Author Archives: Neil Godfrey

Part 2 of Testing the Claim that Jesus Scholars Use the Methods of Other Historians

This post continues my assessment of the claims made in a doctoral dissertation by Michael Zolondek (supervised by Larry Hurtado and Helen Bond of the University of Edinburgh) that Jesus scholars use the same methods as historians of other fields. The sorts of methods he is addressing are specifically the “criteria of authenticity”. Though challenged by some scholars today, many biblical scholars continue to defend them as tools by which they can sift historical core “facts” or “events” about Jesus from theological or mythical overlay in the gospels. One such criterion is “multiple attestation”: the criteria that if an event is found in multiple (independent) sources there is strong likelihood it is genuinely historical. Another is the criterion of “double dissimilarity”: this criterion states that if a saying has no parallel in either early church teaching or in ancient Judaism then it very likely originated with the historical Jesus himself. And so forth.

On page 98 of the published version of the dissertation, We Have Found the Messiah: How the Disciples Help Us Answer the Davidic Question, Zolondek states that the examples found in a chapter by biblical scholar Stanley Porter of historians whose background is in ancient history are evidence that ancient historians do indeed use some of the same criteria of authenticity as historical Jesus scholars. Porter actually presented those particular examples of ancient historians to demonstrate that they do not use the biblical scholars’ tool of criteria of authenticity but Zolondek disagrees with Porter’s claims. Before I discuss those three examples and (unlike Zolondek) go beyond Porter’s article to the more detailed writings of those three ancient historians themselves I want to highlight another significant point made by Porter that is entirely overlooked by Zolondek.

The book chapter we are looking at is Stanley Porter’s “The Criterion of Authenticity” published in the Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (2011). On pages 700-701 Porter writes:

[S]everal of the criteria seem to violate the kinds of historians’ fallacies that David Fischer has brought to the attention of historians.21 These include (and some are discussed further below)

the criterion of double dissimilarity possibly violating the fallacy of many questions (e.g. by asking two questions at once, begging the question, or framing a complex question that requires a simple answer) or of contradictory questions (e.g. when the two distinctives create an anomaly of a human unsuited to any world);22

the criterion of least distinctiveness violating the reductive fallacy in demanding a linear approach to the development of literary forms, or generalization;23

and the Semitic language criterion having potential problems in question framing, including question begging or creating a false dichotomy.24

_______
21 D. H. Fischer. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York: Harper, 1970).
22 Ibid., 8, 34.
23 Ibid., 172 – 175.
24 Ibid., 8-12.

(my formatting)

I have posted on some of the common fallacies listed by David Fischer several times now, including,

So I find it interesting that a prominent biblical scholar such as Stanley Porter turns to the same book. (Richard Carrier also makes good use of it in Proving history: Bayes’s theorem and the quest for the historical Jesus.) Zolondek ignores the relevant section of Porter’s chapter. read more »

Testing the Claim that Jesus Scholars Use the Methods of Other Historians (Part 1)

Damn. I fell for it (again). A professor promoted a new book as “making the most sense of the crucifixion” and “making a fresh contribution to studies of the ‘historical Jesus'” so I made a rush purchase and read it the same day it arrived. Silly me, I should first have checked the University of Edinburgh Library’s open access policy and archive of dissertations because it is sitting there free of charge for all to read. Access is also online through the British Library. There are only slight modifications of wording and more truncated bibliographic references in the published version.  Sadly both versions make it clear that the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh is responsible for some very crude fundamentalist-level apologetics posing as serious scholarship. I expected better from the University of Edinburgh.

The first difficulty I had with the book (We Have Found the Messiah: How the Disciples Help Us Answer the Davidic Question) was lack of clarity over its aim. It often sounded as if the author, Michael Zolondek (=MZ), was arguing that Jesus was a Davidic Messiah in some absolute sense that Christians today could claim was “the” identifier of Jesus. That is, we today should think of Jesus as a genuine Davidic Messiah just as surely as we think of him as a Jew or a male (or god in the flesh?) — quite independently of what anyone else thought of him (passim from p. xiv to p. 143). Other times MZ narrows the question down to suggest he meant he was the Davidic Messiah in the eyes of the disciples specifically (chapter 5). Does he mean the reader to understand that the disciples’ perspective is “The Truth” that readers of the gospels should also embrace? Confusion of terms bedevils other areas as well. For example, at one point MZ appears to acknowledge that the criterion of multiple attestation has value only if each witness is independent (p. 92) but other times he implies that multiple attestation has value even when the witnesses are not independent (p. 98).

But my interest in this post is one particular detail about the book that I found quite curious. On at least three separate occasions in his chapter on “methodological issues” MZ stressed that biblical scholars such as himself really are following the same methods as historians of other fields. By the third time I had to ask if MZ doth protesteth too much.

Another strange feature of this doctoral dissertation was a bizarrely irrelevant and quite misleading comment about Jesus mythicism. I can post about that quirk another time.

Before I get into the discussion of the fallacious foundation of MZ’s argument here let me quote one passage that at first glance appears to contradict what I have just said:

The most significant of these [methodological issues] is, in my opinion, the fact that often times historical Jesus scholars are doing ancient history quite differently than ancient historians normally would. (p. 98, my emphasis and formatting in all quotations)

It turns out that what MZ means here is that Jesus scholars “often times” are working by far stricter standards than anything followed by “ancient historians normally”, and that if only more Jesus scholars would lower their standards to be consistent with those found in Classics and Ancient History departments at universities they would, lo and behold, find their job much easier and be able to reconstruct and prove all sorts of things about Jesus. Further, in his discussions of historical methods MZ cites sources that actually discuss the philosophy of history and debatable questions of historiography and problems in creating historical narratives, apparently confusing them with discussions of research methods brought to bear in evaluating sources and discovering certain facts about the past. I believe that these are generally distinct areas of study that MZ appears to have confused as I will also discuss below or in a follow up post.

Here are MZ’s more insistent claims that Jesus scholars use the same methods as other historians: read more »

Taking your family with you, whether to hell or paradise

It was a terrible week. A man shot to death his four grandchildren, wife and daughter then himself here at Margaret River, Australia. Then parents blew up their children and themselves, along with any targeted strangers in churches and a police station in Surabaya, Indonesia. That’s the first time I seem to have heard of terrorists involving their whole family, their children/parents with them, for paradise.

From what I have heard and experienced myself in the past I think I can understand a little of the motive of the Australian family murderer. (He had never really recovered from the suicide of his son and was faced with the news of the death of a second son to disease.) One comes to a place of such dark despair that death is the “only logical or natural” next step. But to alleviate the suffering that such a step would involve for others left behind, it is easier for them if they “come with you”. [I am speculating on the motives of the 61 year old grandfather who killed his family along with himself but do so on the basis of published interviews with his son-in-law and on recollections of times in my own life when (years ago) I felt myself to be at a similar brink.]

And hard on the heels of this horrific story comes the news of two, by some accounts three, families taking themselves collectively “to paradise” by murdering representatives of a society that their parents and older sons found personally intolerable.

The former found no meaning in this world. The latter, likewise, but filled that lack with a symbolic life in death.

And then a fictive family in the Middle East escalated killings of long evicted neighbours who themselves felt they had nothing left to lose.

It’s been a terrible week.

 

 

Jerusalem and savagery

Palestinians who got shot to death yesterday have a lot to answer for. Those who killed them cannot be blamed.

Or maybe those killed cannot be held truly responsible. After all, those who went out and got themselves killed obviously were not like us, normal people who can think and act for ourselves and have our own experiences and self-directed intentions. Someone only has to say to them, “Go” and they all like crazed mindless hate-filled creatures get up and go to kill — obviously they only planned to kill — those who have tried so hard to be so good to them and give up so much to make peace with them.

It is impossible for normal people like us to ever truly understand such sub-human creatures. If only they had a religion that taught love then they would live happily and in peace.

And I used to believe progress was inevitable over the years. How naive I was.

Ex-Muslims On Islam and Identity

Ex-Muslims of North America: Normalizing Dissent

Islam & Identity

I found the speakers here worth listening to. The video runs for 1 hour 47 minutes but after the first 50 minutes it is question time.

Key points I took from the talks (not in video order — not even in a coherent order: just as jotted down at the time and/or recalled afterwards): read more »

Turning Defeats Into Great Mythologies

Recall a few posts ago that I quoted some lines from a BBC/SBS episode The Celts

Professor Alice Roberts: The defeat was total. Boudicca’s entire army was wiped out. According to Tacitus only 400 Romans were killed that day compared with 80,000 Celts. The last great Celtic rebellion was over.

Neil Oliver: We’re told Boudicca survived the battle but poisoned herself shortly after, and with her died any hope of another Celtic uprising and an end to Roman rule in Britannia.

Alice Roberts: Boudicca disappeared from history and entered into national mythology, a martyr to the idea of a free Britain. 

This time I have highlighted a different section.

I was reminded of Australia’s annual observation of Anzac Day that emerged as something of a repeated national funerary ritual for the defeat at Gallipoli. It became a time, however, when Australians would remind themselves how unique they were in that they celebrated a defeat as the beginning of their “nationhood”. A glance at the Wikipedia article falls on a cluster of quotes:

 it has been seen as a key event in forging a sense of national identity.[20]

The Gallipoli campaign was the beginning of true Australian nationhood. . . . the Gallipoli campaign was a defining moment for Australia as a new nation.[21]

This Short History of Australia begins with a blank space on the map and ends with the record of a new name on the map, that of Anzac.[15]

Anzac Day now belongs to the past and during the war all energy was concentrated on the future but the influence of the Gallipoli Campaign upon the national life of Australia and New Zealand has been far too deep to fade… it was on the 25th of April 1915 that the consciousness of nationhood was born.[17]

The popular belief that the Anzacs, through their spirit, forged Australia’s national character, is still today frequently expressed.[18] For example, in 2006 the Governor-General of Australia, Michael Jeffery gave an address in which he said that although the Anzacs lost the campaign they created a lasting identity for Australia:

We are summoned to recall the battle sacrifices of Australian farmers and tally clerks, teachers and labourers and to commemorate outstanding courage and strength of character in the face of sustained adversity… [The campaign] won for us an enduring sense of national identity based on those iconic traits of mateship, courage, compassion and nous.[18]

The Spirit of the ANZAC continues today in times of hardship such as cyclones, floods and bush fires. At those times Australians come together to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone.[2]

And the worship of a man who dies but whose death is vindicated by an exaltation to heaven and the salvation of those who identified themselves with him.

In other words, it is not so strange to imagine people latching onto a defeat, a death, to create a myth of martyrdom, of a higher victory or salvation as is sometimes suggested. (I’m thinking, of course, of the claim that the crucifixion of Jesus had to be historical because no-one would make up such a “myth”.)

The Greeks developed the genre of tragedy to dramatize that very characteristic of humanity: an exploration of how the death of a hero can be cathartic, a victory of spirit, and not the nihilistic end it might logically seem to be.

Is there is any national or religious history that lacks a glorious martyr? I just looked up the story of the invented national hero William Tell and see that even his death was tied with efforts to save the life of a child. Is it possible to imagine such a hero dying pointlessly in a mundane accident or comfortably of natural causes? We even see the same mythologizing at the personal level. The unbearable pain of the loss of a child often finds relief in taking up a cause to somehow give meaning or purpose to the child’s death.

 

 

Trump Should Get the Nobel Peace Prize

The idea that Trump might be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize has been bandied about (even if forged). I like the idea. It’s one time my eyes have not rolled to the back of my head over some new thing associated with the dangerous idiot. Awarding it to Trump would, I believe, bestow some much needed levity on the reputation of the prize itself ever since it was awarded to war criminal, mass murderer and assassin Henry Kissinger. That day in 1973 brought satire itself to an end, as many said at the time. Trump is buffoonish enough to restore that satirical edge to the Nobel Peace Prize award. But it has to be awarded quickly. Before he has time to start serious scale human slaughter in Iran or elsewhere. Once that happens a Trump Nobel prize would be robbed of all levity and possibility of satire once again.

 

 

Still True After All These Years

The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.

Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news—things which on their own merits would get the big headlines—being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that “it wouldn’t do” to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was “not done” to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

From George Orwell’s 1945 Preface to Animal Farm

It surely applies to more than just the media industries in countries like the UK, USA, Australia . . . . .

 

Anonymous Gospels

I would like to thank Larry Hurtado for his recent post Anonymous Gospels. Hurtado draws attention to a feature of our four canonical gospels that he believes is too often overlooked: the fact that they originally were anonymous and even the titles they later acquired are not declarations of authorship but rather statements about whose point of view each gospel represented (e.g. The Gospel according to Matthew / Mark / Luke / John.)

In particular, Hurtado refers readers to a 2008 article written by Armin D. Baum

Baum, A. D. (2008). The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient near Eastern Literature. Novum Testamentum, 50(2), 120–142.

The article is accessible on JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25442594. Anyone interested who is unable to access that article or too short on time to read it in full might be interested in previous blog posts here discussing its contents:

The Gospels: Written to Look Like (the final) Jewish Scriptures?

Why the Anonymous Gospels? Failure of Scholarship in Pitre’s The Case for Jesus

The Arguments For and Against the Anonymity of the Canonical Gospels

For and Against the Anonymity of the Gospels — without table format

I’ve addressed the question of gospel anonymity in other posts, too, such as An Explanation for the Gospels being Anonymous.

But in thinking back on the question after perusing Hurtado’s post a related gospel feature suddenly took on a new significance for me. There can be little doubt that many of the gospel stories are kinds of re-writes of narrative episodes in the “Old Testament”. (An adjective widely used to describe this type of adaptation is “midrashic” but I have since come across Roger Aus’s suggestion that a more appropriate term might be “etiological haggada“.)

For example, it seems fairly obvious that John the Baptist in the first two gospels is based on Elijah. It is in 1 and 2 Kings where we find the lone prophet in the wilderness wearing rough animal skin clothing. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan followed by his forty day time of trial in the wilderness is evidently a reminder of the Exodus of Israel and their forty year wandering through the Sinai. The calling of the disciples in the Gospel of Mark reminds readers of Elijah’s calling of Elisha. And so on right through to the final six chapters in which Howard Clark Kee counted 160 allusions to Scripture (and Karel Hanhart knows he missed at least one). See the posts on Mark 13, Mark 11-12, Mark 14-16.

What does this have to do with the anonymity of the gospels? read more »

Doing History: Did Celts Ritually Kill Their Kings?

Cathbad placed his hand on the woman’s stomach and prophesied that the unborn child would be a girl named Deirdre, and that she would be exceedingly beautiful but would bring about the ruin of Ulster.

FROM THE TÁIN BÓ CUAILNGE

A recurrent theme in stories about the Irish gods is that of the love triangle between an old husband (or fiancé), a young suitor and a young girl. This is probably a disguised myth of sovereignty wherein an old king is challenged by a young claimant to the throne. The young girl in the middle of the triangle may be identified with the goddess of sovereignty, whose power of granting prosperity to the land had to be won by means of sexual union with the young pretender. If the land needed revivifying, the old mortal king had to be deposed in favour of vigorous youth.

Aldhouse-Green, Miranda. The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends (Kindle Locations 975-981). Thames and Hudson Ltd. Kindle Edition. (My bolding in all quotations)

We also have Roman testimony that the Celts practised human sacrifice:

They used to strike a human being, whom they had devoted to death, in the back with a sabre, and then divine from his death-struggle. But they would not sacrifice without the Druids. We are told of still other kinds of human sacrifices; for example, they would shoot victims to death with arrows, or impale them in the temples, or, having devised a colossus of straw and wood, throw into the colossus cattle and wild animals of all sorts and human beings, and then make a burnt-offering of the whole thing.

Strabo, Geography, IV, 4.5

Compare the circularity of “Biblical archaeology”:

Q: How do we know that the Biblical King David existed?
A: Archaeologists have unearthed the Tel Dan inscription that contains the expression many translate as “House of David”.
Q: How do we know that that inscription should not be translated temple of the beloved (david=beloved), a reference to a deity?
A: We have the Biblical story about King David.

The moral of this post is that correlation does not imply causation. We love mythical tales, both Celtic and Biblical. We often want to believe there is some truth behind them so it is easy for us to interpret archaeological finds as evidence for that “historical core”. But we fail to see that we are falling into the trap of circularity when we do that:

Q: How do we know the stories of Celtic human sacrifice were true?

A: Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of ritual killings.

Q: How do we know the evidence of the bones points to ritual killing?

A: That is the most natural interpretation given the literary accounts of human sacrifice.

  • Left unasked of the evidence: could the evidence of bones be explained in other ways? a post-death ritual misunderstood by the Romans, for example?
  • Left unasked of the Roman accounts: were tales of barbarism among conquered peoples manufactured to justify Roman belief that their conquests were a civilizing mission?

–o0o–

Lindow Man

In August 1984, the mechanical digger of peat-cutters working at Lindow Moss in Cheshire uncovered a human arm, part of a 2,000-year-old bog-body. The remains were those of a young man in his prime, about 25 years old. He was naked but for an armlet made of fox-fur, and no grave goods accompanied him. The mistletoe in his digested food revealed that he had eaten a special ‘last supper’. Like the Irish victims, this man had horrific injuries leading to his death: most significant were at least two blows to the head that cracked his skull and stunned him; he was then garrotted and, at the same time, his throat was cut.

The triple manner of his death has led some to connect him with the early medieval myth of the ritual threefold death that befell some Irish kings. One of these was the 6th-century AD Diarmaid mac Cerbhaill, who enquired of his wise men the manner of his death. The answer was that he would be stabbed, drowned in a vat of ale and burnt. Diarmaid scorned the prophecy, but it came to pass. Lindow Man was selected for a special death and burial. It was important that his body would be frozen in time, not permitted to decay, so the normal rites of death and ease of passage to the next world were denied him. His journey to the Otherworld was halted at the gate leading out from the world of humans.

Aldhouse-Green, Miranda. The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends (Kindle Locations 2696-2708). Thames and Hudson Ltd. Kindle Edition.

–o0o–

Murder on the Mire

One Irish story, in the Cycle of Kings, describes the events leading up to the convoluted death of King Diarmuid. The king slays the man his wife has been having an affair with, and a Druid, or prophet, named Bec Mac De, foretells that he will suffer a three-fold death as a result – at the hands of one of the adulterer’s relatives, Aedh. The prophecy was very precise: Diarmuid would be killed by wounding, burning, drowning and a ridge pole falling on his head (a fourfold death, in fact). Eventually the prophecy is fulfilled. Black Aedh, in the doorway of the house where the king is feasting, pierces Diarmuid through the chest with his spear and breaks his spine; Diarmuid flees back into the house, but Aedh’s men set it on fire; Diarmuid immerses himself in a vat of ale to escape the flames; finally, the roof beam of the burning house falls on his head and finishes him off.

The triple deaths of kings and warriors described in the Irish myths, very often prophesied in advance, involve accidental fatal injuries as well as intentional assaults, but they may mythologize an actual practice: a ritual form of threefold killing. Perhaps this is a rare and valuable clue, from Celtic – rather than Roman – literature, that the Celts did indeed carry out human sacrifices.

Roberts, A. (2015). The Celts by Alice Roberts (UK Airports edition). Heron Books.

read more »

How a Fairy Tale King Became Historical

Jean-Léon Gérôme – Kandaules

Putting together the various ancient sources about the ancient King Gyges of Lydia the Professor of Latin at Johns Hopkins University, Kirby Flower Smith, arrived at the following story from which they all ultimately derived:

Gyges … the ancestor of Croesus was a shepherd when he was young, in the service of [Kandaules] king of Lydia. Once upon a time there was a storm and an earthquake so violent that the ground split open near the place where Gyges was watching his flocks. Gyges was amazed at the sight and finally went down into the cleft. The story tells of many wonderful things which he saw there ….

Among these wonderful things was a brazen horse which was hollow and had doors. In it was nothing but a corpse, of heroic size, and on one of its fingers a gold ring.

Gyges took the ring and came out again.

Sometime later he attended the monthly assembly of the shepherds and while there accidentally discovered the qualities of his ring, as described by Plato:

As he was sitting among the others he happened to turn the collet of it towards him and into the inside of his hand. The moment this was done he became invisible… [Plato, Republic II, 14]

He then procured his appointment as one of the messengers to the king and went up to Sardis to seek his fortune.

After reaching Sardis an adventure with the ring brought him to the notice of Kandaules (the king). At first, he was highly favored but later the king, who was cruel and whimsical, became suspicious of Gyges and set him at several tasks certain, as he supposed, to compass his destruction. Gyges, however, performed them all successfully with the aid of his ring, was reinstated in favor and given great estates ….

Gyges was now not only rich and powerful but also admired and feared for his beauty, strength and address, and for his versatility and superhuman knowledge of what was going on. The king who, like everyone else, knew nothing of his ring…, found Gyges invaluable, gave him the post of chief adviser and consulted him on all occasions.

There was one thing, however, which Kandaules had always kept jealously guarded, because it was the principal source, the real secret, of his power. This was his wife. She was …. exceedingly beautiful. But what made her indispensable to Kandaules was the fact that she was also very wise and powerful, being a mighty sorceress.

The one vulnerable spot in Kandaules was his passion for his wife. Like all who had ever seen her he was utterly bewitched by her beauty and as his confidence in Gyges increased he began to talk of it more and more freely. At last he insisted upon showing her. [Gyges refused, foreseeing mortal peril to himself from either, or both. But at last he was forced to comply and] the programme devised by Kandaules was carried out as related by Herodotos:

[The king said to Gyges], “Courage, friend…. Be sure I will so manage that she shall not even know that thou has looked upon her. I will place thee behind the open door of the chamber in which we sleep. When I enter to go to rest she will follow me. There stands a chair close to the entrance, on which she will lay her clothes one by one as she takes them off. Thou wilt be able thus at thy leisure to peruse her person. Then, when she is moving from the chair toward the bed, and her back is turned on thee, be it thy care that she see thee not as thou passest through the doorway.” [Herodotus, I, 7-16]

Gyges gazed upon her. She was more lovely even than Kandaules had described her,and Gyges fell in love with her then and there. Finally, having turned his ring around to make himself invisible, Gyges left the room.

The queen, however, [possessed a dragon-stone….. As he was going out [she] had seen Gyges [in spite of his magic ring]. But she made no sign. She knew that the situation was due to Kandaules and swore to be avenged.

When, therefore, Gyges, perhaps at her own instigation, came to her and declared his passion, revenge and, possibly, other considerations, prompted her to yield. Gyges was able to visit her unobserved on account of his magic ring and the intrigue went on for some time, [nothing being said on either side regarding the door episode.]

At last, when the queen saw that Gyges was entirely in her power, and being also in love with him herself, she laid her plans and sent for him. When he arrived, she told him [that she had seen him look on her as she undressed] that now Gyges must slay Kandaules or else die himself. Whatever the feelings of Gyges may have been, his situation, despite his magic ring, was even more desperate than in Herodotos. He had a sorceress to deal with and was committed to her by ties which he could not break, even if he had so desired.

Gyges acceded, the destruction of Kandaules was planned and carried out by the two …. and with the aid of the magic ring ….. [He thrust a dagger through him as he slept.]

When the deed was accomplished she gave Gyges the kingdom, as she had promised. He made her his queen [and they lived happily ever after.]

Such is the tale of Gyges, ancestor of Croesus …..

Smith, K. F. (1902). The Tale of Gyges and the King of Lydia. The American Journal of Philology, 23(4), 383–385. https://doi.org/10.2307/288700
Did Gyges exist?
Professor Smith evidently did not think so. The above narrative he constructed from the various ancient tales of Gyges:

read more »

Doing History: How Do We Know Queen Boadicea/Boudicca Existed?

Hingley and Unwin do not cast doubt on the existence of Boudica but provide an excellent history of the events filled with abundant archaeological evidence.

Last night I was engrossed in watching the final episode on the BBC historical documentary The Celts but was taken aback when just after taking us through the story of Boudicca’s revolt against Rome I was hit with the following dialogue of the program’s two narrators:

The Celts

(Season 1 Episode 3)

location: 52:45 to 54:35

Professor Alice Roberts: The defeat was total. Boudicca’s entire army was wiped out. According to Tacitus only 400 Romans were killed that day compared with 80,000 Celts. The last great Celtic rebellion was over.

Neil Oliver: We’re told Boudicca survived the battle but poisoned herself shortly after, and with her died any hope of another Celtic uprising and an end to Roman rule in Britannia.

Alice Roberts: Boudicca disappeared from history and entered into national mythology, a martyr to the idea of a free Britain. But while the Celtic rebellion was certainly real can we be absolutely sure that Boudicca played a part in it or even existed? No archaeological evidence of Boudicca herself has been found.

Neil Oliver: Then, in the Spring of 2015, in Gloucestershire, an ancient gravesite was discovered dating to the Roman occupation of Britain. In amongst the human remains was a gravestone and on it was carved the name Bodicacia. Underneath the stone lay a skeleton. Could this finally be evidence of Britain’s great warrior queen? But the bones belonged to a man. And the myth of Boudicca continues to this day.

Ever since my middle years of primary school when we were taught of the famous feats of “Boadicea” [the Latinized form of her name] and her chariots it has never occurred to me to question the historical existence of Boudicca (Boudica) [the current “correct” forms representing her name].

So this morning I tracked down Alice Roberts’ book The Celts to see if she has given us names of historians who have raised the question of Boudicca’ historicity. My interest (you may have guessed) is in the methods used by historians either side of the question to see if they can throw any light on the discussion of prominent biblical characters, such as, say, to take one at random, Jesus. No luck. But AR did express her own positive opinion with respect to Boudicca’s existence:

. . . . As for Boudica herself, the historians are remarkably inconsistent. We are told that the revolt melted away; that Boudica fell ill and died; that she poisoned herself. In the end, we simply can’t be sure of the fate of the last warrior queen of the Celts. . . .

. . . .

But what about individual characters? Again, how far can we trust the classical accounts? Some authors have even suggested that Boudica – this vision of a powerful woman who threatened Caesar – was a Roman invention, a bit of propaganda. But most scholars accept that she did exist. ‘I believe she was real,’ Barry Cunliffe told me. ‘It just wasn’t the sort of thing the Romans did – to invent characters. It doesn’t fit at all with what we know about Roman historical writing.’ And the Romans probably found her a surprising character. They were used to powerful women – the wives and mothers of the emperors held great power – but the potential for a woman to become a war leader represented a stark difference between Celtic and Roman society. Boudica wasn’t the only warrior queen that the Romans would have been aware of. In the north of Britain, in the mid-first century BC, Queen Cartimandua led a confederation of Celtic tribes which were loyal to Rome – until she was ousted by her ex-husband, Venutius. This ambivalence towards gender, providing the possibility for women to become leaders of men and to achieve the highest status in Celtic society, also seems to be reflected in the chariot burials of Yorkshire: women as well as men were treated to such elite funerary rites. So there seems no reason to doubt the existence of a powerful female Celtic hero. Boudica may have been embellished, with various attributes added to her, but this tends to be the case for any war leader – the stories of Che Guevara walking on water providing a more recent example. The picture we get is a ‘constructed Boudica’, but the nucleus is real.

“No reason to doubt”. Hoo boy! Where have we heard that line before. But I can forgive Alice Roberts because she is not a historian and is here deferring to a historian’s opinion. Unfortunately she leaves no trace in the book based on the TV series of those historians who have apparently questioned the historical reality of Boudicca. So I cast the Google net wider. Most sites assumed her historicity; some sites emphatically stated that she did exist and any suggestion otherwise was essentially daft. No-one (scholars, even) questioned her existence, one site said.

A key reason, surely a very strong one, for “not doubting” the Roman accounts is that the first historian to leave us a record, Tacitus, was a young boy at the time of Boudicca’s rebellion; but more significantly, his father-in-law was a governor in Britannia after the rebellion was crushed so would have had knowledge of the events and have been able to inform Tacitus

But I kept looking and found a few that were more open to the question such as: read more »

The Gospel of Luke in its Original Context; New Perspectives, part 3

Shelly Matthews questions the view that Luke-Acts was finalized as an early stage of a specifically anti-Marcionite program. I am one who has tended to see Luke-Acts as an initiator of a trajectory of proto-orthodoxy that can be traced through Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian and that stood in opposition to the “heresies” of Marcionism, docetism, gnosticism.

Rather, Matthews places Luke-Acts in a far more fluid place and argues that it defies classification as either orthodox or proto-orthodox. She argues that it precedes the time when Christianity could be divided from our perspective into the simplistic split between what we see as orthodoxy and heresy but is the product of

a more variegated context of early Christian pluralism. (p. 165)

In the previous post we saw one of the reasons for Matthews’ view: the view of Jesus as calm and passive throughout his final hours and the unnatural concept of his flesh. Such a depiction would appear to have more in common with the views of docetists than what emerged as orthodoxy.

Matthews further sees the Gospel of Luke as an attempt to subordinate other leaders, both women and men, who were looked up to as leaders by virtue of having had visions of Jesus. That is, the author was responding to more than Marcionism. In fact the gospel overlapped with Marcion’s gospel in key passages as we saw in our initial post.

Downgrading Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus

According to Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:1-8 an apostle was one who had seen the risen Lord. In the Gospel of John chapter 20 we read that Mary of Magdalene was one such figure. We even have a documentary record among noncanonical texts that Mary was regarded as a leading figure among certain Christians and that she was sometimes considered to be in conflict with Peter and other male apostolic visionaries. We have the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip in which Mary has a special (physical) relationship with Jesus, and the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus promises to make Mary a male so she, too, is worthy to enter eternal life. But let’s look for a moment at Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus in the Gospel most of us are familiar with. John 20:14-18

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

Matthews refers to Mary Rose D’Angelo who shows the structural similarities between Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus and the elder John’s vision of the heavenly Jesus in Revelation 1:10-19. I have highlighted the significant passages in D’Angelo’s argument.

John in Revelation likewise hears a voice and turns back to see the risen Jesus. Jesus negatively admonishes John in a way that draws attention to the divine nature of the one encountered in the vision. Both John and Mary are then given a commission to go and tell others what they have seen. And as per Paul’s qualification of apostleship, Mary, too, can and does say that she has “seen the Lord”. If we take our canonical form of the Gospel of Luke as having been completed after the Gospel of John (which a number of scholars do, and I often find myself siding with them) then we can readily interpret Luke’s depiction of Mary as an attempt to reject the status of Mary as an apostle.

Luke “rewrites the tradition” by having Mary not seeing the risen Jesus but seeing only the empty tomb. Her encounter is with angels and it is only angels who tell her to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen. In Luke it is Peter who runs to find out for himself the truth of what Mary has reported and it is Peter who is the first to see the risen Jesus.

Recognizing the invisible Jesus

That brings us to the Emmaus Road episode in Luke’s gospel. Here a couple, Cleopas and another unnamed companion, are walking along a road when they are joined by a third party they do not recognize. Their eyes are prevented from recognizing him, presumably by means of some spiritual agency. It is, of course, Jesus. The couple finally “recognize” who they have seen only after he disappears from them as they “break bread”. Matthews is one with scholars who interpret this passage as representative of what all Christians are to experience as they partake of the Lord’s supper. It is in that ceremony that they “see” Jesus. In this way the incident cannot be interpreted as a genuine vision of the risen Lord that qualifies one for apostleship. That is confirmed after the couple race to tell the disciples and are in turn themselves told that Jesus has already appeared to Peter.

The authority of men only

Even here Mathews believes we see further evidence of Luke reducing the status of women in the church. If we compare the two key persons on the Emmaus road with the Clopas/Cleophas (a Semitic form of the Greek Cleopas) and his wife Mary named in John 19:25 then it does look suspiciously the case that Luke has chosen to suppress the name of the wife involved in that famous incident.

Other indicators (listed by Matthews) that Luke sought to denigrate the status of women: read more »

Doubting that Luke-Acts was written to refute Marcion; New Perspectives, part 2

Continuing my posts on Shelly Matthews’ 2017 article. . . .

I am one of those who have leaned favourably towards arguments that our canonical form of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were early to mid second century attempts to take on Marcionism. See my series on Joseph B. Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle for instance. Others who have raised similar arguments in recent years are Matthias Klinghardt and Markus Vincent; further, Jason BeDuhn and Dieter T. Roth have produced new reconstructions of Marcion’s gospel.

If Marcionites believed in a Jesus who was not literally flesh and blood like us but only appeared to be so, then it has been argued that Luke (I’ll use that as the name of the author of the Gospel of Luke in its final canonical form) introduced details of how Jesus was very much a fleshly body when he was resurrected and showing himself to his followers. See the previous post for the details.

Resurrection accounts overlap

Matthews draws attention to a problem with this view. The “problem” is that all reconstructions of Marcion’s gospel (even BeDuhn’s and Roth’s) include at least significant sections of Luke’s fleshly portrayal of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus says in Luke 24:39 and in Marcion’s gospel according to all reconstructions:

Look at my hands and my feet. . . . . a ghost does not have . . . bones, as you see I have.

Marcion’s Jesus also eats just as Luke’s Jesus does in the same chapter. BeDuhn gives Marcion the following and Roth suggests it is at least close to Marcion’s text.

41 And while they still did not believe [were distressed] . . . , he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. . . . 

So Marcion’s Jesus, it seems, also had bones and was able to eat fish. Given that that was what Marcion read in his own gospel how can we interpret Luke’s details as an attempt to refute Marcionism, Matthew’s asks. (Not that this “problem” has not been noticed by scholars like Tyson but Matthews is proposing a different way of looking at the data.)

Neither Luke’s Nor Marcion’s Jesus Truly Suffers

Luke’s Jesus may bear a body of flesh, even after the resurrection, but this flesh is not the ordinary flesh of humankind, which agonizes when threatened, writhes when tortured, and decays in death. (p. 180)

Matthews sets aside as an interpolation Luke 22:43-44 that so graphically pictures Jesus in agony sweating great drops of blood in Gethsemane. Shelly Matthews explains:

For persuasive arguments that Luke 22:43-44 is a secondary insertion motivated by concern that Jesus be depicted as suffering anguish in Gethsemane, see Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, rev. and enl. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 220-27.

Another difficulty that Matthews’ sees for the view that our Gospel of Luke was finalized as a rebuttal to Marcionism is its portrayal of Jesus “suffering”. I use scare-quotes because Luke’s Jesus does not appear to suffer at all and so looks very much the sort of figure we would expect to see in Marcion’s gospel. In Luke there is no hint that Jesus on his way to the cross or hanging from the cross is in any sort of torment or agony. Luke’s Jesus is totally impassive.

Indeed, on the question of whether Jesus experienced torment either in Gethsemane or on Golgotha, Luke’s passion narrative can be read as an argument for an answer in the negative, as the later interpolator who felt the need to add the pericope of Jesus sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane surely sensed. (p. 180)

Matthews continues:

The Lukan Jesus does employ the verb πάσχω both in predicting his fate (9:22,17:25,22:15) and in reflecting on that suffering as a component of prophecy fulfillment (24:26,46; cf. Acts 1:3, 3:18,17:3).44 Yet, as is well known, narratives of Jesus’s comportment both on the way to Golgotha and on the cross itself suggests that his “suffering” does not include human experiences of physical agony or emotional distress.45

44 As Joel B. Green notes, the phrase “to suffer” in Luke is used to evoke the totality of the passion (The Gospel of Luke, NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 856).

45 Jerome H. Neyrey, “The Absence of Jesus’ Emotions: The Lucan Redaction of Lk 22:39- 46,” Bib 61 (1980): 153-71; John S. Kloppenborg, “Exitus clari viri: The Death of Jesus in Luke,” TJT 8 (1992): 106-20.

(I located each of Matthews’ references [Green and Neyrey] intending to add more detailed explanation from them but not wanting to take unplanned hours to finish this post have decided to leave those details for another day.)

For Luke, then, Jesus’ flesh is not like our flesh. It is not the sort of body that naturally recoils in anguish at pain or even threats of pain. It does not even decay when it dies.

Acts 2:31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 

Acts 13:37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

The idea that flesh of certain persons could in fact be immortal was part of common Greek cultural belief. Matthews cites Greek Resurrection Beliefs for those who are unaware of this fact. (Perhaps that’s another topic I can post about one day. I have touched on it a number of times incidentally with particular reference to Gregory Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered, as for instance in this post.)

In this post I have addressed some of the areas that would appear to make the Gospel of Luke in close agreement with Marcion’s gospel rather than a direct rebuttal of it.

Furthermore there are other features of Luke-Acts that appear to be directed at extant ideas or disputes that had nothing at all to do with Marcionism as far as we know. Those are for the next post.

 


Matthews, S. (2017). Fleshly Resurrection, Authority Claims, and the Scriptural Practices of Lukan Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature, 136(1), 163–183.