Monthly Archives: March 2019

Another thesis introducing a Simonion gnosis into Paul’s letters

Prosper Alfaric

If you find the following mix of machine translation and my own editing horrific enough you may prefer to read the original French itself that I copy afterwards. But first, some background will help. Earlier in the article several redactions of Paul’s epistles have been postulated (credit to Turmel):

The original letters of Paul:

inspired by his faith in the forthcoming restoration of the kingdom of Israel which had been announced by Jesus and which constituted the initial substance of the Gospel.

A second redacted version had been attributed to Marcion and

corrected this messianic nationalism by the anti-Jewish gnosis of Marcion.

A third series of redactions produced the versions closer to what we have today, and

maintained the Gnostic Spiritualism of [Marcion’s edition] by dismissing or hiding its anti-Judaism.

The following passage we read a modified hypothesis:

(2) After the revolt of the Jews in 66 and their final crushing in 70, a strong current of anti-Judaism spread in the eastern part of the Roman Empire but especially in Syria. The Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem had retreated to the confines of Transjordan, where they lingered, under the name of “Nazarenes” or “Ebionites”, away from the rest of the Christianity, almost foreign to his life and evolution, so that they soon became heretics.

Antioch became the great metropolis of the Christian world. There was formed a “school of theology” which claimed Simon, the former Esmoun of the Phoenician coast, became the saviour god of the Samaritans. It repudiated the God of the Jews, considered the spirit of evil. It was said that Simon, whose name means “obedient”, had come from heaven to obey the will of the Most High and bring to men the “Gnosis”, that is, the true knowledge, that of their origin, of their nature and their end. The mind, it was said, came from God but fell because of an original fault, in the bonds of the flesh. It can recover its original purity and return to lost Paradise only by rejecting the traditional laws, especially those of the Jews, made to enslave him, and professing a docile faith in the liberating doctrine of Simon. With him, by the grace of the supreme God of whom he is sent, one is freed from sin. It is liberated from this mortal body to reach the life of the spirit by the practice of mortification, abstinence and continence.

It is a Christian transposition of this simonian gnosis offered to us in the econd redaction of Paul’s epistles. It differs singularly from the first. If it was added by a series of skilful interpolations and convenient suppressions, it was because she found there points of attachment which allowed her to benefit from the prestige of the Apostle without risking the disfavor of novelty in religion.

The original

(2) Après la révolte des Juifs en 66 et leur écrasement final en 70, un fort courant d’anti-judaïsme se répandit dans la partie orientale de l’empire romain mais surtout en Syrie. Lés Judéo-Chrétiens de Jérusalem s’étaient repliés sur les confins de la Transjordanie, où ils végétèrent, sous le nom de « Nazaréens » ou d’ « Ebionites », à l’écart du reste de la Chrétienté, presque étrangers à sa vie et à son évolution, de sorte qu’ils firent bientôt figure d’hérétiques.

Antioche devint la grande métropole du monde chrétien. Il s’y était formé une Ecole de théologie qui se réclamait de Simon, l’ancien Esmoun de la côte phénicienne, devenu le Dieu Sauveur des Samaritains. L’on y répudiait le Dieu des juifs, considéré comme le Génie du mal. On y disait que Simon, dont le ùom signifie « obéissant » était venu du ciel pour obéir à la volonté du Très-Haut et apporter aux hommes la « Gnose », c’est-à-dire la Science véritable, celle de leur origine, de leur nature et de leur fin. L’esprit, expliquait-on, est issu de Dieu mais tombé par suite d’une faute originelle, dans les liens de la chair. Il ne peut recouvrer sa pureté première et regagner le Paradis perdu qu’en rejetant les lois traditionnelles, surtout celles des juifs, faites pour l’asservir, et en professant une foi docile en la doctrine libératrice de Simon. Avec lui, par la grâce du Dieu suprême dont il est l’envoyé, on s’affranchit du péché. On se libère de ce corps mortel pour atteindre à la vie de l’esprit par la pratique de la mortification, de l’abstinence et de la continence.

C’est une transposition chrétienne de cette Gnose simonienne que nous offre la seconde rédaction des Epîtres de Paul. Elle diffère singulièrement de la première. Si elle lui a été adjointe par une série d’interpolations ingénieuses et de suppressions opportunes, c’est qu’elle y trouvait des points d’attache qui lui permettaient de bénéficier du prestige de l’Apôtre sans risquer la défaveur qui s’attache aux nouveautés en matière de religion.

Alfaric, Prosper. 1956. “Les Epitres de Paul.” Bulletin Du Cercle Ernest Renan 35 (April). p. 4

Please note, though, that I present the above as a summary of an idea that has connections with others that have been presented on this blog, especially though Roger Parvus’s posts — in the last of which he finds himself leaning towards a historical Jesus at the root of it all. As for my own views they are far from decided. There is simply so much material I have yet to consider and think through.

A Call to Reinvestigate American Assassinations

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a group of over 60 prominent American citizens is calling upon Congress to reopen the investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Signers of the joint statement include Isaac Newton Farris Jr., nephew of Reverend King and past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Reverend James M. Lawson Jr., a close collaborator of Reverend King; and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, children of the late senator. The declaration is also signed by numerous historians, journalists, lawyers and other experts on the four major assassinations.

Other signatories include G. Robert Blakey, the chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which determined in 1979 that President Kennedy was the victim of a probable conspiracy; Dr. Robert McClelland, one of the surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas who tried to save President Kennedy’s life and saw clear evidence he had been struck by bullets from the front and the rear; Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower who served as a national security advisor to the Kennedy White House; Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and a leading global authority on human rights; . . . .

(Spartacus Educational via Consortium News)

To mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day a group of academics, journalists, lawyers, Hollywood artists, activists, researchers and intellectuals, including two of Robert F. Kennedy’s children, are calling for  reinvestigation of four assassinations of the 1960s.

(Spartacus Educational via Consortium News)

Last year I posted a series covering an interview with John Curington, former right-hand man of Texas oilman H.L. Hunt of Dallas, Texas, concerning the John F. Kennedy assassination.

John Curington has since expressed hopes that the following youtube video of another interview by posted here on Vridar. It appears to have relevance for the call for reinvestigation. Hence this post with the video below.

(I understand concerns of some readers that we are into the territory of recycling conspiracy theories here and my own initial reservations had to be broken down enough to venture into these posts. But the names of those calling for a reinvestigation do lend credibility to the view that not everything has come to light about the assassinations of the 60s, and the interviews previously published, whatever our thoughts of Curington himself, do raise serious questions.)

 

Still Better Informed History for Atheists — More Scholars assess the Two Jesus Parallels

In my recent response to Tim O’Neill’s attempt to dismiss the significance of the parallels between Jesus son of Ananias in Josephus’s Jewish War and the Jesus of the gospels, in particular the Gospel of Mark, as without any scholarly merit (see Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures), I set out the evidence for at least ten reputable biblical scholars who take the parallels and the question of their significance seriously. O’Neill was inferring that Richard Carrier’s discussion was an unscholarly outlier but it clearly was not.

I now have access to another scholarly discussion of those parallels so for the sake of completeness I can now add a couple more names of biblical scholars who have taken note and considered the significance of the parallels.

David R. Catchpole calls the parallels “strikingly similar”:

The scheme of the proceedings against this man is strikingly similar to the case of Jesus.

1. A Jewish arrest followed by examination and beating.

2. Evaluation in religious terms, followed by delivery to the procurator.

3. Silence of the accused.

4. A savage procurator who yet refuses to execute the accused.

5. Jewish pressure, but resisted this time and followed by the man’s release after scourging.

(Catchpole, 62)

And I. H. Marshall and other Institute for Biblical Research Fellows:

Both I. H. Marshall and other IBR Fellows raised the possibility, given the numerous verbal parallels, of some sort of literary relationship between J. W. 6.5.3 and the passion tradition.

(Evans, 361)

Craig Evans added his own argument that the parallels indicate similar judicial processes independently undergone by both Jesuses.

Although this possibility was not vigorously pursued during our time of discussion, perhaps a brief reply would be useful. First, the “parallels” comprise no more than nouns of place and context and verbs that mark the various steps in the judicial and penal process. In other words, the parallels are precisely what one would expect in cases where routine actions are being described. Second, aside from the single parallel cluster where we have a common verbal root, preposition, and Roman governor as object, there are no instances of parallel sentences or phrases. Literary relationships are suspected when there is a high concentration of common vocabulary, especially phrases and whole sentences. In short, I think that the common vocabulary adduced above indicates common judicial and penal process, but not literary relationship. There is no indication that the story of one Jesus influenced the telling of the story of the other Jesus.

For alternative views to those of Evans see the previous post. What is significant in this context is that Evans’ view is one of many found in the scholarly debate. Scholars do indeed consider the possibility of a literary or “oral tradition” relationship between the two Jesuses as worthy of scholarly discussion. Only someone uninformed could declare that attempts to argue for a literary relationship are unscholarly as per the History for Atheists post.


Catchpole, D. R. 1970. “The Problem of the Historicity of the Sanhedrin Trial.” In The Trial of Jesus. Cambridge Studies in Honour of C. F. D. Moule, edited by Ernst Bammel, 47–65. Naperville, Ill., A. R. Allenson. http://archive.org/details/trialofjesuscamb00moul.

Evans, Craig A. 2001. Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies. Boston: Brill.


The Golan Heights: the Myth versus the Historical Record

It is an article of faith among Israelis that the Golan Heights were captured in the Six-Day War to stop the Syrians from shelling the settlements down below. — Avi Shlaim

The State of Israel took control of the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats. — Donald Trump

Avi Shlaim in The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World writes that Israel’s escalation of tensions on the Syrian front prior to June 1967 was the “single most important factor dragging the Middle East to war”. Prior to the war news stories told again and again of Syrian’s firing at Israeli farmers from the Golan Heights but the full circumstances of those conflicts was not revealed publicly until 1997 when a reporter published notes of his interview with the military commander Moshe Dayan in 1976. In that interview

Dayan confessed that his greatest mistake was that, as minister of defense in June 1967, he did not stick to his original opposition to the storming of the Golan Heights. Tal began to remonstrate that the Syrians were sitting on top of the Golan Heights. Dayan interrupted,

Never mind that. After all, I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow someplace where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was. I did that, and Laskov and Chara [Zvi Tsur, Rabin’s predecessor as chief of staff] did that, and Yitzhak did that, but it seems to me that the person who most enjoyed these games was Dado [David Elazar, OC Northern Command, 1964–69].

(Shlaim, 250f)

The Road to War

According to the evidence in Shlaim’s study neither side wanted the 1967 war. There was no conspiracy by Arab states to launch a surprise attack on Israel and Israel had no plan to seize extra territory at the time. War came about as a consequence of political miscalculations and blunders, or a “crisis slide that neither Israel nor her enemies were able to control.”

Stage 1 – careless threats in media interviews

To begin with, Israel made a series of threats against the Syrian regime unless it stopped its support for Palestinian guerillas:

  • 11 May 1967, Israel’s director of military intelligence in a briefing of foreign journalists “gave a distinct impression that Israel was planning a major military move against Syria.”
  • Then the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces dropped a hint published in an Israeli newspaper “that the aim might be to occupy Damascus and topple the Syrian regime.”

Stage 2 – cornered into a show of leadership

The Soviet Union, supporter of the Syrian government, in response sent a report to Syria’s ally Egypt to warn that Israel was moving its forces towards the northern border and planning to attack Syria. Egypt’s president, Nasser, was pressured to take some decisive action to maintain his credibility as leader of the Arab nations:

The report [from the USSR] was untrue and Nasser knew that it was untrue, but he was in a quandary. His army was bogged down in an inconclusive war in Yemen, and he knew that Israel was militarily stronger than all the Arab confrontation states taken together. Yet, politically, he could not afford to remain inactive, because his leadership of the Arab world was being challenged. . . . Syria had a defense pact with Egypt that compelled it to go to Syria’s aid in the event of an Israeli attack. Clearly, Nasser had to do something, both to preserve his own credibility as an ally and to restrain the hotheads in Damascus. There is general agreement among commentators that Nasser neither wanted nor planned to go to war with Israel. (252f)

I have circled the Straits of Tiran in red. Map is from p. 192 of Iron Wall

Nasser decided on three-fold action to impress the Arab public:

1. He sent a large force into the Sinai

2. He ordered the removal of the U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai

3. He closed the Straits of Tiran to Israel shipping

Stage 3 – the psychological hit

It was #3 that rankled in Israel the most since the Straits were the prize gain of the Israeli forces in the 1956 Suez War:

For Israel this constituted a casus belli. It canceled the main achievement of the Sinai Campaign. The Israeli economy could survive the closure of the straits, but the deterrent image of the IDF could not. Nasser understood the psychological significance of this step. He knew that Israel’s entire defense philosophy was based on imposing its will on its enemies, not on submitting to unilateral dictates by them. In closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, he took a terrible gamble—and lost. (253)

Stage 4 – collective psychosis

According to Shlaim the Israeli government was paralyzed for two whole weeks with indecision. The lack of leadership led to public panic:

During this period the entire nation succumbed to a collective psychosis. The memory of the Holocaust was a powerful psychological force that deepened the feeling of isolation and accentuated the perception of threat. Although, objectively speaking, Israel was much stronger than its enemies, many Israelis felt that their country faced a threat of imminent destruction. For them the question was not about the Straits of Tiran but about survival. Weak leadership was largely responsible for permitting this panic to spread from the politicians to the people at large. (253)

Stage 5 – threat of the religious party

Israel’s political impasse was resolved on 1 June with the formation of a national unity government. But the National Religious Party threatened to withdraw from the coalition unless the outspoken and belligerent Moshe Dayan was put in charge of the Defense Ministry.

Warnings against: read more »

How “Case for Christ” Author Lee Strobel Fabricated His Best-Selling Story — The Old Road to Damascus Myth

http://nrb.org/news-room/media_source1/church/former-atheist-lee-strobel-his-own-words/

I’m probably one of the last persons to catch up with this interview but at least to have it on record that it did make a blip on Vridar here it is, an interview by Valerie Tarico with David Fitzgerald:

How “Case for Christ” Author Lee Strobel Fabricated His Best-Selling Story—An Interview with Religion Critic David Fitzgerald

It’s another tale of — can you believe it? — pious fraud, telling lies for God.

It reminded me of our old cult leaders conversion story. How he (Herbert Armstrong) was facing another business failure when his wife turned “religious fanatic” by deciding to keep the seventh day sabbath, and how he spent days in the public library trying to marshal all the evidence to prove her wrong, that God did not require Christians to observe the seventh day sabbath, and emerging as the humbled, contrite, servant of God, discovering his wife was right all along, and then placing himself into God’s hands for whatever purpose he willed. I have no doubts the story was all bullshit, or at least mostly b.s. The theme is just too conveniently matching the oh-so-common story of religious conversion through countless ages, of the hostile opponent confronting the “truth” and being forced, against his or her will, to recognized he or she had been on Satan’s side all along. It’s the old Paul on the Damascus Road myth. Nice story, but I would be surprised if many stories that follow that narrative could ever be proved to be “true”. I have little doubt that those who recycle such stories are highly selective in what details they select to place in the story and that even those are coloured to become something almost beyond recognition from the real situation.

Another interesting detail in the interview is the story of the so-called conversion of atheist Anthony Flew.

 

 

 

The “Good War” Myth of World War 2

Charles Beard

Andrew J. Bacevich has a review in The American Conservative of Richard Drake’s Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism: Charles Beard: Punished for Seeking Peace. The review sent me looking for the book and happily it is accessible on scribd.

One detail about WW2 that has often bemused me is the story of the unprovoked attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. The point that puzzles me is that the U.S. had just cut off 80% of Japan’s oil supply so was obviously faced with a situation of complete capitulation or war with the U.S. The “unprovoked” part of the story has tended to strike me as somewhat overstated. And then, when I try to get an overall picture of the whole shebang, I have sometimes wondered if in a few centuries history books will present World War 2 as a titanic conflict among imperial powers for dominance.

Here are some of Bacevich’s review comments that led me to beginning to read Drake’s book:

Beard’s offense was to have committed heresy, not once but twice over. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he opposed U.S. intervention in the European war that had begun in September 1939. And when that conflict ended in 1945 he had the temerity to question the heroic “Good War” narrative that was even then already forming.

Present-day Americans have become so imbued with this narrative as to be oblivious to its existence. Politicians endlessly recount it. Television shows, movies, magazines, and video games affirm it. Members of the public accept it as unquestionably true. From the very moment of its inception, however, Beard believed otherwise and said so in the bluntest terms possible.

……

Revisionists disagreed among themselves about many things, but on one point all concurred: on matters related to war, the official story is merely a cover, propaganda concocted for domestic consumption. The purpose of that story is to conceal truth and manipulate popular opinion.

……

While professing a commitment to peace, he also put the squeeze on Japan, confronting that nation with a choice of submission or war. When the Japanese opted for the latter, his administration was neither surprised nor disappointed.

……

Today the Good War narrative survives fully intact. For politicians and pundits eager to explain why it is incumbent upon the United States to lead or to come to the aid of those yearning to be free, it offers an ever-ready reference point. Casting World War II as a perpetually relevant story of good versus evil relieves Americans of any obligation to consider how the international order may have changed since Hitler inspired Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Stalin to forge their unlikely ménage à trois.

In that sense, the persistence of the Good War narrative robs Americans of any capacity to think realistically about their nation’s role in the existing world.

History is written by the victors so today one can easily never come to an awareness of the depth of the arguments in against getting involved in a war with Germany. At best they might hear of those protesters as “pacifists” or “isolationists” — certainly as idealistic and naive. But that was not the case when one takes the time to look, or at least not generally the case. Just as today so then there were observers who saw the interests of big business elites driving policy, the interests of maintaining and expanding empires, and the way propaganda for public consumption about fighting for democracy, for the four freedoms, etc, was all smokescreen to hide the real interests of the former two.

Some interesting excerpts from Drake’s book…. read more »

Religion as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

H/T Internet Monk:

Scrupulosity: Where OCD Meets Religion, Faith, and Belief

By

Many people mistakenly think of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) solely as a condition in which people wash their hands excessively or check door locks repeatedly.  There are actually many sub-types of OCD.  In this ongoing series, Kevin Foss, MFT of the OCD Center of Los Angeles discusses Scrupulosity, in which an individual’s OCD focuses on issues of religion, morals, and ethics. Part one of a four-part series.

. . . . .

While Scrupulosity may at first appear vastly different from the traditional presentation of OCD, those with religious, moral, and ethical obsessions experience the same Obsessive Compulsive Cycle as others with OCD – obsession, anxiety, compulsion, and relief / reinforcement.

Triggers for Scrupulosity can be any thought, image, feeling, place, person, etc., that cues an obsession. For example, seeing an attractive person at church may result in sexual thoughts, which in turn trigger an obsessive desire to “undo” that thought in an effort to be pure, holy, and clean. If the scrupulous individual upholds an exaggerated belief that lustful thoughts in and of themselves will automatically result in eternal condemnation, the cycle begins.

. . . . .

Those suffering with Scrupulosity hold strict standards of religious, moral, and ethical perfection. For example, if held in a black and white view, certain passages in the Bible and other religious texts may carry with them intense burdens of condemnation. In holding a strict view of these religious verses, the Scrupulosity sufferer experiences not just intense guilt, but also anxiety about the threat of eternal punishment for having violated religious precepts.

It is a four part series.

I notice the OCD Center advertizes a book about “mindfulness” to assist one come out of the “scrupulosity” condition. I have had only limited experience with “mindfulness” and can only say it’s not a technique for me. No doubt others find it helpful, though.

 

Atheists Criticizing Religion, especially Islam

I liked these paragraphs by Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism:

I’ve written a lot about my disagreements with Islam (which are, I shouldn’t have to add, no different in kind from my disagreements with other faiths). However, I hope I’ve always been clear that whatever philosophical or theological differences we have with each other, those conversations have to be built on a bedrock of mutual respect for human rights. When we criticize religion, it should always be centered on protecting the vulnerable and ending suffering and injustice – not on finding an excuse to proclaim our tribe’s superiority or a justification to banish the other from our sight.

That’s a balance the atheist community hasn’t always gotten right, and that alone ought to give us a reason for self-reflection. As I’ve said before, Muslims are human beings who deserve the same rights as everyone else. Anyone who’s willing to abide by the laws of a secular society should have the freedom to live wherever they choose and practice their own faith as their conscience directs them.

It’s times like these that we need to stand in solidarity with them and make it clear that we don’t condone bigotry of any kind. If that means we need to offer our support and protection even to those we have sharp disagreements with about theology, so be it. If anyone ever thinks that anything I’ve written justifies prejudice against Muslims, let alone terroristic violence, they haven’t listened to a word I’ve said.

Dystopia Journal #27: Horror in New Zealand

The Great Divide in Biblical Studies

Leaving aside intellectually fraught efforts to argue that ancient Israel is an epic fiction manufactured in the Persian or Greek era — an effort that will forever stumble over the Merneptah stele— . . . . .

Jonathan Bernier, Re-Visioning Ancient Israel, 23rd March 2019

Such statements (this is but one example) mystify me. They are made by professional scholars yet they are tiresomely unscholarly, certainly unprofessional, on several levels.

To infer that the works of Thomas L. Thompson, Philip R. Davies and Niels Peter Lemche are “intellectually fraught efforts to argue” a thesis is not a scholarly statement but a condescending value judgement. It is a tactic to justify a choice to simply ignore the challenges to the foundational assumptions and methods underlying one’s own viewpoint or argument.

It would be more professional (demonstrating respect for one’s peers at the least) to say something like “Leaving aside the argument that Israel is an epic fiction…. — see challenges to this position at …..”.

The second point is even worse from a scholarly perspective. To declare that an entire thesis of a significant minority of one’s peers founders upon one solitary datum (as if that thesis fails to address that datum in a scholarly manner) is somewhat mischievous. In fact it is not the Merneptah stele that falsifies the thesis at all. The real point on which Bernier and those on his side claim that the view that “biblical Israel” is a fiction is the inference or assumption that the Merneptah stele confirms the essential reality of “biblical Israel” — an inference that is the conclusion of circular reasoning. Because the stele mentions Israel it is simply assumed that it must in some way be an indicator of “biblical Israel”, thus it is the assumption that biblical Israel was a historical entity that is used to conclude that the Merneptah stele refers to that “historical entity”.

It is misleading and the dogmatic apologetics to claim that the stele itself disproves the thesis that biblical Israel was a late fictional creation. It is Bernier’s assumptions and circular reasoning in relation to the stele that prevents him from referring to the hypothesis as if it is a genuinely scholarly enterprise. He writes as if any other interpretation of the stele is hopelessly (he says “forever”) invalid. That is not scholarship. That is dogmatics. It is not worthy of a serious scholar.

Here is an outline of the argument Bernier’s statement erases from any existence in his own intellectual world:

The earliest record of the name ’’Israel”

The name “Israel” first appears in a text at Ugarit (on the coast just south of modern Turkey, in modern Syria) and dates around 1500 bce. It is the name of a chariot warrior! Probably no connection with our ancient Israel!

 

The next find of “Israel” – but is it a People? a Place?…. ?

Merneptah Stele

The name “Israel” next appears around 1200 c.e. on an Egyptian stone monument (known as the Merneptah stele) commemorating victories of Egypt’s Pharaoh Merneptah in Palestine. However it is not clear from this monument whether Israel refers to a group of people who do not live in cities or to a city-less area in Palestine. The name may also refer to a people living in a highland area of Palestine but there is no way of knowing if they are named after the name of the place they inhabit. But we cannot simply assume that this will be our starting point for an extra-biblical history of Israel. We have no way of knowing whether these people called themselves “Israel” or if they were the ancestors of those who later formed the state of Israel.

If you think this is being picky, consider:

• Scotland takes its name from the ancient Scots who crossed the Irish Sea and settled m Ireland, leaving the Irish today being the descendants of the Scots.
• Britain today (and the British) take their name from a people (the Britons) who are now mostly limited to Wales and Cornwall after the Germanic tribes of Angles and Saxons settled there, and later the Danes and the Scandinavian-French Normans.
• Neither are the Dutch really Deutsch.

The same can be said of many other peoples. Populations in the Middle East, even today as in ancient times, also change a lot. Compare the peoples of Palestine and Israel today: The modern Israel occupies mostly the area once known as the land of the Philistines, while the centre of ancient Israel (the West Bank) is currently populated mostly by Arabs. It is most doubtful that any modern Israeli – actually ethnically descended from Asian and European races — can trace an ancestry back to the ancient land of Israel. So we need a bit more information than this ambiguous reference in an Egyptian monument before we can be confident we are looking at Israel in any sense that the Bible knows it.

From The Archaeological Evidence for Ancient Israel (notes on Philip R. Davies’ In Search of Ancient Israel)

Now the above argument is a scholarly one, it is evidence based, it is careful to avoid gratuitous assumptions, yet anyone is free and even encouraged to disagree with it as long as they do so on valid scholarly principles. Bernier is quite free to disagree with Davies’ reasoning and conclusion. But a professional scholar ought to be able to do so without dismissing it as fundamentally intellectually invalid, or by simply asserting that there can be no valid disagreement with his (Bernier’s) own interpretation.

 

Even Better Informed History for Atheists: The Lincoln – Kennedy Parallels Fallacy

From https://store.ushistory.org/products/abraham-lincoln-john-f-kennedy-coincidences

Along with his contradictory rationalizations to (1) declare the parallels between Jesus son of Ananias and the gospels’ Jesus to be “hopelessly flimsy”, yet at the same time are real and strong enough to (2) point to real-world parallel historical, socio-political, religious and onomastic events and situations anyway, Tim O’Neill further adds a common sophistical fallacy in a misguided effort to strengthen his argument:

Even if we were to accept that the parallels here are stronger and more numerous than they are, parallels do not mean derivation. A far stronger set of parallels can be found in the notorious urban legend of the supposedly eerie parallels between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln%E2%80%93Kennedy_coincidences_urban_legend), but any future fringe theorist who concluded that, therefore, JFK’s story was derived from that of Lincoln would be laughably wrong. This is why professional scholars are always highly wary of arguments of derivation based on parallels. The danger is that if you go looking for parallels, you will find them. It is always more likely that any parallels that are not artefacts of the process can be better explained as consequences of similar people doing things in similar contexts rather than derivation of one story from the other.

Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures

Again O’Neill informs readers of what he seems to assume “professional scholars always” think and write. (Yet we will see that the fallacy of this analogy is the same as comparing apples and aardvarks.) Recall that Tim O’Neill is presumably attempting to inform his readers

of what is scholarly and credible and what is not.

Let’s see, then, how a scholar does respond to that same Lincoln-Kennedy parallel when it is laid on the table in the middle of a discussion about the two Jesuses parallels, son of Ananias in Josephus’s Jewish War and the Gospel of Mark’s Jesus. Brian Trafford posted to the Crosstalk2 discussion on 10th March 2003 the following (my bolding and formatting):

13026   Re: Two Jesuses: the Provocative Parallels

Brian Trafford
Mar 10 12:16 PM

 

I have a fundamental difficulty with attempts like this to read
meaning into parallels, especially when the possibility of mere
coincidence is dismissed too casually. For example, if one goes to
http://fsmat.at/~bkabelka/titanic/part2/chapter1.htm one can see a
number of parallels between the sinking of the fictitious ship Titan
in a book called _The Wreak of the Titan_ published in 1898, and the
real life sinking of the Titanic in 1912. In another article found
at http://www.worldofthestrange.com/wots/1999/1999-01-25-03.htm we
find a listing of some of the more astonishing parallels between the
assassination of Abraham Lincoln and that of John Kennedy. They
include:

1. Lincoln was elected president in 1860. Exactly one hundred years
later, in 1960, Kennedy was elected president.

2. Both men were deeply involved in civil rights for Negroes.


3. Both me were assassinated on a Friday, in the presence of their

wives.

4. Each wife had lost a son while living at the White House.


5. Both men were killed by a bullet that entered the head from behind.


6. Lincoln was killed in Ford’s Theater. Kennedy met his death while

riding in a Lincoln convertible made by the Ford Motor Company.

7. Both men were succeeded by vice-presidents named Johnson who were

southern Democrats and former senators.

8. Andrew Johnson was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908,

exactly one hundred years later.

9. The First name of Lincoln’s private secretary was John, the last

name of Kennedy’s private secretary was Lincoln.

10. John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald was born in

1939, one hundred years later.

11. Both assassins were Southerners who held extremist views.


12. Both assassins were murdered before they could be brought to

trail.

13. Booth shot Lincoln in a theater and fled to a barn. Oswald shot


14. Kennedy from a warehouse and fled to a theater.


15. Lincoln and Kennedy each have seven letters.


16. Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson each has 13 letters.


17. John Wiles Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald each has 15 letters.


18. In addition, the first public proposal that Lincoln be the

Republican candidate for president (in a letter to Cincinnati
Gazette, Nov. 6, 1858) also endorsed a John Kennedy for vice
president (John P. Kennedy, formerly secretary of the Navy.)

Obviously it would be easy, based upon this list, to conclude that
the story of Lincoln’s assassination served as the template used by
later creators of the story of Kennedy’s death.

Very simply, if one takes two events and looks for potential
parallels, one can very often create a list that, on the surface
looks rather impressive, but on closer examination does not really
tell us very much. More importantly, it should make us cautious in
claiming that superficial similarities means that the earlier report
served as a template for creative fictionalizing by the later source
(in whichever direction one wishes to propose). I think that this is
the case with the parallels between the two Jesus’.

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/crosstalk2/conversations/messages/13026

read more »

Better Informed History for Atheists — Scholars assess the Two Jesus Parallels

A week ago James McGrath alerted readers to a new post by Tim O’Neill of History for Atheists commending it for its take down of “amalgam Jesus” theorists for supposedly uncritically and emotionally concocting excuses to disbelieve in a historical Jesus. It has taken me a week since that alert but I have finally caught up with O’Neill’s Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures. His primary target is one L. Aron Nelson a.k.a “Aron Ra” 9 whom he presents as someone bearing

all the hallmarks of someone who has educated himself on the subject, without much idea of what is scholarly and credible and what is not.

Scholarly discussion at XTalk (Crosstalk) on the parallels between Jesus ben Ananias and Jesus of Nazareth was active in 2003 and again in 2005.

With that introduction we should expect to be informed of some of the scholarly responses to the ensuing arguments he critiques. (To avoid an over lengthy post I will focus on but one point in O’Neill’s essay and that will be his rebuttal of the claim that the Jesus of the gospels was to some extent based on Jesus of Ananias in Josephus’s account of the Jewish War, written some time between 74 and 79 CE. Other points can be addressed separately if warranted.)

Despite O’Neill’s attempt to address one who in his eyes had not “much idea of what is scholarly” and “credible” in the eyes of scholars, O’Neill himself fails to indicate that he has any awareness of the relevant scholarly discussions, let alone that those scholarly discussions essentially undermine almost everything he writes. His own attempts at take-down arguments have gained no traction among scholars engaged with this particular question. In this post I will provide the evidence from scholars that they do find the parallels significant and worthy of serious discussion with some suggesting that one Jesus was indeed in part based on the other.

Here is the Josephus passage with the key areas to be compared in red.

The Whiston translation of Josephus’ War of the Jews (6.300-309)

But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” (Jer.7:34 LXX) This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him. Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!” And just as he added at the last, “Woe, woe to myself also!” there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost.

Tim O’Neill associates the argument with Richard Carrier and appears not to be aware that Carrier was presenting a well-known observation among professional scholars.

Here at least we have someone called Jesus who is obviously not Jesus of Nazareth and his story has at least some parallels with elements in the Jesus stories. The argument that these parallels indicate derivation and that the story of Jesus was in part based on that of ben Ananus is articulated in detail by … Richard Carrier

Carrier actually credits the argument to two other highly renowned scholars, Theodore J. Weeden, Sr. and Craig Evans:

Indeed, even how Mark decides to construct the sequence of the Passover narrative appears to be based on the tale of another Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, the ‘Jesus of Jerusalem’, an insane prophet active in the 60s ce who is then killed in the siege of Jerusalem (roughly in the year 70). His story is told by Josephus in the Jewish War, and unless Josephus invented him, his narrative must have been famous, famous enough for Josephus to know of it, and thus famous enough for Mark to know of it, too, and make use of it to model the tale of his own Jesus. Or if Josephus invented the tale then Mark evidently used Josephus as a source. Because the parallels are too numerous to be at all probable as a coincidence.86 Some Mark does derive from elsewhere (or matches from elsewhere to a double purpose), but the overall scheme of the story in Josephus matches Mark too closely to believe that Mark just came up with the exact same scheme independently. And since it’s not believable that Josephus invented a new story using Mark, we must conclude Mark invented his story using Josephus—or the same tale known to Josephus. . . . There are at least twenty significant parallels (and one reversal)…

86. Theodore Weeden, ‘Two Jesuses, Jesus of Jerusalem and Jesus of Nazareth: Provocative Parallels and Imaginative Imitation’, Forum N.S. 6.2 (Fall 2003), pp. 137- 341; Craig Evans, ‘Jesus in Non-Christian Sources’, in Studying the Historical Jesus (ed. Chilton and Evans), pp. 443-78 (475-77).

(Carrier, 428-29)

Given the tone of Tim O’Neill’s study up to this point a reader will expect to be led to a conclusion that “Carrier’s parallels” (they are in fact the parallels presented by scholars in the peer-reviewed scholarly literature) are going to be proved nonsensical or at best without significance. Will O’Neill’s rebuttals equally apply to two highly notable New Testament scholars, Weeden and Evans?

Carrier’s list of parallels are derived from Weeden so in the interests of presenting as fully as possible what is found among the peer-reviewed scholarly publications I will give here Evans’ list of parallels from another essay of his (I do not yet have access to the one Carrier cited): read more »

The Mainstreaming of White Nationalist Discourse Spawning Terrorism, and the new threat of Eco-Fascism

Speaking of the murderer of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, NZ, last week, Guardian columnist Jason Wilson commented during an ABC interview:

While he’s responsible for his actions the reasons for those actions go beyond him.

Someone recently expressed some surprise that an Australian terrorist in New Zealand would be focussed on Europe in his “manifesto”. Jason Wilson sees nothing surprising here at all, however. All white nationalists everywhere talk about Europe and their European identity, he explains.

European identity and sense of grand sweep of European white people history is what they are all about.

Jason Wilson

Their fundamental idea is that white people, the descendants of Europeans, are being replaced in their home countries by non-white immigrants from non-European cultures.

He was acting for political motives. Those political motives were incubated in a movement and the context for that movement has been an increasingly Islamophobic discourse in the English speaking west in last 20 years or so since the “war on terror” started.

What is especially worrying, however, is that these views are not confined to invisible pockets of extremists. Far right extremists, says Wilson, have been making adept use of the internet and the cloak of irony to sneak their discourse under the radar and into the mainstream of political discussion. Fox news, of course, we know about, but also the vast Australian News Corp media. Prominent Australian right wing columnist, Andrew Bolt, last year was writing about the very same theme at the centre of Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement– the “threat” of a coming demographic replacement in Australia.

I had to look it up. Here is Bolt’s spiel; Tarrant could well have adapted it entirely from memory:

REPLACING LOCALS WITH IMMIGRANTS

Notice that line about immigrants being responsible for traffic problems. Anyone who has kept an ear to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison will know he regularly “connects with his voter base” by mentioning the same problems in the same problematic context, even since the Christchurch shooting.

Jason Wilson again:

In a moral sense obviously he is responsible for his actions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at the movement he’s come out of and the broader context of the societies that he’s been living in over the last number of years – to think about how we might understand those actions.

But it gets worse, so go listen to some music or read a good book if you’ve had enough. Recall how Tarrant described himself as an eco-fascist and how I made some point about Nazism having a strong ecological interest? Well, here is Jason Wilson’s most recent article:

Eco-fascism is undergoing a revival in the fetid culture of the extreme right

The opening header says enough:

Some see looming ecological collapse as an opportunity to re-order society along their preferred, frankly genocidal, lines.

 

The Nazi slogan “blood and soil” was coined by their foremost ecological thinker, Richard Walter Darré, who meant it to capture a mystical link between race and a particular territory.

In the decades since the rise of the modern environmental movement, the far right has continued its efforts to co-opt ecological thoughts and corrupt environmental movements

. . . . .

It’s hard to know exactly how many people are immersed in this milieu, but we have seen the damage just one man can do. What else might this ideology inspire?

More broadly, while conservatives (like Trump) are fixated on denialism, parts of the radical right not only acknowledge environmental collapse, but welcome it as an opportunity to re-order society along their preferred lines, and to cleanse the Earth of those they despise.

This makes a democratic, just, and global response to climate change all the more urgent. We must save our planet, and we must not create even the smallest opportunities for fascists.

I feel unwell. Time to go and watch a nice murder mystery on tv and see if once again the most innocent back-seat character at the beginning of the show in the end turns out to be the killer.

Trump, Trump Supporters, and Cults

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_supporters_(30018900853).jpg

As many readers know I was a member of a religious cult for too many years in a former life and have since delved into some of the specialist literature by psychologists, sociologists and historians to help me reflect on and understand that experience.

I have mentioned before how fascinated I was when once watching a TV interview with several former members of the Hitler Youth and how some of their accounts of their experiences in that movement echoed so very clearly my own experiences in a religious cult. More recently I have posted on certain strong similarities in the radicalization processes that draw people into radical extremist groups, in particular Islamists, and the gradual “conversion processes” of cult members.

Others have made similar comparisons between the Trump phenomenon and cults. I think there may be something to these comparisons.

The Leader

One of the more striking points in common is the devotion to a charismatic leader. Behaviour that in other persons would normally mean their condemnation and ostracism from society is forgiven and excused in the cult’s leader. Followers will even draw attention to those flaws to “prove” they do not “idolize” the man but “see him warts and all” and are therefore clear and rational in deciding to give him their loyalty. But that is an illusion. We know it is an illusion when we compare the process with the way religious cults will justify the most corrupt and hypocritical behaviour of their leaders by pointing to how God so loved great sinners like King David. Crimes, cruelty, hypocrisy, outright dishonesty are excused. Sometimes flatly denied even despite the clear evidence before everyone’s eyes.

The leader is admired for his “strength”. Such “strength” is contrasted with all who have gone before and all other “would-be leaders” he opposes today. Followers have lost their ability to discern the difference between “strength” per se and bigotry, intolerance and wilful ignorance. Indeed, those who speak up for compassion, for understanding, for tolerance and genuine democratic values are smeared as weak, fifth-columnists, subversives, wreckers of society and all that is good and pure.

Victimhood

And that leads us to the notion of a siege mentality. A persecution or victim syndrome. “Whites and Christians are the most disadvantaged groups in society”, we hear. The leader is speaking up to defend and promote what has been in real danger of being lost to “political correctness”, to “immigrants” — especially those from countries where people have a different religion and skin colour. Both the nature of these immigrants and the reasons for leaving their homelands are lied about to feed into popular (and the leader’s) prejudices. Political correctness is also misrepresented as a tyranny against free thought. There is a failure to distinguish between genuine wrongs and wrong ideas and those that are validly critical of society’s shortcomings. The leader represents a righteous push-back against all that is seen as corrosive of decent society.

“Truth”

And the leader is the primary source of truth. All criticism from the outside is “fake news”. The leader can flat-out lie and followers will remain wilfully unaware, refusing to seriously countenance exposure of his lies and reflexively justifying all his lies, distortions, anti-social bigotry and the rest. It is the critics who are considered extreme, fanatical, wild-eyed terrified of what their leader represents.

The Emotional Factor

And that brings us back to the emotional component. Emotion is unavoidable. It is part of being human. But a clear headed rational debate about political and social problems and solutions is not in the Trump cult agenda. Emotional commitment leads and buttresses the views and loyalties and ignorance and prejudices of the cult followers. Emotional commitment means defensiveness, and defensiveness too often calls for attack. The racism, the ignorant bigotry against those who have long stood for democratic values and a humane society, that attacks are directed against the weak and vulnerable, — all of these and what their true character are hidden from view by the righteous emotion of the cult loyalists. Civil debate, seriously honest and open discussion of the issues, becomes impossible with the loyal followers of someone like Trump.

What has led us to this type of society is also worth exploring. We know what “radicalizes” individuals to join extremist groups and cults. Are there valid wider social parallels? Another post for that one.

Brilliant News

Now this was brilliant news. Before we heard about anything else coming from New Zealand we were hearing of students striking to call on governments to take more serious action on climate change. Now that’s what education is supposed to be about. Educator John Dewey would have been thrilled. The education of the school kids would have been advanced further when they heard later government ministers expressing horror at what the students were doing, predicting the end of an educated society and consequent ruin of the nation if school children just decided to go out on strike every time they disliked something they thought the government was doing! What a laugh it was to listen to such nonsense from “responsible adults”.

Hope for the future! A “woke” generation arising!