Category Archives: Uncategorized


2017-12-22

Is there anything good to be said about Richard Carrier?

by Neil Godfrey

What is the probability (think Bayesian if you like) that any scholar, any author, any person, has nothing to say that is worth an honest response or engagement? How likely is it, really, that a person who holds a view that you strongly disagree with is also a person of such a bad character that you can never imagine in them a single redeeming quality?

Can you really know that a person who is arguing something you find detestable is also insincere, a hypocrite, driven by some pernicious secret motivation?

When you see a person you don’t like react or act in an uncivil or unprofessional or even dishonest manner, does it follow that everything that person is on record as doing and writing is also dishonest?

There’s another side to this question, too, of course. Someone once said to me that “mythicists must stick together”. I disagree. We all must be honest with each other and with those who we disagree with or engage with in any way at all.

A little while ago I posted that the debate between Hurtado and Carrier had become unpleasant. The unpleasantness went well beyond Hurtado and Carrier themselves. Several other scholars posted very nasty accusations, outright dirty insults, against both Carrier and anyone who went along with his ideas.

I said there are two sides to this question, but right now the fault is primarily on the side of those opposing Carrier. I find it very difficult to read a critical comment on Carrier’s book that does not at some point declare that they believe Carrier to be a liar or a hypocrite when he says something that might be construed as a positive point in favour of his motivations and interest in the debate. No evidence is required for the motivation imputed except the fact that what he said is not what we believe or want to believe to be true.

If Carrier makes an argument for a point that we believe is going too far or is ill-informed then it seems to give us licence to ignore all the rest of his arguments or to bracket them all as equally fallacious.

No-one has to like Carrier as a person. But I am sure we don’t seriously believe that everyone we dislike is simply bad in all their ways and in every fibre of their being, a total arsehole in every imaginable way and situated beyond the ability of any decent society to accept them. Yet that is the impression that one begins to gain when one reads of criticisms of Carrier’s work. It’s all bad, all of it, nothing good in it at all, every argument is either absurd and/or fundamentally motivated by deception.

I think when we get to that point about anyone’s work we ought to be honest with ourselves and admit we are being unreasonably hostile, unreasonably biased, or simply unfair.

 

 


2017-12-20

The Politics of Archaeology

by Neil Godfrey

We laugh now at the idea that the Soviets and Nazis used scientific research to buttress their ideologies but archaeology is still being used to support nationalist ideologies and justify illegal occupations today. From Ynetnews:

Culture Minister Miri Regev has ordered the Israel Antiquities Authority to put plans in motion to undertake far-reaching archeological restoration of many historical Jerusalem sites, in a bid to strengthen Jewish bonds to the ancient city. . . .

“The immense importance of the archeological digs taking place in Jerusalem cannot be questioned. The digs are uncovering the deep roots we have in our land,” Israel Antiquities Authority Chairman Israel Hasson in a letter to Regev.

“The digs’ results provided the appropriate response to anyone wishing to dispute our right to Jerusalem, alongside the fact the sites are a tourist attraction of the highest order and research being conducted there is foremost in the world,” Hasson added.

Regev herself told Yedioth Ahronoth that the desire to strengthen Jewish bonds to the city was at the heart of the initiative. “Even if (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas made an effort to dig hundreds of meters into the ground he will not find a Palestinian coin from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago,” she explained.

H/T PaleoJudaica.com

I thought the Palestinians were in large part the descendants of the people of the Palestine of 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. See Keith Whitelam’s Rhythms of Time.

 

The God El (statue here is from Megiddo) was worshiped by Palestinians prior to the rise of the kingdom of Judah and was subsequently adopted by the priests of that Palestinian kingdom.


2017-12-19

The Young Earth creationist argumentative strategy is also used by Old Earth creationists?

by Neil Godfrey

Mano Singham has posted an interesting piece, Young Earth creationist argumentative strategy. Mano is pointing to an ex-creationist post explaining how creationists were trained to argue against evolution: How to Argue for Young Earth Creationism.

The fundamental point is that it’s easy to be calm and confident when you “know” you are right. As I was reading (both Mano’s extracts and the original) I found myself thinking that the same techniques are used by others who are in positions of authority or prestige, although these groups may not always consciously think of what they are doing as a “method” they need practice to apply. If some of those in authority find themselves addressing an idea that is potentially threatening to all they have invested in, it is probably a good idea not to take the challengers’ arguments too seriously. Simply extracting a few points at a superficial level will do, and then have fun with them.

That is, play with logic. Let the underdog get flustered, impatient, angry, that you are not being serious or are distorting what they are trying to express.

The real audience is not the person argued with but onlookers, your fans, your public in whose eyes you are the esteemed authority. Let the minor party lose patience with you and you’ve scored a great victory. You have demonstrated you are the rational one and the challenger is a fool.

On top of that, we were trained to always be calm, cool, and collected. There was a dialectic, after all, and there were bystanders. If we were arguing with someone, we had the obligation to be dispassionate and stereotypically “scientific”. Let the people we were arguing with get upset. Let the people we were arguing with display how attached they are to their narrative. Let them rage and rant. It is our job to stand there and be calm and have tons of facts at our fingertips. It was their job to say “I don’t know” and get frustrated.

Over and over again, it was reiterated to us that it wasn’t just about the person with whom we were arguing. There would be people watching and it was our job to present identically to how stereotypical scientists: calm, cool, collected, tons of information at our immediate recall, and the ability to withstand some angry person yelling about how they were told something different by people they trusted implicitly. . . .

We were not only communicating with the person we were arguing with. We were communicating with the audience.


It works for Esther. Why not for Jesus?

by Neil Godfrey

Esther before Ahasuerus: Tintoretto

One of the most frequently asked questions about the Book of Esther is: Are the events recounted in it true? In other words, is the book historically accurate? Arguing against the book’s historicity is the fact that many things in the story conflict with our knowledge about Persian history or are too fantastic to be believable. The following points are among the most obvious.

  • We know of no Persian queen named Esther, or any Jewish queen of Persia, and we would not expect there to have been one. Queens came from the noble Persian families, not from ethnic minorities. Moreover, real kings don’t choose queens from beauty contests. In fact, Esther enters the story more like a concubine, and only later emerges as a dignified queen. In contrast, Vashti, who was presumably a queen of proper ancestry and clearly in a high position at court, is treated like a concubine by Ahasuerus.
  • While Ahasuerus has been equated with Xerxes, no Persian king acted or would act the way Ahasuerus did. He is a king who cannot make the smallest decision without legal consultation, and leaves the big decisions to others altogether. Any resemblance to a real Persian king is purely coincidental.
  • To govern a country in which a law could never be changed would make governing impossible.1
  • A decree to annihilate the Jews is least at home in ancient Persia, an empire that is thought to have been relatively benevolent to the various ethnic groups within it, and is portrayed positively elsewhere in the Bible.
  • This is the empire that permitted the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple, of which there is not a word in Esther.
  • The plot hangs on at least one particular hook that goes against all logic but which is crucial to the story: that Esther could keep her Jewish identity hidden while all the world knew that she was related to Mordecai and all the world knew that Mordecai was a Jew.

In contrast, those who defend the book’s historicity point to the authentic information about the Persian court and its many customs and institutions, and the use of a number of Persian terms. But it is not simply a matter of weighing one side’s proofs against the other side’s, for, when we look carefully at the points for and against historicity, it turns out that the historically authentic material is in the background and setting, while the main characters and the important elements in the plot are much farther removed from reality. If this were a modern work, we would call it a historical novel, or historical fiction. While those terms may not be appropriate for the Bible, we can certainly recognize Esther as a form of imaginative storytelling, not unlike Jonah and Daniel, or Judith and Tobit in the Apocrypha. In fact, such storytelling was common in the Persian and Hellenistic periods, and even Greek historians such as Herodotus, whose writings are given more credibility as history, include imaginative tales in their works. The distinction between history and story, which is such an important issue for us, would not have engaged readers in the Persian period in the same way it does us. To the ancient reader an imaginative story was just as worthy, or even as holy, as a historically accurate one, so to declare Esther to be imaginative does not in any way detract from its value; The message of the Book of Esther and the significance of Purim remain the same whether or not the events of the book were actual.

Berlin, Adele. n.d. Esther = [Ester]: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001. pp. xvi-xvii

Of course in the gospels some of the “too fantastic to be believable” points have been written out and replaced by scholarly inventions. The most obvious example is that Jesus in the gospels was crucified for no good reason (except for being very good and being the messiah); so the gospel truth is replaced by the more plausible notion that Jesus must have been crucified for as a political rebel.

Pilate acts as unhistorically as does Ahasuerus.

But then again …. you never know. I mean, how else can you explain the existence of the Jews today if Esther was not historical? Why would anyone make it up? How else do you explain Purim? Maybe it was historical after all…. ?? (tongue is wedged deep into cheek)

 

 


2017-12-15

Vridar Maintenance

by Tim Widowfield

Greetings, Vridarians.

As your humble custodian and dishwasher, I would like you to know that we’ve implemented some updates here. The biggest change you’ll notice is that we’ve switched over to https/ssl for everything. So, if you noticed some glitches in the past 24 hours, that was most likely us, banging around in the kitchen.

Please let me know if you come across any problems. You can respond here (below), on Facebook, or via email (widowfield at gmail dot com).

Cheers!

–Tim


2017-12-12

The UFO of Bethlehem – Through Atheist Eyes with Frank Zindler

by Neil Godfrey

H/T Debunking Christianity….


2017-12-07

Woe to those who love Jerusalem

by Neil Godfrey

The idiot has tweeted:

I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In one sense, though, this is progress, if we are prepared to measure the pace of progress in generations rather than months or years.

It makes it all the more inevitable that one day Israel is going to have no option but to grant full citizenship and equal rights to all Arabs living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as part of a single nation. (Despite occasional meaningless echoes to the contrary, the two-state possibility is surely long dead.)

One day Israel is going to have to decide to become a “normal” democratic nation, not a racial one built on an unjust occupation. The wall will have to come down one day.

 

 


2017-12-06

WHY? Why of course — now it makes sense….

by Neil Godfrey

Since reading PZ Myer’s Why post I have come across something else, an article by Max Blumenthal, that does make sense of what Trump is doing:

Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia

I can imagine the Christian Zionists will be thrilled to bits. Another step closer to Armageddon.


2017-12-05

WHY?

by Neil Godfrey

My thoughts, exactly: https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2017/12/05/why-3/

It’s almost as if he’s looking for a magic switch he could flip to generate international incidents to distract from the corruption and criminality he’s fomenting at home.


Friedman’s Exodus: Another View

by Neil Godfrey

A month ago I posted my view of a scholar’s claim to be able to extract “nuggets” of historical events from a textual analysis of the biblical narrative of the Exodus: Can we extract history from fiction?

I see today that another blogger, James Bradford Pate of James’ Ramblings has begun to post a series on the same book: Friedman-source criticism as key to the Exodus event

James no doubt has quite a different view of Friedman’s argument from the one I hold, but I mention his posts for the benefit of anyone interested in further exploration of this topic.

I will soon be posting something on the archaeological evidence relating to the biblical Exodus.

 


Why the “Biographies” of Socrates Differ

by Neil Godfrey

Remains of the site of Socrates’ trial

A historical study of Socrates echoes numerous points of interest in biblical studies, both in the Old and New Testaments. Following on from my reference to a point in Robin Waterfield’s Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths I want to note here Waterfield’s explanation for why we have quite divergent accounts of Socrates’ apology (or defence speech) at his trial, one by Plato and the other by Xenophon.

Neither Plato nor Xenophon wrote as disinterested biographers of Socrates. Each had his own agenda and used the figure of Socrates as a representative and advocate for his own interests and values.

Both accounts are fiction, Waterfield believes. How did he arrive at that judgment?

Plato is “too clever”, he says. The apology he sets out is evidently Plato’s own.

The differences between the two versions are enormous; they cannot both be right. So whom does one trust?

It is tempting to rely on Plato’s version, because it is brilliant – funny, philosophically profound, essential reading – whereas Xenophon’s is far more humdrum, and is in any case an unpolished work. But this is the nub of the whole ‘Socratic Problem’, as scholars call it: we want to trust Plato, but his very brilliance is precisely what should incline us not to trust him, in the sense that geniuses are more likely than lesser mortals to have their own agendas. And in fact no one doubts that Plato had his own agenda, and came to use Socrates as a spokesman for his own ideas; the only question is when this process started and how developed it is in any given dialogue. (p. 9, my formatting and bolding in all quotations)

Waterfield opts for the Goldilocks answer to his question:

The most sensible position is that no dialogue, however early, is sheer biography and no dialogue, however late, is entirely free from the influence of the historical Socrates. Plato, Xenophon and all the other Socratics were writing a kind of fiction – what, in their various views, Socrates might have said had he been in such-and-such a situation, talking with this person and that person on such-and-such a topic. For one thing that is common to all the Socratic writers is that they portray their mentor talking, endlessly talking – either delivering homilies, or engaging others in sharp, dialectical conversation and argument.

I suspect Goldilocks solutions are founded more on aesthetic preference than carefully evaluated options — and here Bayesian analysis offers to help out — but, let’s move on.

We saw in the previous post that another reason for believing the accounts of Socrates are fiction is the sheer fact that there are so many variations of them. Each writer has his own opinion; if genuine reports of Socrates’ speech were documented then they would have been sufficient and there would have been no need for ongoing variations.

Further, Socrates was said to have entered the court as an innocent, without any in depth preparation for what he was about to say. Plato’s version of Socrates’ speech does not portray someone who was unprepared:

If there is any truth to the stories that Socrates came to court unprepared, a rhetorical innocent, Plato’s Apology certainly begins to look fictitious: it has long been admired as polished oratory. (p. 10)

But can’t historians somehow find a way to peel back the fictional layer of the narrative and expose nuggets of historical fact (at least strong probability of historical fact) behind some of the sayings? Not to Waterfield’s knowledge:

Given the unlikelihood of our ever having objective grounds for proving the fictional nature of either or both of these two versions of the defence speeches, it is gratifying, and significant, that we can easily create a plausible case for their fictionality. (p. 10)

And a little later we learn that, unlike biblical scholars of the gospels, the historian does not have any “criteria of authenticity” to bring into the fray:

There may be nuggets of historical truth within either or both of the two works, but we lack the criteria for recognizing them. We will never know for sure what was said on that spring day of 399 BCE. (p. 12)

So we can prove their fictionality but not their historicity. read more »


2017-12-03

Ad Hoc explanations for all those different biographies of Jesus …. (or Socrates)

by Neil Godfrey

Here’s an interesting twist to the standard argument explaining why we have so many gospels all with different accounts of Jesus.

Different eyewitnesses report different details about the same event, it is said, and that explains the multiple “reports” of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death, resurrection, etc. But check the following by a scholar of Socrates:

The trial rapidly became so notorious that a number of Apologies of Socrates were written soon afterwards, and at least one prosecution speech purporting to be that of Anytus. If the object had been to report the actual speech or speeches Socrates himself gave in the course of the trial, there would have been no need for more than one or two such publications, and all the rest would have been redundant. The fact that so many versions of Socrates’ defence speeches were written strongly suggests that the authors were not reporters of historical truth, but were concerned to write what, in their opinion, Socrates could or should have said – which is what characterizes the whole genre of Socratic writings that sprang up in the decades following Socrates’ trial and death. (Waterfield, Robin. 2009. Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths. New York: W. W. Norton. pp 9-10 — my bolding)

 


2017-11-29

The Classical and Biblical Canons — & the importance of identifying authors

by Neil Godfrey

Sarcophagus of the Muses

The ancient community of scholars attached to the Alexandrian Museum had a “religious character” since it was headed by a royally appointed priest and devoted to the service of the goddesses known as the Muses. This community produced the classical canon consisting of Homer, Hesiod, nine lyric poets, various playwrights and philosophers. Another collection of divinely inspired texts followed.

What is noteworthy about this development of the classics or “canon” of Greek literature is the way in which it anticipates the similar development of the “canon” of the Hebrew Bible. It begins with Homer as the undisputed authoritative “canonical” work for all Greeks in the same way that the Pentateuch became the most important work for the Jews. To Homer and Hesiod, the great epics, the Alexandrians added other categories and works, but none drawn from their own time. They were all the great works of a past era. For the most part, the works were accepted as those of the first rank, without dispute, not only within the Hellenistic world, but especially by the Roman literati as well. . . . . 

One important aspect of the so-called Alexandrian canon is the fact that it comprises lists of persons, epic and lyric poets, orators, historians, philosophers, and so on, along with their genuine written works and excluding the works that were spuriously attributed to them. Canonicity therefore entailed known authorship.

Now a problem with most biblical literature is that it is anonymous. Yet it is precisely this impulse to follow the Hellenistic practice of creating an exclusive “canon,” a list of the classics of biblical literature that also came from the age of inspiration, that leads to the impulse to ascribe all of the works within this inspired corpus to individual authors: Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, and so on. Indeed, it is this notion of authorship that accounts, more than anything else, for the inclusion of some works, such as Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, into this fixed corpus.

Furthermore, there can be no canon, whether classical or biblical, without known authors, because anonymous works were undatable in antiquity; and if they could not be attributed to “inspired” persons from the age of inspiration, they had to be excluded. It may also be noted that most pseudepigraphic works were specifically attributed to “canonical” authors or the notables who belonged to that ancient period.

(John Van Seters, The Edited Bible, pp. 40-41 — bolding and formatting mine. Italics original.)


2017-11-19

Blogging hiatus

by Neil Godfrey

For anyone who might be curious, I have not yet died but have eased off regular blogging these past few weeks while I catch up on some serious reading. So much has been researched and published in the fields that interest me in recent years and even months, and there are still so many old foundational “classic” works I have not yet cracked open, that I have decided to try to bring myself a little more up to date before resuming posting about any of these topics. (Even just to refresh my memory of some works I read years ago!)

I’ve also been trying to re-think the future standards and directions of Vridar.