Dr. James McGrath wrote a new book. If you read his blog, you already knew that. I, on the other hand, was blessedly ignorant of that fact until Neil recently told me. And, like any curious person, I can’t help but rubberneck as I slowly drive past a traffic accident. In much the same way, although I knew it would be painful, I started reading What Jesus Learned from Women.
But now here’s an unexpected blast from the past: McGrath is convinced by Maurice Casey’s nonargument about the pronunciation of talitha koum (ταλιθα κούμ) in Mark 5:41, as proof of the historicity of Jesus in general and the raising of Jairus’s daughter in particular. I had no idea any serious person thought Casey was making a cogent historical argument. However, each day brings new surprises and wonders.
Our manuscripts differ in the spelling, and that difference is one of the reasons that some historians [sic] feel particularly confident about there being a historical core to this story. (McGrath 2021, p. 219)
By historians, McGrath actually means “theologians who know ancient languages and call themselves historians.” And among that group of self-confident theologians who know ancient languages, Casey was unmatched. I called Casey’s pronouncement a nonargument because it contains a single premise followed by a dogmatic conclusion. Here it is from Jesus of Nazareth:
The first two words, Talitha koum, are Aramaic for ‘little girl, get up’, so Mark has correctly translated them into Greek for his Greek-speaking audiences, adding the explicitative comment ‘I tell you’, as translators sometimes do. Moreover, I have followed the reading of the oldest and best manuscripts. The majority of manuscripts read the technically correct written feminine form koumi, but there is good reason to believe that the feminine ending ‘i’ was not pronounced. It follows that Talitha koum is exactly what Jesus said. (Casey 2011, p. 109, bold emphasis mine)
Surely Casey has missed a step or two. To start with, what is this “good reason” that convinced the dear doctor — and which seems to have captivated McGrath as well? Well, we do have a hint in the form of a footnote, in which Casey cites himself from an earlier article (in JSNT 25.1, 2002) in which he defended himself from an “attack” by Paul Owen and David Shepherd. (Recall that any questioning of Casey’s authority was always viewed as an attack.) These scholars had dared to question Casey’s “solution” to the Son-of-Man problem. Casey chastised them, Joseph Fitzmyer, and any other scholar who avoided using later inscriptions and manuscripts (i.e., well after the supposed time of Jesus) calling it “a quite catastrophic and unjustifiable loss.” Casey rarely did anything halfway. Continue reading “McGrath, Casey, and “Good Reasons” to Believe”
Hamas control of Gaza is exactly what Netanyahu wants to maintain:
The prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] also said that, “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” transferring the funds to Gaza, because maintaining a separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
— Harkov, Lahav. “Netanyahu: Money to Hamas Part of Strategy to Keep Palestinians Divided.” The Jerusalem Post, March 12, 2019. https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/netanyahu-money-to-hamas-part-of-strategy-to-keep-palestinians-divided-583082.
Hamas, Netanyahu’s gift that keeps on giving
After all, it was the toxic cocktail of Jewish terror and Hamas violence that first brought Netanyahu to power more than a quarter of a century ago. The fervently right-wing Israeli who gunned down Yitzhak Rabin, followed by a shocking spate of Hamas suicide bombings of public buses in major Israeli cities, paved Bibi’s come-from-far-behind electoral path to Balfour Street.
That’s how Netanyahu likes his public. Shattered. Furious. Fearful. Paralyzed.
Burston, Bradley. “Netanyahu and Hamas Are Working Together to Destroy My Israel.” Haaretz. May 20, 2021. http://www.proquest.com/docview/2529195266/citation/7524E1F185E04576PQ/16.
This latest outbreak started over Jewish attempts to drive long-time Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from their homes. Ironically, now with the rise of right-wing Jewish extremists replacing secular Zionism,
The sharp irony is that the early Zionists never actually regarded Jerusalem as integral to their national enterprise, but as a spiritual center.
Nowhere was Zionist apathy towards Jerusalem more manifest than in the writings of Theodore Herzl, father of political Zionism. Herzl did not hesitate to express his disregard for Jerusalem, even at a time when the majority of its residents were Jewish.
“When I remember thee in days to come, O Jerusalem, it will not be with pleasure,” he wrote, upon his only visit to Palestine in 1898. It’s no wonder the First Zionist Congress, which met in Basel in 1897 to discuss Herzl’s Jewish state proposal, had passed over Jerusalem in silence.
Disenchanted with Jerusalem, Herzl dreamed of founding the future Jewish capital in northern Palestine. He believed that Jerusalem would be a major obstacle to the creation of his Jewish state, and that a Jewish ownership of Jerusalem’s holy sites could jeopardize his entire plan for Jewish settlement in Palestine. Herzl also feared that the Vatican would oppose any form of Jewish political presence in Jerusalem. He was willing to give up Jerusalem in return for international recognition of Jewish sovereignty over other parts of Palestine.
In fact, Herzl was the first to propose a plan to declare old Jerusalem an international city. In “Altneuland,” he wrote that Jerusalem belonged to all nations as a multicultural and spiritual center. He even proposed to turn the Old City into a multinational museum.
Herzl envisioned Jerusalem as a utopian city where state affairs are “banned from within these walls that are venerated by all creeds,” and where “the old city would be left to the charitable and religious institutions of the all creeds which then could amicably divide up this area among themselves.”
The early Zionist movement, which took its name from one of Jerusalem’s ancient names, was ready to give up Jerusalem as a prelude to building the future Jewish state. By excluding Jerusalem from their original plan, the Zionist founders hoped to avoid international outrage, clashes with Muslim and Christian communities, and divisions between secular Zionists and the Orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem.
The original Zionist policy was therefore to keep a low profile toward Jerusalem. Unlike the British, who made Jerusalem the country’s capital under the mandate, the early Zionist movement built its headquarters far from Jerusalem, in central and northern Palestine. There was little nationalist shudder in the Jewish Yishuv in 1908, when the Palestine Office, headed by Arthur Ruppin, opened its doors in Jaffa instead of Jerusalem.
. . . .
As for Palestinians, it was also in Jaffa, not Jerusalem, where their national aspirations were set, it being Palestine’s beating urban heart and vibrant economic and cultural center.
Neither party wanted Jerusalem, except maybe the British, who, in the words of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, wished to proclaim the city “a Christmas gift for the British people.”
And yet few Israelis today seem to realize that the image of Jerusalem as the eternal and united capital of the Jewish people was a relatively recent invention.
Indeed, few remember that day in November 1947, when the UN General Assembly passed its historic resolution to partition Mandate Palestine between Arabs and Jews, ultimately leading to the creation of the State of Israel. The plan, which provided for two states — one Jewish, one Arab — excluded Jerusalem from the future Jewish state. Owing to its unique status, Jerusalem was to be governed by a “special international regime” administered by the United Nations.
And yet the Zionist leadership embraced the plan almost without hesitation. Celebrations swept the quarters of the Jewish yishuv in Mandate Palestine. The following year, Israel, emboldened by the partition plan, declared its independence, and not long after, the new state was recognized by a majority of United Nations member states, led by the United States.
. . . .
The irony is that while the early Zionist establishment was ready to relinquish Jerusalem to build the Jewish state, the current Israeli leadership seems to be relinquishing the Jewish state for Greater Jerusalem, where Palestinians constitute nearly 40 percent of the city’s population, with thousands living beyond the separation barrier in East Jerusalem.
By annexing East Jerusalem, Israel is rapidly headed toward a one-state reality which, sooner or later, would culminate in a Jewish minority ruling over a Palestinian majority in an apartheid-style regime.
The history of the early Zionist movement in Palestine is nearly forgotten today, but its lesson is still alive: Jerusalem “belonged to all of its nations and creeds.”
Assi, Seraj. “How Israel Invented Its Exclusive Claim Over Jerusalem.” Israel Palestine News (blog), May 11, 2021. https://israelpalestinenews.org/haaretz-how-israel-invented-its-exclusive-claim-over-jerusalem/.
Apartheid? I hear rumours that it is finally becoming acceptable to use that word as a criticism of Israel. Are times really changing? I read mixed signals in Biden’s response to this latest violence.
We hear of Gaza being an open-air prison. Maybe we should have another look at Israel:
But if there is one central, fundamental takeaway from the latest operation, from the entire situation, from a year in which thousands died from the coronavirus, from four elections in a row and counting, from the Israeli discourse that continually strains toward blindness, it is how captive Israeli society is. Not captive in the physical sense, not aware of the captivity, but conceptually captive to an extreme degree, ostensibly of its own free will.
Just turn on any television channel to see what a large gap there is between reality – in which much of Israel has been shut down for more than a week due to the threat of rockets fired by a terrorist organization – and all the talk about “severe blows,” “setting them back years” and “victories.” The disparity between the Israeli discourse and the Israeli reality is akin to that between a banana and a watermelon. When someone is holding a banana and keeps insisting it’s a watermelon, and everyone submissively nods their heads, we’ve got a problem.
Assulin, Yair. “The Real ‘Captives’ in Israel.” Haaretz. May 20, 2021. http://www.proquest.com/docview/2529405585/citation/7524E1F185E04576PQ/18.
From a discussion about one of the factors in the leading cause of death among men 18 to 44 years old is suicide — the role of loneliness, resentment or disconnectedness in a world more technologically interconnected than ever before: From The Drum, an excerpt from a former white nationalist, someone who grew up in an alcoholic home, was a bully all his teen years, and was attracted to white nationism through skinheads at 16 years of age:
Arno Michaelis, former white supremacist, at about 25 minutes into the video:
. . . When people like a Jewish boss or a lesbian supervisor or black and Latino co-workers defied my worldview by just interacting with me human to human it really drove home how wrong I was. Our society has a habit of rejecting anyone that we find distasteful. It’s very easy to be like, Unfollow, This person is now shut out of my life. They’re off all my social media channels.
There is a difference between listening to someone and giving someone a platform to spread their hate. The difference between those two things is compassion. If you do things in a trauma?-informed way, which means if you see someone behaving poorly you don’t say What’s wrong with them? you say What happened to them? As far as I am concerned the political extremism of one flavour drives political extremism of the other flavour. It’s important that everyone really commits to an active practice of seeing themselves in others and seeing others in themselves. All the more so when it’s someone who doesn’t look like you, or think like you – that’s when that practice becomes most important and most powerful.
Here is another snippet from the same transcript that produced the elephants and dugongs post a few days ago. I follow with a snippet from Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct where he rebuts Richard Dawkins shallow understanding of religion.
What is the only type of behaviour that will always be identical in both twins, regardless of whether they have been adopted into different environments or not?
Roger Short: But there has been a very exciting development within the last few weeks actually and it goes back a few years. I was sitting at Imperial College in London next to Lord Robert Winston, who you know, and we were at an international twins conference. There were 600 of us. The last speaker was Thomas Bouchard from Minnesota. Thomas stood up and said, ‘I’ve spent the whole of my life working on the behaviour of identical twins reared apart. Today is my last lecture because tomorrow I retire, and I’ve saved my most important discovery until this moment. Here you are, 600 of you, experts on twins, and you will not know the answer to the question I am just going to pose to you, which I have solved. The question is this: what is the only type of behaviour that will always be identical in both twins, regardless of whether they have been adopted into different environments or not? There is only one of all the types of behaviour that you can think of in which both twins always behave identically. What is it?’ I remember turning to Robert Winston and saying, ‘I haven’t a clue, have you?’ and Robert said, ‘No. I don’t know what he’s on about.’ There was absolute silence, and Thomas Bouchard said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you. It’s religiosity.’ I nearly fell through the floor. I thought, my God, how amazing that there’s a God gene.
I was talking to Nick Martin at the Academy and he said, ‘Yes, they now think they’ve got it mapped on chromosome 9.’ It is a gene or a group of genes that control faith. And as Nicholas Wade, the brilliant British-American New York Times writer, has shown in his latest book called The Faith Instinct, which came out just before Christmas, a must-read for you, he has looked at all human societies and he has shown how it absolutely was essential to live as a society with this common belief system which united you. Okay, the gene has passed me by, but it has given me a new respect for the Church.
I was talking to Richard Dawkins last year and I have been corresponding with him recently saying, ‘Richard, you got it wrong. You wrote The God Delusion. Actually, it’s ‘the Dawkins delusion’ because you have totally dismissed God,’ whereas the concept of faith in something (it doesn’t have to be a God but it’s a uniting spiritual belief) is deep within our genes and has been responsible for social cohesion of communities. And if you want to take it one stage further, how tragic…and maybe I should, if he would speak to me again, get back to George Pell and say, ‘Isn’t it tragic that the Catholic Church has chosen to prevent those who are most likely to have the God gene from reproducing.’
‘Don’t use Vatican condoms – they’re holy.’ — See the transcript for Roger Short’s use of this logo in a reply to censure by Cardinal Pell
Robyn Williams: Okay, a gene for God, I don’t really go along with that, because people like Robin Dunbar, who is now in Oxford, have written about the evolution of the brain, saying that it is more a case of there being not a particular gene and therefore a protein that has some sort of God effect but there being in human beings a feeling for the wider community. In other words, what you are looking at with your sophisticated brain is something far more cultural and widespread rather than God-like. Could that be it?
Roger Short: Yes, I would agree with that completely. For example, Nicholas Wade has a lovely chapter on the Australian Aboriginal belief systems. Okay, they don’t have a God, but they have a real spiritual concept that is a unifying theme and it differs a bit between differing communities. It would be fascinating to study that. If I was starting life again, I think I would like to go and look at that.
From Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct — part of his response to Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker:
[Richard Dawkins] then notes that people die and kill for their religious beliefs, behavior which he compares to the misfiring of a moth’s navigational system when it flies into a candle flame. Since the moth’s behavior is nonadaptive, so too is religion, Dawkins argues. So what, he asks, “is the primitively advantageous trait that sometimes misfires to generate religion?” His hypothesis is that “There will he a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb: believe, without question, whatever your grown-ups tell you.” Religious belief, in his view, spreads like a virus from parents to impressionable children, a cycle that is repeated every generation. Religion, therefore, is the accidental by-product of children’s propensity to believe what their parents tell them.
This argument seems a little stretched because nonsensical information is not of great help in the struggle for survival and seems unlikely to have been passed on tor 2,000 generations in every known human society since the dispersal from Africa. Religion can impose enormous costs, just in the amount of time it takes up. as ises ident from the rites of Australian Aborigines. Had religion no benefit, tribes that devoted most ot their time to religious ceremonies would have been at a severe disadvantage against tribes that spent all day on military preparations.
Dawkins does not seem highly confident in his gullible child theory because he stresses it is “only an example of the kind of thing that might be the analogue of moths nas igating by the moon or the stars.” But without offering any more plausible explanation he insists that “the general theory of religion as an accidental by-product—a misfiring ot something useful—is the one I wish to advocate.”
Dawkins’s gullible child conjecture, like Pinker’s manipulative priest proposal, seems to be driven less by any particular evidence than by the implicit premise that religion is bad, and therefore must be nonadaptive.
That “belonging” and finding identity through belonging to social group is a common factor brought out in studies of radicalization to extremist groups — whether Islamic or white supremacist. So often it is those who feel alienated from society, that society is somehow going in the wrong direction for them, and those who are lonely — they are prime candidates as recruits into such groups. Like those political radicals, persons coming into religious cults will also speak of finding a sense of belonging, of family.
Here’s a snippet from a historian’s description of how Australia experienced the 1918-20 Influenza Epidemic. I’ve selected the mask experience for this post. It’s from
McQueen, Humphrey. 1976. “The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1918-19.” In Social Policy in Australia: Some Perspectives, 1901-1975, edited by Jill Roe. Stanmore, N.S.W: Cassell Australia. p. 136
I have added the images, most of them taken from the endnotes in Humphrey McQueen’s chapter. Bolded highlighting is my own.
If only on grounds of personal comfort the wearing of masks was a hotly contested issue in New South Wales where it was most strenuously enforced. The demand for masks was so extensive that to prevent profiteering the Commonwealth Government declared butter muslin and gauze to be ‘necessary commodities’ within proclaimed areas. This meant that maximum prices could not exceed those charged generally on 24 January 1919.
One doctor supported masks because they would help keep germs in and thus lessen contagion. Opposition came from those who saw them as breeding grounds for infection or as sapping the community’s ‘vital force’. A ‘Bovril’ advertisement alleged that anti-influenza masks were ‘like using barbed wire fences to shut out flies’.
With genuine if unconscious insight into the behaviour patterns of its readers, the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that resistance to masks stemmed from a distaste for making oneself conspicuous and that this would fade away ‘[o]nce the pioneers have introduced the fashion’ whereupon wearing a mask would become as natural as wearing a hat’.
But if masks were supposed to keep germs out, declared the Rhinologist at St Vincents, a simple cloth cover over mouth and/or nose was inadequate and he called for a full face mask with mica eye pieces. Others proposed variants included masks with handles for outdoor work and the ‘Lightning Germ Arrestor for Telephones’. The Director of Quarantine defended masks because they reassured ‘nervous persons’ and provided a ‘tangible.. .indication that precautions are being taken’.
Leaving the article behind, I can’t resist adding some other items I came across while searching for the above.
I came across a family namesake of mine — possibly a distantly related ancestor of some sort — facing court for refusing to wear a mask in a train carriage:
Some masks from 1919, the normal and the creative:
Roger Short: Here in Melbourne, in the department of zoology, I had a very good PhD student, Ann Gaeth. I said, ‘Ann, I’ve got these amazing early elephant embryos. Your PhD project is to serially section them. No one’s ever serially sectioned an elephant embryo ever, and goodness knows what you’ll find.’ Ann goes away and sections them and comes up to my office and said,’Roger, can you come and have a look? The kidneys look most peculiar.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about the embryology of the kidney. I’ll get my wife Marilyn to come and have a look.’
We looked down the microscope and there we saw these amazing structures in the kidney, which are called nephrostomes, which are little tubules penetrating the whole surface of the kidney and ending up in little glomeruli, so that it was a way of bailing out the peritoneal cavity and siphoning that fluid directly into the kidney, and elephants had got them, and no other mammal has nephrostomes in its kidney. Marilyn said, ‘Those structures are nephrostomes. They are a way of bailing out fluid from the peritoneal cavity and they’re only found in aquatic animals. The elephant must be aquatic.’ I thought, ‘God! Hey, the trunk is a snorkel! Wouldn’t that be fantastic?’
We then thought, well, let’s have a look at the trunk. I had dissected one or two young elephant foetuses and I had noticed something strange, that the lungs were stuck to the chest wall. And I hadn’t paid too much attention to it. Then I looked up an American veterinary review and it said that it’s amazing that every single elephant that has died in captivity has had pleurisy because the lungs are stuck to the chest wall. So I thought, ‘Oh, probably that’s normal.’ We looked at these early embryos and foetuses and, yes, very, very early on the lungs stick to the chest wall and there is no pleural cavity at all.
We did some work with a very good respiratory physiologist in San Diego who had spent his life looking at respiration and he said, ‘If you’re a snorkeler, you know that you’re not allowed to have a snorkel tube that’s much longer than that because, if you do, you will actually rupture the blood vessels in your chest cavity, and so it’s illegal to have a longer snorkel tube.’ And here is an elephant with a snorkel tube that is about eight-foot long, so they couldn’t possibly snorkel were it not for the fact that they have managed to glue their lungs to the chest wall so that they can’t get a pneumothorax, which is what you or I would get.
Robyn Williams: Yes. Would the elephants have been living presumably in rivers or lakes rather than anything out to sea?
Roger Short: Yes, I don’t think they were in the deep ocean, although they crossed large expanses of sea to get to remote islands off the coast of California. Santa Catalina Island has got these elephant remains on it and it had never been part of mainland California, so how had elephants got there? They had swum. David Attenborough has lovely shots of elephants swimming under water in the Indian Ocean.
Now that most fish have disappeared from the North Sea, the trawlers are trawling up the sand banks across the North Sea and coming up with all these amazing elephant remains, of which I have quite a selection here, from tusks to vertebrae to teeth. Mammoths, as they were then, were swimming across the North Sea between England and Scotland and Europe, and they have really been great aquatic animals, and of course they are herbivores. We have been able to do their mitochondrial DNA recently, and guess what their closest relative is? The dugong.
Robyn Williams: Really!
Roger Short: And elephants and dugongs arose from a common ancestor, called Anthrobacune, which I saw the first complete skeleton of in northern Hokkaido just recently.
Does anyone have access to an image of the Anthrobacune skeleton? Not even Google could find me one.
Arthur Droge has made available on his academia.edu page an article in which he presents
a strong case for that “rulers of this age … crucified the Lord of Glory” passage in 1 Corinthians not being part of the original letter
reasons to think the passage was added to the letter around 140 CE
evidence for a wide variety of early Christian views about the crucifixion (some had it on earth, some in the firmament, with and without suffering…)
implications of the above that point to Paul’s letters evolving through various hands over time and no more being penned by “Paul” than any of the surviving letters, acts, gospels and apocalypses bearing the names of Peter, James, John, Thomas, Barnabas, Mark, Matthew, Luke, etc were genuinely penned by those figures.
I will certainly have to write out the key points of Droge’s article and add it to my archived series “Rulers of this Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 but till then I leave the above link for interested readers to check out the full 22-page article for themselves.
Some interesting excerpts.
What is an Interpolation?
By interpolation I simply mean a retrospective change in an older text, usually introduced with the intention of “clarifying” or “improving” it, or bringing out what was thought to be its “real” meaning. The change may have taken place when a work was copied and perhaps re-edited at some point after its original composition. That is to say, interpolations are an all-too-common feature of texts that have come down through a succession of manuscripts or handwritten copies. While the identification of interpolations is unremarkable in other disciplines, whose canons likewise derive from manuscripts, it is looked down upon by New Testament scholars. (p. 6)
Droge offers two criteria for identifying interpolations:
significant differences in language, style, and subject matter.
the removal of the suspect passage has to make the resultant rejoining of the surrounding material more cogent, smoother….
On the basis of those criteria Droge demonstrates a very strong likelihood of the “rulers of this age” being an interpolation.
No consensus in early Christian texts about who crucified Jesus, or about when, where, how, or why
For even a casual sampling of texts from the Christian archive makes it patently clear that there was no consensus about who crucified Jesus, or about when, where, how, or why Jesus was crucified. Indeed, as we shall see, there was not even a consensus about whether Jesus was crucified. Each of these questions was a point of conflict and contestation for centuries before the Christians finally managed to get their story (more or less) straight. (p. 12)
I confess I was somewhat thrilled to see Droge make the use of some of the same archaeological evidence that has influenced my own thinking: the crucifixion of Jesus was not the primary focus of early Christian belief if one turns to early sarcophagi and catacomb art. Jesus is more likely to be depicted as a youth, a good shepherd, a healer than crucified. Droge adds the significant point:
The silence of the archaeological record in this case is a stark warning about extrapolating from texts ideas widely shared by the rank and file, or by the socalled “communities” supposedly lurking behind the texts we read and to which they provide access. (p. 12)
Droge directs readers to Stowers and Rüpke. I’ll quote a little from each:
The pervasive assumption that all Christian literature and history in the first one hundred years or so sprang from and mirrored communities inhibits historical explanation by social and psychological theory that is normal for the rest of the academy. A community in this sense is a highly coherent social formation with commonality in thought and practice. The idea that the Christian movement began with these communities derives from Christianity’s own myth of origins, but has been taken as historical reality. The myth can be traced to Paul, Acts and Eusebius. (Stowers, 238)
If the authentic letters [of Paul] (which might themselves be the result of later redactional combinations) are seen as an example of the formation of a network among like-minded persons in Jewish diaspora communities in Asia Minor and the Greek mainland, we could expect hundreds of letters – and we cannot exclude that they were in existence. The published corpus, however, is characterised not by the documentation of a network, but by a pseudepigraphical supplementation, which partially even theologically reflected on pseudepigraphy. The different agents of this continuation had heterogeneous interests. They were engaged in the prolongation of Paul and contested others’ interpretations; they venerated and instrumentalised Paul. These conflicting views were certainly connected to the interest in and critique of the specific Pauline practices and beliefs which we find even more prominently outside of the corpus, in Lukan Acts for instance. All this indicates that we are not dealing with archives of communities and local identities, but with professional exegesis and philosophical schools (and with Marcion, even historical research). (Rüpke, 180)
Now that makes a lot of sense when we recall Justin Martyr’s identification of himself as a philosopher and recall Abraham Malherbe’s demonstrations that the Pauline writings suggest we are closer to the mark when we compare early Christian thought and propagation with the philosophical schools of the day than with “mystery cults”.
Droge brings the Ascension of Isaiah into the discussion and reaffirms the view that the section on the birth, miracles and crucifixion of Jesus is a later addition and that the original text depicted a crucifixion in the Firmament. We recall Earl Doherty’s and Richard Carrier’s works. I have lately gone a bit back and forth on that question so I am willing to resume a back seat for a while and watch and learn with more reading and reflection. A significant difference, however, is that Doge insists on the Ascension of Isaiah being a post-Pauline second-century work whereas Doherty was prepared to lean towards those who dated it as early as the late first century. Droge’s point is that an Ascension of Isaiah scenario of Rulers of this Age crucifying Jesus points to the Pauline passage being added in the second century.
The idea that Jesus did not actually die on the cross is traced from a very literal reading of the Gospel of Mark (it was Simon of Cyrene who was crucified), the related view of Basilides in the second century, through the Second Treatise of the Great Seth and Apocalypse of Peter. Ignatius and Justin further indirectly hint at this rival belief. The spiritual dimension of the event is presumably a reaction to a narrative set in the mundane realm.
But if that’s the case, why? We don’t normally expect sectarian branches to rewrite a historical tradition as having happened in the heavens. But it does make sense if that mundane narrative involving Galilee, Pilate, a lynch mob of Jews, etc. was built from a “midrashic” reading of Hebrew Scriptures. If so, there was room for others to disagree and propose other interpretations of those scriptures. Hence I found most intriguing Droge’s pointing out the way gnostic myths were derived from particular readings of Psalms. Psalm 2 has God laughing at rulers thinking they can defy God and his anointed. Enter the gnostic accounts of Jesus laughing at those who are thinking they are crucifying him on the cross. Similarly for the myth of descent and ascent through the heavens: Psalm 24 speaks of the King of Glory which is close to the Ascension’s Lord of Glory, and it also speaks of him progressing through “gates”.
Why were those verses about spirit beings crucifying Christ added? Best for you to read Droge’s article. Meanwhile, no, Droge does not suggest they were polemical or deviously attempting to undermine the original views of Paul. He sees the addition of the passage more as a commentary.
The more interesting and important consequence is the recognition that our passage was a second-century gnostic attempt to ventriloquize Paul, to make him say what he should have said – indeed, must have said – and to do so in a fashion not dissimilar to the way in which the modern guild of scholars continues to carry on the time-honored task of Pauline commentary.
Claude Lévi-Strauss is worth recalling at this point:
[A] myth is made up of all its variants, [therefore] structural analysis should take all of them into account. . . . . There is no one true version of which all the others are but copies or distortions. Every version belongs to the myth. (pp 435f)
Commentaries as expansions and explanations become another version of the myth. Droge points the finger at the Valentinian scholars of the second century,
for whom Paul’s letters were a major focus of their commentarial endeavors, and who succeeded in creating a Paul in their own image, and then esteemed him as the chief architect of their mythmaking. Our passage is one, very small, but precious, piece of that enterprise, which has managed, purely by chance, to survive as a page in the archive or dossier that only later would be called “First Corinthians.”
How the sausage is made
So how did the letter-making sausage machine work, according to Droge?
By recognizing that our passage is an interpolation of the second century, we can see that individual letters were still under construction well into that century, and we can begin to discern some of the ways in which that building process worked. Already at a pre-collection stage, Paul’s “letters” were far from static or inert data, moving through time under the guardianship of vigilant Christian scribes. Rather, the materials out of which individual letters would be constituted were still in flux, and provided occasions for innovative and improvisational interventions from a variety of sources, with a variety of interests, and in a variety of forms (e.g., emendations, deletions, glosses, interpolations, commentary, short narratives, and so on). As I have tried to suggest, it would be better to think of “First Corinthians” at the pre-collection stage as an active site or open file, more along the lines of an archive or dossier, and certainly not a unified, much less actual, letter. So conceived, the process that yielded the letter known as “First Corinthinas,” as well as the collection known as the corpus paulinum, would be analogous to the process of the composition of the gospels. In other words, at some point in the second century materials of heterogeneous origin, date, and provenance began to be fashioned into a loose epistolary form and attributed to a figure from the first century. (21f)
Droge, Arthur. “‘Whodunnit? Paul’s Peculiar Passion and Its Implications.’” Accessed May 10, 2021. https://www.academia.edu/43327375/_Whodunnit_Paul_s_Peculiar_Passion_and_Its_Implications_.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. “The Structural Study of Myth.” The Journal of American Folklore 68, no. 270 (1955): 428–44. https://doi.org/10.2307/536768.
Rüpke, Jörg. “The Role of Texts in Processes of Religious Grouping during the Principate.” Religion in the Roman Empire 2, no. 2 (2016): 170. https://doi.org/10.1628/219944616X14655421286059.
Stowers, Stanley. “The Concept of ‘Community’ and the History of Early Christianity.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 23, no. 3 (2011): 238–56. https://doi.org/10.1163/157006811X608377.
An examination of the claim that “Paul refers to his teachings that Jesus made during in his earthly ministry, on divorce . . .”
External facts / context related to interpretation
1 Corinthians 7:10-11
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 1 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
Paul is recollecting the teaching of Jesus found in Mark 10:9-12 and Luke 16:18 that others had passed on to him. (“Paul cites Apostolic, Jewish-Christian tradition as his source of authority.” (Tomson, 117))
… Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. … Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Paul insisted he learned nothing from others about the gospel of Jesus
Galatians 1:11-12; 2:6
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
. . . As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.
One wonders if it was possible that this rudimentary principle, which is alien to ancient society but was recognized by the whole of primitive Christianity, should have remained unknown in Corinth. At all events it is expressed in such a way that it sounds as if Paul was making it known for the first time. (Conzelmann, 120)
Baur has objected that if Paul had meant to cite a positive command of the Lord, he must have used the pastπαρήγγειλεν (He commanded), and not the present. . . . No doubt it might also be that the apostle meant to say he had received this command by revelation (Godet, 332f)
Paul omits the limitation put by the Lord on the command not to separate: “unless it be for adultery.” (Godet, 333)
Thus Paul not only corrects himself, but knowingly cites Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and passes it on in indirect discourse to married believers in an absolute, unqualified form, as coming from the risen Christ. Cf. 14:37, “a commandment of the Lord. (Fitzmyer, 292)
What can be said as to which of the Gospel traditions is closest to the Pauline formulation? There is hardly any agreement between the various discussions of this question. . . . the question as to which of the various Synoptic formulations seems presupposed by Paul’s formulation must be left open. (Dungan, 133-134)
Paul makes no attempt to cite the words of the historical Jesus (Collins, 269)
[Elsewhere when delivering moral teachings] Paul … characteristically gives no indication that he is aware that he is using the language of Jesus, or acting in obedience to his precepts (Barrett, 112)
The context of I Cor 7:10 (vv 1-9) suggest Paul is addressing couples who are challenged by one party wishing to become an ascetic (an issue found frequently in second-century sources) so the situation is different from the divorce sayings in the gospels:
Paul’s specific references to the teaching of Jesus are notoriously few. . . Paul is dealing (perhaps not exclusively) with marriages that are threatened by an ascetic view of sexual relations. (Barrett, 162f)
Others think that the question of a possible divorce has arisen in Roman Corinth because some Christian spouses there were already abstaining from intercourse for ascetic reasons (Fitzmyer, 291)
It is undeniable that Paul felt sympathetic to the ideal proposed by the ascetics, but he could not permit it to be imposed as a general rule. (Murphy-O’Connor, 605)
Doubts against the historicity of the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:9-12 —
The arguments against authenticity are: the Markan version reflects the situation of the early community; the variations in the tradition suggest that the community struggled to adapt some teaching to its own context; the appeal to scripture in vv. 6-7 is not characteristic of Jesus but reflects the Christian use of the Greek Bible; familiarity with Roman rather than Israelite marriage law in vv. 11-12 indicates a later, gentile context. Further, the roles of Jesus and the Pharisees seem reversed: here the Pharisees view the Mosaic law as permitting divorce, whereas Jesus cites the scripture in support of a more stringent view. (Funk, 88f)
and in Luke 16:18 —
Matthew adds infidelity as the one exception to the absolute rule on divorce. A different version is found in Mark 10:2-12//Matt 19:3-9, in which divorce is made contrary to God’s order in creation (‘What God has coupled together, no one should separate’). The confusion in the transmission of the tradition led many Fellows to designate this saying in Luke as gray [=”Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his own”] or black [=”Jesus did not say this. The saying comes from a later time”]. The confusion in the jesus tradition is matched by confusion in the lore of the period. (Funk, 360)
The above are not intended to suggest they are the only factors to be considered. Some of the sources quoted above attempt to answer the negative considerations I have cited. Example, in response to Baur’s point about the past tense, Godet writes,
But the command of Jesus is regarded as abiding for the Church throughout all time. (Godet, 332)
Opposed to the arguments against authenticity, Funk et al first lists those “for”:
The arguments in favor of authenticity are: remarks on the subject by Jesus are preserved in two or more independent sources and in two or more different contexts; an injunction difficult for the early community to practice is evidence of a more original version; Jesus’ response is in the form of an aphorism that undercuts social and religious convention. Further, the Markan version implies a more elevated view of the status of women than was generally accorded them in the patriarchal society of the time, which coheres with other evidence that Jesus took a more liberal view of women. (Funk, 88)
It’s an interesting question, the source of Paul’s appeal to “the command of the Lord” here. As one commentator remarks with some puzzlement, Paul only cites the command to offer a contradiction to it — accepting the possibility of divorce anyway. (The word “separation” is said to be used often enough for “divorce”.) The rationale of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark for forbidding divorce is an appeal to Genesis and creation — the same rationale we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some commentators say that Paul is appealing to Jesus’ command this time because he knows he is contradicting the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is also pointed out that the Scriptures themselves are contradictory: God hates divorce, he says through his prophets, but through Moses he permits it. Should we see here in this section of 1 Corinthians another allusion to the author presenting himself as a prophet of God, as another Moses, even — declaring the law of God but at the same time acknowledging some flexibility, as per the Old Covenant?
Re: “teachings that Jesus made during his earthly ministry, . . . on preachers and on the coming apocalypse”
Continuing in the next post.
Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.. Black’s New Testament Commentaries. London: Black, 1971.
Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, Minn: Michael Glazier, 1999.
Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Edited by George W. MacRae. Translated by James W. Leitch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.
Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul; Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life. Fortress Press, 1971. http://archive.org/details/sayingsofjesusin00dung.
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. First Corinthians. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 2008.
Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary. New York: Polebridge Press, 1993.
Godet, Frédéric. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Translated by A. Cusin. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonstpa01godeuoft.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “The Divorced Woman in 1 Cor 7:10-11.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, no. 4 (1981): 601–6. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266121.
Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Tomson, Peter. Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Netherlands: Brill, 1991.
The point of this post is to demonstrate how easy it is to read documents from the perspective of commonly accepted knowledge and mistakenly misread them, thinking they say what we have always assumed they say, and to fail to register that the original texts are not quite as clear in their meaning — nor even as assuredly “authentic” — as we have always assumed.
A historian needs to work with facts to have any chance of proposing a narrative or hypothesis that is going to stand up to scrutiny. The facts lie in the sources we use. But sources must be interpreted and it is easy to read into a source what we think it must be saying.
The key point here is that … Paul’s letters … do contain references that indicate Paul understood Jesus to have been a recent, historical, and earthly human being who was elevated to higher status after his death.
External facts / context related to interpretation
In Romans we read it said that the revelation about Jesus is recent; it is the revelation of Jesus that happened in Paul’s time.
the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God
The things revealed in that revelation happened “now”, “very recently”.
1 Peter 1:18-20
… you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Belief in the recency of an event does not support its historical truth: Examples…
Ancient writings inform us that the ancients also believed gods and goddesses (sometimes in human form) were periodically seen by sundry eyewitnesses and not only in a mythical time.
The second-century author Lucian wrote a biography of his teacher, Demonax, whom many readers have subsequently assumed — wrongly — to have been a historical figure.
Ned Ludd was understood to have been a recent figure, if not a contemporary, of protestors in eighteenth-century England.
External facts / context related to interpretation
No historical context is found for Jesus in Paul’s letters except for:
1 Thessalonians 2:14-15
in Judea … those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.
but scholars are not agreed that this passage is genuinely from Paul so it is not a secure base from which to make a point about Paul’s thought. See https://vridar.org/tag/1-thessalonians-213-16/ for the scholars’ reasons for interpolation.
1 Timothy 6:13
Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession
Overwhelmingly critical scholars agree that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul.
When the 1 Thessalonians 2 passage is cited, since not all scholars agree it is an interpolation, it is thought sufficient to casually dismiss the interpolation thesis as unlikely.
More generally, the simple fact that Paul wrote of the Christ event as reality is taken as proof that there was a historical person behind it.
Ancient historians, like modern historians, sometimes wrote about persons and events they believed to be historical but in fact weren’t.
External facts / context related to interpretation
As above; additionally…
1 Corinthians 2:8
… the rulers of this age … crucified the Lord of glory.
Also “born of woman” — see below
Events imagined to have happened on earth are presumably historical.
“Rulers of this age” are assumed to have been the rulers of Judea and Rome we read about in the gospels who were responsible for the crucifixion.
Until Earl Doherty in the 1990s advanced his thesis that Paul believed “the Christ event” occurred entirely in a “heavenly realm”, albeit a sublunar one, the Christ myth idea generally understood Paul’s letters to speak of birth, life and death of Jesus on earth. Apart from a very early view that the entire gospel story was fleshed out from astrological beliefs, the only exception that I am aware of is the view of Paul-Louis Couchoud who anticipated Doherty’s views, though Doherty’s thesis was his own. Richard Carrier has further elaborated and popularized Doherty’s entirely “celestial Christ”. Such has been the success of the Doherty-Carrier Christ myth view that among some quarters it has become equated with the Christ Myth theory itself and it appears that some critics are unaware that there is an alternative. However, most Christ myth views over the decades have accepted Paul’s view of Jesus as an earthly human. The Christ myth thesis certainly does not stand or fall upon the thoroughly “celestial Christ” view of Doherty-Carrier. The “celestial Christ” hypothesis is not the foundation or reason Doherty became sceptical of the historicity of Jesus. Carrier raises many problems with the historicity thesis that stand apart from the “celestial Christ” idea.
*My own view of the question is different from above. I point out opposing arguments when I think they are unfairly ignored.
The “again” in the title harks back to another time I responded point by point to Tim O’Neill’s erroneous declarations: Bad History for Atheists#1, #2, #3, #4
Continuing here to respond to the youtube presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_hD3xK4hRY — previous posts: #1 (wrongly saying it pays academics to find “different” and “new” or “contrarian” arguments), and #2 (wrongly saying historians can do nothing more than assess probabilities, not determine facts, about the ancient past)
After further saying that non-Christian (including “Jewish”) and Christian scholars have very different ideas about the historical Jesus (which is simply flat wrong, as I might show in a later post) in order to supposedly demonstrate that Christian influence is not a factor (again, which is flat wrong as can be easily demonstrated – but for a later post), and after conditioning the listener to think of “mythicists” as following attractive bait in defiance of common sense (ad hominem, well-poisoning), O’Neill says,
To begin with, all accounts or references to the origins of Christianity both Christian and non-Christian, say it began with him. And none of them describe him as anything other than a historical human being even if some of them — the Christian ones most obviously — say he was much more than just a human.
Here are a good number of those ancient accounts and references with the ones saying he is “anything other than” a historical human being:
Account or reference
Saying Jesus was nothing more than a historical human
New Testament letters (Paul, pseudo-Paul, Catholic, Pastoral and Johannine)
Extra canonical letters (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp)
New Testament Gospels and Acts
Extra canonical Gospels and Acts (Thomas, Peter, Paul….)
Revelation and other apocalypses
nil (but many, not all, scholars hypothesize that Josephus did say he was only a man; arguments against authenticity)
(late evidence reporting what was learned from early Christians — not used by historical Jesus scholars because “too late”; arguments against authenticity)
Pliny the Younger
nil (not used by HJ scholars; says christ was worshiped as a god; several arguments against authenticity)
O’Neill argues that some of the above do present an entirely human Jesus behind the myth and I will respond to his claims as we come to them.
The mythicist . . . has to explain why they all depict him as historical and human with no traces of any earlier alternatives which have him as, say, purely mythic, allegorical or celestial.
Interesting. I am still waiting to hear O’Neill indicate which ones he means among the “all depict Jesus as historical and human with no traces of earlier … myth…”
O’Neill underscores his point:
there are elements in the early christian accounts of him that strongly indicate a historical person — that are very difficult to interpret any other way.
My curiosity is being whetted. Can’t wait to hear which sources these are “very difficult” to interpret as a merely human Jesus.
Before answering, O’Neill offers an interesting justification for using the Biblical gospels and letters:
The historian can and should examine them in the way that they examine any other source relevant to the question at hand in the examination of ancient history.
One thing otherhistorians have noted, and that I certainly have commented on often enough here, is that biblical scholars only rarely study the gospels “in the way that ‘they’ examine any other source”. The narratives in the gospels are assumed — without confirmation of independent external confirmation — to be based on a real biography. The sources are assumed to have been primarily oral tradition. The authors are assumed to have been interested in telling the truth as they understood it about Jesus, diligently incorporating genuine “historical” material as they could. As far as I have been aware over many years of wide reading and study, I don’t know of any relevant scholarly study of ancient documents (or medieval or modern ones) that begins and ends with such uncritical assumptions.
“When couples are recruited into Amway, they are all treated pretty much the same.”
Prosperity gospel isn’t new. In the cult I was part of we would have deplored any suggestion we had anything in common with those “prosperity gospel” groups. With us, most of us struggled as a sign of humility, dedication and faith so that we could contribute to the prosperity of the elites, a prosperity that was needed for the doing of “God’s work”
“Prosperity gospel isn’t anything new. It’s just since the nineties that it’s been really lapped up by a lot of the Western world as a standard part of Christianity. The late eighties were just awful for fundamentalist Christians.”
Selecting and focussing on the right bible verses . . .
“The Word of Faith movement had laid the perfect groundwork for prosperity gospel. It was as simple as ABC, and I don’t think they’d planned it at all. Number one, all of the bible is the Word of God and can be taken literally. Number two, you can take any verse of the bible and apply it to your life. Therefore, number three, you can take any verse of the bible and decide that that’s the one that counts, not the other ones. And finally, number four, we’ve been wrong about money all this time, when you look at the verses we can show you here.”
Each cult thinks itself distinctive, unlike any other. Take a step back and out, though, and you see how alike they all are:
“The Moonies are trained in exactly the same way, as are all cult devotees. Recruitment success ultimately depends on the quality of personal interaction with could-be members. The recruiter first learns something about the potential recruit. Then, to demonstrate that they have shared interests, the recruiter mirrors their target’s opinions. So, when an invitation to a workshop or a dinner is extended, it seems that the recruiter has something genuine to offer, based on the apparent compatibility of their beliefs or interests.”
This one is rightly elaborated on by Tanya in her book. I’ve addressed some other aspects of the process on this blog.
“They must be stupid’ is the reason given for cult involvement from many on the outside. Only the mentally ill, gullible or lonely would ever find themselves in a cult. Up close, nothing could be further from the truth.”
This one reminded me of the effect of the music, the light and temperature controls and visual layouts of major supermarkets to lower your resistance and encourage you to buy….
“These are altered state of consciousness techniques that initially induce calmness by giving the mind something simple to deal with and focusing awareness. Continued use brings on a feeling of elation and eventually hallucination. The result is the reduction of thought . . . .”
Today we see dire conspiracy theories about “them” — recall how it started….
“It was always a case of Us vs Them. The difference now is that We used to feel sorry for Them, and cheer on the day when They might be converted. Now, We are threatened by Them, the Great Unsaved, because They might take Our Freedom, Our Families, Our Profit Margins.”
Oh yes, and not just the Hillsongers…
“Many Hillsongers derive their beliefs about the world from anecdotal evidence, pastors’ ad-libbing and books written by Christians. The concept of applying usual logic to spirituality is abhorrent. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord. ”
In an older post I used another word for this one, logicide:
“LOADING THE LANGUAGE
The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.”
Tanya Levin calls it Christianese. Some examples:
“Faith: The reason for all the things that don’t make any sense”
“Love: Feeling really special on the inside about anything at all; being nice to someone ”
“Grace: The whitewash process by which we only talk about the positive and no one has to be accountable for anything, for example, ‘When are you going to get a hold of the concept of grace?”
“Suffering for Jesus: Missing your connecting flight”
“Miracle: Anything that goes your way without trying too hard”
“Purpose driven: Unashamedly self-obsessed”
“Developing a negative, critical, defeatist attitude: Asking leadership why you’ve been told a bunch of lies”
In “my” old cult the equivalent of the next one was “Left the church” with the understanding that “they were never part of us to begin with” and “they are in the bond of Satan”:
“Now worshipping at another church: Left in disgust and outrage over being conned”
“Faithfulness to God’s will: Willing to put up with any amount of bad treatment from leadership and still go back to church”
This one, again, has wide application. In our cult it was a constant busyness with church activities plus fitting in a minimum of half-hour prayer and half hour bible study at home every day. But the principle applies even as far as society as a whole:
“Cult theorists argue that exhausting people helps maintain control. If all they’re craving is sleep and to see their kids, they’re not as likely to care where all the money’s going, or how nonsensical the ideologies are. The AoG calls it a commitment to the things of God.”
Having made a decision to check out Hillsong a bit more after the release of those loathsome scenes of our Trump-loving Prime Minister boasting of “doing God’s work” and even “laying hands on” people and praying for them under the pretence of being empathetic, I searched “randomly” through Google algorithms and came across People in Glass Houses, An Insider’s Story of a Life In & Out of Hillsong by Tanya Levin. Tany Levin writes with such wry and dry wit and humour of her experiences that I am finding the reading most enjoyable rather than depressing as I had feared it would be. I am only a little short of halfway through it at the moment and so far it is an excellent reminder of what it is like to be immersed in that kind of a God world. And though Hillsong is a very different church in many respects from the ones I was ever part of, much of the emotional and mental tensions and denials one goes through are very much the same. This read is the first time I have been enlightened on the experiences of a child and teenage girl in such a church.
If you really want to know what it’s like to grow up in a happy-clappy Jesus-loves-you church then you will be absorbed by this book as much as I currently am.
If you are currently facing some doubts or tensions over your involvement in a cult-like outfit, even if it’s not the pentecostal kind, you may well find some reassurance for your doubts and a real friend in this book. Tanya writes with understanding but also with compassion.
If it has been some years since you were part of such an outfit, it may not be amiss to be reminded of what it was like — just to help maintain compassion and understanding for others still bound to the world of God, demons and scripture.
Just to add a little more spice to my reading I took out another book that relates directly to the Worldwide Church of God experience and it was like reading and recollecting the cult-mind in 3-D — only with Tanya’s dry humour, one is also able to add the salve of laughter to the cruel memories. Electronic versions are available but it can also be read gratis on Scribd.
A few gems from the first half:
“As an aside, taking drugs will instantly open your mind as a demon playground, though only illegal drugs will do this. Valium’s fine.”
“My life was as close to without sin as I could possibly make it and I was going as close to insane as I had ever feared.”
“Tongues is spooky and I think it’s supposed to be.”
“They don’t like talking about stuff for too long or too deeply and where they have to use their own powers of reasoning.”
“I assumed when I considered leaving Hills that it would be hard, that everybody would notice me gone and would try to drag me back. I had justifications ready for such events, events which never came about.”
“One morning in church when I was sixteen, I looked around and saw a young man with his arms outstretched, singing in tongues to the Lord. Before I knew it, I thought, ‘He’s talking rubbish.’ ”
“The research shows that I was a textbook case for the children who emerge from highly restrictive thought-control groups and cults.”
Tim O’Neill makes a statement about history that I have never encountered in any work by any historian explaining to readers what he or she does. The only persons I have heard make the claim come from theological faculties when they try to place the evidence for Jesus on the same (or even higher) level that we have for other historical persons and events. O’Neill points his listeners to the title of his presentation: Did Jesus Exist? Yes (Probably) (link is to the 28 minute youtube video I am discussing). O’Neill explains:
It is … important to note the word “probably” in my answer to the question of whether this historical Jesus existed. Unlike some of the sciences, history can rarely arrive at definitive answers. . . . Historians are like detectives who examine evidence . . . and work out what probably happened. So when it comes to the pre-modern world, the sources, texts, passing references and documents and perhaps archaeology the historians analyse make it impossible for them to do more than than assess what is most likely. (from about 3 min 22 secs into the program)
Anyone who reads any work by historians discussing what they do will recognize that that remark is totally confused about what is the nature of history and the sorts of conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence — at least according to professional historians. At the very best the description might, with some slight modification, apply to a very narrow range of inquiries some historians undertake.
People who like definite answers or proof are usually going to find ancient history pretty frustrating or perhaps disappointing. This means we can’t prove Jesus existed. But scholars can and do conclude that his existence makes most sense.
Given that we cannot give a definitive answer to the question there should be no surprise to learn that there’s no single piece of relevant evidence that definitely shows a historical Jesus existed. . . . The conclusion he most likely did exist depends on several vectors of evidence converging on that as the most likely conclusion.
I – nor you – have never read in a history book that “Rome probably or most likely — we can’t prove it, but it seems most likely from the convergence of several vectors of evidence — once had an empire stretching from Spain to Mesopotamia”, or “Julius Caesar probably existed and was probably assassinated”, or “A probable Spartacus probably led a probable slave rebellion and was probably defeated”.
Where there are questions with unclear answers, historians don’t fudge the odds and say “probably” if there is reason to doubt. They debate, or suspend judgement, or take clear sides because the evidence that does exist convinces them one way or the other. Did the ancient Greeks practice human sacrifice in historical times? Was the practice of temple prostitution practised in the ancient Near East? Did slaves build the pyramids? When questions like these were asked by historians, historians set out what they believed to be their answers — affirmative or negative — and cited the evidence supporting their beliefs. They didn’t fudge with a “probably”. Being intellectually honest types they were willing to concede that they were wrong and ready to change their minds when presented with new evidence or arguments. But that is still taking clear cut sides. It is not a position of “probability”.
Most history is narrative history. The facts are known and the problem for the historian is to decide how best to interpret them and judge the role they played in a narrative about, say, the lead up to a war, or progress toward social changes. That’s where “probably” enters the thinking. Would World War 1 have broken out even if the Archduke of Austria had not been assassinated? Probably. Was the Archduke assassinated? No probably about it.
But enough of my words. Hear/read it from some renowned historians themselves:
I strongly defend the view that what historians investigate is real. The point from which historians must start, however far from it they may end, is the fundamental and, for them, absolutely central distinction between establishable fact and fiction, between historical statements based on evidence and subject to evidence and those which are not.
There is a postmodernist question about truth but even here we are not dealing with probability but with whether objective truth can be known or not.
It has become fashionable in recent decades, not least among people who think of themselves as on the left, to deny that objective reality is accessible, since what we call ‘facts’ exist only as a function of prior concepts and problems formulated in terms of these. The past we study is only a construct of our minds. One such construct is in principle as valid as another, whether it can be backed by logic and evidence or not. So long as it forms part of an emotionally strong system of beliefs, there is, as it were, no way in principle of deciding that the biblical account of the creation of the earth is inferior to the one proposed by the natural sciences: they are just different. Any tendency to doubt this is ‘positivism’, and no term indicates a more comprehensive dismissal than this, unless it is empiricism.
In short, I believe that without the distinction between what is and what is not so, there can be no history. Rome defeated and destroyed Carthage in the Punic Wars, not the other way round. How we assemble and interpret our chosen sample of verifiable data (which may include not only what happened but what people thought about it) is another matter.