Monthly Archives: November 2018

Another look at the Documentary Hypothesis. An alternative proposal.

Were the first books of the “Old Testament” composed by “redactors” piecing together stories from different sources (that has long been the predominant view) or is it possible that they were composed by a single author or “school of authors”? The former is the documentary hypothesis. For a background on the documentary hypothesis refer to the post Who wrote the Bible? Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis. The topic has resurfaced with some recent posts (Plato and the Bible; Genesis to Kings, Authorship) that question the validity of the DH, proposing a “unitary authorship” of the Pentateuch and more. I am intrigued by the new alternative but have not yet sold my soul to it. I am not always overly enthusiastic about some of the arguments for a single authorship. So consider these posts as exploratory and informative. (But that’s what most of my posts are here, anyway.

Here I cite but one scholar’s criticism of the DH and proposal for the Flood Story in Genesis being composed from scratch as a single narrative. That is, the narrative is not a patched quilt of priestly and Yahwist sources after all. Here is Thomas Brodie’s take on the story (quoted words are in dark azure; the rest is my summary and comment.)

The deluge account contains much repetition and variation, and so some researchers have suggested that it is composed from two sources — J and P . . . .

(Brodie, 181)

Some of the examples of the repetition and variation:

  • Sometimes Yhwh, other times Elohim, are used for God. The sections with Yhwh have been attributed to the J source, Elohim sections to the P source.
  • At one time we read that two of each kind of animal was brought into the ark; later we read there were seven pairs of clean animals but only two of each unclean. The former has been attributed to the P source; the latter to J.
  • We first learn of forty days and nights of rain; later of the flood cresting after 150 days. J, then P.
  • The command for Noah to enter the ark is duplicated: 6:18–20 (P) and 7:1–3 (J).
  • Twice we read of Noah and his family entering the ark: 7:7 (J) and 7:13 (P).
  • Twice we read of God’s promise to never again destroy the earth: 8:21 (J) and 9:11 (P)

Brodie’s faults the documentary hypothesis as being based on contradictory arguments:

The final product is not an unimaginative collection of material drawn from distinct sources, but an artful unified composition arranged chiastically around the central affirmation in 8:1 that “God remembered Noah.”

This explanation, however, contains radical problems, problems that are both general and specific.

In general: the explanation is not coherent. It implies two opposite procedures — mechanical juxtapositioning (regardless of overlap or divergence) and artistic unifying. One procedure is slavish, the other imaginative. Behind these procedures are two opposite attitudes — scrupulosity and freedom. The contradiction in the explanation is far deeper than the contradictions in the text.

More specifically, the theory is not supported by the details. There are several problems (see esp. Ska, 1994; 1996, 259–260):

1. The purported J story is seriously incomplete. It contains no account of making the ark or leaving it. Such lack of completeness is not explained by a desire to avoid repetition. The author had no problem with repetition as such; some minor details occur twice.

2. The so-called “double” entry to the ark (7:7–9, 13–16) does not require two sources. The doubled text is part of a single coherent repetitive style — similar to the repetitiveness of Genesis 17 (17:23–27). Essentially the same is true of other so-called doublets: they are part of a coherent repetitive style. Repetition is a basic feature of narrative, especially of biblical narrative (Alter, 1981, 88–113). Repetition results from various techniques (Niccacci, 1994). The issue then is not whether there is repetition but whether it is possible to discern the repetition’s variation or purpose. The two commands about entering the ark (6:18–20; 7:1–3), for instance, have several variations of context and content, but they are sufficiently similar to build something important: the sense — amid a collapsing world — of momentum and continuity. Nor do the two diverse types of bird (the raven and the dove, 8:6–12) mean two sources. In Tablet XI of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Noah-like Utnapishtim sends out three diverse birds—a dove, a swallow, and a raven (Brichto, 1998, 114) — but that does not mean three sources.

3. The language of some purported J material, especially as regards order and sacrifice, would normally be reckoned as late or priestly.

For these and other reasons, scholars such as Blenkinsopp (1992, 77–78) and Ska (1996, 259) have moved to the idea of a single (priestly) account, which was later retouched. In other words, rather than dividing the text fairly evenly in two, they attribute most of it to a single author and reserve just a small percentage to an editor.

So some scholars are finding the different pieces fit better as if the story was composed as a single unit from the start. Brodie lists other indicators of what he believes is a unitary narrative: read more »

Conclusion of feedback on the Atwill-Murdock video about the Roman Conspiracy to invent Christianity

In the previous post we ended with the Video’s fabricated claim that

12. Josephus tells us Romans rounded up writers of alternate histories and executed them. Only the official history of Josephus was to survive. All the copies of those alternate histories were destroyed.

This assertion is entirely fiction. There is no evidence for any of these claims, as far as I am aware, and I have read reasonably widely on literature in the time of the Flavian emperors. The history Josephus wrote was not an “official” history somehow “approved by” the authorities, either. It is quite unlikely that the Flavian emperor’s ever read or heard a reading of Josephus’s work. They had other propaganda and administrative issues to take up their time.

Other extravagant claims in the video are that the Roman authorities seized the holy books of the Jews from the temple, somehow implying that such an action was targeted at reducing the Jewish belief in a messianic leader to come and free them from the Romans. That, we saw, was also a misleading claim since the Jews held many other copies of the Scriptures and they probably never even read the actual copy deposited in the Temple to begin with. It was there as a sacred relic. Besides, belief in an imminent messiah, even if it existed (and we linked to evidence there was no such disturbing movement at that time) would not be quelled by removing texts from a mostly illiterate population. Josephus and other sources that inform us about the Jewish War and Roman military concerns inform us of other reasons for the Jewish was that had nothing to do with a so-called “messianic movement”. The video’s claims or inferences that the Flavian emperors (Vespasian and Titus) were confronted by widespread and regular Jewish uprisings are simply not true.

13. At one point we hear on the video: “All of the Roman Flavian historians record that Vespasian and family was the Christ.

I don’t know the basis for that claim but I know of not a single ancient historian that said the Vespasian family were “the Christ”. Josephus said there was a prophecy that a world ruler would come from Judea and that’s all there is. Josephus did not tell us the actual source for that claim, but it was a timely one to make to ensure his survival and to assist Vespasian in establishing his status as a rightful emperor. He used the propaganda to declare that he was a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy from the east, but the notion of a Jewish “christ” or “messiah” was alien and meaningless to him.

14. The video presentation points out that the Roman emperors and their bureaucracy were dedicated to enforcing the Roman imperial cult, so that the emperor was to be worshiped as a god. read more »

Did Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus Create Christianity to Fool the Judeans?

The title question sounds quite unlikely to most historically informed readers but it is answered in the affirmative by those mythicists I have classified as “type twos“. A Vridar reader asked for my views of the arguments presented on a youtube video featuring Joseph Atwill and D.M. Murdock.

 

 

1. About 4 minutes in someone says the gospel Jesus was a composite of the many different messianic figures of the time.

That’s the first problem right there. Contrary to what is often assumed there were no “messianic figures” at the time of Jesus (early first century BCE). At least there is no evidence that there were and arguments claiming that they were popping up all over the place have to read words into our sources that are simply not there. Josephus mentions a few maverick leaders in the second half of the first century but at no point does he indicate that they were viewed as “messiahs”, and from everything we know about Josephus he would have loved to have mocked them as “false messiahs” if he felt he could. I have posted the evidence and arguments related to this topic, most recently tangentially in the Questioning apologetics post. (See also earlier posts questioning Carrier’s reading messianic figures into the evidence; also the myth post.)

Jesus in the gospels is certainly a composite figure as many critical scholars have long recognized. He is a bit of Moses at times, other times an Elijah or Elisha figure sometimes a Joshua, sometimes, perhaps, even an Odysseus or Hector.

2. Someone in the video soon afterwards misinforms us that the Dead Sea Scrolls are dated to the time of Jesus.

But that claim is certainly not a fact; it is an argument for which there is only the most tenuous evidence. See earlier posts on the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. On might make an argument for dating to the time of Jesus but it will always be an argument and cannot be assumed to be fact.

3. Next, in the video we hear the rhetorical question, “How did Christianity come to exist in Roman dominated area with anti-Roman zealots in it?

We have no reliable evidence that the early Christian movement consisted of anti-Roman zealots. Someone in a list of disciples is said to be a “zealot” but unless I am badly mistaken critical scholars (as opposed to apologists) consider the institution of the “twelve disciples” to be an invention by evangelists some decades after the time of Jesus. It was a symbolic creation pointing to a “new Israel” in the church. We hear nothing of any “zealot” after the time of Jesus except for Paul who is quoted as saying he was a “zealot for God”.

Perhaps none of that will make any difference to those who are attracted to the point of Zealots being among the earliest Christians. After all, the theory is that Jesus is constructed out of the person and deeds of Titus. Are the authors meant to be persuading other Jewish “zealots” to follow Titus? Perhaps so.

4. About 7 minutes in the question is raised: Why would the Flavians (i.e. the Roman emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domition) be interested in creating a religion?

That’s a good question. I don’t believe I ever came across any indication they did anything other than restore the prestige of older Roman cults. But let’s continue with the video.

5. We are told that the Jews were rebelling against their Roman rulers, that they were angry over taxes and having an emperor (Claudius, before the Flavian emperors) trying to set up his statue in the Temple. We are told that the Jews were more focused on a religion “of the book” than on cultic rituals. And that because they believed their books they believed in a prophecy that a messiah was going to rise up and lead them to victory against their enemies. We are then informed that a series of Jewish messiahs or messianic claimants fought against Rome and that there was a widespread Palestinian messianic movement fueling these anti-Roman rebellions.

By such assertions are viewers misinformed.

  1. If there were any resistance of bandit movements over taxes then they were over taxes. There is no need to bring in a messianic motivation to these revolts, especially since we have no evidence that there were any messianic pretenders among the various bandits.
  2. The episode of Claudius hoping to have his statue erected in the Jewish temple was but one incident that was soon resolved in favour of the Judeans. There was no lingering fear after Claudius withdrew.
  3. Most important and what was not mentioned in the video was that the Roman authorities allowed the Jews to practice their own religion. They were not forced on pain of death to worship Caesar as a god.
  4. There is no evidence in our sources that Jews in the first century had any general expectation of a coming messiah (see above for links to the evidence). Josephus makes a very opaque remark about a world ruler being prophesied to come out of Judea but gives no indication what books were sourced. He could have been referring to any of the Pseudepigrapha, (perhaps the Sibylline Oracles?) …. But he gives even less evidence for how the Jews supposedly responded to this prophecy. Everything he says about the rebels was that they were more engaged in fighting against other Jews than they were against the Romans, and the reason Rome sought to crush them was because of their role in fomenting a type of civil war in Judea and because they were defiant power-hungry rebels, not because they were anticipating a messiah.

I will be posting something from Steve Mason’s book on the Jewish War that hopefully will knock down a number of popular misunderstandings about the nature of the Jewish War with Rome 66-70 CE.

6. Next we are told that Vespasian came in and destroyed the Jewish towns of Galilee. read more »

Genesis to Kings, the work of a single authorship?

I am copying here a comment that Philippe Wajdenbaum made in relation to another post. (I have reformatted the original.)

Many thanks for this post, and for the quality of your blog. Russell Gmirkin’s “Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible” is a most important book that will elicit a paradigm shift in biblical studies, as seen in its current positive reception.

Here are some of my arguments for Genesis-Kings’ unity:

In “Argonauts of the Desert”, as well as in several articles, I have proposed that Genesis-Kings (also called the Primary History) is the work of a single author, or at least the same team of scholars, who took inspiration from Greek classical texts such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. See also:

The demonstration of Genesis-Kings’ literary unity relies first on its consistency as a continuous narrative, as shown by Spinoza (“Theological and Political Treatise”, chapter 8), and second on the distribution of its Greek-borrowed material, shown by Wesselius regarding the use of Herodotus. Whereas both placed this redaction during the Persian period, Russell Gmirkin has convincingly shown in “Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus” (2006), that the Hellenistic era offers the most plausible period for Judean and Samaritan scholars to have had access to and emulated Greek sources, most probably in the Library of Alexandria.

In my article “From Plato to Moses: Genesis-Kings as a Platonic Epic” (in “Biblical Interpretation Beyond Historicity: Changing Perspectives 7”, edited by I. Hjelm and Thomas L. Thompson, 2016, also available on the Bible and Interpretation website), I have pointed out that

  • the Pentateuch seems to borrow significantly from the Odyssey (the wanderings of the Patriarchs and Israel, Joseph’s story as a rewrite of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca),
  • whereas Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings seem to borrow predominantly from the Iliad (the many battle scenes, especially in 1-2 Samuel).

Yet, there are motifs from the Iliad in the Pentateuch and from the Odyssey in Joshua-Kings. This distribution of Homeric motifs interestingly corresponds to how Virgil modelled the first six books of the Aeneid on the Odyssey, and the six next books on the Iliad. In my opinion, this logic in the distribution of themes can be observed regarding most of the Greek sources used by the author of Genesis-Kings (such as the Greek mythical cycles of the Argonauts, Heracles, Thebes and the Trojan War), and tends to show its literary unity.

Regarding the use of Plato, I have tried to show that a “Platonic framework” encompasses Genesis-Kings. Genesis uses several myths from Plato about

  • the creation of the world (Timaeus / Gen. 1),
  • the split of a primordial androgynous human (Symposium / Gen. 2)
  • and the Golden Age (Statesman / Gen. 3; combined with Hesiod’s story of Prometheus and Pandora).

The Exodus narrative,

the liberation of slaves by a reluctant leader who had been freed beforehand, seems an adaptation of Plato’s famous Cave Allegory in Republic 7 (combined with the story of Battus, the founder of Cyrene).

After receiving some of their divine laws, some of which are borrowed from Plato’s Laws, Moses and the Israelites perform a ritual for accepting these laws (Exod. 24) that seems borrowed from a similar ceremony in Plato’s Critias.

The confection of the Tabernacle’s furniture by a craftsman based on a divine model echoes Plato’s theory of imitation of divine types in Republic 10.

The book of Joshua narrates the foundation of the Ideal twelve-tribe state, with the division of the land by lot into twelve tribes and its subdivision into paternal plots of land, according to the model found in Numbers, which is itself based on Plato’s Laws.

Judges, Samuel and Kings depict the gradual downfall of this state, due to the increasing faults of Israel and Judah’s kings. This demise of a state that should have been ideal and eternal seems borrowed from Plato’s tale of Atlantis in Critias. Solomon’s riches and grandiose temple in Kings resemble that of Atlantis, and God’s decision to destroy Israel and Judah at the hands of its enemies echoes the fate of Atlantis, punished by Zeus because its kings neglected the divine laws with the passing of generations.

The final catastrophe of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians and the beginning of the Exile is reflected in Genesis’ narrative of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden for disobeying the divine commandment, which seems the trace of a ring composition.

Best regards,
Philippe Wajdenbaum

How Historians Know Their Bedrock Facts

Only the most manic conspiracy theorist would question the fact that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, or that a man landed on the moon in 1969, or that the Holocaust took place. . . . . It is a fact that Caesar crossed the Rubicon and invaded Italy in 49 BC; going back to the sources in an attempt to prove or disprove this would be as much a waste of time as reinventing the wheel.

(Morley, 59)

When the ancient historian Neville Morley wrote those words he unfortunately made it sound tedious to go back and pore through papers and documents and books to find out “how we know” they happened. But it is not a difficult task at all, especially now that since Morley wrote we have a vastly improved internet fact-finder.

Two of Morley’s examples are not at all problematic. We know we have abundant contemporary sources to verify the moon landing and Holocaust. But what about the facts in medieval and ancient history?

Here is how we know . . . .

the fact that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066

Search for “Battle of Hastings” and “Primary sources”. In quick time you will find the data that has long assured us that this battle happened and it was  in 1066. Example: Spartacus Educational — Battle of Hastings. One sees at the top of that page a link to Primary Sources. If you haven’t already, click on it. In front of will be a list of the following and even more conveniently translations of the texts:

(1) Message sent by William of Normandy just before the Battle of Hastings took place (quoted by William of Poitiers in Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans (c. 1070)

(2) Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, D Version, entry for 1066.

(3) William of Malmesbury, The Deeds of the Kings of the English (c. 1140)

(4) William of Poitiers, The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans (c. 1071)

Sources: WIkipedia

A message by William of Normandy himself? Quoted by a contemporary? That looks strong evidence, but is there corroboration from another source?

A Chronicle of the time. Now that’s strong. “D Version” looks a bit baffling but a bit more searching will bring up an explanation that the particular manuscript in mind is that of Worchester.

Number (4) is a bit late so we would have to read it to check on the sources the author used. That’s not very difficult nowadays, either. Just one more click away.

That’s how we really know the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. Sources from contemporaries.

Here is how we know . . . .

that Caesar crossed the Rubicon and invaded Italy in 49 BC

Again, a little hunting and pecking on the web, or looking up a scholarly publication about the event, or asking a classicist, will quickly inform us that we have Julius Caesar’s own “memoirs” or “commentary” on the Civil War in which he tells us that (and when) he crossed over into Italy with his army, thus precipitating the Civil War.

We have Julius Caesar’s own written account of the circumstances that led him to cross into Italy in the Commentaries on the Civil War (1:8) (Don’t be put off by Caesar’s odd-sounding practice of referring to himself in the third person.) Caesar did not explicitly mention the provincial border he crossed (he only said he marched into Italy as far as Rimi or Ariminum twelve miles south of the river) but we have the explicit reference to the Rubicon in a written speech by Cicero, Caesar’s contemporary. And then we have several later historians who had access to archives writing about Caesar. But on the combined strength of Caesar’s own testimony and the testimony of his contemporary we can safely say that Caesar did indeed cross the Rubicon thus precipitating the civil war.

What we don’t know as a fact . . . .

Morley explains: read more »

Mythicist Papers: Resources for the Study of Christian Origins – Update

This blog is now entering ‘sleep’ mode… — that’s the heading for René Salm’s final post at least for a while. René explains his decision to retire from posting and publishing his research into Christian origins. Fortunately his blog with its many resources will remain online for some time yet. I think René’s strongest contribution to the public was his overview and analysis of the archaeological reports on Nazareth that have been produced over the years. The responses to his work from some academics and even lay critics was anything but scholarly rebuttal. They were viciously hostile, full of insult, ridicule and blatant misrepresentation. That’s not how one expects sound and valid research and scholarly publications to be defended. One must suspect that his reviews and analysis hit a raw nerve in the academy. René has undertaken research into areas that few others have undertaken and one of his last series of posts was a translation and commentary on Hermann Detering’s thesis involving the relationship of Buddhism with Christianity view the Therapeutae in Egypt.

My posts on René’s books on the archaeology of Nazareth:

The Nazareth myth (2009-09-04)

What it really means to be human . . . the challenge before us all (2009-04-11)

Reviewing a Scholarly Review of Rene Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth (2009-05-31)

The Real Jesus Challenge, Bart Erhman, and Nazareth (2010-08-15)

Interview with René Salm (2011-04-27)

The Nazareth Myth: Salm responds to McGrath and O’Neill (2011-05-07)

The origin and meaning of Nazarene/Natsarene and its relationship to “hidden gnosis” (2011-07-31)

Nazareth Boondoggle (2012-09-24)

Emperor Ehrman Walks Naked Through a Storyland Nazareth 4000 Years Old (2012-12-07)

More Nazareth Nonsense from Tim O’Neill (2012-12-29)

NazarethGate (2016-01-26)

Nazareth, General Overview of the Evidence (2016-02-22)

Dear Professor Bart Ehrman, Please explain, if you will….. (2016-10-27)

Correction to my latest post on Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible

I have made a correction to a serious error in my recent post How Plato Inspired Moses: Creation of the Hebrew Bible. In that post I took credit for identifying many parallels between the Hebrew Bible and Plato’s Laws prior to reading Russell Gmirkin’s book. I should have acknowledged — and I have now made the correction — that my interest in Plato’s Laws was sparked by Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analsysis of the Hebrew Bible.

The Bible’s roots in Greek mythology and classical authors: Isaac and Phrixus (2011-03-11)

Greek Myths Related to Tales of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and the Promised Land (2011-03-16)

Anthropologist spotlights the Bible and Biblical Studies (2011-12-19)

Anthropologist’s analysis of the Bible and of Biblical Studies as a variant of the Bible’s myth (2011-12-20)

Argonauts of the Desert: a defence of an anthropologist’s interpretation of the Bible (2011-12-23)

Bible Origins — continuing Wajdenbaum’s thesis in Argonauts of the Desert (2011-12-24)

Who wrote the Bible? Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis (2011-12-25)

Who wrote the Bible? (2) Challenging the Documentary Hypothesis (2012-01-08)

Bible: composed as a reaction against Greek domination? (2012-01-09)

Did a Single Author Write Genesis – II Kings? (Demise of the Documentary Hypothesis?) (2012-10-18)

Collapse of the Documentary Hypothesis (1) & Comparing the Bible with Classical Greek Literature (2012-11-06)

Biblical Scholars, Symbolic Violence, and the Modern Version of an Ancient Myth (2012-11-26)

New Understandings of the Old Testament: Jacques Cazeaux (2012-12-02)

Castration of Ouranos and the Drunkenness of Noah (2014-04-29)

There are overlaps between Gmirkin’s and Wajdenbaum’s theses, but there are also a number of incompatibilities. I think Wajdenbaum’s view that a single author was responsible for the Primary History of Israel (Genesis to 2 Kings) faces a number of daunting hurdles. But both authors do raise serious questions and give us much to think about.

 

Type 2 mythicism: one more example

For the meaning of “type 2” mythicism see two types; for the previous post addressing Caesar’s Messiah see Why and Fishing.

I will post just once more on the mythicist argument in Caesar’s Messiah: the Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus. My previous criticism examined the notion that Josephus, when describing one detail of a battle in Galilee, was subtly referring to Jesus call to his disciples to become “fishers of men”. The strongest rebuttal to my argument seemed to be that readers would associate the killing of drowning soldiers with “fishers of men” in the gospels. Atwill responded to explain that it was the parallel sequence of events that was most telling, but my own view is that if the supposed parallel between any event is not valid then it follows that there can be no sequence of events.

So I will follow up with just one more post for the benefit of anyone who might be wondering about the strength of Joseph Atwill’s overall thesis.

In chapter 3, “The Son of Mary Who Was a Passover Sacrifice”, Atwill writes:

While readers can judge this claim for themselves, it should be noted that Josephus wrote during an age in which allegory was regarded as a science. Educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within religious and historical literature. The Apostle Paul, for example, stated that passages from the Hebrew Scriptures were allegories that looked forward to Christ’s birth. I believe that in the following passage Josephus is using allegory to reveal something else about Jesus. (p. 45, my bolding)

I don’t know of any historical literature in the ancient world that was meant to be read as an allegory. Atwill does not cite any source to verify his assertion that “educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within . . . historical literature”. He does refer to the following passage by Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 (Young’s Literal Translation), however:

And I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,and all to Moses were baptized in the cloud, and in the sea;and all the same spiritual food did eat, and all the same spiritual drink did drink, for they were drinking of a spiritual rock following them, and the rock was the Christ; but in the most of them God was not well pleased, for they were strewn in the wilderness, and those things became types of us, for our not passionately desiring evil things, as also these did desire.

The Douay-Rheims Bible translates “τύποι” (types) as “figure”:

Now these things were done in a figure of us, that we should not covet evil things as they also coveted.

The Gospel of Mark is sometimes interpreted as an allegorical gospel but those who do interpret its characters and stories as allegories do so on the strength of the following passage, Mark 4:34, in the text itself:

And without parable he did not speak unto them; but apart, he explained all things to his disciples.

This saying has been interpreted as a hint that the entire gospel itself is a parable. Indeed, many of the episodes in Mark’s gospel simply make no sense if read as realistic events. It is impossible for any persons to be as dim-witted as the disciples are depicted in that gospel, for example.

Back to Paul. Paul uses “types” or allegories or figures of speech to explain the covenants. But notably he explains to the readers of his letter that he is speaking in allegories; Galatians 4:24:

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

What we can conclude, then, is that if an author was writing an allegorical scene we can expect him to make it clear to his readers that he is indeed writing allegorically and he explicitly states as much, and warns the reader not to read his account literally.

Conclusion: there are no grounds for thinking that any historian in ancient times, Josephus included, ever wrote allegorically — unless they gave their readers a clear indication that they were doing so. And I don’t know of any historian who ever wrote his account allegorically, period.

It is not the case that “educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within … historical literature.”

Let’s look at the second episode Atwill claims is an allegory of the story of Jesus’ last supper. read more »

JFK Assassination Interview

The interview with John Curington is available as a single file at Greg Doudna’s academia.edu page.

For more about the book go to hlhuntmotiveandopportunity.com

The installments that were posted here are still accessible in an updated archived topics page.

 

 

How Plato Inspired Moses: Creation of the Hebrew Bible

Plato’s Laws provides the only example in antiquity of an ethical or national literature comparable to the Hebrew Bible. . . .

. . . . One may therefore reasonably propose that the biblical authors not only found in Plato’s Laws a blueprint for the creation of a persuasive legal code, but a mandate and program for the creation of an authoritative national literature intended to supplement and bolster the laws of the Torah. (Gmirkin, 264)

After having demonstrated the many details, themes and values that the books of the Hebrew Bible share with Greek literature, practices and ideas, Russell Gmirkin concludes with a chapter examining how closely the biblical canon appears to match Plato’s recommendations for a national curriculum. There are certainly Canaanite and Mesopotamian fingerprints in the “Old Testament” but these Scriptures are unlike anything else produced in the ancient Near East. The Hellenistic heritage explains that difference.

The ancient Judean and then Christian authors used to say that Plato got his best ideas from Moses. Gmirkin’s thesis is that the evidence points to the borrowing being in the other direction, that the Judean authors of the Bible found their inspiration in Plato.

I doubt that any Westerner can read Plato’s Laws and not at some point think of a comparison with the Bible. I certainly could not avoid the comparisons: the box insert lists the posts I made prior to reading Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible [PCHB]. So you can see why I have posted so much on PCHB. I think my own interest in Plato’s Laws was sparked by Philippe Wajdenbaum and his book Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. I must add a list of posts related to Wajdenbaum’s work, too.

The Bible does not read like a dry or rigid legal code. It is too full of stories for that, and the laws are presented with dramatic flair. That’s Plato, not Hammurabi. Plato believed that laws for a new state should be written in a way that encouraged a loving willingness to obey them. Stories honouring ancient ancestors, legislation presented in persuasive language, pure songs and poetry,  all should function to inspire citizens to live with pure and righteous thoughts and behaviour.

Rule by God and God’s Laws

Russell Gmirkin cites Glenn Morrow’s discernment that Plato was in fact setting out a government ruled by “God”, a “divine government”. To quote from Morrow’s article:

Our state is to be called, not a monarchy, nor a democracy, but by some term indicative of that power which is supreme in it, viz., Nous (713a). This Nous is what is truly divine in the cosmos; it is Plato’s God. This divine Nous furnishes the standards for all legislation, and the laws are sovereign only because they have this reason in them. Plato no longer suggests—in fact he explicitly rejects—the conception of personal absolutism. All officials are themselves subject to the law . . . .

(Morrow, 244)

The Bible’s god is not quite Plato’s, though. Plato’s embodiment of Reason was fine for a philosophical discussion among society’s elites. The Bible’s supreme deity does nonetheless meet the fundamental requirements of Plato’s divinity but is more suited for all classes. More on that point later.

Laws had an ancient and divine origin

Gmirkin rightly emphasizes the importance to Plato that the new laws should not appear to be innovations. On the contrary, myths had to be composed to give the laws an air of great antiquity and divine origin. The peoples’ ancestors, it must be taught, had always kept these laws. PCHB quotes one of several key passages from Laws:

If there exist laws under which men have been reared up and which (by the blessing of Heaven) have remained unaltered for many centuries, so that there exists no recollection or report of their ever having been different from what they now are, then the whole soul is forbidden by reverence and fear to alter any of the things established of old. By hook or by crook, then, the lawgiver must devise a means whereby this shall be true of his State. (Plato, Laws 7.798a-b)

(Gmirkin, 254)

Plato was imagining a brand new colony being established with a perfect start. The citizens were to be new arrivals into the territory and to be taught that they were the descendants of the original inhabitants divinely commissioned to restore the ancient city or “nation”. The new settlement was to be divided into twelve nominal tribes.

Laws to be presented through a charter myth

A third goal was to create a charter myth for those divine laws in the dramatic narrative form of a foundation story that forged a powerful sense of national identity in those who adopted this literary narrative as their own historical past as descendants of the ancient children of Israel. The refounding of the Jewish nation in the early Hellenistic Era, with new civic and religious institutions and a new constitution and laws, was thus successfully portrayed as a new edition of the ancient writings of Moses, the divine legislator, educator and founder of the ancient Jewish nation, in line with the Platonic legislative agenda.

(Gmirkin, 262)

read more »

Can one prove a negative?

R.G. Price argues that you can: Is it really impossible to “prove a negative”?

I think you can, too. Anyone who is innocent of a crime they are standing trial for sure as hell wants a negative proved, too.

Guns, Violence and Durkheim

Interesting to read an article by PhD candidate Galen WattsPioneering sociologist foresaw our current chaos 100 years ago in The Conversation.  Reminded me of what I once posted about Durkheim here: Understanding the Nature of Religion and the Religious. And that reminded me of something I read years back by Ghassan Hage in his book, Against Paranoid Nationalism: Searching for Hope in a Shrinking Society — in my own words…

As for the suicide terrorism bit, it enabled me to see how personal despair, humiliation, hopelessness, — and end of real life on an individual level — is so unbearable that some prefer to swap their physical existence for a symbolic existence.

The key theme in the Galen Watts’ article is surely related:

A famous example of a social fact is found in Durkheim’s study, Suicide. In this book, Durkheim argues that the suicide rate of a country is not random, but rather reflects the degree of social cohesion within that society. He famously compares the suicide rate in Protestant and Catholic countries, concluding that the suicide rate in Protestant countries is higher because Protestantism encourages rugged individualism, while Catholicism fosters a form of collectivism.

What was so innovative about this theory is that it challenged long-standing assumptions about individual pathologies, which viewed these as mere byproducts of individual psychology. Adapting this theory to the contemporary era, we can say, according to Durkheim, the rate of suicide or mental illness in modern societies cannot be explained by merely appealing to individual psychology, but must also take into account macro conditions such as a society’s culture and institutions.

In other words, if more and more people feel disconnected and alienated from each other, this reveals something crucial about the nature of society.

That “rugged individualism” idea surely has a down side.

Then there was Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko bringing together many studies on terrorists and the process of radicalization in Friction, and I collated various posts on that book at How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us. One factor they point to is the need for belonging but also for status, recognition. Return again to the “symbolic life” preference to the real one spoken of by Hage.

If there is anything to Durkheim’s analysis, I suppose we have to see the prevalence of mass shootings in the U.S. as all part and parcel of whatever is also driving people to extremist groups such as the white nationalists, sovereign citizens, and so forth. And the erosion of civility? Intolerance for and even pushback against “political correctness”? Presumably facets of the same.

Australia is not so badly off as what we read is happening in the United States, thankfully.

But we’re not in a good place right now. But you knew that already.

 

Archive for Billionaire Logic and the Death of JFK

For future easy reference I have archived the series of posts of the interview with John Curington in the Archives by Topic page linked in the right hand bar of this blog: Billionaire Logic and the Death of JFK

Questioning the apologetic argument for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem

Let’s assume, as is commonly argued within mainstream biblical scholarship, that there was a very small town of Nazareth in Galilee at the supposed time of Jesus’ birth and let’s assume that the reason Jesus was called “Jesus of Nazareth” was because he grew up in Nazareth, and that the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are awkwardly contorted to have Jesus of Nazareth somehow also born in Bethlehem because all the Judeans of the day knew and expected that that’s where the Messiah was to be born. The concocted narratives of Jesus being born in Bethlehem are even pulled out as evidence for the very existence of Jesus since the evangelists were oh so embarrassed that he came from Nazareth in reality.

After reading some sections of Richard A. Horsley‘s The Liberation of Christmas: the Infancy Narratives in Social Context, I think we have some problems that seem so obvious in hindsight that I have to pinch myself for not noticing them before. Our attention will be primarily on Matthew’s birth narrative rather than Luke’s in this post.

Part of Horsley’s discussion begins on page six and seven:

Recognition of Matthew’s distinctive use of “formula quotations” (“this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet… ”) led to the claim that Matthew 2 (which contains several such quotations) “is dominated by geographical names,” which are “what is really important to him.”21 The purpose of Matthew in Chapter 2 was apologetic: how did Jesus the messiah come from Nazareth in Galilee and not from Bethlehem, the village of David, as it said in Scripture, according to the questioning in John 7:41-42.22

21. K. Stendahl, “Quis et Unde? An Analysis of Mt 1-2,” in Judentum, Urchristentum, Kirche (Festschrift J. Jeremias; ed. W. Eltester; Berlin: Topelmann, 1964; reprinted in Interpretation of Matthew [ed. G. N. Stanton; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983], 56-66), 97. Stendahl’s article is important and influential and is followed with further refinement by Brown (BM, chaps. 1 and 5).

22. Stendahl, “Quis et Unde?” 98; Brown, BM, 179-80.

That’s the common understanding. Now Horsley begins to notice some problems with it:

However, the claim that the geographical names, even as emphasized by the formula quotations, dominate Matthew 2 seems highly questionable. What dominates the narrative is clearly the conflict between the newborn king of the Jews and the reigning king, Herod. The threatened Herod figures directly or indirectly at every point in the narrative except the actual visit of the Magi in verses 9—11 and the naming in verse 23.23 Moreover, the notion that Matthew is pursuing an apologetic purpose is derived not from Matthew but only from the dispute in John 7.

23. As Stendahl himself points out, the text mentions “Herod’s name 9 times, and at all points of progress in the account” (“Quis et Unde?” 99).

Yes, of course. The only reason we know there was supposed to be a problem with Jesus not really being born in Bethlehem are the narrative dialogue in one of the latest canonical gospels. We do not find supporting evidence in any earlier or independent records.

From the lack of textual evidence, we are increasingly aware that at the time of Jesus there were almost certainly no standard or widely acknowledged “Jewish expectations about the Messiah” such as birth in Bethlehem, about which Matthew or other followers of Jesus of Nazareth would supposedly have been embarrassed.24 Just because the followers of Jesus early on applied to their “messiah” phrases from psalms that stemmed originally from the established Davidic royal theology (esp. Pss. 2 and 110) does not mean that they were defensively oriented toward some hypothetical established view of the proper pedigree of the messiah. Indeed, the royal Herodian and aristocratic priestly families that dominated Jewish Palestinian society would hardly have been entertaining messianic expectations, which could only have been threatening to their own position. Precisely that is the principal point of Matthew 2! The popularly acclaimed “kings” among the Jewish people who were active around the time of Jesus’ birth surely did not have Davidic pedigrees.25 There is little in the Gospel of Matthew itself or in the Palestinian Jewish milieu out of which the traditions he used emerged to suggest an apologetic motive. The typical early Christian concern to interpret Jesus according to fulfillment of biblical promise and prophecy (and prototype) would appear to be the operative motive in Matthew’s use of the formula quotations to embellish the significance of the events narrated in chapter 2.

24. Cf. Brown, BM, 180; but Brown himself points out in Appendix 3 that expectation of the messiah’s birth at Bethlehem is not attested “until considerably later in Jewish writings.”

25. For a sketch of these popular Jewish kings and their movements, see R. A. Horsley and J. S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs (Minneapolis: Winston- Seabury, 1985), chap. 3.

read more »