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The Decline of the Study of History

Few historians would quarrel with the notion that more historical knowledge makes for smarter public policy. Few would contest the idea that a historically uninformed population is more susceptible to conspiratorial thinking and an inability to differentiate “fake news” from the real thing. Yet academic historians simply are not focusing their efforts on some of the issues that matter most to the fate of the United States and the international system today. Instead of possessing deep historical knowledge that serves as the intellectual foundation for effective policy and informed debate, the nation risks worsening historical ignorance with all its attendant dangers.

From . . .

The Historical Profession is Committing Slow-Motion Suicide

 

Fishing for Parallels

“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. — Jeremiah 16:16

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And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. — Mark 1:16 -17

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They lay in heaps in the blood and dust, like fish that fishermen have dragged out of the grey surf in the meshes of their nets onto a bend of the beach, to lie in masses on the sand gasping for the salt sea water till the bright sun ends their lives. Thus, like a catch of fish, the Suitors lay there heaped upon each other. — Odyssey, Book 22, 380ff

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Nakht escapes from the clap-net in which the divine ‘fishermen’ seek to trap him (spell 153A). Papyrus of Nakht, late 18th or early 19th Dynasty, c. 1350-1290 bc.

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On this papyrus the illustrations to two spells, 153A and 153B, appear side-by-side. Both concern the deceased escaping from a net stretched by the gods to entrap her. The vignette of spell 153A, at the right, shows an open clap-net stretched between two pegs, one of which bears a human head. The text relating to this spell contains the deceased’s declaration of knowledge of the components of the net, by means of which she avoids being caught in it. . . . To the left is the vignette of spell 153B, ‘for escaping from the catcher of fish’. Three gods are shown hauling on a large net which they are dragging through the water to catch those who are unworthy of entering the next world.

 


  • Homer. 1946. The Odyssey. Translated by E.V Rieu. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin Books.
  • Taylor, John H., ed. 2010. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead : Journey through the Afterlife. London: The British Museum Press.

 

 

Why internet trolls mindlessly repeat . . . .

They’re merely trying to use the debate to show that they and their positions are superior.

Oh yes. And it explains why they resort to insult and ridicule when called upon to engage in a defence of their claims.

Oftentimes, she said, people aren’t really having a discussion when they argue about politics. They’re merely trying to use the debate to show that they and their positions are superior.

“An effective piece of rhetorical persuasion usually happens when people are trying to honestly resolve a conflict, otherwise, all you’re doing is just fighting—which we see all too easily in our society,” Matelli explained.

At this point, in her view, it might make the most sense to simply end the argument — instead of letting it devolve into insults and competing slogans.

H/T Alternet: A rhetoric professor explains why internet trolls mindlessly repeat ridiculous right-wing slogans

 

Type 2 mythicism: one more example

For the meaning of “type 2” mythicism see two types; for the previous post addressing Caesar’s Messiah see Why and Fishing.

I will post just once more on the mythicist argument in Caesar’s Messiah: the Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus. My previous criticism examined the notion that Josephus, when describing one detail of a battle in Galilee, was subtly referring to Jesus call to his disciples to become “fishers of men”. The strongest rebuttal to my argument seemed to be that readers would associate the killing of drowning soldiers with “fishers of men” in the gospels. Atwill responded to explain that it was the parallel sequence of events that was most telling, but my own view is that if the supposed parallel between any event is not valid then it follows that there can be no sequence of events.

So I will follow up with just one more post for the benefit of anyone who might be wondering about the strength of Joseph Atwill’s overall thesis.

In chapter 3, “The Son of Mary Who Was a Passover Sacrifice”, Atwill writes:

While readers can judge this claim for themselves, it should be noted that Josephus wrote during an age in which allegory was regarded as a science. Educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within religious and historical literature. The Apostle Paul, for example, stated that passages from the Hebrew Scriptures were allegories that looked forward to Christ’s birth. I believe that in the following passage Josephus is using allegory to reveal something else about Jesus. (p. 45, my bolding)

I don’t know of any historical literature in the ancient world that was meant to be read as an allegory. Atwill does not cite any source to verify his assertion that “educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within . . . historical literature”. He does refer to the following passage by Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 (Young’s Literal Translation), however:

And I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,and all to Moses were baptized in the cloud, and in the sea;and all the same spiritual food did eat, and all the same spiritual drink did drink, for they were drinking of a spiritual rock following them, and the rock was the Christ; but in the most of them God was not well pleased, for they were strewn in the wilderness, and those things became types of us, for our not passionately desiring evil things, as also these did desire.

The Douay-Rheims Bible translates “τύποι” (types) as “figure”:

Now these things were done in a figure of us, that we should not covet evil things as they also coveted.

The Gospel of Mark is sometimes interpreted as an allegorical gospel but those who do interpret its characters and stories as allegories do so on the strength of the following passage, Mark 4:34, in the text itself:

And without parable he did not speak unto them; but apart, he explained all things to his disciples.

This saying has been interpreted as a hint that the entire gospel itself is a parable. Indeed, many of the episodes in Mark’s gospel simply make no sense if read as realistic events. It is impossible for any persons to be as dim-witted as the disciples are depicted in that gospel, for example.

Back to Paul. Paul uses “types” or allegories or figures of speech to explain the covenants. But notably he explains to the readers of his letter that he is speaking in allegories; Galatians 4:24:

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

What we can conclude, then, is that if an author was writing an allegorical scene we can expect him to make it clear to his readers that he is indeed writing allegorically and he explicitly states as much, and warns the reader not to read his account literally.

Conclusion: there are no grounds for thinking that any historian in ancient times, Josephus included, ever wrote allegorically — unless they gave their readers a clear indication that they were doing so. And I don’t know of any historian who ever wrote his account allegorically, period.

It is not the case that “educated readers were expected to be able to understand another meaning within … historical literature.”

Let’s look at the second episode Atwill claims is an allegory of the story of Jesus’ last supper. read more »

JFK Assassination Interview

The interview with John Curington is available as a single file at Greg Doudna’s academia.edu page.

For more about the book go to hlhuntmotiveandopportunity.com

The installments that were posted here are still accessible in an updated archived topics page.

 

 

Can one prove a negative?

R.G. Price argues that you can: Is it really impossible to “prove a negative”?

I think you can, too. Anyone who is innocent of a crime they are standing trial for sure as hell wants a negative proved, too.

Archive for Billionaire Logic and the Death of JFK

For future easy reference I have archived the series of posts of the interview with John Curington in the Archives by Topic page linked in the right hand bar of this blog: Billionaire Logic and the Death of JFK

Updated post

I have updated the post discussing Tim O’Neill’s Non Sequitur discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah.

Response #3: Non Sequitur’s Tim O’Neill presentation, The Ascension of Isaiah

 

Looks like it’s about to get messy….

Within 24 hours of losing the House . . .

Strike One….

—o0o—

Strike Two….

—o0o—

Strike Three….

Academic Consensus and Jesus Mythicism

I know many readers will be interested in the following.

R. G. Price (whose book I recently wrote about) has posted thoughts on the relationship between academic consensus and the question of the historicity of Jesus: Academic consensus is important, but it’s not always right.

His discussion segues into another related page, On the Origin of Jesus by Means of Mythical Propagation.

 

The Manichean View of the World, and Others

Sometimes I am reminded that not everyone thinks the same way as I do; sometimes I am reminded that some others believe I think the “West” (including Israel) is bad or evil; that I support or sympathize with antisemites and terrorists; that I am soft on religion, especially when inhumane abuses are associated with religion; and so forth. I have been accused of all of these things and more (one forum even found some way to accuse me of being homophobic) and I would like to think that I do try to keep the conversation cordial, though I think I have kept finding room for more improvement over the years in that regard. The criticism sometimes extends even to academic topics such as Christian origins: then I am accused of being bitterly anti-Christian or bigoted against alternative explanations like astrotheology, and so forth.

Sometimes such perceptions remind me of what I once read of the Manichean mindset quite some time ago. I have copied the section below.

Re-reading it now I can’t help but associate the same analysis with political attitudes on the right, but the more I think about it I see some on the left falling into the same dark box. I also wonder if it’s possible for the two sides to have any common ground for discussion of who and what falls into the Manichean category. Would not the “essentially Manichean” minds reflexively accuse the “moderates” and “compromisers” of being the Manicheans, thinking that if X is not unequivocally and totally against Y then X must really be deceptively all but totally with Y?

One reason why the political intelligence of our time is so incredulous and uncomprehending in the presence of the right-wing mind is that it does not reckon fully with the essentially theological concern that underlies right-wing views of the world. Characteristically, the political intelligence, if it is to operate at all as a kind of civic force rather than as a mere set of maneuvers to advance this or that special interest, must have its own way of handling the facts of life and of forming strategies. It accepts conflict as a central and enduring reality and understands human society as a form of equipoise based upon the continuing process of compromise. It shuns ultimate show downs and looks upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattainable, as merely another variety of threat to the kind of balance with which it is familiar. It is sensitive to nuances and sees things in degrees. It is essentially relativist and skeptical, but at the same time circumspect and humane.

The fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this: it is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities. It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism. Whereas the distinctively political intelligence begins with the political world, and attempts to make an assessment of how far a given set of goals can in fact be realized in the face of a certain balance of opposing forces, the secularized fundamentalist mind begins with a definition of that which is absolutely right, and looks upon politics as an arena in which that right must be realized. It cannot think, for example, of the cold war as a question of mundane politics—that is to say, as a conflict between two systems of power that are compelled in some degree to accommodate each other in order to survive—but only as a clash of faiths. It is not concerned with the realities of power—with the fact, say, that the Soviets have the bomb—but with the spiritual battle with the Communist, preferably the domestic Communist, whose reality does not consist in what he does, or even in the fact that he exists, but who represents, rather, an archetypal opponent in a spiritual wrestling match. He has not one whit less reality because the fundamentalists have never met him in the flesh.

Hofstadter, Richard. 1966. Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. New York: Vintage. pp. 134f

 

Κέλσος hiatus

Matthew Ferguson, who has produced some of the best blog material I have read, has posted an explanation for why he is taking a break. I would love him to return when he feels the time is right.

He makes an interesting comparison about the tone of disagreements in biblical studies (so much bitter acrimony on both sides) and the atmosphere in Classics (a more enjoyable place to function). Amen. Over the years of this blog I have had the good fortune of “meeting” a number of classicists and scholars from other fields online and they actually sound cordial, friendly, positive, even the ones who say they believe their was a historical Jesus. Of course there are biblical scholars who are also quite pleasantly human, too, but if one wants to witness a serious blood sport of serious knifings and poisonings and bludgeonings one cannot go wrong by entering the arena of biblical scholarship. Or even the amateur arena where lay folk argue over the same topics that bring out the worst among scholars.

I was not very well prepared for it when I began blogging and it has taken me some time to figure out the best ways of handling it.

The good side of Matthew’s news is that I hope to be able to catch up with many of his past posts that I have only been able to skim so far — before he writes too much more. No doubt I am only one of many who will like to keep an eye on his future progress in studies and publications, and hope he will return to sharing his learning on the blog once again.

 

Heroic Evangelicals Meet the King of Saudi Arabia

This story reminds me of my old Worldwide Church of God days when we were thanking God for opening doors for God’s end-time Apostle to go before the leaders, kings, presidents, prime ministers of the nations to preach the gospel, to bear witness of the good news of Jesus Christ and his soon-coming return to this earth to judge all evil-doers and exalt the righteous who would rule this earth in the “wonderful world tomorrow”.

Trump’s evangelical advisers meet with Saudi Crown Prince and discuss Jamal Khashoggi’s murder . . . . The Washington Post

Except that that “end-time Apostle”, Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), never preached that gospel to them but always explained to his flock that he had first of all to establish credibility with these leaders, in effect to show he was not some street corner nutter preaching the end is nigh, but that the time would come when he would be in a position to preach the gospel “in all its power” to these leaders, and hence to the world’s nations. Because, you see, when God said the gospel would be preached to all nations, one had to understand that in the Bible the king was synonymous with the nation, so one did not need to preach to all the poor populace and give them all a chance to repent; the apostle only needed to preach to the leader to fulfill the prophecy.

But notice how these evangelicals are not mere preachers, they are advisors to the President of the United States! And look at their PR statement …. how powerful….

PR executive A. Larry Ross, who was in the group, told the Post that the question of human rights and Khashoggi were the first the group raised with the prince.

“We even returned to it a second time later in the discussion because of its importance, and were encouraged by the Crown Prince’s candor in his response,” Ross wrote.

“We came in the spirit and name of Jesus, to lift up His name. We don’t judge and hope not to offend, but rather to demonstrate a great faith in God’s love and leave the results to Him. In the pr>ocess, we were able to explain the meaning of an Evangelical and what we believe,” Ross wrote the Post.

Can’t you just imagine how it went? I’m sure it was something just like out of the Bible, like this, for instance, after the king of Israel’s wife killed the innocent Naboth:

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,“Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Have you killed and also taken possession?”’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’”  (1 Kings 21:17-19)

Of course it didn’t. Somehow I cannot imagine any of those evangelicals putting their own lives at risk by publicly denouncing the crimes of those whose company can enhance their prestige.

No, prestige will be enhanced if they can tell their followers that they were witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ, “lifting up his name” (whatever that means) and demonstrating just how godly they are by “not judging”.

HWA and Mubarak of Egypt

The Myth of Jewish Pining for Return to Palestine

For readers interested in a few notes from The Pity of It All by historian Amos Elon.

Herzl envisaged a modern Exodus organized on a “scientific” basis. He would go to the kaiser and say, “Let us depart! We are strangers here. We are not allowed to merge with the Germans, nor are we able to. Let my people go!” The kaiser would understand him; he was trained to understand great things. The Jews would depart, taking the German language with them; it would flourish in the new land, wherever that would be. Herzl was neither sentimental nor nostalgic when it came to the choice of a suitable territory: the homeland could be Argentina or elsewhere, preferably far from the imperial rivalries of the European powers. The place would be chosen by a committee of rational, scientific geographers and economists; the mass of Jews, how­ever, would settle for whatever place they were offered. The new national home would not be “Jewish” but a multicultural, multilingual state like Switzerland, even though most citizens would probably con­ tinue to speak German. (285-86)

And the reaction to Herzl’s plan?

Bismarck never answered Herzl’s letter. Herzl was not surprised. . . . The reaction of most German and Austrian Jews to Herzl’s plan was hardly more forth­ coming. A Lovers of Zion movement of a few small, loosely organized proto-Zionist groups had existed, mostly in Russia and Romania, since the pogroms of 1882. In the West it counted no more than a dozen or so sympathizers in Cologne and a few romantically inclined Viennese Jews of Eastern European origin whose purpose was to help settle Russian and Romanian Jews as farmers in Palestine on a nonpolitical basis. . . . Nevertheless, in the fifteen years since its inception the project had attracted few candidates and was an eco­nomic failure. (286)

The reaction among Jews to Herzl’s plan ranged from ridicule to ignoring it to outright hostility.

Opposition to Herzl’s Zionism seemed more vehement in Germany than elsewhere in Europe. It was certainly more shrill. His program seemed to threaten German Jews to their very core, and German Zion­ists remained few and isolated for many years. Herzl tried in vain to interest Walther Rathenau in his cause. “The Jews are no longer a nation and will never become one,” Rathenau responded. German Jews were now a German tribe like Saxonians and Bavarians. “Zionist aspira­tions are atavistic. (288)

The myth of an empty land waiting for a people without a land had not yet been born.

In Cohen’s opinion, the Jews’ task was “to go on living among the nations as the God-sent dew, to remain with them and be fruitful for them.” The Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums reproached the Zionists for assuming that the Arabs of Palestine would welcome an influx of Jews — one of the earliest warnings against the widespread assumption that Palestine had, in effect, no politically conscious native population; as a land with­ out people it was thought to be ideally suited for a people without a land. (289)

Up till 1909 nothing really changed.

With few exceptions, even those who were registered Zionists were “third-party Zionists,” that is, one Jew soliciting funds from a second so that a third might be able to settle in Palestine. German Zionists continued to be ardent German patriots. Their love of the fatherland was only “enhanced,” they proclaimed, by their love of the ancient Palestinian homeland: what they had lost there they had found again in Germany. The noted economist Franz Oppenheimer joined the Zionists despite the fact that his emotional and intellectual makeup, as he put it, was “ 99% Kant and Goethe and 1%Old Testament via Spinoza and Luther’s translation of the Bible.” In sum, few were touched personally by the cause, and even when they were, it was pri­marily as an activity “German Jews would lead and direct but in which the Jews of Eastern Europe must be the actors. (289-90)

From 1909 a new Jewish generation reacted differently to an evolving social situation in Germany but that’s another story.


Elon, Amos. 2002. The Pity of It All a Portrait of Jews in Germany 1743-1933. New York: Picador.