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).



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