31 January 2008

Parousia blues (an apocalypse deferred)

Posted by at 2:32 PM
. . . or

- The trouble with Bart Ehrman.

I downloaded Bart Ehrman's series of lectures on the historical Jesus on The Teaching Company label and have been listening to them sporadically recently. He is certainly very prolific and knowledgeable about all things "earlyChristian," but I think he's wrong in ascribing a "certain" apocalypticism to Jesus like he does. It is one of his repeated maxims throughout these lectures, in fact. He stresses this apocalypticism as the primary context of Jesus' words and deeds. But I think he's missing the forest for the trees.

It is one thing to argue for such an apocalypticism; it is another to smugly declare the subject as settled once and for all by scholars —to be fair, he doesn't explicitly say that, but it is sort of what he implies, that is, that no serious scholar or person could doubt that Jesus was essentially apocalyptic or that Paul wrote Galatians or that Jesus even existed, for that matter.

Here's where I think he misses the point the most, specifically:

Yes, there are traditions in both Q and Mark that are certainly apocalypse-minded. In order to ascribe this eschatological framework (it really IS the foundation on which Ehrman's theses depend—and ultimately fall) to Jesus himself, it is necessary first to explain why, if Jesus' primary genre was the parable, there is no apocalypticism in any of the parables which survived those first few waves of oral tradition. Ehrman of course does bring up the parables of the yeast and of the mustard seed, the only two places that I can think of in the texts that even come close, but fails to persuade me of their relevance to apocalypticism.

Ehrman implies that it is self-evident these are apocalyptic.

I disagree.

It fails my "blind space alien" test:

An example:
Suppose an alien from planet Zircon landed on Earth today and you wanted to evangelize it, or to merely answer its curiosity regarding our religious traditions. If all one showed it are the letters of Paul, it would have no way of knowing whether the Jesus that Paul lauds is a real person or not, so little information do they contain at all about anything having to do with Jesus' physicality or historicity. Only after the details of the story have been filled in by our acquaintance with the synoptic tradition and the later writings can we retrogradely connect those dots and see this historicity reflected in Paul's epistles.

Similarly, if we were to only show this alien the parables themselves and none of the evangelists' narrative, it is impossible to interpret those parables as apocalyptic. Only in light of what we already know about what the gospels had to say about the coming end are they "self-evidently" so. I suggest that we leave those anachronistic accretions aside (as if it were that easy to do once we are conditioned, I know) and I argue that there is no apocalypcism implied at all in those two parables. They are about growth from a lowly state to a lofty one, not about cataclysm or supernatural intervention.

Also, if Jesus preached an impending apocalypse, then Jesus was just flat wrong. After all, the promised 'kingdom" never came. A imminent second coming two thousand years in the making is no imminent second coming at all. No?

1) This lack of apocalyptic material in the parables and 2) Jesus' certain failure as a clairvoyant (what kind of a Son-of-Man could get THAT wrong, after all) are problems that need to be addressed if I am to take Ehrman's construction of an apocalyptic Jesus seriously. Until then, his academic posturing, though prolific, is ultimately but full of sound and fury . . . etc.

. . . all that said . . . I enjoy reading his work and will probably continue to do so.


27 January 2008

Taino short . . .

Posted by at 1:39 AM


22 January 2008

"to many brethren at the same time ..."

Posted by at 7:55 AM
UFOs over Texas.

Angels over L'América?

Dozens of folks down in Stephenville, Texas report having seen something huge and shiny and whisper quiet speeding along low over their fine province.

In this age of web-based telephony where you can play your favorite current MP3 and film yourself dancing to it and then transmit this footage to your grandmother who lives in East Madagascar, all in a matter of moments, it is interesting that the only video record obtained of this "close encounter" is a single badly shaky indeterminate (basically)useless one.

Something like this happened once while I was living in the Bronx years ago. Many people claimed to have seen some huge things up in the sky one night. Of course, I totally missed it (just my luck).


More recently . . . early one morning I noticed an iridescent concentration of light in the sky, a sight which I observed with fascination for some time. It was beautifully luminous. Not a comet. Not an aurora. All I knew was that it was weird and beautiful. Later that day, I found out that the cause of this light phenomenon was a test lift-off somewhere in the New Mexico sands which was causing this strange display in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. It was the latent trail of some rocket. Had I never heard the official report on the radio, it would have remained an "U.F.O." to my mind.

So . . . What was this thing that people saw over Texas?

There is an added element of intrigue in all of this. Some people are reporting two American military aircraft trying to pursue the U.F.O.s in question.

The military denies having deployed any aircraft in the area. Are they lying? To what purpose?

If people report having seen accompanying small craft, and the military says they are not ours, then instead of "pursuing" the "mothership" perhaps the two smaller craft are in fact supporting characters involved in perpetrating some illusion (I don't know that it IS an illusion, I'm just agnostic about it all, trying to figure this out).

But, if you ask me, some frivolous aviators are pulling some fast one here. This is happening in the buckle of the Bible Belt, too, so it wouldn't surprise me if there was an element of apocalyptic fervor simmering beneath all of this.

This all got me thinking; it reminded me of 1st Corinthians 15, in which Jesus is reported to have appeared to over 500 brethren at the same time. Fideists like Craig love this chapter, and see it as a kind of guarantor of historicity - I would love to see any serious theologian engage Bob Price's argument for that particular passage as a post-pauline interpolation. While I've read many people dismiss Price as a kind of enfant terrible of biblical studies, I've yet to see these people seriously engage this argument on its own merits. I feel similarly about Crossan's "Cross that spoke" theory, where he points to evidence of a precursor to the passion of Mark which was preserved in what we now know as the Gospel of Peter. I've seen people dismiss Crossan as a liberal extremist, but I've never a word to refute the strength of this particular thesis from them. As a disinterested layreader, that is very telling to me.

If 1Cor 15, by crystallizing into a liturgical formula, reflects a need for such inclusive language in refering to "bona fide" apostolic claims, while subtly still proclaiming Cephas as primary root (note even Yacob's much-less prominent placing on the list), then it loses its foundation as one of the texts that "vouchsafe" historicity for many. I'm not going to make the case here, though. If you are curious about Price's theory, read this article, which breaks it down fairly well:

Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians15:3–11 as Post-Pauline Interpolation

Anyway, while I think the the fine residents of Stephenville did in fact witness something in the sky that night, I think the 500 brethren are simply made up to lend creedence to and bolster the emergent post-apostolic kerygma, long after the focus had shifted to the resurrection as the Christian zero-point.

The synoptics all imply that Jesus died during his first visit to Jerusalem.
Were there 500 Christian brethren in Jerusalem fifty days later? If not in Jerusalem, where did this 500-bird-with-one-stone event happen?

The questions start to beg themselves like dominoes.



listening to . . .
Pat Metheny - Secret Story
Langhorne Slim - Slim Picken's

06 January 2008

Piazzolla and rain . . .

Posted by at 1:24 PM

In the course of doing some house chores and suchlike, I've been listening to a disc called "Astor Piazzolla y su noneto", recorded live in Rome on 17 April, 1972.

This is simply some amazing, fearlessly executed chamber music. It's fascinating to see how Piazzolla arrived at his own brand of brilliant corners independently of Monk (whom it sort of reminds me of). In them I hear uses of harmony which would feel just as comfortable in a jazz or even a rock setting all these years later.

It's so beautiful that I just had to mention it.



dia de los reyes . . . (Epiphany)

Posted by at 7:32 AM
The three kings.

They bore gifts.

When I was a kid, on the morning of every January 6th, we would all wake up and look under our beds, where each of us kids had left a shoeboxful of fresh-cut grass the night before (for the camels, of course, who were surely hungry after such a long journey). There underneath we would find the shoebox, now empty of grass but with a toy in its place.

It's way cooler than Santa Claus, I think.

04 January 2008

Who published the New Testament?

Posted by at 10:58 AM
William Arnal over at the Christian Origins group called my attention to a couple of articles from the current issue of Free Inquiry magazine that are worth the reading.

  • Religious Belief and the Logic of Historical Inquiry - by Van A. Harvey
    This a very good article comparing and contrasting the ways in which our chosen hermeneutics determines our outlook on the function of scripture.
  • Who Published the New Testament? - by David Trobisch
    I haven't read this one yet, but Mr. Arnal gives away the ending, revealing Polycarp as the proposed final editor. This theory is not new to me, I first encountered it a few months back during a brief email exchange with Bob Price regarding "Luke/Acts".
    What is widely accepted as two-volume "Lukan" set was originally the work of two distinct authors, later harmonized and redacted into a single narrative by a single editor (Polycarp). Price refered me to the works of John Knox, Joe Tyson, Richard I Purvo and Mikeal Parsons and also to a forthcoming book by Stephen (Gunther) Huller which has pretty much convinced him of the proposition that Polycarp was not only the editor of Luke, but of John as well, and that his purpose in doing so was to counter the growing Marcionite influence. Sounds like Trobisch is onto this now too.

01 January 2008

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Posted by at 10:47 PM

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