Category Archives: Uncategorized

What will it take?

Lord, will you stop the USA from buying oil from Saudi Arabia to save the planet to climate and civilization catastrophe?


Lord, will you stop the USA from selling arms to Saudi Arabia to stop the killing of Yemenis?


Lord, will you stop the USA from selling arms to Saudi Arabia to protest the killing of a single journalist with a high profile in the West?

That sounds serious. I’ll think about that one, but only if he was not killed by accident while being interrogated.




So true, so true…

From Taborblog, by James Tabor:

Two Widely Held Assumptions About Early Christianity that Should Be Questioned

  1. The first assumption is that the essential story line we read about in the New Testament book of Acts is an accurate version of the early years of the Jesus movement following the crucifixion. John Dominic Crossan, properly calls the period from 30 CE when Jesus was executed, to around 50 CE when we get our first letter of Paul, the “Dark Age” of early Christianity. In other words we have almost no surviving texts or evidence from this period.
  2. The second grand assumption about early Christianity is the portrait of its clean break with Judaism and its subsequent harmonious (despite a few evil heretics) unbroken advance into the second and third centuries. This is the tale presented to the world by that undaunted “father” of Church History, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (c. 300 AD).



This is serious, unspeakable

Nearly a week ago I was horrified enough to post Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Since then the scale of the calamity has not disappointed our worst fears back then. The better part of whole villages and towns demolished by the tsunami, inland whole villages effectively sunk in mud and sinkholes from the quake, access roads cut off. People who were days ago heard from beneath the ruins are now silent, dead. There is now talk of simply covering over whole urban areas and declaring them mass graves.

As for the damage caused by the tsunami, we have learned that one of the warning monitors set up to warn of such an impending disaster after the 2004 tsunami had been broken for a very long time and reportedly no money had been available to repair it.

Tonight I heard a relief worker remind us that Indonesia has “only been a democracy for 20 years” — it used to be under military dictatorship — so that who is in charge of what is still a bit “higgledy piggledy”. The most basic aid is still, a week later, to reach many of the worst hit areas.

Indonesia tsunami: Balaroa and Petobo face being turned into mass graves after earthquake


The more things change . . . .

In 1914 a book the renowned biblical scholar Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare addressing the Christ Myth arguments of the day was published:

Conybeare, F. C. (Frederick Cornwallis). 1914. The Historical Christ : Or, An Investigation of the Views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. A. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith. London : Watts.

The following year saw a response by William Benjamin Smith (the last named “mythicist” discussed by Conybeare)

Smith, William Benjamin. 1915. “Conybeare on ‘The Historical Christ.’” The Open Court 3 (4): 27.

How familiar Smith’s comments sound today! He responds to Conybeare’s criticism of Smith’s book, Ecce Deus.

Inasmuch as Conybeare’s “searching criticism,” so far at least as it touches my work (and it would be officious as well as impertinent for me to mingle in his fray with others), concerns itself mainly with details, rarely considering the case on its general merits . . .

Conybeare holds that if Jesus never lived, neither did Solon, nor Epimenides, nor Pythagoras, nor especially Apollonius of Tyana. By what token? The argument is not presented clearly. One cannot infer from the Greek worthies to Jesus, unless there be close parallelism ; that there is really any such, who will seriously affirm? . . .

[Conybeare writes:] “Jesus, our authors affirm, was an astral myth.” But Smith is one of “our authors” and, as Conybeare knows, affirms nothing of the kind. At best, Conybeare’s statement is one-third false. . . .

[Conybeare writes:] “In these earliest documents [Mark] Jesus is presented quite naturally as the son of Joseph and his wife Mary, and we learn quite incidentally the names of his brothers and sisters.” Who by reading this is prepared for the fact that Mark never mentions Joseph, who is named only in Matt. i. and ii., Luke i., ii., iii., (acknowledged late fictions), iv. 22, and John i. 45, vi. 42, also late? Moreover, Mark introduces Jesus without any family reference and only in two passages refers to any “brethren,” in one of which Jesus declares his mother and brethren to be spiritual . . . .

[Conybeare writes that:]W. B. Smith is named among those that “insist on the esoterism and secrecy of the cryptic society which in Jerusalem harbored the cult,” p. 31. W. B. Smith does naught of the kind, has never said aught of any such society in Jerusalem.

Conybeare quotes (p. 32) as a “naive declaration” a statement on page 74 of Ecce Deus; but he fails to hint the reasons there assigned. This misleads the reader, who naturally thinks of naivete as unsupported by reasons.

[Conybeare writes:] “W. B. Smith’s hypothesis of a God Joshua” (p. 35). Conybeare knows I have made no such hypothesis, nor ever used such phrase. He is seeking to identify my views with Mr. Robertson’s, though knowing quite well they are widely distinct. . . .

[Conybeare writes:] “The name Jesus, according to him,means. . . .Healer.” How can Conybeare write thus? Where have I said that Jesus means Healer? . . . .

[Conybeare writes:] “It would appear, then, that Apollos was perfectly acquainted with the personal history of Jesus.” For this important thesis, where does Conybeare offer the faintest semblance of proof ? The word “then” suggests that reasons have been given; but what are even hinted? . . . .

The rest of page 38 is mere wild assertion. . . .
read more »

What Kavanaugh Could Have Said That Would Have Been Honest

Valerie Tarico

Valerie Tarico has posted what I consider to be a first rate essay as a psychologist, not just about Kavanaugh and Ford, but about us all.

What Kavanaugh Could Have Said That Would Have Been Honest


Neil the Pettifogger?

This morning I was slightly surprised by a criticism of my posts, in particular with reference to PZ Myers on “the Tim O’Neill Treatment”: Jesus Mythicism and Historical Methods, that I make sophistic distinctions and nuances, or that I quibble over precise meanings for the sake attacking an otherwise very evidently sound and sensible argument. I know Tim O’Neill has indicated that he certainly thinks that is what I do with his posts, but I was a little surprised that someone else should make the same charge.

Godfrey is okay sometimes, but he seems to pettifog too much and comes across as uncharitable. Reading his articles is sometimes a chore. I didn’t read the whole thing, I stopped after I became annoyed. Example:

. . . .

Second example soon after:

//No, it is simply not the case that “the sources all say that there was a historical preacher as the point of origin”. I don’t know that any critical scholar (I am not speaking of apologists) who would say that the four canonical gospels depict a historical preacher. My understanding from reading a good many of them is that they concur that the Jesus of the gospels is a mythical or theological construct. He is certainly not a historical figure. Indeed, they argue that they must look behind the gospels and into inferences about the sources of the gospels to try to find a historical figure who acted more in accord with our understanding of how the world works…[more words]//

Ok, clearly Tim means that they are assuming Jesus to be/depicting Jesus as if he were a real human being who lived in the past, i.e., a historical figure, despite whatever theological interpretive overlay, legendary embellishments, etc., they spun on their ideas about Jesus.

I responded that I did not see my point as pettifogging but as a concern to ensure the discussion is governed by clear thinking. But I did wonder. Obviously some readers do see me as a nitpicker. And it’s not only Tim.

In the example I have cited I can well understand the critic’s point of view. Yes, certainly, the evangelists did place Jesus in a historical setting and gave him a historical biography. In hindsight I see that I would have been smarter to have made it known that I clearly understood that point before hitting the point of disagreement.

My disagreement was with the way Tim’s point was expressed. The problem as I see it is that to say “the sources all say that there was a historical preacher as the point of origin (of Christianity)” is a subtle question-begging interpretation of the sources and not a strictly correct or objective way to portray the gospels. That’s why I saw the point as a problem of unclear thinking. We need to sift out question-begging and casual conventional assumptions (even if they are common among biblical scholars themselves) and set them aside whenever we are addressing the actual data before us.

I suspect that my critic is so very entrenched in the conventional assumptions about the gospels that it is very difficult for him to see that they are indeed a question-begging interpretation that should be examined and tested, not casually repeated as if fact.

The data itself is a set of narratives in a historical setting and with historical biographical trappings about a character who is very obviously mythical. I mean Jesus is mythical as he is portrayed in the gospels: he talks to spirit beings and they to him, he does all sorts of miracles, returns from the dead. I’m not saying that that means there was no historical figure of Jesus behind the stories. As I pointed out in my original post the only way to find a historical figure from the gospels is to do exactly what scholarship does: make inferences about the origins and sources of the narratives and hypothesize about such a figure through those inferences. That approach, of course, has led to myriads of different historical Jesuses.

Probably at least some of the gospel authors did believe the Jesus they were depicting was historical but that is hardly a point in favour of historicity and is no grounds for saying that they explain Christianity began with a historical figure — unless we are also prepared to say that the cults of Dionysus and Heracles are portrayed as having historical founders (Dionysus and Heracles) and to say that as if we have grounds for a prima facie case that they were truly historical.

Maybe it’s a finer distinction than we might all grasp quickly. I should try to remember to clarify points of agreement and acknowledging where I understand the grounds for the view I am challenging. But at the same time I wish my posts were shorter, not longer. C’est la vie.

Okay, I skipped the first example my critic gave. Lest I be charged with self-serving misrepresentation let me address that one now, too. read more »

Sulawesi, Indonesia

It’s hard to write a new post when a country one has visited quite a few times and with whom one has close personal relationships has been hit by another tsunami:

Hundreds dead as quake, tsunami hit Indonesia’s Sulawesi

Indonesian tsunami: Death toll passes 400, Vice President warns it could rise into the thousands

Sulawesi is one island I have not visited though I have been wanting to go there for some years now. I have heard and read much about it and its people. What has happened is unspeakable.

Here is the part of Trump’s UN speech they should have laughed loudest at

But they didn’t laugh at this part. I guess sometimes irony is just too painful to bear . . . .

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death, and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations. Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.

The Iranian people are rightly outraged that their leaders have embezzled billions of dollars from Iran’s treasury, seized valuable portions of the economy . . . . all to line their own pockets and send their proxies to wage war. Not good. —

(From Politico)


Iran, Iran, if only we had been friends

I don’t know what lies ahead but a study of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) by a Senior Analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA leads me to think that Western voices urging diplomatic support for the moderate political forces in Iran (as opposed to funding terrorist attacks or dropping bombs and missiles on the country) have the wisdom of history on their side.

After 9/11 there was a window of opportunity for mutually beneficial US-Iranian cooperation in getting rid of the Taliban and Al Qaeda then in Afghanistan.

3. See for example, “Khatami Condemns Terrorism, Calls for Global Fight against It,” Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 1 (Tehran) in Persian, September 22, 2001, BBCWM, September 22, 2001.

The 9/11 attacks inspired a rare display of sympathy for the United States across Iran. Spontaneous candlelight vigils from Tehran to Shiraz accompanied statements from President Mohammad Khatami condemning terrorism and the attacks.3 The goodwill was short lived. As Washington began building up a campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iranian pundits warm against any American military action in the Muslim world. A news site connected to the conservative Islamic Propagation Organization warned: “Any unilateral military action against innocent Afghans may help to boost the image of Uncle Sam at home, but it will surely tarnish the US image on the international arena for its flagrant violation of international law.” While condemning the 9/11 attacks, the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper argued that 9/11 “should not become an excuse to make the world insecure and create warlike events.” Yet, as Iran was condemning American aggression, Khatami’s administration was secretly exploring ways in which Iran could assist the effort against the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban. Iran had been actively supporting Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance for years, and had almost gone to war with the Taliban after the murder of eight Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e Sharif in 1998. Iran had a vested interst in seeing the Taliban overthrown in favor of its allies in the Northern Alliance.

(Ostovar, p. 160)

President Bush even sent an ambassador, Ryan Crocker, to talk with the Iranians. Crocker found the Iranians very willing to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan:

Soon after 9/11, the Bush administration dispatched Ryan Crocker—then a senior US State Department official—to engage in secret meetings with Iranian diplomats in Geneva and Paris. The two sides discussed potential US operations to uproot the Taliban Afghanistan. According to Seyed Hossein Mousavian, then the head of the SNSC s Foreign Relations Committee, the Iranian delegation was “pursuing two objectives”:

First, we sought ways to unseat the Taliban and eliminate extremist terrorists, namely al-Qaeda. Both of these groups… were arch enemies of Iran. Second, we wanted to look for ways to test cooperation with the Americans, thus decreasing the level of mistrust and tension between us. During these meetings, neither party pursued the subject of Iran-US relations. Nonetheless, we did the groundwork for significant, mutual cooperation on Afghanistan during these meetings, resulting in Iran’s assistance during the attack on the Taliban.

Iran’s delegation consisted of three ambassadors and one anonymous “member of the security establishment responsible for Afghanistan”—likely a member of the IRGC’s Quds Force. . . . The Iranians eagerly shared intelligence on Taliban positions. In one meeting, the lead Iranian negotiator gave Crocker a map that identified Taliban locations. Crocker recounted the exchange in an interview with the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins. He recalled the Iranian saying: “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over there. And here’s the logic …” Crocker asked if he could take notes, to which the Iranian diplomat responded: “You can keep the map.” At one point the lead Iranian negotiator told Crocker that Soleimani was “very pleased with our cooperation.” The diplomatic exchanges bore fruit Crocker recalls giving his Iranian counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda operative living in the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained the operative and later turned him over to Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government. The IRGC’s help might have also extended to the battlefield. Mousavian writes that through the Quds Force’s close ties with the Northern Alliance (America’s Afghan allies against the Taliban), the IRGC had been “actively involved in organizing” the victory over the Taliban in Herat (western Afghanistan), and Soleimani himself had been “key in organizing” the Northern Alliance’s advance into Kabul.

(Ostovar, p. 161)

But then, alas, there was that “axis of evil” speech.

President Bush’s axis of evil speech in January 2002 ended any budding trust. Crocker, who was stationed at the US embassy in Kabul, met with an incensed Iranian diplomat the next day. “You completely damaged me,” the diplomat told him. “Soleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” Crocker was further told that Soleimani had begun considering a “re-think” of Iran’s relationship with the United States. Mousavian recalls Soleimani telling him that “he had suspected that the US request for our help might have been a tactical move and not intended to lead to long-term cooperation.” Washington’s apparent insincerity left Iranian diplomats and President Khatami feeling “betrayed.”

(Ostovar, pp. 161f)

Recall those scary neo-cons from hell. In those days they looked like a gang that had shot out of left field.

As was the case in the 1990s, there was substantial support within the CIA and the State Department for taking Khatami at his word and attempting to normalize relations with Tehran. The neoconservatives inside and outside of the administration, however, vehemently opposed that idea; they favored getting tough with Iran, and they carried the day with Bush and Cheney. In his State of the Union address in late January 2002, the president rewarded Iran for its cooperation in Afghanistan by including it in the infamous ‘axis of evil.” Moreover, Bush made it clear in the following months that although he was preoccupied with regime change in Iraq, he would eventually turn to Iran and try to topple that government as well.

(Mearsheimer and Walt, p. 303)

But notice how that “betrayal” of Iran weakened the pro-democratic forces and strengthened the clerical dicatatorship. The nazi-style thugs came out to do their dirty work on behalf of the “supreme leader”… read more »

New (revised) paper by Hermann Detering: Odes of Solomon and Basilides

For those without a background in German time to dig out the online translators:

„Amatoria carmina studiose discunt“ – Basilides und die Oden Salomos

2. revidierte Fassung mit Nachtrag [=revised version with supplement]

Dr. Hermann Detering – 22. September 2018

Abstract: Despite repeated attempts, to date scholarship has failed to identify the author of the Odes of Solomon. A scholion by Augustine may provide an overlooked clue and furnishes the basis for renewed investigation. This article argues that the “amatoria carmina” attributed to Basilides by Augustine are in fact the Odes of Solomon. This article examines a series of striking parallels between the theology off the Odes and the theology of Basilides as reported by the church fathers, and it proposes that the author of the “amatoria carmina” was none other than that early


The Jesus Story Mirrors Anthropologist’s Observations of Shamanism?

I.M. (Ioan Myrddin) Lewis

Is it possible to read the following passage from a study of shamanism and spirit possession without recalling a central theme of the gospel narratives about Jesus?

We shall find that those who, as masters of spirits, diagnose and treat illness in others, are themselves in danger of being accused as witches. For if their power over the spirits is such that they can heal the sick, why should they not also sometimes cause what they cure? Reasoning in this fashion, the manipulated establishment which reluctantly tolerates bouts of uncontrolled possession illness among its dependants, rounds on the leaders of these rebellious cults and firmly denounces them as witches. Thus, I argue, the most ambitious and pushing members of these insurgent cults are kept in check, hoist, as it were, with their own petard.

Lewis, I. M. 2003. Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. 3rd edition. London ; New York: Routledge p. 28

One cannot help but be reminded of historical Jesus studies such as the one by Stevan Davies, Spirit Possession and the Origin of Christianity.

Criterion of Embarrassment

Tim Claason responds to the “criterion of embarrassment” by listing several reasons why the gospel authors would want to depict the disciples of Jesus as blockheads. See his post Criterion of Embarrassment on Tim Stepping Out.


Miscellaneous point — Mount Vesuvius and the argument from silence

I was following up PZ Myers’ interest in a particular claim by Tim O’Neill in a larger criticism of Jesus mythicists —

….. in particular his rebuttal to the “argument from silence”, which claims that Jesus should have been mentioned in many historical sources if he had existed, but he isn’t, so he didn’t. Most telling was his listing of the feeble number of brief mentions of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in classical records — if the Romans didn’t leave us many documents of this colossal disaster in their backyard, why should we expect them to have mentioned some minor Jewish preacher off in some provincial backwater? He also points out how rare it was for any writings to have survived from 2000 years ago, which lit up a lightbulb floating above my head.

This is exactly the same as the common creationist argument that if evolution were true, we ought to be neck deep in tyrannosaur and stegosaur and diplodocid bones, and because the fossil record is so spotty and incomplete, evolution is false. Never mind that taphonomy shows that finding the bones of a dead animal surviving for even a decade is rare and requires unusual conditions.

It turned out that PZ had unfortunately misread Tim’s point and Tim, even though he joined the commenters at the end of PZ’s post, failed to correct PZ’s misconception. In fact Tim lists five surviving ancient references to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. What he claims to be the significant silences for his argument is the failure in the ancient record to mention the names of the two major urban areas (Pompeii and Herculaneum) destroyed by the eruption. If those towns were not major political and cultural icons in the ancient world then I would suggest that the failure to find accounts of their burial mentioning them by name is not particularly surprising. It would, indeed, have been surprising if we lacked some reference to the eruption of Vesuvius itself.

A quick reading of Tim’s essay has led to the impression that if the ancient records failed to leave us a trace of such a major event as the eruption of Vesuvius then how much less likely is it that we should find a reference to an obscure preacher, Jesus, in Galilee. That is not the actual argument of Tim, however, so that rhetorical point about the particular argument from silence regarding Jesus does fail.

But the question that does arise is an important one.

What sorts of things did people write in documents, books, etc? Who or what institutions had an interest in preserving what sorts of documents, records, literature, etc?

No doubt chance plays its part. But it is a mistake to assume that what has survived has done so entirely by chance. As with dinosaur fossils, special conditions, not merely chance alone, account for the preservation of some and not others.

read more »

Bayes’ theorem explained by Lily Serna

Last night I chanced to turn on the TV half way through a program trying to show viewers how interesting maths was. Yeh, okay. But I watched a little as they demonstrated how they do searches at sea for missing persons. Then it suddenly got interesting. Bayes’ theorem was introduced as their way of handling new information that came to them as they conducted their search. And the presenter, a maths wiz (I have seen her magical maths brain at work on another show), Lily Serner, explained it all without the maths. Move the red button forward to the 44:54 mark:

Or a more truncated version is also on youtube

Another simple introduction on The Conversation:

Bayes’ Theorem: the maths tool we probably use every day, but what is it?