2023-11-27

Are Apostates a Threat to Believers?

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is directed to those who presume an anti-religious in any atheist who has left a religious past, especially one that was strict and authoritarian, and who arrives at views about the Bible and Christian origins that are at odds with the “conventional wisdom” of mainstream biblical scholars.

The stereotypical apostate from a deeply religious upbringing is said to “hate” their former religion and will be biased against it to such an extent that they will seek to undermine whenever the opportunity arises. “Once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist” — only in the reverse direction — is a refrain that I have heard often enough from defenders of mainstream scholarship when they dismiss arguments that come from known “apostates”. I think that refrain is a lazy substitute for attempting to engage with the intellectual content of the criticisms whenever they are raised. If the apostate was once a member of a rigid, authoritarian or other kind of fundamentalist or cultish sect, then it is reasonable (the mainstream scholar’s thinking goes)  to assume that the apostate is now just as brainwashed or closed-minded as ever, only now in a vengeful reaction against their former faith.

Is there evidence to support that portrayal of apostates?

Most people I have known personally who have left authoritarian cults have not the slightest interest in even thinking about their religious experiences. Those apostates are glad to engage in an entirely new life free from any reminders of that past. But that’s me — and I am merely one person’s anecdotal testimony and hearsay report.

It happens that right now I am reading a book for the purpose of reviewing it here and as early as page 31 I found myself pulled up and in dire need to to track down and skim another work that was cited on that page. Here’s what pulled I read:

Citing Burton Mack, Ellegård notes that the biblical scholar/theologian community has pretty much ignored this type of work, especially that of Wells. It’s not a surprise that Wells’s work has been subjected to rather vehement criticism from biblical scholars, some of whom accuse him of ‘anti-religious’ intentions.104

104 It always surprises me to note that many biblical scholars frequently accuse other scholars – some of them also biblical specialists – of ‘anti-religious’ intentions in their work. It’s a strange form of conspiracy theory which posits that a desire for, and search for, truth is somehow blasphemous. Canadian social psychologists Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, in their book Amazing Conversions, studied the phenomenon and determined that it was the inculcation of the religious attitude that there is truth, and that it should be diligently sought, that disposes deeply honest people to turn that inquiry on their own beliefs. Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion (Prometheus Books, 1997)

From page 31 of Knight-Jadczyk, Laura. From Paul to Mark: PaleoChristianity. Red Pill Press, 2021. . Link is to a publicly available copy of the book at archive.org.

How had I missed Amazing Conversions given my zeal in seeking out and devouring that kind of book back in the late 1990s/early 2000s!

So now that I’ve caught up with Amazing Conversions, I’ll share some of its key findings on the way apostates from strict religious backgrounds approach anyone who presents as an inquirer into the truth about their religion. Surely an apostate’s attitude towards such a person tells us something meaningful about the likelihood that they might be reflexively predisposed to bias against establishment religions.

Amazing Conversions describes and discusses a 1995 study into persons who, contrary to the expectations we would have from their upbringing, became either apostates or devout believers.

This book hopes to provide some explanation of these two exceptional kinds of persons: individuals who — against the influences of their past and all the socialization theories in the world — swam against the tide and became, respectively, “Amazing Apostates” and “Amazing Believers.” It presents our research on rare persons who changed so mightily that they “crossed over” and became each other’s destiny. It tries to understand how such remarkable transformations could take place. (p. 12)

Who was selected for the study?

Most of these apostates had pretty nonreligious upbringings, and so their subsequent loss of belief does not come as a surprise. But a few — a very few came from relatively intensive religious backgrounds, and that is amazing. So we rounded up as many “Amazing Apos­tates” as we could and talked with them.

. . . .

We selected, as potential Amazing Apostates . . . all students who scored in the top quartile on the Religious Emphasis scale, and yet scored in the bottom quartile on the
Christian Orthodoxy scale.

Such persons proved quite rare. In 1994, eighteen were filtered out of 1,457 students who answered the screening booklet at the University of Manitoba. Fifteen turned up among 813 Wilfrid Laurier University students. In 1995, the figures were just 11/1,070 in Manitoba and 14/924 at Wilfrid Laurier. That works out to 1.4 percent of the sample being potential Amazing Apostates. We had to screen over 4,000 students to locate 58 of these rare beings. (pp 21, 26f of Amazing Conversions)

So this sample of 58 had travelled the road “from a strong religious childhood to religious disbelief”.

The question of particular interest here

Next we asked the AAs [=Amazing Apostates] to imagine that a younger member of their home religion came to them for advice. Religion had played a big role in this person’s life, but now questions were arising. This person wanted advice on what to do. What would they say? (p. 29)

I quote here the various descriptions of the responses to that question: Continue reading “Are Apostates a Threat to Believers?”


2023-11-26

REASONS NOT TO BELIEVE — P-L Couchoud

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by Neil Godfrey

Here is one more passage from Couchoud’s Théophile. What I like about Couchoud’s expressed sentiments is his sympathy, his compassion for humanity, his tolerance (in a positive sense of that word) and understanding. The New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Sam Harris were angry, bitter, intolerant — and, I had to conclude, fundamentally ignorant about the nature of the religions they attacked and the reasons people believed in them. They created and attacked caricatures of both the faiths themselves and their adherents. At a certain level there was a truth behind those caricatures, and real harms have been committed by those religions, and I could to that extent laugh with their mockeries and feel some affinity with their disdain, but only at a superficial level. I was myself once deeply religious and had to admit that the religious believers in the world were, in fact, me. I was sincere, as far as I knew how to be sincere. I was, given my lights, as well intentioned as I knew how to be. I made horrendous mistakes, but in hindsight they were the result of ignorance, even if that ignorance was “ignorantly” self-induced, or from sheer weakness. If our own experiences are our primary guides to understanding “how others work”, I knew that there was something major lacking in the New Atheist attacks on religion. Couchoud, on the contrary, writes as a real humanist. If I was once a devout believer, I have no choice but to express the compassion and love Couchoud himself expresses for those who remain as constant reminders of ourselves.

Paul-Louis Couchoud had the following essay published in 1928 — again from his Théophile (pp 216-219) — as introduced in the previous post. Again, it is a translation from the French.

REASONS NOT TO BELIEVE

In every era, apologists try to find new “reasons to believe.” But the reasons not to believe also multiply and gradually coordinate. It is useful to occasionally take stock of them.

Our culture is characterized by the growing importance of sciences that have humanity as their object. The naturalist-type scientist, whose object of study is nature, contrasts with the humanist-type scientist, well-versed in the methods of historical, philological, and psychological sciences. To both of them, Christianity does not appear in the same way.

The naturalist scientist, in a way, ignores it and is uninterested in it. They simply exclude from the scope of their science the simplistic and ill-founded solutions that the Bible seems to impose. After doing that, they are inclined to grant religion a special domain for which they feel, according to their education, respect or disdain.

The humanist scientist behaves differently. Religion is at the very center of their study. It has an inexhaustible interest for them. However, they do not grant it a special place among human phenomena. They examine it in its historical and psychological context. They do not seek to refute it, but they aim to describe its genesis. They bring it down from the absolute and place it in the conditioned.

In our times, the mindset of the humanist scientist tends to spread. Yet, more than that of the naturalist scientist, it is fundamentally incompatible with religious faith, especially with Catholicism. For anyone who undertakes free research of this kind and wants to maintain the integral faith defined by the Council of Trent, an internal crisis is either open or latent.

It will not take much effort, indeed, to discover the historical illusions and psychological illusions on which the majestic edifice of faith is built.

Let’s consider only three psychological illusions here.

Through this special state of meditation called prayer, can we change the course of things?

It is a very dear desire of humans. It was the driving force behind all magics and religions. It bravely defies experience. In fact, prayer is a beneficial and fruitful state, akin to inspiration. It has an impact on the person who practices it and sometimes on the world through them. But to believe that in the depths of inner silence, one touches a very powerful person, be it a saint or God, is nothing but a common illusion of duplication.

Do miracles occur in Lourdes or Lisieux that go beyond nature?

An eternal illusion, as old as humankind, to which one wholeheartedly lends oneself, as the taste for the marvelous is deeply ingrained in humans. Miracles around tombs belong to popular religion, older and more vigorous than Christianity itself. They only testify to an old human desire.

Is our self or, as they say, our soul, immortal?


This is the deepest and most industrious aspiration of humans. It has built the most beautiful mysteries and the most subtle philosophies. Does that mean it can change realities? Alas! Nothing in experience corresponds to this. Human wishes are of one order, and realities are of another.


Will it be said that these illusions are beautiful and comforting? That is a matter for discussion. In any case, a religion reduced to pleading for beauty and utility is sick. Christianity is condemned to be true or to perish slowly. For it cannot prevent men from standing up to it and saying: harsh, desolate, cruel, it is the truth we seek. And on it alone, we want to rebuild our moral life, build our society.


Against the revolutionaries who want to go all the way with free inquiry, today’s Christians are reduced to defending their traditions because they are ancient and beautiful. In this, they resemble the last pagans much more than the first Christians.


Do the others, the new men, harbor hatred or contempt for Christianity? Certainly not.


Christianity is of humanity. That is why it is precious to humans. It carries within itself an immense human heritage. It is by studying it in all its aspects, in all its depths, not to seek God but to seek humanity, that we will discover the future destiny of humanity.


The one who passionately examines Christianity not to seek God but to seek humanity is sometimes more full of broad sympathy toward it than the one who strives to believe but feels the burning restraint placed on their intellectual freedom and critical sense everywhere.


2023-11-25

A FAREWELL TO CHRISTIANITY

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by Neil Godfrey

I post here an interesting “Farewell to Christianity” statement by Paul-Louis Couchoud. I have relied heavily on ChatGPT to translate the original French text that appeared in Théophile ou L’étudiant des religions (1928), a compilation of his thoughts on a wide range of religious topics.

For other posts relating to Couchoud, see the posts listed under Couchoud: The Creation of Christ and Paul-Louis Couchoud. René Salm also has a detailed overview.

Source: Pdf essay by Patrick Gillet

FAREWELL TO CHRISTIANITY

Christianity is within us like a long love to which it is time to bid farewell.

Parting is difficult; it is sad and poignant. It must be dignified. It is necessary.

For a century, Western people have struggled with Christianity, unable to either leave it or keep it. Sometimes they distance themselves from it with fury and contempt, and other times they return to it with a glimmer of hope, asking for what it can no longer provide.

The time has come for a calm farewell, where due respect will be paid to the memory and gratitude, a solemn farewell, a farewell without return.

The old religion can still speak to us in an unsettling, persuasive voice. It stretches out tired arms over us that we might find gentle. It cradled our youth. It has the words that trouble us to the deepest core. We must untangle ourselves from its embrace.

By parting from it, we venture into the unknown. It would be too good if another ready-made dwelling were prepared to welcome us!

We will have to build our new shelter. It will be a task spanning centuries. Many barracks have crumbled and will crumble before the solid, straight structure rises. We have to take our part in it.

We know the apparent failures of our predecessors. We are not discouraged by them.

The great romantics, Vigny, Lamennais, Michelet, Lamartine, Hugo were religious innovators, heretics, as one might have said in other centuries. They proclaimed the generous and confused gospel of new times. They did not establish anything visible. But the spiritual momentum they initiated will not stop. They have sounded the new Angelus.

Only Auguste Comte claimed to demolish Catholicism and rebuild it in three days. His dream seems childish. Yet, with profound instinct, he showed people what will probably be the object of the future religion: humanity.

Ernest Renan wanted to penetrate the origins of Christianity. He failed. His portrait of Jesus is as false and conventional as a painting by Ary Scheffer. He also wanted to turn the religion of science, which he shared with Taine and Berthelot, into dogmas. Today, scientism appears to be nothing more than a caricature of religion. But Renan’s work prepared for a sound and firm judgment on Christianity.

Alfred Loisy dreamed of reconciling Catholic dogma and historical criticism. He was harshly awakened. Patiently, he took up Renan’s program and Auguste Comte’s idea. He dissected the holy books of Christianity and outlined certain aspects of the religion of humanity.

Emile Durkheim attempted to explain the origins of religion. He too failed. His system was daringly built on too fragile foundations. But he ingeniously saw that religion is the primitive and necessary form that society took, and that the sacred is the social.

Shall we argue that these great failures should bring us back in submission to the withered bosom of the Church?

We would have to reject both the inconsistent and the solid, the sand and the stone.

No, the religious work of a century has not been entirely in vain. Holes have been dug, foundations laid, and a direction set. Through destruction and construction, something is happening. The spirit is in labor. Birth is foreseen.

Even if everything remains to be done, the efforts of the romantics, Comte, Renan, Loisy, and Durkheim would not be in vain. We cannot return to the old mistress of souls.

Her time was beautiful. Her time has passed. She is no longer what she was for forty generations of people: a closed universe, a safe haven, a haven of the spirit.

Poor, glorious old harbor! It held out against the winds and spray for a long time. Today, the dikes are submerged. The dismantled port has become the site of the worst storms.

If I were still willing to entrust myself to a submerged port, to a broken ship, if I still proclaimed myself a Christian, I would question myself in secret. I would thoroughly scrutinize my faith.

Is there a single fundamental dogma of Christianity to which, as a modern man, I can give my full acquiescence without hesitation?

Let’s go through them. There is no need for endless details. The views of reason are as quick as lightning.

Reason changes with every century because it is the living sum of human knowledge. Today it is less imbued with logic and algebra than in the 17th century. It has acquired a new acuteness since it forged the refined methods of historical sciences.

The problems that metaphysics has vainly pondered now arise from the perspective of history.

Let’s consider the essential questions: Scripture, Jesus, God. In the face of the Christian assertion, what is the immediate reaction of today’s reason?

The sacred character was initially attached to material objects: a tree, a stone, a spring. Transferring it to an intellectual object, such as the text of a book, was a tremendous advance in abstraction. It resulted in a great oppression of the mind, common to all religions of the book.

Is there, among books, a book that is not of man, a sacred book?

What prevents us from believing it is that we are beginning to see under what circumstances, by which priestly colleges, for what purpose, the parts of the Bible were successively declared sacred, and how theologians then disserted on the alleged divine inspiration. It is a very human history.

The circumstances that lead to the canonization of a book did not only occur among the Hebrews and Christians. The Persians before the Hebrews, and the Arabs after the Christians, had their sacred books. In this case, as in others, the sacred only expresses a social fact. How would today’s historian distinguish between the various sacred books of humanity?

The sacred character was initially attached to material objects: a tree, a stone, a spring. Transferring it to an intellectual object, such as the text of a book, was a tremendous advance in abstraction. It resulted in a great oppression of the mind, common to all religions of the book. A sacred stone will be revered in new ways over the ages. A sacred text imposes itself with a bruising rigidity. Three or four words from the Bible, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,’ have endlessly provoked the massacre of women.

The critical study of the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments shows that most of them were composed in successive layers. The wondrous things people thought they would find there disappear upon examination.

It was admired that Isaiah had mentioned the name of Cyrus two centuries before Cyrus’s birth. This was because it had not been noticed that the Book of Isaiah is made up of two parts, separated precisely by those centuries.

It was astonishing that the wise Daniel could predict exactly the wars and marriages of the Seleucid kings, until it became evident that the author of the Book of Daniel lived during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Today, the true defenders of the Bible are those who find in it a rugged and proud testimony to humanity, not those who linger in search of enigmatic oracles.

These false wonders did a disservice to the Bible. Since we now see it as the literature of an ancient people, it has lost its divine character. It has gained powerful human interest.

Today, the true defenders of the Bible are those who find in it a rugged and proud testimony to humanity, not those who linger in search of enigmatic oracles.

 

Is there, among the men who have lived, a man of a different nature than all of them, a man-God?

The problem of Jesus is not resolved. Clarifying it will be one of the great tasks of our century. It is much more difficult than it seems.

So far, it has gone through four phases.

In the time of Renan and up until around 1900, it was believed possible to write a life of Jesus. This had to be abandoned. Critics recognized that there is a lack of materials for such an undertaking.

Then, immense efforts were made in Germany and France to extract a historical core from the gospel texts. What was believed to be known about Jesus was reduced to two traits: preaching the end of the world and being condemned to death in consequence..

This small historical core itself did not remain immune to criticism. Its determination is not without arbitrariness. The solidity attributed to it is only apparent.

In recent years, Germans have given up on knowing anything certain about Jesus. What we reach historically is not Jesus, but the early Christian groups. The idea they had of Jesus was not historical. It was subordinated to the cult they rendered to him and the divine legends that circulated in the ancient world.

Finally, others have wondered if Jesus is not a purely spiritual being. It is as God that he is attested from the beginning and has crossed the centuries. However high we go, we find him on altars, an object of worship. It is difficult to understand how he could have been made God from a man. It is easier to understand how God was humanized. After all, his earthly passion, passus sub Pontio Pilato, is just a dogma, inserted as such among others in the creed.

We cannot yet say to which final conception critical research will lead. But whether Jesus remains classified among men or among gods, he will be placed in a clear-cut category.

If he is a man, he is one of the messianic agitators of the 1st century of our era, and not the least chimerical, a Jewish martyr, and not the most touching, a rabbi of Israel, and not the wisest.

If he is God, he stands beside, or rather, above the other dead and resurrected gods. He is God who suffers. He is the most moving divine figure that suffering humanity has produced.

As for the idea of a God-man, it’s a confused idea, a behemoth like the centaur, which we’re forced to disentangle.

A man could have been deified, by an uncommon aberration of religious sentiment. A god could have been endowed with a human face and earthly adventures by the infinite fertility of religious imagination. In the first case, Jesus is a false god. In the second case, he is a false man. Man-God is an unthinkable thing, a purely verbal compound.

Obscure man or splendid God, Jesus will take his place in the line of men or in the line of figures created by humanity.

Jesus has everything to lose by being registered in the annals of history. Those who deny his historical existence will remain the only ones able to defend his spiritual reality.

He has everything to lose by being registered in the annals of history. Those who deny his historical existence will remain the only ones able to defend his spiritual reality.

Is there, in the world and beyond the world, a single and personal God who, among the peoples, saves only one people: the Jews in the past, the Christians today?

What prevents us from believing …. is a knowledge of history.

What prevents us from believing this is not a philosophy of the world, but a knowledge of history.

The old philosophical problem of the existence of God loses its interest as soon as we historically perceive the birth of God.

The supreme God whom Christians worship, on whom philosophers speculate, has historical origins. It is the ancient god of Israel, the barbaric Yahweh.

He was first a small god of the desert, a djinn, the local genius of a spring in a dreadful valley. He only had real existence during seasonal festivals when nomads, grouping their tents around the spring, created him. They believed they had captured his name, lah, lahou, or lahvé. Lots were cast to summon his judgment. Some very simple wishes were attributed to him, forming a small code. By accepting these rules, one was considered to make an alliance with him.

Mercenaries who escaped from Egypt and returned to a nomadic life made an alliance with him and formed a people around him.

When these insatiable Hebrews attacked Canaan, they believed they were taking Yahweh with them in a portable chest. They attributed their successful actions to him.

As soon as they were established, Yahweh became a Baal, that is, a land-owning god. He was endowed with temples, land, slaves, sacred prostitutes, and prophets. He usurped Babylonian cosmogonic legends that made him the creator of heaven and earth.

In the spiritual history of humanity, there is no greater episode than the rise of this god. One of the most recent and humblest among the gods, he managed to eliminate all the others in the West.

The power of a god lies in the faith one devotes to him. It is most evident in defeat. Yahweh grew through tremendous defeats.

His followers were torn apart by schism and almost annihilated. He was left with only one temple, that of Jerusalem. This was the basis of his glory. The god of the single temple began to be conceived as the one God.

Then he was completely defeated by the god of Babylon, Bel-Marduk. His temple was destroyed, his people partly exterminated, partly enslaved. It was then that he rose to the highest.

A prophet-poet whose name is unknown and whom we call the Second Isaiah formulated monotheism. Yahweh is not only superior to the other gods, he alone is God. The conqueror Cyrus, who does not know him, is nevertheless his instrument. An unprecedented idea.

God was born. It is a date in human history. The Second Isaiah founded Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in one stroke. Judaism, which he transformed from a national religion into a catholic religion. Christianity, because in a mysterious part of his poem, he outlined the figure of the Servant, martyr and redeemer, an early version of Jesus. Islam, which is only a repetition of the monotheistic message.

A solemn date! At the same time, in the sixth century BCE, Confucius and Laozi gave China the rites of wisdom, India was stirred by the immense Buddhism, Zarathustra in Persia changed a religion of princes into a religion of peasants, and Pythagoras in the West reformed the mysteries. And the Second Isaiah proclaimed a unique God destined to conquer half the world.

It seems that the entire planet is setting its religious destiny for a long time to come. It’s like the passage of a celestial body.

After the major religious reforms of the sixth century, the Christian revolution is secondary. Its main effect was to make the monotheism of Israel acceptable to the Western world by adding a myth of redemption.

Today, the idea of a single God has become so natural to us that we believe it to be essential to religion. It is not. In Buddhism and Confucianism, the idea of God or gods plays almost no role. An atheistic religion is perfectly conceivable. . . . Monotheism is neither truer nor more moral than polytheism.

Today, the idea of a single God has become so natural to us that we believe it to be essential to religion. It is not. In Buddhism and Confucianism, the idea of God or gods plays almost no role. An atheistic religion is perfectly conceivable.

Monotheism is neither truer nor more moral than polytheism. It is a mental habit, a way of speaking. It is a religious imagination that seduces with apparent simplicity and disappoints in the end if asked for a profound explanation of things.

God, in whom we are accustomed to symbolize the absolute, is the invention of a time and a place. It has intimate connections with ancient Palestine and the city of Jerusalem.

Around the hollow rock that bore the altar of burnt offerings, humble singers composed the Psalms that are endlessly repeated in all Western temples today. The Song of Solomon was murmured there for the first time so that, centuries later in Spain, Saint Teresa and thousands of women would be intoxicated by it.

In the countless Jewish, Christian and Muslim minds for whom Jerusalem is still a holy city, God exists

But His credit, compared to what it was in past centuries, has diminished.

All the great religious movements that began in the sixth century BCE have either exhausted themselves or seem to be declining.

God is fading.

Will the celestial body pass by again?

 

Couchoud, Paul Louis. Théophile ou L’étudiant des religions. Paris: André Delpeuch, 1928. pp 219-231 (Highlighting of selected quotations are my own additions)


2023-11-23

Two Months Jail for Writing God Prefers Grilled Chops to Boiled Cabbage

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by Neil Godfrey

In Canada, Attorney Murphy brought a case against Mr. Ernest-Victor Slerry of Toronto, accused of writing the following lines:

The God of the Bible is portrayed as someone who walks in the Garden of Eden, talks to a woman, curses a snake, sews skins to make clothing, prefers the taste of roasted chops to the smell of boiled cabbage, sits in a burning bush, comes out from behind rocks, an old rascal that Moses had a hard time calming, who, in fits of rage, massacred hundreds of thousands of his chosen people, and who would have killed them all if cunning Moses hadn’t reminded him: What will the Egyptians say?

Obviously, these things are said without delicacy. But in the end, if the form is lacking, the substance is accurate. Not a word that cannot be supported by a reference. Long before the Christian era, the “anthropomorphisms” of the Bible shocked the Jews.

Under the blasphemy law, Mr. E.-V. Slerry was sentenced to two months in prison. The judge declared, “Our conception of God is an integral part of our national life. We view the Bible as the basis for all good laws in our country. It is the dearest and most precious book in the world to us.”

Couchoud, Paul Louis. Théophile ou L’étudiant des religions. Paris: André Delpeuch, 1928. p. 174 – ChatGPT translation
https://archive.org/details/couchoud-theophile


2023-11-18

Gaza

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by Neil Godfrey

So who is Deborah Feldman?


2023-11-11

Updated — the Bar Kochba-NT Connection

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by Neil Godfrey

I have updated my annotated list of posts on the Book of Revelation. Look under “Archives by Topic” in the right margin or just click this link.

It is worth pointing out the other NT connection with the time of the Bar Kochba rebellion — the Second Letter to the Thessalonians: Identifying the “Man of Sin” in 2 Thessalonians

Another take on that letter, one that concludes with a date a little earlier than the 132-135 Jewish War — the time of Trajan (a time of mass slaughter of Jews outside Palestine): How a Spurious Letter “From Paul” Inspired the End Time Prophecies of the New Testament — And not to forget another old favourite: Little Apocalypse and the Bar Kochba Revolt

I only post these here now because they relate to my recent (and less recent) posts on Turmel and Witulski’s studies in Revelation. I’m not pronouncing any decided position of my own on their dates.

But in browsing over these older posts what did catch my eye was a pertinent point that I do think has much significance and is unjustifiably overlooked by too many conservative scholars:

First, Hermann Detering:

It is important to emphasize that neither the Ignatian letters, nor 1 Clement, nor the Epistle of Barnabas, nor the Didache, nor any other early Christian documents are able to witness with certainty to the existence of the Synoptic Gospels, whose names they nowhere mention.2 One cannot even demonstrate a knowledge of the synoptic Gospels for Justin in the middle of the second century, even if he obviously did know a kind of Gospel literature, namely the “Memoirs of the Apostles,” which was already publicly read in worship services in his time. (pp 162f – HD’s article is accessible here)

Compare Markus Vinzent:

Thus, even though Klinghardt makes a good argument that the compilation of texts known as the New Testament was already known to Justin, and perhaps even to Marcion, it is only from Irenaeus onward that the four gospels can safely be said to have been known, as supported by external evidence. . . .

Both Klinghardt and David Trobisch, on whom Klinghardt has built his thesis on the canonical editing of the New Testament, have come under heavy criticism from many of their peers; however, they have been defended by Jan Heilmann on good grounds.

I have read many of Klinghardt’s arguments for specific events in Justin’s writings indicating a knowledge of our canonical gospels but I have not yet seen a comprehensive rebuttal of this kind of reading into Justin’s work as addressed by Walter Cassels way back in 1879.

The first task of all historical researchers is to examine the provenance of their sources. I keep bumping into the same wall as Detering and Vinzent: it is only wishful imagination that can establish our biblical and apocryphal sources as early as the first century. Something happened in the early decades of the second century, though.

Since we cannot go further back than Marcion’s testimonies, I shall start with him. . . .

The fact is that we have no evidence from before the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 ce) and only hear and read about Christian teachers in Rome for the first time after this period. Indeed, in Marcion’s time there was evidently a migration of teachers from Asia Minor and Greece to Rome and we can recognize a rapidly flourishing Christian literature from this time onwards. This indicates to us that this Jewish war created a sociopolitical situation in which Jewish as well as Roman life was faced with new, extraordinary challenges and the corresponding impulses toward innovation. (Vinzent, pp. 327f – my bolding)

More thoughts to come…


2023-11-09

The Book of Revelation in Hadrian’s and Bar Kochba’s Time – Another Case

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by Neil Godfrey

Before Thomas Witulski’s 2012 book (link is to posts discussing W’s work) that identified the two witnesses of Revelation with figures in the Bar Kochba War there was Joseph Turmel’s 1938 publication, which made the same fundamental point but by a different route. You can read his case from the link in my Turmel page and/or you can read some key points in what follows here.

Turmel set out the two most commonly expressed options for the date of the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) —

  1. from soon after the time of Nero’s death, say 69 CE
  2. the late first century around the time of Domitian

Turmel eliminates the first option because it lacks motivation: the idea of a returned Nero to destroy Rome was inspired by popular rumours in the wake of a Nero-imposter who, no later than February 69 CE, came not from the Euphrates River and was slain before he reached Rome; such a figure cannot explain the details we read in Revelation.

A second Nero-imposter did appear in the year 88, this time from beyond the Euphrates (as per Revelation). So the time of Domitian is more likely, but given that the popular anticipation of a return by Nero continued through to the time of Augustine, Revelation could also have been written a good while after Domitian.

Revelation depicts God’s vengeance befalling the planet as a result of the cries of the recently slain martyrs. (Whether those martyrs are Jewish or Christian remains open at this point.) There were three periods of mass martyrdoms:

  1. Nero’s purported persecutions (64 CE),
  2. the widespread massacres in Trajan’s time (ca 117 CE)
  3. and the Bar Kochba war of 132-135 CE.

Turmel has ruled out #1; he rules out #2 on the grounds that it did not take place in Palestine or Jerusalem — as indicated in Revelation; so that leaves #3.

Are the martyrs Christians?

No, concludes Turmel, because their blood is linked to the blood of the prophets before them. The martyrs belong to the prophets. They are the Judeans.

This conclusion is confirmed by the conclusion of Revelation where the New Jerusalem descends to the place where the old Jerusalem was once situated and the twelve gates bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Yes, we also read that the foundation stones were twelve in number and that the names of the apostles were inscribed on them, but how could such a large city said to be a square shape have twelve bases? No, that detail is a later addition to try to Christianize a Jewish Apocalypse.

Turmel refers to the evidence we later find in Jewish writings to depict Bar Kochba as a self-proclaimed Messiah and his promoter, the rabbi Akiba, as comparable to Ezra or Moses. These two men led a revolt that lasted around three years (132-135), thus easily inviting a Danielic reference to 1260 days / three and a half years for the time of the two witnesses. Bar Kochba was famous for being able to literally perform the magician’s trick of breathing fire from his mouth. He had coins minted with the image of the temple beneath a purported star — suggesting that he had hastily built a new temple (the star was a reference to his name and the prophecy in Numbers).

Some of those details have been disputed (successfully, I think) in more recent publications. For example, the later idea that Bar Kochba claimed to be the messiah is not supported by the earlier evidence. But see the Witulski posts for details.

Turmel and Witulski otherwise have very different readings:

Turmel — Revelation is principally a Jewish work that was supplemented with Christianizing edits; the dragon who sweeps a third of the stars down from heaven is understood to be a Christian monster leading many Judeans astray, for example.

Witulski — Revelation is principally a Christian work that focussed primarily on Hadrian and his propagandist Polemo.

Both agree on identifying Bar Kochba as one of the two witnesses. (Witulski replaces Turmel’s Akiba with the high priest Elazar.)

What I liked about Turmel’s discussion was his explanation for the site of Jerusalem being called Sodom and Egypt: Hadrian had replaced the site with his new capital Aelia Capitolina (dedicated to Jupiter). That’s why a New Jerusalem was to descend and take its place.

What I find difficult to accept in Turmel’s discussion is that a Christian editor might leave untouched the original Jewish account of the two witnesses being taken up to heaven in the sight of all if he so hated them because of their persecutions of Christians. I think Witulski’s explanation that that image was a future projection at the time of writing is preferable. (W also sees the Christian author having anti-Pauline and pro-Jewish sympathies.)

 


2023-11-07

Translations of Works by Joseph Turmel (=Henri Delafosse) Now Available

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve added another batch of English translations of “past masters” to this site. See the new page Turmel/Delafosse works translated into English. It’s listed with others in the right margin of this blog.

Joseph Turmel was brought to my attention by Roger Parvus a decade ago. Parvus engages with Turmel’s thoughts and offers his own modifications. See especially his series on a case for Simonian origins of Christianity (another static link in the right margin). His study of the Ignatian letters also engages with Turmel’s thoughts.

Turmel was one of the radical thinkers in the time of Alfred Loisy, Charles Guignebert, Paul-Louis Couchoud, . . .  Like Loisy, he was a Catholic priest, but unlike Loisy, he stayed undercover for quite some time publishing under a pseudonym (= Henri Delafosse).

 


2023-11-02

“A deep calm conversation about a very complicated issue”

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by Neil Godfrey

A deep calm conversation about a very complicated issue. I tried to talk to an audience who never get exposed to our side of the story. No sound bites , no trending phrases , no attempts to score points for reach and views. Just an attempt to have our voices heard. I hope it will be something that will be used for a longer time not just for the heat of the moment. I think it will be aired tomorrow. — Bassem Youssef

 


2023-11-01

Archaeological Support for Gmirkin’s Thesis on Plato and the Hebrew Bible

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by Neil Godfrey

Neils Peter Lemche (link is to my posts referencing NPL) has reviewed archaeologist Yonatan Adler’s The Origins of Judaism (link is to my post on Adler’s book) and related its evidence and argument to the work of Russell Gmirkin’s Plato and the Hebrew Bible. — on which I have posted in depth here.

Lemche’s review is available on the website of the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament but Yonatan Adler has made it available to all through his academia.edu page.

The key takeaways in the review, I think, are:

This book is not written by a traditional biblical scholar but by an archaeologist having his background not in biblical studies but in Judaistic studies. . . .  His task is accordingly not to trace the development of the Torah as if it is something given from Israel’s very beginnings but to find out when its commandments were understood to be normative.

And the “trick” is to follow the normative methods of historical research as it is practised (as far as I am aware) in most fields outside biblical studies:

. . . Adler’s trick: Not to assume in advance what the Bible tells us about the institutions of ancient Israel but to trace the time when the commandments behind these institutions are operative.

And further — what I have found to be so outrageously controversial among so many with an interest in “biblical studies”:

Adler’s methodology is impeccable and indeed factual. His basis assumption is like Occam’s razor: If there is no trace of something, there is no reason to assume that this something existed.

And the point that I have posted about so often here:

The conclusion is that when we move backwards beyond the Hasmonean Period we have no evidence of the [biblical] commandment being followed.

Conclusion:

There is simply no evidence in the written or in the archaeological material that the rules of the Torah were ever followed before in the 2nd century BCE at the earliest.

I’m glad he introduced the Mesopotamian law codes that too many have casually assumed lie behind the biblical laws:He notes correctly that the very concept of a written law was unknown in the ancient Near East — the famous Babylonian law codices were scholarly or academic literature as generally accepted today. Never do we find a reference to the Codex Hammurabi in the thousands and thousands of documents of court decisions which have survived.

And then we move close to where Russell Gmirkin’s research has taken us:

However, the idea of the Torah as a written law to be followed by any person accepting its jurisdiction, is something different, and Adler looks to Greece for seeing this function of the law as a written document.

and it follows that Adler’s research . . . .

only supports the assumption that the Hebrew Bible originated within a context which was definitely impressed by Greek ideas.

Sadly Niels Peter Lemche finds it advisable to warn Yonatan Adler of a hostile reaction that many of us who have attempted to discuss these issues dispassionately with so many biblical scholars have come to expect:

But he should be prepared for what may be sent in his way in so far as his study is of the utmost importance for the present reorientation of the study of the origins of the Bible.

 


The Evolution of Free Will

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by Neil Godfrey

After having posted sympathetically about the possibility of our lacking free will (so much so that I am not even sure I know what “thinking” entails at the most fundamental level) — I’m pleased to imagine that I am freely choosing to post a link to an argument for us having free will:

by Kevin Mitchell, a scholar of genetics and neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin.

The processes of cognition are thus mediated by the activities of neurons in the brain, but are not reducible to those activities or driven by them in a mechanical way. What matters in settling how things go is what the patterns mean – the low-level details are often arbitrary and incidental. Organisms with these capacities are thereby doing things for reasons – reasons of the whole organism, not their parts.

and

A common claim of free will skeptics is that we, ourselves, had no hand in determining what that configuration is. It is simply a product of our evolved human nature, our individual genetic make-up and neurodevelopmental history, and the accumulated effects of all our experiences. Note, however, that this views our experiences as events thathave happened to us. It thus assumes the point it is trying to make – that we have no agency because we never have had any.

If, instead, we take a more active view of the way we interact with the world, we can see that many of our experiences were either directly chosen by us or indirectly result from the actions we ourselves have taken. Not only do we make choices about what to do at any moment, we manage our behaviour in sustained ways through time. We adopt long-term plans and commitments – goals that require sustained effort to attain and that thereby constrain behavior in the moment. We develop habits and heuristics based on past experience – efficiently offloading to subconscious processes decisions we’ve made dozens or hundreds of times before. And we devise policies and meta-policies – overarching principles that can guide behaviour in new situations. We thus absolutely do play an active role in the accumulation of the attitudes, dispositions, habits, projects, and policies that collectively comprise our character.

More at his blog — http://www.wiringthebrain.com/

He also has a book titled Free Agents, subtitled How Evolution Gave Us Free Will.

The experience of one friend of mine many years ago still haunts me. He had enormous emotional, mental and behavioural problems, having come from a brutal family upbringing. There was one period when he seemed to have completely changed, to have become “whole” even, and positive. It turned out that he had had a good sleep and a healthy meal for once. I was religious at the time and could not help wondering how God would judge someone whose behaviour depended so critically on a healthy salad sandwich and 8 hours sleep.

 


2023-10-29

Gaza in Context

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by Neil Godfrey

For the background to what is happening now in Gaza, see the series of posts on Nur Masalha’s book, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948. I see that I never did complete that series. I stopped at the beginning of 1948. I shall have to rectify that — but for a serious understanding of today one does need to look at the roots — before 1948 —  to understand what Zionism is really all about, and to understand how we could be witnessing the beginning of the final chapter of that movement.

–o0o–

For those interested in the “longue durée” picture, here is my overview of Keith Whitelam discussion of the “rhythms” of Palestinian History —

Palestine lost its history first to the European imperial powers and then to a Zionist construction of the past which rapidly became its national narrative.

The Palestinians themselves have been written out of history. So much so that many even claim that they had no roots in the land and belong back in the desert with the other Arabs….

If the Palestinians do not possess a past, they cannot possess a national consciousness or be a people. Therefore, they have no right to a land or a state.


2023-10-28

Australia’s “Gaza War”

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by Neil Godfrey

. . . . Then came Cullin-la-ringo.

After a long journey from Victoria with his family, servants, stockmen, wagons and over 7000 thousand sheep, Horatio Wills pitched his tents by the Nogoa River in early October 1861. Eight months earlier, “the perfect state of peace” on the Nogoa had been shattered by Lieutenant Patrick. More violence had followed in the months since as Patrick went about his work. . . .

[But let’s not get distracted with details of history lest some of us, God forbid, suspect I write with winking approval of what happened to the Wills family and household.]

The Willses were not to blame for any of this but, as the paper pointed out:

The blacks, like their civilised invaders, confound the individual with the race; that, in common with all people, whether savage or half-civilised, they exact the penalty from the first of the adverse nation who falls into their hands. In war, this course is sometimes followed by belligerent States, professing to rank with civilised nations. Indeed, the principle of reprisals is nothing else than punishing the innocent for the guilty.

The family had been at Cullin-la-ringo for ten days when about a hundred Gayiri men and women descended on their camp and killed them all in broad daylight. Among the nineteen dead were seven children. Though they had many guns to defend themselves, the only shot fired in the attack was from Wills’ revolver. His head was nearly severed. Bodies were left scattered among the tents. . . .  News of the killings at Cullin-la-ringo broke around the world. It remains the bloodiest massacre by blacks in the history of Australia.

“An uncontrollable desire for vengeance took possession of every heart,” [Queensland Governor] Bowen told the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Bowen had no quarrel with such “just chastisement”. All over the north, settlers and Native Police rode out to kill. Scrubs and mountains were scoured. Blacks were shot and driven over cliffs. The Rockhampton Bulletin reported the clashes with something like delight.

The Native Police overtook the tribe of natives who committed the late outrage at Nogoa, and succeeded in driving them into a place from whence escape was impossible. They then shot down sixty or seventy, and they only ceased firing upon them when their ammunition was expended.

Those who sought shelter in Rockhampton – “the little town of mud and dust” – were driven back out into the bush to be shot. As it was after Hornet Bank, blacks were executed hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime. Runs on the Comet, the Nogoa, the Dawson and the Mackenzie were stripped of Aborigines. About four hundred are thought to have died in the weeks after Cullin-la-ringo, but that is no more than a cautious guess. The Yiman, Wadjigu, Gayiri and Darumbal peoples were nearly wiped out.

……..

After Cullin-la-ringo there was no hope left of reining in the Native Police. Vengeance was blessed. No limits were set on the awful powers of the force. More than ever, the government placed the highest value on the energy of its officers and their discretion – in both meanings of that slippery word: judgement and secrecy. Nowhere would the occupation of Australia prove bloodier than here, and no instrument of state as culpable as the Native Police. Slaughter was bricked into the foundations of Queensland.

  • Marr, David. Killing for Country: A Family Story. Black Inc, 2023. pp 249-253

The above took place a little more than twenty years after one of the earliest settlements in Queensland, the idealistic mission station named Zion’s Hill.


2023-10-26

From the Baptism of Dionysus to the Initiation of Christ : Iconographic Language and Religious Identity

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by Neil Godfrey

I have translated an article by Anne-Françoise Jaccottet that I referenced in the previous post.

Download (PDF, 369KB)

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