Category Archives: Uncategorized

Alarming — Is This Future Possible?

The author is no fool. If I came across the article on a less reputable site by someone unknown I would probably ignore it as alarmist. But it’s by

Trump Is Taking America To an Evil Place

Roundups, Concentration Camps, What Comes Next?

Every American, including native-born whites, should be alarmed about the advancing Trump administration plans to build mass detention facilities, which could fast be turned into concentration camps to hold opponents of Trump policies.

Abundant signs reveal Trump administration planning for mass roundups. News of these plans is out there but easily missed in the endless flurry of stories about Trump White House chaos. This story needs, but has not received, focused attention from our mainstream news media, from the minority party and especially from principled Republicans.

The Trump administration acknowledges planning on mass detention camps designed, initially, to hold 20,000 people.

Much more disturbing is a U.S. Navy memo obtained by Time magazine that outlines plans to build concentration camps to hold 94,000 people in California alone. . . . .

I have not sought permission to copy the entire article here so if you have not already done so read it at


Once more on Julian Assange

I know. Julian Assange is not easy to like as a person.

From Peter Van Buren’s Why I Stand With Julian Assange (The American Conservative)

Assange is challenging to even his staunchest supporters. In 2010, he was a hero to opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others called him an enemy of the state for working with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Now most of Assange’s former supporters see him as a traitor and a Putin tool for releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee. Even with the sexual assault inquiry against him having been dismissed, Assange is a #MeToo villain. He a traitor who hides from justice inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, or a spy, or some web-made Frankenstein with elements of all the above. And while I’ve never met Assange, I’ve spoken to multiple people who know him well, and the words “generous,” “warm,” and “personable” are rarely included in their descriptions.

But none of that matters. What matters is that Assange has ended up standing at a crossroads in the history of our freedom . . . .

Then in conclusion

Wikileaks’ version of journalism says here are the cables, the memos, and the emails. Others can write about them (and nearly every mainstream media outlet has used Wikileaks to do that, some even while calling Assange a traitor), or you as a citizen can read the stuff yourself and make up your own damned mind. That is the root of an informed public, a set of tools never before available until Assange and the internet created them.

If Assange becomes the first successful prosecution of a third party under the Espionage Act, whether as a journalist or not, the government will turn that precedent into a weapon to attack the media’s role in any national security case. On the other hand, if Assange leaves London for asylum in Ecuador, that will empower new journalists to provide evidence when a government serves its people poorly and has no interest in being held accountable.

Freedom is never static. It either advances under our pressure, or recedes under theirs. I support Julian Assange.



Comments on Vridar

I will try to keep a more regular check on the spam filter and moderation queue for comments that for some bizarre reason should not go there but nonetheless do.

I apologize to those whose comments have been delayed too long because of that glitch.



Online debates

I have reset the spreadsheet in my previous post to ensure the stats are fully visible. Meanwhile I was thinking of doing the same sort of analysis on Tim O’Neill’s recent post but the tone of that one does not even rise to the level of double digits and it is Tim once again exercising his unenviable talent for insult and slander. He’s about as low in the gutter as one can go but somehow I suspect a number of scholars opposed to mythicism will be thankful for his contribution. No thank you. Where is the memory of Philip Davies when we need him?

That one piece of solid evidence that weighs strongly in favour of historicity…..

[A]ll we need for the case for the historicity of Jesus to be solid is some evidence that weighs strongly in favor of his historicity. And we have it, and so in theory, mythicism should simply vanish. But as with all forms of denialism, it will persist regardless of the evidence.

— McGrath, Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a Lie

There was some question in the comments of my initial response as to what that solid evidence was that James McGrath had in mind. I responded as if he were addressing Paul’s claim to have met James “the brother of the Lord” — both here and again here.

McGrath has since made it clear:

But the point remains: if we have an authentic letter from someone who met an individual’s brother, and we judge that individual’s historicity probable on that basis, the addition of spurious information does not diminish the likelihood that the letter-writer met the brother of that individual and thus was in a position to know whether they were historical or not. If everything else they learned about that individual was pure fabrication, it would diminish the historical accuracy of their portrait of him, but it would not diminish the likelihood of the individual’s historicity.

I’m not going to repeat the points I have made before about the problems with detail after detail in Carrier’s argument (such as when he treats the common name Joshua/Jesus as though it were a too-convenient name for a savior god – begging the question by casting Jesus as a god and not a human being as Davidic anointed ones were expected to be). Let ms simply conclude by quoting what Carrier says on p.337 of his book that I supposedly have not read: “Obviously, if Jesus Christ had a brother, then Jesus Christ existed.”

— McGrath, Mythicist  Math

That would indeed be strong evidence if in fact Paul did meet “James the brother of the Lord” and it would end any debate over mythicism.

But even Philip R. Davies recognized the evidence is not so simple:

I don’t think, however, that in another 20 years there will be a consensus that Jesus did not exist, or even possibly didn’t exist, but a recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability. In the first place, what does it mean to affirm that ‘Jesus existed’, anyway, when so many different Jesuses are displayed for us by the ancient sources and modern NT scholars? Logically, some of these Jesuses cannot have existed. So in asserting historicity, it is necessary to define which ones (rabbi, prophet, sage, shaman, revolutionary leader, etc.) are being affirmed—and thus which ones deemed unhistorical. In fact, as things stand, what is being affirmed as the Jesus of history is a cipher, not a rounded personality (the same is true of the King David of the Hebrew Bible, as a number of recent ‘biographies’ show).

So is it sheer “denialism” that prevents some of us from accepting the “solid evidence” of Paul’s encounter?

There have been attempts to use the full Bayesian formula to evaluate hypotheses about the past, for example, whether miracles happened or not (Earman, 2000, pp. 53–9). Despite Earman’s correct criticism of Hume (1988), both ask the same full Bayesian question: “What is the probability that a certain miracle happened, given the testimonies to that effect and our scientific background knowledge?” But this is not the kind of question biblical critics and historians ask. They ask, “What is the best explanation of this set of documents that tells of a miracle of a certain kind?” The center of research is the explanation of the evidence, not whether or not a literal interpretation of the evidence corresponds with what took place.

Tucker, Our Knowledge of the Past, p. 99

And it goes exactly the same way for the testimony that we read in Galatians 1:19. No, it is not simply dismissing uncomfortable passages as interpolations. It is about exercising responsible historical criticism and testing of the evidence as all sound historical method requires. The alternative is naive apologetics or uncritically furthering tradition. There are indeed reasonable grounds for doubting that that verse was known to anyone before the third century. There are also reasons to doubt that anyone had any idea that James, a brother of the Lord, was indeed a leader of the Jerusalem church until the third century. There are good reasons to suspect the passage was introduced to serve the interests of an emerging “orthodoxy” against certain “heresies”. See the posts in the Brother of the Lord archive for more detail.


Analysis of the McGrath and Carrier debate on a Bayesian approach to history

The latest contest started when James McGrath made a mockery of his understanding of Carrier’s mehod: Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a Lie

I have run the to and fro posts through a Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) analysis. Here are the interesting results:

Two Truths
(449 words)
Wrong Again
(2485 words)
Mythicist Math
(680 words)
Analytic thinking:
(the degree to which people use words that suggest formal, logical, and hierarchical thinking patterns)
82.22% 32.85% 55.17%
(when people reveal themselves in an authentic or honest way)
49.57% 34.39% 39.55%
(the relative social status, confidence, or leadership that people display through their writing)
38.59% 47.75% 48.82%
(the higher the number, the more positive the tone)
92.86% 16.55% 13.75%
Anger: 0.22% 0.56% 0.88%



Unfortunately when one reads McGrath’s Two Truths post one soon sees that his very positive tone (over 92% positive) is in fact an indication of overconfidence with the straw-man take-down.

But but but….. Please, Richard, please, please, please! Don’t fall into McGrath’s trap. Sure he sets up a straw man and says all sorts of fallacious things but he also surely loves it when he riles you. It puts him on the moral high ground (at least with respect to appearances, and in the real world, despite all our wishes it were otherwise, appearances do seriously count).

But see how McGrath then followed with a lower tone — and that’s how it so easily can go in any debate on mythicism with a scholar who has more than an academic interest in the question.


Ditto for anger.

This variable was measured by the following words:

lying destroyed

Clearly a more thorough and serious analysis would need to sort words like “argument” between their hostile and academic uses.

Analytic thinking style

James McGrath began the discussion in a style that conveyed a serious analytical analysis of Carrier’s argument. Of course anyone who has read Carrier’s works knows McGrath’s target was a straw man and not the actual argument Carrier makes at all. (Interestingly when Carrier pointed out that it appeared McGrath had not read his actual arguments McGrath at best made inferences that he had read Carrier’s books but fell short of saying that he had actually read them or any of the pages where Carrier in fact argued the very opposite of what McGrath believed he had.) Nonetheless, McGrath’s opening gambit conveyed a positive approach for anyone unfamiliar with Carrier’s arguments.

But look what happened to McGrath’s analytical style after meeting Carrier’s less analytical style: he followed Carrier’s lead.

Carrier has chosen to write in natural language style which is fine for informal conversation but the first impression of an outsider unfamiliar with Carrier’s arguments would probably be that McGrath was the more serious analyst of the question. (I understand why Carrier writes this way but an overly casual style, I suspect, would appeal more to the friendly converted (who are happy to listen rather than actively share the reasoning process) than an outsider being introduced to the ideas.

In actual fact, Carrier uses far more words that do indeed point to analytic thinking than does McGrath. Carrier uses cognitive process words significantly more frequently than does McGrath (24% to 16%/19%). But his sentences are far less complex and shorter.


There are many other little datasets that a full LIWC analysis reveals. One is a comparative use of the personal singular pronoun. A frequent use of “I” can indicate a self-awareness as one speaks and this can sometimes be a measure of some lack of confidence. Certainly the avoidance of “I” is often a measure of the opposite, of strong confidence and serious engagement in the task at hand. Carrier’s use of I is significantly less than McGrath’s.

Another progression one sees is the use of “he”. As the debate progressed it became increasingly focused on what “he” said: e.g. McGrath1: 0.45%; Carrier 1.65%; McGrath2 2.06%.

McGrath sometimes complains about the length of Carrier’s posts. But more words are linked to cognitive complexity and honesty.


Of course I could not resist comparing my own side-line contribution:

(1077 words)
Analytic thinking:
(the degree to which people use words that suggest formal, logical, and hierarchical thinking patterns)
(when people reveal themselves in an authentic or honest way)
(the relative social status, confidence, or leadership that people display through their writing)
(the higher the number, the more positive the tone)
(measured by my use of “criticism”, “argument” and “critical”)


Pennebaker, James W. 2013. The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us. Reprint edition. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

“Demons Crucified Jesus ON EARTH” – according to ancient sources and modern analysis

If you still think that to say that “rulers of this age” (demons) crucified Jesus means that they crucified him in one of the heavens you have missed my recent post,  What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”. More easily forgivable, you have also missed or forgotten a series by Roger Parvus back in 2013, in particular A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 7: The Source of Simon/Paul’s Gospel.

In the first of those posts I quote from the Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate) the crystal clear belief that the head demon was responsible for crucifying Jesus on earth.

Roger Parvus presents the argument that Paul believed Jesus descended to earth where he was crucified by the demonic forces. Parvus’s argument draws upon an analysis of the Ascension of Isaiah to support his case.

While it is certainly not impossible that demons who are busy fighting each other in the lower heavens could also crucify a Jesus who had descended from upper heavens for that purpose, I personally favour Roger Parvus’s view. Jesus descended to earth for a short time for the sole purpose of being crucified, descending into hell, being resurrected and returning to his original place in heaven.


What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory”

In the previous post we looked at the arguments that “the rulers of this age” were human authorities or a combination of spiritual and human authorities as set out by Robert Ewusie Moses (REM) from his Duke University Doctor of Theology thesis of 2012, Powerful Practices: Paul’s Principalities and Powers Revisited. We now begin the case for the earliest known interpretation (Ignatius, Marcion, Justin) that the rulers of this age were spiritual or angelic beings.

Where to begin? REM notes that the literature on this view is “immense” so I start by putting REM’s thesis aside and consulting some of that literature. We have spoken of the older scholarship overwhelmingly viewing the “rulers of this age” as spirit powers so let’s look at some of that seriously older scholarship.


Otto Everling, 1888

Everling, Otto. 1888. Die paulinische Angelologie und Dämonologie: Ein biblisch-theologischer Versuch. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. pp. 11-25

The rulers of this age

  • have wisdom but not the wisdom of God
  • are currently (present tense) in the process of losing their power
  • crucified the Lord of Glory

No class of humans meet all three characteristics. Furthermore, it stretches credulity to think that Paul or anyone would have extrapolated from the actions of Caiaphas, Annas and Pilate that all the rulers of the earth, this cosmos or age, were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, let alone that anyone would have understood Pilate to have been a representative of “the wisdom of this age”.

That Paul had angelic powers in mind is supported by contemporary literature that do speak of angels has having a certain wisdom but a wisdom that is limited as well as power over this world

Paul wrote elsewhere of angels being currently in the process of losing their power and that that loss of power will be complete after Christ has finished his reign: 1 Cor. 15:24.

Satan himself is said to be a ruler of this world: John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, Eph 2:2, cf 2 Cor 4:4, and the ruler of this time of iniquity: Barnabas 18:2. Satan’s knowledge was known to be incomplete as we read in Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians 19:1.

In Paul’s mind this world is populated not only with humans but with angelic powers. He speaks of himself as one of those doomed to die in the arena of the “cosmos” or world as a spectacle to both people and angels in 1 Cor 4:9. In Paul’s world, angels were active and were destined to be judged by human followers of Christ, 1 Cor 6:3. Satan himself worked on God’s behalf to destroy the flesh of sinners: 1 Cor 5:5. This last passage reminds us of the Destroying Angel working on God’s behalf in the Old Testament. Another reminder of that Destroying Angel is the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:5-10.

Paul also spoke of a servant of Satan attacking his flesh: 2 Cor 12:7.

Paul and his contemporaries understood that their struggles were against heavenly powers, wicked spirits and that these beings had power over flesh and blood. But good spirits were also there to serve the righteous: e.g. Heb 1:14.

Otto Everling’s discussion of this hidden world of angels is far more extensive than I can outline here. Hopefully I have at least hit on some of his main points. read more »

Another University Loss – Comedians

When I posted The Corporate Crushing of the Intellectual Life with its link to How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps I did not expect to return to comment on another loss that has arisen from way universities have been pressured into becoming vocational degree factories. You know, students coming to campus for lectures and studying like crazy to get their degrees and a job that pays enough to pay off their student loans and that’s it. That is, far less “free time” campus life where students had time and opportunities for engagement with political and artistic activities. Back in those days when those sorts of activities were a more common feature of university life Australian universities, I now learn, produced professional comedians. A good number of the comedians emerging in Australian cultural life were highly educated having come from universities where they were studying law, medicine, etc and where they also spawned and honed their talents, producing fraternities and associations some of which went on to become major producers of Australian comedy programs for television and stage.

So know we know — thanks again to another ABC podcast, Australian Comedy : A Brief History.


Clarification needed for my reply to McGrath’s criticism of the use of Bayesian reasoning

McGrath does not tell his readers in the post we are addressing what he has in mind as the “clear-cut” evidence for the historicity of Jesus but from previous posts and comments I am convinced that it is the “brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19 that he has in mind. If I am wrong then someone will no doubt inform me.

I ought to have made that point clearer in my original post.

If someone can direct me to where McGrath recently made the point about that Galatians passage (was it in response to the reddit discussion about Vridar?) I would much appreciate it.



Vridar Exposed. True Confession.

I am painfully aware of the number of series I have started on Vridar and that are still not complete. The most recent one is my series of posts examining the arguments for and against the term “rulers of this age” in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 meaning spiritual powers as opposed to earthly authorities (in particular Herod, Caiaphas, Pilate) or even the combination of earthly and demonic powers.

The reason for this waywardness is that as I go through an article or chapter point by point I always come across citations (or recollections in my own mind) that alert me to either an alternative explanation or a supportive collection of evidence. It is my habit, or is it a compulsion, to follow those citations, recollections, alternatives or contradictions, supportive or related information. And as I follow those side-tracks I often come across something that reminded me of a point I posted a while ago and that could be augmented further.

The additional information I want is often delayed in arriving because sometimes I can only access some sources by inter-library loan or an online purchase of a second hand book somewhere. Even if I can access a source sooner it still takes me time to read it and follow up further important-looking citations.

So do forgive me my out-of-control meandering through the many tributaries of information that deflect me from my original intention to finish a series within a handful of posts within a week or no more.

I do “promise” (fingers crossed behind my back) to finish at least the “rulers of this age” post this week. (Unless something I ordered online yesterday arrives sooner than I expected and opens up a whole new perspective that in itself needs further….. )

I should say to myself, No excuses. Just finish one job at a time as if I am a student with a deadline that has to be met or fail!

Congrats Matthew Ferguson of the Celsus blog

Congratulations to Matthew Ferguson, owner of the Κέλσος (= Celsus) blog, on the acceptance of his paper for next year’s annual meeting of the Society of Classical Studies. One of Matthew’s specialties is the relationship between ancient classical and Christian literature, including such topics as how the gospels compare as ancient biographies. I always find something of particular interest in his posts.

Wishing Matthew a continuing recovery healthwise and a successful completion of his doctoral studies.


Stonehenge — Coincidences, Assumptions and Theories

Fascinating. Stonehenge’s location may be related to a certain natural landscape feature that quite by chance coincided with the sun’s coordinates for the midsummer solstice.

So I learned last night from a doco that featured the theory of Mike Parker Pearson. Gullies running from the stonehenge in a line pointing to the position of the midsummer solstice sun on the horizon were long assumed to be manmade simply because of that alignment. Elementary, My Dear Watson.

Archaeological excavations on those pathways, however, apparently led to the realization that they were not manmade at all but were a geological structure, presumably gouged out by a retreating glacier long before Stonehenge itself.

(Okay, don’t tell me everyone else knew that and I am the last to catch up!)

If so, then we evidently have an explanation for the location of Stonehenge, way out there in the otherwise middle of nowhere.



How News Media Can be Dangerous

A day after I posted The Limits of News Media as Information Sources Mano Singham posted what could even be called a companion piece, We need more analysis, less reading of tea leaves. He begins (I have reformatted it)

Political news coverage consists of roughly three parts.

  1. First there is the reporting of an actual event that occurred (i.e., what makes up the ‘new’ in news).
  2. Second, there is an explanation of the context in which the event occurred that consists of the history and background that led to the event and the people involved, plus any actual consequences, such as how a new law that has been passed will be implemented in practice and how it will affect people.
  3. And finally there is the question of What It All Means, which consists of drawing broader conclusions and predicting future events based on the news event.

It is that middle bit that gets omitted or at best seriously abbreviated from most news reports.

Without that middle bit consumers of news are left without the most important details of all.

The second part requires not only some knowledge and expertise but also time spent in careful analysis.

Without that middle bit the news story is open to feeding popular beliefs, prejudices, misinformation, ignorance. Without that middle bit news stories potentially add fuel to bigotry and stereotypical and political, cultural, racial, etc biases.

How can it be otherwise? The news stories have to be selected and presented on the basis of what will catch the attention of the consumers and give them material they find interesting. Naturally the stories be selected and presented in a way that will tap into what is going to emotionally involve readers and viewers.

Many years ago I was required to study a couple of books by Jacques Ellul, one of them titled Propaganda. One counterintuitive detail he mentioned really pulled me up. He said that the very fact of mass media overloading consumers with enormous amounts of information, that is factual information, can in effect be a way of propagandizing a society. Information overload does not allow time for analysis or reflection and investigation. It ends up fueling the beliefs and attitudes that are taken for granted, “correct”, and so forth.

Jacques Ellul