focused on miracles it was very easy for Tucker and countless others before and since to think of alternative hypotheses to explain the stories of miracles that have survived for our reading entertainment today.

The Slip Up

But look what happened to Tucker’s argument when he was faced with something that sounded more “historically plausible”: read more »

Concept Creep

When I hear of how Russia “attacked” the USA in the 2016 elections, and when I hear of verbal abuse being labeled a form of “violence”, and when I think a purple dot is blue because fewer blue dots have been appearing lately, then I think of “concept creep”. And then I recall how many of those of us leaving cults or other extreme fundamentalist churches were said to be experiencing the same disorder as returning soldiers with war experiences, “post traumatic stress disorder”.

From The Conversation: When Your Brain Never Runs Out of Problems….

Concepts that refer to the negative aspects of human experience and behavior have expanded their meanings so that they now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before. This expansion takes “horizontal” and “vertical” forms: concepts extend outward to capture qualitatively new phenomena and downward to capture quantitatively less extreme phenomena. The concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice are examined to illustrate these historical changes. In each case, the concept’s boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilated. A variety of explanations for this pattern of “concept creep” are considered and its implications are explored. I contend that the expansion primarily reflects an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm, reflecting a liberal moral agenda. Its implications are ambivalent, however. Although conceptual change is inevitable and often well motivated, concept creep runs the risk of pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.

Why do some social problems seem so intractable? In a series of experiments, we show that people often respond to decreases in the prevalence of a stimulus by expanding their concept of it. When blue dots became rare, participants began to see purple dots as blue; when threatening faces became rare, participants began to see neutral faces as threatening; and when unethical requests became rare, participants began to see innocuous requests as unethical. This “prevalence-induced concept change” occurred even when participants were forewarned about it and even when they were instructed and paid to resist it. Social problems may seem intractable in part because reductions in their prevalence lead people to see more of them.

  • Levari, David E., Daniel T. Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson, Beau Sievers, David M. Amodio, and Thalia Wheatley. 2018. “Prevalence-Induced Concept Change in Human Judgment.” Science 360 (6396): 1465–67.

read more »

The First Gospel: History or Apocalyptic Drama?

We know about the demons disturbing the peace in the Gospel of Mark, how they scream out when they see Jesus entering a synagogue or crossing a lake. But what if those fiends are but the tip of the iceberg and that in fact the gospel tells of a conflict between innumerable demonic beings behind the scenes on the one hand and Jesus on earth on the other. Such a possible interpretation of the Gospel of Mark came to me while following footnote byways in my study into Paul’s reference to the “rulers of this age” crucifying the “Lord of Glory” (see box insert at end of this post).

from Apocalipsis cu[m] figuris, Nuremburg: 1498, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
If so, then the Gospel of Mark perhaps deserves to be shelved alongside stories like the Book of Daniel or even the Book of Revelation rather than beside genuine histories as some students of the Bible believe it should be.

Jesus the Conspiracy Theorist

The first swallow to arrive with this news about Mark left me sceptical about the onset of summer. Here is the message it brought:

Mark 10:42

But Jesus calling them, saith to them: You know that they who seem to rule over the Gentiles, lord it over them: and their princes have power over them. (Douay-Rheims)

An equally adequate translation would be, “those who are thought to rule over the nations”. See δοκέω (dokeó) for other uses of the word.

Matthew and Luke did not like the way Mark put it so they changed his wording to “those who rule”. Surely Mark could have said the same if that’s what he meant.

Is there anything else in the Gospel of Mark that might shed light on what Mark (I’ll speak of him as the author of the gospel) was thinking when he wrote that? Here we might pause to recollect that Mark makes considerable use of the Book of Daniel and in that book we read about earthly potentates being somewhat like the shadows following the warring angelic powers in heaven. Daniel 10:20, for instance, explains that the earthly fates of Persia and Greece follow the contest between Gabriel and the angelic powers set over those peoples.

So does Mark 10:42 alert us to a picture of angelic powers above being the real powers over earthly emperors and kings?

Next point.

The Devil You Don’t See

We know that Mark had Jesus speak in parables and that even his entire gospel may have been a parable if we concur with scholars such as Mary Ann Tolbert. In Mark 4 Jesus is found speaking in parables so that only his select few could truly understand what he was saying and to hide his meaning from the outsiders. Given that function of the parables, note the first three parables in the gospel. They are all about Satan and his demons acting upon people on this earth.

In Mark 4:13 Satan is the one who seals the fate of the unbelievers. It is not their own doing.

In Mark 3:27 Jesus teaches through parable that he must first overpower Satan in order to save humans now in his clutches.

And immediately prior to that parable he spoke another one about the ruling kingdom of Satan over this world.

Let’s go back further.

Through the Wormhole

When Jesus emerges from baptism he sees heavens being torn open and he hears a voice coming from there. We are to imagine no one else around him sees or hears any of this. Jesus alone is able to see and hear this “parallel world” right alongside ours. This experience is followed by a spirit “casting him out” into the wilderness. Jesus is not in control but he is being compelled by a spirit to go and face Satan. After he overcomes the temptations there angels come and care for him.

Then the demons in those possessed recognize him and know he has come to torment them and remove them from their power over humanity.

And then we had Jesus for a moment directly communicating with that other world, becoming half earthling and half divinity at the transfiguration. On the mountain top it appears for a moment he was actually both in that world and this one, in a doorway between the two, so to speak.

Jesus was “tested” in the wilderness and he continued to be “tested” throughout his time leading up to the crucifixion. The same word is used for scribes and others, even his followers, testing him with their hopes to trap him or their lack of faith in him. It is how the Greek language Book of Job described what Satan did to Job. By now we know where these tests are ultimately coming from.

Perhaps Mark 10:42 is starting to look more like an allusion to the demonic rulers behind the scenes after all.

But we need to study the climax of the gospel and not just its beginning.

Apocalypse Now

For Mark the crucifixion of Jesus was an apocalpytic event. That means it was a turning point in history. Apocalypticism conveys the idea that here and now only a handful of chosen ones have had the real picture of what’s happening revealed to them. The rest of the world lies in the darkness of ignorance. The elect few are the recipients of divine revelation. That revelation reveals the workings of heavenly powers and their plans for the nations. Recall the Books of Daniel and Revelation where the chosen ones are shown the mysteries of divine and other angelic beings and what they are doing now and what they are about to do that will mean catastrophe for many and salvation for a few.

As an apocalyptic event the crucifixion of Jesus wreaked the destruction of the demonic powers — at least the beginnings of that destruction. Their powers would be totally annulled at the coming of Jesus Christ in glory, as per Mark 13. But the process has begun now. The demons are being beaten back by the faithful through the protection of the heavenly Jesus. The coming of Jesus in glory is only a short time away.

Apocalyptic events come with apocalyptic signs. It happens unexpectedly when the faithful have fallen asleep. Sinners flee and hide. The sky turns dark at noon. Each hour is announced as the next event is announced that brings us closer to the climax. There is silence before a great shout. Even the veil hiding the Holy of Holies in the Temple will be torn by angelic powers from top to bottom, signalling that at that moment all who believe have access directly to God the Father. Gentiles see and glorify God.

That is how Mark described the crucifixion of Jesus. He even hinted at it in similar terms in his “little Apocalypse” of Mark 13. The apocalyptic language and imagery of Mark’s crucifixion scene is not full blown with the sky falling in and the moon turning red it is certainly “foot in the door” apocalyptic. One may think the author represents the death of Jesus as but the beginning of the wholesale apocalypse.

Real History with a Few Embellishments or Apocalyptic Drama to the Core?

Mark’s story can surely be read as an apocalyptic drama. The Son of God comes from heaven to take on the world of Satan and his demons and to free humanity from their powers.

One regularly hears how the Gospel of Mark is, unlike the Gospel of John, very “prosaic”, very “history-like” or “biographical” in its presentation of Jesus. We have addressed reasons to dispute this interpretation in the past and we do so again with this present post.


Garrett, Susan R. 1998. Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans.

Marcus, Joel. 1984. “Mark 4:10-12 and Marcan Epistemology.” Journal of Biblical Literature 103 (4): 557–74.

Robinson, James M. 1977. The Problem of History in Mark. London: SCM Press.

The Crimea-Russia Connection: Historical Overview

“Grabrich” recently reminded me of an excellent study on the background to the Ukraine crisis today. I quote one section from early in the book setting out an overview of the historical background to Russia’s involvement in Crimea. I have added hyperlinks and broken up the paragraph for easier reading.


The Crimean peninsula is the heartland of Russian nationhood. It was here in Khersones that Prince Vladimir adopted Orthodoxy as the official religion of the people of Rus.

Following the Mongol invasion, the Crimean Khanate ruled the peninsula from 1441, whose territories at one point encompassed a large part of the northern Black Sea littoral.

From 1736 Russia started its push to take over the region, prompted in particular by the desire to put an end to the raids on the Slavic parts to the north.

Catherine the Great’s push against the Ottoman Empire saw Crimea occupied by Russian forces in 1783, and on 2 February 1784 it formally entered the Russian Empire as Taurida Oblast.

In turn, the Tatar population now faced successive waves of deportation, including in response to the threat from Napoleon in 1812, when they were sent to Siberia, and then in 1855, towards the end of the Crimean War, when they were branded as enemy agents and tens of thousands were sent to Turkey.

From the 1860s the imperial authorities launched a new wave of deportations, accompanied by attempts to Russify the northern Black Sea region.

The worst deportation was Stalin’s, on 18–20 May 1944. The whole population, some 230,000, including 40,000 who had served with distinction in the Red Army, were sent to Siberia and Central Asia, with at least 100,000 expiring en route of hunger and thirst. They had been accused of collaboration with the Nazi occupiers, but given the purges of the 1930s, which had wiped out much of the Crimean Tatar elite, surprisingly few (some 2,000) joined ‘defence teams’ rather than be sent to work in Germany.

Tatars now make up 13 per cent of the Crimean population, whereas before the Russian occupation of 1783 they comprised 80 per cent.

In 1954 the region was transferred from Russian to Ukrainian jurisdiction, a decision that was contested from the first, above all because Russians made up the majority of the population.

The 2001 census revealed that 1.45 million (57 per cent) out of a total population of 2 million claimed to be Russians, 576,000 Ukrainians and 245,000 Tatars, while some 77 per cent were registered as native Russian-speakers.

It was the return of Crimea to Russia in March 2014 that transformed the Ukrainian crisis into a major European confrontation (see Chapter 5).

Sakwa, Richard. 2015. Frontline Ukraine Crisis in the Borderlands. London ; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2015. pp. 12f
The Crimean Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysaray, by Carlo Bossoli

How a Historian Establishes “What Happened” when “we only have the words of the text”

If all we have is an ancient historical or biographical narrative that we cannot verify by independent evidence (and keeping in mind that, as we saw in the previous post, external claims also need to be capable of verification) then how can a historian go about deciding how much of the narrative is likely to be true?

Pericles’ Funeral Oration (Perikles hält die Leichenrede) by Philipp Foltz (1852) — Wikimedia

Continuing with Peter Kosso’s argument we come to his fourth method of verification, an examination of the internal features of our document. Kosso is using Thucydides as a case study.

There is the fact, abhorrent to modern historians, that he never tells his sources [at best he only says he garnered information from (anonymous) eyewitnesses and his own experiences — my note], and that he never justifies his opinions.” There are no arguments in Thucydides, and no footnotes. These silences force the judge of his credibility to use internal methods, since they eliminate the easiest way of finding other, independent sources of information. (p. 9)

Take the long speeches he puts into the mouths of key actors. Thucydides explains that it was obviously impossible to report these accurately but he attempted to reproduce what he believed would have been the general sense of what each person said. Thus,

With his own words Thucydides makes us uneasy over his veracity and he plants the worry that the message of the speeches may be as much a report on his own opinion as on the facts of the matter. (p. 9)

Internal features compatible with accuracy and objectivity

  • Vivid and full of detail

The writing is exceptionally vivid and full of detail, “participatory” in the sense that the reader is drawn in to relive the events. This is reminiscent of Hume’s suggestion that the products of imagination are less vivid than the products of observation. (p. 10)

That sounds fine at first blush, but of course a moment’s reflection will warn us of the catch.

But of course a good novel can be vivid and participatory, and many works of fiction are livelier and more real-seeming than The Peloponnesian War. Attention to detail and realistic style, in other words, are not necessarily indicative of truth. (p. 10)

  • Expressing divergent opinions

Thucydides gives us two sides of the story when he sets out his speeches. He will allow a figure to present the Spartan point of view as well as another to give the Athenian one. That he does so suggests to us that he is trying to be fair and even-handed.

Presentation of all sides is of course possible to do in fiction as well, but it is perhaps less likely, since good fiction intends to make a point. Thus Thucydides’ reporting from a variety of perspectives would be a symptom of his objectivity if it remained evenhanded and no discernible opinion, no favored perspective of the events, emerged in the narrative. (p. 10)

But a close reading of Thucydides will reveal another, far less objective or historical, purpose for the presentation of these diverse viewpoints. At this point I leave Peter Kosso’s article for a moment and turn to a closer look at another article that Kosso cites: read more »

How We Know “What Actually Happened” in Ancient Times

Peter Kosso

Peter Kosso [link is to his academic page], a philosopher of epistemology (or “philosopher of how we know things”), explains how historians can know “what actually happened” in ancient times. I would love to see scholars like Kosso direct their understanding and criticism to attempted explanations by biblical scholars. Well, this post is an indirect attempt to do just that by picking out some of the most salient points of his article. (Though I would love to do so, I don’t cover all the aspects and subtleties of Kosso’s essay.)

Kosso, Peter. 1993. “Historical Evidence and Epistemic Justification: Thucydides as a Case Study.” History and Theory 32 (1): 1–13.


Kosso illustrates his arguments with reference to the ancient historian with the reputation of being the father of scientific history, Thucydides.

How can we know if we can trust Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian war?

There are two possible ways of going about answering this question. One is external and the other internal.

  • External: We can turn to outside sources, other texts or archaeological evidence, to test the claims of Thucydides.
  • Internal: We can examine what was written by Thucydides himself and make a judgement based on what he himself says about himself and his work.

Four kinds of corroboration

#1 Material evidence: If surviving architectural monuments and natural terrain match what an ancient historian says then the text gains “a measure of justification”.

#2 If different authors write about the same or related things then to the extent that their accounts are consistent and further our understanding of events then “each gains credibility”.

#3 If another ancient work refers to Thucydides and discusses both him as a person and how he went about his work then we gain helpful background information to what we are reading in Thucydides’ history. But that report on Thucydides must be independent and not composed by a sycophant seeking the favours of Thucydides himself, of course.

This is to block the circularity of a theory accounting for its own evidence, a circularity that would make the testing vacuous. For the same reason, a textual source of information about some particular textual evidence must be independent of that evidence. The author of the accounting claims, for example, must not be a sycophant of the historian being described, but must have an independent source of credibility. (p. 4)

#4 What does the author say about himself and how he went about collecting his information? Does he display an awareness of the difference between eyewitness and hearsay evidence? Does he present both sides of conflicts or is he clearly biased? Do we find attention to detail? Are his explanations coherent? Is he vague in his descriptions or does he inspire confidence with realistic pictures of what actually happened? All of these features “might be used as indicators of accuracy and credibility.”

Putting Thucydides to the above tests

read more »

Daylight Atheism has a new contributor

Adam Lee’s Daylight Atheism blog has added a new contributor, James Haught. Jim, now 86, is adding one post a week from his store of 140 published essays.

His first two


Paul’s “Rulers of this Age” — Conclusion (Part ?)

Is this really the concluding post? No doubt I will find more reasons over time to add to the arguments.

Earlier posts in this series:

    1. Are the “Rulers of the Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 Human or Spiritual? – the sea change
    2. Who Killed Christ? Human rulers and/or angelic rulers. Addressing 1 Cor 2:6-8.
    3. Who Crucified Jesus – Men or Demons? Continuing Miller’s Study of 1 Cor 2:6-8
    4. What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”
    5. More older arguments for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being spirit powers
    6. Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama

(Addendum: “Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH” – according to ancient sources and modern analysis)


Here we return to the arguments of Robert Ewusie Moses [REM] in favour of the Paul’s “rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of Glory” being spirit powers.

Argument #1: Context

I have had several people try to convince me that “rulers of this age” has to refer to human rulers because in the preceding chapter and more Paul has been talking exclusively about the divide between human and godly wisdom. Yes, he has. But it does not follow that he will not shift into a higher gear in 1 Cor. 2:6.

The first reason REM offers for Paul’s “rulers of this age” being a reference to demon rulers is that the term would be “arbitrary and redundant” if it was speaking about human rulers. Recall that Paul has already (in the preceding “paragraphs” leading up to 1 Cor 2:6) made it very clear that “earthlings” — sages, scribes, philosophers, all the wise of this world — cannot and never could understand the “wisdom of God”. Had Paul said “none of the wisest persons on earth could understand God’s wisdom, and not only those wisest of all, but even our rulers, too!” — no, it would not work. Most subjects are discreet about it but they snickeringly know that their Herods and Pilates and Caiaphases are not really all that bright no matter how powerful they are. Paul has prior to 2:6 made it clear that the lowly believers are privy to a wisdom beyond the very wisest of this world.

What Paul is doing here is furthering the crescendo: not only the wisest of humans but even “the rulers of this age who are even right now in the process of being disemboweled.” Woops, disemboweling cannot apply to demons, surely, but Paul used another word that means being sapped of all power, being rendered inoperative”. The rulers of this age, Paul said, are in the process right now of being conquered. Later, in chapter 15, he will refer to a time in the future when that conquest will be complete (see point #2).

So, the logic of Paul’s argument goes like this:

  1. not only all the wisest men on earth
  2. but even those powers that rule this age and who are in the process of right now being conquered by Christ with God’s angels
  3. are bereft of the wisdom of God.

The implication here is that these rulers of this age

  • would be expected to have superior knowledge but they don’t
  • would be expected to have superior power but they are in the process right now of losing that power
  • would be expected to be immortal — though if so, the status of that immortality is now in doubt

It is no coincidence, suggests REM, that “superior knowledge”, “superior power” and “immortality” are the three attributes that define “gods” in the Greco-Roman world.

Argument #2: Rulers are now being disempowered

Let’s look again at that detail about the rulers of this age currently losing their power and becoming inoperative. The verb Paul uses is καταργέω (katargeo). He uses the same verb again in 15:24 but this time to describe a past action, something has been completed.

then the end, when He shall hand over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He shall have annulled all dominion, and all authority and power.

When we read that chapter it is evident that Paul is talking about all powers in both earth and heaven. In 1 Cor 2:6 Paul uses the present passive participle of the verb καταργέω to depict an event currently underway. REM returns to the insight of Dibelius who pointed out that Paul cannot be saying that “the High Priest, Herod, and Pilate” are in the process of losing their power. Paul’s words only make sense of the battle between spirit powers that will culminate in total victory for Christ at the end.

Believers are already the bearers of a revelation that the cross was the site of the powers’ demise; but the powers are still at work in the world, though believers know that their days are numbered, for they are being rendered inoperative.

(REM, p. 134)

Argument #3: Apocalyptic passing of ages

Note, further, that the wisdom that the rulers of this age are ignorant of has been hidden in a mystery since even before “this age” began. And the reason it was hidden till now? Answer: For the unique glory of the believers.

As noted by Clifton Black, these are apocalyptic terminologies that portray the death of Jesus as an apocalyptic event, the turning point of the ages. For Paul, then, the advent of Christ is the decisive moment in history which ushers in a new age and, in turn, sets in motion the gradual fading out of the old cosmos (1 Cor 7:33).

(REM, p. 134)

Up till 1 Cor 2:6 Paul is clearly addressing human wisdom. He speaks of human reversal so that the low-class people become exalted in God’s eyes above the powerful “in the flesh”. read more »

What if James really were “the brother of the Lord”?

Since posting the following I have pointed to another detail that gives further reason to pause before assuming Lord = Jesus in Galatians.

Galatians 1:19

but I saw none other of the apostles, but James the brother of the Lord.

Fear not. I will not here repeat the arguments that James was/was not the brother of Jesus. I have been through them often enough.

Here I will do nothing more than share a little datum that stubbed my toe as I was wandering through yet another tangent on another question. It returns us possibly to the very time period Paul is thought to have written his letter to the Galatians.

Many of us with an interest in the question know how often people cite that passage, without a second thought, as “James the brother of Jesus”. Who else could the Lord be?

So I was pulled up when I learned that such an unconscious bias is not limited to that one passage. In a scholarly study on another early Christian piece of writing, one that some scholars even consider to be possibly contemporary with the writings of Paul, the Didache, there is this footnote on the Didache’s use of the term “Lord God”:

Niederwimmer judges that “the Lord God” would have been intended in the original Jewish context but that here it refers to the “Lord Jesus” (Didache, 105). This demonstrates that even seasoned scholars can unknowingly transport into the Didache their bias in favor of identifying Jesus as Lord. They acquire this bias in studying Paul and in participating in Christian piety. It is difficult for them, accordingly, to imagine how the Didache can be true to Jesus while absolutely being centered upon the presence, the purposes, and the saving grace of the Father. Niederwimmer refers to the “original Jewish context” without even for a moment reflecting that Jesus himself and the movement he left behind were solidly rooted within a Jewish context.

Milavec, Aaron. 2015. “The Distress Signals of Didache Research: Quest for a Viable Future.” In The Didache: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Early Christianity, edited by Jonathan A. Draper and Clayton N. Jefford, 59–83. Atlanta: SBL Press. pp. 72f

Milavec reminds us that Jesus himself is said to have taught others to anticipate the coming of the Kingdom of God, that is, the God of the “Old Testament” where are found numerous prophecies that God himself, the one we might think of as the Father, was to descend to establish his rule on earth. Accordingly, we should keep in mind that Jesus’ earliest followers understood his references to Lord as references to the God he called Father.

It may sound a bit over the top to think that anyone would suggest James could be given a religious title associating him as something more than another “Friend of God” (as other biblical figures were known to be) but then again there is so much we don’t know about that early period. Among those who bequeathed to us the Gospel of Thomas James was said by Jesus to be the very person for whom heaven and earth came into being (GThom 12) — whatever that means. (Not to mention that in the second chapter of the same letter to Galatians Paul expresses his failure to be impressed by the status of James in the church and documents James representing a form of Christianity that he himself opposed.)

I’m not arguing that “brother of the Lord” definitely refers to God rather than Jesus. I am saying we have reasons not to be dogmatic and to always be willing to question our assumptions.

See also comment below: Milavec points out that it would have been blasphemous among those outside Paul’s followers to have called Jesus Lord.


The Brainwashing Myth

By Rebecca Moore, The brainwashing myth, published on The Conversation . . . .

If brainwashing actually existed, we would expect to see many more dangerous people running around, planning to carry out reprehensible schemes.

[I]f brainwashing really existed, more people would join and stay in these groups. But studies have shown that members of new religions generally leave the group within a few years of joining.

I reject the idea of brainwashing for three reasons: It is pseudoscientific, ignores research-based explanations for human behavior and dehumanizes people by denying their free will.