2020-06-12

How Paul Found Christ Crucified – “on a Tree” – In the Scriptures

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by Neil Godfrey

Toruń, church of St. Janów. Painting on the north wall of the presbytery (around 1380-90) – Crucifixion on Jesse’s Tree (Wikimedia)

Who bewitched you? Paul demanded to know of the Galatians. He continued:

Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was written beforehand [προεγράφη, cf Rom. 15:4] as crucified.

Max Wilcox suggested (with some diffidence) at least the possibility of such a translation back in 1977 in an article published in the Journal of Biblical Literature. The remainder of this post draws a few key points from a mass of fascinating details in that article, “Upon the Tree”: Deut 21:22-23 in the New Testament”. It focuses on what Paul and other early “Christian” exegetes found written in the Scriptures through a midrashic type reading.

A few verses after that opening Paul “bizarrely” links Jesus Christ with the pronouncement of a curse on anyone “hanging on a tree” as per the law of Deuteronomy. Galatians 3:13:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

quoting Deuteronomy 21:23

. . . anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse . . .

Look at that Deuteronomy 21 passage in full and despair at trying to find any way Paul could have associated it with the crucified Jesus:

If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance. (Deut 21:22-23)

Wilcox finds clues to the association in the verses leading up to Galatians 3:13. If we are aware of the Scriptures Paul has been alluding to in those preceding verses we can find the answer to why the Deuteronomic tree-hanging curse applied to Jesus.

Look at Galatians 3:8-9

Now Scripture, having seen beforehand that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the good news of this in advance to Abraham in the promise, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

So then, those who are ‘of faith’ are blessed with faithful/believing Abraham.

For Wilcox the above passage looks very much like a mixed quotation based on three passages in a Greek translation of Genesis(Notice that Peter is assigned a similar quotation in Acts: the major difference being that in Acts the stress is on “seed” while in Galatians it is on “you”, referring to Abraham.)

Wilcox comments that Paul (and the author of Acts) are using a hybrid quotation to associate the promise to Abraham with the “nations”, the Gentiles.

Not only Genesis but Deuteronomy informs Paul’s thought

In Galatians 3:10 we begin to read a longer section of the cursing and blessing dichotomy. This motif comes from many passages throughout Deuteronomy. Galatians 3:10 even directly quotes Deuteronomy:

Galatians 3:10 Deuteronomy 27:26
. . . for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them. . . .

But why does Paul veer towards the “cursed is everyone hanging on a tree” passage when that passage is surely meant to apply to blasphemers and other sinners of the worst kind? Continue reading “How Paul Found Christ Crucified – “on a Tree” – In the Scriptures”


2020-06-11

The Ascension of Isaiah: Another Set of Questions

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Ascension of Isaiah: Continuing Questions. . . .

. . .

In points 6, 7 and 8 of section III of James Barlow’s Commentary on the Vision of Isaiah we enter into detailed discussions of how to assess the priority of different manuscript lines based on comparing particular differences of wording across the manuscripts. Barlow is challenging Charles’s conclusions: Charles argues that the manuscript line that leads to the Ethiopic text with the full pocket gospel is closer, overall, to the original Greek Asc. Isa. that is now lost; Barlow argues the reverse, that the manuscript line closer overall to the original Asc. Isa. is the one without the pocket gospel. The details are available in the linked article.

My thought on the entire debate may be considered dismissive or unfairly biased by some, but I suspect that no conclusion on the originality of the pocket gospel can be derived from the detailed discussions addressed by either Charles or Barlow. Charles at one point writes that it is “no doubt true in a few cases” that there are more original passages in the manuscript without the pocket gospel. That is, a lot of corruption in both manuscript lines has crept in since the original Greek Asc. Isa.

In other words, even if the shorter manuscripts without the pocket gospel contain a good number of passages that may be assessed as closer to the original Greek Asc. Isa. than the manuscripts containing the pocket gospel, it is not valid to conclude on that basis that the pocket gospel or much else in the manuscripts containing the pocket gospel is all a later development and that the pocket gospel is also a late interpolation.

To make sense of the abbreviations like SL2, G2, etc. see the larger table here.

Obviously there is room for disagreement with that viewpoint.  In response to Charles’ words (p. xxii),

If SL2, in other words G2, represent faithfully the text as it stood in the archetype G, then it is clear that in such passages the fuller text of E or G1 is the work of the editor of G1. This is no doubt true in a few cases. 

Barlow responds,

But if this logic is insurmountable, only wouldn’t it be true in ‘every’ case?

To which I would respond, No.

Longer or shorter?

On the other hand, some sections of the longer Ethiopic text look more original according to Charles. In the following text columns I have set out Charles says the longer text found in E is closer to what was in the original Asc. Isa. while the shorter L2/S manuscripts are abridgements of an original. Which column looks more original to you?

E

10:25-28

L2/S

10:25-28

25. And again I saw when He descended into the second heaven, and again He gave the password there ; those who kept the gate proceeded to demand and the Lord to give. 25 . . . into the second heaven,
26. And I saw when He made Himself like unto the form of the angels in the second heaven, and they saw Him and they did not praise Him ; for His form was like unto their form. 26.
27. And again I saw when He descended into the first heaven, and there also He gave the password to those who kept the gate, and He made- Himself like unto the form of the angels who were on the left of that throne, and they neither praised nor lauded Him ; for His form was like unto their form. 27.  . . . into the first heaven, . . . and they neither praised nor lauded Him ; for His form was like unto their form.
28. But as for me no one asked me on account of the angel who conducted me. 28.
29. And again He descended into the firmament where dwelleth the ruler of this world, and He gave the password to those on the left, and His form was like theirs, and they did not praise Him there ; but they were envying one another and fighting ; for here there is a power of evil and envying about trifles. 29. And again He descended into the firmament . . . , and He gave the password . . . and His form was like theirs, and they did not praise Him there ; . . . 

. . . Continue reading “The Ascension of Isaiah: Another Set of Questions”


2020-06-10

Some Inspiring Stuff Coming Out of the United States – and Other Heirs to White Imperialist Nations

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by Neil Godfrey

From TMZ

I feel privileged to have lived to see some remarkable changes happening in the UK, Europe and the United States. It’s really quite amazing to be writing this so soon after my recent depressing thoughts about the United States.

Some places in the U.S. are beginning to explore genuine alternatives to the traditional police forces — outsiders have for years been fairly stunned by how often we hear of wild west type violent acts by U.S. police. The stories have become hideously depressingly routine.

I understand that much of the change has been a consequence of the power of the video capture. The Vietnam war was said to be the first war telecast live into living rooms on the invading nation. That helped add momentum to the protests. But it takes time, years, for sanity to spread widely and deeply enough so that there is finally a critical mass of activists demanding change and being heard in some quarters so that at last change is actually beginning to happen. Small steps, but that’s how we all learn to walk.

Our nations have been built on racism, including various forms of genocide, sins that have been sublimated beneath the imperial “greatness” and national prosperity that were their fruits. It’s amazing to see how far we have finally come now that we can contemplate on an international scale the tearing down of monuments glorifying white supremacist imperialist histories.

This surely is a cultural and ethical turning point, or at least a signpost that times have indeed been changing.

The news item that was the final straw that prompted me to write this post was downgrading of Little Britain by the BBC. The few times I tried to watch it I simply couldn’t. I failed to understand how certain groups that were being satirized could generally find it funny. Punching down is not funny. I’m relieved to now learn that my problem was that I was ahead of my time.

It’s a very different world from a few decades ago. Some things really are far, far better and promising than ever before. Now, if only we can make it through climate change as organized societies. . .

. . .

(I wonder what the future holds for all of that stolen loot in the British Museum?)

 


2020-06-09

Ascension of Isaiah: Continuing Questions

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Ascension of Isaiah: More Questions. . . . 

. . .

In these posts I am reexamining the place that the Ascension of Isaiah has in those “Christ myth” arguments that use it as supporting evidence for an early Christian belief, perhaps even a pre-Pauline belief, that Jesus was crucified in a celestial world beyond this physical one. Three mythicist authors have published this viewpoint: Paul-Louis Couchoud, Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier. James Barlow has focused on making a case for the Ascension of Isaiah being known to the apostle Paul and in the process has offered the most in-depth case for the shorter version of the Asc. Isa., the version that omits the account of Jesus’ birth and death on this earth (11:2-22), being the original text. (I further posted my growing doubts about Earl Doherty’s line of reasoning in the same direction: Ascension of Isaiah: Questioning Three of Earl Doherty’s Arguments.)

These posts have been focussed on specific points made by James Barlow because his are the ones that are so detailed and thorough. In doing so, however, I have not given Barlow’s overall thesis its strongest presentation for review in its own right. To make amends but also to make public an important hypothesis that deserves serious examination I posted his thesis in full: see “The Ascension of Isaiah” and Paul – a case made by James Barlow.

I continue here to follow my own questioning of a range of arguments that have been made to favour the view that the shorter version of the Asc. Isa. (the one without the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem) is closer to the original version. My perspective is open to change and by the time I finish this series I may even have changed my mind again. But till then, let’s examine some more points set forth by James Barlow.

So we continue . . .

We start with one more point made back in 1900 by R. H. Charles that he believed indicated the originality of the “pocket gospel”, 11:2-22 as found in the Ethiopic manuscripts, the same passage narrating the birth of Jesus, his move to Nazareth, his performing miracles and eventual crucifixion in Jerusalem. (We start with R. H. Charles because his 1900 work was a foundational text upon which many subsequent discussions have been based even if and when they revise and update his discussion.)

Not knowing who he is

In all versions — Latin, Slavonic, Ethiopic — of the Asc. Isa. that contain chapter 9 there is the prophecy that those who crucify the Beloved will do so not knowing who he is.

And the god of that world will stretch forth his hand against the Son, and they will crucify Him on a tree, and will slay Him not knowing who He is. (Asc. Isa. 9:14)

Continue reading “Ascension of Isaiah: Continuing Questions”


2020-06-08

“The Ascension of Isaiah” and Paul – a case made by James Barlow

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by Neil Godfrey

James Barlow has granted permission for his full argument to be posted here. The best way to summarize his thesis is to quote a section of an email he sent me last year:

I no longer remember when I began this project— sometime between eighteen months and two years ago. But it all began while coming across what Mr Doherty had to say about Asc. Is. back in 2010 when I was a Cathedral Dean in British Columbia. When I read Mr Parvus’ suspicion that this work was a kind of Urgospel I felt vindicated in feeling intuitively that it is indeed what is behind Paul (and not JUST Paul!). For not only is it quoted by Paul at I Cor.2:9 (a solemn fact no one wants to delve into the consequences of, for whatever reason), but it is also referred to (I believe) by Paul in I Cor. 15, there too as Scripture as well. Throw in the impossibility of xi. 2-22 being germane to the original text of the Vision, which is dateable (if quoted by Paul) to before c. 50 c.e. and voila, the case for an ahistorical Jesus being the subject of Paul’s letters is undeniable—once the language of the Vision is scrutinized side by side with that of Paul. — James Barlow, 2019

In the discussion Barlow regularly refers to different manuscript lines of the Asc.Is. Since trying to follow references to E, L1, L2, S, G1, G2, G, Greek Legend, can be daunting for a while, the following simplified table may be of use to readers not familiar with the labels:

James Barlow’s files (refresh browser if they do not appear) Look for the “Download (PDF…)” link below each of the two popouts.

Download (PDF, 304KB)

 

Download (PDF, 300KB)

 


2020-06-07

The Hebrew Bible Composed in the Hellenistic Era: Dr. Robert M. Price & Russell Gmirkin – MythVision Podcast

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by Neil Godfrey

Vridar posts on Russell Gmirkin’s books discussed in the podcast:

.


2020-06-06

Medieval “Christ Mythicists” and the Ascension of Isaiah

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by Neil Godfrey

The thirteenth-century Cathars in southern France that I compared with today’s political opposition in my previous post embraced the Ascension of Isaiah as one of their core texts. (The reason I was re-reading the Sibly translation of Peter’s chronicle of the crusade against them was to try to get a clearer picture of the history of different manuscript lines of the Ascension of Isaiah — those containing and those lacking the “pocket gospel” (11:2-22) of Jesus being born through Mary in Bethlehem and being crucified in Jerusalem.)

Peter begins by describing the beliefs of these Cathars and at one point makes this intriguing note:

[11] Further, in their secret meetings they said that the Christ who was born in the earthly and visible Bethlehem and crucified at Jerusalem was ‘evil’, and that Mary Magdalene was his concubine – and that she was the woman taken in adultery who is referred to in the Scriptures; the ‘good’ Christ, they said, neither ate nor drank nor assumed the true flesh and was never in this world, except spiritually in the body of Paul. I have used the term ‘the earthly and visible Bethlehem’ because the heretics believed there is a different and invisible earth in which – according to some of them – the ‘good’ Christ was born and crucified. Again, they said that the good God had two wives, Oolla and Ooliba, on whom he begat sons and daughters. There were other heretics who said that there was only one Creator, but that he had two sons, Christ and the Devil; they said moreover that all created beings had once been good, but that everything had been corrupted by the vials referred to in the Book of Revelations.

What was that about Christ being crucified not on earth but in some spiritual counterpart to earth?

Cathars were dualists. They believed that this world was created by Satan. Note, though, that Peter writes that “some” of the Cathars believed Jesus was crucified (and born!) in a “celestial” realm of some kind. Most texts discussing the Cathars that I have come across do not mention that this was a belief of “some” of them. The Cathars did have a religious hierarchy, though — the “perfects” who lived a most ascentic life-style and “the rest” of the followers. It is tempting to speculate that the “some” who believed in a “heavenly” crucifixion were the “perfects”. But that is only speculation.


Peter. 1998. The History of the Albigensian Crusade: Peter of Les Vaux-De-Cernay’s Historia Albigensis. Translated by W. A Sibly and M. D Sibly. Woodbridge: Boydell.



Democrat Mayors and Liberal Looting Thugs, Anarchists and Terrorists – 1209 Style

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by Neil Godfrey

I turned away from all of this news about Trump and his supporters condemning certain cities for their Democrat governors and mayors, and the poison of liberalism infecting those cities and their populations, and how the populations there, we are further assured, are terrorists, thugs, looters, . . . . to escape for a moment in medieval history and here is what I read:

Date: July, 1209

https://www.ville-beziers.fr/

Place: Béziers (south France)

Author: Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay, a monk and media apologist for the “State” powers

Topic: the troublesome inhabitants in southern France who opposed the natural and beneficial order of the Catholic Church

Extract from his tract. We begin with a wonderful city, a great city, but one “infected with a poison”:

Béziers was a most notable city, but entirely infected with the poison of heresy. Its citizens were not only heretics, they were robbers, lawbreakers, adulterers and thieves of the worst sort, brimful of every kind of sin. I hope it will not weary the reader if I give some examples of the evil ways of these people.

Of course. They are heretics; it is never enough to leave the account there. Heretics are by definition opposed to all that is good so anecdotal and true media bytes are routinely sought out to drive home the point:

[85] An example of brutality. One night just at daybreak a priest of the city was going to his church to celebrate the divine mysteries, carrying a chalice. Some of the citizens laid an ambush, seized him and beat him violently, breaking his arm and seriously wounding him. They took the chalice, disrobed him and urinated on him to show contempt for the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

[86] Another example. On another occasion, in the church of St Mary Magdalene in the city, the citizens in an act of dreadful treason killed their lord Raymond Trencavel Viscount of Béziers, and broke the teeth of their Bishop when he tried to defend the Viscount from their attack.

Isn’t that always how these things work? Nonconformists, outsiders, . . . it’s never enough to leave it at that, for powers that feel threatened by their existence. Character defects, pernicious motives, are assumed. Instances of wrong become the defining characterization of all.

And the mayor or equivalent of the city was a “do-nothing” heretic at that. He just let the heretics do as they wished, without restraint. He even went so far as to show solidarity with his citizens . . .

[88] To return to our main theme; before the crusaders arrived at Béziers, the Viscount of Béziers, Roger (of noble birth and a nephew of the Count of Toulouse, who was following his uncle’s evil example and was doing nothing to restrain the heretics), had promised the citizens of Béziers that he would not under any circumstances desert them, but would stand firmly by them to the death and would stay in the city to await the coming of Christ’s soldiers. . . . 

The authorities gave fair warning to the people but they refused to comply. A show of force was necessary. Domination was necessary, a new type of army from the outside was brought in, and though it was a renegade group within that army who initiated hostilities, law and order was restored:

[90] Seeing this the servants of the army (who in the common tongue are called ribands) became extremely angry. They approached the city walls, and – without the knowledge of the chiefs of the army and quite without consulting them – mounted an attack. Astonishingly, they captured the city inside an hour. What more? They entered it immediately, killed almost all the inhabitants from the youngest to the oldest, and set fire to the city.


Peter. 1998. The History of the Albigensian Crusade: Peter of Les Vaux-De-Cernay’s Historia Albigensis. Translated by W. A Sibly and M. D Sibly. Woodbridge: Boydell.



2020-06-05

Ascension of Isaiah: More Questions

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Ascension of Isaiah: Other Questions. . . . 

. . .

Robert Henry Charles (Wikimedia)

In this post I address what some will consider is the strongest reason for doubting that the pocket gospel (11:2-22) portraying the birth of Jesus, his miracle working and crucifixion) was part of the original text. If it had not been part of the original text then the Asc. Isa. stands as a document lending some support to the view that the earliest Christian gospel, or that known to Paul, did not imagine an earthly sojourn or crucifixion for Jesus, but rather that his crucifixion was entirely at the hands of demonic powers in an other worldly dimension. This is the view of Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier (and Paul-Louis Couchoud in the early twentieth century). In this series I am looking again at the arguments that point to the Asc. Isa. as a support (not a foundation!) of this thesis, especially as they have been elaborated and strengthened by James Barlow. (I think the points made by Barlow are very strong. They are worth discussing and reviewing.)

R. H. Charles, author of a major study (1900) on the Asc. Isa.‘s manuscript lines along with commentary on their similarities and differences, set out several reasons for accepting the originality of 11:2-22, even though it appears only in an Ethiopian manuscript and is omitted by extant Latin and Slavonic versions. Charles reasoned that other sections in the Asc. Isa. led a reader to expect to find a narrative like the pocket gospel, thus strongly suggesting that it is surely an integral part of the first composition.

Next from the command which Isaiah hears given to Christ to descend to the earth and to Sheol (x. 8), and afterwards to ascend therefrom (x. 14), we naturally expect Isaiah to witness these events in the vision in xi. [i.e. 11:2-22], seeing that he witnesses all else that is mentioned in x. 8-14.

(Charles, xxii-xxiii)

Here is that passage that Charles says leads us to expect to see the account of Jesus’ birth to Mary and Joseph, his miracle-working and crucifixion on earth:

On 10:8 – The manuscript line that contains the pocket gospel of 11:2-22 (the Ethiopic) is the only one with “descend to the firmament and that world”. The manuscript line without the pocket gospel reads only, “descend to that world“, not to the “firmament” of that world.

On 10:10 – The shorter reading in the manuscripts without the pocket gospel omits verse 10. Verse 10 is found only in the manuscript line also containing the pocket gospel. Charles comments that the command for the Beloved to become like the death angels in Sheol (in brackets) is an interpolation that makes no sense in the narrative:

This last statement I have bracketed, as the release of the souls in Sheol could not have been effected without a recognition of Christ on the part of the angels of Sheol. (Charles, p.70)

8. ‘Go forth and descend through all the heavens, and thou wilt descend to the firmament and that world: to the angel in Sheol [=angel of death] thou wilt descend, but to Haguel [=Abaddon or Gehenna] thou wilt not go.

9. And thou wilt become like unto the likeness of all who are in the five heavens. 10. And thou wilt be careful to become like the form of the angels of the firmament (and the angels also who are in Sheol).

11. And none of the angels of that world shall know that Thou art Lord with Me of the seven heavens and of their angels. 12. And they shall not know that Thou art with Me, till with a loud voice I have called to the heavens, and their angels and their lights, even unto the sixth heaven, in order that you mayst judge and destroy the princes and angels and gods of that world, and the world that is dominated by them:

13. For they have denied Me and said: “We alone are and there is none beside us.”

14. And afterwards from the angels of death Thou wilt ascend to Thy place, and Thou wilt not be transformed in each heaven, but in glory wilt Thou ascend and sit on My right hand.

I agree with James Barlow that there is little basis for Charles’s reasoning here. There is surely little in the above section from chapter 10 to prepare a reader for an account of Jesus’ miraculous birth to Mary. One has to agree with Barlow that Charles is surely reading the canonical narrative into the text here.

Yet there remains a catch, I think. The manuscripts without the pocket gospel are understood by Doherty, Carrier, Barlow, to be better representations of the original text. Yet it is those shorter manuscripts that also state that the Beloved is to descend “to that world” — not to the firmament above that world. (See side box above.) That sounds to me like the Beloved is to stand on earth. Continue reading “Ascension of Isaiah: More Questions”


2020-06-01

Feeling for the United States Right Now

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by Neil Godfrey

It doesn’t seem right to be posting about religion and politics right now. (Recent posts have been sitting in my drafts for a little while and were auto-scheduled to go live.) The news I’m seeing and hearing these past few days is giving me a feeling reminiscent to some extent of 9/11. Even though I saw 9/11 logically as a “to-be-expected” blowback from decades of U.S. policies in the Middle East that perspective did not override feelings of horror and despair for the suffering inflicted on Americans that day. The whole world for a moment was on your side.

Now you have the world’s worst pain from the coronavirus entirely as a result of failure of leadership (blaming China or WHO doesn’t cut it; other countries have not allowed the pandemic to run away anything like the way it has in the U.S.); you have 40 million unemployed; and you still have the same racist divide and nation-wide riots that I recall from the late 1960s. And just when you need a leadership to articulate the pain and frustration at the systemic racism and injustices in order to begin to unite the nation you get an ignorant bully (that’s far too mild a description – I have a hard time finding the most appropriate words) who glorifies strength and the violence of the state and frames all protesters as violent anarchists who deserve to have the dogs set on them.

To this outsider, it really looks like you are totally screwed, a failed state, even. I say that with some sense of horror and shock, not as an insult. I really hope your nation can find some way through the current polarizations and come together in a positive way.


Religion – What Is It?

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by Neil Godfrey

three serious studies …. more to come

 

Scott Atran: In Gods We Trust

 

Science and Religion: Four Fundamental Differences (2013-05-23)

Fantasy and Religion: One Fundamental Difference (Or, Why God’s Word Will Never Fail) (2013-05-26)

Scott Atran

 

Neil Van Leeuwen: Religious credence is not factual belief

Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief: 1 (2015-08-29)

Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief: 2 (2015-08-29)

Neil Van Leeuwen

Pascal Boyer: Religion Explained

 

Is Religion Somehow In Our Genetic Makeup? (2015-09-25)

Studying Religious Beliefs Without Understanding How Humans Work (2015-09-26)

Is Religion for the Gullible? (2016-02-04)

Religion: It’s More Than We Often Think (2016-08-23)

Was Religion Invented to Explain Things — or to Compound Mystery? . . . Or. . . ? (2016-08-24)

Where Religious Beliefs Come From (2016-08-28)

Religion Explained: How to Make a Good Religious Concept (2016-09-04)

Why We Connect Moral Judgments to God(s) (2018-04-28)

Religion Explained – Why Rituals (Explaining the origin of the Lord’s Supper) (2018-09-13)

Atheists Do Not Understand Religion (2018-09-26)

Atheist Hostility to Jesus Mythicism … making sense of it (2018-10-06)

Towards Understanding Religious Fundamentalism and Extremism (and atheist in-fighting, too?) (2018-10-09)

Pascal Boyer

2020-05-31

Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #4

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by Neil Godfrey

Here we look at the sources in the Jewish Scriptures for:

a. John the Baptist

b. the Baptism of Jesus

c. the wedding at Cana

d. the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness

Continue reading “Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #4”


2020-05-30

Ascension of Isaiah: Questioning Three of Earl Doherty’s Arguments

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Ascension of Isaiah: Other Questions. . . . 

. . . .

Earl Doherty without doubt was the major contributor to the Jesus myth perspective from the 1990s through to the early 2000s. I highly respected his grasp of both the big picture and the detail, his clear-headed engagement with the scholarship, and his alertness to valid logical reasoning. His discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah in The Jesus Puzzle and again and in greater depth in Jesus Neither God Nor Man have been mainstays in my own attempts to learn more about that ancient text. James Barlow has delved into the Asc. Isa. in even more detail since and finds even more support for Doherty’s view that it contains evidence of a heavenly crucifixion of Jesus and that its passage of an earthly sojourn of Jesus in one manuscript is a later addition.

Richard Carrier has additional arguments and I hope to address some of those, too, in a future post.

In this post I would like to revisit some of Earl Doherty’s discussion about the Asc. Isa.. (I will return in later posts to addressing James Barlow’s thoughts.)

On page 106 of The Jesus Puzzle Doherty writes:

Here is the key passage. The seer and his angelic guide have reached the seventh heaven. There they see the Lord, the Christ, and the angel foretells this to Isaiah (9:13-17):

13 The Lord will descend into the world in the last days, he who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man.

14  And the god of that world will stretch out his hand against the Son, and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is.

15 And thus his descent, as you will see, will be concealed from the heavens, so that it will not be known who he is.

16 And when he has plundered the angel of death, he will rise on the third day . . . .

(I have reformatted Doherty’s text and added underlining.)

The underlined section, more fully discussed in Jesus Neither God Nor Man, are quite possibly later additions. It does not appear in all manuscripts. At least one scholar of the Asc. Isa., Michael Knibb, proposes that all references to Jesus and Christ in the Asc. Isa. have been subsequently added. “They will think that he is flesh and a man” appears to be at odds with the rest of the Asc. Isa. that says Jesus will take on the appearance of lower angels, Doherty suggests.

Crucified on a tree (Giovanni da Modena)

In a shorter manuscript text we read “he will hang him upon a tree”,

showing that the focus is indeed on ‘the god of that world’ and not on any human agents on earth. The motif of not knowing who the Son is comes tellingly close to Paul’s “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8) who were ignorant of God’s purpose and inadvertently crucified the Lord of glory. Since the identity of the Son is declared to be concealed “from the heavens,” this ignorance is on the part of those in heaven, not on earth.

(JNGNM, 121f)

The shorter text (in Slavonic/Latin manuscripts) thus reads (using R.H. Charles’ translation):

13. The Beloved will descend . . . into the world in the last days . . .

14. And the god of that world will stretch forth his hand against the Son , and they will crucify him on a tree, and will slay him not knowing who He is. . . .

16. And when He hath plundered the angel of death, He will ascend on the third day . . . 

(An aside at this moment: I wonder of Doherty’s view that “the world” to which the Beloved descends includes the firmament, and can mean events happening solely in the firmament, is worthy of more critical attention.)

Also of note, Doherty points out, is that the passage has no clear “Christian theology” of the cross. There is no “dying for sin” or idea of atonement. The death is “a simple rescue operation” to free the prisoners of Hades from the evil angels. Doherty goes even further:

If “Jesus” and “Christ” are later additions, we would not even be able to label this document ‘Christian’ but rather a case of Jewish sectarianism, although something that was in itself ‘proto-Christian.

(JNGNM, 123)

But we come now to that pocket gospel, the account in 11:2-22 of Jesus’ time on earth. In JNGNM Doherty heads his discussion

Introducing an Historical Jesus into the Ascension

11:2-22 contains the account of the birth of Jesus, the actions of Mary and Joseph, Jesus performing miracles and his supporters being turned against him by demonic powers so that they hang him on a tree. Of this section Doherty states

There are many arguments to be made that the latter version should be considered a later expansion, despite Knibb’s opinion (p. 154) that “the primitive character of this narrative [11:2-22] makes it difficult to believe that it did not form part of the original text.”

(ibid)

Here are three arguments along with my thoughts on them. Continue reading “Ascension of Isaiah: Questioning Three of Earl Doherty’s Arguments”


The End of Political Debate and the Creation of Alternative Reality

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by Neil Godfrey

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein show in It’s Even Worse Than It Looks that since the 1970s dominant forces within the Republican Party have been working to delegitimize their political opponents and erode public confidence in their political institutions. The authors focus in particular on Republican Party threats to bring down economic hardship on Americans if a Democrat President doesn’t yield to their demands — without any compromise. It’s a helpful little book that puts today’s surreal miasmic fog of words, claims, assertions, accusations into context.

I was reminded once again of Charlie Kirk’s The MAGA Doctrine and how his political opponents are portrayed. They are not a Party to be reasoned with. The thought of compromise can never occur. The Party is a collection of people who are literal villains, evil characters who must be removed entirely from any position of influence.

As an outsider, I look in vain for serious political debate between the two major parties in the US. What I see, instead, is one side constructing an Alternative Reality bubble. Their words only have meaning to anyone within that bubble and no-one else.

Obviously democracy can only work where there are tolerance and acceptance of the legitimacy of the other side’s position. Throw that out and we have a kind of intolerance that allows for no rational cooperation or reconciliation. That’s when one enters dangerous territory.

In this post I document one dataset of this delegitimizing process from The MAGA Doctrine by Charlie Kirk. This is a book that Donald Trump highly commends to his supporters. I take it as one fair indication of how the pro-Trump Republicans and associated far right supporters perceive their political opponents, the Democratic Party. Read the excerpts of what Kirk writes about his political opponents and see if you can find any room for serious discussion or debate. All quotes are from the electronic ePub edition, so no page numbers, sorry. By the way, as an Australian I find myself completely flummoxed by the very idea that any politician in the U.S. — Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez — is actually a “socialist”. Kirk’s understanding of “socialism” is simply perverse.

. . .

Democrats ignore facts; are deluded “socialists”.

All thanks to the free market socialists want to destroy. If anything, economic growth rates and progress have slowed in the past few decades as the welfare state, to which the socialists give all the credit for such advances, grew. The new socialists and Democrats steadfastly ignore these facts. And it is this delusion that makes the MAGA Doctrine more important than ever.

. . .

Democrats are immoral and tyrannical. Continue reading “The End of Political Debate and the Creation of Alternative Reality”