Monthly Archives: March 2019

A Compassionate Nation

New Zealand PM: We will Pay for Funeral Costs of Victims and Financially Support their Families

“We are very focused in ensuring you have the support that you need in the days and the weeks and the months that follow.

Many of those who have lost their lives will be the ones who will be bringing the income into their households. Many will have dependants and spouses. I want to give you assurance the through our system in New Zealand, through ACC, there is provision to provide for those families.

That provision exists regardless of the immigration status of those who have lost their lives and regardless of the immigration status of their loved ones. It includes the cost of burial. It includes support for lost income and that can last for not just months but it can last for years. So I give you that assurance”

In this image made from video, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, hugs and consoles a woman as she visited Kilbirnie Mosque to lay flowers among tributes to Christchurch attack victims, in Wellington, March 17, 2019. (TVNZ via AP) https://www.timesofisrael.com/new-zealand-pm-comforts-mourning-muslim-community-after-deadly-mosque-shooting/

 

 

Rules of Historical Reasoning — Still Controversial Among Religion Profs

Professor James McGrath continues to take an interest in my discussions about historical methods in the context of the “quest for the historical Jesus”. I was surprised to read the following words of his earlier today:

Reading certain blogs and discussion boards on the internet, you would think that laypeople were being called upon to invent methods for historical study for themselves, and to do so from scratch no less. I think a post (or series of posts!) on basic methodology, and particularly source criticism, could be helpful for a lay audience, especially in light of the misinformation being spread in certain corners of the internet.

I had never heard of anyone on any discussion board or blog attempting to work out methods for historical study “for themselves”. So I had to click on the link to see who could possibly be doing such a thing. Lo and behold, the link is to a post on the Biblical Criticism and History forum more than a year ago that was written by yours truly. So what did McGrath mean by suggesting there was some fatuous lay attempt to “invent methods for historical study for themselves”? My post was in fact a presentation of what professional historians themselves explain about their methods.

Interestingly, McGrath’s post continues by quoting others who express disdain for amateurs who don’t show due deference to certain responses from biblical scholars and then reminding readers of the methods of biblical historians who study questions relating to the historical Jesus. Of course, my point was that nonbiblical historians work by different rules. The title of McGrath’s post included “Reinventing the Wheel” but I don’t believe any historian outside biblical studies uses the criteria or other methods specifically characteristic of biblical scholars to determine historicity. There is no reinvention but stark contrast.

McGrath has asked me not to engage with any of his posts on his blog so I can only trust fair minded readers will click on the “discussion boards” link and see that there has been some no doubt inadvertent confusion. I am not quite sure what the relevance of the second link is to form criticism and other tools used by biblical historians unless it is a reference to a point made before on the Religion Prof’s blog that biblical historians are pioneers leading the way in techniques of historical inquiry.

Here is my discussion board post that was confused with a layperson inventing methods for himself: read more »

Rightwing Terrorism in Context

illustration
Jason Burke

We have posted on Jason Burke’s books on Islamist terrorism (The New Threat: The Past, Present and Future of Islamic Militancy and Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror) so I was interested in read what Jason had to say about the recent terrorist attack in The Guardian, “What does Christchurch attack tell us about rightwing extremism?

What stood out most for me was his reminder that terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s took far more lives in Europe than have modern Islamist attacks. I have copied the relevant section from Wikipedia:

Burke observes similarities between the current rightwing terrorists and the Islamists: read more »

Common Motives of the White Supremacist and Islamist Terrorists

Last night I read through the Christchurch (NZ) terrorist Brenton Tarrant’s ‘manifesto’, The Great Replacement, and was disturbed at how rational so much of it sounded. It did not read like the incoherent ravings of a madman and I suppose that’s what made it particularly disturbing.

I refer to white supremacy throughout the following but for what it’s worth Tarrant describes himself as an “ethno-nationalist” and “eco-fascist”.

Similarity 1 — free the homeland

Bin Laden wanted “crusaders” out of Muslim lands. Islamists fought the Russians in Afghanistan for that reason and then turned on the U.S. for its troop presence in the Arabian peninsula. Other Islamists followed and declared their intent ultimately to see the Western imperialist powers leave Muslim lands withdraw their financial and military support for pro-Western “secular-Muslim” dictators.

Brenton Tarrant makes a similar point his central theme: to declare war on “the invaders” of “European lands”. His consistent term for immigrants is “invaders”. Australia and New Zealand are included in his definition of European. The reason he says he chose New Zealand in the end was to demonstrate that there was no place on earth that “invaders” could go where they would be safe.

It hardly needs to spelled out that there is a significant difference between a people who enter foreign lands to secure control over resources and related strategic interests in the one case and those who enter foreign lands escaping from the ravages of war and breakdowns of civil society in the other. But that’s not how Tarrant sees it.

For the white supremacist the threat is that “white” and “European” people will become an oppressed minority because of the higher birthrate among the “invaders”. And race is a biological reality, he writes. The unarmed “invader” is actually a more serious threat than the armed invader because the unarmed are not opposed and are allowed to “take over” and “replace” the whites by default. If we would shoot armed invaders it is even more imperative to shoot unarmed invaders. Children, too, because they will grow up to become adult oppressors. (That reminds me of the argument used by certain Israelis to justify the killing of Palestinian babies and children.)

Similarity 2 — provoke a violent response

Bin Laden anticipated that the 9/11 attacks would provoke the U.S. into invading Middle Eastern countries in retaliation and that would result eventually in bringing the Muslim-West confrontation to a head with the eventual victory for the former. A violent response would radicalize many more opponents of the West to action and they experienced the ever more brutal revenge of the Western war machine.

The Great Replacement expresses a similar hope: that Muslims will retaliate to his act with similar violence and so bring about even more hatred and active resistance from the “whites” against them, eventually forcing them to leave. Not only on a local level, but even on a world-wide scale the author hopes for a further clear division between Western/European powers and Islamic nations.

(The tract even hopes for an ever more hostile debate over gun ownership in the United States in particular. So much so that eventually it will end in violence with those with the guns winning once and for all.)

Similarity 3 — revenge

Islamist terrorists speak of the Western imperialist nations as “crusaders”. They see a litany of barbarous crimes by Europeans (and their white appendage nations) extending back centuries.

The white supremacists (at least in The Great Replacement) reject the term “Islamophobe” because they do not fear Islam itself. But they do demonize the Muslims by presenting their history as one long bloody river of conquest and murders from the sixth century right up to today.

Does anyone else think here of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and how the Jews were demonized as a race throughout their history and up to the present day?

Similarity 4 — inspire by example

Tarrant says he does not act for fame and glory. He knows his name will not be remembered years from now. But he does express hope that by taking the “necessary” action that he has he will encourage others who feel the same way to follow and do the same.

Certainly some Islamists have acted for fame, but more commonly to set an “inspiring example” of courage to others.

Similarity 5 — belief in violence

Democracy is “mob rule” with the mob controlled by corporate powers, says the white supremacist in The Great Replacement. No great victory was ever won without sacrifice in blood. Violence, war, is the only way.

By contrast, white societies are said to be becoming weak because of their preference for diversity over unity, for their weak-willed acceptance of the dilution of their culture in the face of the foreign “invader”. Survival depends on more whites rising up to literally fight and die, to take on violence to save their culture and race.

Islamist literature exalts violence, too, and glorifies the blood of martyrs. Enough said.

Similarity 6 — vision of a future paradise

Oswald Mosley

If Islamists envisioned a “pure” Islamic society on earth and paradise in heaven, we read in The Great Replacement a vision of a future where white nations (and eventually all humanity) are living in freedom and in harmony with a protected and flourishing green and clean and fruitful environment. It reminds me of the Nazi vision but Tarrant insists he is not a Nazi. Yet he does profess dedication to the vision of the pre-WW2 British fascist Oswald Mosley.

. . .

That’s enough. I just wanted to make a note of the above while still fresh in my mind after reading The Great Replacement. Normally in a more serious analysis I would cite passages from both the work discussed and those I’m comparing it with. Maybe I will do that to add some weight to the points above at a future date.


Tarrant, Brenton. 2019. “The Great Replacement: Towards a New Society.”


The Heaviness of Christchurch, New Zealand

Everything else feels unreal after trying to take in the news from New Zealand this afternoon.

I looked at my collection of books that I had acquired in order to understand Islamist terrorism. No doubt there will be overlapping factors with white supremacists.

I am also mindful of the many people who have over the years through comments on this blog attempted to spread their hatred of Muslims (couched in language stressing their hate for Islam and not the “people” who, they go on to say, would commit rapes and murders if they took their religion “seriously”).

If you are one of those who has such vile views of Muslims, who think you know what Muslims are all about from what you have read and watched on hate sites that profess to present only “the facts” about Islam, stay away from here. Go somewhere else. You are not welcome and will not be engaged with here. I will put you on the spam list without second thought. As far as I am concerned you represent the equivalent of the vilest medieval antisemites.

 

 

Memory Theory and the Historical Jesus

Alan Kirk

Bloomsbury publishers sent me an electronic copy of Memory and the Jesus Tradition, a collection of articles by Alan Kirk, for review and comment in response to my request. My first post on this book was Memory and the Pursuit of the Jesus Tradition. This post, my second, responds to chapter 10, “Memory Theory and Jesus Research”, which was originally published in the Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (2011). It’s a good opportunity to do an overview of how biblical scholars apply memory theory in historical Jesus studies.

One of Alan Kirk’s main points in this chapter is that memories are not inert blocks waiting to be brought out whenever called upon, but are malleable, and not only open to modification but also actively shape our perceptions of certain changing circumstances in our lives.

A second critical point Kirk emphasizes is that community memories do not work like the game of ‘Telephone’.  Rather, memories in community settings are like more like nets. Multiple witnesses or “rememberers” are there to correct and refine the stories as they are told and retold. The “net” model safeguards against the sorts of losses and changes that the party game or laboratory experiments experience.

Fellow blogger Tim Widowfield is far more on top of Rudolf Bultmann’s work than I am and he may wish to contribute, perhaps even correct, either what I am writing here or what Kirk himself has written.

In Kirk’s view the old form critical approach to historical Jesus studies (originating with Rudolf K. Bultmann) assumed the former “inert block” view of memory. It was Bultmann’s view that by identifying and peeling away accretions building up on a story one could arrive at the initial account. Those accretions were essentially fabrications imposed on the original story that were created to meet the changing needs and interests of the church.

The gospel tradition was thus construed as a bifurcated entity: fabricated tradition coming to overlay diminishing residues of memory, for their part more or less inert with respect to the traditioning process itself. Tradition thus conceived primarily gave expression to the contemporary debates, predicaments and developments of the early communities.

Bultmann’s analysis was in fact characterized by a programmatic disconnect between memory and the growing tradition, his occasional gestures to ‘reminiscence’ notwithstanding. This was the consequence of according little agency to memory and instead locating the decisive generative forces for tradition in contemporary social factors.

Collective memory, Kirk points out through references to numerous studies, organizes and gives meaning to the data that is being recalled. Citing Barry Schwartz he writes

collective memory thus becomes ‘a social fact as it is made and remade to serve changing societal interests and needs’.

read more »

Stories of Walking on Water — Looking for Sources

In The History of the Synoptic Tradition by Rudolf Bultmann there is the following passage beginning page 236. But there’s a catch. I have not had the opportunity to track down any of the references I have cast in bold type — removing the bold as we locate them as per the comments. If you happen to be a person with an opportunity to identify any of those bolded references and point to where I can locate/read/translate them you are more than welcome to share that information in the comments section below.

Dio Chrysostom: “Socrates,” said he, “you know perfectly well that of all men under the sun that man is most powerful and in might no whit inferior to the gods themselves who is able to accomplish the seemingly impossible — if it should be his will, to have men walk dryshod over the sea, to sail over the mountains, to drain rivers dry by drinking — or have you not heard that Xerxes, the king of the Persians, made of the dry land a sea by cutting through the loftiest of the mountains and separating Athos from the mainland, and that he led his infantry through the sea, riding upon a chariot just like Poseidon in Homer’s description? And perhaps in the same way the dolphins and the monsters of the deep swam under his raft as the king drove along.”

There must also have been stories of walking on water in Hellenism. Admittedly it is hyperbole when Dio Chrysost. speaks of the power of Xerxes, that when he so wishes he is able πεζεύεσθαι μέν την θάλατταν, πλεϊσθαι δέ τά δρη. But the capacity to do so is often attributed to demons. P. Berol., I, 120 thus describes the power of the δαίμων πάρεδρος: πήξει δέ ποταμούς καί θάλασσα[ν συντ]όμως(?) καί οπως ένδιατρέχης (Reitzenstein, Hellenist. Wundererzaehlungen, p. 125). Also A. Dieterich, Abraxas, p. 190, 13: εγώ είμι ό έν ούρανω σχολήν έχων φοιτώμενός τε έν ύδατι, and on another tablet (Rhein. Mus., 55, 261, cp. 264): qui solus per mare transis. But according to Lucian, Philops., 13 the same things are reported of human wonder workers: είδες . . . τόν Ύπερβόρεον άνδρα πετάμενον ή έπ’ι τοϋ ϋδατος βεβηκότα. Further material may be found in A. Gercke, Jahrb. f . Philol. Suppl. X X II, 1895, pp. 205ff.; A. Abt, ‘Die Apologie des Apuleius von Madaura und die antike Zauberei’, Religionsgesch. Vers, u. Vorarb., IV, 2, 1908, pp. 129, 2. We may add from the Christian tradition: Hist. Aegypti monachorum XI, 18, p. 58; cp. XX, 16, p. 75, Preuschen; Ps. Cypr., Confess., 12.1 Indian parallels also come up for consideration in this regard, and there are stories of walking or flying over the water, which could even have influenced Hellenistic literature: cp. R. Garbe, Indien und das Christentum, 1914, pp. 57f. Most notable is a Buddhist parallel to Matt. 14 28-31 (the text is in J. Aufhauser, Jesus und Buddha, Kl. Texte, no. 157, p. 12). It tells of a disciple ‘who wanted to visit Buddha one evening and on his way found that the ferry boat was missing from the bank of the river Aciravati. In faithful trust in Buddha he stepped on to the water and went as if on dry land to the very middle of the stream. Then he came out of his contented meditation on Buddha in which he had lost himself, and saw the waves and was frightened, and his feet began to sink. But he forced himself to become wrapt in his meditation again and by its power he reached the far bank safely and reached his master.’ (Garbe, pp. 56f. and Buddhist. Maerchen, pp. 46f.) Garbe thinks that the gospel story was borrowed from the Buddhist tradition.2

Jesus Walking on Water
Jesus Walking on Water (Ivan Aivazovsky)

1 In the language of Christian edification this miracle motif may have attained a symbolic significance and the walking on the water become the treading of the mythical waters of death, which Christ and his mystic followers achieve. Cp. Dibelius (Formgeschichte, p. 86) who adduces Od. Sol. 39: ‘He walked and went over them on foot, and his footprints stayed on the water and were not obliterated. . . . And a path was prepared for those who followed him.’ What the relation of Mand. Ginza R., II, 1, pp. 4ggf. Lidzb. is to this (Christ the seducer says, ‘I walk over the water, Come with me; you shall not drown’) can well be left undecided here.

2 Cp. W. Brown, The Indian and Christian Miracles of Walking on the Water, 1928. Saintyves, who again traces these stories to cultic origins (initiation rites) amasses a wealth of material, [P. Saintyves,  Essais de Folklore Biblique, 1923], pp. 307-63. Cp. also Indianermaerchen aus Nordamerika, p. 31; Turkestan. Maerchen, p. 69; Muellenhoff, Sagen, etc., p. 351.

I did locate the reference to Brown, Indian and Christian Miracles… — it is available on archive.org –  http://archive.org/details/MN40274ucmf_2


Bultmann, Rudolf Karl. 1963. The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Dio Chrysostom. n.d. “Discourse 3.” LacusCurtius. Accessed March 13, 2019. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dio_Chrysostom/Discourses/3*.html#ref11.


Exciting news, another fight worth watching closely.

The Open Access logo

On the day I was preparing my post On Being a Librarian one of the most exciting news stories about a university library striking a massive blow for open access to publicly funded research was being published in The ConversationUniversity of California’s break with the biggest academic publisher could shake up scholarly publishing for good. Author, MacKenzie Smith. I had been occupied elsewhere and missed the big development about a week earlier: UC terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research

What does this have to do with Vridar readers? It is hopefully a first step towards all research or academic publications via public universities being freely available to all. There’s still a long way to go but a very critical first move has been made.

As a leader in the global movement toward open access to publicly funded research, the University of California is taking a firm stand by deciding not to renew its subscriptions with Elsevier. Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.

In negotiating with Elsevier, UC aimed to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC’s 10 campuses — which accounts for nearly 10 percent of all U.S. publishing output — would be immediately available to the world, without cost to the reader. Under Elsevier’s proposed terms, the publisher would have charged UC authors large publishing fees on top of the university’s multi-million dollar subscription, resulting in much greater cost to the university and much higher profits for Elsevier.

“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” said Robert May, chair of UC’s faculty Academic Senate. “The quest for full open access is essential if we are to truly uphold the mission of this university.”

(UC Terminates Subscriptions)

The news goes to the heart of my own professional focus as a librarian: making publicly funded research publicly available. Sounds logical, but the problem universities world-wide have faced is that major publishing companies have taken (for free) researcher articles then wrapped them up in digital journals that they restrict to those who (or whose institutions) pay ever increasing costs. It was even possible for authors to lose all rights to their own work, even being unable to read it without cost, while the publishers reap in huge profits from it.

In reaction an Open Access Movement has been gathering momentum for some years now with university libraries taking a leading part. Many universities have now built their own digital repositories that allow free open access to all of (generally) pre-publication versions of their work. (This development has been extending more recently to the building of research data repositories.)

Most universities and researchers have been trapped by the major publishers. The only hope for a breakthrough is if one of the significantly larger universities took the first step of breaking away from those publishers. That has now happened, and that is truly big news. I’ll be watching with anticipation how it all pans out.

The new model (hopefully) will be for the universities to pay the publisher the cost of publishing researchers’ work in return for the publisher making the work free for all to read. There are other possible models, but let’s see what happens with this one now.

Our goals are ambitious and their implementation will be complex. Changing a system this intricate is akin to modernizing the FAA’s air traffic control system – a million planes are in the air at any moment and changing anything can have serious consequences elsewhere. But we have to start somewhere or the whole system is at risk, and UC has placed its bet. We join a global movement that began in Europe and is expanding around the world, and we believe we’re now on the path to a better system for sharing knowledge in the 21st century.The Conversation

(The Conversation article)

Elsevier has been resisting approaches from universities for years. It is simply untenable that research heritage of any sector of society should be locked away in the bowels of a private corporation. But that’s what the digital age has made possible. Universities are no longer able to keep shelves full of hard copies of everything; but the alternative up till now where private enterprises lock away and take full responsibility for research outputs, their preservation (if at all), who has access, and how much they fleece anyone wanting to access any of it — that system simply has to be demolished. Perhaps pressure can be increased on them if another major university follows UC’s lead when their subscription renewal time comes up.


Related sites:

https://creativecommons.org/ (This blog, Vridar, uses a CC licence)

https://doaj.org/ — directory of open access journals

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access — history of the OA movement from its beginning in 2002 in Budapest, Hungary.

 


Three New(ish) Things

New on René Salm’s site:

The Hermann Detering Legacy—Introduction

I have decided to devote part of this website to a repository of Dr. Detering’s work, particularly his articles that have been translated into English. Not all of that material is to be found on his German website, and the success and extent of this undertaking will depend in some measure on the help of readers who are able to furnish material or clues to other of his writings. . . .

–o0o–

Newish on Richard Carrier’s site, the same topic as covered earlier in half dozen or so reviews of Gathercole’s article on this blog:

The New Gathercole Article on Jesus Certainly Existing

Simon Gathercole gained infamy writing a really atrocious, face-palmingly bad article on the historicity of Jesus for The Guardian some years back. Which I took to task in 2017 (in The Guardian on Jesus). He has now published a proper, peer reviewed article on the subject, focused on the Epistles of Paul . . . .

Of course right out of the gate this confuses “historical” with “human.”

–o0o–

And something important:

Can America recover from Trump? A radicalized right wing suggests dangers ahead

. . . . Imagine if Trump was a brilliant, learned leader committed to the enactment of a consistent agenda; a man who could summon considerable skill and savvy, not merely to promote himself but to fundamentally transform American law and reinvent the relationship between the federal government and its citizenry. As candidate and president, Trump has already demolished standards of civility, worsened the racial and ethnic fractures of the American public, and reduced the Republican Party to a slobbering set of sycophants. And he has done all of this by barely lifting a finger. The true danger might emerge when Trump slithers into the sunset, and his enraged and frenzied loyalists, who now control the infrastructure of one of America’s two major political parties, are looking for a replacement and find the real thing. . . .

 

Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons

Why are Australians more accepting and trusting of the role of government than Americans?

  • The United States was settled primarily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by people fleeing from tyrannies;
  • Australia was settled primarily in the nineteenth century in a land much harsher and more difficult to settle than North America — government was needed to provide roads, water, finance, health services, to enable people to move and populate much of the land. Government was viewed more positively than had been the historical attitude in America. Settlers weren’t fleeing to Australia from governments, either. They were being transported by governments and relied on governments services for survival.

I’ve also found Australia at times to be a very controlled country, too tidy and neat and orderly sometimes. Australians pride themselves on the larrakin tradition, the disrespectful and self-reliant “digger” of Gallipoli, that sort of thing, which is seen as originating in the convict past, and many of the convicts were Irish rebels. But there is also a stifling authoritarian and reactionary strain in Australia, led by conservative politicians, churches, wealthy businesses and various clubs like the Returned Services League. And that, I have heard it said, might be seen as traced back to the other sector of our convict days, the guards, soldiers, police, brutal applications of power. It’s that second element that I feel has been depressingly dominant for far too long now, especially since it is led by political figures who want to take us towards the American ways of privatization of what have traditionally been seen as public services, such as health care and education.

What are the voting (government participation) differences?

  • Voting is not compulsory in the United States, or course, and voting takes place on a Tuesday;
  • I think many Australians look askance at both of those practices. By making voting compulsory the poorer and otherwise voiceless sectors will have a say and those seeking election cannot avoid taking their interests into account; that’s a good thing. Also by making it compulsory the otherwise “silent majority” will have their say so that radical partisan movements of either the left or right cannot take over the government by default.
  • It is more democratic to have voting on a Saturday. That’s a holiday or half-day holiday for most people so it is much easier for people to arrange to get out to vote. Sunday would have been better but we have the influence of the churches insisting generations ago that Sunday people should be in church and reading the Bible, not getting mixed up with worldly things.

Such are some interesting (to me) reflections inspired by an interview with historian Judith Brett and comments on a recent Drum program by David Marr. Some of the ideas may be myths, but they make interesting discussion topics — well for some of us anyway.

 

On Being a Librarian

How it happened

I never planned to be a librarian. An academic career was stymied as a consequence of joining up with the Worldwide Church of God. That episode brought chaos into my life that led to my early departure from advanced studies. Some years later after more advanced studies I was offered the opportunity to enter a master’s course but by then I was married with young kids and financial commitments and still involved with certain demands of the church so simply could not see that as a realistic option.

I only became an academic or university librarian after another tumultuous turnaround in my life that eventually took me out of the church. Librarianship promised a nice easy nine to five type job that I could leave behind at the end of each day (unlike secondary school teaching) in order to focus on other higher priority personal issues.

Those other issues eventually became past history and there I was, needing stimulation from my nine-to-five cataloguing job. Political and community activism and organizing became one happy outlet.

But when an opportunity came for me to advance up the ladder the job changed and once again I often found myself working extra hours to master all I wanted to master and make the best contribution I could. From there the job opened up international travel and eventually an international posting in a very senior position at the Singapore National Library Board.

What I have enjoyed the most

  1. Understanding how information and resources are organized to the extent that one can most effectively assist students and academics,
  2. The appreciation of students and academics for the assistance provided,
  3. Participating in the change from hard copy to online and internet systems, keeping up to date with the technological changes, watching the way they expand a library’s service potential and learning of the many technical and legal and policy and ethical issues related to these changes.

A metadata librarian

Those are the background pluses one experiences over the years as both a cataloguer and reference librarian. More recent years have seen a complete change in my own responsibilities so that it became hard to even describe myself as a librarian in any meaningful sense to others. I worked in a library building but I no longer touched books or journals. It was all about metadata. I became a metadata librarian.

This shift was all about making publicly funded research in Australian regional universities publicly available through open access and research reporting repositories of digitized research publications and datasets. That over time was expanded to doing the same for special cultural collections.

All of that requires changes in academic culture and university workflows. The public standing and reputation of the researchers is to be advanced and that means close involvement with the researchers themselves on the one hand and the technology teams tasked with building and maintaining the systems that make it all possible on the other.

I was very lucky. I was involved in the very early days of a project to move libraries in this new direction so before long found myself for a while being possibly the only person in Australia who had a handle on what was required metadata-wise across different university sizes and specialties and the different technologies they all used. (Metadata, basically, is about the different languages required for organizing and accessing the different types of data — data for the content, data for the carriers of that content, data for the authors of the content, and so on — one of the many facets required to make the operation workable.) So being a pioneer in a new niche area I was very employable. It has been a stimulating and challenging and most enjoyable time. Helping create major changes for the benefit of researchers and publicly funded research programs, of the public, of cultural groups (in particular Australian indigenous communities) has been the most satisfying time professionally in my life.

The ongoing relevance

I have regularly turned back to some of the professional training I was given to become a librarian even when blogging on Vridar. One of the most valuable areas of that education was in information and knowledge management. Coming to have a clear understanding of the distinction between “public knowledge” and “specialist or research knowledge”; the distinction between data, information and knowledge; the distinction between a creative work per se, the expression of that work, the manifestation of that work, and the digital or hard copy of the work itself — being clear about the differences and functions of each particle that contributes to our ability to share and acquire information — all of this has helped me in analysing different aspects of what I read and what I endeavour to understand and write about.

Before all of that, when doing postgraduate educational studies, I specialized in the essences of propaganda and genuine education, and how to guard against one and promote the other. And all of that further involved understanding the relationship between values and knowledge production and evaluation.

Before that, as a teacher, I found much of my time devoted to working on how to make new concepts clear and as easily understood as possible.

So though I missed out on an academic career I did find a very rewarding way to make a living nonetheless. And that demon that set me on the wrong course at the outset, the religious cult, in the end directed me into seeking to understand as completely and truly as I could the nature of religious belief, cults, radicalization, and even the origins of the Bible and Christianity themselves. One other carry over from that life-destroying demon: the experience has left me with an indelible awareness of just how easy it is for any of us to be wrong, and the importance of doing one’s homework as thoroughly as possible at all times.

Love of Enemies in Antiquity

Quotations from an article I followed up for some reason I can’t quite recall. For those interested, and at the cost of misleading readers into thinking the author’s article was overly complimentary of pre-Christian thought …..

On the other hand there is a thought which can be found in the tradition of the Roman Stoics Musonius, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius which leads the reader in the direction of this ethic. Musonius maintains that a true philosopher would never take someone to court for slander. He doesn’t mind being abused, beaten or spat at because he realizes ‘that human beings commit most sins as a result of ignorance or lacking knowledge [namely of the real good and evil]; they stop as soon as they have been taught otherwise’. The Stoa and the whole of pagan antiquity doesn’t know of original sin. Musonius overlooks the phenomenon of the weakness of human will too. So he arrives at a naive anthropological simplicity like that. But because of this conviction the philosopher as Musonius sees him is constantly ready to practise forbearance (συγγνώμη) and regards retaliation (άντιποιεΐν κακώς) and ‘biting back’ (άντιδάκνειν) to be beneath contempt. It is not suffering injustice that is humiliating in his view, but doing injustice.44 Epictetus goes a step further than Musonius when he declares that it is part of the life of a true cynic that while being beaten like a donkey, he does not cease loving the person beating him, as if he were his father or brother.45

44 Muson. Io (see O. Hense 52-7. Here there are parallels, too.) We find these thoughts also in Marcus Aurelius’s writings, e.g. 6.6; 7.22.26; 8.51; 9.13; 18.15-18. The word in 7.22 is often wrongly translated: here it is not a question of loving those who have sinned against us, but of loving those who have fallen (τούς πταίοντας). Seneca and Epictetus only deal with variations on the thoughts of Musonius. Cf. John Piper, ‘Love your enemies‘ (SNTSMS 38; Cambridge, 1979) 21-7.

45 Arr. Epict. diss. 3.22.53f.

. . . .

In Plato’s dialogue Crito Socrates puts forward a principle and from it deduces two conclusions which signify a revolution in fundamental Greek convictions. The principle is: One may never commit injustice (ούδαμώς δει άδικεΐν).’ The conclusions: so one may not repay injustice with injustice either (άνταδικείν) or evil with evil (άντικακουργείν).47

47 Pl. Cri. 49b/c.

Reiser, Marius. 2001. “Love of Enemies in the Context of Antiquity.” New Testament Studies 47 (04).

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 4 / Conclusion – Historical Jesus?

The previous post concluded thus:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my revised hypothesis basically adds only two things to Loisy’s scenario: (1) I would identify the above “Christian groups which believed themselves heirs of the Pauline tradition” as Saturnilians. (2) I would identify the above “mystery of salvation by mystic union with a Saviour who had come down from heaven and returned to it in glory” as the Vision of Isaiah. I also said, earlier in this post, that my recognition of the role the Vision plays in the Pauline letters had changed my perspective on a number of early Christian issues. Before closing I would like to say a few things about perhaps the most significant of them: the historicity of Jesus.

Continuing and concluding the series ….

Historical Jesus?

I am now much more open to the possibility that the version of the Vision used by Paul’s interpolators included the so-called “pocket gospel.” The Jesus of that gospel is docetic. He only appears to be a man. Such a Jesus could explain curious Pauline passages such as this one:

Thus it is written: There was made the first man, Adam, living soul; the last Adam lifegiving spirit. But the spiritual is not first, the first is the living, then the spiritual. The first man, being of earth, is earthy, the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, so too are the earthy. As is the heavenly, so too are the heavenly. And as we have borne the likeness of the earthy, we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly… (1 Cor. 15, 45-49)

Commentators say that we have to understand here a resurrected Christ as the second man; that Christ too was first earthy, and became lifegiving spirit by his resurrection. But notice that the resurrection is not mentioned in the passage. And it doesn’t mention a transformation for Christ from earthy to spiritual. We are the ones who are said to be in need of transformation.

Moving on: In the pocket gospel there is not a real birth. As Enrico Norelli explains it:

If the story is read literally, it is not about a birth. It’s about two parallel processes: the womb of Mary, that had enlarged, instantly returned to its prior state, and at the same time a baby appears before her— but, as far as can be determined, without any cause and effect relationship between the two events. (Ascension du prophète Isaïe, pp. 52-53, my translation)

This could explain why, in Gal. 4:4, Jesus is “come of a woman, come under the Law.” The use of the word γενόμενον [genômenon] (to be made/to become) instead of the far more typical γεννάω [gennâô] (to be born) could signal a docetic birth. The Jesus of the Vision comes by way of woman—and since she was Jewish, he thereby came under the Law—but he was not really born of her.

The pocket gospel may actually give us an earlier and more accurate look . . . at what a historical Jesus could have been like.

And, in general, with the pocket gospel as background the interpretation of the crucifixion by “the rulers of this world” in 1 Cor. 2:8 ceases to be an issue. Likewise the improbable silences in the Pauline letters. We can account for why, apart from the crucifixion and resurrection, there is practically nothing in the Paulines about what Jesus did or taught. For the Jesus of the pocket gospel is not presented as a teacher. Not a single teaching is put in his mouth. He is not even any kind of a leader. He is not said to have gathered disciples during his lifetime. All we get is this:

And when he had grown up, he performed great signs and miracles in the land of Israel and Jerusalem. (Asc. Is. 11:18)

These “signs and miracles” need be no more than the kind of bizarre things that, according to the pocket gospel, accompanied his so-called birth. They would be like the curious coincidences that happen to people all the time. But in his case they took on added significance once someone had a vision of him resurrected from the dead. “Hey, I remember once he put his hand on Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick, and it was weird the way she seemed to get better right away.”

In other words, I think the pocket gospel may actually give us an earlier and more accurate look than the canonical gospels at what a historical Jesus could have been like. He was not a teacher or even a leader of any kind. If he went up to Jerusalem with some fellow believers in an imminent Kingdom of God—perhaps a group of John the Baptist’s followers—he was not the leader of the group. Once in Jerusalem he may have done or said something that got him pulled out from the others and crucified. That would have been the end of the story. Except that another member of the group had a vision of him resurrected, and interpreted it as meaning that the Kingdom of God was closer than ever. Jesus thereby began to take on an importance all out of proportion with his real status as a nobody. The accretions began. And the excuses for why no one had taken much notice of him before.

Why Jesus? Why not a vision of a more significant member of the group? Why not a vision of a resurrected John the Baptist? I don’t know. Maybe John was still alive at the time. Maybe Jesus just happened to be the first member of the group to meet a violent end. Hard to know.

And I’m not sure whether, according to Bayesian analysis, such a further reduction of Jesus increases or decreases the probability of his historical existence. But it does seem to me that such an extremely minimal Jesus can reasonably fit the kind of indications present in the Pauline letters. So sadly, I find I must change my affiliation from Mythicist to Agnostic (but leaning Historical).

 

Revising the Series “A Simonian Origin for Christianity”, Part 3

The previous post concluded with

. . . at a minimum, the Saturnilians are addressing the same kind of issues we see in addressed in Paul’s letters. At a maximum, . . . 1 Corinthians could be providing us with a window . . . on the Saturnilian church sometime between 70 and 135 CE.

Continuing . . . .

What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. 

The Real Paul

If in the Pauline letters someone—whether Saturnilus or someone else—has made Paul the recipient and bearer of a new gospel i.e., the Vision of Isaiah, it would mean that our knowledge of the real Paul is more questionable than ever. The widely accepted rule in New Testament scholarship has been to give Paul’s letters the nod whenever their information conflicts with that of the Acts of the Apostles, especially concerning Paul himself. His information is first-person and earlier than Acts. The author of Acts seems to be more ideologically-driven than Paul. So Paul’s account in Galatians 1:1-2:14 of how he came by his gospel and became an apostle is considered more accurate than what Acts says about the same matters. Likewise regarding Paul’s account of how in the presence of James, Peter and John he defended his gospel and received their approval of it. But this preference for the Galatians account of events takes a hit if it was in fact written by someone like Saturnilus who was looking to promote the gospel he had projected onto Paul. What we would have in Galatians is not Paul’s version of events but Saturnilus’ version of Paul.

There have been biblical scholars who rejected—and not for religious reasons—the Galatians version of events and, on some points, were willing to accept that of Acts. Alfred Loisy was one:

The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.

Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this is perhaps secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).

But things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened…

Interpret as we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, he was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief... (La Naissance du Christianisme, ET: The Birth of the Christian Religion, translation by L.P. Jacks, University Books, 1962, pp. 126-7)

My hypothesis supports Loisy’s claim that the real Paul was commissioned as an apostle in the same way that other early missionaries were: by being delegated for a mission by a congregation which supported him. And that the real Paul’s gospel was no different from theirs: the kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus will be coming to establish it. But if that is the way the real Paul was, why does Acts try to take him down a notch? read more »