17 October 2009

AJLevine on the historical Jesus . . .

Posted by at 2:58 PM

During a program in which Amy Jill Levine was interviewed on the topic "Who Was Jesus of Nazareth" she says:

In terms of what I do historically ... what I hope to have happen is . . . when studying the texts with me . . . individuals: Christian, Unitarian, Jewish, atheist, Muslim ... whoever . . . will be able to see in fact the different portraits of Jesus that are available and rotate not only the concerns about . . . you know . . . . 'he died in order that my sins be washed away' . . . . but go back prior to the cross and see what sort of life he lived as well as death he died, because it seems to me that unless we take this historical Jesus here defined as the entire Jesus story, seriously and only concentrate on the cross ... and only concentrate on the resurrection, we've done a disservice to Jesus ... we've certainly done a disservice to the New Testament, which gives us a fourfold story, and I think that we've done disservice to God as well in terms of how faith has to have some sort of action to it.

Forget who is speaking for a moment and stand back and read the words again. This could be an encapsulation of the position taken by Paul's opponents regarding his obsession with the cross as the central metaphor in Jesus-adoration.

Just an observation.


04 August 2009

open question for NT scholars #5 . . .

Posted by at 2:34 AM

Thinking of textual blunders, an example ocurred to me: Matt 27.

The gospel-we-know-as-Matthew's narrative about the downfall of Judas Iscariot contains an error:

"There was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me."


Jeremiah never said anything about thirty pieces of silver. Some folks have tried to epicycle Jer.18:2–3 into something, but it's fair to say that the author of Matthew just plainly made a mistake. The citation is instead a paraphrase of Zech.11:13.

This from the most outwardly 'Jewish' gospel.

The more I think about it, the more I doubt that the gospel writers were the early Jewish-Messianists that people think they were.

I'm trying to figure out why the Hellenists would co-opt the mantle of Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem, though. The remnants of the Pharisees must have been furious at these Paulinists, who were claiming to be the New Jerusalem. I can only imagine.



01 August 2009

nitpicking Religulous . . .

Posted by at 4:05 PM

Two of the bloggers that I sometimes read (Greg Boyd and James McGrath) have done reviews of the film Religulous recently. I watched the film soon (a couple of weeks) after it was released in theaters. I thought it was funny. Nothing special, really, but a decent enough film. That will be the extent of my critique of the film itself here.

I write, however, because I see a certain pattern in both of the reviews of the film that I think deserves a little highlighting. I like both of the bloggers, by the way, and find them both to be honest and smart men—they are well-meaning and are generally pretty good thinkers .

The focus of their main complaint regarding the film is an interview in the film where Bill Maher asserts some parallels between the Horus legend and the Jesus legend. The claims that Maher makes are indeed erroneous (specifically, that both were supposedly born to a virgin on December 25th and had wise men visit them as infants. And that both supposedly had 12 disciples, walked on water, raised people from the dead and were themselves raised from the dead.) I am not here to defend Maher’s blunder.

But I can’t help but think that the severity of the bloggers’ critiques of this error (particularly Boyd) is making trees out of mustard bushes, so to speak. It’s kinda funny.

Bill Maher is a secular Jewish comedian. Like most human beings, he is at best but peripherally informed about both Egyptology and Christian origins. While it is true that what he actually said was just plainly wrong in this case, his mistake is a layman’s slip. Somewhere along the line, he read somewhere that there are parallels between Jesus and several other mythical figures in antiquity. In the heat of extemporaneous performance, he makes a silly mistake. It reminds me of an argument I once had with an older gentleman who mistakenly referred to the Protevangelion of John. Mistakes happen.

But the root of Maher’s argument in the passing comment is actually correct, there ARE parallel between Jesus and some of the other ancient legends. Had he brought up one of the valid ones (not silly born-on-25-December things, but some of the parallels with Apollonius and with the Mithric cults), I doubt that Boyd and McGrath would have been so critical. Too bad you can’t do a do-over with a film once it’s released.

I think it’s funny that Boyd would get so upset, especially since such parallels DO exist.

McGrath, in his review, calls attention to an important aspect of all this, “we are all prone to claim to be critical, but it is extremely difficult to actually be self-critical, regardless whether you are religious or not,” he says, and I agree. But it’s funny to find him in the same soup in this case. Ironic.

In his case, I think that he sees himself as being fair and consistent. After all, he once wrote a scathing critique of Ben Stein’s “Exposed” where he intimated some of the same thinking into his verdict (he also did one on one of Spong‘s books). And rightly so.
But I think there is a big difference. Bill Maher made a layman’s passing blunder at worst.
Ben Stein’s entire film was a systematic set of arguments that defiantly flew right in the face of the scientific method.

Again, don’t get me wrong . . . I think that Bill Maher needs to be corrected.

But I can’t help but wonder where Boyd and McGrath are when an “expert” like Ben Witherington III says that Origen explicitly mentions Josephus’ mention of Jesus. Or when he claims that Josephus and Suetonius and Pliny explicitly mention Roman records of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Or when Wm Lane Craig says that there are four “irrefutable facts” about Jesus’ resurrection. Or Phil Fernades not knowing the difference between the Thomas Infancy gospel and the Gospel of Thomas.
I could go on.

Where is the consistency there, though? And these guys are “experts”!

(That said, I appreciate McG’s review of Bauckham’s book — great job)

I understand that there may be professional repercussions to making waves against a “colleague” in the field, and as such, I don’t much blame anyone, but I just think it’s cute.



a fool on the hill . . . well done

Posted by at 12:20 PM



I have been thinking about Al Franken's final victory over Norm Coleman, so I watched the Ken Burns documentary film about Congress. It's a great overview of the history of that particular branch of government and the building(s) it has occupied, and the colorful characters that have festooned its halls and chambers:

Davy Crockett sat here. So did Joseph Pulitzer and Horace Greely. William Randolph Hearst and Emily Dickinson’s father. Isadore Strauss, the founder of Macy’s, and a man who pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964.

Over ten thousand men and women have served here. Farmers and housewives. Rhodes scholars and ex-slaves. Astronauts and priests. Basketball stars and convicted felons. School teachers and playwrights. And lawyers. Always lawyers.

[…] One member has gone insane in office. One has taken maternity leave and several have served jail terms for bribery. Members have fought on the floor with fists, fire tongs, shot each other on dueling grounds, and been shot at from the galleries. 23 from Congress have become president.

We can now add to that motley list of professions and personalities a comedian.

He's definitely tried to keep a low profile on his humor since he decided to run for the senate seat. When he finally spoke in his new official capacity during the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, I was relieved to see that his unique sense of humor is still lurking beneath the surface, intact, just waiting for any prudent opportunity to surface.

When I survey the history of Congress over the last two centuries plus, it's clear that he has some pretty big shoes to fill and a great responsibility is entrusted to him, a responsibility that anyone familiar with his former show on Air America Radion knows he takes very seriously.

  • Henry Clay - voted speaker of the house on his first day there for his oratory skill.
  • John Quincy Adams - Old Man Eloquent, the only U.S president to serve in Congress after his presidency.
  • Thomas Hart Benton of MO, the voice of western expansion (he once shot Andrew Jackson in a street brawl)
  • Sam Houston, future president of Texas, who sat in the house chamber whittling a pine stick.
  • Daniel Webster of Massachusetts . . . It was said that no man was ever so great as Daniel Webster looked and sounded.
  • Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who was in charge of the construction of the Capitol while it was being built. He would go on to become the president of the southern Confederacy before it was completed.
  • On the floor of the senate, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beat the abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner (Mass) with a cane. Sumner tried so hard to get away that he wrenched his desk from the floor
  • Hiram Revels-first black man ever to serve in the senate. Ironically, he filled the seat that had last been held by Jefferson Davis.
  • James G Blaine - who almost became president - had it not been for previously accepting money from corrupt corporate barons.
  • Thomas Bracket Reed of Maine Speaker of the House- staunch anti imperialist at a time when we were collection colonies.
  • George W Norris, who finally broke speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon's (Foul-mouthed Joe) iron rule on congress.
  • Robert M. LaFollete of Wisconsin, a progressive Republican, one of only six people to vote against a resolution of War against Germany in 1917. His son, Robert Jr would follow in his footsteps.
  • The first woman to serve in Congress. . . . Jeannette Rankin of Montana, was also one of the "no" votes in 1917. She was the ONLY "no" vote in 1941 (WWII).
  • Fiorello LaGuardia, a progressive (sometimes socialist) politician who could denounce exploiters in six languages.
  • New Deal pioneers George Norris and Robert Wagner (he was born in Germany), and Sam Rayburn of Texas, and his eager young protege, Lyndon Johnson
  • Harry S Truman of Missouri.
  • John F. Kennedy

Some amazing and noteworthy personalities have walked those hallowed halls.

I wish Senator Al Franken much luck and clarity and wisdon in the coming years.


30 July 2009

non-sequitur of the day . . .

Posted by at 10:26 PM

I absolutely adore Aretha Franklin's singing voice. It soothes my savage breast. She made a gospel recording some time in the mid seventies. The opening song is called "Mary Don't You Weep"

Lovely music.

Earlier today, while listening to NPR I heard one of the old classic folk singers singing the tune (I'm sure it wasn't Pete Seeger, but I can't recall who it was). Anyway, the absurdity of the song's lyric hit me like a joke for the first time:

Oh Mary don't you weep
Mary don't you weep
Pharaoh's army got drownded [sic]
Oh Mary don't you weep

Can anyone tell me what the hell this song is about?

I suppose that, if I really needed to, I could concoct and spin a nice little epicycle to make sense of it.

Just thought this was funny, all of a sudden.

25 July 2009

la YiYiYi, que nos dice . . .

Posted by at 9:53 PM

I've watched this video a bunch of times. When Pablo Picasso watched La Lupe perform for the first time, he said, "One word: genius." This clip comes from a mid sixties PuertoRican television program. I can't help but imagine my grandmother and all her friends behind their Roman Catholic lace veils, utterly horrified at what La Lupe was doing on Prime Time. Rosaries and penances for sure.

This woman is dancing around—wrestling with some serious angels. She scared the hell out of the PuertoRicans, Cuba's newborn dream couldn't care less about apostates like her and Mexico just wasn't enough to sustain this brilliant artist of the twentieth century, amazing though she was.

Had she made it to the Buena Vista age, she would have possibly had a new audience. Like a rare and beautiful Ibrahim Ferrer, a black pearl from a deep deep forgotten treasure.

Who knows?

23 July 2009

a geomorphic linguistic riddle . . .

Posted by at 10:05 PM

On September 23rd, 1493, Cristobal Colón, who was on his second trip to the "new world," had made it to what is now the island of Guadalupe. While there, he came upon some Taino natives who had been taken prisoner by the Caribs of the region. These captives managed to convey that they came from a bigger island further up the Antilles archipelago, an island they called Boriquén (roughly: 'the land of the brave lord'). They begged Colón to take them back to their island. Colón had arranged it with the Spanish crown that he would be the de facto governor of all of the territory which he "discovered" in the name of Spain, so it's not surprising that he would grant these native captives their wish. He wanted to return to Quisqueya anyway, which he had first visited in his famous first voyage, so claiming another isle on the way sounded like a good enough idea.
On November 19th, Puerto Rico was sighted. Colón named the island San Juan Bautista and they landed on the west coast, near what is now the town of Mayagüez. But Colón was sufficiently burdened with the tasks of establishing the colony at Española (the name he had given to Quisqueya) to stay long on the island. After a stay of only two days, he hurried on westward, leaving its dumbstruck Taino population to scratch their heads in wonder and awe at this development in their theretofore unchanging existence. (These two days, incidentally, were the only two days that Colón ever spent on territory that would eventually become American —i.e. USA— soil.)
Some fifteen years would pass with the Tainos of Boriquén having no further knowledge of these god-like (or so it seemed) creatures from the sea. Worse, if they had any information coming in about them, they were getting it from their neighbors and kin over in Quisqueya, and the news were not encouraging, I bet. They were undoubtedly stories of enslavement and of occupation and oppression and disease. Despite some efforts led by Catholic priests to protect them, the Tainos suffered greatly under the Spanish conquest.
Finally, in 1508, Juan Ponce De León, who had been a soldier on board one of the seventeen ships that comprised Colón's second voyage, and who had since moved from Spain to Santo Domingo (on Española), was commissioned to return to San Juan Bautista with a crew of fifty men to colonize the island. He arrived on August 12th, landing on the southern coast near Guánica. Making his way through the lush mountainous island, he finally arrived at the northern coast, where he found a magnificent bay. The minute he glimpsed this bay, it is said that he exclaimed, "Ay, que puerto rico!" ('My, what a rich/delicious port!').

. . . . which finally brings me to the riddle . . .

How did the names of this rich port and of the island of San Juan exchange places so quickly? Not long after Ponce De León exclamation, the island was referred to as Puerto Rico and the bay was referred to as San Juan.
A big switcheroo.

Weirdly cool.

13 July 2009

suggestions for a pope . . .

Posted by at 6:03 PM

The radiocarbon tests performed on some bone fragments from the recently excavated sarcophagus traditionally held to be the apostle Paul's burial site have dated them to the first or the second century of the common era. Based on these results, Pope Benedict XVI declared the remains to be indeed those of the apostle. Although I think he's being premature (and a bit presumptuous) in his announcement, I have no special reason for doubting that they may be the famed apostle's bones. In fact, for what it's worth, I hope they are Paul's.

The problem that I have with all of this at the moment is that the span of time in the dating result is not narrow enough. If (and that's a bigger 'if' than Benedict allows for) these are indeed the bones of the notorious Paul, we need a narrower scope of time than this two-century side-of-a-barn time span in order for the discovery to be of any real help.

How to narrow the gap?

During the excavations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many radiocarbon tests were performed on many artifacts. In an attempt to narrow the wide range of time which the artifacts can be dated to, an archaeologist named Magen Broshi came up with an idea. In one particular cave—the Cave of Letters—archaeologists (led by Yigael Yadin) discovered some correspondence between Simon Bar Kochba and one Yohanan, probably an officer under him. The most fortuitous thing about these letters is that they are dated; we know when Bar Kochba was active in his campaign against the Romans (132–136 C.E.). Broshi thought to submit these letters to radiocarbon dating as well, to see which date in the wide (often more than two century) span of possible dating for them. It turns out that in the cave of letters, a general rule of thumb applies for carbon 14 dating: in short, the actual date usually coincided with the older extreme of the dating carbon 14 time range. Now, This rule was later called Broshi's Law and was useful in chronologically or stratigraphically studying the treasures of the Cave.

Now, Broshi's Law only technically applies to the Cave of Letters, but I wonder if there might be a possibility of doing a similar test in the case of Paul's sarcophagus. I anticipate that a detailed report concerning the radiocarbon is forthcoming (it would be a real shame if it is not).
Some questions I have:
What exactly is the range of dates that resulted? (20–220 C.E? . . . . 70—180 C.E.? The precise range would be good to know)
The pope's report said that there were articles of clothing nearby. Were there any texts nearby? Any letters, especially?

Knowing the precise dating could settle many questions regarding Christian origins. If the bones date to around 64 or so, then the traditions about Paul are confirmed and the theories of the Tübingen and Dutch Radical schools can be tossed out the window as anachronic.

But, what if the bones turn out to date to the second century? Wouldn't this fact require us to throw the traditional story out?

(Of course, in that case, I have no doubt that the church would simply concede that it's probably not Paul after all)



02 July 2009

the battle continues . . .

Posted by at 2:30 PM

Tempe Town Lake catfish will be surprised to hear that Oscar Meyers scored higher than Hebrew Nationals in a taste test done recently involving humans. There's no accounting for taste!




30 June 2009

but wait! . . . there's more! . . . .

Posted by at 8:19 PM

Not only was there a fourth century icon of the apostle Paul unveiled, but the pope also has announced that radiocarbon dating of bone fragments taken from the sarcophagus, long held (since at least the fourth century) to be the burial place of Paul, indicate that they date to “the first or second century.”

Moreover, the pope declared said that these were indeed likely the remains of the famed apostle. He added that the find confirms the old tradition about its Pauline origin.
If this is so (and I‘m not arguing one way or another. . . . yet) . . . . If this ornate tomb really is the historical Paul’s . . . I wonder what effect on current historical scholarship this discovery will have in the coming year or two.

I remain skeptical and await the story’s further unfolding . . .

I suggest they check out the DNA for indicators of its probable provenance . . . for starters. I wanna finally settle the question: Was he semitic or greek?


I'm curious to see how this will all play out.



29 June 2009

speaking of Paul . . .

Posted by at 2:34 PM

ROME (Reuters) - Vatican archaeologists using laser technology have discovered what they believe is the oldest image in existence of St Paul the Apostle, dating from the late 4th century, on the walls of catacomb beneath Rome.

Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, revealing the find on Sunday, published a picture of a frescoed image of the face of a man with a pointed black beard on a red background, inside a bright yellow halo. The high forehead is furrowed.

Experts of the Ponitifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology made the discovery on June 19 in the Catacomb of Santa Tecla in Rome and describe it as the "oldest icon in history dedicated to the cult of the Apostle," according to the Vatican newspaper.

The discovery, which involved removing layers of clay and limestone using lasers, was announced a day before Rome observes a religious holiday for the Feasts of St Peter and St Paul.

Peter and Paul are revered by Christians as the greatest early missionaries. Converting on the road to Damascus following a blinding vision of Jesus, Paul took the Gospel to pagan Greeks and Romans and met his martyrdom in Rome in about 65 AD.

Early Christians in Rome buried their dead in catacombs dug into the soft rock under the city and decorated the underground walls with devotional images, often in the Pompeian style.

(highly esteemed in Rome was this Paul person as a legendary apostle . . . and yet . . . the author of 1Clement knew almost nothing of his missionary output . . . hmm . . . interesting)



a refutation deferred?

Posted by at 9:29 AM

I have lately become fascinated by the Tübingen School of historical criticism and by its inevitable derivate, the Dutch Radical school. I posted some links to a few essays and articles detailing the views of some of these schools' main exponents a few days ago.

Dating back to the early nineteenth century, the findings of these scholars has been all but ignored by subsequent scholarship, whose response to the various arguments posited has basically amounted to little more than a cold shoulder. This is a complaint that I have heard voiced by the very few scholars who remain standard-bearers for this radical approach (e.g. Bob Price and Hermann Detering). It seems clear that the implications of the Dutch Radicals' conclusions are so paradigm-shaking (and thus 'dangerous' for orthodox exegetes) they were all ignored.

I find the arguments for the 2nd century origin of the Pauline corpus advanced by the Dutch Radicals to be cogent and rather persuasive. In an effort to get an outlook on the subject from the other side I started seeking counter-arguments to the Dutch Radicals. If they are so fringe, then it must be easy to refute them, right? But I found very little.

On one apologist site (CADRE Comments), the blogger seemed determined to remedy this dearth of engagement with what he clearly considers a fringe hyper-critical group by starting a series devoted to refuting the radicals. He seems aware of the charge of a conspiracy of silence levelled at contemporary scholarship and he is determined to reveal the errors of the radicals by means of rational exegesis and argumentation instead of scornful dismissal:

I want rather to subject some of their arguments to critical scrutiny, to see whether they deserve the serious consideration which Detering complains has been lacking in the academy [...] ... [T]here are a number of thorny problems with the reception of Paul's letters in the 2nd Century which mainstream scholars rarely if ever deal with, so that the historical Paul ends up being a much more vulnerable target for skepticism than the historical Jesus. In the end I think their views suffer from a number of debilitating flaws, but this must be demonstrated, not simply assumed because of the marginal status of the Dutch Radicals.

Very cool. A commendable notion, and, in fact, his first post of the series is a fairly good introduction to the relevant ideas espoused by the radicals. After sketching a pretty good outline of their arguments, the blogger promises to engage them in detail in a later post (the introductory post dates to April 2008).

I was excited to continue reading after this introductory post, but, as I searched his blog for more entries on the subject, all I found was one more part in his series (dated in July 2008). In this 'part 2" post, he appeals to a work published by Albert Schweitzer in 1912, Paul and his Interpreters.

As regards external attestation, "the position is not so favorable to [the Dutch Radicals] as Loman wished to represent it." 1 Clement attests quite clearly to some Pauline letters and is to be dated no later than the beginning of the 2nd Century. If the Ignatian letters are genuine, "the attestation of the Pauline Epistles is in much better shape than was formerly supposed."

This opinion echoes what the blogger had hinted at in his first post:

Dutch Radical scholars were convinced that the earliest assumed witnesses to Paul and his letters, 1 Clement and the Ignatian epistles, along with Polycarp, are complete forgeries.

This implies that in order for their theories regarding the (in)authenticity of the pauline corpus to stand, the Dutch Radical depend on the inauthenticity of 1st Clement and the Ignatian corpus, which they deem spurious based merely on this need to doubt Paul.

A red flag goes up for me at this point. This is a specious line of argument for a couple of reasons:

  1. The authenticity of the Ignatian letters has been doubted for far longer than that of the Pauline ones (ever hear of Martin Luther?), and for very good reasons. These reasons are very well outlined in this very good article by Dwight P Killen. It's simply ass-backwards to imply that the Ignatian corpus was found questionable only as a result of some imagined need to question Paul's own corpus.
  2. I agree with Mr Killen, but, for the sake of argument, I will entertain the possibility that the Ignatian corpus and 1st Clement are genuine articles of turn-of-the-century Christianity. The problem here is that when I searched these two texts (my internet was down for a few days so I broke out some hardcover references and went to work cross-referencing between them and the NT) for any indications that their respective authors were familiar with letters of Paul I find a few allusions to 1 Corinthians and no more. Moreover, each of these texts seems to know just a small section of 1stCorinthians. Schweitzer, writing in 1912, was simply wrong, it seems, about the extent of their familiarity with the colossal apostle (to borrow a phrase from Bob Price). Walter Bauer, writing in 1934, came to the same conclusion as I did regarding this matter in his Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.

One may argue for the authenticity of the Pauline corpus if one wishes, but I'm afraid that it cannot be done by appealing to attestation in Clement or in Ignatius. Sorry.

Beyond this second post in the blog series, which appeals to authority (viz. Schweitzer's outmoded opinions), the blog which promised "critical scrutiny" delivers nothing of the kind in the end.

This all makes me wonder if Detering is right about how readily the arguments are dismissed out of hand by modern scholars, unexamined (except superficially and patronizingly), after all.

for now . . .



quote of the day . . .

Posted by at 7:27 AM

Science is the poetry of reality.

Richard Dawkins

28 June 2009

the Tübingen School and the Dutch Radicals online . . .

Posted by at 1:56 AM

After finishing Conzelmann, I started reading up on the Tübingen School and the subsequent Dutch Radicals that took the former's ideas to their ultimate natural implications, namely, casting doubt on the authenticity of not only the pastoral epistles, but also of the hallowed "seven genuine letters" of Paul. Even the big four letters (i.e. 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, & Romans), Van Manen, Loman and their colleagues concluded, are not articles from the mid first century apostle to the gentiles, to whom they have been attributed since the catholization of "orthodoxy" in the mid to late second century.

There's a treasure trove of articles on the subject over at Robert Price's wonderful Journal of Higher Criticism. Anyone interested in this stuff should go check it out.

They are really very well researched and well argued essays. I highly recommend them.

I find what they say convincing; I've been ruminating on these and expect to write a few thoughts on this topic soon.



23 June 2009

momma done took his kodachrome away . . .

Posted by at 4:57 PM

Making up approximately 1% of sales recently, the Kodak company is finally putting to rest what was once a popular flagship product for the company. Two radical examples of kodachrome as an icon-producing tool of American history: the Zapruder footage of the JFK assassination . . . and the famous striking green eyes of the Afghan woman who once graced the cover of National Geographic.

What will rhymin' Simon do now?



21 June 2009

quote of the day . . .

Posted by at 3:27 PM

"Poetry's no place for a heart that's a whore ... "

Martha Wainwright

open question for NT scholars #4 . . .

Posted by at 12:47 AM

I've been enjoying reading Hans Conzelmann's book on primitive Christianity. About fifty pages into it, a passing comment of his set my mind on a tangent: Just a few years (per Acts) after the death of Jesus the movement proclaiming his name had spread from the Galilee to Judea to Samaria and up the coast to Antioch and into Syria (Damascus).

I find myself a bit stumped by the expansion of primitive Christianity into Samaritan territory in particular. Here, there existed a bitter rivalry between the Judean and the Samaritan varieties of Abrahamic covenantal faith. So bitter a rivalry, in fact, that it was immortalized in the parable of the Good Samaritan for posterity. (i.e. ... it made it to the pop charts of the day, so to speak) What made that story so poignant was the fact that Judeans and Samaritans would just as soon let each other die in the street rather than acknowledge each other. It was mutual.

I am wondering what kind of missionary activity would convince a sworn hated rival to forsake not just his opponents' variety of Abramism (Mosaism, Judaism ... whatever), but his own, in favor of this "new and improved" variety.

I find dissonance here. Might this be evidence (latent, faint) that the missionaries weren't selling messianism there after all? Would a messianism of a Jerusalem or a Pauline variety have been taken seriously in Samaria?

Just some questions to ponder as I keep walking this weird journey. The more I keep walking on, the more the trail opens up.



15 June 2009

Todd Rundgren on where music is heading . . .

Posted by at 12:55 AM

His approach is one of the three models outlined in a great WGBH Forum lecture and in a previous FORA post.

A good synopsis of the history of personal computing and the distribution of music.



10 June 2009

bits of Doc's journals . . .

Posted by at 12:56 AM


After posting an anecdote involving Phil Spector and Doc Pomus, I came across Pomus' journals. A few gleanings from his peculiar street wisdom:

He was one of those white kids who heard the blues and got fucked up forever. He thought there was blues in the bottle and blues in the dope and so he drank too much and he stuck needles in his arm and burnt out his nostrils with cocaine and his soul never got a little black.

And he only got more fucked up. And his singing and playing got a great big "I" for superior imitation. And the white kids never knew the difference and they paid big money to hear him, and bought his records and idolized him and he hated them because he knew they knew nothing. They mistook his hatred for eccentricity and a famous blues singer said he was great because this was a way to get a gig for more money than a blues singer ever makes. And everybody was happy—the famous blues singer, the white junkie musician, and the audience.

Cause we're children, children lost in a world we never made, no matter how hard we try, we're gonna cry til we die, and never, never make the grade, cause we're children.

The important thing is to be the poet—not the famous poet—there are so many uncontrollable intangibles that make up recognition and success.

It's the life we choose that sets us up in the hierarchy of humans—that proves our courage and understanding and sensitivity. I'd rather be the worst poet than the best agent.

And a creative life is so much more important than a structured shadowed existence.

(Later)—Saroyan represents all that is noble and sad in life—the nobility in maintaining the poetry and the sadness in always feeling the inevitability of failure and death.

(Much later) —I'm not running a glue factory to patch up fragmented lives.

Gerry Goffin called me yesterday and apologized for "copping so many of my songs." I told him he was silly and I invited him over. He said he would bore me and every time I spoke he answered, "What did you say?"

Don't forget that people get into business because they like to make money. People play ball—because they like to play ball. People write songs cause they like to write songs—and it's always us against them. And somewhere along the line the businessperson loses perspective and thinks that he does everything and the ball player or the musician are like puppets on his string and he actually causes them to do their thing.

(Later)—Sometimes you're infuriated by some people's tactics. But maybe they're just aware of their limited equipment and are trying to make the most of it and then their way of doing it comes out so strange and rotten, but it's all they got. And they're trying to make the most of it no matter how rotten it gets—and you can't blame them for trying.

Kafka said a book must be an axe for the frozen sea in us.

08 June 2009

Jive history . . . .

Posted by at 11:34 AM

Over at the wonderful Internet Archives there is a page devoted to a series of thirteen lectures by one Tom Nelson on the history of Christianity, spanning from the beginnings through the reformation and on to modern times. After listening to it in its entirety, I'd like to comment on the first lecture here only. The rest of the series I found to be fairly well outlined and even useful and somewhat informative, but the first lecture is SO bad, that it took some force for me to continue listening. What bugs me so much about it? Let's take a quick look. In the first six or seven minutes, Mr. Nelson says all the following:

“The first period is the age of Catholic Christianity. It goes from 70 AD to 312. Now let me tell you why we call it “catholic Christianity.” How many of you, when I said “Catholic Christianity,” you immediately thought of a pope? Of pope, of Mary, of icons, rosaries, holy water? No, that’s not what we mean by catholic Christianity. The term “catholic” is a term that merely means “universal.” That’s all. 70–312 was a unique time in church history because there was no division within Christians. Ideologically, you did not have Protestants and Catholics. And later on, Catholics, and Lutherans, and reformed Calvinists, and Anabaptists, and Mennonites, they just kept fragmenting. This was Catholic; it was universal. Everybody pretty much believed and lived the same. After 312, you’re going to have a geographic division. You’re going to have a western capital of Christianity that’s called Rome and you’re going to have an eastern capital that’s called Constantinople. But at this point, it is a Catholic system. It’s a sweet time in the church. It’s the one time in Christian history that the church was not either geographically or theologically divided. It was our first love, Catholic Christianity. And this period is marked by five different things [and] I’ll walk through four of them this morning with you. […] And incidentally, why do we say 70 to 312? Let me give you a preface. 70 is a good time to begin Christian history because that’s when Judaism officially ends, because what happened in 70 AD? The locus [sic] of Judaism, Jerusalem and the Temple, were destroyed, so there was nothing that a Jew could go to call his own, and he was exiled throughout the Roman Empire whenever [sic] Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome. So in 70 you have the official ending, in a sense, of the “ism” that Judaism had become. And it became the theology of the exiles. Why do we go to 312? Well, if you know your old studies in ancient history, in 313 something happened that was absolutely monumental. A Roman emperor became allegedly a Christian. […] “

Now, anyone who is even cursorily familiar with the voluminous work done on the historical period in question will immediately see the HUGE blunder(s) in the quote above. But, as the introductory paragraphs which precede this barrage of misinformation shows, the lecturer fully knows that his audience (his church congregation) will likely never get around to reading or investigating any of it on their own. This is what ultimately frustrates people like me so much about such enterprise. People are prone to obediently accept a ready-made package as long as it coincides with their chosen world view, without question, not really caring for either accuracy or the verisimilitude of the subject at hand. It astounds me. But as Elvis Costello once sang: "I used to be disgusted, and now I try to be amused." For those who are not so acquainted with the pertinent materials, allow me to point to his error:

Simply put, to claim that between the years of 70 CE and 312 CE (the lecturer's use of AD—scholarship has abandoned this convention— is already a red flag signaling that this is not founded on scholarship but on obstinate faith) there was universal harmony among all Christians, as Mr. Nelson does here, is just absurd. Pure folly. He paints a Utopian picture that is completely divorced from reality. The explicit variegation within Christianity is the focus of exhaustive studies such as Walter Bauer's seminal 1939 work "Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity" and more recent treatments such as Bart Ehrman's "Lost Christianities." Even were one to disregard the work done on the subject over the course of the last couple of centuries and instead limit oneself to the writings of the early Christians themselves, it would become quickly evident that there were Christian groups in conflict with each other in those days. Even as far back as in Paul of Tarsus' day!

A small selection of easily verifiable facts:

  • The author of the epistles ascribed to John slams the docetist Christians whom he finds theologically threatening. (circa 125 CE)
  • Marcion of Pontus, a Christian bishop, is called the "first-born of Satan" by Polycarp. (circa 145) Marcion's followers were part of a highly structured hierarchical organization, one that paralleled and even rivaled (complete with bishops, sacraments and the rest) that which would eventually congeal and emerge as the Catholic church we know today.
  • Valentinus (120–160 CE), one of the earliest Gnostic Christian teachers, gathers a following that survives well into the fourth century.
  • Tertullian, a Carthaginian, arguably the most prolific Christian writer of his day, becomes a follower of Montanus and is duly excommunicated. (circa 210 CE)

Now, I'm not here to defend any of their teachings; that's not my point. But the fact is that all of this speaks of division. All of the above men are rancorous toward those they deem heretical, and, as the record shows so well, the rancor is more than reciprocated.

So when I hear Mr Nelson say things like, "there was no division within Christians," and ,"it’s the one time in Christian history that the church was not either geographically or theologically divided," I can't help but think to myself, 'What the fuck is he talking about?! Has he read ANYTHING at all on the subject?'

He can only be deriving his stance from a literalist fundamentalist reading of the Acts of the Apostles, which he obviously considers to be a historically accurate account of what happened after Jesus died, one that is unquestionable. This reminds me of the Christian equivocation of the words "Pharisee" and "hypocrite." Now, if your only understanding of what the Pharisees were comes from a literalist reading of the gospel narratives, then it's rather easy to develop this habit of using these two terms interchangeably like some Christians do, but limiting oneself to that gospel material is not only narrow-minded and obstinate, it also deprives us of an understanding of a good and pious people who were immeasurably influential in the development of our cultural inheritance, and who, incidentally, deserve respect. It does much disservice to a great people, and, moreover, is intrinsically and blatantly anti-Semitic.

Which brings me to my final point:

The contention that, "70 [is] when Judaism officially ends" that he makes has to be one of the stupidest, most absurd things that could be said about the historical period in question. I understand the narrow-mindedness that could conceive such an idea, and as such, I find it a hateful and vain concept. It is deeply unjust. It makes me sad to hear such things in this twenti-first century.

Judaism ended in 70? Tell it to Bar Kochba. Tell it to Akiba. Tell it to Maimonides. Tell it to Abulafia. Tell it to Anne Frank and Elie Weisel and Isabella Leitner.

I mean . . . the nerve!

I hear things like this lecture and it makes me sad for humanity, for it makes me realize how far we still have to go, for not only is it rare that a Christian congregant even hears of early church history, when he/she does, it's liable to be bullshit like this.

Lying in the name of the lord?

Meister Eckhart once said, "What is truth? Truth is something so noble that if God could turn aside from it, I could keep to the truth and let God go."

I concur.



06 June 2009

cemí #2 . . .

Posted by at 11:32 PM


This one's more rustic.



Phil Spector on murder in 1960 . . .

Posted by at 4:41 PM

I came across the text of the speech that Phil Spector delivered on the occasion of the induction of Doc Pomus into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In an attempt to illustrate the kind of Person that Pomus was, Spector tells an anecdote which I found strangely ironic in light of his recent conviction for the murder of his former would-be lover:

So you can better understand the Doc Pomus I knew, I'll tell you a short story about me and Doc that occurred soon after I met him in 1960. While I know this is not a serious way to start this, I know he would not mind if I shared it with you [...]. I lived in New York and Doc used to call me up on the telephone. He befriended me and took me in; he would invite me to dinner and he'd take me to Joe Marsh's Spindletop. Now, Joe Marsh was an alleged, you know, an alleged, an alleged, an alleged—but I don't know. Doc would say to me, "I'll buy you a steak. C'mon." So I would go down to this restaurant for the finest meal in the world and conversation and memories that were lovely. His wife at that time was working in Fiorella's; she was a big star on Broadway. One day, we're sitting there eating and I don't know, but out of the corner of my eye I saw something happen—I thought it took five hours, but it took like a second—a guy in a raincoat walks in with a hat, walks in and goes up to a guy and BOOM BOOM BOOM, three booms in the head and the guy slumps over dead, just like that. I mean I couldn't believe it. I'd never seen a murder, an execution in a restaurant. When Doc called me up the next time, I told him, "I can't go back in that place ever." And Doc says, "What's the matter, babe?" "There was a murder! In the Spindletop Restaurant." I came from Los Angeles and I was born In New York, but I'm telling you... and the scene was ten years before the Godfather! So Doc says, "You gotta understand something, babe. You see life is up and down, up and down." I said, "What does up and down have to do with it? A man got murdered." He said, "The place is incredible, right, the salads, I mean how about the service in that restaurant? You have to look at the up side." I said, "I don't get it, I don't get it at all, a man got murdered, man, his brains were splattered all over." He said, "you're looking through those funny glasses, babe, you gotta see things on the upside, up up up." I said, "I don't see anything up about about a man being murdered. I don't see anything up and I don't know what it has to do with the murder. How do you explain anything that has to do with the murder." "Well the murder—that's the down side of the restaurant, you understand, the down side."

As I said before, I met Doc in 1960. He befriended me at that time. While he was alive, he was the light of my life. Now that he's gone that light has gone out. His passing has made me realize much I don't understand. See, I know that love comes from the heart, but I have no idea where love goes when the heart dies. Nor do I know what it is within the heart that breaks so badly that it's impossible to repair.

Pomus was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 (Spector himself was inducted in 1989).



30 May 2009

weiner showdown . . .

Posted by at 11:19 PM

I went fishing at Tempe Town Lake at sunset with Rob W. We each brought along some hot dogs with which to bait catfish. We joked about which brand would get the most bites.

The result: (drum roll . . . . . )

Hebrew National hot dogs are preferred by Tempe catfish. No contest. I reeled in two of them with that brand while Rob wasn't getting any bites at all with the Oscar Mayers. As soon as he switched over to Hebrew Nationals . . . . whaddaya know . . . he caught one too!!

You can't argue with good science.



25 May 2009

quote of the day . . .

Posted by at 11:57 AM


"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

Hunter S. Thompson

14 May 2009

pésame . . .

Posted by at 9:36 PM

Sarah Marie Adames
4 Dec 1984 - 7 May 2009

It is with great sorrow that I extend my sympathy to Jim and his family. I don't understand anything about justice and I know that my arms are too short to box with God, but it just seems so unduly unjust to me, the loss of one so young and vibrant.


10 May 2009

petroglyphs . . .

Posted by at 10:36 PM

It's wrongly named Hieroglyphic Canyon. These are petroglyphs done by Hohokam people circa 1200 C.E.

An easy hike just about forty minutes east of me.


05 May 2009

cemí . . . .

Posted by at 2:47 PM


A cemí is an indigenous Taino figurine. It is a fertility symbol that also represents the island itself (Puerto Rico in this case), with a mountain ridge running down its back. I picked this one up in a little shop in Ponce on my last trip to visit my mom.



02 May 2009

quote of the day: Abraham Heschel

Posted by at 4:52 PM

The glory of a free society lies not in my consciousness of my right to be free, and my capacity to be free, but also in the realization of my fellow man's right to be free, and his capacity to be free. The issue we face is how to save man's belief in his capacity to be free. Our age may be characterized as the age of suspicion. It has become an axiom that the shortest way to the understanding of man is to suspect his motives. This seems to be the contemporary version of the Golden Rule: Suspect thy neighbor as thyself. Suspicion breeds suspicion. It creates a chain reaction. Honesty is not necessarily an anachronism.

Abraham Heschel
Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism
p. 251

25 April 2009

Gore Vidal on religion . . .

Posted by at 2:20 AM

This made me smile.



24 April 2009

blurring the frame . . .

Posted by at 1:29 PM

I attended a couple of performances in the past month, one an afro-pop concert (Angelique Kidjo at the Mesa Center for the Arts), and the other was a live theater performance (the SITI Company's Under Construction. Dissimilar though these events were, they had one thing in common. At both shows the audience was encouraged to join the performers onstage. At the concert about a fifth of the audience went up there, which is no mean feat considering this was a sold-out 500-seater. Seeing all ages and all races dancing and laughing together in one place was a very moving experience. I made a mental note of rhe joy that was concentrated into that moment.

So when a couple of weeks later I went to the theater, this moment was recalled when, at the very end of their very fine performance, the members of the cast invited the entire (!) audience up on stage to interact with the stage props. Most if not all did. It wasn't a 'joyful' thing in the same sense that the concert was, but it was still a lovely interaction between art and audience. My part in this gentle moshpit happening (it was very sixties): I circled a few times, counterclockwise, on the outer rim of this galaxy of people, looking at the various fotografs and assorted bits of americana strewn about the stage. One of the actors had made a cool piece with cigarette butts standing on their tips. I wanted to take one of the cigarettes and give it for Rob to smoke, and thus blur the frame between art and life further. Would have been cool, but I didn't dare. I mean, they're not my cigarettes, y'know? Two of the actors were playing guitars and singing the Simon and Garfunkel song, "America" (. . . "let us be lovers. we'll marry our fortunes together . . ." Every time I came to the place on the stage they were standing, I found the same guy, middle-aged, balding, resplendently joyful, right there next to them, singing along with abandon. He knew all the words and the harmonies. I couldn't help picturing him as the guy in the other song . . . "Hello lamppost . . . whatcha knowin? . . . I';ve come to watch the flowers growin . . . ain'tcha got no rhymes for me? . . . doo doo ta too dah feeling groovyyyyy . . . ."

On the flip side of allowing for audience participation . . .

Peter Gabriel, who used to allow himself to be carried on his back over the audience at the front of the stage during all his concerts, stopped doing this because he was bitten one night.

All it takes is just one maladjusted jerk.




22 April 2009

$3 at Bookman's in Mesa . . .

Posted by at 4:56 PM

A ceramic figurine/plaque I bought.



self-identity #7 . . .

Posted by at 3:14 PM

Reading along . . .

Here's another expression of self-definition on the part of Reform Judaism.

The Philadelphia Platform

The Philadelphia Conference
3–6 November 1869

Statement of Principles
  1. The Messianic aim is not the restoration of the old Jewish state under a descendant of David, involving a second separation from the nations of the earth, but the union of all the children of God in the confession of the unity of God, so as to realize the unity of all rational creatures and their call to moral sanctification.
  2. We look upon the destruction of the second Jewish commonwealth not as a punishment for the sinfulness of Israel, but as a result of the divine purpose revealed to Abraham, which, as has become even clearer in the course of the world's history, consists in the dispersion of the Jews to all parts of the earth, for the realization of their high-priestly mission, to lead the nations to the true knowledge and worship of God
  3. The Aaronic priesthood and the Mosaic sacrificial cult were preparatory steps to the real priesthood of the whole people, which began with the dispersion of the Jews, and to the sacrifices of sincere devotion and moral sanctification, which alone are pleasing and acceptable to the Most Holy. These institutions, preparatory to higher religiosity, were consigned to the past, once for all, with the destruction of the Second Temple, and only in this sense—as educational influences in the past—are they to be mentioned in our prayers.
  4. Every distinction between Aaronides and non-Aaronides, as far as religious rites are concerned, is consequently inadmissible, both in the religious cult and in social life.
  5. The selection of Israel as the people of religion, as the bearer of the highest idea of humanity, is still, as ever, to be strongly emphasized, and for this very reason, whenever this is mentioned, it shall be done with full emphasis laid on the world-embracing mission of Israel and the love of God for all his children.
  6. The belief in the bodily resurrection has no religious foundation, and the doctrine of immortality refers to the after-existence of the soul only.
  7. Urgently as the cultivation of the Hebrew language, in which the treasures of the divine revelation were given and the immortal remains of a literature that influences all civilized nations are preserved, must always be desired by us in fulfillment of a sacred duty, yet it has become unintelligible to the vast majority of our coreligionists; therefore, as is advisable under existing circumstances, it must give way in prayer to intelligible language, which prayer, if not understood, is a soulless form.
The conference also passed resolutions on marriage and divorce, and whilst accepting the matrilineal principle for determining Jewish status, emphasized that the child of a Jewish mother was Jewish, even if an uncircumcised male. This makes me think of some footage of a dialogue between Richard Dawkins and a clergyman (Alister McGrath?) that I recently watched, where the topic of the 'religion' of children came up, Dawkins' main point being that just as there are no 'republican' children and no 'unionist' children and no 'terrorist' children, there are also no 'Christian' or 'Muslim' children. These are labels that we project onto them through our own paradigms. Dawkins even goes as far as to call fire-and-brimstone-type indoctrination and initiation of children into the cult of their parents a form of "child abuse." A bit extreme, perhaps, but point taken. Imagine the uproar that would be caused if there were "Reagan Camps" alongside the Jesus Camps of documentary fame. White-Separatist Camp? Just how far does the right to screw up your kids extend? Unfortunately, no limit is defined for this 'right', and it will likely never be.
What to do when a problem whose solution is self-evident becomes unsolvable because the solution is deemed naive and untenable given human selfishness tendencies and traditions?
I guess this is what inevitably happens when you give the Word to the monkeys, eh?

... anyway, back to self-identity . . .

Some notes on these Reform platform points:

It seems to me that most of the enumerated points are clearly reactionary affirmations against—a defiant rejection of—Christianity. I find it hard to digest this newly (at the time) defined "world-mission" of the Jews without seeing it through the lens of the dominant Christian culture within which these reformers found themselves surrounded.

In fact, on a personal note, the explicit desire for the conversion of the whole world is a big red flag to me for precisely the same reasons that those of the Christian creeds and the Mormon creeds give me pause. I simply cannot process the possibility that God (whatever that might ultimately be) mandates such 'world-missions'. The psychology that insists, "I am chosen, and I want you to be like me—nay!, you WILL be like me someday! . . . it is written!," seems a highly unattractive and ultimately delusional one to me.
Nevertheless, and returning to my focus, :P .. . THAT was the way that an highly influential group of Jews of the mid 19th century defined itself (at least in North America).

Finally, I see irony in the last point (#7). For a sentence which presumes to call for an end to all dissembling language in our religious practices, it sure is a vaguely-worded convoluted monster of a sentence, ain't it?

Is it just me?

As usual . . . just more food for thought . . .



21 April 2009

the scruples of Abulafia (how to convert a pope) . . .

Posted by at 2:38 PM

Reading along . . . I came upon the figure of Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291(?). Abulafia was an ecstatic Spanish mystic who is credited as the first to develop a systematic mysticism based on the characters of the Hebrew alphabet, which he viewed as an instrument of revelation. According to Abulafia, "all things exist only by virtue of their participation in the great name of God." He called his system 'hokmath he-tseruf' ("science of the combination of letters"). All jots and tittles, in this view, all curves and lines, have underlying symbolisms and meanings and functions that transcend their lexicographic utility as human language. The mathematicomusical aspect of Torah as a distinct and paralell expression of the divine was as real to him as the words the characters spelled out to tell the stories of God and his people. The Word of God was to Abulafia a music that permeates and transcends the entire world, with rhythms and harmonies and resonances and even thematic developments. It's very deep shit and he took it seriously.

Abulafia wrote:

"The Kabbalistic tradition is divisible into two parts... the first occupied with knowledge of the deity, obtained by means of the doctrine of the sefirot ("eminations," the ten spheres of the tree of life), as propounded by the sefer yetzirah... the second and more important part strives to know God by means of the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, from which together with the vowel points and accents, those names are combined, elevating Kabbalists to a degree of prophesy, drawing out their spirit, and causing it to be united with God to become one with the Deity."

So into the ubiquity of the music of the spheres was he that he eventually set out to erase the boundaries that divide Jew, Christian, and Muslim, to sit them all in the same orchestra pit, so to speak.

Armed with a colossal quixotic näiveté and with the God-drunk temerity of irreproachable certitude, he set off to convert the pope. That's right. The pope!

In the Fall of 1280 Pope Nicholas III was vacationing in his palace in Soriano, near Rome, when he got the news that Abulafia was on the way to affect his Holiness's' conversion. Nicholas responded with the order to "burn the fanatic" as soon as he arrived. Indeed, the post to which he would be tied was erected and prepared at the city gate to celebrate his arrival.

Still, undaunted by the pope's threats to treat him to his own vivicremation, Abulafia arrived at the castle on the 22nd of August (the day before the Jewish New Year 5040). While entering the city he learned that the pope had just died of a stroke so that his execution order was never carried out. Abulafia was incarcerated for a month, after which he went south to Sicily and gathered a sizeable following which reportedly had explicit Messianic overtones and was involved in even more scandals yet.

Anyway, I had never heard of him before and I find him such a fascinating historical figure that I had to write about the man who dared to try to convert the pope to Kabbalah. It's rich.




17 April 2009

religious self identity #6

Posted by at 3:14 PM

Moses Maimonides (Rambam, b.1138–d.1204) was the first Jewish scholar to attempt to formulate a Jewish creed, perhaps because of the need to draw clear lines in the face of Muslim and Christian attempts to convert Jews during those tempestuous years of conquest and crusade that he lived in. His 'thirteen principles of the faith', fist formulated in his Commentary on the Mishna (c. 1160):

I believe with perfect faith that:
  1. The creator is Author and Guide of everything that exists.
  2. The creator is One; His unity is unlike that of anything else; He is our God and exists eternally.
  3. The Creator has no body or physical characteristics, and cannot be compared with anything that exists.
  4. The creator is first and last of all beings.
  5. It is right to pray to the creator, but to no other being.
  6. All the words of the prophets are true.
  7. The prophecy of Moses is true, and He was the father (that is, the greatest) of all prophets, both before and after him.
  8. The Torah now in our possession is that given to Moses.
  9. The Torah will not be changed, nor will the Creator give any other Torah.
  10. The Creator knows the deeds and thoughts of people.
  11. He rewards those who keep his commandments, and punishes those who disobey.
  12. Though the Messiah delay, one must constantly expect his coming.
  13. The dead will be resurrected.

I'm still wondering what kind of analogous parallel creed, even tentatively, could have been enumerated back in the first century. Would this later listing reveal any continuity between the two different eras?



16 April 2009

theater at ASU's Galvin Playhouse . .

Posted by at 6:27 PM

ASU Gammage BEYOND present SITI Company's:

Under Construction

Saturday April 18th @ 7PM

Norman Rockwell's idealism deconstructed through short stories and song—an exploration of our nation being forever under construction.

$10 Students/$30 all others
Tickets at ASU Gammage, &

06 April 2009

Einstein on lemmings . . .

Posted by at 4:41 PM
He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt.
He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.

24 March 2009

here's to being wrong . . .

Posted by at 10:50 AM
I recently learned that the various Mexican drug cartels have arsenals which include military grade heavy artillery, which they haven't used.

As Janet Napolitano announced the possibility today of deploying the National Guard to the US border to control the related rising violence on this side, I suddenly realize why these renegade militants haven't used these big guns yet.

They are being reserved for the US Army.


I hope I'm wrong.



22 March 2009

Craig V Carrier . . .

Posted by at 3:16 PM

This past week saw the Craig/Carrier debate take place at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri. A poor quality audio file of the debate is available here --I'm hoping that Dr. Craig adds a cleaner audible version to his growing online archive of resurrection/God debates. This makes about a dozen times that I've heard Craig deliver his "four-fact" opening spiel. I'm afraid that with every telling it loses another chunk of what little potency it once promised.

As usual, Craig places undue emphasis on some near-universal consensus in New Testament studies regarding the details about the death and resurrection of Jesus. These imagined insular "consensus" [consensi?], however, even if they were the case (they're not), have no bearing on whether these events described in the stories in fact happened or not, nor could they could even ever be verifiable.

Bracket that for the moment, however, and allow for the sake of argument that the majority of New Testament scholars views things the way that Craig says they do. Of course the majority of NT scholars stresses the historicity of Jesus' resurrection; almost all of them are believing Christians! If you're starting from a place where the affirmation of some historical event having taken place is part of the price of admission from the git go (see creed), then, what chance is there (really) that you might defend its historicity?

Fairly high, I'd say. No? (Be honest.)

Consider the Muslim analogue, for example. Just as "most" Quranic scholars would affirm the historicity of the events surrounding the proliferation of the Quran and of early Islam, so do "most" NT scholars affirm the historicity of their religion's teachings. "Most" Mormon[ic] scholars likewise profess the historicity of the events described by THAT tradition's origin story. They are Mormons, after all! But, as I already said, their certitude has no bearing on whether these events in fact happened or not. The historian-or the geneticist or the archeologist-- who is looking into the truth behind these stories does not take a vote among the elders to get the real scoop on what happened. Apologists always try to make it seem like pronouncements of scholars in a field such as religiou studies generally or New Testament studies specifically are as weighty and compelling as those in other less-subjective academic disciplines. One scholar I know likes to repeat the analogy that "you take your car to the auto mechanic to find out about its workings . . . you ask the physicist about the natural sciences . . . so should you concede to New Testament scholars' higher learning . . " This analogy not only fails, but it also reveals the inflated sense of certitude and self-importance that many professors seems to suffer from. It seems that some NT scholars behave as if they were engaging in some empirical enterprise.

"Expertise" in NT studies essentially consists of having read and digested a great deal of the positions outlined in detail in the vast literature written by those "experts" which came before. These positions are catalogued and weighed against each other by scholars, who then may write their elaborations or critiques of some previous scholar or another, and so on. Being thus so well-read, a New Testament scholar can rightly point to the differences and similarities between, say, the Matthean Moses parallels and the Lukan Elijah ones. He can perhaps raise Karl Barth's objections to Rudolf Bultmann's mythologizing if he's so inclined (or he may defend Bultmann's genius :). A scholar can pit N.T.Wright against James Dunn if she wishes. An NT scholar may even speak about more empirically demonstrable things, such as the precise chronological order of the texts, or even, with some limited authority, about more problematic things such as the nature, function and practice of the Pharisees in the period preceeding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, if he's bold enough and well-read enough in the pertinent materials.

But a New Testament scholar cannot (not using the texts we have, anyway) claim any kind of real certainty regarding MOST of what little we know (or think we know) about a historical figure of Jesus. This is simply elitist self-importance.

As is his usual modus operandus, Craig punctuates the finality of some opinion by citing eminent conservative writers in the field. Just one minute and a half into his opening argument at this debate Craig cites Hugo Proteus, Samuel Clark, William Paley, Richard Swinburne, and Steven Davis (a minute and a half!). So often does he appeal to authorities this during his debates that it seems that he doesn't realize that it is considered a rhetorical fallacy to do this in a debate. Either he doesn't know it's a fallacy or he just plain doesn't care. I pray it's the former.

Anyway, at the very least, one of Craig's friends (debate opponents notwithstanding) should take him aside and tell him that his "four facts" are not really facts at all. He's been giving this same lecture for so long that I think he might actually believe they are established facts. His defenses for these "established facts" at times entail flimsy dogged (nay, desperate) attempts to insert the miraculous (supernatural) into the domain of historiographic discourse. He works under the presupposition (he'll remind you) that God (specifically the one represented in Christian orthodoxy) exists and can interact at will in His creation. It's always seemed whimsically ironic to me that someone can discredit naturalistic examinations and explanations of mythemes as farfetched or ad-hoc or "krank" or "extreme" (the last two are Craig's words of choice during this particular debate), yet they have absolutely no difficulty accepting that a supernatural force was the cause of some described event (an event, which can be demonstrated to be a fictional literary construct, to boot, something Carrier wanted desperately to do (I could sense the frustration) but was too overwhelmed by Craig's rehearsed cadenza to have much of a chance. Craig is stylistically like Ken Hovind in that he delivers his points in rapidfire succession, inserting as many contentions into his allotted twenty minutes, so as to make any rebuttal necessarily impossible. Then, when his opponent fails to respond to everything he said, he declares himself the winner. Does anyone else see this? Am I the only one that feels the sport of debate is an exercise in prolix talk-past-each-other masturbation?

I would challenge apologists like Craig to forgo the formal debate format and instead engage his opponents in prolonged detailed discussion. He'd be surprised to find out that, once the twenty minute limit is lifted, every single one of his contentions could be countered rather easily. But then, over the course of years, most of his contentions have been addressed to some degree. I remember that during the Avalos debate, he tried to show Craig the difference between "fact" and "story." For a moment there, I though he had broken through. No dice, though. Here we are nearly a decade later and Craig is still giving the same lecture, virtually unchanged. I have come to the conclusion that Craig is not interested in facts at all. I honestly think this is just a comfortable gig for him. Nothing wrong with that I guess, I'd love to know what his fees are at these events, though.

Anyway, I'll likely stop paying much attention to him after this debate. Still, I'm thankful for Dr. Craig in some small way for engaging so many dissident thinkers in the field. With every debate of this kind, I'd like to add, Craig inadvertently reveals one less scholar in his "vast majority of New Testament scholars" who sees things his way (another bit of subtle irony for me). I loved hearing Dom Crossan's and Hector Avalos' and Bob Price's and Gerd Luddeman's varied responses to many of his rhetorical pirouettes. Found much humor there.

On a final note. Debate being the sport that it is, I think that Dr Richard Carrier did well enough in, at the very least, exposing a roomful of God-drunk students to some interesting refutations of a sampling of Craig's follies, introducing them, so to speak, to the concept of a 'breathalyzer'.

One of the things that gives me hope is the growing number of non-orthodox scholars who have been doing work in the field of New Testament studies in recent years. Jew, atheists, scientists. I'd like to see a similar "outsider's" approach to all of the world's major religious texts. It would be a marvelous move toward a lasting understanding and harmony between and among cultures, I think.




16 March 2009

the quest for the historical Essenes . . .

Posted by at 11:55 AM

Biblical scholars have long argued that the Dead Sea Scrolls were the work of an ascetic and celibate Jewish community known as the Essenes, which flourished in the 1st century A.D. in the scorching desert canyons near the Dead Sea. Now a prominent Israeli scholar, Rachel Elior, disputes that the Essenes ever existed at all - a claim that has shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship.

Elior, who teaches Jewish mysticism at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, claims that the Essenes were a fabrication by the 1st century A.D. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus and that his faulty reporting was passed on as fact throughout the centuries. As Elior explains, the Essenes make no mention of themselves in the 900 scrolls found by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947 in the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. "Sixty years of research have been wasted trying to find the Essenes in the scrolls," Elior tells TIME. "But they didn't exist. This is legend on a legend."

Read the whole story here.



17 February 2009

self-identity #5

Posted by at 11:56 AM
In a previous post I highlighted the contemporary "Jews for Jesus" practice of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures through Christian lenses. This is no new phenomenon, though. The church father Origen, who died in 254 C.E., lived in Caesaria (in modern-day Palestine). Among his contemporaries was one Rabbi Yohanan of Tiberias. Both of these men wrote commentaries on Biblical books. One of these books was the Song of Solomon. Both of these gentlemen interpreted this work as allegory. However, for Origen, the book stands for God (or Christ) and its bride, the church, whereas for Yohanan, it is an allegory of love between God and his people (Israel).

The Statesian scholar, Reuben Kimelman, has analysed their comments and found five consistent differences between them, corresponding to five major issues which divided Christians and Jews at the time:

  1. Origen writes of a covenant mediated by Moses between God and Israel, that is, an indirect contact between the two, contrasted with the direct presence of Christ. Yohanan, on the other hand, refers to the covenant as negotiated by Moses, hence received by Israel direct from God, as the 'kisses from his mouth' (SºS 1:2). Yohanan emphasizes the closeness and love between God and Israel, whereas Origen sets up a distance between them.
  2. According to Origen the Hebrew scripture was 'completed', or 'superceded', by the New Testament. According to Yohanan scripture is 'completed' by the 'oral Torah', the interpretive traditions of the Rabbis.
  3. To Origen, Christ is the central figure, replacing Abraham, and completing the reversal of Adam's sin. To Yohanan, Abraham remains in place, and Torah is the 'antidote' to sin.
  4. To Origen, Jerusalem is a symbol, a 'heavenly city'. To Yohanan, the earthly Jerusalem retains its status as the link between heaven and earth, the place where God's presence will again be manifest.
  5. Origen sees the sufferings of Israel as the proof of its repudiation by God; Yohanan accepts the suffering as the loving chastisement and discipline of a forgiving father.

While I find the "Jews for Jesus" cooption of the Jewish symbolism to be so much guileful exegesis, in Origen's case, it doesn't have the same sting, I think, because he's not setting himself up as "Jewish" in the process.

for now . . .


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