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.


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