30 December 2008

quote of the day - Carl G Jung ...

Posted by at 3:41 PM

"The great events of world history are,
at bottom, profoundly unimportant.
In the last analysis, the essential thing
is the life of the individual.

This alone makes history, here alone do the
great transformations first take place,
and the whole future, the whole history
of the world, ultimately spring as a gigantic
summation from these hidden sources
in individuals.

In our most private and most subjective lives
we are not only the passive witnesses of our age,
and its sufferers.
We make our own epoch.
Carl G Jung


23 December 2008

Cthulhu carol . . .

Posted by at 12:48 PM
This is weirdly interesting. . .

HT-Exploring Our Matrix



23 November 2008

a fair and balanced heathen am i & i . . . .

Posted by at 3:05 PM

(a.k.a Open Question for Q'ranic scholars)

The Q'ran talks explicitly about Mary the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, more than the Christians scriptures do. In fact, Mary is a relatively minor character in the N.T. When she appears in the first gospel (by "first" I mean chronologically - i.e. Mark) it is only peripherally, and then it is only to take Jesus away from the crowds, to save him from himself. His family, the story goes, thinks he has lost his mind and wish to take him home. Some time later the authors of Matthew and of Luke gave Mary a more prominent role in the story, each adding his respective introductory birth narrative, complete with angelic blessings. The author of John later added a couple of mentions of her to his gospel, most notably placing her at the scene of his death. Finally, the author of the Acts of the Apostles mentions only that she was present at the Pentecost episode.

And that's pretty much the entirety of Mary's presence in the Christian scriptures.

Folks have always loved a good story. It's what humans do best, one could argue. Weaving meaning into logia. It wasn't long after the gospels were written that stories would emerge to try to fill the dearth of information regarding the childhood of Jesus. Christians of the second and third centuries would come to produce several interdependent versions of a young Jesus (with full powers on) who interacts with the people of his community - not always in agreeable ways. These apocryphal works include Infancy I, Infancy II, an Arabic infancy gospel, the book (not the recently controversial Nag Hammadi one - it can get confusing, I know) of Mary, and the Protevangelion. I recently read through all of these, comparing and contrasting them, and have been considering writing some of my thoughts on them down.

By now, most of us are aware that there are late extra-canonical pseudographical texts that supplement the collection we call the New Testament. One of the most notable of these stories that made it to Mohammed's repertoire involves Jesus turning pigeons of clay into flesh and blood and feather ones. Without going into detail, my point is that the stories are demonstrably late inventions meant to sate the fundamentally human need to aggrandize its hero archetypes, sorta like the huge success of the Superman hero myth sprouted the Superboy, Smallville, and even Superbaby offshoots.

(whistles one chorus of "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby " . . . )

Anyway . . .

The historicity of these tales aside, it ocurred to me that these works, essentially harmonizations of existing gospel themes with fanciful folkloric elaboration, meant to fill in the details of Jesus' otherwise anonymous life, are obviously the source of the stories about J's childhood which made it to the Q'ran a few centuries later. To my eyes, this is a very important detail in a couple of different ways. Two problems, one relatively minor, the other a doozy, raise questions:

  1. Did Mohammed read these tales? It's feasible that he got the information aurally, but the possibility that he was privy to these texts does highlight whether or not Mohammed was as illiterate as his followers would claim. But this is really a minor point; I can entertain the possibility that oral tradition made it to Araby.
  2. If Mohammed is claiming to have had an audience with no less a figure than Gabriel - the same messenger that presumably conferred upon Mary her "blessed among women" status - who basically dictates and inspires the surahs that he is to recite . . . if this archangel is the source of all that Mohammed received as his new heavenly mandate, and yet it can be demonstrated that the information that this archangel brings forth is based on late fanciful folk art, doesn't that in itself betray the non-divine nature of the "miracle" of the Q'ran?

    In other words: What kind of god would purposefully pass on bogus information to a prophet?

As Thomas Paine once said, a second-hand revelation is not a revelation at all.

My question: "What gives?"

Evidence of fraudulence in the religion racket? . . . or the rantings of a darned-to-heck infidel?
You decide!

Any thoughts, anyone?



15 October 2008


Posted by at 3:30 PM
I just heard that my friend Debbie Bailey has passed away.

Debbie loved freely and deeply.

May she rest in peace.



06 October 2008

short . . .

Posted by at 9:13 PM


30 September 2008

quote of the day ...

Posted by at 4:59 PM

[...] I feel sorry for Sarah [Palin]. McCain has sucked her into an "opportunity" akin to a sub-prime mortgage situation on a house she cannot afford.

some guy named Larry on a forum


22 September 2008

a few statistics ...

Posted by at 11:53 AM

Did you know? . . .

  • There are over 13 million Mormons worldwide?
  • There are more Mormons in the CIA and the FBI than members of any other religion?
  • There are 3,000 Mosques and Muslim community centers in the U.S., over half of which were founded just in the last twenty years . . . and that there are over seven million Muslims in the U.S.?
  • One third of incarcerated African-Americans are converts to the Muslim faith?

Did you know? . . .

  • The second largest belief group in the U.S. is "the non-religious" or the "un-churched" (i.e. secular, humanist, atheist, agnostic). The total number of non-religious or non-affiliated is roughly 16%, or 48 million people. That outnumbers Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and every other faith tradition except Christianity. It's also more than the number of African-Americans or gays and lesbians in this country. 

Did you know? . . .

  • There is only one openly agnostic/atheist or secular congressman or senator? Rep. Bernie Sanders (Vermont independent—go figure :) 

Did you know? ...

  • 73% of Statesians responded in a Gallup poll in 2005 that they believe in the paranormal?
  • 41% believe in E.S.P?
  • 37% believe that houses can be haunted by ghosts?
  • One quarter of all Statesians believe in astrology?
  • The poll also shows that 42%, nearly half, believe that people can sometimes be possesed by the devil?


15 September 2008

a proposition for those who won't vote ...

Posted by at 1:21 AM

I've heard a couple of people say that they won't vote in the presidential election this time around.

If for whatever reason (anger, disillusionment, apathy) this is you, I'd like to propose the following solution.

If you are reading this then you are on a computer and have access to the internet, which means that you have access to millions and millions of people around the world. We all have had occasion to interact online with people from remote parts of the world. Friends, colleagues, religious fellowships. Surely we all have some person whom we like and trust to some degree and whose friendship we value. 

My challenge to you, if you insist on not casting a vote this November, is simply this:

Choose a single non-american you trust and/or love (and possibly whom you haven't discussed the issue with yet, though this need not be a prerequisite—I'm just brainstorming here ;) and give your vote to that person. In other words, ask the person you choose who they would vote for if they could vote.  Then resign yourself to voting on their behalf. That way, no American is given two votes. 
Or perhaps you can give your vote to your American son or daughter who is not yet old enough to vote. Or perhaps to a former convict who has lost his right by a court mandate. 

You get the idea. 
Find someone who doesn't currently have a voting privilege and give THEM the power to influence the immediate future of history, albeit in some miniscule, seemingly insignificant way. They will appreciate the opportunity. There are people in the world who would kill or die for the right to vote for the powers that be.
It matters to them, even if it might not to you.
Ultimately, giving your vote to a trusted soul is infinitely better than cynically choosing to not vote at all. 
Don't you think?

Please consider it.




14 September 2008

two concertos and Transylvanian folk

Posted by at 4:51 AM

I attended a performance by the Phoenix Symphony last night. It was my first time in at least two or three years and my first time since they completed construction of the new Symphony Hall. Nice place. Good acoustic design. The sound of the orchestra was clear, focused.

The concert was part of the inagural World Music Festival. First up—a gesture of patriotic solidarity:

  • John Stafford Smith (1779—1836) - The Star Spangled Banner (arr. Toscanini)

The audience was encouraged to sing along, so I did, timidly at first, but more forcefully by the time the rockets red-glared.

  • Töru Takemitsu (1931-1996) - "Day Signal"
    from Signals from Heaven I
  • Takemitsu - Three Film Scores
    1. "Music of Training and Rest" from Jose Torres
    2. "Funeral Music" from Black Rain
    3. "Waltz" from Face of Another
  • Takemitsu - "Night Signal"
    from Signals from Heaven II

I was previously unfamiliar with the work of this Japanese-born composer. I particularly enjoyed the film music pieces, one of which reminded me of Gerwshin harmonically and melodically, but with an understated rhythmic vagueness which made it delightfully ambiguous. The waltz piece was interesting in that it was simultaneously traditional (none of the motifs would have sounded out of place in 19th century Vienna) yet harmonically adventurous, modulating between keys freely.

  • Lou Harrison (1917-2003) - Concerto for Pipa
    Wu Man, pipa

I quite enjoyed watching Ms. Wu Man play her pipa, a pear-shaped four-stringed fretted Chinese lute. I love to watch a musician really get into it like she does. The concerto was written especially for her and her flawless confident execution shows an intimate familiarity with it. Particularly notable is the fact that this is not a patchwork quilt of traditional Chinese folk melodies accompanied by orchestra; this is a texturally-rich piece which utilizes chromatically shifting harmonies in a way that evokes Chinese music while expanding its traditional pentatonic palatte. I suspect that the tone of the instrument itself is a major contributing factor in this evocation of the far east in the listener.

A master of her instrument, Wu Man's playing is nuanced and complex.


  • Musical Selections (announced from the stage)
    featuring Romashka, a gypsy folk troupe

Romashka played several tunes from the eastern European traditions, including Romania, Transilvania, Hungary and Russia. Although I enjoyed their enthusiasm and I am a big fan of Easter-European folk music, the ensemble had to be amplified (unlike the orchestra, needless to say) and it felt like the sound was not quite dialed in at first. This was a slight distraction but once whoever was mixing sound got it together they pulled off a pretty good performance.

  • Béla Bartók - Concerto for Orchestra

This being the only one of the pieces that I was familiar with before the concert, and considering that it's already a standard of many (if not most) orchestra repertoires, I won't say much about it, except to say that I was impressed by this orchestra's range and control of dynamics. Well done.

For an encore, the orchestra was joined by Romashka AND by Ms. Man (who approached the music with the same verve as she did in the concerto which featured her) for a rendition of an old Hungarian folk tune arranged for both the ensemble and the orchestra. At the end of the piece, Romashka continued playing, segueing into what sounded like the familiar klezmer theme that opens "Fiddler on the Roof" and proceeded to keep playing as they walked off the stage toward the lobby where the audience was invited to join them for another set of music and dance.



12 September 2008

namings . . .

Posted by at 12:57 PM

I recently perused Tal Ilan's catalogue of naming frequencies in ancient Judea after reading Bauckham's "Eyewitnesses" book. The fact that the people in that place and at that time seemed to have held to a traditional naming convention with a relatively limited pool of names to choose from makes an interesting contrast with a list of names in use by the English Puritans of the late sixteenth/early seventeenth centuries. They were so obsessed with scripture that they chose words and phrases from Holy Writ as names for their children. Lower's English Surnames reports that a jury list from Sussex County included these specimens:

  • Faint-not Hewitt
  • Redeemed Compton
  • God-reward Smart
  • Meek Brewer
  • Peace-of-God Knight
  • Kill-sin Pimple
  • Be-faithful Juniper
  • Seek-wisdom Wood
  • Make-peace Heaton
  • Stand-fast-on-high Stringer
  • Search-the-scripture Moreton
  • Weep-not Billing
  • Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith White

I can't help but imagine some somber plainly-clad parishioner opening the good book and randomly pointing to a verse to use as a name of his/her newborn child.

My mom recently told me that there's a Dominican immigrant couple in her neighborhood that, although they don't speak English, decided to name their child "Christophertwelveseventeen" just because they liked the sound of it. The couple's name-choice seems a strange decision until one stands away a step or two and realizes that it is essentially a cargo cult-like expression of their hope for their child. Its "sounds" like success in the American dream to this couple and so they go with it. I've often wondered how much the names we give our children can affect their lives. I have a friend whose name is Dowell (do-well) and he's done pretty well, I must say, so maybe there is something to it.




Bartók at the Phoenix Symphony ...

Posted by at 3:32 AM
The Heritage of World Folk
Saturday, September 13, 2008, 8pm
at Symphony Hall
  • Romashka Gypsy Folk Troupe, Special Guests
  • Michael Christie, Conductor
  • Wu Man, Chinese pipa
As a part of The Phoenix Symphony’s inaugural World Music Festival, the orchestra explores folk music from across the globe including the exotic sounds of the Chinese pipa and the Hungarian folk songs disguised in Bartók’s mesmerizing Concerto for Orchestra. The concert also features colorful songs from the Romashka Gypsy Folk Troupe.

TAKEMITSU - Signals from Heaven
TAKEMITSU - Three Film Scores
HARRISON - Pipa Concerto
BARTÓK - Concerto for Orchestra

11 September 2008

victimology (and other hypocrisies)

Posted by at 6:00 AM

The latest revealing of Carl "Turdblossom" Rove as a two-faced knave in the beginning of this video is (once again) spot on.

Why is it that the only commentators to dare to be this perceptive—to be this honest—are on a comedy network? Don't the news media realize how ridiculously sycophantic they are by comparison?



08 September 2008

weird Jesuses #4

Posted by at 5:12 PM

I love this woodcut I came across.

(from Deeper in me than I)


07 September 2008

quote of the day ...

Posted by at 7:05 PM

"I think our third child is this campaign."

Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, when asked by Ellen DeGeneres whether they would have another child.

06 September 2008

Open question for NT scholars #2 ...

Posted by at 10:12 AM

The passion narratives contain a little detail which I'd like to focus on: the high priest tears his own garments upon hearing Jesus blaspheme.

GMatt's version (26:62–65 . . . c.f. GMark 14: 60–62)
"And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"
But Jesus was silent.
And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy."

I first heard this story as a child and have always thought that this was an expression of righteous indignation on the part of the high priest, that it was a response to Jesus' blasphemy, and indeed, it is just that in the gospel narrative. However, I recently searched the Hebrew scriptures for instances where this symbolic gesture appears. It turns out that in the Tanach there are many places where people tear their garments, but in every single case this act is an expression of deep sorrow—(1 Samuel 15:22–23, and 1 Kings 11:29–35 for a couple of examples). Never is it an expression of anger or indignation.

So I come to yet another crossroad:

  • Either the author of GMark was completely uninformed (or misinformed) about the meaning of this symbol in the scriptures . . . . . or
  • He is deliberately coopting the symbol to add drama to the narrative (incorrectly though it may be)—to add injury to insult, so to speak.
The former shows a lack of understanding of the written traditions. The latter reveals a bit of guile.
Coincidentally, these were the same conclusions I came to in my previous open question #1. As in that post, the "question" is not really technically a question. The question mark lies instead in the anomalies involved in each. The question, in effect, is a general, "what gives?"



31 August 2008

quote of the day ...

Posted by at 10:50 AM

"Turkeys don't vote for Christmas."

James Crossley
in a debate against Wm Lane Craig

This gave me a goofy good laugh.



29 August 2008

the once and future kings (slight return)

Posted by at 12:30 PM
The eminent Bishop N.T.Wrong has written a post in his excellent blog outlining some similarities between the Arthurian legend and its Jesus counterpart. Food for thought.




28 August 2008

on St.(sic) Cyril ...

Posted by at 4:11 PM

I overheard a conversation about saints among some Catholic folks in a chat room. I offered that saints are just a "Catholic Hall of Fame", but these chatters didn't think my encapsulation was all that funny. They instead described saints as departed people who had led super-holy, super-righteous lives, people whom the church subsequently saw fit to reward after they had died because of this righteousness. I reminded the chatters that there have been people who had been made saints by the church despite a marked lack of righteousness, and I mentioned Jerome and Cyril of Alexandria as examples. "What did they do?", one asked. "Well," I replied, "why don't you look up what Cyril did to Hypatia, for starters."

One chatter (we'll call him Brad), who had been silent during the discussion, took a couple of minutes to respond. He insisted, not unemotionally, that St. Cyril was "above reproach" in the murder of Hypatia and proceeded to quote from the google search results he was obviously reading from.

A little background for those who might not know who the main characters in this drama are:

Hypatia, you may know, was an eminently talented mathematician and philosopher of Alexandria. She was a polymath who ran her own school and was consulted and held in high esteem by the most illustrious scholars and diplomats of her day.

Cyril was the nephew of the bishop of Alexandria. Theophilus. Theophilus had tolerated Hypatia's school, but upon his death in 412, his nephew Cyril took it upon himself, once appointed to his uncle's bishopric after a highly controversial contest, to rid Alexandria of all dissenting views, pagan of Christian. Anything that in his estimation wasn't sufficiently "orthodox" was anathema, damnable, subject to persecution and termination.

In March of 415, during Lent, Hypatia was brutally murdered. The church historian Socrates Scholasticus, a Christian, tells of it:
Her life came to its unspeakably gruesome end when a sect of fanatical desert monks accosted Hypatia on the street one March day, stripped and dragged her into a church, skinned her alive with oyster shells, then dismembered and burned her body.
Brad's defense of Cyril in the chatroom was twofold:
  1. Cyril wasn't there. He didn't kill her, the mob did.
  2. Cyril, in his writings, reveals a piety and a sublime depth of thought that precludes the possibility of his being a murderer. In other words, he was a gentle man who would never do such a thing.
I'll take these in reverse order:
#2. How anyone could say that Cyril was a gentle soul who could never hurt anyone is strange to me. Only someone misinformed (or blind to Cyril's faults) could venture such a claim. By all but the most partisan accounts, Cyril was a nasty opportunist of a man. Here are a few brief citations describing Cyril's character, all from a single search in GoogleBooks:
"Cyril of Alexandria, a man of vehement temper and intolerant, but sincere in his opinions ..."
History of Christian Doctrine

George Frank Fisher
page 152
. . . here's another:
"…the vehement and impetuous Cyril…"
History of the Jewish Nation After the Destruction of Jerusalem Under Titus

Alfred Edersheim

page 513
. . . here's one that ends with a very poignant question:
"Cyril of Alexandria, to those who esteem the stern and uncompromising assertion of certain Christian tenets of the one Paramount Christian virtue, maybe the hero, even the saint: but while ambition, intrigue, arrogance, rapacity, and violence are proscribed as unchristian means -- barbarity, persecution, bloodshed as unholy and unevangelic wickednesses -- posterity will condemn the orthodox Cyril as one of the worst of heretics against the spirit of the Gospel. Who would not meet the judgment of the divine Redeemer loaded with the errors of Nestorius, rather than with the barbarities of Cyril?"
History of Latin Christianity
Henry Hart Milman

But it is not enough, I agree, to take such accusations at mere face value. It is always best to get some specific details of the circumstances surrounding a controversy before c omitting oneself to a position.
With this in mind, here's a more lengthy citation that I think brings the situation into more focus. Particularly weighty are the quotations from Cardinal Newman on the matter (I've highlighted where that is), as it shows that the indictment of Cyril is not a reactionary anti-Catholic position in the least, but it instead informed by the historical facts.

"Cyril of Alexandria, who presided over the third Council — that of Ephesus — is perhaps, of all those who have been honoured with the title of saint, the one whose character least commands our affection. In the fourth century the title hagios, applied to an orthodox bishop, meant, perhaps, little more than the title 'reverend' applied to a clergyman of the present day. But of the qualities which go to make up our modern idea of saintliness, the only one to which Cyril can lay claim is zeal for orthodoxy. Of the non-theological virtues of meekness, kindness, equity, obedience to law, we find in him no trace. There was no country where religious controversies were carried on with such violence as in Egypt. Cyril had been brought up in a bad school; and he handed down to his successor the traditions of that school with extensive evil developments. His whole career was marked by violence and bloodshed. He signalized the commencement of his episcopate by an assault on the Novatians, whose churches he shut up, seizing their sacred vessels, and depriving their bishop of all his property.* He followed this up by an attack on the Jews — not without provocation on their part. A leading member of his congregation had been punished by the magistrate on a charge brought against him by Jews. Cyril sent for the chief rabbis, and severely threatened them if such molestations were repeated. Riots followed ; and tidings were brought to Cyril one morning that during the night a concerted attack had been made by Jews upon Christians, in which several of the latter had lost their lives. Cyril forthwith took vengeance into his own hands, deciding that there was not room for Jews and Christians in the same city. He put himself at the head of an immense mob, which took possession of the synagogues, plundered the goods of the Jews, and turned them out of the city. These proceedings naturally brought him into collision with the civil authorities, and the relations between the bishop and the prefect became extremely strained. Five hundred Nitrian monks poured down to Alexandria to give substantial support to the cause of the affronted patriarch. They surrounded the prefect's chariot, drove his guards away with showers of stones, and not content with abusive language, one of them, Ammonius by name, struck him with a stone, and covered his face with blood. But the people rose in defence of their magistrate, overpowered the monks, and seizing Ammonius, carried him off to punishment, which, according to the barbarous usage of the time, was so severe that he died under it. Then Cyril set the evil example of canonizing criminals as martyrs. Though there is no reason to suppose that the assault on the prefect was due to direct instigation of his, he made himself an accessory to it after the fact by giving Ammonius a publicj funeral, bestowing on him the title 'Admirable;' and would have even enrolled him for permanent commemoration as a martyr had not the disapprobation of moderate men warned him to drop the design.

But a worse tragedy followed. The belief in Church circles was that the governor would have been on better terms with the bishop if he had not been too intimate with heathens. Prominent among his heathen friends was the celebrated Hypatia, who, in a licentious age, when public life was less open to women than now, exercised the functions of a lecturer in philosophy with such dignified modesty as to command universal respect. One Peter, who held the office of reader in the principal church, collected a band of zealots like-minded with himself, who watched for Hypatia returning from her school, tore her from her chariot, dragged her into a church, and there murdered her with every circumstance of brutal atrocity. It is not to be supposed that this deed had Cyril's sanction; but if a party leader tolerates and profits by the excesses of violent followers up to a certain point, he cannot escape responsibility if they proceed beyond the point where he would have preferred them to stop. If the maxim 'noscitur e sociis' is ever to have applicability, a Christian teacher must be judged of by the spirit manifested by those who have been the most zealous hearers of his instructions.

For excesses of zeal in his warfare against heretics, or Jews, or heathens, Cyril has not wanted apologists who willingly believe that the case against him has been coloured by witnesses too ready to sympathize with enemies of the Church. But there is one chapter in his history with regard to which his line of conduct now finds no defender. I refer to his treatment of a greater saint than himself, St. Chrysostom. I have already said that in reading the Church history of the centuries following the erection of Constantinople into a capital, we must constantly bear in mind the jealousy felt at Alexandria at the encroachments on the dignity of their ancient see by this upstart rival. I have told how Gregory Nazianzen was compelled, by Egyptian opposition, to resign his see. St. Chrysostom's election to the bishopric of Constantinople disappointed an attempt of the Alexandrian patriarch, Theophilus, to place in Constantinople a nominee of his own. From that time Chrysostom had in Theophilus a bitter enemy, through whose exertions he suffered deposition and exile, accompanied with treatment which hastened his death. Cyril, the nephew of Theophilus, was his aider and abettor in the warfare against Chrysostom ; and he continued his hostility when, on his uncle's death, he succeeded to the see. The death of Chrysostom did not soften his feelings; and a few years afterwards, when entreated to allow Chrysostom's name to be placed on the diptychs, he replied that this would be as great an affront to the orthodox bishops on the list as it would be to the Apostles if the traitor Judas were reckoned in their number. It was not until ten years after Chrysostom's death that he reluctantly gave way. Now what, in Roman Catholic eyes, makes this conduct inexcusable is that Cyril's obstinacy placed him in opposition, not only to Chrysostom, but to the Bishop of Rome, out of whose communion the Egyptians accordingly remained for twelve years.

Accordingly, Cardinal Newman here gives Cyril up. 'Cyril, I know, is a saint ; but it does not follow that he was a saint in the year 412.' ' Among the greatest saints are those who, in early life, were committed to very unsaintly doings.' 'We may hold Cyril to be a great servant of God without considering ourselves obliged to defend certain passages of his ecclesiastical career. It does not answer to call whity-brown white. His conduct out of his own territory, as well as in it, is often very much in keeping with the ways of the uncle who preceded him in his see, and his archdeacon who succeeded him in it.' I hope I am not ungrateful for so much candour if I say that if it does not answer to call whity-brown white, neither does it answer to call black whity-brown. Dr. Newman himself asks the question, ' Is Cyril a saint ? How can he be a saint if what has been said above is matter of historical truth ? ' His chief reason for giving a favourable answer is one that has not much weight with us. 'Catholics must believe that Providence would have interposed to prevent his receiving the honours of a saint, in East and West, unless he really was deserving of them.' ' It, is natural to think that Cyril would not have been divinely ordained for so prominent an office in the establishment of dogmatic truth unless there were in him moral endowments which the surface of history does not reveal to us.' And he suggests, that as we hear very little of Cyril during the last few years of his life, it may charitably be believed that he had repented of his early violence ; and he thinks that as ' he had faith, firmness, intrepidity, fortitude, endurance, these virtues, together with contrition for his failings, were efficacious in blotting out their guilt, and saving him from their penal consequences.' Now I am sure you will understand that if I pronounce a man to be undeserving of the title of Saint, I do not mean to deny that he may have repented of his sins, and have entered the kingdom of Heaven. In giving honours to historical characters we can only be guided by those 'moral endowments which the surface of history does reveal; 'and I count it to involve a degradingly low estimate of the Christian character if we hold up as a model of saintly perfection one in whom history only enables us to discover the excellencies and failings of an able and successful, but violent and unscrupulous, party leader. If Cyril changed his character towards the end of his life, his contemporaries do not seem to have been aware of it. Here is the language of one of them on hearing the news of his death : ' At last the reproach of Israel is taken away. He is gone to vex the inhabitants of the world below with his endless dogmatism. Let everyone throw a stone on his grave, lest perchance he may make even hell too hot to hold him, and return to earth.' ' The East and Egypt are henceforth united : envy is dead, and heresy is buried with her.' "

The Infallibility of the Church
George Salmon
pp. 304 --309

Any defense of Cyril in this matter (especially one appealing to his gentle, pious demeanor) can only be based on some previous commitment to defend one's church's party line—"my team: right or wrong"—and NOT to reality.

Now back to Brad's defense point #1.

By way of illustration, here's a quasi-contemporary analogue:
We know that Gladys wasn't there. We are also not certain of whether she ordered the action or knew about it beforehand.
We ARE certain of two things, however.
It was definitely the Pips who committed the crime.
Cyril never condemned the act as barbaric or otherwise wrong, as any man of God surely would.

In this case, I'm afraid that where there's smoke, there's fire.

And, if I may close with yet another humorous non-sequitur...

Hypatia was at least twice the man that Cyril ever was!




23 August 2008

20 August 2008

new word of the day: ignostic

Posted by at 4:34 PM
I just yesterday heard the word ignosticism.

Nutshell definitions:
  • An atheist is someone who doesn't believe that there is a "God."
  • An agnostic is someone who thinks that "God" is inherently unknowable.
  • An ignostic is someone who thinks that, until an adequate definition of the word "god" can be formulated in the first place, the question itself is not merely unknowable, but ultimately meaningless.

Hmm. . .
I guess I'm an ignostic.

far out!

I would like to add that I don't see this liberation from theological concerns as a liberation from ethical obligations. One has nothing to do with the other, in fact.



19 August 2008

1000 years of Darkness

Posted by at 11:49 AM
This video is very poignant in its description of what can (and DID) happen when science is repressed or impeded.

HT - Conspiracy Factory




18 August 2008

who the heck is J.P.Holding ...

Posted by at 4:15 PM

. . . and why does he hate me?

I was googling, trying to reference an essay that I had written some time ago, when I came across a man named J.P. Holding's very brief comment about my essay. It was a year ago, but I only today just saw it:

Another stupid Skeptic repeats the same old canards about the resurrection.

That was his post in its entirety.

Now, I don't know who this guy is, but you would think that he would have some reason for thinking my essay "stupid". Right?

So I re-read what I had written then (read it here) and though I would probably rephrase a sentence or two for the sake of clarity, I think the piece is a pretty good response to Craig's kind of apologetic rhetoric, and I'd be glad to defend it against Mr. Holding or anyone else who might want to demonstrate where I strayed into "stupid" territory in it. I'm certainly not above correction, after all.

All I have to go by is Mr Holding's choice of words:

  1. stupid
  2. canard

A canard implies that I'm deliberately trying to mislead people. Hmm. Does he think I have some stake in the outcome of a refutation of a demonstrably thin argument like Craig's "Four Irrefutable Fact" theorem? Why he would attribute malicious intent to me is a little disturbing.

Anyway, he never engaged any of the points I raised in my 5,000 word essay.

It is simply all just "stupid old canards".

It's cute. I'm once again reminded that all vitriolic rhetoric (every instance) reflects more the speaker . . . than the subject of the rancor.

Every time.

And if I may say . . .
What a strange person!

Does anyone know if this Holding guy has any kind of prestige in apologetic cliques (in which case, Gosh help apologetics) . . . or is he just an isolated curmudgeon militant case?



17 August 2008

Open Question for NT Scholars #1

Posted by at 11:45 AM
I'm going to start a new feature on this blog, in which I will ask some of the questions that are the most problematic for me as a student of the materials relevant to the study of the historical origins of Christianity.

They will be asked in all seriousness and I would greatly appreciate any and all responses that are given in earnest by anyone who might have some insight on any of these questions.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Open question #1: Jesus on Psalm 110 (c.f. Mark 12:35–37 & Matt 22:41–46 & Luke 20:41–44)

These verses, where Jesus is described as citing Psalm 110 in defense of the validity of his messiahship (along with the Isaiah servant song that begins at chapter 52 and into 53) are seen as "the" slam-dunk passages by a certain kind of fideist missionary to "prove" that the Hebrew scriptures "prophesize" the coming of Jesus in the future.

After discussing them one day with a street evangelist here in my town (whose name was, ironically enough, Mark), I became interested in this Psalm. This guy was sure that after studying the matter, I could only concede the "fact" of this fulfillment. For a brief moment, I thought he might have something here. If these passages really could be seen as referring to Jesus, then I could understand why so many people could believe that Hebrew prophecy predicted J's messianic role in history. I try to not just dismiss things out of hand. When confronted with such challenges, I take them seriously; I resign myself to examine them to the best of my abilities.

The problem in this case, though, was that while I have a rudimentary grounding in the Greek language and can usually work my way through Greek NT texts (with the aid of my textbooks and a handy Grammar), I am completely hopeless in the Hebrew language.

What to do?
Answer: What I always do in such cases when I can't access the texts myself—consult an expert!

So I scheduled a meeting (which turned into two—so engrossed was I with this Psalm) with a local rabbi. These meetings turned out to be one of the most significant episodes in my search for answers regarding the origins of Christianity so far. They have influenced my thought on these matters more than you can imagine.

The King James reads:
"The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool."

Pretty straight forward, right? Both instances of the word "Lord" are capitalized, highlighting the odd anomaly of David calling a future descendant "Lord," implying that "Christ," the son of David, is greater than David. This is pretty deep stuff, right?

When I spoke my concerns about this to the rabbi, he smiled gently and brought forth from his shelf an interlinear Tanach (English/Hebrew), opened it, and said, "You don't know a lick of Hebrew, do you?"

"No, I don't; that's why I came."

"Let me show you something," he said, holding the book in front of me with one hand and pointing at the relevant passage with the other. "Here's the first occurence of the word "Lord." I looked and sure enough there was the familiar Tetragammaton which I had seen before and which I recognized as the traditional name for God: "YHVH." I nodded my recognition. He then said, "now, here's the second instance of the word 'lord', " and he pointed again, only this time I had no idea what the word was. But it wasn't the same word at all. He told me that the word in this case was "l'adoni."

To make a long story short (we spoke for over an hour that day) he pointed out the difference between "Adonai" and "l'adoni."

Here's the gist:
"Adonai" denotes the God of Israel. It is attested about 450 times in the Tanach.
"L’adoni", however, is never used in the Hebrew scriptures as a divine reference. It instead denotes a human superior. It basically serves a similar function as the English analogue "my lord" in the royal sense.

When I told him that I saw the difference but was still confused as to what the passage might mean in this case, he imparted to me the most important lesson regarding the study of the Hebrew scriptures that I have had in my life. Sublime in its simplicity, it's one that I will find useful for as long as I keep studying this stuff.
Namely, he taught me that when trying to determine the meaning of any passage, the question we must always keep in mind is . . . .

"Who is speaking here??"

After some reflection, I told him that I didn't really know who is speaking here . . . "David . . . right?"

He smiled once more and said, "No."
He went on to give me some background on the form and function of the Psalms as a literary genre. In a nutshell:
David, though he was one of the most beloved kings of Israel, was denied the task of building the Temple (which he had always longed to do) because he had blood on his hands (even "just war" was enough to disqualify him for the task—such purity was required by God to build his house of worship). God however promised him that his son would be the one to build it. Undismayed and undaunted, though David wasn't to build the temple, he made all manner of preparation for the future building of the Temple (by Solomon): by gathering construction materials, composing liturgies and songs to be read by the levi'im (priests). The Psalms were thus composed to be sung from a platform long after the death of David by these levi'im to the people gathered below.

It all suddenly made sense to me.

Who was speaking here?

The Levite priests.

"The Lord (God) said unto my lord (no capitalization—David) , sit down at my right hand until I make thy enemies into thy footstool."

This was a moment of catharsis for me. This was not some strange convoluted veiled reference to a future messiah at all!

So, when I went back to re-read the evangelist passages with this citation, I suddenly realized a few things . . .
first - that the use of this Psalm in the gospels reveals some theologically-tinged partisan exegetical sleight-of-hand on the part of the respective authors . . . . and
second - that the episode where J challenges the Pharisees with this enigma never actually happened as a historical event.

I can assert this last point with a reasonably high degree of certainty for a couple of reasons:
  1. Jesus, reported to have been a highly devout Jew who was versed in the Hebrew language and scriptures, would have known better than to say such a thing.
  2. Had he said such a thing, the Pharisees whom he said it to— fanatical in their study of the scriptures, and prone to long midrash on this and all other Psalms— would have immediately corrected his mistake on the spot. Anyone with a perfunctory understanding of Hebrew could have. Yet, in this gospel narrative, his mere citing of this Psalm is enough to make them all speechless and mute in astonishment. In reality, this would never happen in the world of rabbinic discourse.
Here I am reminded of an old Jesus film that I once saw, in which the scene of the woman caught in adultery is depicted in a similarly unfeasible, untenable way.
The mob, about to stone the woman, become suddenly submissive and awestruck and drops their stones at once at Jesus' mere "cast the first stone" statement. Jesus speaks and the whole universe falls on its knees, like E.F. Hutton.


Only a naive and pious need to "believe" could convince one to think that the human psychological tendency to correct an error (religious errors in particular) could be suspended so easily by the rabbis that Jesus addresses. Jesus could have won an argument with his detractors, for all we know, but an argument must have ensued. This simplistic depiction of instant pharisaic submission is completely unrealistic. It's a cartoon.

Anyway . . .
I realized after my meeting that any insistence that this Psalm is a reference to either a messiah generally, or to Jesus specifically, could only be based on theological needs and motives.

And if I may project this further, I must confess that not only do I see exegetical error here, I also see the faint outline of guile and deliberate obsfucation in the telling of this story—either that or a complete misunderstanding of the Judaic context of the citation. The insistence on the capitalization of both "lord"s in the psalm is a red flag to me, as is the sudden silence of the Pharisees in the gospel narrative; they are stumped by something that would have been easily refuted by any literate Jew.

These verses set my mind to thinking . . . .




01 August 2008

good versus bad mythicists

Posted by at 1:33 PM
I came across this interview of Richard Carrier (the episode of the show "Faith and Freethought" is titled "How NOT to Argue the Mythicist Position").

I think that any fair-minded person will instantly recognize that Carrier is a far cry from the lunatic fringe that can easily be caricatured. Lumping all mythicists together as sensationalist fluff is convenient but ill-advised. There's none of the resident mockery here. His honesty and relative objectivity (and his "expertise", I might add :) are quite impressive.

How Not to Argue the Mythicist Position



28 July 2008

weave study . . .

Posted by at 2:49 PM

weave study

4" X 5" woven watercolor paper



09 July 2008

new piece . . .

Posted by at 2:53 PM

man in a black suit
5½" X 6¾" woven newsprint and acrylic paint

I've been experimenting with woven paper as a painting medium. It has a certain feel. I'll be braving some larger pieces soon using this technique.



pésame . . .

Posted by at 1:36 AM

My good friend Frank's niece, Terra Frances Wagner, died this weekend in a car wreck at the age of sixteen.

May she rest in peace and may her family and loved ones find the strength to cope with the tragic loss.

My heart is sad.


07 July 2008

the Hazon Gabriel tablet . . .

Posted by at 11:56 AM

The recent discovery of a tablet with an 80 line inscription in Hebrew, which possibly contains a pre-christian reference to an anointed one who is resurrected by Gabriel after three days has been talked about recently in blogs.

I think it should surprise no one that there are mythic precedents to all of the details in the gospel narrative—even the Easter narrative. That's the very nature of human mythology; the symbols used to relay our stories are recycled and assimilated by societies instinctually from decade to decade, epoch to epoch, into the spiritual languages of their own times. (N.T. Wrong even points to a Ugaritic precedent of this three day resurrection motif that dates back over 2000 years before the supposed origin of the Christian movement. ) Nevertheless, if the inscription says what Israel Knohl thinks it says, then it's a very good example of this Jungian principle in action. It's evidence that the motif was an active and contemporaneous one in the very geographical locale where Christianity was to eventually germinate.

James McGrath in a blurb on his blog wonders if the resurrection story gradually came to be a result of the companions of Jesus (who had all fled in terror in the story —and hence would have had no idea what happened to Jesus after the Gethsemane episode) incorporating that motif into their hagiographic devotion later. Eventually, the motif was historicized; an empty tomb to vouchsafe this "rising" was postulated. Voila! The rest is "history." (at least doctrinally speaking)

Fascinating stuff.



23 June 2008

the Antichrist, eh? (lemming logic)

Posted by at 1:45 PM

Leaflet pasted on to a wall in San Fransico's Chinatown district.

I came back from California to read some blogs in which a very curious Américan phenomenon is described.
It seems that some less-than-conscious people are building up an email campaign in which they are proclaiming Obama to be the "Antichrist." They are warning people that Senator Obama is the beast described in the Bible and are urging people to fight the dark side (no pun intended, I assure you).

I am a bit puzzled by this, as you might have imagined.

The second coming of Jesus that these godly email missionaries are so keen on is a good thing—right?
It's to be welcomed, no?
Wasn't it even predicted*** in the Apocalypse of John the Divine?
*** it has puzzled me for quite a while that people have taken an apocalyptic text (not the only one) and stripped it of its zeitgeist relevance (i.e. Roman rule, Jewish Revolts), stripped it of its genre, and then transformed it into some kind of a grotesque tour of future world catastrophes. This does tremendous injustice to the work and ensures a very limited and erroneous understanding of the text's genre, in my opinion, but this fact does not seem to bother the purveyors of these clairvoyant interpretations of this particular text, I guess.

Anyway, the irony is delicious.
Do they want Jesus to return or not?

If "yes" then these very same people, instead of putting out nastygrams filled with paranoid speculations, should be doing all they can to support Senator Obama or else run the risk of actually hindering the second coming of the Lord. Or if their lofty ideals prevent them from actually volunteering and campaigning for a Democrat (oy vey!), at the very least they should vote for him. Think about it. I don't know about you, but I sure wouldn't want God's wrath coming down upon me just because I was too righteously vain and politically proud to welcome his second coming.
No siree Bob.


What will those who voted to postpone His return do, then?

They got some 'splaining to do.


06 May 2008

Sam Harris surveys ...

Posted by at 8:15 PM

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, is conducting some research and has asked for volunteers on his website to complete a series of four surveys.
Please help him out if you can.


atheism, atheist, Sam Harris, skepticism, Buddhism, Buddha, agnostic

02 May 2008

Paul and the pastorals . . .

Posted by at 1:16 PM

Over at Debunking Christianity I was surprised to find someone actually defending Pauline authorship for the pastorals.
Curiously, the argument that the commenter (J) presents involves an imagined 'conspiracy of scholars', one intent on undermining the patristic writers' contributions in the telling of history. The following is cited:

“In judging of the early evidence it should be borne in mind that all three Epistles claim to be by St. Paul. So when an early writer shows his familiarity with them, quotes them as authoritative and as evidently well known to his readers, it may be taken as a proof not only of the existence and widespread knowledge of the Epistles, but that the writer took them for what they claim to be, genuine Epistles of St. Paul; and if the writer lived in the time of Apostles, of Apostolic men, of disciples of Apostles, and of Timothy and Titus (as did Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement) we may be sure that he was correct in doing so. The evidence of these writers is, however, very unceremoniously brushed aside. The heretic Marcion, about A. D. 150, is held to be of much more weight than all of them put together.” (Catholic Encyclopedia - emphasis by J)

But is it really just "brushed aside"?
The phrasing of that last sentence will reveal its writer's polemical function (find their outline and things will tell you their name :) The fact is that many good, persuasive arguments have been presented (they go back even before the reformation) that cast doubt on either the authenticity or the dating or the provenance of the various patristic texts.

To say that they are just "brushed aside" is either uninformed or disingenuous.

The post-Pauline quality of the disputed epistles have inspired countless volumes, so I'm not going to tread all that ground here. I'll only mention a couple of points I think are crucial:
  • Marcion, the champion of all things Paul of his day, collected all of the letters that were attributed to the man from Tarsus into a corpus, and he left behind a list of all the books he "knew" were Paul's. This is the earliest list of its kind that we have, in fact. This list very simply does NOT include either Titus or Timothies 1 & 2. This is a fact. It is true that the muratorian canon included these epistles in its proto-canon (circa 185), but Marcion's list predates it by several decades. In short, the ultimate Paul freak of his day never heard of these epistles.
    Interesting, eh?
  • To anyone who would complain that the patristics are summarily ignored in our attempt to determine the authenticity of these disputed texts, I would put forward this challenge:
    Provide a citation from any writer earlier than Polycarp that cites any Pauline work besides the first letter to the Corinthians.
    That's my challenge. Go searching. You'll realize that no other epistles (much less the deutero-pauline ones under discussion) are ever quoted by them. When you do, you'll hopefully also realize that the patristic familiarity with Paul that you imagine was the case, is textually and historically unsupported (and mind you, I doubt that the Ignatian corpus is authentic to begin with for many reasons, but I'll grant it here for the sake of argument :) -- and though there are similar themes in some patristics, these don't qualify as quotations.
    In short, in discussing Titus and Timothy, we are justified in ignoring the patristics, not because of any rancor or conspiracy, but because they simply don't say anything at all about these books.
Like I said . . . whole libraries have been devoted to the subject, so I won't belabor it further, but it's fascinating to see someone in 2008 still defending outmoded medieval ideas that have long been obsolete.


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29 April 2008

100 intellectuals . . .

Posted by at 8:51 AM
Exploring Our Matrix is spreading yet another internet meme around. This time it's a call to list a hundred intellectuals.
I think it was Huxley that said that an intellectual is just somebody for whom sex is not the most important thing.
Oh dear!

I'll mutate the meme beyond all recognizance. Having read one such work and re-read another recently, I'll just list a few books which inform or have influenced my thought on Christian origins in some significant way.

  1. Antiqua Mater by Edwin Johnson
    Written in 1887, just three years after the publication of the recently-discovered Didache, this is an honest and well-argued skeptical examination of the early Christian literature, one that would greatly influence what would eventually develop into the mythicist position. I like his analysis of the Didache in contrast to Justin of Neapolis, especially in light of the fact that the Didache was a brand new text back when this volume was published.
  2. The Birth of Christianity by Joel Carmichael
    Warning—This book is written in a way that requires the average reader to keep a hefty dictionary nearby. Nearly every sentence is a beautifully convoluted flurry of dexterous polysyllabic insight. If you can navigate the advanced lexicon used throughout, this book contains what I think is one of the best laid-out overviews of Christian origins that I have ever read in a single volume.
  3. The Origin of the New Testament by Alfred Loisy
    Reading this 1930's work by this lovely apostate about ten years ago brought me for the first time face-to-face with the fact that any appeal to "apostolic" authority is tenuous at best.
  4. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity by Walter Bauer
    Another milestone work that forever changed the way I looked at the relevant materials. I've actually read this book in its entirety thrice. (OMG, I'm such a geek!)
  5. The Cross That Spoke by John Dominic Crossan
    Though I have seen critiques of Crossan which dismiss him as an ultra-liberal fringe writer, and though this book in particular (and also his Who killed Jesus, which essentially demolishes Raymond Brown's multiple-volume treatise on the death of Jesus in a mere 100 pages) argues what might be seen as an especially fringe position on the original provenance of the Passion Narrative, I have never heard a single scholar try to refute it. Not one.
  6. Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman
    Although I think Ehrman makes a huge mistake in thinking that the catalyst of the movement was a historical Jesus who was an end-times monger (an error which pervades all of his subsequent theses derived from that one), his insights regarding the first and second-century variations are nevertheless fascinating and useful.
  7. The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man by Robert M. Price
    This book helped me see that there is nothing new under the sun—not even the "New" Testament.
I'll stop there for now . . . . gotta go to work.



27 April 2008

20 April 2008

weird Jesuses #3 ...

Posted by at 11:56 AM
Here's a primitive woodcut:
The Way to Emmaus.

15 April 2008

weird Jesuses #2

Posted by at 5:43 PM

Light by Sigfried Reinhardt - 1959

A free-jazz Jesus?


heathen heathens atheists atheist agnostic skeptic skeptical buddhist buddhism jain bahai


Posted by at 2:46 PM
Over at Pistoumen, there's an interesting theory (nay, a rumination) regarding the identity of Joseph "of Arimathea." (JºA) The blog credits A.J. Fejfar with this bold discovery.

The gist of it that since there's no way to really know that Joseph (Jesus' father) had died relatively early (as the complete silence in the NT regarding Joseph after his brief role in but two of the synoptics suggests to their readers) , that it is possible that he lived on to even survive Jesus. JºA is put forward as a likely "secret identity" of Jesus' father.

Maybe, since he is referred to as a Tekton in the texts, the rumination goes on, and since Tektons were rumored to be prone to "penury," then perhaps Joseph, in order to avoid prosecution or shame or taxes or what-have-you, moved to Arimathea and changed his name. This would allow for the possibility that both his mother and his father were present in Jerusalem for Jesus' egress.

Over at Sunestauromai, the idea is deemed "persuasive" and some questions are asked about the implications for Catholic doctrines . . . etc

Since we are asking questions, here are some of my own:
  1. "Penury"?
    First of all, I would immediately ask for a textual citation for this claim, until then, this is but a silly ad hoc contrivance.
    But, for the sake of argument, I'll seriously consider it for a moment.
  2. Here I would next ask: why on earth would Yusef be harrassed and prosecuted for being destitute (which is what "penury" means)? Even if we extend the definition of the word to denote miserly behavior, isn't one man's miserliness another man's frugality? Where was the dividing line in this "practice"? Is there any evidence that would lead to the conclusion that stingy people were prosecuted to such a high degree in the Galilee—to the point of even having to change their name and locale?
  3. Further bracketing the silliness, I'll next ask: Why would Joseph have to change his name, but Jesus could continue to use the Nazareth reference? This seems counter-productive. Non?
  4. Also, if Joseph wanted to "hide," why would he retain even the "Joseph" part of his name? Imagine Vito Corleone entering the witness protection program, where afterward he is known as "Vito from Yonkers."
    What kind of "hiding" is that? He would do better by wearing a burkka.
    (does this seem silly yet? :)
  5. Since we are being arbitrary here, isn't it possible that this was his real name after all, i.e. Yusef bar Matthai?
    I mean, the two genealogies don't even agree on what his name at Nazareth was: Was it Yusef Bar Yacob? — Or bar Heli? I suggest that this is at least as probable as the present rumination.

I'll stop here, lest I be deemed as arrogant (as was the case when I tried to call attention to the folly in the rumination), and I'll end by adding a glimpse of my own view regarding JºA.

I happen to think that the JºA bit was invented out of whole cloth by the author of GMark in order to establish in one fell swoop 1- that Jesus had been indeed buried, and 2- that the women watching from a distance would know where Jesus had been interred (both of these being highly improbable scenarios without reliance on such a character as JºA to tie the empty tomb story together) . . . so the whole point is moot to me in the end, but is it amusing to see people taking convoluted fanciful things like this this seriously.



14 April 2008

Quote of the day - Philip Davies

Posted by at 2:41 PM
"Can biblical scholars persuade others that they conduct a legitimate academic discipline? Until they do, can they convince anyone that they have something to offer to the intellectual life of the modern world? Indeed, I think many of us have to convince ourselves first."

Philip Davies
University of Sheffield
"Do we Need Biblical Scholars?" , 2005


weird Jesuses #1

Posted by at 1:45 PM

In my studies, I sometimes encounter visual representations of Jesus or of people related to the Christian scriptures that fall outside of the normative way of representing him/them.

I decided to post some of them here from time to time. Here's the first, a Chinese woodblock representing the story of Jesus stilling the tempest.

It's a beautiful piece, in my opinion.


13 April 2008

quote of the day

Posted by at 9:31 PM
(for those who insist that only an "expert" can comment on Christian origins):

"[...]in the absence of further historical evidence, we must already come to the probable conclusion that the belief of the Christians in the middle of the second century rested upon a foundation purely Ideal. This is no hasty and rash conclusion; though it is one which constrains every thoughtful mind to a long pause of silence and of reflection. There is no need for us to tread over again ground so thickly marked and perhaps obscured by the footprints of modern scholars. There is good reason why we should abstain from overloading our pages with references to their writings, and so lend any further countenance to the notion that no man is competent to form a judgment on these questions until he shall have perused a whole library of learned letters. The data are few; the scope of the investigation is within the range of every clear-thinking person."

(Edwin Johnson, from Antiqua Mater, 1887, p.34)


Atheist, atheism, richard dawkins, daniel dennet, agnosticism, agnostic, gnostic, skepticism, evidence, history, historical, positivity, scholarship

12 April 2008

Beyond Belief ...

Posted by at 7:13 PM

I found a series of lectures which deal with the chasm that divides science/religion, faith/logic. It touches on a lot of the points brought up in recent discussions with fellow bloggers.



07 April 2008


Posted by at 11:19 PM
The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

HT - Sporadic Maunderings

25 March 2008

the end of the religious right?

Posted by at 9:18 PM

The Commonwealth Club of California
San Francisco, CA
Mar 13th, 2008

E.J. Dionne discusses Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right.

One of our most prolific thinkers, E. J. Dionne argues that the advantage of the religious right is over. He says mainstream America has taken up the causes of social justice, peace and the environment.

Though he expects evangelical Christians to continue to thrive, they are beginning to focus on these issues as well, rather than abortion and gay marriage

24 March 2008

a moment e.e. . . .

Posted by at 2:50 PM


is the






22 March 2008

Easter doubt

Posted by at 9:34 PM
Skepticism is a stimulant, not to be repressed. It is an antidote to smugness and the great glow of satisfaction one gains from being right. You know the self-righteous — I’ve been one myself — the little extra topspin they put on the truth, their ostentatious modesty, the pleasure they take in being beautifully modulated and cool and correct when others are falling apart. Jesus was rougher on those people than He was on the adulterers and prostitutes.

So I will sit in the doubter’s chair for a while and see what is to be learned back there.

from a piece by Garrison Keillor in the Chicago Tribune

(hat-tip to Shuck and Jive)


Que descanse en paz (1918-2008)

Posted by at 11:42 AM
"Music can always make you feel better about things. Classical music, of course, makes one feel very relaxed at a stressful time. Upbeat music is pure happiness, and you want to have a good time. Music is like therapy, and in fact it is beneficial for all parts of the body;I've heard they play music during operations. Hopefully I won't have to have an operation, but if it's serious, I'll want to have music."

Israel "Cachao" Lopez, one of the giants of Cuban music, has died today in Miami.



20 March 2008

rest in peace

Posted by at 11:27 PM

In commemoration of the passing of this great writer, I'd like to share this interview with him regarding God, Science and Delusion.

As I imagine him flying through the æther of eternity now, I can't help but recall the famous line from his landmark work:

"My God, it's full of stars!"


19 March 2008

Ancient NearEast treehuggers?

Posted by at 1:43 PM
When Abraham wanted a a family burial plot, he purchased the field of Ephron. The account in Genesis contains an interesting stipulation that was explicit in the transaction (23:17): Not only did he get the field and the cave, but also, "all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders that were round about, were made sure." This odd preciseness is not just a reflection of fastitdiousness or of shrewdness or business savvy on Abraham's part. This reflects the high value that was placed on trees in the region.

Reinforcing this observation is the study of the Hittite code recovered from the ancient city of Bogazköy (now in modern Turkey). According to the code, trees were so valuable in the ancient Near East that it was standard Hittite practice to enumerate each individual tree that was found on a property on the records of real estate transactions.

Such ancient careful attention to conservation is fascinating.
"Tree hugging" is not just hippy reactionism, it would seem.

16 March 2008

preaching to the choir is easy

Posted by at 12:37 PM
The following is a comment I tried to post on Ben Witherington's blog. I was responding to a fellow commenter who had brought up the points that I touch on.

Witherington declined to publish it, saying it was just a diatribe (an abusive denunciation). Here it is. I 'll let the reader be the judge of how abusive I was. I publish it here now in the interest of full disclosure and to show just how insular these apologist types really are. Shame on him for calling me abusive.


This comment goes out to derek (speaker for the dead)in particular, but if you think that his "assesment" is "fair", then this is for you as well.

You are correct in insisting that Paul's intent was probably not to tell the whole story in his epistles. They are letters to specific communities dealing with specific organizational and doctrinal issues, and as such, we should not expect that he "pass on the whole story" in every letter. This however has no bearing on this argument, for the simple reason that no one (not Doherty, not Carrier, not Wells, not Baur, not Bultmann, not Allegard, not Price, nor anyone else.) has made the argument that Paul must do this in order to support J's historicity. What you are doing, D, here is setting up what is known in the study of rhetoric as a "straw man". (For another germane example of a strawman, read the last paragraph of this comment). But in fact, this is not the kind of corroboration that is needed.
The total pauline silence regarding J's biographical information (or, more importanly-and I see you agree with me on this already-his teaching!) is so important here because, had Paul been familiar with the story of J's life and teachings as outlined in the gospels, he would have reflected some modicum of knowledge of this outline. But, in fact, in some cases, a gospel detail is contradicted by what Paul writes.

An example by way of a serious question:
If, as Rom 1:4, Phil 2:6-11, Acts 2:36, and Acts 3:26 preserve, Christians once (very early on) believed that J had become Messiah as of his resurrection, then all passages that have him claiming messiahship must be judged spurious. One is of course free to harmonize these, but I've yet to see a convincing harmonization on this, one that does not seem contrived, ad hoc, or blatantly apologetic. Such harmonization seems like an escape-hatch approach that solves the problem by convincing itself that no problem exists.


Additionally, had Paul known the gospel story and accepted it as accurate, he would have had no need to expound on some of the things that he so floridly expounds on in his letters, things that are attested to in the gospel story and which therefore should have been presumably settled by J himself.

An example of this, by way of a serious question (and again, there are several):
Why would Paul have needed to update J's ruling on marriage and divorce? (an "update", incidentally, which is really a conceding to the "hardness of heart" that J explicitly attributes to an "old school" of thought-this "update" by Paul is really a regression, a repealment)
"J said it, I believe it!" doesn't seem to be the viewpoint of Christians who you and Dr.W here seem to think already knew the story and therefore needed no refresher from Paul. You can harmonize these if you want, but I've yet to see a compelling harmonization (or even a dispassionate one).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From this point on I can't quote my comment verbatim because I didn't save the final last couple of paragraphs (I didn't anticipate that W wouldn't publish it—this surprised and disappoint me . . .

So the rest is paraphrased as best as I can remember:

I made some comments about the nature of study-about how study is honest inquiry and not sycophantic acceptance of doctrinal teachings (there will be a quiz on Wednesday and all that jazz). The latter is "training", not "study." One must honestly explore where the trail of evidence leads. Otherwise, though it may be theology, it most certainly does NOT fall under the discipline of "history."

I understand why so many orthodox believers are so alarmed by the implications of the mythicist hypotheses, and I realize that suspending belief is just as difficult as suspending disbelief, and that it sounds abrasive and caustic to the pious, and that it is highly unlikely that this volley will change anyone's mind on these matters.
But, though it might seem like it to someone who is sensitive and defensive in their faith, the mythicist position is not an attack of any kind, but instead it is a realization that the story is even weirder than we had imagined.

Like many of the commenters on W's blog, I find things like Acharya S, and Frieke-Gandy's book, Dan Brown's outright fiction, and the truly horrible Zeitgeist film to be utter crap. But, I honestly feel that the lumping of Doherty (and other more legitimate scholars like Price and Carrier) into the same sloppy-research camp is just misinformed at best and disingenuous and malicious at worst. All it would take on the part of anyone interested in this is to compare Zeitgeist's documented sources with Doherty's bibliography.

In the last paragraph I made reference to a chatter named Pearse who was trying to build a strawman out of an obscure work of Tertullian's.

I assure you it never veered from courtesy (albeit disagreeing) in my comment, so any decision to not publish it was based on something other than belligerence or vulgarity or ad hominems.

Witherington either finds my comment dangerous (which is just silly) and thinks it is worth censoring OR he thinks I am in error about something (in which case, I am not above correction, sir) OR otherwise merely disagreeing is enough to block someone's honest response to an open forum.

Is this what Jesus would do?

I'll not mention him again . . . but the above is a perfect final example of why I think Ben Witherington III is an irrelevant scholar. He's not just transparently apologetic, he is also dishonest.



el malecón

Posted by at 12:30 PM

My friend Brez painted this (60" X 48") and I'm storing it for him on my wall.


12 March 2008

wutherin' depths . . .

Posted by at 1:36 AM
Recently the name of Ben Witherington came up in a dialogue between bloggers. One blogger was pointing out a consensus position on the provenance of Hebrews, and another brought up a Witherington work as a counter-weight, suggesting that consensus views should not be taken too seriously, because of the tit-for-tat, spy vs spy spectrum of NT scholarship. I think that this "equal time" approach to consensus is flawed and at that point I stepped in and suggested that, if Witherington is irrelevant, it is not because he is a "conservative", but because his approach is transparently apologetic and subjective in nature, sometimes even stubborn in its unwillingness to consider anything outside a pre-defined orthodox reading of the materials. Witherington might be a fine exegete in his own right, and if his pious and insightful (I'm told) commentaries help to reinforce people's faith, then, by golly, more power to him, but his transparently apologetic tendencies make him a very bad choice for any kind of objective debate on anything that veers from his faith.

Since then, I came across this post in Witherington's blog, where he tries to deconstruct the mythicist arguments as put forth in Earl Doherty's book, The Jesus Puzzle. In this post, he lists what he considers Doherty's basic tenets and takes issue with each in a methodological fashion. He does his best to demonstrate the ahistoricity (even "anti-historicity" as he calls it) of each point. This post of his had me shaking my head in several places, and since Michael Halcomb posted some comments with a link to a Witherington/Levine discussion (synchronicity? :), I thought this would be the perfect time to write a post about why Witherington bugs me so much. It would take a very huge post to touch on everything that bugs me . . . :P . . . . . I'll try to be selective in this critique and keep it short and sweet.

Before I proceed, let me say that what I object to the most about this kind of apologetical browbeating is illustrated in the comments section of his post. Young people seeking pious affirmations for their faith just take people like W at his word and obviously have no idea of how contentious some of the things he offers up as historical givens in fact are. This is how misinformation spreads. An "authority" speaks, and the loyal disciples disseminate.
That's the irony in of all this—it's misinformation complaining about misinformation.

I am neither a historian (my academic training was in engineering) nor a full-fledged mythicist, but my point here is not so much to defend mythicism but only to point out the feeble (though vociferous) apologetic argumentation on W's part.

Anyway . . . let's begin:


Here, let me begin by counting a point in Witherington's favor. When I, like him, first read the title of this section used by Doherty, my reaction was to think it was a tad antagonistic. To phrase it like that is to set up a combative accusatory barrier (conspiracies are serious business, no?), and I think that this is an unfortunate mistake on the part of Doherty. It is not helpful, especially because his book is not really a polemic. Witherington points to problems he has with the silence argument:

1) First of all the earliest NT documents chronologically are Paul's letters (written between A.D 49-64 or so) in these letters not only do we hear about Jesus as a historical figure but also Peter, James, John, and a host of others who were eyewitnesses of Jesus' existence, not to mention that there are references that he performed miracles, taught various things and died on the cross.
Yes . . .
we generally accept that Paul's letters are the earliest documents chronologically.
I would however place them in the slightly narrower window of between 51-64, but I suspect this has to do with whether one accepts Galatians or 1 Thessalonians as the earliest Pauline account. It makes no big difference for the argument at hand, though, and only I mention this to point out that sometimes what Witherington states as a foregone conclusion—a given— (his Christian-initiate readers may miss this in their eagerness to accept Witherington's faith reinforcing professions as authoritative) is not as "given" in historical scholarship as he would have us believe them to be. I'll call this kind of misleading presentation the everybody-knows-that clause, and I'll try to point out places in his post where I think he is flagrantly engaging in this kind of thing. In this first case, this slightly contentious point has no relevance to the argument at hand and so I colored it amber (the doozies I'll make red).

Let's continue;
Yes, the letters of Paul are generally recognized as the earliest record of Christianity, a historical glimpse into Christian teachings that are the closest to the time period in which Jesus is supposed to have lived. Doherty says that Paul does not corroborate any of the narrative details about Jesus' life as described in any of the gospels. I agree with him. I think that seeing such details in Paul is the sort of 20/20 foresight thing I've described before on this blog. Namely, we read the letters of Paul from a perspective of having heard the full story four times already before Paul is even mentioned in the canon. The fact that the earlier texts follow the later ones in their ordering lends to this confused misperception. It's easy to envisage a historical figure behind Paul's elaborate theological constructs (he surely wasn't the only inventor, but the Pauline school is all that survived) only after accepting the biographical narrative as normative first.
But try this little thought experiment: Forget everything you know about the biographical narrative in the gospels (mischievous grin :) and then read Paul without interpolating any gospel material into it. What you'll find is that the only narrative elements which the Pauline letters and the gospels have in common are the death, the burial, and the resurrection of a guy named Jesus. But it's really only these three details where the overlapping stops. There is no mention of anything biographical prior to these. No quotations from his parables or teachings—not even when they would back up his point! (more on this later in the critique) . If Paul was aware of the basic outline of the story of Jesus' life as later set down in the gospels, he shows no interest in passing down the story to the communities in Corinth or elsewhere.

As a side note: My introduction to the mythicist position was actually the work of a Scandinavian gentleman, Alvar Ellegård, not Doherty, but I think both are right in pointing out that when Paul speaks of Jesus, it is of a Christ-Jesus, something which bears many of the tell-tale markings of a legendary figure who has somehow become historicized and divinized.

Other than the mention of his death, all we have left in Paul is . . . . silence.

Paul does mention a Cephas and a few others who seem to serve some kind of apostolic function in Judea and Syria, but he never makes mention of them as "disciples" of Jesus, and when he mentions "the twelve" (if that is not an interpolation, which I think it might be), he does so apart from these other apostles, explicitly.

Again, bracket what the gospels say about Peter and John and James et. al. . . .

If all that had survived to our day had been the Pauline corpus—if the gospels had not been composed during and after the war—we would have almost no historical information at all on either Jesus or any of those others that Witherington presents as Pauline reference to J's humanity. This is a crucial point that should not be glossed over, and I stress it here because it means that we cannot retroactively interject ideas from the gospels and Acts into Paul's letters without calling into question our reason for doing so.
If we are honest, we see that any such ideas almost completely absent in the letters.

THIS is the silence the mythicists are talking about. It may not be a "conspiracy" but it sure is deafening in spots.

Witherington continues:
2) In the book of Acts written in the second half of the first century we have numerous summaries of the life of Jesus, not to mention clear references to Mary* and the brothers of Jesus as well. Paul also mentions these clearly enough in 1 Corinthians. In short, there is no silence about these figures in our earliest NT documents.

FLAG! — and . . . FLAG!

I'll take those two flags in reverse:
The second flag first: Paul never once mentions Mary in any of his letters.
Ever. And of "brothers" only one is arguable.

The first red flag:
Stating this like this— "written in the second half"— could give the unsuspecting reader the idea that Acts was written somewhere between 50–100. The phrasing here reveals Witherington's tendency to pad the language in favor of "early" dating for canonical works.
First, I think it is fairly easy to demonstrate that even the stodgiest of orthodox scholars place Acts no earlier than about 64–66. But more than that, I wonder if Witherington is aware of the mounting analyses (John Knox, Joe Tyson, Richard I Purvo, David Trobisch and Mikeal Parsons to mention just a few) which posit a later dating of Acts, sometimes even as late as the mid-second century. This red flag is not to argue that case though, but to only to call attention to an everybody-knows-that foul on Witherington's part. The dating of Acts is far from settled. No amount of the kind of scholarly posturing that Witherington engages in will make it "seem" settled.
3) Furthermore, John the Baptist and Jesus are both mentioned not only in the gospels and Acts, but also in Josephus' Antiquities, written in the latter decades of the first century.
Witherington knows that the Antiquities were published around 93, so he acknowledges the fact that it was composed "in the last decades" of the century (f
or this reason—semi-honesty— the flag is not straight-up red), but this is still an instance of padding the language in favor of an early dating of works favorable to one's viewpoint.

Flag aside . . .
I think that everyone who is at least cursorily familiar with historical Jesus studies is aware of the contentious debate regarding how much, if any, of the Testimonium Flavium is authentically Josephan. To go into it here would be unnecessarily silly.
Even if authentic, though, it is hardly a contemporaneous mention of J. To present it as evidence of his historicity is naive at best and disingenuous at worst.

Moreover, as Paul doesn't mention John the baptizer at all, and as Mark's gospel is the very first mention of a connection between these two prophets, it seems plausible (at least defensible) to me that a known historical figure could have been coopted by the authors of the NT to lend credence to an evolving story of a god-man that was desperately in need of such biographical milestones to lend credence to faith, just as they coopted other aspects of Jewish prophetic lore in the process—other examples of this technique in the NT would include Quirinius, Pilate, and Gamaliel.
4) To this we may add the testimony of Tacitus who refers not only to Jesus but to his execution under Pilate.
First, calling the Tacitus quote "testimony" is a little laughable, considering that Tacitus was a Pagan. This again reflects W's tendency to pad his language to favor an "orthodox" worldview.

Second, the Tacitus reference dates to the latter part of Tacitus' life (106–116 C.E), which, again, disqualifies it as a contemporaneous account.

Beyond that, some people have suggested that this passage could be a later addition by Christian scribes.
After all, no early Christian writers refer to Tacitus even when discussing the subject of Nero and Christian persecution, although this is an argument from silence.
Still, Tertullian, Lactantius, Sulpicius Severus, Eusebius and Augustine of Hippo make no reference to Tacitus when discussing Christian persecution by Nero. It's a fact.
Can we gloss this over?
Once again, I object to Witherington's grandstanding as though the issue was somehow decided in his favor by some imagined consensus. Again, the unsuspecting reader might miscalculate his posturing certitude as authoritative.
But before I give off the impression that I am arguing against Tacitean authenticity here, let me stress that this is not my point here, but only to demonstrate how, by using a condescending castigating tone and an inflated sense of surety, Witherington conceals the contentious nature of some these issues (some of them burning for centuries now).

But, even if the passage is authentic, Tacitus is obviously only repeating what he has heard some of the Christians saying about Jesus. To infer that Tacitus is vouching for the historicity of this Christus (if he had known of Jesus as a historical figure, he surely would have realized that "Christ" was not a name but a title given to him by his later followers) is a huge logical stretch—see piece 4 below.

W closes his "conspiracy of silence argument" with an air of haughty authority:
In short, there is no conspiracy of silence about such matters, but rather plenty of evidence.
To this should be added the fact that the canonical gospels, which are already known and cited by church fathers in the second century, were all extant in the first century A.D. and are written either by an eyewitness ( the fourth gospel) or by those who had contact with the eyewitnesses (Mark, Luke, and someone who knew Matthew). This is perfectly clear from the testimony of Papias at the end of the first century A.D. (see Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses).

In short, Mr. Doherty has completely failed to do his historical homework on these matters.

Let's take care of the amber flag first again:
He's taking for granted here precisely that which he purports to prove, i.e. that the gospels were complete and in circulation in the first century.

Beyond this . . .

I have read Bauckham's book. I found it underwhelming in its argumentation and transparent in its apologetic function. Like all apologetic works, it will only be persuasive to those who already accept the premises it portends to "prove."
While Bauckham has tried in this ambitious work to raise a theological proposition to the level of a historical one (see the last red flag above) I'm amused by Witherington's championing of him as some kind of final say.
When Witherington says, "there is no conspiracy of silence about such matters, but rather plenty of evidence" this may or not be true, but Witherington provides no compelling counter-argument to Doherty's.
Does "doing one's historical homework" consist of accepting Backham's flimsy theses?
I'm afraid that posturing and "sounding" authoritative doesn't really do much by way of argumentation, but instead make Witherington look rather silly and partisan. There's even seems to be a certain desperation to it.


Witherington refutes the notion that Jesus probably should have been mentioned by any of a few quasi-contemporaneous historians thus:
I have already responded to these mistaken notions above, to which can be added Tacitus was not writing the annals in 115 A.D. and shows no evidence whatsoever of having close contact with any Christian community. (
ed. - Isn't the fact that he's mentioning them now evidence that he has in fact had some contact? This is a silly claim on several different levels. :D )As for Josephus those scholars who are experts in the 'Antiquities' are quite clear (ahh . . . I see . . . those who just happen to reinforce his assertion are the experts—the others are not experts at all! . . . they are all obviously hostile to THE truth . . . . I see . . .) -- the references to Jesus in this work cannot simply be written off as later Christian insertions, even in Testimonium Flavianum, where there were some later Christian additions. Doherty's claim that it is 'universally' recognized is simply a canard, which shows he hasn't bothered to even read the scholarship and text criticism on Josephus' work. Far from the Josephus' references being inconclusive, this evidence is decisive. ( OK, Ben, as long as YOU say so ;) Considering that Jesus never wandered from the immediately [sic] vicinity of the Holy Land it is no surprise at all in an age before the internet that he is not widely attested in the first century. Indeed, the surprise is that he is attested both by a Jewish and a Roman historian who had no axes to grind in the matter.

Well, except that he's not attested to the degree Witherington implies. To say that he is is simply to overstate a very tenuous case. Doherty is perfectly justified in calling the Testimonium Flavianum "inconclusive" in light of the historical controversy surrounding its veracity. To express such shock at this suggestion seems like so much grandstanding to me.

Witherington's passing comment regarding the date of the Annals escapes me. If by it he means that the Jesus reference was written while he was working on his Historiae (circa 106), that doesn't change the fact that it is too late to qualify as a contemporaneous reference.
Other than that, I'd like to add here that, while it doesn't surprise me that none of Jesus' contemporaries mentions him, it does, however, bother me that none of the contemporaries mentions a slaughter of innocents . . . or a night of the living-righteous-undead (

Silence does speak sometimes— if we listen carefully.

In this section, Witherington objects to Doherty's argument that Paul speaks of Jesus in mythical themes that have no grounding in any historical or biographical information:
This must be seen for what it is-- a bald faced assertion which completely ignores the evidence. Gal. 4 in Paul's earliest letter written in A.D. 49 or so we hear these words " but when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those under the Law." In one of his latest letters we hear: "for there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all."
Is he seriously suggesting that "born of woman" is a biographical reference? With all due respect, this is a laughable notion. The rest of that last quote is obviously just a theological rumination. The fact that Paul here calls Jesus a man says nothing about J's historicity. (Heracles was a man too, no?—just a thought)
In short, Doherty seems to be channeling the misinformation of the later Gnostic gospels, not the earlier and far more historically grounded canonical ones. Not only does he badly misread Paul, he equally misreads the canonical gospels on these very matters. It is precisely these sorts of remarks which show such ignorance of the earliest Christian sources which lead NT scholars of Christian faith, Jewish faith, and NO faith to completely ignore the pure polemics of Doherty--- he is no historian and he is not even conversant with the historical discussions of the very matters he wants to pontificate on.
Needless to say, I disagree with the notion that Doherty's is some wildly radical misreading of Paul. But more importantly, I fail to see why Witherington would suddenly leap into invective language right here, calling Doherty "pure polemic" out of the blue, without leading up to that ad hominem conclusion with any kind of argument whatever.
Am I the only person who finds this a little weird?
Unless, of course, by "polemic" he means that it doesn't accept a traditional orthodox viewpoint.


Regarding Doherty's credentials as a historian:
I think that Witherington's implication that one needs an advanced degree in history to study these matters is essentially elitist grandstanding.
It's ugly.
Two thoughts for him on this.
  1. "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." —some folk singer
  2. If it's a doctorate you need to take an mythicist argument seriously, then don't worry, just wait a few months until Richard Carrier completes his PhD review (in history, no less :). Judging by what I've read and heard so far from this young man, I have a feeling that whatever book he produces on this particular subject will probably be groundbraking. At the very least it will render fideist (at heart) rants like Witherington's obsolete and completely ineffectual.
And, moreover, since my understanding of the definition of the word "pontification" involves speaking in a pompous or dogmatic manner, and since I do not find Doherty engaging in this sort of browbeating rhetoric, and since I can instead find Witherington engaging in it repeatedly throughout his post, fitting the definition of pontification to a "T", in fact, I'm left with the impression that Witherington is quite probably psychologically projecting his own sins on Doherty here.


Here, Witherington counters Doherty's claim that Paul understood the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection to have happened in some "spiritual realm":
Here again this sort of assertion betrays a complete lack of understanding of Paul's writings, and indeed of early Jewish demonology. In early Judaism demons and evil spirits are involved in the human sphere and in the human realm, as well as in the heavenlies. It is not an either or matter. Paul certainly does not suggest Jesus was crucified and rose in the spiritual realm. To the contrary, Paul recites the early Christian creed in 1 Cor. 15.1-5 that Jesus died and was buried like any other mortal, and then was seen alive on earth after his death. Since Tacitus as well stresses Jesus died a mundane death at the hands of Pilate, on the basis of his knowledge of the Roman records, it is quite impossible to dismiss such evidence, or project it it into a merely spiritual realm. Furthermore, the book of Hebrews is perfectly clear that Jesus suffered and died in Jerusalem, not in some spiritual realm ( see E.G. Heb. 13, or Heb. 7-11). It does refer to Jesus going to heaven after his death and ascension into heaven. But his death is said to be a sacrifice on earth, like that of a passover sacrifice. Once again. Doherty has totally failed to interact with any of the experts on either Paul or Hebrews, and chooses to make up his interpretations as he feels led
Okay, one at a time.

First amber flag:
This is too strong a judgement on Doherty considering that, because almost complete dearth of textual data concerning the theological or practical beliefs within Pharisaism (or any other brand of Judaism for that matter), nobody—not even Witherington—can so smugly claim such expertise on ancient Judaic demonology.

First red flag:
Just a continuation of the flag previous, only red this time to reflect my annoyance at his claim to a high understanding of Jewish demonology with the kind of certitude that only serves cover up for the fact that it is based on his own (and others' apologetic works) exegetical parsing and not much else. This kind of confidence I can take from one like Jacob Neusner. From Witherington it just seems to me to be so much grandstanding.

Witherington's understanding of early Judaism is a result of his theological convictions.

Second red flag (and a biggie):
Two points regarding Tacitus (again).
  1. Whether he wrote the reference to J in 106 or in 115, either is simply too late to matter much in corrobarating J as a historical figure.
  2. Claiming that Tacitus got the information he relays in his famous reference to J from some official Roman records is very problematic. Here's just a couple of crucial reasons why (there are many more):
    • In no civil or census record would a historical Jesus be listed as "Chrestus."
    • No official Roman document would have refered to Pilate as a procurator.
    • It is simply more likely that he got the information from Christians —i.e., it explains more with less reliance on elaborate rationalizations or conjectures, such as that Rome would hold on to archival documents for damn near a century (I'll call this . . . the Ockham's razor approach :)

I think I'll stop here, lest this post get any longer. But I could go on all night . . . . his post is rather long and it is FULL of unsupported claims like the ones I highlight above.

But I hope this gets my point across.

As a final note, if you think I am too harsh in my assesment of W's stodginess, ask yourself why he is so reluctant to adopt the modern scholarly convention of using BCE and CE when dating events and people.

How does the old expression go?
"The devil is in the details."



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