2021-01-18

Lessons From the 6 January Insurrection

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by Neil Godfrey

It will be seen if the ruling elite in the US is capable of responding to the reality in their nation. Otherwise this was a poorly executed first try. The second will be better organised.

An excellent analysis of the deeper national pressures that erupted in the January 6 storming of the Capitol:

Lessons From the 6 January Insurrection

(h/t Brave New Europe)

image from ksusentinal

by Albena Azmanova and Marshall Auerback (the article being produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute).

Highlights

While the majority of Americans deplored the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, it was troubling to see a YouGov poll indicating that 1 in 5 voters approved of the assault. Their attitudes were buttressed by a significant number of House and Senate Republicans who have egged on the matter by continuing to call into question the legitimacy of last November’s election result. This is a sign that the rot in the American political system goes deep.

. . . .

Let this be our wake-up call, America’s “Beirut blast.” The bomb explosion that devastated large parts of Beirut last summer was not an isolated, unfortunate occurrence, but the profound manifestation of decades of incompetence, complacency, and corruption in the Lebanese government—an outcome of the ruling classes’ criminal neglect of essential public needs. . . .

. . . . The focus on the relatively small group that broke into the Capitol as a result of lax security is akin to focusing on the Beirut blast wreckage to the exclusion of all else. Far more significant are the surveys of representative samples of Americans that reveal deepening mistrust of the core institutions and a growing commitment to sectarian interests which have, in many parts of the nation, superseded commitment to the republic itself.

. . . .

. . . . for many the assault on the Capitol was also an insurgency against the entire political class. “All these politicians work for us. We pay their salaries, we pay our taxes. And what do we get? Nothing. All of them inside are traitors”—as a member of the mob stated.

Fading Illusion of Democracy

On this particular point, the grievances of the violent mob and the findings of scholars align: America is an oligarchy, not a functioning democracy, as the detailed study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page argued in 2014. Thus, much as this was an assault on American democracy, the storming of the Capitol was also a sign that American democracy had already failed. Surely, these clumsy “revolutionaries” did not storm the Capitol because they are living the American Dream—and they are blaming, unsurprisingly, the whole political class for their malaise.

Whenever economic explanations of this radicalization are attempted, inequality is singled out as the root of working-class discontent. . . . A cross-party consensus is now emerging on fighting inequality through redistribution—from raising the minimum wage to increasing unemployment benefits.

One reason why inequality has attracted so much attention is that it is easily measurable. Indeed, reports of the top 1% . . . easily appeal to our sense of injustice. However . . . many . . . still admire the rich. Additionally, the singular focus on economic inequality obscures another phenomenon—the massive economic insecurity which is affecting broader swathes of the population beyond the ‘precariat’ (those in poorly paid and insecure jobs). While insecurity is not easy to measure and report, it is in fact at the root of the social malaise of Western societies.

Seeing economic precarity as a root cause also helps to better explain why so much of the working-class radicalization has taken a turn to the right. Right-wing populists specifically evoke language that triggers conservative instincts—the evocation of family, a desire for stability, for clinging strongly to what is familiar (“Make America Great Again”) . . . .

Even under recent Democratic Administrations, economic recovery from the 2008 financial meltdown happened through a growth in insecure employment. The services jobs that fueled U.S. economic growth for the past 40 years—until the pandemic began to destroy them—were numerous, but of low quality. . . .

The American economy has begun to resemble a new, modern feudalism with a small technocracy dominated by Silicon Valley tech overlords and Wall Street billionaires at the top, and a large, uneducated, rapidly growing serf class at the bottom with no social safety net to protect it.
Another analyst who describes today’s post-capitalist world as a “neo-feudalism“: Yanis Varoufakis, Designing a Postcapitalist Future in the Midst of the Pandemic:

This system, in which Big Tech and the financial sector yield immense power, and the ultra-rich own almost everything, cannot really be described as capitalism. Techno-feudalism comes closer to capturing the spirit of the present. Under this dystopic post-capitalism, our techno-feudal lords have the power to manipulate our behaviour at an industrial scale advertisers could never even dream of.

Shredding the Safety Nets

. . . the evisceration of unions, the deconstruction of the welfare state, and the privatization of public services. Most importantly, funding for public services and social programs has been persistently slashed. It is this impoverishment of the public commons that has increased the importance of personal wealth in securing essential goods such as healthcare and education.

Even with political efforts to reduce inequality America will continue to spiral into dysfunction

But no matter how equal society becomes in terms of wealth distribution, without a dramatic government investment in public services, notably education, healthcare provision, and job security, distrust and disillusionment in American institutions will persist, and with that also the rise of militancy by a radicalized underclass.

To underscore the “remarkable indifference” of policymakers towards these trends, Azmanova and Auerback link to an article, the title of which says all you need to read: Trump’s $2,000 Stimulus Checks Are a Big Mistake: Family incomes are not down much from Covid-19, and there is a risk of overheating the economy.


Azmanova, Albena, and Marshall Auerback. “Lessons From the 6 January Insurrection.” Brave New Europe (blog), January 16, 2021. https://braveneweurope.com/albena-azmanova-marshall-auerback-lessons-from-the-6-january-insurrection.


 


2021-01-17

When, Why and How People Change Their Minds

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by Neil Godfrey

I especially loved these words towards the end of the same podcast — I cannot pinpoint a single “straw that broke the back” of my religious beliefs; I look back instead at a series of moments that led me towards atheism. One can also understand why it is so easy to demonize those on “the other side” of a political or religious fence and from there begin to appreciate what it takes for our minds to change.

People are not perfect Bayesian reasoners as much as we would like to aspire to be. People do not have a set of priors that are well delineated and then collect new data and update them according to Bayes’s formula, that’s not what people do. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t change their minds, people change their minds all the time.

soft landing

1:29:48.7 SC: What often happens is something that can be very familiar to physicists who know about phase transitions, the thing that causes someone to change their mind might not be, and in fact, rarely is the straw that broke the camel’s back. There can be a little thing that they get, the little piece of information and experience, whatever it is, that is associated in time with the moment they change their mind. But the actual cause of them changing their mind is a set of many, many things stretching back in time, okay? You have a person with an opinion, with a belief, a credence in a certain proposition, and they get data that is against that proposition, and data in the very broadest sense, it’s not like they’re being physicists, but they get information, experiences, new stories, conversations with friends, that cause them to think about that particular proposition, and then they don’t change their mind immediately, ’cause that’s not how people work, but that has an effect on them. Even if the effect is invisible at the level of their actual beliefs in propositions, hearing that thing can nevertheless affect them at a deeper level.

1:30:56.8 SC: And if they hear something else, and something else, and something else over a period of time, they can eventually be led to change their mind without it ever being possible to associate the reason for that change with a particular piece of information that they got. Not to mention the fact that often, this data in a very, very broad sense is not data. In other words, the thing that is causing people to change their minds is not some piece of information or some rational argument, but something much more visceral, something much more emotional. Realizing that this person who is a member of a group that they have hated and denigrated for years, they meet a member of that group and become friends with them, suddenly maybe their minds change, right? You are against gay people getting married and then you have a child who turns out to be gay and wants to get married, maybe you change your mind, right? For no especially good reason epistemically, rationally, but you realize that, “I wasn’t really that devoted to that opinion in the first place.”

1:31:55.4 SC: There are many ways to change people’s minds, and it really does happen, and all of this is just to say it’s worth trying. It’s not worth trying reaching out to the extremists, to the crazies, but there are plenty of people who are not like that. There are plenty of people who are just not that devoted. And those people might not be wedded to the views that they very readily profess to believe in right now. This is part of the challenge of democracy, those people count, just as much as the most informed voters count. And of course, there are hyper-informed voters who are extremists on both sides, so it’s not just a matter of information levels, but there are people who are, in principle and in practice, reachable and people who are not, and we should try to reach the ones who are reachable. And again, I would give that advice to the other side as well, if the other side thinks that they wanna reach some people who are on the opposite side, they can try to reach me and I’m here to be reached, right?

1:32:54.6 SC: Change takes time. Often it is not a matter of marshaling better arguments, it’s just setting a good example, providing people with a soft landing. One of the hardest things about changing your mind politically is that it is associated with a million other things in your life, your friendship networks, your families, etcetera, your beliefs about many different things. The joke we had back in George W. Bush’s days, I think Michael Berube was the first person who’ve made this joke, but the joke was, “Well, yeah, I was a life-long Democrat but then 9/11 happened, and now I’m outraged about Chappaquiddick.” The point is, for those of you young people out here, Chappaquiddick was this scandal where Ted Kennedy was in an automobile accident and Mary Jo Kopechne, a woman who was in the car with him, and he plunged into the river and she died, she drowned and he was able to swim to shore, and survived obviously, and continued in the Senate. And Republicans were outraged though, this was like a terrible thing, and Democrats made excuses for it.

1:33:57.7 SC: And the joke being that once you change your tribal political affiliation, your opinion about this historical event changes along with it, because these are connected to each other. And so, I wanna mention this in the opposite way also, so not just that all of these other opinions will change along with you if you do change your mind about something, but that in order to get someone to change their mind, you have to make it seem reasonable for them to live in a whole another world, right? For them to live in a world where a whole set of beliefs are no longer taken for granted in a certain way. That’s what it means by offering a soft landing.

Anthony Pinn

1:34:33.9 SC: One of the very first podcast I did was with Tony Pinn, who was an atheist theologian, who reaches out to black communities and tries to spread the good word of atheism to them. And one of the points he made over and over again is that black people are very religious in part because atheism does not provide them with a soft landing. You can make a rational argument that God doesn’t exist, but they need to figure out a way to live their lives and in the lives of many black communities, religion plays an important role, and if you simply say, “Well, we’re not gonna replace that role, you gotta learn to live with it,” then they’re not gonna be persuaded to go along with you. So part of persuading the other side and reaching out to it is making them feel welcome. And again, I get it if this seems hard to do, if you just want these people to be punished and they don’t deserve it, etcetera, etcetera, I get that, but that’s gonna make living in a democracy harder for all of us, if that’s the attitude we all take.

The key takeaway point makes the third point here the one to think about the most:

 


Applying Bayesian Reasoning to Trump’s Claims of Election Fraud

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by Neil Godfrey

From the transcript of Sean Carroll’s Mindscape program, 129| Solo: Democracy in America [h/t Bob Moore]

0:15:13.8 SC: . . . . the idea that the election was stolen was made by a whole bunch of partisan actors, but it was also, I think, importantly, taken up as something worth considering, even if not necessarily true, by various contrarian, centrist pundits, right?

0:16:32.1 SC: . . . . So the answer I would have put forward is, “No. [chuckle] It was never worth taking that kind of claim seriously.” . . . . We like to talk here about being Bayesian, and in fact, it’s almost a cliche in certain corners of the internet talking about being good Bayesians, and what is meant by that is, for a set of propositions like the election was stolen, the election was not stolen. Okay, two propositions mutually exclusive, so you assign prior probabilities or prior credences to these propositions being true. So you might say,

      • “Well, elections are not usually stolen, so the credence I would put on that claim my prior is very, very small.
      • And the credence I would put on it not being stolen is very large.”

So we collect the data that will help us assess which proposition is the more likely. If the data is not what we would expect if X were true, then we revise our estimation that X really did happen. If the data we collect is exactly what we would expect to find if X were true, then we can be confident that X is indeed most likely true.

0:18:51.0 SC: . . . . So in a case like this where a bunch of people are saying, “Oh, there was election fraud, irregularities, the counting was off by this way or that way. It all seems suspicious.” You should ask yourself, “Did I expect that to happen?” The point is that if you expected exactly those claims to be made, even if the underlying proposition that the election was stolen is completely false, then seeing those claims being made provides zero evidence for you to change your credences whatsoever. Okay? So to make that abstract statement a little more down to earth, in the case of the elections being stolen, how likely was it that if Donald Trump did not win the election, that he and his allies would claim the election was stolen independent of whether it was, okay? What was the probability that he was going to say that there were irregularities and it was stolen?

0:20:19.6 SC: Well, a 100%, roughly speaking, 99.999, if you wanna be little bit more meta-physically careful, but they announced ahead of time that they were going to make those claims, right? He had been saying for months that the very idea of voting by mail is irregular and was going to lead to fraud, and they worked very hard to make the process difficult, both to cast votes and then to count them, different states had different ways of counting, certain states were prohibited from counting mail in ballots ahead of time. The Democrats were much more likely to vote by mail than the Republicans were, they slowed down the postal service, trying to make it take longer for mail-in votes to get there. There’s it’s a whole bunch of things going on in prior elections in the primaries, Trump had accused his opponents of rigging the election and stealing votes without any evidence.

0:21:15.3 SC: So your likelihood to function, that you would see these claims rise up even if the underlying proposition was not true, is basically, 100%. And therefore, as a good Bayesian, the fact that people were raising questions about the integrity of the election means nothing. It’s just what you expect to happen.

Oh someone claimed that something’s going on, therefore it’s my job to evaluate it and wait for more evidence to come in.

The data we need to see in order to take the claims of fraud seriously:

If you really want to spend any effort at all taking a claim like this seriously, you have to go beyond that simple thing, “Oh someone claimed that something’s going on, therefore it’s my job to evaluate it and wait for more evidence to come in.”

You should ask further questions, “What else should I expect to be true if this claim was correct?” For example, if the Democrats had somehow been able to get a lot of false ballots, rig elections, you would expect to see certain patterns, like Democrats winning a lot of elections, they had been predicted to lose different cities where or locations more broadly, where the frauds were purported to happen would be ones where anomalously large percentages of people were voting for Biden rather than Trump.

0:22:28.3 SC: In both cases, in both the idea that you would predict Democrats winning elections, they had been predicted lose and places where fraud was alleged to have happened would be anomalously pro-Biden it was the opposite. And you could instantly see that it was the opposite, right after election day.

      • The Democrats lost elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate that they were favored to win.

So they were very bad at packing the ballots, if that’s really what they were trying to do.

      • In cities like Philadelphia where it was alleged that a great voter fraud was taking place, Trump did better in 2020 than he did in 2016.

So right away, without working very hard, you know this is egregious bullshit, there is no duty to think, to take seriously, to spend your time worrying about the likely truth of this outrageous claim, all of which is completely compatible with every evidence, the falsity of which is completely compatible with all the evidence we have.

0:23:32.2 SC: So just to make it dramatic, let me spend a little bit of time here… Let me give you an aside, which is my favorite example of what I mean by this kind of attitude because it is very tricky. You should never, and I’m very happy to admit, you should never assign zero credence to essentially any crazy claim. That would be bad practice as a good Bayesian because if you assign assigned zero credence to any claim, then no amount of new evidence would ever change your mind. Okay? You’re taking the prior probability multiplying it with the likelihood, but at if the prior probability is zero, then it doesn’t matter what the likelihood is, you’re always gonna get zero at the end. And you should be open to the idea that evidence could come in that this outrageous claim is true, that the election was stolen, it’s certainly plausible that such evidence would come in.

0:24:21.9 SC: Now it didn’t, right, when actually they did have their day in court, they were laughed … out of court because they had zero evidence, even all the way up to January 6th when people in Congress were raising a stink about the election not being fair, they still had no evidence. The only claim they could make was that people were upset and people had suspicions, right? Even months later, so there was never any evidence that it was worth taking seriously. But nevertheless, even without that, I do think you should give some credence and therefore you have to do the hard work of saying, “Well, I’m giving it some non-zero credence, but so little that it’s not really worth spending even a minute worrying about it.” That’s a very crucial distinction to draw, and it’s very hard to do.


2021-01-14

But then it got privatized

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by Neil Godfrey

Getty image: from Bari Weiss’s article

We were promised the Internet would be better than democracy. But then it got privatized. Corporations own it. There is no online bill of rights. There is only the frenzy of the mob and fickle choices of a few billionaires.

Please spare me the impoverished argument about the free market and private companies not being bound by the constitution. Barring businesses from using online payment systems; removing companies from the App Store; banning people from social media — these are the equivalent of telling people they can’t open a bank account or start a business or drive down a street. (To my mind, David Sacks, who has spent his career building and funding tech companies, has been articulating this more powerfully than anyone out there. Follow him here.)

That almost every credentialed journalist and liberal public intellectual appears to be cheering on this development because it’s happening to the Bad People is grotesque. They will look like fools much faster than they realize.

Bari Weiss – The Great Unraveling: The old order is dead. What comes next? 

David Sacks: Mend it, don’t end it  . . . .

. . . . .

A Path to Peace

Fortunately, Dorsey and Zuckerberg will get a second chance to sue for peace when they are hauled before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 17 to discuss how Section 230 could be meaningfully reformed. This could be an important moment for the entire internet and Dorsey and Zuckerberg should meet it by offering the terms of a peace treaty in which they pledge the following:

1. We will protect any speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Rather than trying to improvise our own policies with respect to speech, we will instead focus on operationalizing these First Amendment principles based upon established Supreme Court case law.

2. We will double down on our authenticity rules and procedures. To say anything on our platforms, you must really be who you say you are. We will crack down on impersonation, fake accounts, “sock puppets”, or any kind of foreign interference.

3. We will provide users with the tools they need to curate content for themselves. For instance, we will give users the ability to hide or delete offensive comments to their posts. By having users regulate speech instead of us, it preserves neutrality because all users have an equal opportunity to decide for themselves what speech they do and don’t want to encounter on our platforms. User curation will reduce offensive content, without the need for censorship.

4. We would welcome further guidance from the Supreme Court as to when and how hate speech can be regulated. If the Supreme Court were to define a segment of hate speech not currently covered under the existing First Amendment exceptions and declare it unprotected, then we would regulate that speech on our platforms according to their guidance. But we realize that as the de facto public square, we are better off adopting the First Amendment as our standard than trying to improvise our own, and don’t want to arrogantly substitute our judgment for that of the Court, who has a more than two-century head start on us in grappling with difficult speech issues. The Court’s history shows that there will always be hard cases when applying First Amendment principles, but at least we can all agree on what those principles are.

5. While we are proposing to abide by First Amendment guidelines voluntarily, we understand if you insist on binding our hands by altering the language in Section 230(C)(2) to require it. This will put the First Amendment in its rightful place as the arbiter of acceptable speech in the public square. Once those changes are made, we hope you will agree that the rest of Section 230 has been a boon to online innovation and diversity that is worth keeping in place. To paraphrase Bill Clinton on the subject of affirmative action, “mend it, don’t end it.”

Conclusion

Such a set of proposals could really improve the perception of Facebook and Twitter, in Washington and throughout the United States. In the short run, it will lower the political temperature and tamp down calls for Section 230 repeal. Long term, it will make life as a social media platform so much easier. No more will the C-suites of these companies have to white-knuckle it through every election cycle, worried that some decision they made or didn’t make will get them blamed for the end of democracy. Yes, politicians will still “work the refs,” and ambiguous cases will present themselves, but if the First Amendment always gets the last word, everyone will have to respect that. What is the point of Twitter and Facebook taking so much flak for creating their own standard of protected speech when one already exists that has been chiseled into the granite of American custom, tradition, and law?


2021-01-11

Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?

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by Neil Godfrey

I cannot prove that the gospel narratives are deliberately set in the time of Pilate so that the death of Jesus occurs a generation of forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE but I do think there are several reasons for suspecting that this setting was a conscious decision for theological reasons.

The first question that arises is this: How can we think that the gospels set the time of Jesus’ crucifixion forty years before the destruction of the Temple given that there is no explicit claim in the gospels to lead us to this conclusion?

I’ll begin by noting the existence of two implied prophetic timetables that are easily overlooked because the texts do not explicitly draw our attention to them.

  • Adam / Year 1
  • . . . .
  • Exodus from Egypt / Year 2666 (= two thirds point)
  • . . . .
  • Rededication of temple / Year 4000 (164 b.c.e)

One: Nowhere in the Old Testament books do we read that the Temple was to be rededicated after the Maccabean revolt 4000 years after the creation of Adam. Yet scribes appear to have edited the chronologies of the books in order to make the beginning of the new Israel in 164 CE to occur a neat 4000 years after God began his project with the creation of Adam. For some reason those editors did not feel a need to explicitly advertise the presence of this remarkable chronology but there it is. (For an explanation of this chronology which is taken from Thomas Thompson’s The Mythic Past see The Bible’s 4000 years from Creation to the New Israel — or if you are pressed for time there is a shorter earlier version, The Meaning of Biblical Chronology).

Two: Josephus in Antiquities indicates that he believed that the 70 weeks of the prophecy in Daniel 9 ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. (Antiquities X, 11, 7 — Beckwith, 533 ff). However, when we read in his earlier work about the Jewish War about the death of a high priest being responsible for the fall of the city, we find no explicit direction to suspect that either of these events had any connection with Daniel’s prophecy. Josephus writes about the death of a high priest without an explicit link to Daniel, but once we know from the later work what he believed about Daniel’s prophecy, then we are compelled to read the death of the high priest as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the “anointed one” who was “cut off” and whose death led to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem as the culmination of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. Josephus doesn’t spell out the connection for readers. He is so quiet about it that one can say “only those in the know will know” the prophetic significance (the end of Daniel’s 70 weeks) of what he has described.

. . . an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. — Daniel 9:26

“I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city [= 70 CE] began with the death of Ananus [= 66 CE]; and that the overthrow of the walls and the downfall of the Jewish state dated from the day on which the Jews beheld their [anointed] high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem. . . . But it was, I suppose, because God had, for its pollutions, condemned the city to destruction and desired to purge the sanctuary by fire, that he thus cut off those who clung to them with such tender affection” (War IV, v, 2, 318. 323 — Beckwith, 535 f).

So there is no rule that requires that a fulfilled prophetic time can only be validly found in a text if an author spells it out directly. Do the gospels contain inferences that their setting in the time of Pilate has been fabricated to make the Jesus event happen forty years prior to the fall of Jerusalem?

The Book of Jubilees pre-dates the gospels. In the view of a good number of scholars (although challenged by Davies and Chilton) Jubilees 17:15-18:19 associates the (“would-be”) sacrifice of Isaac with the Passover. The Jubilees passage speaks of the twelfth day as the day on which the episode of testing Abraham’s loyalty to God begins, and “the third day” after that being the time of his offering of Isaac, that is, the 15th Nisan. The objection of Davies and Chilton appears to have been refuted on the evidence of Qumran texts according to Geza Vermes:

These views [associating the Binding of Isaac with Passover as early as the second century BCE] have found general favour among scholars during the last three decades, with the exception of Philip Davies and Bruce Chilton, who set out in an article published in 1978 to substitute for them ‘a revised tradition history’. I believe that in the light of the evidence from 4Q225 their counter-argument can be finally refuted. (Vermes, 144)

The Gospels do not always draw attention to their allusions to “Old Testament” themes and motifs and for most part rely on the knowledge of readers to make the connections. So the significance of Christ enduring 40 days in the wilderness is only recognized by a reader who is familiar with the story of the generation of Israel wandering 40 years in the wilderness.

The remainder of this post is based heavily on an article that I have had in my collection for quite some years now but unfortunately the name of the author is missing from my copy. The title is Sub Pontio Pilato: The Chronological Analogue of Supercessionism? The last words are only Trondheim, November 2008, M. W. N. If any reader knows who the author is and where the article was published please do get in touch. From the article (p.2):

Compare the many references to “this generation” in Luke: 7.31; 11.29; 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17.25; 21.32

And yet there are indications within the NT that the time of Jesus’ entrance into public activity may have been pinpointed only after the destruction of the Second Temple, so as to reaffirm the central doctrines of Christian beliefs. Forty is, after all, a symbolic number that appears several times in the HB and NT. One could hypothesize tentatively that the number forty had symbolic significance in the gospel chronology, too. But this is not what is meant here. In Mark 8.38 the following words are attributed to Jesus: ‘For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [έν τη γενεά ταύτη τη μοιχαλίδι και άμαρτωλφ], of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’. The designation ‘this generation’ and related phrases allude to Deuteronomy, where Moses relates how God eventually swore that not a man of ‘this evil generation’ would look upon the Promised Land (Deut. 1.35; see also Deut. 32.5, 20; Num. 14.11, 27, 35; Ps. 95.10).6 This language, according to J. N. Rhodes, is ‘an important rhetorical vehicle for evoking the history of Israel as one of disobedience and failure’.7 Since God had condemned the wilderness generation to wander in the desert for forty years, the associations inherent to the phrases, as used in the Synoptics, are strengthened by the chronological claim that Jesus made his appearance forty years before the disastrous events of 70 CE. The underlying premise seems to be that, by rejecting Jesus, the inhabitants of Jerusalem provoked God’s anger in a similar way as the wilderness generation had done in ancient times.

6 See U. Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1963).
7 J. N. Rhodes, The Epistle of Barnabas and the Deuteronomic Tradition (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 162- 163, n. 86.

Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Image from Catholic Exchange

All of that may be suggestive but is there more? Our unknown author makes some interesting observations about Parable of the Wicked Tenants. I highlight what I take to be the key sentence:

In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (123; 135), Christians are said to be ‘the true Israelite race [γένος]’. This commitment to Christian supercessionism is scarcely justified by the vague argument that, in the gospels, the authority of Jesus replaces the guidance of the, Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests (cf. Matthew 5-7). However, the idea that the Church supplants the Jews is expressed more explicitly in the gospels than might be supposed at first sight. This conclusion presupposes the position that Jesus’ harsh words on ‘this generation’ would not have been intelligible in a pre-destruction context.

The parable presupposes that the destruction of Jerusalem was the result of the killing of Jesus. As a direct consequence God slew that generation and replaced them with a new people, a new Israel.

If read allegorically, the parable presupposes that the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE came as a Divine reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus. The parable may therefore be taken as an indication that early Christians adopted and expanded on an already established idea, namely, that the fall of Jerusalem came as a Divine reaction to sin. This idea, variants of which can be found in several contexts outside the NT, has a scriptural foundation in Deuteronomy, which states that disobedience to the commandments will bring war, famine, pestilence, and exile (cf. Deut. 28.15-68). Josephus, for instance, held that the fall of Jerusalem started in 68 CE, when the high priest Ananus was killed by zealots (War 4.5.2).

If the parable alludes to the Fall of Jerusalem as a consequence of rejecting Jesus then “this generation” likewise . . . Continue reading “Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?”


2021-01-10

Really Hoping this Professor is Wrong

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by Neil Godfrey

Peter Neumann is in my library (The Strategy of Terrorism, Radicalized, Bluster) and I have briefly referred to his words in earlier posts (Radicalisation and On how to be completely wrong…). I’ve mostly found him to be right, though. Hope he’s wrong about the future, though.


2021-01-05

Spit at a Late Date for the Gospel of Mark?

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by Neil Godfrey

Eric Eve

Last month I posted Another Pointer Towards a Late Date for the Gospel of Mark? but this morning I was reminded of an article I read and posted about some years back that surely calls for a date soon after 70 CE. That article does not address the date per se but it does raise difficulties for a date very much later than the days of Vespasian’s reign: 69-79.

The article is Spit in Your Eye: The Blind Man of Bethsaida and the Blind Man of Alexandria by Eric Eve (if a nearby library subscribes to Proquest you might be able to access it at no cost there) and my derivative post is Jesus out-spitting the emperor. I won’t repeat the details I set out there except where they overlap with a few points I will highlight here. (See that earlier post for the extracts from Suetonius and Tacitus describing Vespasian’s healing miracles.)

In short, the core of Eric Eve’s thesis is that the author of the Gospel of Mark was responding to Vespasian propaganda that promoted him as a healer and as such either possessed by or strongly favoured by the god Serapis to be the rightful ruler of the world. Vespasian, you might recall (the details are in the earlier post), is known to have “miraculously” healed a blind man through the use of spittle while he was in Egypt and preparing to return to Rome to claim the emperorship.

Since Vespasian was not from the Roman aristocracy he relied heavily on propaganda programs to justify his aspirations to replace Nero and subsequent short-lived rulers. Roman historians, especially Tacitus, inform us that

while Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria. . . many marvels occurred to mark the favour of heaven and a certain partiality of the gods toward him (Hist. IV. 81)

The god Serapis was a composite deity constructed some generations earlier by Egypt’s post-Alexander Hellenistic rulers to encourage the unification of different peoples: (you will note the similarity with other posts suggesting the reason for the creation of Jesus was likewise to encourage a certain unity of Jews and gentiles in another context …. but we leave that for another discussion)

Serapis (Liverpool Museum)

The Egyptian cult involved the worship of the sacred bull Osiris-Apis, or Osarapis, which became Sarapis in Greek translation. It may have been this god’s connections with the underworld and agricultural fertility that made him appear particularly suitable for the grafting on of Hellenistic elements. Sarapis took on the attributes of a number of Greek deities including first Dionysus and Hades, and subsequently Zeus, Helios and Asclepius [my note: Asclepius was the god of healing]. He may originally have been intended as a patron deity for the Greek citizens of Ptolemaic Alexandria, but he became particularly associated with the royal family, and thus, perhaps, with a ruler cult. Although Sarapis was probably intended to unite the Greek and Egyptian populations (of Alexandria, if not of Egypt), he failed in this purpose, since he never caught on with the native Egyptian population. He proved more popular with the Greek inhabitants, although his popularity declined towards the end of the Ptolemaic period. By the Roman period, Sarapis’s popularity seems to have been on the rise once more, and his cult had long since spread well beyond Egypt, aided, no doubt, by the fact that he was the consort of Isis; both deities had cults in Rome by the time of the late republic. That said, the major rise of the cult of Serapis was to come about through Flavian interest in the god. Vespasian arrived in Alexandria at a time when association with an aspiring emperor could benefit an aspiring god as much as the other way round; the Sarapis cult’s support for Vespasian helped both parties, and that may well have motivated the priests of Sarapis to play their part in the Flavian propaganda campaign. 

The healings carried out by Vespasian seem designed to demonstrate the close association between the new emperor and the god. Healing was one of the powers long attributed to Sarapis, and the first healing miracle to be attributed to him was restoring sight to a blind man, one Demetrius of Phaleron, an Athenian politician. . . . In some minds Vespasian’s two healings might be taken as a sign, not simply that Vespasian enjoyed Sarapis’s blessing, but that he was in some sense to be identified with the god. This is in part suggested by the ancient Egyptian myth that the kings of Egypt were sons of Re, the sun-god, and is further borne out by the fact that Vespasian was saluted as ‘son of Ammon’ as well as ‘Caesar, god’ when he visited the hippodrome only a short while later.

Presumably the main targets of this propaganda were the population of Alexandria and the two legions stationed there, whose support Vespasian clearly needed to retain. No doubt different people will have understood this cluster of events in different ways. Some may have seen Vespasian as quasi-divine, others as a divinely aided thaumaturge and others as an exceptionally lucky man smiled on by fortuna and the gods. In any case the healing miracles and their association with Sarapis seem to have been designed more for eastern than western consumption

The classicist and specialist in Suetonius, David Wardle, is more direct with the reason for Vespasian’s miracles: Continue reading “Spit at a Late Date for the Gospel of Mark?”


2021-01-04

“Oh my god” sums it up — what relief!

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by Neil Godfrey

I had been following the trial over the past months and got the impression that the judge was scoffing at Assange the whole time. So this has been a very tense day. I was glued to the tweets (from Mary Kostakidis) second by second and have copied them here “as it happened” — they need to be read in reverse order, from the bottom and up to the top. It was a nerve-wracking read in real time, expecting the worst.

 

 

Meanwhile there is a break apparently pending a decision on bail. It’s not over yet, but my god what a wonderful surprise that decision was today!


2021-01-03

Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series  . . .

A Messiah to combine the different messianic visions

Nanine Charbonnel [NC] has been exploring various ways the Jesus figure of the gospels was drawn to embody certain groups of people and now proceeds to discuss the way our evangelists (gospel authors) also found ways to encapsulate the different Jewish ideas about the Messiah into him as well. I have posted many times on Second Temple messianic ideas and questioned a common view that there was “a rash of messianic hopes” in first-century Palestine. I post links to some of these posts that illustrate or expand on NC’s points.

Various Messiahs

Vridar posts on Second Temple Messiahs

Here are some tags linking to the posts. (As you can see, there is some overlap here that needs to be tidied up but this is the state of play at the moment):

Dying messiah 5 posts
Jewish Messianism 11 posts
Messiah 17 posts
Messiahs 11 posts
Messianic Judaism 2 posts
Messianism 15 posts
Second Temple messianism 41 posts

And a catch-all category

Messiahs and messianism 95 posts

NC lists different views of the messiah as listed by Armand Abécassis (En vérité je vous le dis):

  • the messiah would be a priest (said to be “the Sadducee” view — though I cannot vouch for all of these associations)
  • the messiah would be a royal heir of David (said to be “the Pharisee” view)
  • the messiah would be a scribe descended from Aaron (said to be an Essene view)
  • the messiah was related to a kind of baptist or purification movement (said to be the Boethussian view)

Among the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are found at least three different types of messiah

1. the royal messiah, the branch or offspring of David, who is accompanied by a prophetic figure who is an interpreter of the law
2. the priestly messiah, an ideal priest from the line of Aaron

In some scrolls these two messiahs appear together. They are perhaps the idealistic corrective to historical kings and priests who were considered corrupt.

3. a “Son of God” figure, “probably a unique celestial figure”, appears to be divine, without a name assigned although in other manuscripts he is given the name Melchisedech, the agent of divine judgment against evil.

André Paul (whom NC is quoting) concludes that these three messianic figures were part of Jewish thinking in the century or century and a half preceding the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

Pre-Christian Jewish thought about these three different messiahs drew upon Scriptures to flesh out what they were to accomplish. The promise Nathan made to David in 2 Samuel 7 that his throne would endure “forever”, and the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-5 that a “branch will arise from the stump of Jesse”, and that of Isaiah 61:1 that “he will heal the wounded and revive the dead and proclaim the good news and invite the hungry to feast”, and many others, were applied to their respective messiahs.

One striking example outside the biblical texts is found in the Messianic Apocalypse of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To translate Andre Paul’s observation (quoted by NC):

We are struck by the astonishing relationship between this description of future blessings linked to the coming of the Messiah and Jesus ‘answer to John the Baptist’s question in the Gospels:’ “The blind see, the lame walk ” (Matthew 11, 5 and Luke 7, 22). […] A tradition identifiable in other writings of ancient Judaism serves as their common basis. 

The gospel authors were doing what Jewish writers before them had done. They were creating their messiah by pastiching different passages from the Scriptures. The gospels were even copying or incorporating the works of earlier exegetes as we see in the example of the Messianic Apocalypse.

It is these three types of messiah that “Christianity” will unite: Mashiach-Christos, High Priest (in particular in the Epistle to the Hebrews), and Son of Man. It has long been known that in the period of Christianity’s establishment there were struggles over the titles to be given to Jesus Christ. Can we not think that far from depending on different “legends”, the Gospels are midrashim voluntarily composed with a view to celebrating an existing messiah (existing in texts) to unite these divergent expectations? Those who call themselves the disciples of Jesus will make him at the same time the prophet, the priest and the king “thus cumulating all the functions of society and guaranteeing them” (Abécassis p. 290), aided in this by traditions already anchored in the Jewish society of the time.

(Charbonnel, 278, my translation with Google’s help)

We further have texts that have long been known to us, those we label pseudepigrapha. Among these are the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Some of these (the Testaments of Levi and Judah) speak of messianic variants: see TLevi ch2 and TJudah ch4.

NC next turns to biblical scholars questing for the historical Jesus and the significance they attach to the contexts of and emphases on different messianic allusions and sayings in the gospels — all in an effort to attempt to discern what Jesus may have thought about himself vis a vis what others (contemporaries, later generations) thought about him. But the whole exercise collapses when one approaches the gospel Jesus as a literary creation woven from the many messianic threads known to Second Temple Judaism.

From Amazon. Disclaimer: I know nothing about this CD set apart from what is stated on the Amazon site. I chose it entirely for the sake of adding a quick and easy graphic to the post and do not suggest that the contents relate to the principle theme of the post.

Both the Messiah Son of David . . . .

The view that the messiah was to be a son of David is well understood: Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; etc …; Psalms of Solomon 17:21-43) — even if the details varied somewhat in the different writings. Matthew and Luke make Jesus a genealogical descendant of David; and whereas David was anointed with oil by Samuel Jesus was anointed directly by the Holy Spirit, and so forth. 

NC takes us in for a closer look at what it means to be a “Davidic” figure.

First: the name David means Beloved. At Jesus’ baptism we are to hear a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Beloved son (Matthew 3:17). (The name given for the Jesus figure in the Ascension of Isaiah is Beloved; further, see the series on Jon Levenson’s book The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. There we learn that the “Beloved son” is virtually a technical term for an only or firstborn son who is destined for sacrifice. NC does not touch on this work, however.)

That Jesus was resurrected from the dead is another “Davidic” qualification given that a “Psalm of David” was interpreted by early Christians as a prophecy that “David” would not “be abandoned to Hades” — Acts 2:22-23.

(NC does not mention in this context other Davidic features of Jesus such as his ascent to the Mount of Olives in mourning for his life; his suffering of false and cruel persecutions by his former associates and family; his role as a meditative figure. See What might a Davidic Messiah have meant to early Christians?)

What NC does bring out, though, is the link with the nation of Israel itself being named by God as his Beloved. In the Septuagint we find Continue reading “Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


2021-01-02

Jesus Created to Embody Two Peoples in One New Man — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series  . . .

The figure of Jesus Christ is first and foremost the personification of his people

Most of us have little difficulty imagining that the authors of the gospels conceptualized Jesus as a personification of the people of Israel. In Nanine Charbonnel’s words, the gospel narratives are not so much presenting Jesus and Israel as parallels but rather Jesus as a personification, an embodiment, the figure of “a new Israel” itself. Here’s a refresher of the points we all know. The character who is named “YHWH Saves” . . .

° is born through the miraculous intervention of YHWH, as the people of Israel were born from the miraculous fertility of the aged Sarah and Abraham.

° escapes the royal edict to slay all male newborns [my note: Pharaoh ordered all male infants slain in order to keep Israel in subjection to Egypt]

° is called from Egypt as were the people of Israel,

° is baptized, recollecting Israel’s passage through the Red Sea,

° After his baptism he spends forty days in the wilderness as Israel spent forty years in the wilderness,

° he is a target for trials or tests [not “temptations” — I have changed NC’s term] as Israel succumbed to tests in the wilderness

° he explicitly quotes in each of his three responses to these tests verses from Deuteronomy that had been addressed to the people in the wilderness,

° he takes twelve disciples as Israel has twelve tribes, etc.

NC’s list is fine as an overview but leaves questions hanging when one realizes that it is true only of the Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. As we have seen, Jesus in the wilderness in the Gospel of Mark more likely represents the new Adam, not Israel. In this context it is of interest to note that the Gospel of Mark, unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, portrays Jesus as reaching out to gentiles as well as Jews to bring them together “in him” (see the post on the “sea voyages” of Jesus, The Story of Mark, History or Theology?) — so an opening presentation of Jesus as a New Adam is fitting. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke change Mark’s plot so that the gentiles are to be evangelized after the resurrection of Jesus.

So I think Mark’s variation supports NC’s view of Jesus being a literary creation to function as the theological interests of the authors decided. Matthew and Luke created a Jesus who personified the people of Israel. But we will see in the next section that Paul’s concept was closer to Mark’s.

Throughout this series of posts we have referred to NC’s repeated point that the Hebrew Bible so easily portrays entire peoples as individual characters (e.g. the “two nations” in Rebecca’s womb, Jacob and Esau). NC cites David Strauss’s words that neatly encapsulate this sort of personification in Hosea where we read Matthew’s inspiration for how he created his Jesus: the people of Israel are, collectively, the son (singular) of God.

While Herod awaits the return of the magi, Joseph is admonished by an angelic apparition in a dream to flee with the Messianic child and its mother into Egypt for security (v. 13-15). Adopting the evangelist’s point of view, this is not attended with any difficulty ; it is otherwise, however, with the prophecy which the above event is said to fulfil, Hosea xi. 1. In this passage the prophet, speaking in the name of Jehovah, says : When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. We may venture to attribute, even to the most orthodox expositor, enough clear-sightedness to perceive that the subject of the first half of the sentence is also the object of the second, namely the people of Israel, who here, as elsewhere, (e.g. Exod. iv. 22, Sirach xxxvi. 14), are collectively called the Son of God, and whose past deliverance under Moses out of their Egyptian bondage is the fact referred to : that consequently, the prophet was not contemplating either the Messiah or his sojourn in Egypt. Nevertheless, as our evangelist says, v. r5, that the flight of Jesus into Egypt took place expressly that the above words of Hosea might be fulfilled . . .

(Strauss Part 1, Chapter IV §34 – p.167)

Jesus, as the “new Israel”, resists temptations, overcomes trials, unlike the old. NC emphasizes that Jesus does not personify the Christian church but the people of Israel. To half paraphrase and half translate the words of Jean Radermakers whom NC quotes:

What was said about Israel is in the gospels said about Jesus because he is both a son of Israel and one who takes on the totality of the nation in order to bring it to its destined fulfilment. Thus he is the Son called from Egypt (Matt 2:5 = Hos 11:1), the Beloved Son, the one who is the object of divine indulgence (Matt 3:17; 17:5 = Gen 22:2; Ps 2:2; Isa 42:1), and after crossing the Jordan he walks through the Promised Land to Jerusalem. In Matthew Jesus appears in Galilee, noted as being “Galilee of the Nations” (Matt 4:5). In Jesus, therefore, Israel fulfils its calling to be a “people for the nations” according to the promise made to Abraham: In you will all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen 12:3; cf Jer 4:2; Sirach 44:21). In this same way he also fulfils the universal message of the prophets (Matt 4:15-16 = Isa 8:12; 11:5 = Isa. 35:5-6; 61:1), as we read “in his name the Nations will place their hope” (Matt 12:2 = Isa 42:4) (Approximates the words of Jean Radermakers)

In future posts we will see how NC develops the point that Jesus, as the people of Israel, will further be presented as God. If the Jews are understood to be the bearers of the divine presence in their midst we can more easily understand how Jesus, as the embodiment of Israel, can simultaneously be depicted as God. Above we saw that what was said of Israel was said of Jesus; so also what is said of God is likewise said of Jesus. Again, to borrow from Radermakers (p 371):

    • he speaks with authority (Matt 7:28),
    • he commands the sea (Matt 8:26-27)
    • and forgives sins. (Matt 9,:1-8),
    • he summons his people (Matt 16:19)
    • and feeds them in the desert (Matt 14,:15-24 and 15:32-39),
    • he remains in the midst of his own as the very presence of God (Matt 18.20; 28.20; cf 1:1-23) in whom the history of his people converges and is fulfilled.

To expand on NC’s discussion, it is commonplace among biblical scholars to think of the Jesus in the Gospel of Mark as the “more human” than in the other gospels. They point to episodes where he appears to lose his temper and needs to heal a person in two stages. Yet there are interpreters who have argued that this “very human” Jesus in Mark is misguided. But there is nothing “human” about one who commands the storm (Mark 4:39 = Ps 107:29; 148:8) and walks on water (Mark 6:48-49 = Job 9:8;  Sirach 24:5-6). We have covered in depth how a number of scholars have shown that the supposedly human emotions of Jesus were deemed in ancient times to be divine and/or the noblest of feelings:

Returning to NC: What we see the evangelists doing, and most directly in Matthew, is quoting passages in the Old Testament that refer to the people of Israel and bringing those passages to fulfilment in the person of Jesus, whose name means “YHWH saves”, and who is the personification of those people. The gospel works to bring to pass in the individual “YHWH Saves” what the Scriptures said about the sons of Israel.

Two People in One New Man Continue reading “Jesus Created to Embody Two Peoples in One New Man — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


2020-12-30

Rewritings and Composite Contradictions: the Way of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation

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by Neil Godfrey

There can be little doubt that many of the gospel stories are derived from the Jewish Scriptures: Jesus in the wilderness reworks the nation Israel’s and the prophet Elijah’s sojourn there; Jesus feeding the multitudes and raising the dead are surely inspired by comparable miracles by Elijah and Elisha and many more. What I find particularly interesting about this process is that the Jewish Scriptures themselves invite, or even entice, readers to undertake that very kind of rewriting we find in the gospels.

Embedded in the narratives of the books from Genesis to 2 Kings are two types of repetition:

  • composite stories where two different accounts of the same event are placed side by side
  • reiterations of common events and motifs in new contexts inviting readers to reflect on and compare quite different narratives

Composites

Look at opening chapters of Genesis and the creation of Adam. There are actually two stories of Adam’s creation in the first two chapters and each one is different. In the first Adam and Eve are evidently created equal. In the second Eve is an afterthought who was contemplated only after God finally realized that he absentmindedly overlooked giving Adam the same sort of sexual partner he had provided for other animals. Here is Robert Alter’s interpretation of what is going on here:

Just such a technique of placing two parallel accounts in dynamically complementary sequence is splendidly evident at the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible. There are, of course, two different creation stories. The first, generally attributed to P, begins with Genesis 1:1 and concludes with the report of the primeval sabbath (Gen. 2:1–3), probably followed, as most scholars now think, by a formal summary in the first half of Genesis 2:4: “This is the tale of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” The second version of the creation story, taken from the J Document, would then begin with the subordinate clause in the second half of Genesis 2:4, “When the LORD God made earth and heaven … ,” going on to the creation of man, the vegetable world, the animal kingdom, and woman, in that order, . . . . 

The decision to place in sequence two ostensibly contradictory accounts of the same event is an approximate narrative equivalent to the technique of post-Cubist painting that gives us, for example, juxtaposed or superimposed, a profile and a frontal perspective of the same face. The ordinary eye could never see these two at once, but it is the painter’s prerogative to represent them as a simultaneous perception within the visual frame of his painting, whether merely to explore the formal relations between the two views or to provide an encompassing representation of his subject. Analogously, the Hebrew writer takes advantage of the composite nature of his art to give us a tension of views that will govern most of the biblical stories—first, woman as man’s equal sharer in dominion, standing exactly in the same relation to God as he; then, woman as man’s subservient helpmate, whose weakness and blandishments will bring such woe into the world.

A similar encompassing of divergent perspectives is achieved through the combined versions in the broader vision of creation, man, and God. God is both transcendent and immanent (to invoke a much later theological opposition), both magisterial in His omnipotence and actively, empathically involved with His creation. The world is orderly, coherent, beautifully patterned, and at the same time it is a shifting tangle of resources and topography, both a mainstay and a baffling challenge to man. Humankind is the divinely appointed master of creation and an internally divided rebel against the divine scheme, destined to scrabble a painful living from the soil that has been blighted because of man.”

Similarly with the rise of David. Again, two incompatible stories about his rise to power are told side by side. Whoever combined the stories was not interested in making them look like a seamless whole but left the inconsistencies for all to see and no doubt talk about.

The effectiveness of composite narrative as a purposeful technique is even more vividly evident when the primary aim is the presentation of character. The most elaborate biblical instance is the introduction of David, which, as has been often noted, occurs in two consecutive and seemingly contradictory versions (1 Samuel 16 and 17). In the first account, the prophet Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as successor to Saul, whose violation of divine injunction has just disqualified him for the kingship that was conferred on him. . . . Following the anointment, David is called to Saul’s court to soothe the king’s mad fits by playing the lyre, and he assumes the official position of armor-bearer to Saul. In the second account, David is still back on the farm while his older brothers (here three in number rather than seven) are serving in Saul’s army against the Philistines. There is no mention here of any previous ceremony of anointing, no allusion to David’s musical abilities or to a position as royal armor-bearer (indeed, a good deal is made of his total unfamiliarity with armor). In this version David, having arrived on the battlefield with provisions for his brothers, makes his debut by slaying the Philistine champion, Goliath, and he is so unfamiliar a face to both Saul and Abner, Saul’s commander-in-chief, that, at the end of the chapter, they both confess they have no idea who he is or what family he comes from, and he has to identify himself to Saul. . . . 

Both stories, though drawn from disparate sources, are necessary, however, in order to produce a binocular vision of David. In this case, the inference of a deliberate decision to use two versions seems especially compelling, for the redactor of the David story, unlike the redactor of Genesis, is not working with traditions sanctified by several centuries of national experience. One may infer that he had greater freedom as to what he “had” to include than did his counterpart in Genesis, and therefore that if he chose to combine two versions of David’s debut, one theological in cast and the other folkloric, it was because both were necessary to his conception of David’s character and historical role. Much the same point has been made by Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis in an intelligent essay on the larger David story: “But surely whoever put the narrative into this final form was aware of the inconsistency too; such inconsistency in close proximity in a narrative is more than an author’s nodding; it is the equivalent of deep sleep.” . . . . .

[T]he joining of the two accounts leaves us swaying in the dynamic interplay between two theologies, two conceptions of kingship and history, two views of David the man. In one, the king is imagined as God’s instrument, elected through God’s own initiative, manifesting his authority by commanding the realm of spirits good and evil, a figure who brings healing and inspires love. In the other account, the king’s election is, one might say, ratified rather than initiated by God; instead of the spirit descending, we have a young man ascending through his own resourcefulness, cool courage, and quick reflexes, and also through his rhetorical skill. All this will lead not directly to the throne but, as things usually happen in the mixed medium of history, to a captaincy; further military successes, a devoted following; the provocation of jealousy in the king, which brings about his banishment; a career of daring action, subterfuge, hardship, and danger; a bloody civil war; and only then the throne. Without both these versions of David’s beginnings and his claim to legitimacy as monarch, the Hebrew writer would have conveyed less than what he conceived to be the full truth about his subject. . . . 

Embracing complexity and contradictions
The fundamentalist view of the Bible that “there are no contradictions in God’s word” would seem to turn the Bible into a collection contrary to the purpose of its authors. One can imagine the discussions, the debates, in which authors and many readers must have once engaged.

Other Vridar posts exploring this same question of contradictory narratives in the Bible:

Explaining (?) the Contradictory Genesis Accounts of the Creation of Adam and Eve (this post focuses on comparisons and contrasts with the methods of the Greek historian Herodotus)

Comparing the Rome and Israel Foundation Stories, Aeneas and Abraham

Another but with a less direct approach:

From Babylonia to Moses and Enoch to Paul: Questions

In regard to larger blocks of narrative material, the characteristic biblical method for incorporating multiple perspectives appears to have been not a fusion of views in a single utterance but a montage of viewpoints arranged in sequence. Such a formula, of course, cannot smooth away all the perplexities of scribal and editorial work with which the biblical text confronts us; but we are well advised to keep in mind as readers that these ancient writers (and their redactors), like later ones, wanted to fashion a literary form that might embrace the abiding complexity of their subjects. The monotheistic revolution of biblical Israel was a continuing and disquieting one. It left little margin for neat and confident views about God, the created world, history, and man as political animal or moral agent, for it repeatedly had to make sense of the intersection of incompatibles—the relative and the absolute, human imperfection and divine perfection, the brawling chaos of historical experience and God’s promise to fulfill a design in history. The biblical outlook is informed, I think, by a sense of stubborn contradiction, of a profound and ineradicable untidiness in the nature of things, and it is toward the expression of such a sense of moral and historical reality that the composite artistry of the Bible is directed.

Excerpts from: Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981. pp. 141-153

Reiterations: “all reflecting a single transcendent reality throughout the Bible’s narrative”

Then there is the other type of repetition: the reverberations of the same motifs, images, actions in different contexts and with augmented meanings. Here I will cite Thomas L. Thompson and his thoughts in The Mythic Past. Continue reading “Rewritings and Composite Contradictions: the Way of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation”


2020-12-29

Thinking of a Postcapitalist Future in the Midst of the Pandemic

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by Neil Godfrey

Between April and July 2020, as the pandemic’s first wave was surging, the collective stash of the world’s billionaires grew by 28 per cent and many millionaires joined their ranks.
From the Brave New Europe website

Since 2008 and especially the Covid lockdown the IMF has been dramatically changing course and are now advocating increasing taxes on the wealthy and reducing inequality. Why the change of “heart”?

It is not, of course, concern for the billions of people driven into despair that has energised the likes of the IMF and UBS to call for action against breathtaking inequality. Their worry is that so much wealth has been siphoned off by the rich that the spending power remaining in the hands of the many is too feeble to keep demand up and capitalism in reasonable health. Like a lethal virus that rapidly killed off its host, and thus driving itself into extinction, capitalism is undermining itself by impoverishing and disempowering the “little” people.

At this point anyone still interested in a Marxist analysis of where we are now at should read an article from 2018 by the same author – Yanis Varoufakis: Marx predicted our present crisis – and points the way out. I’ll quote one part of that piece where Varoufakis addresses head-on the typical objections to anything that rhymes with Marxism:

On the topic of dystopia, the sceptical reader will perk up: what of the manifesto’s own complicity in legitimising authoritarian regimes and steeling the spirit of gulag guards? Instead of responding defensively, pointing out that no one blames Adam Smith for the excesses of Wall Street, or the New Testament for the Spanish Inquisition, we can speculate how the authors of the manifesto might have answered this charge. I believe that, with the benefit of hindsight, Marx and Engels would confess to an important error in their analysis: insufficient reflexivity. This is to say that they failed to give sufficient thought, and kept a judicious silence, over the impact their own analysis would have on the world they were analysing.

The manifesto told a powerful story in uncompromising language, intended to stir readers from their apathy. What Marx and Engels failed to foresee was that powerful, prescriptive texts have a tendency to procure disciples, believers – a priesthood, even – and that this faithful might use the power bestowed upon them by the manifesto to their own advantage. With it, they might abuse other comrades, build their own power base, gain positions of influence, bed impressionable students, take control of the politburo and imprison anyone who resists them.

Similarly, Marx and Engels failed to estimate the impact of their writing on capitalism itself. To the extent that the manifesto helped fashion the Soviet Union, its eastern European satellites, Castro’s Cuba, Tito’s Yugoslavia and several social democratic governments in the west, would these developments not cause a chain reaction that would frustrate the manifesto’s predictions and analysis? After the Russian revolution and then the second world war, the fear of communism forced capitalist regimes to embrace pension schemes, national health services, even the idea of making the rich pay for poor and petit bourgeois students to attend purpose-built liberal universities. Meanwhile, rabid hostility to the Soviet Union stirred up paranoia and created a climate of fear that proved particularly fertile for figures such as Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot.

I believe that Marx and Engels would have regretted not anticipating the manifesto’s impact on the communist parties it foreshadowed. They would be kicking themselves that they overlooked the kind of dialectic they loved to analyse: how workers’ states would become increasingly totalitarian in their response to capitalist state aggression, and how, in their response to the fear of communism, these capitalist states would grow increasingly civilised.

Blessed, of course, are the authors whose errors result from the power of their words. Even more blessed are those whose errors are self-correcting. In our present day, the workers’ states inspired by the manifesto are almost gone, and the communist parties disbanded or in disarray. Liberated from competition with regimes inspired by the manifesto, globalised capitalism is behaving as if it is determined to create a world best explained by the manifesto.

I highlighted that last sentence: with the collapse of regimes claiming to represent Marxism the capitalist world has felt at liberty to catapult itself into the direction and extreme inequality that Marx and Engels predicted. Then steam power was the technology that was transforming society; today it is artificial intelligence and automation. Back to the BNE article . . .

Today, three companies – BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – own at least 40 per cent of all American public companies and nearly 90 per cent of those listed in the New York Stock Exchange.

 

Dystopic post-capitalism

Under this dystopic post-capitalism, our techno-feudal lords have the power to manipulate our behaviour at an industrial scale advertisers could never even dream of. Moreover, whereas in years past, extreme poverty hit mostly the unskilled, the rural and the marginalised workers, now it is spreading to white collar professionals, to well-educated people stuck at home or in sectors fast declining, to fading city centres, to artists, musicians and people that used to survive well by doing creative things while doing odd jobs.

If I am right that we are already in the early phase of a spontaneously evolved grim post-capitalism, maybe it is time to start designing, rationally and together, a desirable post-capitalism. But where to begin?

The article Designing a Postcapitalist Future in the Midst of the Pandemic offers some interesting ideas on “where to begin”. (My recent post, No bosses, no wages, no problem began with an explanation that the main text was quoted from a “sci fi” novel but it is actually a serious work that explores alternatives to our current situation. The “sci fi” is merely the “delight” portion of the “teach and delight” method. In the same post I inserted sections from the real company near Seattle on which the ideas are based. So the fiction is “based on a true story”, as they say.)


Tyrannies and Godfathers

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

China’s Communist Party jails a Chinese citizen journalist for four years for reporting a narrative inconsistent with the one the authorities sought to present:

Her live reports and essays were widely shared on social media platforms in February, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistle-blowers so far as they try to stamp out criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.

UK, Australia and the US have acted even more viciously against Julian Assange:

 

Meanwhile in the US, with the acquiescence of the Republican Party —  Trump’s Pardons Show He’s Just a Mob Boss; His Presidency Is a Criminal Enterprise

Trump’s choices made clear he is a crime boss.

Four Blackwater mercenaries who, working for Trump ally Erik Prince murdered Iraqi civilians, were pardoned. But there was no pardon for Jeremy Ridgeway, the soldier-for-hire who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, testified against the others and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Roger Stone, dirty trickster confidant; former General Michael Flynn, national security adviser who was on the Kremlin payroll; and 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort were pardoned. But Trump didn’t pardon Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who turned state’s evidence and confessed.

Earlier, Trump pardoned Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat. But there was no pardon for lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer who confessed to committing felonies at the direction of unindicted co-conspirator “Individual 1,” identified in federal court as Trump.

In true mobster fashion, Trump once referred to Cohen as a “rat” for confessing. He praised Manafort for not “flipping” to testify against him.

The boss takes care of friends and allies if they lie for the boss or keep silent, but does nothing for those who cooperate with law enforcement.

2020-12-28

No bosses, no wages, no problem

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Yanis Varoufakis

Extract from a “science fiction” novel, understanding that “science fiction is the archaeology of the future” . . .

‘OK, here is how we do things,’ began Kosti’s account of the corporation in which he worked. ‘No one tells anyone what to do. We choose freely the persons or teams that we want to work with and also how much time to devote to competing projects. Everything in our company is in flux. Staff move about, new teams are formed, older projects die, new undertakings are concocted. No bosses to order anyone around. Spontaneous order and personal responsibility overcome the fear of chaos.’

This constant flux was a design feature of corporate life in the Other Now, Kosti explained. When hierarchies are used to match people with particular roles and teams, the result is clumsy, inefficient, oppressive. Status anxiety and the need to satisfy one’s superiors make full transparency impossible. People are kept in the dark about the relative attractiveness or drawbacks of working with particular managers or colleagues, how happy or dysfunctional teams are, how rewarding or boring different projects. Hierarchies simply perpetuate and expand themselves, resulting in a terrible mismatch between a person’s standing and what they actually contribute. Even the hierarchy’s great advantage, of ensuring that all posts are staffed at all times, is a hidden loss.

Under the flat management model, Kosti acknowledged, there are frequent gaps. But the fact that they are observable to all makes them useful. When people notice an empty spot where David’s desk used to be on the sixth floor, and then discover on the company’s intranet that he moved to the fourth floor to work with Tammy, Dick and Harriet, everybody learns something important about the value of the work being done in that nook on the fourth floor. With people voting freely with their feet, an ongoing collective assessment takes place of each project’s relative value. If unpredictability is the price of staff autonomy, it is a small one to pay, Kosti reported.

Pie in the sky? Not so, but a model based on reality:

A $4-billion company with no managers? Can it be?

Global video-game producer says employees can spend 100 percent of their time developing whatever they want. There isn’t even a human resources department. Is this sustainable?

At Google, employees are granted 10 percent of their time to work on any project they like. At Valve, a video-game producer, they have pushed that autonomy to 100 percent of employees’ time. Is such a free-form business model sustainable? 

. . . .

The company prides itself on the fact that there are no bosses, at least in the traditional sense of the word, Varoufakis says in the interview, posted at EconTalk. “It is a bit disconcerting for people who enter Valve, because there is no one there to tell them what to do,” he says. “So it’s a flat management, spontaneous order kind of operation, which creates a very interesting phenomenon from a managerial perspective, and actually from the perspective of people who try to live and work within it.”

‘But surely there must be a hierarchy when it comes to recruitment?’ Costa asked. ‘Surely there are menial tasks that no one would choose to perform?’

‘No, no hierarchy is involved at any level – not even in recruitment or the assignment of shitty chores,’ replied Kosti. New staff are taken on informally, he explained, without the need for a personnel department. If Tammy and David need, say, a graphic designer to work with them but cannot find one within the firm, they post a notice on the intranet announcing themselves as the initial search committee, inviting others to join them if they wish. Once assembled, the impromptu committee places an ad on the company’s public website to solicit applications. The committee then compiles a shortlist and conducts interviews, which anyone in the company is entitled to witness either remotely, via the intranet, or in person. Finally, Tammy, David and the rest of the search team post their recommendation, and anyone who wants to is able to cast a vote either against or in favour of their chosen candidate.

The same process is used, no matter the job, including for secretarial or run-of-the-mill accounting positions for example. New staff are recruited on the understanding that, once in the company, no one can force them to be secretaries or accountants. And indeed, Kosti explained, it is often the case that people recruited for these tasks eventually branch out into more creative roles in a way that no hierarchy would ever allow. But more often than not, perhaps out of a sense of moral obligation, they provide the services for which they were originally employed for sufficiently lengthy periods.

Varoufakis brands this style of anti-management as “anarcho-syndicalism,” but a less academic term for it may be that it is a highly entrepreneurially charged culture. In fact, he notes, compensation is based more on bonuses than actual fixed salary, which is a minimal part of the package. A couple of decades back, John Naisbitt, a business futurist, predicted that businesses would evolve into “confederations of entrepreneurs” — and Valve may be a classic example of such a confederation, or clustering of startups and small ventures.

Teams are ad-hoc, and people voluntarily join with others to collaborate on new projects in which they are interested.

There is no pressure for employees to be at their desks or workstations at any time, but people are expected to fit in and contribute value . . . . 

‘But what about pay?’ Costa was impressed but still incredulous. ‘Surely someone must decide who gets what?’ Continue reading “No bosses, no wages, no problem”