The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. constitutes, in most analyses, a watershed event for the Jews of antiquity. The elimination of the center, source of spiritual nourishment and preeminent symbol of the nation’s identity, compelled Jews to reinvent themselves, to find other means of religious sustenance, and to adjust their lives to an indefinite period of displacement. That trauma has pervasive and enduring resonance.
But it tends to obscure a striking fact.
Jews faced a still more puzzling and problematic situation prior to the loss of the Temple. Diaspora did not await the fall of Jerusalem. (Gruen: 66)
More Jews were scattered throughout the Levant and Mediterranean kingdoms and city-states than were living in Judea throughout the four centuries before the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.
- What did these diaspora Jews (or as some scholars prefer in the interests of consistency, diaspora Judeans) think of Jerusalem, the Temple, the “holy land”, and their relationship to them?
A popular idea that may have prevailed among many of us brought up in the Christian West is that those scattered Judeans felt somehow dislocated, homeless, and that they really belonged in Judea. After all, doesn’t the OT pronounce “exile” as the ultimate punishment from a wrathful deity on the Jewish people for their sins? If Judeans repented then ought not they want to “return” to Judea and live beside Jerusalem and the Temple?
Erich Gruen proposes another look at this viewpoint, a look that I think is more deeply grounded in the realities of human experience:
Yet that convention ignores a grave implausibility. It is not easy to imagine that millions of Jews in the Diaspora were obsessed with a longing for Jerusalem that had little chance of fulfillment. It seems only logical that they sought means whereby to legitimize the existence that most of them inherited from their parents and would bequeath to their descendants.¹⁴⁵ Large and thriving Jewish communities existed in numerous areas of the Mediterranean, with opportunities for economic advancement, social status, and even political responsibilities.¹⁴⁶ Did their members, as some have claimed, take recourse in the thesis that the nation is defined by its texts rather than by its location?¹⁴⁷
The dualism is deceptive. The Jews of antiquity, in fact, never developed a systematic theory or philosophy of Diaspora. The whole idea of valuing homeland over Diaspora or Diaspora, over homeland may be off the mark. Second Temple Jews need not have faced so stark a choice.
145: I. M. Gafni, Land, Center, and Diaspora (Sheffield, Engl., 1979), 19–40
146: J. Juster, Les juifs dans l’empire romain, 2 vols. (Paris, 1914).
E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People, vol. 3.1, 1–176;
J. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 19–81, 231–319; and
I. Levinskaya, The Book of Acts in Its Diaspora Setting (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1996), 127–93.
147: See, esp., G. Steiner, “Our Homeland, The Text,” Salmagundi 66 (1985): 4–25.
On the ambivalence of exile and homecoming in recent Jewish conceptions, see the comments of S. D. Ezrahi, “Our Homeland, the Text … Our Text, the Homeland: Exile and Homecoming in the Modern Jewish Imagination,” Michigan Quarterly Review 31 (1992): 463–97.
We too easily conflate our biblical knowledge with Judeans per se, wherever and whenever they are. The whole idea of being scattered throughout “the nations” was a biblical one directed at sinners in Palestine or the Kingdom of Judah and ordained to be executed by the Assyrians, first, then the Babylonians. Judeans living in various city-states in later times could scarcely relate to anyone exiled by an Assyrian or Babylonian. Look more closely at some Second Temple texts:
Ben Sira 48:15 speaks of the sins of biblical Israel that brought about exile and the message may well have served as a warning to anyone who read the text, but it did not condemn the current readers of Ben Sira or any of his generation or anyone in the Diaspora.
Tobit speaks of the sins of Israelites in the time of the Assyrians but he also writes of a wonderful happy ending when all Judeans will be restored to an ideal land. There is no suggestion that Diaspora Jews were continually donning sackcloth and wailing desperately for a return to Jerusalem. Or, in Gruen’s words,
This, hardly suggests that the Hellenistic Diaspora is a vale of tears.
3 Maccabees (1st C bce) however, does speak of great danger for Diaspora Jews in Egypt. Luckily, or Providentially, the mad schemes of Ptolemy IV are thwarted and a peaceful future is won for the Judeans in Egypt. A special feast is instituted and celebrated annually in Egypt to honor the rescue. This does not speak of a longing to “return” to Jerusalem.
The Diaspora authors responsible for 2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Testament of Job, the Sibylline Oracles and works of Philo did indeed speak of Palestine as “the holy land” but none of them links such a concept with a “longing to Return”.
How compelling was the notion of a “homeland” to Jews dwelling in Mediterranean communities . . . . Philo more than once endorses the idea that adherence to one’s patris has singular power. . . . . . It does not follow, however, that Diaspora Jews set their hearts upon a return to the fatherland. (Gruen: 69)
Look at Josephus and Philo. Josephus informs us that Jews can quite rightly call themselves Alexandrians, Antiohenes, Ephesians, etc.; Philo speaks of his home as “our Alexandria” and in one document labels himself as an “Alexandrian”.
A comparable sentiment might be inferred from an inscription of the Phrygian city of Acmonia, alluding to fulfillment of a vow made to the “whole patris.” A Jew or a group of Jews must have commissioned it, because a menorah appears beneath the text. Here again the “native city” is honored, presumably through a gift for civic purposes. The donor pronounces his local loyalty in a conspicuous public manner. Philo confirms the sentiment in striking fashion: Jews consider the holy city as their “metropolis,” but the states in which they were born and raised and which they acquired from their fathers, grandfathers, and distant forefathers they adjudge their patrides. That fervent expression eradicates any idea of the “doctrine of return.” Diaspora Jews, in Philo’s formulation at least, held a fierce attachment to the adopted lands of their ancestors. (Gruen: 70)
What of those temple offerings?
Josephus proudly observes that the donations came from Jews all over Asia and Europe, indeed from everywhere in the world, for countless years. And when local authorities interfered with that activity, the Jews would send up a howl to Rome. . . . The issue of paying homage to Jerusalem was paramount: Indeed the Romans, even after they destroyed the Temple, did not destroy that institution — an ironic acknowledgment of its power. They simply altered its recipient. The tithe would no longer go to the demolished shrine; it would metamorphose into a Roman tax. The money would now subsidize the cult of Jupiter Capitolinus. . . .
The yearly contribution proclaimed that the Diaspora could endure indefinitely, and quite satisfactorily. The communities abroad were entrenched and successful, even mainstays of the center. Diaspora Jews did not and would not turn their backs on Jerusalem, which remained the principal emblem of their faith. Their fierce commitment to the tithe delivered that message unequivocally. But the gesture did not signify a desire for the “Return.” It rendered the Return unnecessary. (Gruen: 71-72)
And those annual feasts?
In the New Testament we read of Jews/Judeans flocking from all over the world to attend a major holy festival in Jerusalem, the most famous one probably being the first Pentecost after the crucifixion of Jesus. But a pilgrimage for a feast is not evidence of a desire for migration. How many Arab-speaking citizens in the West are longing to “return” to live in Arabia near their most sacred sites of pilgrimage?
Look again at those literary works addressed in the previous post:
The Letter of Aristeas: Ptolemy’s stated intention is to have the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek for the benefit of Jews “throughout the world” and even those of future generations. That does not hint of a need to “return”.
3 Maccabees: when Ptolemy IV is prevented from entering the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem he turns his wrath upon the Jews in Egypt:
The king is determined to bring public shame, upon the ethnos of the Jews generally. Egyptian Jews are “fellow-tribesmen” of those who dwelled in Judaea. (Gruen: 73)
When Philo wrote of the persecutions of Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, he pointed out that news of the sufferings of that race spread rapidly throughout the Jewish or Judean communities throughout the Mediterranean, from Europe to Asia.
Jerusalem certainly was a point of imaginative focus and mark of identity. At the same time the Diaspora was not thought of a “shame” to be overcome, hidden or somehow denied and overturned.
Judeans were “appropriationists rather than assimilationists” — and that has been the point of this and the preceding post. Yes, Judeans avoided being lost in the “melting pot”, whether that “melting pot” represented the world of Hellenism or the “literalist and rabbinic-like Judaism” that became the mark of “Judaism” in a later era.
And to add my own little nagging thought that keeps thumping away in the back of my head: what room is there here for any sort of “messianic movement” or “messianic hope” or “messianic longing”. I see none. Do you differ?
Gruen, Erich S. 2018. The Construct of Identity in Hellenistic Judaism, Essays on Early Jewish Literature and History. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110375558.
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69 thoughts on “More about Second Temple Judaism”
After the destruction of Jerusalem, being unable to do the pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the Passover, the “ascent to earthly Jerusalem” of any Jewish-Christian had to be deliberately replaced/confused with the “ascent to celestial Jerusalem”. Hence what was more necessary in a first moment, was a story of the ascent of Jesus to heaven from Sheol, i.e. a story that started with the resurrection of Jesus, his short preaching on the earth and his final Transfiguration.
A trace of this is in Mark, per Robert Price’s words from chapter 1 of Deconstructing Jesus:
Darrell J. Doughty [in class lectures] suggests that Marks gospel, which has so many mysterious features, would make a lot more sense if we read it as having a circular structure—if it started with the resurrection! That’s why the book seems to end so abruptly at Mark 16:8, with the women fleeing from the tomb after a young man tells them Jesus will rejoin his disciples in Galilee. Mark wants the reader to look next at the only place there is left to look: the beginning. There we find the episode of Jesus’ calling the disciples at the lakeside and the mysteriously immediate response: The disciples drop what they are doing and follow him. Doughty noticed how much sense this scene makes if we assume the disciples know him already. Think of how similar the scene is both to Luke’s version in Luke 5:1-11 and to that in John 21:1-11, where it is explicitly a resurrection story! This is the reunion Mark’s young man was talking about (Mark 16:7)! So once the Risen Jesus regains his disciples at the Sea of Galilee, the post-resurrection teachings begin. They continue throughout the Gospel of Mark.
But even more so, we know that Heracleon identified Capernaum as allegory of Sheol, and the incipit of the Marcion’s Gospel had Jesus descended in “Capernaum”, before: the crucifixion was already happened, for the original readers of the story.
Yes, the circular narrative is an interesting idea. But why does Jesus keep ending up crucified even after his resurrection and return?
Because the original ending of Mark was the Transfiguration episode, when he ascended definitively to heaven. See for example the Christian scholar Etienne Trocme (who argued that proto-Mark was without the Passion Story).
When the readers lost the assumption that the story started with a already risen Jesus, they added the Passion Story, with the ascent to earthly Jerusalem replacing again the ascent to celestial Jerusalem, but this time being an earthly ascent of only a ‘man’ (and not more of all the Jews of the Diaspora): the Son of Man.
But “Mark” knew the original version. Hence he added the cryptic reference to the beginnings in Galilee.
Hence, in short:
the belief of Paul: Jesus descended in outer space, he dies, he rises and ascended to heaven
the earliest oral gospel: Jesus descended in outer space, he dies, he descended to Sheol, he rises and ascended to heaven
the earliest written gospel (proto-Mark): Jesus descended in outer space, he dies, he goes to Sheol, he rises, he preaches in Sheol, then he preaches on earth and ascended to heaven by the Transfiguration episode
the our Mark: Jesus preaches on earth, the Transfiguration episode, he ascended to Jerusalem, he dies, he rises.
I am not as well read as you or many of your readers, but when I read “The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. constitutes, in most analyses, a watershed event for the Jews of antiquity. The elimination of the center, source of spiritual nourishment and preeminent symbol of the nation’s identity, compelled Jews …” it echoed in my mind that the whole temple system was a system of political control, not religious fulfillment. The Jewish people didn’t make the Temple the “source of spiritual nourishment and preeminent symbol of the nation’s identity,” their leaders did. The “central” temple suppressed satellite temples that sprang up in far flung places (Egypt, Ethiopia, etc.). What this accomplished was a suppression of Jews traveling far from the Temple. If Judaism were in a position of servant to the Jewish people, the satellite temples would be a way to keep Jews on the road safely in their religion. Why suppress other temples, other than to consolidate power, the power to force obedience?
And by “putting all of their eggs in the same basket” they set themselves up for this catastrophe. If there had been a system of strong satellite temples, the destruction of the “central temple” would have been a blow, but not a catastrophe. Copies of all of the important documents could be lodged in those temples. Instead, every time Jerusalem was sacked, all of the people’s historical documents and artifacts were at risk.
I understand the reluctance to share power with far away organizations in an era of very slow communication, but I still think the “centralizing” of worship to Jerusalem, as it proved to be, was a major mistake, one still echoing down the years.
An interesting problem here is the existence of a Jewish Temple at Elephantine.
Steve, you say that the “‘central’ temple suppressed satellite temples that sprang up in far flung places (Egypt, Ethiopia, etc.)” with much assurance, but there is not the slightest evidence that the central temple suppressed either of the temples you allude to.
On the contrary, with regard to Geb (Elephantine), the governors of Samaria and Yehud authorised the rebuilding of the temple after its destruction by Egyptians (albeit without animal sacrifices) and it’s demise was apparently the result of the enlargement of the neighbouring temple of Khum. Not suppressed by Jerusalem.
As for the Jewish temple at Leontopolis founded by Onias, the Jerusalem temple didn’t have any authority or power to suppress it and never did suppress it. In fact, on the contrary, it was the Roman Emperor Vespasian who, in 73CE, “having in suspicion the restless temper of the Jews for innovation, and being afraid lest they should get together again, and persuade some others to join with them, gave orders to Lupus to demolish that Jewish temple which was … in Egypt.” Again, not suppressed by Jerusalem.
Having said that, it is clear that Jerusalem was not entirely comfortable with diaspora sanctuaries for one reason or another (the Talmud later voiced ambivalent, but not consistently hostile, views of the temple at Leontopolis), and it certainly pulled rank where it could, but it never suppressed them.
Magnifying on what you say, that temple at Elephantine was polytheistic and was signed off on by Jewish and Samaritan authorities that were both supposed to be hard-on monotheist, and not only that but at serious loggerheads with one another. Another case of the actuality contradicting what the Tanakh/Septuagint is telling us. None of this stuff is trustworthy when we have something independent to check it against.
I think a major issue is that ancient Judaism was no different than modern Judaism or Christianity in respect to diversity. There was a wide spectrum of beliefs and attitudes. One of the problems with understanding the development of Judaism has always been that the dominant view that we see today is a very selective and edited version of Jewish history, that has been controlled by the priesthood.
There were definitely messianic Jews, we see them very clearly at Qumran. At the same time, there were Jews that had no interest in the idea at all. I see ancient Judaism as little different from modern Judaism in that respect. There are fundamentalist Jews in Israel who are very different from Jews living in California or New York. You’ll have an Orthodox Israeli Rabbi on one hand and someone like Seth Rogan on the other hand, and Jews that don’t even care about Judaism at all in addition. It was little different in Hellenistic times it seems.
“it echoed in my mind that the whole temple system was a system of political control, not religious fulfillment.”
This was always true. This is a part of what I’m addressing in my book, which is that Judaism really originated as a system of political control. And I’d argue that the whole system of “monotheism” was itself devised as a system of political control. It’s also why the Romans adopted it during a time when they were in crisis and needed political control.
Judaism was adopted in a time of crisis as was Christianity. They were both adopted as ways of consolidating religio-political power.
What became “Judaism” began as Canaanites were suffering Assyrian invasion. It was a power move by the priests of Yahweh. The Canaanites were polytheist, like everyone else. Yahweh was just one of the many gods the Canaanites worshiped. Priests held significant political power and during the invasion of northern Canaan – Judea, the northern Canaanites fled to the south into Israel, where Yahweh was the main god, just as in Greece difference regions were dominated by the worship of this god or that. In some areas Hera was the patron goddess, in others Poseidon, in others Apollo, etc. When the northern Canaanite refugees came flooding into Israel during the Assyrian invasion, the southern Canaanite priests of Yahweh forced everyone to adopt worship of Yahweh as a means of excising control during the crisis. That was somewhat short-lived, but then the Yahweh priesthood took over again a few decades later during the reign of the child king Josiah. When Josiah was the king, they saw it as an opportunity to take over because he was only 8 years old. At that point they basically invented their own propaganda and false history and it built from there.
But during Hellenistic times, Jews were very evangelical. There were many strong movements of Jews seeking to convert large numbers of “Gentiles” to their faith. And a large part of that effort involved the fabrication of false histories and false prophecies. Prophecy was hugely influential in Greek, Roman and Jewish culture at this time. And essentially all prophecies were forgeries. All of classical religion was founded upon forgery and deception. Core fundamental aspects of all the major religions were rooted in forgery and intentional manipulation. It’s a game that all of the priests were playing, including the Jews. Everyone was forging prophecies, everyone was building deceptive temples, everyone was engaging in magic tricks to literally trick people into believing in supernatural powers. Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Jews, were all doing it.
Divination was basically a set of parlor tricks and performance magic. Temples were constructed with secret passages and hollow statues so that priest could speak from the gods, etc., etc. Trickery was rampant, and document forgery was a major part of all of this. The Sibylline prophecies were the most valued works or prophecy by the Romans and they were heavily relied on by the Senate. The Jews forged Sibylline prophecies and its clear that they actually fooled Romans into believing that they were authentic.
Christianity was just one small movement within this much larger context – one small leaf on a massive tree. And of course virtually all of the writings of Christianity are forgeries as well. The only “authentic” letters are the handful from Paul, and basically everything else is a forgery. I think Mark may not be a forgery, but rather something that was misinterpreted, but all the other writings are intentional deceptions, just like virtually all religious writings of the time were.
Ancient Judaism was itself a construct of propaganda and deception. There was a centralized priesthood that attempted to exercise control over it, though they had varying degrees of success, just like Catholics do today. There was this centralized priesthood that was ruling through deception and regulatory control, but also many separate movements that breached out and evolved on their own, lead by a mix of true believers and their own enterprising deceivers. Prophecy and divination were kind of seen as businesses in those times, among Greeks, Romans, and Jews, and people developed and ran cults as livelihoods, much like the way people in America run churches today. Just as today there are televangelists who no doubt are actually atheists who intentionally deceive people into giving them money with what they know are lies. There is some spectrum of genuine belief and deception across the board among them, but regardless, they run it all as a business. It was no different back then.
Just as now there is a centralized Roman Catholic Church that tries to exercise control, there are local variants an Catholics in Boston or California or Mexico or Brazil, Africa, etc. aren’t all really the same and there are many different varieties of what’s really going on, etc. And then on top of that you have Protestants who are an even more diverse set of Christians. Was no different among Jews back then.
So you are arguing for a conspiracy theory origin of Christianity?
(As for Qumran being evidence of “messianic Jews” — that is debated, by the way. It is not an undisputed “fact”. “Messiah” is a word found in our Bibles. It does not follow that everyone who reads or even believes the Bible is a “messianist”.)
“So you are arguing for a conspiracy theory origin of Christianity?”
Not at all. I’m saying Christianity developed the same way all religions back then developed. They were all frauds. This is pretty well beyond dispute, and ironically it was a key claim made by Christians themselves. They stated that all the other religions were frauds and exposed many such blatant abuses of the “pagan” priesthood.
I think its incontrovertible that all ancient prophecy is fraudulent. Interestingly, I think I’ve gotten much more comfortable with discussing fraud due to Bart Ehrman’s book, Forgery and Counterforgery, which I highly recommend. He makes the case that we have to call this stuff what it was, which was intentional forgery that was created with the intent to deceive people, and that’s true.
It is certainly true of basically all ancient works of religious writing. The works attributed to Orpheus were all forgeries. The works of the Sibyls – all forgeries. The Jewish -Sibylline works – all forgeries.
The books of the Torah – all forgeries.
Deuteronomy – a forgery planted in the Temple in a act of deception.
The Oracle centers throughout Greece – all frauds. The people running the oracle centers – all consciously deceiving people, which, by the way Cicero plainly states himself. Cicero says – this is all a scam!
You can hardly name a work of Greece or Roman religious literature that wasn’t a forgery. And as Ehrman states, this has been dismissed for long enough. Ehrman basically says, look, scholars have been bending over backwards trying to dismiss this for centuries, trying to call all of this just some kind of accepted cultural practice, but it’s clearly not true. As he shows, and as I’ve seen myself, all of these forgeries were done with the intent to deceive and they worked. When forgers got caught they were often killed, their works disregarded.
The Roman Senate was being run by magicians for Christ’s sake! There is example after example of things like making faked old texts, burying them in a cave, then claiming to find them and find prophecies on them, etc. The Senate was utterly dominated by diviners and fortunetellers. All of the top Senators and later Emperors were diviners, mostly Augurs. People were casting hexes on one another, forged prophecies were being produced left and right. Augustus was fanatically into astrology planing out all of his moves with star charts – being led astray by a court of astrologers. He died clutching star charts.
And what I discuss in my book is that much of all of this divination and prophecy “seemed to work”, i.e. a lot of what the prophets said came true. Why? We know none of this stuff could have really worked. It’s because the whole thing was an act and the “prophets” were involved in scamming people. You can’t predict the future or read people’s history by inspecting ox livers. So the fact that the Senate diviners were so successful at reading ox livers and got so much right tells us that they weren’t really reading ox livers, this was all a ruse. The reading of ox livers was just an act while the divers were busying gathering information on people through spies, paying assassins, and manipulating political figures with bribes, etc. And this isn’t unknown, this was a part of the problem that become widely acknowledged. Religion had become a farce in Rome, and clearly was being used as a tool of political manipulation.
And so my point is, that deception and forgery and manipulation was ubiquitous at this time in these cultures. What we see in the Christian texts and the Christian movement was no different. It doesn’t stand out as uniquely manipulative, it was simply comparable to the rest of what was going on.
I think the Romans who started Christianity were genuine believers who had themselves been fooled by the Gospels and other early Christian writings. I see the early Roman Christians as victims of low level fraud. In other word, most of the religious fraud that occurred at this time wasn’t for some grand purpose, it was just done in order to get a few dollars or to get your particular belief more widely accepted. I don’t think the forgers of the pseudo-Pauline letters had in mind the creation of what became Roman Catholicism. I don’t think the people who wrote the many Gospels (everything after Mark, including the non-canonical stuff) had any idea what these writings would lead to. Most likely, most of these forgers were simply trying to sell their works and get a few dollars. It appears that most ancient forgery was done for profit. Though the pseudo-Pauline letters and other early epistles don’t appear to be for profit, those were more ideological.
But I think what happened was all of this sort of just spun out of control and got way bigger than anyone imagined it would. But I think the Roman Christians were, for the most part, innocent dupes of these literary frauds. They took these literary frauds and read them literally and took them seriously and thought they were authentic and acted on what it would mean if the things said in these texts were true.
That they did this isn’t surprising because we know for a fact that many Romans, up to the highest levels, were major dupes for literary frauds. Hell, the most important literary works in all of Rome – the Sibylline Books, upon which some of the most important decisions in Roman history were based, were 100% frauds!
That’s a key issue. It’s indisputable that completely fraudulent works were at the heart of the administration of the Roman state. That’s well established. These fraudulent works were put in the most sacred temple, they had a dedicated priesthood bound to guard and interpret them. They were consulted repeatedly by the Senate. Interpretations from these books reversed decisions made by the Senate, they guided wars, they set policy! So we know that the Romans were fools for literary prophecy. And they were fooled by the Gospels. It’s as simple as that. These people were obsessed with prophecy, and the way they interpreted the Gospels, they saw them as the most profound proof of prophecy they’d ever seen. They surpassed the Sibylline books. This is why Constantine, himself a diviner, put stock in the religion.
That fraud was a par to fall of this doesn’t mean that there was a “conspiracy”. I think we have to get past the idea that “fraud” implies some kind of grand Da Vinci Code style conspiracy. The reality is that literary and religious fraud was ubiquitous in the classical world and Christianity developed out of that fraud in just the same way that all other religions of this time did.
“consciously deceiving people” — if it’s not a conspiracy then it’s the act of lone fraudsters, each trying to make money by knowingly fooling people. Is that what you are seriously saying is the origin of most religions?
(I am surprised to see you taking the structure of the OT stories as historically reliable information in order to argue for the way Deuteronomy was introduced when on the other hand you seem to be saying that the books describing this story are frauds.)
“it’s the act of lone fraudsters, each trying to make money by knowingly fooling people”
“Is that what you are seriously saying is the origin of most religions?”
I think the role of fraud in the development of Greco-Roman religion can’t be denied. And the same goes for Judaism really. I can’t say its true for all religions.
That each and every Orphic work is a conscious fraud I think is beyond dispute. That each and every Sibylline verse is a conscious fraud is beyond dispute. That the mystery religions were run fraudulently is beyond dispute. The whole administration of the Eleusinian mysteries (the most widely practiced) was a big family controlled scam. The Oracle at Delphi was a massive scam. The Oracle center was easily bribed, they had a network of spies, they pulled televangelist style scams on people, etc. I don’t think any of that is controversial.
“I am surprised to see you taking the structure of the OT stories as historically reliable information in order to argue for the way Deuteronomy was introduced when on the other hand you seem to be saying that the books describing this story are frauds.”
Perhaps, but it appears more that the account is a sanitized version of what happened that people back then didn’t see as unusual. The “Book of the Law” Temple scam was one of the most common of the classical world. There are over a dozen examples of the exact same scam being pulled throughout Greece and Rome.
Someone write a “diary” or “prophecy” or “account” or “code” of some kind, plants it in some location, then claims to have a dream about where to find it, then finds it, then claims its come miraculous or ancient work. This scam was successfully pulled over and over again.
I’m just saying that its indisputable that fraud was rampant, so that fraud played a role in the origins of Judaism and Christianity shouldn’t be surprising or even seen as an extraordinary claim.
Ehrman, of course, only cites 13 of the 27 NT books as “forgeries” — writings intended to deceive not for financial gain but for polemical purposes, doctrinal disputes. These are Acts, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John and Jude.
That leaves 14 NT works off Ehrman’s list: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians . . . .
Yes. So 7 of the 14 are letters of Paul. Then we have the 4 Gospels and Revelation and 3 epistles.
Within the 7 letters of Paul I’d argue that Paul himself engages in fraud. Paul’s claims of revelations are frauds. He’s either lying that he didn’t learn these things from other people, or he just made stuff up entirely. Anyone who tries to come up with claims about how Paul really had some kind of inspired visions is making stuff up. So yes, I consider Paul’s letters authentic, but within those letters Paul makes fraudulent claims.
As for the Gospels. I consider Mark to be a genuine non-fraudulent story, but that each of the other three Gospels, and every non-canonical Gospel, were conscious frauds. They are frauds for the same reasons that Ehrman says that Acts is a fraud. And you recently cited a link to the work of Mendez that explicitly states that John is a fraud/forgery. In reality Matthew is every bit as much a forgery as John for the same reasons. Luke as well. Clearly the writer of Luke is trying to pass his account off as authoritative yet he knew he himself made up many parts of it and he didn’t cite his sources.
The Gospel of Thomas is a clear fraud with its claim of being authentic sayings recorded from the living Jesus.
Revelation? We’ve got to move away from doing what I myself have done in the past, which is calling these apocalypses “a style” or a “genre” that somehow excuses the fact that the writers are claiming to have had real visions. The claims made in apocalypses are of genuine experiences and it is clear that many readers accepted them as such. The prophecies of the future, the lessons, the authority of these writings were given credence because readers believed in the truth of these visions. These weren’t taken as amusing poems, these were taken as real inspired facts from real prophets. Revelation wouldn’t be in the NT if the fathers just thought that it was some cool poem with some interesting ideas. They believed in the dive truth of this work, that its author had these literal visions which were of divine origin. Fraud.
And honestly, I’m being generous by still holding out that Mark is not a fraud, but is rather a misunderstood fiction. If Mark was intended to be taken literally then it too is a fraud. Can I really make a case beyond doubt that Mark wasn’t intended to be taken literally? I do try to strengthen that case in my new book, so I’m still an advocate of that position. But if that position is not maintained, then every single works of the NT is either a forgery, written with the intent to deceive, or makes consciously false claims. So really in my view, there is only one single work in the whole NT that we can’t say is a fraud or engaged in deception, and that is the Gospel of Mark. Everything else is a fraud or engages in fraud.
Yet we have to understand that there is nothing extraordinary about this. Essentially all prophetic literature was fraudulent, as was virtually all religious literature of any kind. And beyond that, even much of the foundational mythology was fraudulent too. Somewhere along the way, someone knew that the story of Aeneas being the founder of the Latins was a false made-up claim. These foundational stories weren’t innocent urban legends, they were in fact consciously constructed propaganda.
One of the ways that people have tried to justify much of classical nonsense is by creating this fog of “oral traditions” which they can comfortably say were just a product of confusion or misunderstandings that got distorted over time, and along the way it was all just innocent misunderstanding that finally got written down by some dutiful scribe who just innocently recorded this fog of oral fairy tales.
But what we see happening in academia right now, are major challenges to this whole idea, an idea that has dominated for centuries. It’s increasingly clear that many classical ideas were literary inventions created by people who were engaged in conscious deception. On top of that, the extent of other deceptions is becoming clearer as well. For example, we know that P.T. Barnum style fake mythical creatures were created and passed off and legitimate examples of real being. They were put on displays, etc. Fake centaurs, fake mermaids, etc. And these things were convincing and people were fooled by them, including high level officials and scholars.
So, my position is that many “ancient beliefs” weren’t merely just innocent misconceptions, they were products of conscious fraud. And I don’t think that position is unsupportable in the least. It’s a conclusion reached based upon overwhelming evidence. I used to be uncomfortable with such a conclusion myself, and I’ve tried to avoid it, but its just inescapable.
However, I do see a big difference between what I’m saying and claims like those of Atwill or Da Vinci Code style nonsense. Those things are talking about grand conspiracies. What I’m talking about is the same type of stuff that’s been seen over and over again. I’m talking about the same type of crap that’s still going on today in India with gurus, the stuff that happened in the Spiritualism movement of the late 19th century, the stuff still going in televangelism today, the stuff still going on with psychics today.
The religious movements of the classical world were driven by a mix of conscious fraud and innocent dupes who built on the frauds. In truth it appears more often that the ruling classes were themselves dupes, NOT the perpetrators of frauds. You had people forging writings from Orpheus or whomever, and then people who believed that those documents were real and built religions on them. Most of the people involved in this were innocent dupes. I’d say the same holds for Christianity. I’d say Justin Martyr was an innocent dupe who had read a Gospel story and believed it. The same for Clement, Irenaeus, Origen, etc. Then we have more complicated cases, like those of Tertullian and possibly Eusebius who were no doubt genuine believers, but who also engaged in some lying and forgery as well.
So I don’t see this as an issue of grand conspiracies, it’s more an issue of charlatanism.
I’ve only read the first lines of your response and have these responses:
So you don’t believe it is possible that Paul had visions, yes? (I’m not for a moment suggesting that any visions were from a real Deity that he and others believed in. I am simply addressing the question of “visions” and what Paul believed about them.)
He may have been lying, and he may have believed he had visions. How can you decide either way?
I cited a link that disputed modern scholarly views that there was a “Johannine community”. And I don’t know any critical scholar who attributes the gospel to a John son of Zebedee. But I don’t see anything in the gospel itself that says any John wrote it. So in what sense do you mean to say it is a “forgery”? Ehman excludes from his list of forgeries works that are misattributed by later readers to a certain author.
“So you don’t believe it is possible that Paul had visions, yes?”
I think that certainly Paul’s Eucharist presentation in 1 Corinthians is a fraud no matter how to spin it. I think he’s definitely sating in that passage that these words came to him and him alone directly from Jesus. It’s a lie no matter what. Either he learned them from someone else or he made them up himself. I don’t think he had a “vision” or some kind of psychotic episode in which he envisioned that ritual and thought it really came directly from the Lord.
When Paul talks about showing people an “image” of the Crucifixion, this sounds to be like the types of things they did in mystery cults, and those practices were certainly frauds. They did things that fooled people into thinking they were seeing literal gods, with stuff like sleep and light deprivation and then shining bright lights in their eyes and projecting shadows and images, etc.
Those activities were the perpetrations of frauds. The people doing them knew what they were doing and set everything up like stage magic.
“I cited a link that disputed modern scholarly views that there was a “Johannine community”.”
Title: Everyone’s Favorite Gospel Is a Forgery
“Instead, Mendez told me, “the Gospel of John, and the letters of 1 2, and 3 John are a chain of ancient literary forgeries.” Forgeries like this were, as Bart Ehrman showed in his Forgery and Counterforgery, very common among early Christians. Two second-century early Christian texts—the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Peter—claim to have been written by disciples of Jesus but were actually written by others.
In his article Mendez argues that the author of the Gospel of John used the same strategy in order to endow his work with greater credibility. The “beloved disciple” and “elder” referred to in the Johannine corpus are what he calls “literary masks.” There’s no point trying to reconstruct a community of followers around them “because they never existed.”
Woah here! You are talking about Christians today and those of some generations later than the original audience as if they were the original recipients of the work. How can you justify that approach? What can you tell us about the actual author of the work and his original audience?
So you disagree with Bart Ehrman’s definitions and understandings. (You pointed to Ehrman as your justification earlier.)
I really don’t understand your point here. No scholar has ever suggested (at least as far as I am aware) that any ancient prophecy was the actual word of a truly divinely inspired Moses or Orpheus. No-one. Of course they are not “real prophecies”. Who has ever disputed that?
“Woah here! You are talking about Christians today and those of some generations later than the original audience as if they were the original recipients of the work. ”
1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
“9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.””
“So you disagree with Bart Ehrman’s definitions and understandings.”
I agree with Ehrman, but just take his points further, as in most everything Ehrman says. Obviously I disagree with Ehrman on a lot of stuff. Usually Ehrman gets a lot of stuff right, then stops short. He does the same here.
It’s the exact same thing that Mendez says, see prior post.
“I really don’t understand your point here. No scholar has ever suggested (at least as far as I am aware) that any ancient prophecy was the actual word of a truly divinely inspired Moses or Orpheus. No-one. Of course they are not “real prophecies”. Who has ever disputed that?”
Exactly, that’s my point. This really shouldn’t be a divisive issue, it’s actually well established.
But it’s also the case that many people have been reluctant to call much of this material fraudulent as well, often preferring to justify it in some way, much as Ehrman described of NT studies and the pseudo-Pauline letters. They’ll talk about how these Orphic works were some kind of genre or style and dismiss this as a bunch of innocent cultural preference or something. But that’s just not the case at all. These works were forgeries that tricked people. I think the willingness to accept and address all of these works are forgeries is something much more recent, even though they have been acknowledged as inauthentic for centuries.
I mean certainly Roman senators weren’t hinging their votes on the words of the Sibylline Books knowing that they weren’t really prophetic works authored by an ancient prophetess, but were instead just recent fabrications written by some guy who was just writing obscure poems about the past and making up stuff about the future. No, the Romans senators thought that the Sibylline Books were real prophecies produced hundreds or thousand of year before them by ancient seers who had correctly foretold the future and whose words could be relied on to guide them. That’s major fraud!
Imagine today if now during this COVID19 crisis the American Senate’s first action was to consult the Golden Tablets that had been discovered by Joseph Smith. That’s what was going on here! That’s what the Roman senate did! They did that because they genuinely believed that those writings were real and had real prophetic power. That was a product of conscious fraud perpetrated by the producers of those works.
“but you are “extending” the point in directions that are unwarranted, as Ehrman would surely try to point out, too.”
I’m sure he would, but he always misses the point, so that’s to be expected.
For example. Ehrman goes to all of this trouble to demonstrate that virtually all of the epistles are forgeries, but then fails to grasp the implications of what he has shown. The implications are not merely that the NT contains forgeries, all that he seems to point out. The implications go much farther.
Why were people making forgeries in the name of Paul, James and Peter? To give credibility to their theological positions.
If the goal was to give credibility to their theological positions, then why did they not instead make forgeries in Jesus’ name? Why did no one appeal to the teachings of Jesus? Why did no one claim that their theological claim was true because Jesus said so?
You see, in order to give credence to their theological points they were invoking the greatest authority that they knew of. They were forging letters in the name of the authority figure that legitimized their teachings. That figure was Paul, not Jesus. And in opposition to Paul there was James… again not Jesus.
In the pre-Gospel theological struggles no one invoked the name of Jesus. No one claimed that a teaching was true because Jesus said it. No one wrote anything and attributed it to Jesus. When they wanted to opposite Pauline ideas they invoked James, not Jesus.
Why? Of course for the same reason that no one forged letters in the name of Yahweh either. People didn’t forge letters in the name of Zeus or Apollo or Demeter or “the Lord”, because these were not beings that produced letters or walked the earth conveying teachings.
No, they forged letters in the name of Orpheus and Musaeus and Moses and Daniel because those were believed to be real people. Pre-Gospel writers didn’t forge letters in Jesus’ name because he was not believed to be a real person. After Jesus was believed to be a real person, many letters were forged in his name and people appealed to his teachings in fabricated works. That never happened in pre-Gospel writings because no one saw Jesus as a person who had any teachings to cite.
This is what Ehrman has missed.
And this is why so much of my book is about forgery, the motivations of forgery, the techniques of forgery, and the styles of forgery. Of course its also about showing why the Romans believed the Gospels, rooted in how the Romans understood prophecy and what they viewed as legitimate prophecy.
I’m talking about how you “extend” Ehrman’s arguments to apply them more broadly to documents and practices he does not believe they should apply to. That’s what I meant by Ehrman saying he would disagree with your attempt to “extend” his arguments that way. (The question of appealing to Jesus is another matter entirely.)
But again — just appealing to your book does not advance a discussion. Surely you can give us a key reason or two to tell us now why “Romans believed the Gospels” — so far you have implied it was because they were stupid or gullible for believing made-up nonsense. Is there are deeper analysis that you can offer?
On the separate question of “not choosing Jesus” as a voice for a “forgery” — we do have four of them in the canonical gospels, each with a Jesus making different statements; and then we have Paul speaking of what Jesus said to him, and we have the book of Revelation which is another version of the words of Jesus, and we do have the noncanonical tracts or gospels where we read again different doctrines put in the mouth of Jesus, and different accounts of his time on earth. So there were many documents produced claiming to be the words of Jesus.
“Surely you can give us a key reason or two to tell us now why “Romans believed the Gospels” — so far you have implied it was because they were stupid or gullible for believing made-up nonsense.”
What I can show is a pattern of the types of things they believed to be true that we no longer believe to true and how the Gospels fit into those patterns. Why did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believe that people could make contact with the dead and speak to them? I don’t know “why” he believed that while others saw through it. I simply know that he did. And so if someone claims that a given seance was “real” because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an eyewitness and saw it and can affirm that “the Ouija board really moved”, I can then show that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not a good witness because we have evidence that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in the truth of events that were proven by others in his presence to be false. We can show that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle witnessed a seance, believed that the person was really speaking to the dead, and that Houdini was at the same seance and exposed the person as a faker. Thus, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not a reliable witness as to the authenticity of seances.
Likewise, we can show that even Roman scholars and high ranking officials are not reliable judges as to the veracity of claims about the existence of people in prophetic stories. This is because it can be shown from all manner of angles that Roman scholars and high ranking officials believed things to be true that we can prove were not true and that they believed people to exist that we can prove did not exist. We can show how the Gospels fit into a pattern of prophetic claims and practices that were widely accepted as legitimate, even though we can prove prove they were not.
The question being answered is, “Why would the Romans believe that the Gospels were true and that Jesus was a real person if he never even existed? Surely if the Romans believed the accounts they would have at least known whether this person really existed or not?”
This is about demonstrating that the Romans regularly believed in the existence of people who didn’t exist and were fooled by prophecies happening right before their very eyes. Their ability to discern fact from fiction was highly compromised, even among supposed scholars and highly educated officials – that they regularly fell for falsehoods of the exact nature of the Gospels. And this shows us something twofold: 1) The fact that the Romans believed the stories about Jesus to be true lends no credence to the historical reliability of the accounts 2) That the people writing the Gospels were aware of, and consciously designed their narratives according to, widely effective tropes of prophetic literature. These weren’t backwoods scribes just writing stuff down, these were people who were aware of and practiced in the arts of prophetic manipulation.
The Gospel of John is perhaps the supreme example, as work that like of Mendez indicates. Also again look at Ehrman’s work. Look at what Ehrman says about the Pastorals. These works were effective at fooling people because they were using advanced techniques in forgery. These weren’t simple forgeries that someone invented on their own in their hut. These writers were using learned techniques that had been shown to be highly effective. The writer of John is employing a multitude of devices to convince readers of the legitimacy of his account. We have other examples of these techniques and know they were employed in the Roman book markets. And what I’m doing in this book is showing where those devices came from. I’m showing other examples of the employment of those same devices and what the effects of the employment of those devices were.
And so the point here is that people like the writer of John or the writer of the Pastorals were practiced forgers. This is why I go into details about the Roman book markets and the deceptions going on there, about the creation and use of Sibylline prophecies, etc. It’s a big case. There is a lot to lay out. No, I’m not going to replicate my book here in posts. It’s a big complicated case that has to be laid out methodically with the building up of layers of examples and explanations. I’m showing how Christian writings fit into a pattern of forgeries in prophetic literature and about what these patterns of forgery tell us about the nature of what they describe. The focus of the book is on other examples. I spend very little time on Christian writings. It’s about showing: Here look at example A, B, C and D that all scholars can agree are forgeries, that the events of these accounts never happened and aren’t based on real events, that the figures in these accounts never existed but are instead literary inventions, and now look at these Christian works and see how they relate to these other examples. Etc. Let’s look at Roman examples, let’s look at Greek examples, let’s look at Jewish examples. Let’s look at the pattern of Jewish forgery and prophecy leading up to the rise of Christianity and how those prior examples of Jewish forgery and prophecy were received by Greek and Romans.
What I see in the literature are really hundreds of disconnected cases in isolation that aren’t being brought together to show the big picture. Scholars have laid lots of pictures of individuals trees and not put them together to show the forest. There are many studies on individual cases of forgery and fraud. We see things like acknowledgement of the prophetic forgery taking place around the death of Caesar, we see things like understanding how to date works according to the practices of forgery using retrospective narratives, etc. but most scholars are very reluctant to go beyond simply recognizing these features. They don’t get into the implications. I get into the implications. We’ve got all of this evidence showing how widespread forgery and fraud was in the classical world, so now let’s explore the big picture implications of what that means.
This is the same approach I took in DtG. We’ve got multiple scholars who make the case that the Gospel of Mark is a pure fiction. But few of those scholars claim that Jesus never existed. What DtG is about is exploring the implications of what it means when we acknowledge that the Gospel of Mark is a pure fiction. If the Gospel of Mark is a pure fiction then the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. I can’t explain why other scholars who recognize that Mark is a pure fiction don’t see the full implications of what that means, but that’s why I wrote my book, to present what I believe the implications are.
So yeah, I’m going to make a case that others haven’t made. I’m going to go out on a limb. That’s the point.
Anyway, i think we can put this to rest. But I sincerely appreciate your feedback and all of the stuff you’ve pointed out. I’d be disappointed if you agreed with everything I said right away. That would mean it’s all obvious. Hopefully I’m working on stuff that’s not obvious. But by the same token, I’m not going to lay out all my research here right now either. It’s enough for me to express the ideas and my conclusions and leave it at that. I’m okay with not convincing you right now 🙂
All the best
I was not aware that this was the question I was addressing or the primary point you were making. I thought you were arguing for something much more systematic — about the institutions of ancient religious practices and practitioners and their characterization as “charlantry” through and through, and that you were placing Christian origins within those contexts.
As for when “Romans believed that the gospels were true and Jesus was real” — that is a very vague statement that I cannot address unless it is narrowed down to something specific.
Which “Romans” and when? By “Romans” do you mean people of Rome? citizens of Rome? gentiles? or all people in the Roman empire?
“Believed the gospels” — which gospels and when? When were the gospels circulating and when were “Romans” reading them or having them read to them and why and where and in what contexts? In synagogues? On street corners? At dinner parties? And when? turn of century? late second century? early third century? And where? Palestine? Syria? Rome? Greece? What are we talking about here — I can’t discuss something as vague and woolly as the question of “Romans coming to believ the gospels”.
As for the question “Romans coming to believe Jesus existed” — again, how can we meaningfully discuss this unless we have some idea of who, exactly, when, exactly, where, exactly, what, exactly, etc.
I don’t know how it is possible to pin down when or where the first people came to believe Jesus was a historical person, or which people these were.
With all of those unknowns it seems to me to be short of a valid leap to assume it had something to do with Christianity being like “ancient religious practices” which are said to be like, with blanket application, the minority charlatans in the USA today. (Okay, I can’t say for sure if they are a minority in the US — but they are certainly a minority and cannot be held up as representatives of the religious establishments, Christian or otherwise, in other places like Europe.)
If you don’t test your research here or elsewhere then it does indeed sound like you are attempting to hold out bait to buy your book. But when you don’t give us confidence that your book is grounded in valid conclusions from hard evidence then some of us will not be interested in taking it up any further.
I may address the rest of your comment later.
Added some time later than the above…..
(I had half-hoped that the list of books and articles I had in my collection might open up interpretations and understandings of ancient religious practices, especially those related to the more “bizarre”, that are the mainstream and fairly tried and tested understandings over time. If you can show where all of these have erred, and where Ehrman himself has erred, then you might really have something.)
So it’s not a single grand conspiracy that would justify a Dan Brown movie, but lots of little conspiracies all over the place. Yes?
I know you don’t like it when I keep mentioning the books I’m working on, but that’s where this research comes from, and that’s where all of this will be laid out more methodically in much greater detail.
So basically what I’m doing in my new book is first really working through Greek and Roman history and Greek and Roman prophecy, showing how prophecy and divination worked, how it was performed, and how it was received by Greeks and Romans. This material is really all well beyond dispute and not controversial.
Within that, of course the Roman use of the Sibylline Books plays a major role, as do many more practices of the Roman senate. I also spend some time on the execution of Julius Caesar and all of the prophecies and omens that surround that event. The role of prophecy in all of this is well established.
Now, Caesar was warned to beware the Ides of March by an official Etruscan soothsayer, we all know this. Caesar was later killed just as he had been warned correct? Yes of course. Did the Etruscan soothsayer had a divine premonition? Of course not. He knew that there were plots against Caesar. But what did the soothsayer do? Did he sit down with Caesar and explain his sources to him and tell him what he knew? No, he didn’t. He told his fortune. He engaged in ritual divination. And this wasn’t the only event, Caesar was given multiple warnings from various prophets, and there was a sacrifice in which the diviners told Caesar that the sacrificial ox was missing a heart and this was an omen to call off the senate session, etc. Now, was that ox REALLY missing a heart? Of course not. The diviners hid the heart using slight of hand. The diviners knew of the plots against Caesar.
You see, this is how things worked. But what were these people doing? This was all stage-magic and fraud. The diviners had some real concrete knowledge. They did not express that real knowledge. They instead staged a ceremony in which they engaged in parlor trickery to produce an omen.
And we are talking about extremely important events here at the highest levels of government. So to claim that talk about this type of thing is a bunch of conspiracy theory nonsense is not true and it’s actually very easy to factually establish that this kind of deception was taking place at the highest levels of government in Rome. And this can’t be dismissed as “cultural beliefs” or “misconceptions” or some nonsense.
The fact clearly is that fraud and deception were ubiquitous in Roman religion and prophecy. And we also know, and Ehrman also points out, that when it was discovered that these prophets engaged in this type of behavior it wasn’t dismissed as “Oh, that’s a funny ritual we do,” no these people were executed. These”prophets” were fooling people. People believed them. And when it was discovered that they were using trickery they were killed for it. This was serious business.
So anyway, I start with all of this and really establish what was going on in these cultures, and then move on to the development of Judaism the use of prophecy among Jews, and the rise of millniarianism that I believe the Jesus cult springs from. Then discuss Paul’s ministry in the context of Jewish forgery and millniarianism, the forging of the early epistles, the war and the writing of Mark, the production of the other Gospels and how all of this related to the Roman book markets and the rampant forgery that was taking place there. Then show that the Gospels were interpreted by Romans in accordance with the way that Romans interpreted other works that are now widely acknowledged as forgeries and how they were fooled by the Gospels in the same way that they were fooled by other prophetic works.
There’s no grand conspiracy, just a culture that was rife with fraud, and people who were fooled by it.
The problem I have had with your appeal to a future book is that you have not allowed any sort of engagement with the comment you are making here. It would be more constructive to give us the sources of your information so we can check and discuss them here instead of just waiting for your book to appear.
Has it occurred to you that certain historians may not have been relating actual events but have been dramatizing the death of a great figure by claims of unnatural phenomena? Example: No one staged a cow appearing to give birth to a lamb in the temple court at all. Another example: No one staged pretend bodies returning from the grave when Jesus was crucified — nothing like it happened at all.
Is it not likely — given what we know of the popular and literary culture — that there was no claim that a sacrificed animal was found to have no heart. There was no fraud or trickery by priests at all. Nothing like that happened except in hindsight.
Just to be clear: I don’t mind anyone telling us that they are working on a book. It’s fine to say that an argument is set out in more depth in the coming book. But for a comment here to be useful it needs to at least point out the sources, both secondary and primary, that certain claims are based on. We can’t discuss evidence and arguments that we are told are coming up in the future: such statements do tend to come across, even if unintentionally, as building up anticipation for a future purchase. We don’t expect arguments set out in full, but at least if we can be given citations, directions to sources, and some account of at least the main points of evidence, then we have room for a discussion and engagement with the ideas.
Scholars, as we know, will often test ideas that they are planning to include in a book by posting them piecemeal as journal articles. That allows them to have feedback before the major publication. The major arguments will be in the book, all organized and methodical, etc. But till then bits and pieces can be reviewed and discussed.
In discussing Cicero’s account of the heart missing from Caesar’s sacrifice Middleton added the following note which agrees with your point:
Do you know who those “Naturalists” were that Middleton was referring to?
What was the motive for all of those soothsayers trying to warn Caesar with trickery?
r.g.price said: “There’s no grand conspiracy, just a culture that was rife with fraud, and people who were fooled by it.”
Is it possible to compare some aspects of this with the “Shroud of Turin” fraud ?… The lack of scepticism and the gullibility of the superstitious doing the time period of the original event.
I don’t see it. The Shroud of Turin was not held up as proof of the resurrection by the disciples and gullible people at that time of Jesus’ burial did not believe because of it.
Herodotus mocks the gullibility of people believing they saw a goddess riding on a chariot to endorse a political usurper. Such events, if true, may have led to a few extra prayers and offerings at a temple but they don’t start new religions.
“Has it occurred to you that certain historians may not have been relating actual events but have been dramatizing the death of a great figure by claims of unnatural phenomena?”
In this case, we have at least four accounts of the ox sacrifice,two of which are very credible. I go over the accounts from Plutarch, Suetonius, Appian and Cassius Dio.
I think its reasonable to conclude from their account that the ox sacrifice really took place. But its also reasonable because palming an ox heart is a simple magic trick. One of the things I talk about is that divination persisted for centuries and was viewed as reliable. In order for that to be true it had to seem like it was working. The only way to make stuff like reading entrails and deciphering passages and reading star charts and receiving oracles from gods seem to work is to engage in the same types of deceptions that magicians use today.
There was a lot of staged performance taking place. And there are accounts of various plots being uncovered, where things like people from oracle centers were spying on people and collecting rumors, etc. and accounts of mechanical statues, etc. that appeared to speak, things of that nature. This was all mixed in also with fabricated and false accounts as well of course.
You don’t think that most times what was said was vague or ambiguous enough to be taken a number of ways, or that it “worked” as often as the law of averages would predict? We do have stories of terribly bad decisions being made on basis of occult practices but that didn’t stop the practices. I find it difficult to accept that all occult practices were conscious deceits on the part of tricksters who didn’t really believe what they were doing.
Not Cassius Dio. Cicero, in Divination.
Neil Godfrey says: “Such events, if true, may have led to a few extra prayers and offerings at a temple but they don’t start new religions.”
Neil, do you agree that Gospel According to Mark did not start a new religion, but either directly triggered (intentional or not) a fork in the religion or inspired the authors of subsequent works to fork the religion.
NB: Per “fork”, I mean in the programming sense of branching, such that forking leads to the development of different versions of a computer program.
“You don’t think that most times what was said was vague or ambiguous enough to be taken a number of ways, or that it “worked” as often as the law of averages would predict?”
There is no one single explanation for all of the accounts of classical prophecy and divination. Certainly vague statements with open interpretations were a part of the issue, but even the way those statements were made intentionally vague to begin with was a conscious choice.
“We do have stories of terribly bad decisions being made on basis of occult practices but that didn’t stop the practices.”
Very true, just as we have examples of bad decisions being made on the basis of economic forecasts and weather forecasts today, but we still don’t stop relying on such forecasts. This is because they tend to be more accurate than chance.
“I find it difficult to accept that all occult practices were conscious deceits on the part of tricksters who didn’t really believe what they were doing.”
I never claim that “all” occult practices were conscious deceits, but certainly a good portion were.
It’s no different than more recent examples. Look at televangelists like Robert Tilton, do you think he genuinely believes any of the nonsense he spouts? Look at how his correspondence with donors is constructed. Look at the techniques he uses. This is a person engaged in conscious fraud.
Look at people like Uri Geller. Look at James Randi’s exposure of the preacher Peter Popoff. Randi exposed how Popoff was using hidden microphones and transmitters to get information about people relayed to him so he could tell them things about themselves that they thought he couldn’t possibly know. Look at all of the bogus faith healers over the centuries.
People have struggled mightily with acknowledging that these people are pure scam artists who don’t actually believe what they preach, but its clearly true. You have people orchestrating choreographed performances and deceiving people into thinking that they’ve healed a person who was blind or couldn’t walk or that had cancer to scam other desperate people with those afflictions out of money. It’s the most reprehensible thing imaginable practically.
You think this is a purely modern phenomenon? No, not at all, this all goes back to the dawn on time. The only profession older than prostitution is scamming people.
Look at the Spiritualism movement. Do you think that ANY of the Spiritualists actually believed any of their claims? Do you think that any modern psychic or mind reader believes in the powers they profess to have? None of them do. They are all 100% fakers. They have to be, because you cannot perform their illusions without understanding how they work, and when you understand how they work you know that it’s not according to what you lead people to believe.
The Spiritualism movement was huge. And within it thousands of Spiritualist performers of varying skill made professions out of scamming people. Much of this happened organically and independently once the phenomenon was popularized. Every single one of those performers was a lying scammer. None of them believed in the powers they purported to posses. And it didn’t take a conspiracy to make that movement. Yet heads of state and esteemed scientists and news organizations were all fooled to the point of re-wring scientific text books over the matter. And this was in the early 20th century! Not a single Spiritualist performer really believed they could contact the dead. They all had to be engaged in conscious fraud because there is no way to make their performances work otherwise. And people like Houdini proved it.
I go through lots of accounts in the book to make the case that conscious fraud was widespread. I address this on multiple levels, with the performance of divination as well as the records of prophecy as well as the production of prophet texts. Yes, not all records are real. I talk about that too. There is a mix of original forgery and later forgery as well. For example, Oracle centers, like Delphi, were engaged in trickery and did produce manipulated oracles that seemed powerfully predictive, but they also made up stories as well. This was like advertising. They would also produce claims that they had predicted some thing and disseminate those claims, and those claims would be believed, even though they never really happened. So we can’t always tell if an account of a prophecy is an account of something that really was an actual prediction that came true, or if its just a later fabricated prediction of something in retrospect, or if the whole this is just entirely made up about an event that never even happened.
You can’t be a magician and believe in magic, period. 100% of magicians know that “magic isn’t real.”
Another thing to understand is that performance magic is a new phenomenon, really created in the late 19th century. Where does performance magic come from? Performance magic grew out of religious deceptions. Performance magic grew out of techniques that were used and had been passed down for centuries to scam people.
Indeed people like Harry Houdini were pioneers of turning performance magic into a legitimate and reputable form of entertainment. This was a big part of Houdini’s conflict with other magicians. Houdini was against fooling people into believing that magicians had real supernatural powers, but in fact that was the dominant form of the art when Houdini was getting started. The dominant form of the art in the early 19th century and prior was to claim that the performer had real powers. Houdini was among the leaders who stated that he did not have real powers, but rather everything he did was an illusion, done by slight of hand, using techniques that anyone could perform if they understood how. This was revolutionary in the trade and got a lot of magicians very angry at Houdini.
Do you think that Rasputin was a genuine believer in his powers? Of course not, he was a scam artist.
And anyway, the point of all this in my book is to establish that the fact that people believed the Gospels to be true, even within 100 years of the events they portrayed, doesn’t give any reason to believe that they must have some basis in fact. What I go into in the book is how so many of the things that people believed to be true, even things that were claimed to be happening all around them, had no basis in fact. This goes from the belief that the Romans were descendants of Aeneas to the belief that the Sibyls were real people to belief in accounts of omens to the decision making practices of the senate to the acceptance of recent accounts of prophecies to being fooled by performances of divination, etc. The whole thing is about understanding the way that these people assessed the validity of accounts and prophecies and how they were mislead and fooled over and over and over and over and over again, and about how many of the techniques that we find in order forms of prophecy and divination and religious trickery of the time are utilized in early Christian writings.
I’d rather an argument was made on the basis of what we know of the ancient institutions. No-one has ever doubted that there have always been charlatans — and some of those from ancient times have been discussed here. And students of ancient history have long known of certain techniques for creating religious experiences, the nature of prophecies, etc. But you seem to be going beyond any of that and sound as if you are branding all the institutions as run by deliberate deceivers who do not believe in what they are doing, and that the primary reason for their success and the stability of ancient religion is the corresponding stupidity of the “believers”. This scenario, if I am understanding you correctly, is indeed a conspiracy theory of religion and it immediately runs up against the many difficulties modern theories of mass conspiracies face.
“if I am understanding you correctly, is indeed a conspiracy theory of religion and it immediately runs up against the many difficulties modern theories of mass conspiracies face.”
I’m not doing any more than Ehrman does in Forgery and Counterforgery, I’m just applying it to a broader scope. Ehrman is only looking at the NT, I’m just widening the scope to show that what happened with NT forgeries fits into a larger pattern that was prevalent in the classical world.
The approach I take is actually quite similar to Ehrman’s, just casting a much wider net.
I look back on times when I can see I was too rigid in my thinking and should have yielded to other ideas people were trying to present to me. I try to be open to criticism and revision of what I have thought. And I hope my difference of opinion with you is certainly not in any way fueled by hostility or negativity of any sort.
But I sometimes baulk at some of your comments at what to me looks like a too quickly informed impression of some practice or outlook in the ancient world. Much has been written in scholarly channels about magic, charlatanism, hocus pocus in the ancient world, especially in relation to what we would think of as “religious beliefs and practices” — yet I get the impression you are extending a viewpoint that goes way beyond anything set out in those works.
By your own admission you “go beyond” anything Ehrman has written. You seem to me to disagree with his reasons for not assigning all the NT to “forgery” and certainly disagree with the point of his discussion in his final chapter of Forgery and Counterforgery where he set out a what strikes me as a very different outlook on the ancient practices. In that work by Ehrman I can recognize a lot of other scholarship about deceivers and tricksters in the ancient world from my other reading of primary and secondary sources, and I can especially see in his final chapter a quite “conventional” understanding of how all of that fits in with the texts of early Christianity. I would be very surprised if you found Ehrman agreeing with your “extension” of his arguments.
In your example of Julius Caesar’s sacrifice that was found to be without a heart you see an instance of an outright “magic trick” (though the motive for this trick is something you have not given us — though I have asked for what it might have been). There are several problems with such an interpretation, the first one being that Julius Caesar himself had been both a priest and high priest (pontifex maximus) so we can assume that he knew the sorts of “tricks” you say were at work here. In none of the accounts of this supposed event is there any suggestion that Caesar disbelieved the omen because he knew it was a trick — which would surely be the most reasonable thing to assume if he had been a priest and high priest himself and if we accept the story as historical.
One could go on with many more facets of the difficulty of accepting just this one event to have been both historically true and also some sort of priestly conspiracy.
You have probably taken note of some of the following but I list here some of the books and articles I have added to my collection on this topic — but I would dearly love to be informed of others that surely should be included in any collection (my list is mostly just from serendipity):
– – – –
Annus, Amar, ed. 2010. Divination and Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World. Oriental Institute Seminars, no. 6. Chicago, Ill: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Aune, David E. 1983. Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World / David E. Aune. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans.
Bohak, Gideon. 2008. Ancient Jewish Magic: A History. Cambridge University Press.
Cumont, Franz. 2017. Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans. Pinnacle Press.
Dickie, Matthew W. 2003. Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World. Routledge.
Dillon, Matthew. 2017. Omens and Oracles: Divination in Ancient Greece. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge.
Federico. Santangelo. 2013. Divination, Prediction and the End of the Roman Republic Federico Santangelo. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/slq/detail.action?docID=1357348.
Frankfurter, David. 2019. Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic. Leiden ; Boston: BRILL.
Godwin, Joscelyn. 1981. Mystery Religions in the Ancient World. 1st U.S. ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Graf, Fritz. 1999. Magic in the Ancient World. Translated by Franklin Philip. Reprint edition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Hegedus, Timothy. 2007. Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology. New York: Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers.
Johnston, Sarah Iles, ed. 2007. Ancient Religions. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press.
———. 2013. Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece. First Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lang, Andrew. 2010. Magic and Religion. Nabu Press.
Neujahr, Matthew. 2012. Predicting the Past in the Ancient Near East: Mantic Historiography in Ancient Mesopotamia, Judah, and the Mediterranean World. SBL Press.
Noegel, Scott, and Joel Walker Walker. 2010. Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World. Penn State Press.
Pakkanen, Petra. 1996. Interpreting Early Hellenistic Religion: A Study Based on the Mystery Cult of Demeter and the Cult of Isis. Helsinki: Suomen Ateenan-instituutin säätiö.
Potter, D. S. 1994. Prophets and Emperors: Human and Divine Authority from Augustus to Theodosius. Revealing Antiquity 7. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Skinner, Stephen. 2014. “Magical Techniques and Implements Present in Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, Byzantine Greek Solomonic Manuscripts and European Grimoires: Transmission, Continuity and Commonality (the Technology of Solomonic Magic).” Thesis. https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/206921442.
Skinner, Stephen. 2014. Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic. Llewellyn.
Versnel, H. S. 2011. Coping with the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology. Leiden ; Boston: Brill.
Whitmarsh, Tim. 2015. Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
– – – –
And some articles or book chapters (also from serendipity — I would love to be notified of other worthwhile additions) — And do excuse the inconsistencies in the formatting …..
Athanassiadi, Polymnia. 1992. “Philosophers and Oracles: Shifts of Authority in Late Paganism.” Byzantion 62: 45–62.
———. 1993. “Dreams, Theurgy and Freelance Divination: The Testimony of Iamblichus.” The Journal of Roman Studies 83: 115–30. https://doi.org/10.2307/300982.
Bryant, Joseph M. 1986. “Intellectuals and Religion in Ancient Greece: Notes on a Weberian Theme.” The British Journal of Sociology 37 (2): 269–96. https://doi.org/10.2307/590358.
Cancik, Hubert. 1997. “The History of Culture, Religion, and Institutions in Ancient Historiography: Philological Observations Concerning Luke’s History.” Journal of Biblical Literature 116 (4): 673–95. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266552.
CLINTON, KEVIN. 2004. “Epiphany in the Eleusinian Mysteries.” Illinois Classical Studies 29: 85–109.
Davis, S. 1955. “143. Divining Bowls: Their Uses and Origin: Some African Examples, and Parallels from the Ancient World.” Man 55: 132–35. https://doi.org/10.2307/2794593.
DICKIE, MATTHEW. 2004. “Divine Epiphany in Lucian’s Account of the Oracle of Alexander of Abonuteichos.” Illinois Classical Studies 29: 159–82.
Edmonds III, Radcliffe G. 2008. “Extra‐Ordinary People: Mystai and Magoi, Magicians and Orphics in the Derveni Papyrus.” Classical Philology 103 (1): 16–39. https://doi.org/10.1086/590092.
Eidinow, Esther. 2010. “Patterns of Persecution: ‘Witchcraft’ Trials in Classical Athens.” Past & Present, no. 208: 9–35.
Ettlinger, Ellen. 1943. “4. Omens and Celtic Warfare.” Man 43: 11–17. https://doi.org/10.2307/2792721.
Graf, Fritz. 2004. “Trick or Treat? On Collective Epiphanies in Antiquity.” Illinois Classical Studies 29: 111–30.
GRIFFIN, MIRIAM. 2007. “The Elder Pliny on Philosophers.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement, no. 100: 85–101.
Henrichs, Albert. 2003. “‘Hieroi Logoi’ and ‘Hierai Bibloi’: The (Un)Written Margins of the Sacred in Ancient Greece.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 101: 207–66. https://doi.org/10.2307/3658530.
Hilton, John. 2012. “The Cult of Neoptolemos at Delphi in Heliodoros’ ‘Aithiopika.’” Acta Classica 55: 57–68.
Hollmann, Alexander. 2005. “The Manipulation of Signs in Herodotos’ ‘Histories.’” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-) 135 (2): 279–327.
Johnston, Sarah Iles, John G. Gager, Martha Himmelfarb, Marvin Meyer, Brian Schmidt, David Frankfurter, and Fritz Graf. 1999. “Panel Discussion: ‘Magic in the Ancient World’ by Fritz Graf.” Numen 46 (3): 291–325.
Jouanna, Jacques, and Neil Allies. 2012. “Hippocrates and the Sacred.” In Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen, edited by Philip van der Eijk, 97–118. Selected Papers. Brill. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1163/j.ctt1w76vxr.11.
JOURDAN, FABIENNE. 2006. “Dionysos Dans Le ‘Protreptique’ de Clément d’Alexandrie. Initiations Dionysiaques et Mystères Chrétiens.” Revue de l’histoire Des Religions 223 (3): 265–82.
KERN-ULMER, BRIGITTE (RIVKA). 1996. “The Depiction of Magic in Rabbinic Texts: The Rabbinic and the Greek Concept of Magic.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 27 (3): 289–303.
Kirichenko, Alexander. 2011. “Becoming a Book: Divination and Fictionality in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses.” Museum Helveticum 68 (2): 182–202.
KLAUCK, H J. 1994. “With Paul in Paphos and Lystra: Magic and Paganism in the Acts of the Apostles.” Neotestamentica 28 (1): 93–108.
Nelson, Max. 2000. “Narcissus: Myth and Magic.” The Classical Journal 95 (4): 363–89.
Nock, Arthur Darby. 1942. “Religious Attitudes of the Ancient Greeks.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 85 (5): 472–82.
Nuño, Antón Alvar. 2012. “Ocular Pathologies and the Evil Eye in the Early Roman Principate.” Numen 59 (4): 295–321.
Otto, Bernd-Christian. 2013. “Towards Historicizing ‘Magic’ in Antiquity.” Numen 60 (2/3): 308–47.
Pachoumi, Eleni. 2011. “Resurrection of the Body in the ‘Greek Magical Papyri.’” Numen 58 (5/6): 729–40.
Pharr, Clyde. 1932. “The Interdiction of Magic in Roman Law.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 63: 269–95. https://doi.org/10.2307/283219.
Phillips, Richard L. 2011. “On the Outside Looking in: Pliny’s ‘Natural History’ and the Portrayal of Invisibility Rituals in the Latin West.” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 56/57: 37–62.
Remus, Harold. 1999. “‘Magic’, Method, Madness.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 11 (3): 258–98.
Ripat, Pauline. 2011. “Expelling Misconceptions: Astrologers At Rome.” Classical Philology 106 (2): 115–54. https://doi.org/10.1086/659835.
RIVES, JAMES B. 2003. “Magic in Roman Law: The Reconstruction of a Crime.” Classical Antiquity 22 (2): 313–39. https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2003.22.2.313.
SANSONE, DAVID. 1996. “Plato and Euripides.” Illinois Classical Studies 21: 35–67.
VANNUFFELEN, PETER. 2014. “Galen, Divination and the Status of Medicine.” The Classical Quarterly 64 (1): 337–52. https://doi.org/10.2307/26546306.
Versnel, Henk. 1987. “What Did Ancient Man See When He Saw a God? Some Reflections on Greco-Roman Epiphany.” In Effigies Dei : Essays on the History of Religions, edited by Dirk van der Plas. Studies in the History of Religions 51. Leiden ; New York: Brill. https://www.academia.edu/11350657/WHAT_DID_ANCIENT_MAN_SEE_WHEN_HE_SAW_A_GOD_SOME_REFLECTIONS_ON_GRECO-ROMAN_EPIPHANY.
Villiers, Pieter de. 1999. “Interpreting the New Testament in the Light of Pagan Criticisms of Oracles and Prophecies in Greco-Roman Times.” Neotestamentica 33 (1): 35–57.
WENDT, HEIDI. 2015. “‘Ea Superstitione’: Christian Martyrdom and the Religion of Freelance Experts.” The Journal of Roman Studies 105: 183–202.
Wilson, R. McL. 1957. “Gnostic Origins Again.” Vigiliae Christianae 11 (2): 93–110. https://doi.org/10.2307/1581977.
Wypustek, Andrzej. 1997. “Magic, Montanism, Perpetua, and the Severan Persecution.” Vigiliae Christianae 51 (3): 276–97. https://doi.org/10.2307/1584216.
Yavetz, Zvi. 1998. “Latin Authors on Jews and Dacians.” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 47 (1): 77–107.
“There are several problems with such an interpretation, the first one being that Julius Caesar himself had been both a priest and high priest (pontifex maximus) so we can assume that he knew the sorts of “tricks” you say were at work here. In none of the accounts of this supposed event is there any suggestion that Caesar disbelieved the omen because he knew it was a trick”
Well it is clear that he wasn’t moved by the ceremony. From the accounts he appears to have been dismissive of the ceremony and to have basically ignored it. Of course the recorders of these events can’t tell us why Caesar paid no heed to the ceremony and we can only speculate. Why possibly would we think that a historian would know that Caesar was unimpressed with the ceremony because he suspected it was illegitimate? All the historian can know is that the ceremony was performed, that the absence of a heart was reported, and Caesar ignored it.
The key thing here is that none of these things are unexplainable. We aren’t talking about flying cows here, we’re talking about something that is level one slight-of-hand. Do you think Caesar wasn’t actually warned about the Ides of March too? Do you think that is also a literary fabrication?
So if Caesar was warned about the Ides of March, do you think that the soothsayer who wanted him did so on the basis of genuine divination? Do you think the soothsayer sacrificed an animal, picked through his liver, read signs in the liver, and those signed told him that Caesar faced peril at a certain time that turned out to be exactly true? Do you think that the announcement of the soothsayer lead to the choice of the day to execute the plot? Or do you acknowledge, like most historians, that most likely the soothsayer had learned of the plot through his network of listeners and rumor mongers and that he was relaying to Caesar information that he had obtained from credible sources?
The later is a widely accepted view of what happened. The soothsayer was aware of the plot and was passing the information to Caesar. But according to our sources, did the soothsayer (an Etruscan haruspex), reveal his sources to Caesar? Did the haruspex tell Caesar of the rational and evidence based reasons for his warning? No, he didn’t. The haruspex delivered his warning in the form of a prophecy. And that’s the point, that’s how things were done.
And do you deny that Sibylline writings were all forgeries? Do you deny that they are all retrospective accounts of the past cast as ancient predictions of the future, which then venture into speculative territory with actual vague projections of future events? Do you acknowledge that these writings, all forgeries, were seen as the most sacred writings in Rome, and that they were worshiped and cherished at the highest levels, given a powerful priesthood to guard and interpret them and that the Roman senate relied on this priesthood to advise them on matters of policy and decision making especially in times of crisis?
Fortunately we have many of the records of the consultations of the Libri Sibyllini by the senate. We know many of the questions they asked and many of the answers they got. And do you acknowledge, then, that at the very least the original producers of the Sibylline books were conscious forgers? And that these consciously created forgeries were put at the heart of the Roman state?
And when we investigate the Libri Sibyllini we do in fact find, as determined by most esteemed scholars in the field, works that appear to have been forged by the Sibylline priesthood itself. We find works that appear to have been created in the 2nd and 1st century in response to events of that time. In other words, we find works that were written after the events they are used to consult (prophecies regarding hermaphrodites for examples). Clearly the Sibylline priests had to have forged these works. It’s the only reasonable conclusion. The other other conclusion is that the Sibylline priests were dupes of some other recent forger. Either way! Either the Sibylline priests were total idiots who were fooled by a recent forgery and had basically no skills in the analysis of texts, or they themselves were forgers. What do you find more likely?
Keep in mind here, we are talking about rank forgery at the heart of the Roman state, used to guide the actions of the senate and set policy. It’s impossible to deny that forgery, manipulation and conscious fraud were taking place in the highest levels of Roman religion used to steer Roman politics. It’s undeniable that this was talking place. Do you think the Sibylline priests were the only ones involved in this? You think the other priests were all on the up and up and they really believed that you could predict the future by studying the movements of birds or vein patterns in the livers of sacrificial animals? That the rules of etiquette granted to the priests were being abused and that forgery was happening is openly acknowledged. Cicero, himself an inductee into augury late in his life, railed against it. He was very sensitive when it came to augury, given that he himself was an augur and bound by various oaths, but he basically dismissed even it as as well, though he tried to maintain its honor and role in the state. Cicero maintained in his writings that augury was a “valuable tradition,” though he never defended its actual prophetic powers. Did he ever come out and explicitly say that augury was total bunk and that the augurs were just making stuff up? Not in so many words, as that would have been impossible for him to do, but he leads us there and doesn’t stop us from reaching that conclusion.
Anyway, trust me, I do a decent job of handling this material in the book. 🙂 I deal with it much more astutely than here in forum posts.
“I hope my difference of opinion with you is certainly not in any way fueled by hostility or negativity of any sort.”
Not at all. I highly value your opinion. My writing has always benefited from forum interactions and getting a better understanding of how people take various arguments and claims. I like getting feedback about things I’m writing about so I can better structure the case I’m presenting to address concerns and counterarguments that people have.
“But I sometimes baulk at some of your comments at what to me looks like a too quickly informed impression of some practice or outlook in the ancient world.”
I don’t put nearly as much effort into on-lines posts as I do into writing a book. I’m never going to post a bibliography for on-line posts. I view this as a conversation, not a publication. I’m also okay, at a certain point with not having my view accepted, especially in on-line posts.
“I get the impression you are extending a viewpoint that goes way beyond anything set out in those works.”
I should hope so 🙂 If I weren’t then there wouldn’t be anything worth writing about 🙂
I’m well aware of the nature of the territory I’m making a path through. But I’m putting 100X more work into this book than the prior one, everything is well sourced and cited, relying on scholars to make cases much more than in the prior book, etc. The case I present is much more nuanced in the book that what I’ve discussed here as well.
But I’m very sensitive to the whole matter of credibility and making sure not to over extend or get into things that can be dismissed as conspiracy theories. So don’t worry, I’m not going to go off the rails 🙂
You have not answered my question — which is why did the priests, in your view, warn Julius Caesar of the threat to his life? Simply saying that “that’s what they did at that time” doesn’t tell us why they sought to warn him. If they knew of a plot we would expect them to either try to save Caesar or favour the plotters. If the former, then one would expect them to seriously warn him and not leave it to some ambiguity. If the latter, then one would expect them not to issue any warning at all.
Of course, we still have no way of even verifying if the sacrifice event and exchange even happened. How likely is it that we have no record in the conversation, if it was public and true, that Caesar kept quiet about what he surely must have known was a trick given he himself had been both a priest and a high priest?
Simply responding with a lot of other questions is not an answer. It is a deflection. Several of them only deepen the problems that I see in your argument.
And saying “trust me” does not enable meaningful discussion. If there is evidence, or a sure foundation in secondary or primary sources, then just point to it.
“In discussing Cicero’s account of the heart missing from Caesar’s sacrifice Middleton added the following note which agrees with your point:”
Neil, you are a gentleman and a scholar, don’t let anyone say otherwise. I wasn’t aware of this reference so thank you for drawing it to my attention. I like this one and plan to use it.
“Do you know who those “Naturalists” were that Middleton was referring to?”
No, but I’ll try to follow-up and get a direct quote if I can.
I am trying to point out that the idea of trickery has long been well known — it has always been evident in our sources — but you are “extending” the point in directions that are unwarranted, as Ehrman would surely try to point out, too.
Can you explain why and how a normal everyday person would somehow read a tract that was alien to everything about his life so far and yet be so stupid as to just “believe” it? How does that work, exactly? And are we to think that others in his circle are just as “stupid” that they, too, decide to believe this new thing. That’s not how people work in my experience. I can’t understand the model you are trying to present to us for the beginnings of Christianity.
Even more problematic is if Justin was not a “normal everyday person” but had specific issues that led him towards such a belief in a new fancy story dangled in front of his eyes: why then would anyone else in his circle decide to believe it?
Is everyone just “stupid”? Is that the explanation for Christian origins in your view?
No, part of the issue is that this isn’t a new unique story, that’s the point. That’s also what some of these other writers are saying as well. There was a lot of crossover between Jewish and Greek ideas. This is also where examples like Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue come into play as examples. Here was Virgil, the preeminent Roman poet, building a work derived from a Jewish Sibylline Oracle. And this mixing of Jewish and Greek literature that had been taking place for centuries is what laid the ground work for the acceptance of the Gospels.
There was several hundred years of cross-cultural dialog and literature that laid the foundation for the Gospels, and part of what I show in the new book is how the writer of Mark was someone who was a part of this dialog and well aware of it. This writer was using tropes and interacting with ideas that were a part of this much larger context, so clearly Mark wasn’t some backwoods scribe just jotting down rumors. This was a sophisticated writer. Whether he was writing in Hebrew or Greek, he was someone with a broad knowledge of Greek and Jewish literature and religious and philosophical movements.
The Gospels weren’t foreign, that’s part of the point. But again, what made them even more believable than most comparable stories was the fact that they appeared to be independent works that corroborated one another, which was something unique. What set the Gospels apart wasn’t anything in particular about their narrative, it was the fact that it appeared like there were multiple independent accounts that verified the truth of the narrative.
I don’t think this comment addresses the question I posed. I was asking about reader response and being persuaded to believe a set of innovative religious ideas.
The idea that there were different (contradictory, often) accounts of a “mythical” figure and that these different accounts served to increase interest and even belief in that figure is not unique. We saw how it worked with Greek myths not long ago: https://vridar.org/tag/sarah-iles-johnston/
Price made some excellent points:
“There was a wide spectrum of beliefs and attitudes. One of the problems with understanding the development of Judaism has always been that the dominant view that we see today is a very selective and edited version of Jewish history, that has been controlled by the priesthood.”
“And I’d argue that the whole system of “monotheism” was itself devised as a system of political control.”
“Judaism was adopted in a time of crisis as was Christianity.”
“What became “Judaism” began as Canaanites were suffering Assyrian invasion. It was a power move by the priests of Yahweh. The Canaanites were polytheist, like everyone else.”
“When the northern Canaanite refugees came flooding into Israel during the Assyrian invasion, the southern Canaanite priests of Yahweh forced everyone to adopt worship of Yahweh as a means of excising control during the crisis. That was somewhat short-lived, but then the Yahweh priesthood took over again a few decades later during the reign of the child king Josiah. When Josiah was the king, they saw it as an opportunity to take over because he was only 8 years old. At that point they basically invented their own propaganda and false history and it built from there.”
Price is right on!
Although most of you might not like Richard Elliot Friedman, and his “Who Wrote the Bible”; but you might try reading his “The Exodus”. Seems likely (I am not saying for sure – facts are few and far between on all this stuff), that a similar thing might have happened in the Exodus story. That is:
Levite’s were not really Jews, but connected to Egypt. Friedman gives many examples of the Egypt connection. Perhaps a small group were kicked out of Egypt, moved to Judea, and were absorbed as a “tribe”, but not really a genetic tribe – thus the no land inheritance. And El and YAHWEH was merged into one monotheistic god so control could be maintained by priests. This could also explain why there was always a Egypt/Moses/Shiloh and Aaron priest divide, eventual division into Northern Israel and Southern Judea, total re-write and consolidation of history (Pentateuch) at Northern Israel’s fall, new exodus of Shiloh followers back to Egypt, and supports why a small Temple was generated at Elephantine. His book has a whole section on monotheism being created by priests to maintain control. Including a potential connection to Egypt’s monotheistic experiment earlier with Akhenaten.
Also, on Qumran, it might not be established that they were “messianic Jews”, but it does establish both diversity in Jewish temple beliefs, and much discontent with the established priesthood in Jerusalem under the Aaron priest monopoly/monotheism.
This all reveals a “history repeats itself” modality in religion. It seems the same thing happened in Christianity. Diversity and conflict between groups in the beginning (thinking the whole Gnostic thing, along with Paul’s constant harping against diverse thinking), and the forced move toward one thought, one theology, monotheism!
But then, Christianity threw in the curve ball of the Trinity, to create a monotheistic approach to a God, a Jesus, and a Holy Spirit. Maybe the Holy Spirit was a minor concession to Gnostics. Got to explain a female and male side to a One God. Just my conjecture. But there is, I think, no doubt that monotheism plays a major role in this whole “power struggle” among religiously diverse groups.
There is just to much coincidence in all this to ignore it.
Power plays among priests do not need monotheism to succeed. Recall that Akhenaton’s “monotheistic” (it wasn’t really monotheism but close enough for our argument) lost out to priests of the traditional (“polytheist”) order.
In Judaism and Christianity, it (monotheism) obviouly played a major role. Akhenaton didn’t succeed. However, polytheism with the Egyptians at that time succeeded – just like the multiple altars throughout Israel – succeeded. The failure of monotheism was circumstance, when it did fail. It was crushed by Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc.. But ironic, if Friedman is right, that perhaps the monotheistic Akhenaton crowd may have fled and given it another try in Israel. If the Gnostic crowd won, maybe polytheism would have dominated. However, I think even you could admit that the Gnostics (with multiple small bad gods) seemed to be more open to diversity than Christianity’s orthodox monotheism. So no, monotheism isn’t needed by the priests to maintain control. But it certainly was used by them to control and suppress diversity. When it failed, it was primarily because of dominate armies. Even the Persians seemed to be more open to letting the Jews go back to Israel and their monotheism, but monotheism seems to be used for power by priests, successful or not.
Research into the emergence of monotheism is a little more nuanced than that. I covered some of it at https://vridar.org/2008/05/25/how-polytheism-morphed-into-monotheism-philosophical-moves-1/ —
How Polytheism morphed into Monotheism: first steps
How Polytheism morphed into Monotheism: philosophical moves, 1
How Polytheism morphed into Monotheism: philosophical moves, 2
And I still find it rather amusing that the Trinity was a convoluted attempt at creating monotheism out of polytheism! There again, for priests to maintain control. Although, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is or will be, always successful.
the Trinity was a convoluted attempt at creating monotheism out of polytheism
IMO, the Trinity was straightforward development from the Middle-Platonism of Paul to the philosophy of Plotinus which had,
Giuseppe, Gary, r.g.price — I think scholars who poo-pooh mythicism as nonsense that is best explained by unprincipled con artists and their many, many fool-dupes have a fair point if they read the sorts of things expressed in your comments here.
We need to take human nature and serious research seriously — which means applying scholarly research tools to them both and testing our conclusions against evidence.
One of several names that should be studied in order to understand the nature and appeal of religious beliefs is Whitehouse. I have posted a few times with reference to his work on religious beliefs and they can be located through the “Search Vridar” tool here.
Many of the things that have come out in the comments simply cannot be supported by the evidence available — they are conclusions about widespread motives and practices that can find no support in the evidence that I am aware of. They also make a mockery of people who believe in religious ideas and indicate no understanding of the real nature of religious belief.
“Many of the things that have come out in the comments simply cannot be supported by the evidence available”…
You mean you are saying that Richard Elliott Friedman is a questionable source of scholarly discipline? 🙂
I admit I added some of my own opinions. However, the basis of all the comments I made are directly from Friedman’s book. So…?
I was speaking more broadly than Friedman’s thesis on the Levites. But on his Levites argument his view is highly speculative, hypothesis upon hypothesis upon hypothesis, as I think you know.
And, of course, Friedman is a Jew, who thinks the Exodus occurred. But in much smaller numbers, and probably only Levite’s, who were not Jewish to begin with. And, I might reinforce what I started with. Facts are few and far between, so opinions dominate the entire subject. And who knows what Friedman thinks about Jesus? He is out of the loop in terms of Christianity. But his opinions on the Pentateuch are rock solid, as far as I am concerned. Whether his opinions can be extrapolated to Christianity – is another matter – of opinion only.
Have you read any of the works of Davies, Whitelam, Lemche, Thompson to get a different perspective from Friedman’s? Those are some of the authors who do identify the unfounded assumptions in many mainstream works and who propose interpretations of the archaeological evidence that require fewer assumptions and hypotheses to sustain.
I am a novice, and go for popular books, like Friedman and Ehrman. So even my opinions are based upon popular books. Won’t want to get too absorbed in academics that I wouldn’t understand anyway. As an example, just one (of many) of Friedman’s data points is the two oldest songs in the Bible (based upon the language structure), Song of the Sea and Song of Deborah. Song of Sea doesn’t mention Israel or the whole land, or #’s, only a “people” leaving Egypt, and going to a sanctuary/temple. Song of Deborah lists the tribes of Israel, but doesn’t mention Levi. So simple explanations are what I go for, that make sense. I think if the explanation is so complicated, no one can understand it, it is not a likely solution. Can me simple minded.
The authors I mentioned are mostly very easy to understand (well, maybe a few, but not all, of Thompson’s books are less so). I have set out for easy access the main points of the first part of Davies’ most important book: http://vridar.info/bibarch/arch/index.htm – One of Whitelam’s books at https://vridar.org/tag/whitelam-rhythms-of-time/
On another view of the Exodus: https://vridar.org/2012/10/19/old-testament-based-on-herodotus-acts-on-the-myth-we-read-in-virgil/
I must say. I rather enjoy your website, although I don’t agree with it, most of the time.
I generally try to present ideas I find interesting and reasonably well-argued. I can’t say I “agree with them” in the sense of “believing” them or taking a firm position on them because I know I am just as likely to come across different ideas soon enough that are also well-argued. It’s an exploration, a discussion (even if mostly with myself).
Forgive me if I comment tangentially, without expertise in the area.
I do not necessarily disagree with rgprice’s perspective that this or that document might be fictional, including just about all of them. I want however to bring up some alternative perspectives.
— Hypothetically there might be or have been cultural backgrounds where stories so well told as to captivate audiences are considered to be real even if they are known to be made up.
— There are various medical conditions where altered mental states may seem realistic. Besides intoxications these can include hallucinations associated with sleep disorders and seizures. The content of hallucinations would be partially determined by culture. A charismatic figure who articulately describes a realistic hallucination composed of commonly believed elements may be believed.
— Those who speak of oral traditions could be on to something now and then at least. Even written narratives may be partially based on oral traditions. As far as oral traditions go, people do forget and people do embellish. It does happen.
— There can be a mixture of neurologic disorder and embellishment with elapsing time, such as the confabulation with dementias. I think of a deceased relative who in her mid 90s had an autobiography published, filled with facts–and fiction. In her writing and speech fact and fiction were equally convincing except to those who knew. She sounded convincing when she spoke of how her father died in the influenza of 1919, when in fact it was she who nearly died then as an infant–he died a decade later. She spoke vividly and entertainingly of various details of director of her nursing home in his administrative work, stating that he was originally from Mongolia. With the same articulate matter-of-fact attention to detail of her description of his dropping by her room, she carefully described how the last time he visited his home the train on the Trans-Siberian railroad would not stop so he had to roll off the train into Mongolia as the train passed by a lake. She was not given to speaking about experiences with messiahs, but other articulate somewhat demented people in the past might have, perhaps in a society where the words of elders might have been venerated by people with neither the desire nor the ability to check details.
Thus there are many ways something like fiction creation might have occurred, and even if it did some people at the time might have not considered as fiction what we consider to be fiction. Multiple mechanisms may have occurred. I certainly am not one to know.
I’ve had two very smart and talented friends frankly concede to me, against my skepticism — heck, the word “concede” is a stretch, they volunteered it — that they believed and in and engaged with paranormal phenomena because it made life interesting and was comforting to them. I’ve also gotten the impression that devoted followers of movements like the Self-Realization Fellowship or Zen Buddhism think that they are tapping into powerful sources of spiritual discernment, even if, as it seems to me, elements of trickery might play a hand in them. I’m not such a believer myself, but their belief has earned my respect, to the point that I’d say American Fundamentalism pales and fails drastically by comparison.
What seems obvious to me is that the lines between knowledge, belief and confabulation are paradoxically and dismayingly broad and fuzzy — broad and fuzzy enough for religious texts (or, incidentally, a novel or two or five by Philip K. Dick) to pass through. Intelligent people will search endlessly for, and bend way, way backwards for something to believe in, including, I wonder, even some people involved in purveying the deceptions.
There is such a thing as schizotypy; there is such a thing as schizophrenia. If you haven’t had our Scientific Revolution, if you haven’t had the Enlightenment, if you lived in a world that was more accepting and integrated people who were… strange, rather than ostracising them and locking them up? I haven’t seen water turned into wine, but I have seen pint of mild turn into a half of bitter. I haven’t seen the Abomination of Desolation standing where it should not, but I have seen my brother standing in the middle of a classroom where I was taking an exam and he was at the other end of the building. I had a good friend who seriously believed he played some role in the Bosnian War by telepathy. I’ve known several people that confabulated plausible experiences that could not possibly be true; one of them began doing it as I was on the phone with them: they believed totally different things at the end of the conversation than at the start.
If you have no idea how the world works, if you have no way of telling something happening entirely in your head from what is happening in front of your eyes, what do you think is likely to happen? Perhaps 5% of folk will see things or hear things that are just a short across the wetware. In other instances they don’t see or hear what is there. Airliners have landed atop other airliners; but for flight simulators that sort of thing would happen a lot more often. I don’t think 5% percent of those folk are even “treated” for such things: that only happens when it becomes a problem for them or leads to problems with other people. Otherwise they lead reasonably fulfilling lives like everyone else
Sure, there will be people who sic onto these things because they see an angle they can work; but I believe the apostles of Paul’s writings, himself included, had genuine experiences that they misinterpreted. I believe that because I’ve had that kind of experience myself and know, and know of, dozens of other people who had them and am somewhat familiar with both the psychology of it and the literature describing it.
Lots of banging on about Caesar and the Ides of March. The earliest source mentioned for that was about a century later. Cicero, who WAS contemperaneous, was brought in as a correction by Neil. Someone has come to their conclusions and gone looking for evidence to fit them, methinks. For a person who sets such store to psychics being charlatans, R.J. Price, you are doing a bang-up job of channeling Joseph Atwill.
Seriously, you need to run this by us (and others who might be more qualified to comment) BEFORE you publish Round 2; you are coming over as in your own echo-chamber at the moment. What is good doesn’t appear to be novel, and what is novel doesn’t appear to be good at present. There are a cross section of knowledgable lay-persons here, with a smattering of the more qualified. You are not likely to find an audience who will give you a more sympathetic hearing; nor a more constructively critical one. You owe it to yourself to make your argument and book as good as possible.
Yes, indeed. There have always been the “unconventional” persons among us. But whether they can have any significant effect in changing the direction of the wider society will depend entirely on social structures and belief systems. Yes, there was a “fad” for spiritism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it remained and all but vanished because of the structures and belief systems of the wider society.
That’s why it is necessary for historians to study the variables — the social organizations and institutions, the wider belief systems, the various factors that impinge upon these — economic, ethnic, political, (and biological — as in disease epidemics).
This is what I fear, too. What I have read so far unfortunately leads me to think I will read more of the same in the next book, and that it will be without valid linking to hard evidence, but rife with sweeping generalizations and rhetoric.
Calm down. Neil’s “correction” is incorrect. The four accounts I cite include Cassisus Dio. Cicero doesn’t give an account of Caesar’s death in Divination, he talks about the incident of the ox with a missing heart, but that’s not an account of Caesar’s death. I also address Cicero’s remarks. Anyway, there is no correction to make.
“For the night before he was slain his wife dreamed that their house had fallen in ruins and that her husband had been wounded by some men and had taken refuge in her bosom; and Caesar dreamed he was raised aloft upon the clouds and grasped the hand of Jupiter. 2 Moreover, omens not a few and not without significance p335 came to him: the arms of Mars, at that time deposited in his house, according to ancient custom, by virtue of his position as high priest, made a great noise at night, and the doors of the chamber where he slept opened of their own accord. 3 Moreover, the sacrifices which he offered because of these occurrences were not at all favourable, and the birds he used in divination forbade him to leave the house. Indeed, to some the incident of his golden chair seemed ominous, at least after his murder; for the attendant, when Caesar delayed his coming, had carried it out of the senate, thinking that there now would be no need of it.”
“This man made light of Caesar’s scruples and by stating that the senate desired exceedingly to see him, persuaded him to proceed. At this an image of him, which he had set up in the vestibule, fell of its own accord and was shattered in pieces. 3 But, since it was fated that he should die at that time, he not only paid no attention to this but would not even listen to some one who was offering him information of the plot. He received from him a little roll in which all the preparations made for the attack were accurately recorded, but did not read it, thinking it contained some indifferent matter of no pressing importance. 4 In brief, he was so confident p337 that to the soothsayer who had once warned him to beware of that day he jestingly remarked: “Where are your prophecies now? Do you not see that the day which you feared is come and that I am alive?” And the other, they say, answered merely: “Ay, it is come but is not yet past.””
I assumed your reference was a simple typo. I am surprised to see you not accepting it as such.
I believe we were talking about the “magic trick” of the missing heart at the sacrifice — as part of the chicanery of ancient religious institutions and practices more generally.
Good point. The list I gave is for those I cited for accounts of Caesar’s death, some of whom talk about the ox sacrifice, notably Plutarch and Appian. Then at a later point I go into detail on the ox sacrifice and quote Ciciero’s explanation. I never actually cited Cassius Dio regarding the ox sacrifice, I was just recalling from memory when I wrote and thinking about everyone I cited regarding Caesar’s death.
At any rate… you guys are getting worked up over nothing.
And incidentally, Cicero’s explanation is that maybe the heart isn’t an important organ and had withered away due to disease and he then goes on to explain that divination based on the reading of entrails in based on chance because some animals happen to have malformed organs. This in opposition to the claim that the gods make the vital organs disappear at the moment of sacrifice as an omen.
Clearly Cicero’s explanation is incorrect. This is what I address in the book. Clearly the issue of animals being sacrificed and it being claimed that their organs were missing was an issue. Cicero offers the explanation that its all due to chance and sometimes the organs just happen to be missing because they are’t vital. The counter argument is that the gods make the organs disappear.
The most reasonable explanation is that the performers of the rituals were staging the performances and hiding the organs.
There is nothing unreasonable about this explanation, indeed it is the only reasonable explanation. The only other possible explanation is that these things never happened at all, and that reports of sacrifices where organs were missing are all fabricated. But if that’s the case, then why did Cicero dedicate so much effort to addressing the issue of disappearing organs? We’d then have to acknowledged Cicero a dupe of urban legends.
The issue then is to address all these implications.
Worked up? I admit I am a little frustrated that you do not answer certain questions or do not respond to certain problems with your thesis or resort to rhetorical questions in response to some of them.
Here you have responded with a false dilemma. Again the specifics of my questions, or the problems I see with your thesis, are sidestepped.
You also need to address what we do know about what ancients themselves had to say about cheats and charlatans in this area.