Category Archives: Uncategorized

Another request

I seem to be asking for a lot of help, lately. This time, it’s for those with access to the Greek text of Polybius’s book 12 of his History and with the means of locating without much trouble the word συμπλοκή

The occasion is the following passage about ancient historians:

The existence of different voices or interpretations of a past which have the “right” to exist side-by-side shows that the accurate reporting of past events was not necessarily on the agenda of societies and their authors in Antiquity. Leaving to readers the decision of what really happened tells us much about the nature of the societies we are dealing with (Polybius, who expresses a rationalistic approach to the past, knew how to tackle this by suggesting that history should be viewed as a symploke, [intertwining]; see his Book 12).

Mendels, Doron. 2008. “How Was Antiquity Treated in Societies with a Hellenistic Heritage? (And Why Did the Rabbis Avoid Writing History?).” In Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World, edited by Gregg Gardner and Kevin Osterloh, 132–51. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. (p. 142)

I read Book 12 in an English translation and failed to notice any discussion of the sort of idea I think Doron Mendels is addressing. What would help if I knew what passage(s) in Book 12 Polybius uses συμπλοκή or some form of it.

The idea that I thought Mendels is addressing is the recording of inconsistent versions of events in historical narratives. I know that some ancient historians do this, but it appears from the reference to Polybius that I should find a discussion by an ancient historian on the fact that historians do set side by side contradictory (or at least inconsistent) narratives.

Anyone able to help with this one?

Thanks.

 

Sam Harris still appealing to the equally bigoted

I haven’t the patience to sit through any more of Sam Harris’s ignorance and special pleading so I’m glad PZ Myers has done the “honours” or at least has cited some one else who has done the (surely painful!) work:

Sam Harris’ very special pleading

(Who IS this Sam Harris fellow, anyway? Why does he even have a platform alongside names I can understand being of some note, like Richard Dawkins?)

An Interesting Perspective

A short article in the online scholarly magazine Aeon:
“It draws an interesting link between the establishment of year dates by the Seleucids as a continuous series of advancing numbers and the phenomenon of apocalyptic thinking in and around the eastern Mediterranean.”

Looking for Communist Christ Mythicist Publications

One blogger is looking for old communist-era publications explaining Jesus as a mythical figure. I have had a similar interest in the sorts of things that were said about Jesus and Christian origins in the Soviet Union. I know Engels wrote something and that Drews impressed Lenin enough for him to propagate his views throughout the new Russia. See, for example, https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy.slq.qld.gov.au/stable/309549

For some reason Kalthoff comes to mind but I can’t recall any specific link between his work and education in the Soviet Union.

If anyone knows specific works that directly answer this query please do leave a notice in the comments. (That is, I am only interested in links that identify titles/names that were published as arguments for the nonhistoricity of Jesus for readers/students in communist nations.)

My request is much the same as our blogger friend whose post, in translation, reads:

. . . . I pray for your help. . . . . During the time we lived in Romania, I visited the antiques as many times as I had the opportunity. Once (I think in Sibiu) I entered an antique shop that had some books on religion from the time of the communist period. I found them interesting but strange, presenting Jesus as a purely mythological person with traits and characteristics taken over from previous mythological people and gods. Then I did not foresee any occasion in which I would need communist propaganda like this and so I left the books on the shelf and did not buy them.

Now, I’m sorry for that decision.

Since then, between English speakers, this idea of ​​communist propaganda has become very popular in Internet communities. It would be the case for somebody (either I or others) to write a history of this idea that involves the crusade against Christianity during the Cold War.

I would start this project, but I encountered a problem. I do not have access to the necessary books because of the mistakes made many years ago in an antique shop in Romania.

I did not write this blog post just to advise you not to make the same mistake. I hope that some of my relatives and friends in Romania, or your friends and acquaintances, have some books like this, or to guess where I can find them either in a library or in an antique, in a personal collection.

That’s two of us now with the same request.

. . .

As a footnote, I am reminded here of the same blogger’s (somewhat amusing) response to my reference to Eric Hobsbawm’s point about historical methodology:

In no case can we infer the reality of any specific [hero, person] merely from the ‘myth’ that has grown up around him. In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions. 

In the context of our controversial topic those words by Hobsbawm sounded like the methodology of a communist propagandist to our friend:

You (and Hobsbawm) are free to adopt this approach, of course, but might Hobsbawm’s desire to rewrite the legacy of Communism suggest that his statement has more to do with ideology than mainstream historiography?

Interesting to compare another historian’s comment on the soundness of Hobsbawm’s methods as a historian.

Strange book packages

Sometimes a book is delivered in the post to me in packaging that is, well, curiuous.

I recently received a huge cardboard carton that felt very light and wondered what on earth it could be. I opened it to find at the bottom a very, very thin book that a publisher had sent to me for reviewing. (A task I have still to do.) Why? presumably it was oversize by height and/or width for normal packing so the next extreme step was the only alternative.

But yesterday was something else. This was one of those bags that you imagine is used for a sack of potatoes but it was marked “Swiss Post”. It was tied up in the middle with one of those plastic twist ties and delivery label and down at the bottom of the bag was the book you see beside it in the photo.

It’s a heavy book. Perhaps that had something to do with it. But strange. Very strange indeed.

 

 

Update to “Another Name to Add to the Who’s Who Page of Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics”

Many of you took special notice of my post (Another Name to Add to the Who’s Who Page of Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics) about Narve Strand and his response to Bart Ehrman’s arguments for the historicity of Jesus.

Narve Strand has since uploaded a new version of that article, partly as a result of the Vridar discussion thread. He has added qualifiers to hopefully clarify some of the questions that arose over his presentation. He has also entered some new references and updated his CV.

So replace all your copies of the original with the new version:

 

 

 

In My Cave

I’ve had a break from posting for a couple of days. The reason: I’ve been pulled in to reading the rest of Akenson’s book, Surpassing Wonder. Akenson is known primarily as a historian of Irish history but he has obviously kept abreast of the scholarship in biblical studies, too. What intrigued me most as I read was the striking way he presented certain views of “how the Bible came to be” that I have favoured — but his arguments were more direct and forceful than I have been prepared to acknowledge in posts.

He addresses problems with the “Documentary Hypothesis”, noting that it is not really a hypothesis but a model and should more correctly be called the Documentary Model: that is, the view that the Pentateuch and some other biblical texts are sourced from Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and Priestly sources. Now the final product may have been stitched together from such sources, but, Akenson notes, that is irrelevant to the study of the narrative and meaning of the final text as we have it. And what’s more, there was a single authorship of the nine books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. (I’ve posted about that view of the “Primary History” before.) I especially liked Akenson’s tracing of the main stages in biblical scholarship pertaining to the “DH” since it helped me place in context several of the big name scholars I have been studying up till now.

Yes, there are archaisms in the books, and there are repetitions and contradictions, but we have some of the same sort of things in Greek histories, too, and they serve a purpose, in particular the purpose of “authenticity” as a “historical record”. The difference is that the biblical history is anonymous. And that detail, too, has the effect of adding authority to the account. Many readers, especially believers, have liked to comment on the low-key matter-of-fact way many of the more dramatic and miraculous events are described in the bible. That style, believers say (as I have done myself), suggests authenticity, too. It works as narrative history.

Then carry over the style and techniques to the gospels and we have an ongoing account that sounds “genuine”. What is particularly striking in this context, furthermore, is the discussion of how Second Temple era literature managed to continue, build on, “biblical narratives” but at the same time dramatically re-write them, even introducing new characters, even spirit ones, to let God off from being blamed from some horrible decisions, and even claiming to be directly quoting God himself, without a mediator like Moses. It puts the gospels in an interesting context.

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been hiding these last couple of days. More later, I am sure.

Christians Condemned for Doing Good if they Feel Good Doing It

A recent post by Jim West (The Church has Fetishized Poverty) reminds me of my bad old days when I believed in Christian “righteousness”. It comes from someone who would deplore any association with cultism or even fundamentalism (I think) but it drills hard into a believer’s guilt feelings in a way to stop them doing genuine good in the world, and it rips scripture out of context to justify its agenda. The post begins:

People: the church should give all its money to the poor.

Jesus: nah. Use that expensive ointment on me.

People: but the poor, the poor, the poor….

Jesus: shut up. If she wants to use her money for me, it’s cool.

You have probably identified what’s wrong from the outset. Jesus is about to die and excuses great expense on him for that reason. In normal circumstances, of course, Jesus said something quite different:

Mark 10

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Would Jim West accuse Jesus of “fetishizing the poor”? It appears so.

But here comes the killer: read more »

When a God Passes By

In olden times it was not unknown for gods to pass by their devotees, showing their awesome power in some limited way, and eliciting the awed responses one would expect from those privileged to see them.

https://www.tes.com/lessons/YWK7_gG8Ld4Q3A/apollo

But at that time of day when heavenly light has not yet come, nor is there utter darkness, but the faint glimmer that we call twilight spreads over the night and wakes us, they [=Jason and his Argonauts] ran into the harbour of the lonely isle of Thynias and went ashore exhausted by their labours. Here they had a vision of Apollo on his way from Lycia to visit the remote and teeming peoples of the North. The golden locks streamed down his cheeks in clusters as he moved; he had a silver bow in his left hand and a quiver slung on his back; the island quaked beneath his feet and the sea ran high on the shore. They were awe-struck at the sight and no one dared to face the god and meet his lovely eyes. They stood there with bowed heads while he, aloof, passed through the air on his way across the sea.

Apollonius of Rhodes. 1959. The Voyage of Argo: The Argonautica. Translated by E. V. Rieu. 2nd ed. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Classics. (91f)

.

. . .

.

http://thewholebook.blogspot.com/2015/07/217-face-of-death.html

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. . . . But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” . . . . .

So Moses . . . went up Mount Sinai early in the morning. . . . Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  . . . Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.

(Exodus 33-34)

.

. . .

.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Po_vodam.jpg

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and [Jesus] was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.

(Mark 6)

Ouch! A “professional historian” has something to say about the methods of “biblical scholars”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Akenson

He said it, not me:

[I]t is appropriate to discuss the questions of when specific [New Testament] texts were written, how the early versions were stacked together, and what their dates of origin may be, and how these matters of dating relate to early Christianity and to the questions of the “historical Jesus.” In that discussion . . . I shall suggest that, from the viewpoint of a professional historian, there is a good deal in the methods and assumptions of most present-day biblical scholars that makes one not just a touch uneasy, but downright queasy. Try as I might, I cannot come even as close to believing in the soundness of their enterprise as King Agrippa did to believing in Pauline Christianity: “Almost thou persuadest me …” (Acts 26:28).

Akenson, Donald Harman. 2001. Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. New edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (p. 214)

. . .

(Compare the comments of another prominent historian, Moses I. Finley, on the methods and assumptions of a prominent biblical scholar of his generation, Maurice Goguel: https://vridar.org/2019/04/04/can-we-find-history-beneath-the-literary-trappings/)

As to be expected . . . .

The day after I read White supremacist terror is rising, and Trump’s policies kneecap our ability to fight back . . . .

. . . . I found myself reading San Diego synagogue shooting: What we know about suspect John Earnest.

And Trump has tweeted his thoughts and prayers. How appropriate.

(Very fine people on both sides, let’s not forget.)

 

To the Greeks, Vridar in a Greek publication

Today, still Saturday April 27th in Greece, the Documento newspaper releases “Airetika” (it’s the 8th book of the series “Airetika” – meaning Heretics), with many articles about mythicism, among them an article from Vridar: How Historians Study a Figure Like Jesus

It has already been translated and posted on Greek Mythicists as Η εξέταση του ιστορικού Απολλώνιου του Τυανέα (και ο παραλληλισμός του με τον Ιησού)

A related post from 2015: Jesus Mythicism: An Introduction by Minas Papageorgiou

Multiple Sources or a Single Source? Two Views

Multiple sources

Matthew and Luke did indeed use Mark, but significant portions of both Gospels are not related in any way to Mark’s accounts. And in these sections of their Gospels Matthew and Luke record extensive, independent traditions about Jesus’s life, teachings, and death. . . .

But that is not all. There are still other independent Gospels. The Gospel of John is sometimes described as the “maverick Gospel” because it is so unlike the synoptic accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Gospels continued to be written after John, however, and some of these later accounts are also independent. Since the discovery in 1945 of the famous Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, scholars have debated its date. . . . [A] good portion of Thomas, if not all of it, does not derive from the canonical texts. To that extent it is a fifth independent witness to the life and teachings of Jesus.

The same can be said of the Gospel of Peter, discovered in 1886. . . .

Another independent account occurs in the highly fragmentary text called Papyrus Egerton 2. . . . Here then, at least in the nonparalleled story, but probably in all four, is a seventh independent account. (Ehrman, 75-77)

Within a couple of decades of the traditional date of his death, we have numerous accounts of his life found in a broad geographical span. In addition to Mark, we have Q, M (which is possibly made of multiple sources), L (also possibly multiple sources), two or more passion narratives, a signs source, two discourse sources, the kernel (or original) Gospel behind the Gospel of Thomas, and possibly others. And these are just the ones we know about, that we can reasonably infer from the scant literary remains that survive from the early years of the Christian church. No one knows how many there actually were. Luke says there were “many” of them, and he may well have been right. (Ehrman, 83)

We have a number of surviving Gospels—I named seven—that are either completely independent of one another or independent in a large number of their traditions. (Ehrman, 92)

Indirectly, then, Tacitus and (possibly) Josephus provide independent attestation to Jesus’s existence from outside the Gospels although, as I stated earlier, in doing so they do not give us information that is unavailable in our other sources. . . . As a result of our investigations so far, it should be clear that historians do not need to rely on only one source (say, the Gospel of Mark) for knowing whether or not the historical Jesus existed. He is attested clearly by Paul, independently of the Gospels, and in many other sources as well: in the speeches in Acts, which contain material that predate Paul’s letters, and later in Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, Revelation, Papias, Ignatius, and 1 Clement. These are ten witnesses that can be added to our seven independent Gospels (either entirely or partially independent), giving us a great variety of sources that broadly corroborate many of the reports about Jesus without evidence of collaboration. (Ehrman, 97, 140f)

. . .

A Single Source

Significantly almost every scholar who pushes for the authenticity, and the early dating, of various extra-canonical items, does so with the argument that these texts were part of the core tradition of early Christianity: in other words, that they are not independent witnesses to the historical Yeshua. (Akenson, 552)

The Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John not alternative independent witnesses, but slightly variant editions of a single source: both are found within the Christian interpretative tradition and, as we have seen (Chapter Nine), this tradition required that for Yeshua of Nazareth to be come Jesus-the-Christ, he had to be identified as a Passover sacrifice. Thus, we have here a single tradition, not a multiply-attested set of historical observations. Emphatically, this does not mean that the single-source tradition is wrong, merely that it is not confirmed by the self-repetition of certain points within the Christian scriptures. (Akenson, 553)

Some scholars have suggested that cella in of the para-biblical books – such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Peter – intermixed with ”Q” and Mark and the unique portions of Matthew and of Luke in the biblical equivalent of the primal soup from which all life is said to stem. Some few others throw into the stew a “Cross Gospel” which is an hypothetical document, said to underlie the Gospel of Peter. Just how far out of control this is, and unrelated to anything a professional historian would recognize as a testable hypothesis or as having probative value, is illustrated by the following summary of his own theory of the formation of the Gospels, put forward by John Dominic Crossan, one of the best-known of Roman Catholic biblical historian

The process developed. in other words, over these primary steps. First, the historical passion, composed of minimal knowledge, was known only in the general terms recorded by. say, Josephus or Tacitus. Next, the prophetic passion, composed of multiple and discrete biblical allusions and seen most clearly in a work like the Epistle of Barnabas, developed biblical applications over, under, around, and through that open framework. Finally, those multiple and discrete exercises were combined into the narrative passion as a single sequential story. I proposed. furthermore, that the narrative passion is but a single stream of tradition flowing from the Cross Gospel, now embedded within the Gospel of Peter. into Mark, thence together into Matthew and Luke, and thence, all together, into John. Other reconstructions are certainly possible. but that seems to me the most economical one to explain all the data.

– a strange brew indeed. (Akenson, 573)

[E]ven if one finds the heuristic-Gospel “Q” useful in understanding the evolution of the biblical text, it docs not constitute multiple attestation by independent witnesses of the sayings or deeds of the historical Yeshua. All the sayings are derived from a unitary source, the extant canonical scriptures, and just as the canonical scriptures are a single witness, so any hypothetical derivative from the canon is pan of the same single unitary source. To be blunt: one cannot obtain multiple independent attestation of the historical Yeshua simply by chopping up the “New Testament.” (Akenson, 574-5)

Compare Akenson’s point with Schweitzer’s:

Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. (See Schweitzer in context for full quote and variant translations.)


Akenson, Donald Harman. 2001. Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. New edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2013. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperOne.


Papias …. (and Hebrews)

Two very different posts about Papias have recently appeared online.

On Bart Ehrman’s blog, Papias and the Writers of the New Testament: Guest Post by Stephen Carlson. It follows on from an earlier post and appears to be early advertising for a new book by Stephen Carlson on Papias. Unfortunately Ehrman is not on board with the open access philosophy or movement so he has placed the pre-publication information behind a paywall.

Meanwhile, another article about Papias is now available to the paying public (@ $US45) in The Journal of Theological Studies and one that probably should be read before taking on Carlson’s upcoming book: Did Eusebius Read Papias? by Luke J. Stevens. Here is the abstract:

Although the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea is our principal source of information on Papias of Hierapolis and his lost Exegesis of Dominical Oracles, it is here argued that Eusebius knew the work only at second hand. Several Papian fragments preserved elsewhere demonstrate his ignorance, and his citations of the Exegesis consistently differ in style from those of works certainly known to him at first hand. Apparently, the same intermediary that informed him about both Papias’s Exegesis and Hegesippus’s Hypomnemata was also used in the de Boor Fragments, and this intermediary’s author, perhaps Pierius of Alexandria, has handed down further Papian fragments through other works. Eusebius’s lack of first-hand knowledge prevents us from fully trusting the integrity of his summaries, from giving credence to his charges of chiliasm, and from drawing any conclusions from his silence, especially on what Papias may have said about Luke and John.

And for something completely different, the same journal has another article of interest to anyone studying the figure of Jesus in early Christian literature: The Dynamic Absence of Jesus in Hebrews by Markus Bockmuehl.

Again, the abstract

How does Hebrews negotiate the whereabouts of the risen Jesus, on the dialectical spectrum between physical and indeed metaphysical absence on the one hand, and affirmations of a continuing or intermittent presence on the other? More than perhaps any other New Testament writing, Hebrews concentrates on Jesus’s distance from the world of earthly Christian life and discipleship. And yet the author’s ‘word of encouragement’ (13:22) evidently serves his recipients’ situation more urgently through its emphasis on the Son’s heavenly high priesthood rather than on his immediate presence. The presence of Jesus is here most clearly articulated in relation to his incarnation in the past: unlike elsewhere in the New Testament, no obvious attempt is made to sublimate or compensate for the absence of Jesus by sacramental, mystical, or pneumatological means. Nevertheless, even the pastness of the incarnation remains a powerful and abiding ingredient both in Christ’s ongoing priestly work and in the expectation of his coming. As a result, Jesus’ seeming remoteness in Hebrews remains in important respects compatible with his continuing accessibility and closeness to pilgrim believers.

It sounds somewhat apologetic on the face of it. But still, I suspect it would contain enough substance of value for someone sifting out the apologetics. So anyone not part of a subscribing institution and free to part with another $US45 can read it.