Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls


I finally purchased (and received in the mail) Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls ed. John J. Collins and Craig A. Evans. I just had to share my excitement over it, especially noticing an essay on John and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those of you who know me should have no doubts about my fascination with the relationship between the Gospel of John and the Dead Sea texts. Anyway, online accompanying the book is an interview with Evans:




PS: I actually received two other books this week: The Historical Jesus: Five Views ed. Beilby and Eddy; What Saint Paul Really Said N.T. Wright and on its way is Thiede's Jesus Man or Myth? (Which I hope isn't just a rehash of his cave 7 theory.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Scribal Habits as Christological Indicators of Early Christian Diversity

In 1934 with the publication of Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (tr. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity ) Walter Bauer set into motion a new approach to understanding the relationship between orthodoxy and heresy in the early church.  Although problematic in many respects, this legacy has been continued to this day in a variety of fields. Two notable commentators following the legacy of Bauer would be Bart Ehrman (e.g. Orthodox Corruption of Scripture; Lost Christianities; as well as a short rehash in Jesus Interrupted.) as well as Helmut Koester. These scholars have in some way or another, utilised early Christian literary sources as indicators of Christian diversity. With this in mind, it is a contention of mine that an approach to early Christianity can be greatly complimented through the study of early scribal habits. In particular, an evaluation of textual corruptions and the use of features such as the nomina sacra may be used to tweak a Christological model to assist our understanding of Christian diversity.


For example, text critical analysis of New Testament manuscripts and early patristic citations has been the basis for Ehrman’s reconstruction of Christianity. Ehrman’s thesis argues that early Christological controversies are reflected in corruptions of the NT texts by overzealous proto-orthodox scribes.[1] For example, in Luke 3:22 Ehrman conjectures an original adoptionist reading in the post-baptismal discourse of God, declaring “today I have begotten you” as opposed to “with you I am well pleased.”[2] Although Ehrman's  preferred adoptionist reading does not find much support,[3] it has opened up a new way of understanding the early Christian artifacts as an indicator of orthodoxy and heresy. Similarly, text critical analysis has been utilised by Ben Witherington in noting “a concerted effort by some part of the Church, perhaps as early as the late first century or beginning of the second, to tone down texts ...that indicated that women played an important and prominent part in the early days of the Christian community.”[4]

In light of the possibilities of examining the manuscripts, I propose that the development of the nomina sacra may be used in the region of Egypt. That is, the use of nomina sacra act as a Christological indicator that may be used to demonstrate an early and possibly dominant proto-orthodox community.


Although the nomina sacra is used in both literary and documentary papyri[5] the focus of this examination will be on the use in early literary works. The origins of the nomina sacra, although contested, show an awareness of both Graeco-Roman and Jewish scribal traditions. However, it would be fair to argue that the original abbreviation of the divine names appear to be tied to the Jewish scribal treatment of the divine name in the indisputably Greek biblical manuscripts of Jewish provenance.[6] Within the Jewish scribal tradition, the Tetragrammaton was often distinguished from the rest of the text.[7] For example, in P.Oxy. 3522 of Job 42, the Tetragrammaton is distinguished through the use of Paleo-Hebrew characters despite a Greek text.[8]  On this basis, as well as the consistent and early use, Roberts has found favour in the argument that the nomina sacra came to Egypt through “Jewish Christians from Palestine[9] citing synagogue  practices as the best explanation of such a consistent, widespread and early use.[10]

Although by the Byzantine period around fifteen words came to frequently be treated as nomina sacra by Christian scribes, the significance of the early scribal habits should not be overlooked.[11] That is, noting that the earliest and most consistently abbreviated names were θεος, κυριος, χριστος and ιησους. [12] Similarly, a number of scholars have argued that the nomina sacra was present in the earliest Christian literary manuscript, P52, for example.[13]

With this in mind, what can we learn about early Christian diversity? By appealing to a Christological model for defining sectarian Christianity, a number of possible directions can be taken. First of all it may be said that this demonstrates a form of early Jewish and proto-orthodox devotion to Jesus which has been coined “binitarian.”[14] Arguably, the consistent use of the scribal habit of Jesus/Christ with Lord/God[15] demonstrates both a reverence of YHWH and the high Christology of Jesus; as well as a divine equation of both. The implications of this on the models of Bauer and Koester include early evidence of proto-orthodox Christological expression in Egypt. Similarly, the exaltation of YHWH as an early scribal habit in Egypt would count in favour of proto-orthodox and Jewish Christianity as opposed to Marcionite leaning interpretation of scripture, or Gnostic demiurge tendancies.


Further Notes:

  • For an evaluation of Bauer's model see Robinson, Thomas A. The Bauer Thesis Examined : The Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church, Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity.
  • Sorry if everything I said was wrong, utterly flawed and incoherent (having been written between 11pm-1am today).

[1] Ehrman (1989). The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
[2] Ibid. 49.; Idem (2005) Misquoting Jesus. 159.
[3] For example, the reading relies heavily on the Western text type while also raising questions about Markan priority. Metzger in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament grants the Alexandrian and Byzantine reading a “B” rating, stating, “The Western reading, “This day I have begotten thee,” which was widely current during the first three centuries, appears to be secondary, derived from Ps 2.7.”
[4] Witherington, 'The Anti-Feminist Tendencies of the 'Western' Text in Acts', Journal of Biblical Literature (103.1.82), (March 1984).
[5] E.g. P.Congr. 15.20 III/IV cf. http://www.anchist.mq.edu.au/doccentre/Conspectus.pdf
[6] For a list of Greek biblical manuscripts generally held to be of Jewish provenance see the compilation by Robert Kraft: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rak//jewishpap.html#jewishmss
[7] Roberts (1977), Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. 47.
[8] This is evident in the image: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rak//lxxjewpap/POxy3522.jpg
[9] Roberts (1977), Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. 45.
[10] Roberts (1977), Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. 45-46.
[11] Hurtado (2005). The Earliest Christian Artifacts. 96-97.
[12] Hurtado (2005). The Earliest Christian Artifacts. 96-97.
[13] Charles E. Hill, "Did the Scribe of P52 Use the Nomina Sacra? Another Look," NTS 48 (2002): 587-92.
[14] E.g. Hurtado (2005), How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?; Idem, (2003). Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. 627. It should be noted that Hurtado’s use of binitarianism refers to cultic devotion, not precluding the Trinitarian belief formulated by later orthodox Christianity.
[15] Although, the sufficient ambiguity of the use of kyrios referring to both Jesus and YHWH in the Christian writings should be noted. That said, however, it should be noted that the kyrios scribal habit is present in Christian OT texts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are = Horrible

It really was. No plot, no point. The moral of the story seems to be that you are depressed, selfish and angry - so are these fictional imaginative creatures - and they will continue to be depressed, selfish and angry. I was expecting some awesome happy children's movie where some kid went on some awesome journey into imagination land.

Instead, I was left confused, wondering whether it was time for me to off myself. I feel sorry for the elderly lady in the cinema,  wondering if she has lost the plot in old age when in actual fact it was just an utterly ridiculous film.

If I wanted to see a kid worry about the sun collapsing and life forever ending I would have watched 2012.

/rant

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I just finished reading Maurice Casey's An Aramaic Approach to Q. It was a great book which I recommend to anyone interested in Q and an Aramaic approach to the gospels and sources. I had personally let my thoughts wander into Aramaic translations explaining the variants but never went into it. Other than having reservations about the extent of the conjectures, and the fact I don't really have the competency in Aramaic to test everything said, I was impressed. I think I'll be getting my hands on his Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel. (I wrote something on this not too long ago, apparently not on this blog, and was very disappointed to read in Raymond Brown's Intro to the NT that he didn't believe there was any evidence of an Aramaic background in Mark!?)

Anyway, I know, not much of a post. However, over the next few days I'll try and finish off a review.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Michael Bird is Getting High on Christology


Over at Euangelion, Michael Bird is Getting High on NT Christology. Bird moves beyond the standard Christological works (eg. Hurtado, Bacukham vs Casey, Dunn) to James McGrath's The Only True God.  Personally, I am probably over in Bauckham's camp (sorry, James) but that said, I still don't have my hands on The Only True God (par the chapter on Revelation which I have only glanced at) to have my cherished assumptions questioned.

On this note, I am heading off to uni to pay library fines and find out more about the joint PhD agreement with Edinburgh. Maybe I can spend some time with Hurtado over the next few years?

Review: The Christ Conspiracy, Acharya S

See also: Conspiracy as History? An easy to follow pictorial destruction of Acharya S' historical dishonesty.

I love a good conspiracy theory and I don't think I am alone in that. When they premiered that documentary questioning the moon landing a number of years ago everyone was watching and talking about it, myself included. But no matter how interesting a conspiracy theory is, there is a reason why it is a conspiracy. The theory simply lacks the evidence that mainstream theories do. With this in mind, this is the hermeneutic with which one should approach Acharya's book. It is a book about a conspiracy theory and it should not be confused with rigorous or even accurate historical inquiry.

Before tackling this book, a note should be made about the author. Acharya S, also known as D.M. Murdock, is a new-aged conspiracy styled author over at her long running website www.truthbeknown.com. While she often refers to herself as a highly educated scholars, this is only a self-perception with little real value. She seems to grasp at straws to increase her credentials in the most amusing ways. She tells us of her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts, which is intrinsically superior because it is from the "17th oldest college in the United States" which appears "in the "highly selective" category in guides to the top universities and colleges." She recounts her time in Greece where she had an exam that took "several hours to complete." She has been under the impression that counting footnotes is a sign of scholarship, conveniently missing out the fact that her footnotes are generally references to 19th century works such as those by poet Gerald Massey who argued the Book of Revelation was written over 4000 years ago. But without going ad hominem, lets see what Acharya has to say.

Preface

As an indicator for the rest of the book, the preface tells us that we should expect conspiracy and not history. It is written by conspiracy theorist Kenn Thomas author of some interesting works such as Mind Control, Oswald & JFK (1997), NASA, Nazis & JFK: The Torbitt Documents; the Kennedy Assassination (1996) and Maury Island UFO: The Crisman Conspiracy (1999). Thomas pans from Acharya's apparent "impressive set of academic credentials" to her website discussing "conspiracy and UFO/alien realities"

Thomas introduces Acharya's thesis:
The thesis of her work, that Christianity was created artificially out of older religions to consolidate Roman state control over those religions, as well as various mystery schools and secret societies, is a wellspring of awareness for students of conspiracy. Acharya S also makes a clear case for the existence of an ancient global civilization. (4)

Chapter 1: Introduction

The chapter begins negatively branding religion as the cause of "extreme racism, sexism and even speciesism."(3). I assume Acharya envisions that the world would be some sort of utopia without religion. Her arguments do not appear to be sound at all. She quotes Hitler as being a Catholic, and maintains Stalin was an Eastern Orthodox. What is the result? All Christians are militant madmen. While historians hold that Jesus and movement was in no way a militant revolution, Acharya views Jesus' preaching as "exhorting his followers to violence" (7)  while Paul was a terrorist terrorising the pagans. Note that here for Jesus to exhort violence he must have existed as a historical figure, something Acharya attempts to take apart later in the book.

The chapter moves on to the issue of martyrdom and the early Christian persecutions. However, Acharya gives it her conspiracy twist - it is now "the myth of martyrdom" (8). She takes on the historicity of the persecutions against Christians by challenging a single reference by Tacitus. Although in honesty, the challenge is actually an assertion that it is "a forgery" fitting it into her conspiracy theory theme as "one of many made by the conspirators in the works of ancient authors." She makes no argument against authenticity. She then ends the sections claiming Christians weren't persecuted, and it was the Christians who started persecuting non-Christians.

Interestingly enough, there is nothing about Pliny's letter to Trajan (Letters 10.96); no mention of the Deciun persecution or the numerous edicts under the Great Persecution. Having read the book, in hindsight I suggest two equally plausible solutions. First of all, it may be that Acharya simply did not know about them. The engagement with ancient sources is almost non-existent and the best source she could come up with here was G.A. Well's Jesus Did Not Exist. The second case would be that she simply did not include it as it would destroy her conspiracy theory regarding Christian origins. I am not a mind reader so I leave it to the reader to make their own decision.


She also calls the spread of Christianity a myth. I will not bother dealing with it here but those interested should look up the work by Rodney Stark.

Chapter 2: The Quest for Jesus Christ

In this chapter she turns her attention to the person of Jesus, noting him as Christianity's "legendary founder" (13). After a few legitimate comments about many people finding the historical Jesus they want, she moves onto the question of Jesus' historicity. Obviously enough, she truly misrepresents the argument:

Indeed, the majority of people are taught in most schools and churches that Jesus Christ was an actual historical figure and that the only controversy regarding him is that some people accept him as the Son of God and the Messiah, while others do not. However, whereas this is the raging debate most evident today, it is not the most important. Shocking as it may seem to the general populace, the most enduring and profound controversy in this subject is whether or not a person named Jesus Christ ever really existed. (emphasis hers, p.14)
The most enduring debate about the person of Jesus is whether or not he really existed? Among whom? Her select sources from the 1800's? Here references to German language scholar G.A. Wells? Mark Allan Powell summarises the position of Jesus' historicity rather well:
A hundred and fifty years ago a fairly well respected scholar named Bruno Bauer maintained that the historical person Jesus never existed. Anyone who says that today--in the academic world at least--gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat. ( Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. p. 168)
 She furthers her misrepresentations of the debate. Now, the "popular bookstores" are the ones responsible for misrepresenting the debate. She raises Wells as an example. Ironically enough, Wells works are popular press in popular bookstores. The facts of the matter are that historians do not argue that Jesus did not exist.

In proving the popularity of the argument she uses some dubious logic. Regarding a written response to Wells, she states "It should be noted that no such book would be needed if the existence of Jesus Christ as a historical figure were a proven fact accepted by all." Anything can categorically be argued by such dubious means.

She then proceeds to separate the school of thought on Jesus' historicity into interesting categories. Those who believe Jesus existed are "the believers and the evemerists." The believers are those who "take the Judeo-Christian bible as the literal “Word of God,” accepting “on faith” that everything contained within it is historical fact infallibly written by scribes “inspired by God”" (15) that authenticate Jesus. The second group, the Evemerists, are non-Christians who falsely believe that Jesus existed for no reason other than "mental programming." She goes on that such an "opinion [is] usually based on the fact that it is commonly held, not because its proponents have studied the matter or seen clear evidence to that effect." (16).

We then come to the final group, the enlightened mythicists. For some reason or another, this groups conclusions need not be backed up, as they are so overwhelmingly obvious. As if there is no debate surrounding her claim, Acharya remarks, "not only is there no proof of his existence but virtually all evidence points to him being a mythological character." (19). This statement is rather paradoxical. There is no evidence of Jesus' existence, yet there is evidence and that points to him not existing.

She then goes on to paint the picture of historical Jesus scholarship. She doesn't agree with the scholarly norm that finds overwhelming evidence for Jesus but argues that "the mythicists’ arguments have been too intelligent and knifelike to do away with." In fact, the works of these guys are "fearfully suppressed because they are somewhat irrefutable." (19). Other than asserting the Christ myth position as being correct and unchallengable, she moves onto the next chapter.

Chapter 3: The Holy Forgery Mill

This chapter begins with nothing much other than a few pages other than demonising the history of Christianity. She then goes to some very convincing authorities such as Joseph Wheless, a 19th-early 20th century lawyer who states, "The gospels are all priestly forgeries over a century after their pretended dates." She backs this up with Barbara Walker (The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets)  who contends that the "discovery that the Gospels were forged, centuries later than the events they described, is still not widely known even though the Catholic Encyclopedia admits." (22). I would love to see the Catholic Encylopaedia admit that the gospels were forged centuries after Jesus. Evidently, instead of turning to even an introductory text on the dating of the gospels, Acharya S prefers non-historians/biblical scholars to support her conspiracy theory.

In the fashion of the Da Vinci Code, she contends that it was after the Council of Nicaea that the "autographs" were destroyed; they were again "revised" and "retouched" in "506 CE under Emperor Anastasius." She cites a 19th century work on this point, obviously unaware of a few important details. (1) We have numerous text types by the 6th century; (2) it would have been impossible for a 6th century Emperor to modify all these independent pre-6th century manuscripts and, (3) the existence of Codex Sinaiticus among other important 4th/5th century codices.

These great discoveries that the gospels were forged centuries after Christ, is followed by a  number of quotes by people I have never heard of before. Following her usual pattern, I have assumed they are 19th century public domain sources available online and composed by non-scholars. While failing to demonstrate anything but her uncritical eye and unschooled understanding, she concluded the chapter stating, "We have established the atmosphere of the foundation of Christianity: conspiracy, forgery and fraud, the result of which are its sacred texts, falsely alleged to be infallible accounts by eyewitnesses to the most extraordinary events in human “history.”"

Chapter 4: Biblical Sources

In this chapter she begins with the contention that their was no sort of Christian canon at all for 1000 years. Here she is apparently unaware of the reception of the proto-orthodox documents by orthodoxy. We have works which were consistently accepted as authoritative such as the four gospels (Irenaeus, the Muratorian fragment, early codices cf. Gamble, Hengel and Stanton); etc. No closed canon is not equal to no uniformity on accepted texts. She continues under the Da Vinci Code impression - that is, the Christian documents were forcefully chosen at a council "from some 200 admitted forgeries called Gospels" (here citing Wheless, p.26).


She turns to the Pauline epsitles claiming they "never discuss a historical background of Jesus...any person in the gospel account of the Passion" and "never quotes from Jesus’s purported sermons and speeches..." (27).  Anyone with an understanding of the Pauline epistles knows that Acharya is more than stretching the truth here. Paul places Jesus in recent past, and quotes his words and events a few times. For example, Paul recounts the narrative of the last supper including the words of Jeuss in 1 Cor 11:23-26 (compare to Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22.) Paul is aware of Jesus' teachings on divorce in 1 Cor 7:10-11 ("not I, but the Lord") as reflected in Matthew 5.

Similarly, any argument exploiting Paul's relative silence demonstrates a complete ignorance of the genre of the Pauline epistles. Marcus Borg summarises this rather well:
"But Paul’s letters tell us very little about the life and message of Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus’s historical life was unimportant to Paul, as some scholars have suggested. Rather, Jesus mattered greatly to Paul. Paul spoke of Jesus as Lord and as God’s Son, as did early Christians generally. He wrote about life “in Christ,” “Christ crucified,” and “imitating Christ.” But narrating the story of Jesus was not the purpose of his letters. Rather, as the literary genre of “letters” indicates, Paul was writing to Christian communities about issues that had arisen in their life together." (Marcus Borg, Jesus p.32)
Ironically enough, after arguing that the Pauline epistles are not evidence of Jesus' existence, she goes on to claim (through extensive quoting of the unknown Wheless) that "there are none of them by Paul...They are all, without distinction, pseudographia. (sic)" (27). That she believes all the Pauline epistles to be "pseudographia" or as those who know what they are talking about would say, "pseudepigrapha", really questions the extremes which she goes to to argue a conspiracy. Once again, after demonstrating nothing but her ignorance of the issues she concludes, "It is clear that the epistles do not demonstrate a historical Jesus and are not as early as they are pretended to be, written or edited by a number of hands over several decades during the second century, such that the “historical” Jesus apparently was not even known at that late point." (28)

She turns her attention towards the gospels, opening with something completely ridiculous. She claims they "were forged at the end of the 2nd century, all four of them probably between 170-180." She appears to be completely unaware that we have quotations of the gospels as well as physical manuscript evidence from before that time. For exaple, P52 is a fragment of the Gospel of John generally dated to the first half (or even quarter?) of the second century. While arguing that the canonical gospels were late 2nd century (a date no scholar I know of affirms) she goes on to claim that the four were chosen by Irenaeus in the 2nd century, not because they were previously accepted, but because  it is "Masonic, and these texts represent the four books of magic of the Egyptian Ritual." (29)

She dates the Gospel of Luke to 170 (30), Mark to 175, John 178 (while arguing an outdated Gnostic John hypothesis) (31) and Matthew to 180 (32). Following the delusion of her late second century date, she argues that the Gospels were based on Marcion's gospel, which dates to around the 150s, "[The Gospel of the Lord] predated the canonical gospels by decades." (29) As there is no evidence to support this (well, we do have evidence against it such as manuscripts above) such a position is rejected by all scholars I know of. It is generally held that Marcion's gospel was a version of the Gospel of Luke without a birth narrative as well as references to the Hebrew scriptures. This mutilation of the text was for theological reasons, namely, Marcion rejected the Israelite God and to have Jesus (or Paul) in that tradition was theologically detestable. While she discusses Marcion's gospel (which only survives through literary fragments), she claims that it demonstrates "the conspiracy" of Jesus' non-existence. (29) To Acharya, not containing the birth narrative necessitates Jesus was a Gnostic redeemer who came down from heaven. A logic which is flawed to the core and, ironically enough, doesn't apply to Mark.

She attempts to dabble in textual criticism and bases her argument, again, on Wheless who is neither a historian or biblical scholar. Quoting Wheless, she contends that "Of the 150,000 variant readings which Griesbach found in the manuscripts of the New Testament, probably 149,500 were additions and interpolations." (33) Other than the fact her source is a hundred or so years outdated regarding the number of variants, the claim that 99.7 of them are malicious interpolations is simply false. The vast majority of textual variants are unintentional scribal mistakes, or changes in word order. The conspiracy of mass textual corruption is simply fanciful fiction. (See Daniel Wallace's review of Misquoting Jesus for more information on textual criticism.)

Despite having already argued (well, asserted as no argument was presented) that Jesus didn't exist, it is still odd that she entertains Jesus existing just to attack him. For example, in chapter 1 she claimed Jesus was exhorting people to violence. Now, we find that Jesus was mythical. We find this out while Acharya attempts to dabble in theology. She doesn't appear to recognise the consistent theological theme of Jesus ministry which Paul summarises as "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16).

Having achieved nothing in this chapter, she moves on to the  Non-Biblical Sources.

Chapter 5: Non-Biblical Sources

She begins, noting her achievement of arbitrarily assigning a late second century date to the gospels that "We have seen that the gospel accounts are utterly unreliable as history and cannot serve as evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed." (38)  In this chapter, Acharya asserts that we have no non-Christian evidence for Jesus. She begins with Josephus, who she claims "they have been dismissed by scholars and Christian apologists alike as forgeries, as have been those referring to John the Baptist and James, “brother of Jesus.”" (39) However, most Josephan and historical Jesus scholars agree that Josephus made mention of both Jesus and John the Baptist. Regarding the longer reference of Jesus, most scholars agree on embellishment, while none that I know of dispute the second reference. From The Missing Jesus (Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans and Jacob Neusner):
"In the part of this embellished text that virtually all regard as authentic Josephus describes Jesus as a teacher and wonderworker who was accused by the leading men (i.e., ruling priests) before the Roman governor." (p.21)
Evidently, Acharya's claim that everyone agrees they are forgeries is very far from true scholarly opinion summarising it as "virtually all". A similarly dishonest assertion is made for Tacitus and other non-Christian sources. Evidently, to support her conspiracy she needs to employ utter deception and msirerpesentation. This is continued in chapter 6.

Chapter 6: Further Evidence of a Fraud

She opens by summarising her baseless assertions, "There is basically no textual evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ, other than forged biblical books and epistles." (42). However, in reality we have seen that there is evidence - Christain and non-Christian. Similarly, her claims disputing the authenticity of such appear to be nothing but fanciful deception. However, let us entertain her thesis.

She tries to argue that Christians saw Christianity as nothing new - but, like her conspiracy, simply a rehash of pagan religions which they copied. In this case, she attempts to raise primary evidence for the argument - something very rare in the book. She quotes Eusebius in chapter 4 of his church history as stating that Christianity and its core principles were "built on the natural concepts of those whom God loved in the distant past . . ." (42) However, as an honest reading of Eusebius demonstrates, he was referring to God's knowledge from creation in the Jewish tradition. For example, he names the continuous tradition in which he identifies, stating that "the Hebrews are not a youthful people, but are respected by all men for their antiquity and are known to all." Indeed, a far cry from Acharya's misrepresentation - and one which anyone acquainted with early Christian apologetics would know (e.g. Origen in Contra Celsum.).

She goes onto the topic of Gnosticism, claiming that "the fact is that Gnosticism was proto-Christianity."(45) In fact, she also pinpoints a date - Gnosticism "eventually changed into orthodox Christianity around 220" (46). A position thoroughly at odds with our evidence of Christianity which arose from a Jewish mileu, based on torah, etc. She now argues that everyone was a Gnostic. Irenaeus, who she earlier demonised for being orthodox, is now a Gnostic. (45). Regarding Augustine, "after the Council of Nicea, when he was “converted,” i.e., promised a prominent place in the newly formed Catholic Church, such that he then excoriated his former sect." (45) A pity such fanciful claims are unreferenced. Or even plausible. Augustine was born a good 25 years after the Council of Nicaea, so I do not know why he would have converted because of it. Similarly, why promise a "prominent place" to a heretic for converting? In essence, an absurd and unreferences claim at the logical and chronological level. A final note is that she is of the opinion that Augustine converted from Mandaenism, when in fact he was a Manichaeism.

The rest of this chapter is mostly massive block quote, followed by massive block quote of non-scholars such as Gerald Massey and Kersey Graves.

Okay, I am going to call it quits here for now.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It would be rude to keep this to myself...

From the pen of Acharya S:

The Book of Revelation is Egyptian and Zoroastrian
One can find certain allegorical place names such as "Jerusalem" and "Israel" in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Gerald Massey has stated that Revelation, rather than having been written by any apostle called John during the 1st century AD/CE, represents a very ancient text that dates to the beginning of this era of history, i.e. possibly as early as 4,000 years ago. Massey also asserts that Revelation relates the Mithraic legend of Zarathustra/Zoroaster. Dr. Hilton Hotema says of this mysterious book, which has baffled mankind for centuries: "It is expressed in terms of creative phenomena; its hero is not Jesus but the Sun of the Universe, its heroine is the Moon; and all its other characters are Planets, Stars and Constellations; while its stage-setting comprises the Sky, the Earth, the Rivers and the Sea."
The word Israel itself, far from being a Jewish appellation, may come from the combination of three different reigning deities: Isis, the Earth Mother Goddess revered throughout the ancient world; Ra, the Egyptian sun god; and El, the Semitic deity passed down in form as Saturn. [Here]

Monday, November 23, 2009

This weeks 'what I couldn't care less about' is...

Levi Johnston. The fact that I know that name actually pains me. For a few days I have been around the TV while Entertainment Tonight has been on. All it has been is "Levi Johnston...", "What does Sarah Palin think about Levi Johnston...", "Is Levi Johnston invited to thanksgiving?", "Levi Johnston's playgirl shoot up next...", "Oprah asking the hard questions - Sarah Palin and Levi Johnston".

Does anyone actually care? If you do care, what is wrong with you?

Monday, November 16, 2009

I hate Endnotes


Nick has reminded me that I hate endnotes with a passion.  However, this hatred aside, I do believe that endnotes are the standard for publishers trying to bring more scholarly works to the mainstream. Whether this is useful  - I don't know. I am sure publishers would have done some sort of research into the issue. (I lie, Nick, the publishers union has my family hostage and are forcing me to write this.)

That aside, one of the worst cases of endnotes for me was reading Martin Hengel's Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ. The book is 1/3 endnotes -  rather interesting endnotes. Endnotes that had me constantly flipping through. It really did annoy me - I just want to stay on one page, not jump ahead, read the next 10 footnotes to avoid turning back, going back to the main text, forgetting the footnotes I previously attempted to remember, etc. You get the point, not nice!

Another odd case of endnotes was with Ben Witherington's The Gospel Code. There were no numbers or markers that there was going to be a reference, you would just turn to the endnote section hoping to see an exert of the sentence with a note after it. It was really odd and confusing!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Quote of the Day - Ehrman on Q

I know, I may not be fashionable doing such but I seem to share such scepticism towards Q:

Let me repeat: Q is a source that we don't have. To reconstruct what we think was in it is hypothetical enough. But at least in doing so we have some hard evidence...But to go further and insist that we know what was not in the source, for example, a Passion narrative, what its multiple editions were like, and which of these multiple editions was the earliest, and so on, really goes far beyond what we can know - however appealing such "knowledge" might be." (Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium. 113.)

Friday, November 13, 2009


If I were to have ever written a monograph on Christology, I am sure it would have come out a lot like Simon J. Gathercole's The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew Mark and Luke in many respects. That said, I am grateful yet a bit annoyed (but probably not as annoyed as James Dunn). Maybe no one will notice a work that looks a lot like his?

I think I may owe a bit of an explanatory note as to the fact that my posts haven't touched on anything serious for at least a month. Simply put, I have been busy with other academic things. Namely, things I find not as interesting as biblical studies  - like ancient Egyptian religion, Christian interaction with the neoplatonists and the Hellenistic Period. One must never lose touch with good old historical method!

By December I will hope to send something interesting out. Probably starting with something boring such as the importance of understanding physical manuscripts as early Christian artifacts with the power to help us understand Christian diversity! Or identifying Christian scribal traditions in cosmopolitan ancient Egypt! I don't know, I am sure most people won't find it interesting but having contact with faculty from the Documentary Research Centre really has ruined me.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Library Book Annotations

Have you ever stopped to read some of the notes that are written in library books? As in annotation notes. Sometimes they are helpful, however, other times there are people who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. This really makes me wonder what is going through their head as they read the book!

Anyway, this isn't the best example but it did spark this post today. The text of the book states:
What has emerged from this plethora of research? In the main, the scholars make a point of asserting Jesus' Jewishness, as reflected in such titles as Jesus the Jew (Vermes), Jesus and Judaism (Sanders), Jesus' Jewishness (Charlesworth) and A Marginal Jew (Meir), to take a few examples. A minority of scholars, however, emphasise Jesus' Hellenistic environment above Judaic. Here Jesus emerges as a teacher in the Cynic tradition (Downing, Mack, Crossan).. (Paul W. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History. 16).

Now, imagine that text furiously underlined with large brackets. Next to those brackers is a note stating "not much solid evidence of him speaking Greek". The fact that this section was singled out probably indicates it is going to be a footnote in an essay somewhere. "As Barnett demonstrates in noting the minority of scholars placing Jesus within the Hellenistic cynic tradition, the evidence is not conclusive as to whether Jesus spoke Greek. The recent scholarship emphasisng Jesus' Jewishness would weigh against such a possibility." (Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History. 16.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ari is the Second Comin: A Creepy Youtube Message

I just checked an email from Youtube relaying a message I received. It didn't say much but:

Subject: Ari Emanuel, Second Coming
Body: Please visit www.Ari-Jesus-Second-Coming.com Thank You.

Now, the account doesn't mention my name anywhere so it seems to be a rather random message. But boy, am I creeped out. How often do you come across something mentioning 'Ari'?!? WHAT IS AN ARI ANYWAY? But it gets worse!

So, I am reading this weird website. Honestly, I am so confused right now. Can someone please explain what on earth this is on about?

The second coming is a Scandinavian, Dutch, German. He is intensely beautiful, he is the most beautiful!, he is the highest, he is an apex [this does sound like me]. He is the real angel that is sent by God to bring Christians home and help sanctify the world and he can and will do this. We are supposed to love the second coming and let him in our heart and let him in our person and this is how we can start to see Gods plan and can actually feel Gods love for us. We are supposed to let Ari the second coming in our body and this is the way God shows his love, It is very, very beautiful! It's perfect, it’s wonderful!
    Ari (the second coming) and Jesus are very close. But unfortunately and I do regret to inform you that at this point in time there is someone called an "ultimate blasphemer," it's a false Christ. It's a person that comes out of the body of the second coming and then pretends to be the messiah...an. We as Christians are supposed to love Jesus and the second coming Ari only, no one else!And this is God's true plan.
  I don't know exactly what to say about Ari, I think he is similar to Jesus, he is a giver, he is very respectful, he is honest, he is a hard worker. Ari is not trying to get over on people. He helps people even when it puts him out. Ari thinks that he is rich in other way's He thinks that he can simply go back into a fairy land where he loves himself and were people love him and he see's great joy. This is what makes him rich. Not really money. He's not trying to get over on people, that's the last thing this person would do.
    Ari is usually trying to help people.
JESUS AND ARI ARE THE ONLY WAY! Jesus and Ari are the bridge to God! The ultimate blasphemer destroys that bridge.
 Wait what?
Ari is the Messiah and this third person is not the Messiah, God did not make this third person the leader! 

Okay, now this is just blasphemy:
Ari is an apex, he is the highest! He is a extraordinarily beautiful person, he lives in ecstasy. Ari has an exquisite heart, it is very, very beautiful, It's hard to describe, It's the best! Ari is Jesus, and Ari is actually the Lord from heaven. Ari frees already saved Christians, that is what his purpose is. It is very, very nice. It is completely beautiful! Ari gives us freedom, Ari gives us something unbridled. Ari gives us something bold and glorious and beautiful!! It is very, very beautiful! I can't really describe how beautiful it is. You’re letting God into your body.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Prove Jesus Didn't Exist and win $1000!

I know, you're probably all thinking "Shutup with the Christ myth nonsense already, Ari!" but I couldn't resist. This was only just brought to my attention:

"The Mythicists’ Forum, a consortium of New Testament scholars, together with American Atheists, Inc.,
are pleased to announce the 2010 Mythicist Prize.
THE PRIZE:
The sum of $1,000 (U.S.) will be awarded to the author of a submitted essay which, in the opinion of the judges, sheds light on the origins of Christianity and, at the same time, supports the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist."

As far as I can work out, The Mythicists' Forum is a Yahoo group with four members. Maybe if we stretch the terms a bit we may very well have ourselves a "consortium of New Testament scholars" but I am not too hopeful. Anyway, the whole project of proving Jesus didn't exist for a cash prize reminds me a bit of Richard Carrier's request for ~$20,000 to write a book proving the already decided upon conclusion that Jesus didn't exist. It seems rather, well, self serving.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thanks Chuck!

A few days ago I noticed a card sitting on the bench indicating there was a package waiting at the post office.. I assumed it was for someone else so I didn't worry about it. However, today my brother followed it up and there were two packages for me!

What was in there? Two books for me!
  • The Churches the Apostles Left Behind- Raymond E. Brown
  • Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus - ed. Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland
 These books were courtesy of Chuck over at A 'Goula Blogger. Thankyou so much for these books! I thought having a wishlist was only a place to dream.

Archaic Mark: A Story of A Modern Forgery

Over at the Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog Tommy Wasserman has written a great overview of the discussions regarding the so-called Archaic Mark manuscript. It really is worth the read, especially for those whose interest in forgeries has been tickled by the recent coverage of Secret Mark over at BAR.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The DaVinci Brick

Who has too much time on their hands tonight? I do!



The Brick Testament Code: Last Supper

James McGrath at Exploring our Matrix has unknowingly (God forbid he is part of the cover up as well!) linked to the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. For years, the Church has been hiding the facts of the matter! They have been tarnishing the image of Mary Magdalene (despite making her a saint, aye?) to hide her forbidden relationship with Jesus. You call it crazy? Well, here is more historical proof of the matter. Over at The Brick Testament we find the keepers of the secret leaving hints in their work!



Yeah, you tell me that's a man. We know better.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quote of the Day - McKnight on Jesus and his Death

"We have established that Jesus thought he would die prematurely, in the providence of God, and would probably die at the hands of those who rejected his mission as a potential source of rebellion. It only makes sense that one who thought he would die, who on other grounds considered himself a prophet, also tried to make sense of that death. We can assume that Jesus did not think of his death as a sad tragedy or as a total accident of history. After all, Jesus could have escaped Jerusalem during the night; he could have avoided all public confrontation; and he could have worked harder to maintain his innocence." (Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death :Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory p.177)

I know, an odd quote to have for a few reasons. Firstly, I have posted it at the end of an older post. Secondly, it is a conclusion without a context!  But we  can pretend that is the point, right? To make you read the book and understand the cumulative argument!
From the 5th - 10th of November, Koorong is having a 20% off sale. What does that mean? I am going to needlessly buy more books at a slightly discounted price! But as I am generally tight, I must have a game plan on how to approach this!

Firstly, I have earlier noted some of the books I wanted to obtain within the new future. Sadly, the first two aren't stocked by Koorong! (On a related note, James McGrath just announced that a chapter 5 'Monotheism and Worship in the Book of Revelation' from his recent book The Only True God is now available online at the Butler University Digital Commons.)

So, my preference for this weeks book shopping:

Bargain Books:
So, the plan is for easy reading. Well, that's probably because the 'academic' section isn't much more than easy reading. However, in reality I am probably going to leave with one of these books at best and impulse buy something which a 20% discount would actually make a difference for.

Oh look, I accidentally posted my Wishlist here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jesus did NOT Exist.

Following on from my last post regarding ridiculous 'internet scholar' arguments, I am going to attempt to coherently structure a Christ Myth (Jesus-non-existence) argument based only on arguments I have engaged in the past few days. Here it is:

"The fact of Jesus' non-existence is one which dominates the discussion of historical Jesus studies. Without a doubt, most reputable scholars such as Early Doherty, Acharya S and Professor G.A. Wells know this to be true. Those who disagree, such as John Dominic Crossan, James Dunn, Geza Vermes and Ed Sanders are simply unschooled conservative apologists of the Christian faith.

The arguments for this a clear. First of all, there is no early evidence for the existence of Jesus. Our earliest sources, Paul, whose works were composed by Marcion in the 140s make reference only to a spirit. This spirit did not exist in a time or place. It was not until the end of the second century that the gospels were invented to provide a myth to the person. Although some apologists state that Josephus made reference to Jesus, they are wrong because everyone knows that the mentions of Jesus in Josephs were 100% made up.

A great example of this is to examine the death of Jesus in the gospels. Most scholars such as Burton Mack have noted that until Mark there is no explicit mention of the crucifixion. Similarly, in the gospels Jesus' final words are different. Finally, Arrian is among many historians who did not mention Jesus' death or even if he existed. Similarly, in the various versions of the Lord's Prayer they are differrent. This proves that Jesus did not even say it. As even Christian scholars agree, there is no reason to believe Jesus was crucified at all let alone that he lived.

If we move to comparative mythology the case is made even stronger. As the scholar Acharya S notes in her books, the words Sun and son are very similar. Jesus was no more then the "sun of god"; a solar deity appropriated from Egyptian religion. Even Christians today mistake sun and son in their bibles. Jesus is therefore a myth just like the Egyptian sun god and did not exist.

The final argument to be presented is the stories of the apocrypha. The Gnostic gospels, which preceded the New Testament gospels contain stories that cannot always be harmonised with each other. This is just like the myth Hercules. Just because there are some similarities among different myths doesn't mean he existed, just like Jesus."

*waits for someone to cite this argument as legitimate "proof" of Jesus' non-existence"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I love Internet Scholars

The thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice. That is great! This blog gives me a platform to discuss many issues (quite often among myself, might I add.) However, the anonymous nature of the internet grants everyone the platform to present themselves as highly educated scholars. This in itself isn't problematic to those who I know of who read this blog; but there are those who simply have no knowledge in the field of New Testament studies.

With this in mind, I believe it is a great time to have a look at some of the arguments and polemics which have headed my way over the past few weeks.

  1. Scholarship now believes Jesus did not exist?

    Original quote:


    "The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question." Robert E. Van Voorst, 'Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence' p. 14

    Response:

    "In the decade since this quote was written, and even before that, serious scholars such as Price and Wells have presented strong cases for a purely mythical Jesus."

  2. Marcion wrote Luke and the Pauline epistles in the Second Century; then soon after Irenaeus changed them all to include Old Testament citations.

  3. This Muslim Apologetic that there is reliable early evidence that Jesus was not crucified by appealing to late texts which, essentially, deny the possibility of Jesus 'physically' being able to be crucified. Something in stark contrast to the "truth of Islam" he is using these sources to assert.

  4. Khalid Yasin arguing the unreliability of the New Testament because the modern titles read "According to..." and that is in the third person. Oh, and because they don't have last names. You see, a bank won't cash a cheque without a full name; therefore the New Testament cannot be trusted. Oh, and Paul wrote "all the books from Acts on." Seriously, this is gold.


    "I don't understand why people don't just read history." - Khalid Yasin.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just Some Questions

Sorry if this is an elementary question, but after the fall of  Jerusalem where did all the Palestinian Jews go?

Did they join the Diaspora communities? Do we have evidence of them joining the Jews of Egypt? If they did, how did they deal with language barriers? Would we have had Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jewish Ghettos among Diaspora communities?

If anyone has any pointers on where to head with this regard, please do share! I have been thinking about the makeup of Christianity in Egypt and Roberts' explanation that they were probably highly integrated with the Jews of Alexandria. He states that the Hellenised Jews of Alexandria would have been more open to Christianity - but would there have been a newly established Palestinian Jewish community there post-fall?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thomas and Tatian

I just started reading Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship Between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron by Nicholas Perrin. At the moment, I am not sure if I agree with his case, however, it has to be said that I haven't found any of the excessively early arguments (e.g. Koester) persuasive in the slightest. My first thoughts are that he is pushing it a bit with the late date, however, there are many questions that have been raised by Gilles Quispel between the Diatessaron and Gospel of Thomas which need to be taken seriously. And as Perrin has rightly noted, scholars really haven't.


Anyway, why I am interested in the question has to do with my re-evaluation of Bauer. Thomas represents one of the earliest so-called Gnostic texts in Egypt - and depending on the original version, or in this case a Greek fragment, the model has to be adjusted. Do we go with the idea that the early Thomas contained an early proto-orthodox tradition  -some independent of the synoptics, which were later Gnosticied? Such would account for the simple fact that some of the common sayings demonstrate a clear theological gnosticising tendency. Do we acept the text as simply another mid-second century and beyond Gnostic text?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Books to Get my Hands on in the Near Future...


  • James F. McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context.

  • James G. Crossley, Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins 26-50 CE.

  • Nicholas Perrin, Thomas, The Other Gospel.

  • Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times
I think the only problem standing in the way is a thing called money. Especially for McGrath's book, at only 168 pages the tag is high!

Actually, I think I should address my lacking of theological understanding a bit:

  • Alister E. McGrath, A Fine-tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology
  • A McGrath, Theology: The Basics
  • Someone want to suggest something on the Calvinism-Arminian debate? {Thanks to diglot for bringing up the topic.)

Should the Pericope of the Adulteress be included in our bibles?

I am not sure how long it has been there, but over at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog there is now a poll on whether the Pericope Adulterae in the Gospel of John should be included in our Bibles.

I am not a text critic so I am not qualified to discuss the finer details of it, but there is a dilemma. Namely, we are pretty sure it is not an original part of the Fourth Gospel yet, to quote the TCGNT, "the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity."


What do we do in this situation?

Do we take the hard line view that only the four gospel autographs are authoritative or historically reliable?
If so, how do we deal with the fact that the Gospel narratives were originally orally transmitted? Or that Jesus' ministry was far greater than the portraits we received in the gospels?

I really don't know the solution, but in any case every translation is obligated to raise the question for the readers. I must say, for that reason I do love the TC notes that go along with the NET Bible. They are far more useful than a generic "Some early manuscripts do not contain this."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Early Christian Letter?

Here is what I hinted to yesterday - is this the earliest Christian letter or a representative of Manichaeism?

I am aware that identifying belief  in documentary papyri didn't make it onto anyone's top-ten list of anything but it can be rather interesting. But then we get to a case such as this where it simply becomes a tad confusing:

(Click to Enlarge)

Here we have a papyri letter with many allusions we would simply interpret as Christian. We have the Father God, we have a Paraclete Spirit, we have a Paschal festival...but is it Christian?

I would say the answer will surprise you but I don't think anyone is yet to produce a real solid answer.






New York Times in 1943

I was searching for an image of P.Harr 1.107 to jog some discussion with but instead I came across this:


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Larry Hurtado and Early High Christology (Video)



Here is a ten minute video with Larry W. Hurtado on his thesis popularly presented in How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God? On this point, I see it fit to recommend a recent interview that Matt from Broadcast Depth had with Hurtado. In the interview, Hurtado touched on a point too close to home. That is, a point that I see as relevant to all Christians in the field of NT studies:

One intellectual issue that I had to ponder early on and across the years (and I hope successfully) was how to engage with integrity the historically-conditioned nature of the biblical texts while also affirming their significance and function as scripture for Christian faith.  It seems to me that both extreme “liberal” and “conservative/fundamentalist” views actually agree implicitly on the same premise (which I regard as fallacious, or at least not incontestably true):  If the biblical texts are really historically-conditioned they cannot be “word of God”.  Recognizing the historically-conditioned nature of the biblical texts, the extreme liberal concludes they cannot really function as scripture.  Affirming the texts as scripture, the fundamentalist tries to dodge their historically-conditioned nature.  Worse yet, both views are fundamentally boring!  It would take more space than available here to lay out my own view, but in essence I think that it is theologically necessary to treat seriously the historically-conditioned nature of the biblical texts, and this is precisely integral to their scriptural function.

As a student of ancient history (as opposed to many who come to Biblical studies through theology) this has been at the forefront of my mind. One has to find the balance of recognising the New Testament documents as theology and as history - with the constraints that come with both. Gordon Fee was right on the mark here:

To see Scripture as both human and divine creates its own set of tensions. . . . God did not choose to give us a series of timeless, non-culture-bound theological propositions to be believed and imperatives to be obeyed. Rather he chose to speak his eternal word this way, in historically particular circumstances, and in every kind of literary genre. God himself, by the very way he gave us this word, locked in the ambiguity. . . . The issue is whether one is wont to begin with a theological a priori and conform historical questions to that a priori (= telling the exegetes what God could or could not have done before one looks at the data), or whether one starts with historical investigation and expresses one’s theological constructs in light of that investigation (= telling the theologian what God in light of historical probabilities seems to have done).
(Gordon D. Fee, Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutic, shamelessly lifted from Ben Witherington, The Living Word of God.)

"Sorry, Greece is closed..."

While I was in England this time last year I visited a little travel agency in the small town of Batley, West Yorkshire. I was inquiring about going to Greece for a bit as the horrible weather of England was driving me insane. I really don't know what it was - but for some reason the travel agent informed me Greece was closed. Closed!




Look, I was a bit sceptical at first but she assured me that Greece was in fact closed.  The whole country was closed - just like countries often do. Who was I to argue - she was the travel agent and I was just some foreigner!? She then informed me that alternatively I could have purchased a nice holiday to other English destinations.

I wish someone had informed me that countries periodically close in Europe!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I never thought I would say this...

...but too much Martin Hengel. I have been speeding through Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine During the Early Hellenistic Period and Jews, Greeks and Barbarians: Aspects of the Hellenization of Judaism in the pre-Christian Period by necessity and I do not know how much more I can take. I guess the upside is that I am no longer ignoring the Hellenising influences in Palestine pre-Maccabees.

*Gets back to reading Hengel, "The Political and Social History of Palestine from Alexander to Antiochus III (333-187 B.C.E)" in The Cambridge History of Judaism vol. 4.*

Jesus Water™

Over at Broadcast Depth Matt has listed his ten top soft drinks. However, as I say, no matter what processed drink you put down your throat - nothing will match the purity of Jesus Water™



 
*May or may not turn into wine

Monday, October 12, 2009

Finally!


My copy of A Bird's-Eye View of Paul (aka Introducing Paul) finally came! Of course, I don't have the time to read it for a few weeks but I am just so glad that it did finally come. One of my students saw it today and burst out laughing. The fact that it was written by Michael Bird and contains Bird in the title seems to have been the funniest thing she had ever seen.

In all honesty, I can identify with such sentiments. I purposely chose A Bird's-Eye View over Introducing Paul. The name and colourful cover were just far less generic which made  it an appropriate choice, especially as it is intended for "laypersons and undergraduate students and as a refresher for pastors and ministers." (6)

Anyway, the first chapter I will probably get to is Chpt. 8 "One God, One Lord: Monotheism and the Messiah" where it seems he follows the lead of Bauckham on "divine identity" and exegetes the standard Pauline Christology texts (e.g. 1 Cor 8:6; Phil. 2:5-11; etc)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quote of the Day - I. Howard Marshall on Bousset's Christology

From The Origins of New Testament Christology by I. Howard Marshall (1990 reprint):

His (Bousset's) appeeal to religious parallels from outside Judaism easily turns parallels into influences, and much of the details reconstructions of myths that have been held to influnce the early Church has been shown to rest on a misreading of the sources. Finally, his attempt to distance Paul from Jesus by means of a hypothetical gentile church acting as intermediary must be pronounced a failure. (pp.18-19)

The Exalted Christology of Mark 12:35-37

The exalted Christology of the synoptic gospels is greatly underappreciated. In fact, in many cases the idea of high Christology in the synoptics is sneered at. Some argue that it isn't until the Gospel of John that we find the Christology that sets Jesus apart being a mere mortal prophet.

If I was to suggest that John 17:5 had its roots in primitive Christology I am sure many would dismiss it without consideration. However, I think we should give it a go. John 17:5 (ESV) states:

And now, Father,  glorify me in your own presence with the glory  that I had with you  before the world existed.
 We see a number of unique features here. Firstly, Jesus is clearly an exalted character. Secondly, Jesus shared in the glory of God. Thirdly, Jesus shared in the Father's glory in the realm of his human pre-existence.

I am going to go out on a limb and assert that these three features of an exalted Jesus who shared glory with God in a state of pre-existence is found within the Gospel of Mark. In fact, in a single few verse pericope of Mark 12:35-37 (ESV) which reads:

35  And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’
37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

So, just to set the scene here. Jesus is at the temple and we receive an exert of the sermon (or even a provocative opening?). Here, we find an open challenge to the Messianic expectations of the scribes. Namely, you say that the Messiah is the son of David? Jesus is setting out to demonstrate that the Messiah is to be so much more, so he moves to the scripture. He cites David under the influence of the Holy Spirit declaring: "YHWH said to my Adoni, Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."

That's all good, but Jesus goes to identify the Messiah with the lord of the text. David himself calls the Messiah lord. So, to the three points from before. Firstly, the Messiah is identified as an exalted figure - he is even recognised as lord by David. Secondly, Adonai is in the glory and presence of YHWH during this discourse and was to be at His right hand. Thirdly, this all took place in a context of pre-existence.

Evidently, we find a very high Christology in these few verses of Mark. Just like the obviously high Christology of John 17:5, we find this short pericople espousing the same features in terms that appear to be just as strong - if not stronger.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

James D.G. Dunn on Robert Price

James D.G. Dunn (Jesus Remembered) on Robert M. Price's (Christ Mythicist) in the soon to be released The Historical Jesus: Five Views published by IVP:

On Price's use and abuse of the criterion of dissimilarity:
Price takes up the early form-critical observation that for the Jesus tradition to have been preserved it must have been of some pragmatic value, and he uses it to make the criterion of dissimilarity "all devouring." If every bit and piece of the Jesus tradition had a home in the early church, then "all must be denied to Jesus by the criterion of dissimilarity." Such an extension of the criterion of dissimilarity simply undermines what value it has. It is so a priori obvious that an influential teacher's teaching would influence his disciples and shape their own teaching and lives in substantial degree that the dissimilarity criterion does not help us to distinguish the one from the other.
James D.G. Dunn in The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP 2009), p.95
James Dunn on Price's use, or lack thereof, of primary sources:

Where I begin to become irritated by Price's thesis, as with those of his predecessors, is his ignoring what everyone else in the business regards as primary data and his readiness to offer less plausible hypotheses to explain other data that inconveniences his thesis. Why no mention of 1 Corinthians 15:3 - generally reckoned to be an account of the faith that Paul received when he was converted, that is, within two or three years of the putative events - "that Chris died...." Why no reference to Paul's preaching of Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), his preaching as openly portraying Christ as crucified (Gal 3:1)? How can Price actually assert that "we should never guess from the Epistles that Jesus died in a particular historical or political context," when it is well enough known that crucifixion was a Roman political method of execution characteristically for rebels and slaves? I could go on at some length - "seed of David" (Rom 1:3), "born under the law" (Gal 4:4), "Christ did not please himself" (Rom 15:3). Yet Price is able to assert that "the Epistles...do not evidence a recent historical Jesus," a ludicrous claim that simply diminishes the credibility of the argument used in support. (p.96)
Yes, the question in your head is "why are you bothering with an idiosyncratic Christ Mythicist?" Well, such views seem to be believed by laymen with a polemical agenda against Christianity.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Earliest Christianity: One Church or Warring Sects?

Want to read  about unity and diversity in the early church?  Don't have time to read James D.G. Dunn's massive Unity and Diversity in the New Testament? Sick of Ehrman's focus and glorification of second and third century groups? Can't be bothered to wait for me to finish Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity: The Case for Proto-orthodoxy?

Well, then you're just lazy busy. In that case, there is a nice primer in James D.G. Dunn's The Evidence for Jesus. He devotes a chapter to the topic titled "Earliest Christianity: One Church or Warring Sects?"

I must say the title in itself is interesting, however, a tad misleading. In my opinion, it would be wrong to imply that some sort of sectarianism or diversity precludes the concept of "one Church" as, say, a Protestant would understand the term. As he makes the case, there was diversity in earliest Christianity.  But does diversity preclude the existence of a clear orthodoxy? I maintain no - and this is a point that Dunn leaves hanging for far too long in a work intended for such an audience.

In my own life, I wouldn't agree with some what my fellow Christians believe - however, these are all too the periphery. As a Christian who loves the early (in some cases pre-scriptural) creeds, I believe such a form is sufficient to maintain orthodoxy. (I can probably say this with more confidence than those with a theological background :))

So, after all the gloom of telling us that Paul was not the only guy in the early church and that there were people opposing him in expression of the faith, we finally get a touching moment on early Christian unity:
What united the first Christians more than anything else was their belief in Jesus - in Jesus as the climax of God's ongoing purpose for man's redemption, the one whom God had raised from the dead and exalted as Lord, the man who demonstrated most clearly what God is like. Clustered round this central distinguishing belief of the first Christians were a number of others on which they would all have agreed in essence, even if their outworking in fuller formulation and practical application diverged in differing degrees: God, the Creator and the Father of Jesus Christ, as one; salvation through faith in Christ; the experience of the Spirit; the Old Testament as scripture and the traditions of Jesus, both to be treasured as authoritative for faith and life; Christianity's continuity with Israel, the people of God; practice of baptism in the name of Jesus and of the Lord's Supper in remembrance of him; and the need for an ethical outworking of faith through love. Such is the heartland of Christianity still. (James D.G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus p.99)

But before ending I must add that I really believe that Dunn's image of first century diversity is clouded by his approach to early Christology. Dunn's view which rips the divine Christology from Paul and his favour for developing Christology within the 'Hellenist' Churches forces him to over emphasise some differences between those zealous for the law vs Paul. For example, on the later Jewish Christian sects (such as the Ebionites) he states:
For the Jewish Christians of the second and third centuries, Jesus was simply a prophet, James the first sole leader of the Jerusalem church was the great hero, and Paul who had transformed the faith by opening the door so wide to the gentiles was a renegade and apostate.(p.96)
However, can Dunn really argue this? I greatly disagree with Dunn's Christological approach and I see no convincing evidence that the Jerusalem church saw Jesus as anything less than exalted as part of the divine identity of YHWH.

As Larry Hurtado has shown in his extensive works on early Christology, "Devotion to Jesus appeared too early, and originated among circles of the early Jesus movement that were comprised of - or certainly dominated by - Jews...." (Lord Jesus Christ, p. 42). Furthermore, Jesus' divine identity was classifed in terms of first century Judaism in such an exalted manner. As Richard Bauckham states, “the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them.” ("God Crucified" in Jesus and the God of Israel p.19)

So, in essence, read Dunn on early Christian diversity with his Christological view in mind.

New Books on the Way

A Bird's-eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His MessageI just ordered two new books through Fishpond. Okay, with one book I got overcharged, but the second book was fine. Oh, and I got $19.20 off my order.


In the end it cost me $43.76 all up instead of $62.96 so I am rather happy with myself.

Update: This post looks really, really ugly.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I am known to be harsh in some of my reviews, however, I really have nothing on this. Hyam Maccoby was a contentious scholar painting an interesting portrait of Jesus, but more importantly in this case, of Paul. Maccoby essentially presents Paul as a liar - he wasn't really a Pharisee but a Hellenistic Jewish convert or Gentile immersed in Pagan and Gnostic belief.  John G. Gager, a rather prominent Pauline scholar (Dunn interacts with him a lot in TNPP) has this to say on Maccoby's thesis:

This book, I fear, moves us backward in virtually every area. Maccoby's treatment reads like a (surely unintentional) summary of nineteenth century polemical-apologetic "scholarship" of a liberal Christian variety: Jesus against Paul; Paul as the second (and real) founder of Christianity; Paul the opponent and falsifier of Judaism; the pre- dominance of influence from Hellenistic mystery cults on Pauline thought. Still, the book might have been redeemed with an ever so slight shift in its self- description. If, instead of representing it as a work of historical scholarship, the author had described it as a piece of historical romance (as, for instance, Hugh Schonfield has presented his works), we might have been able to enjoy it as fiction.
John G. Gager, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 79, No. 2/3 (Oct., 1988 - Jan., 1989), pp. 248-250
 Ouch. But sentiments I agree with.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rodney Stark and Michael Bird - Orthodoxy and Heresy

Following on my recent theme of orthodoxy and heresy [1, 2, 3, 4], Walter Bauer, Ehrman's Lost Christianities and Pagels I would like to plug a post by Michael Bird at Euaggelion on the issue. Bird has provided a number of great quotes from Rodney Stark's  Cities of God which I would love to share (and note here so I can find them at a later date!)
"Purely as a matter of faith, one is free to prefer Gnostic interpretations and to avow that they give us access to secret knowledge concerning a more authentic Christianity, as several popular authors have recently done. But one is not free to claim that the early church fathers rejected these writings for nefarious reasons. The conflicts between many of these manuscripts and the New Testament are so monumental that no thinking person could embrace both (p. 142)."

"Elaine Pagels stresses that the Gnostic writers 'did not regard themselves as "heretics"'. Of course note. But the issue of heresy is hardly a matter of self-designation. Let us assume that these writers (including forgers) sincerely believed that they possessed the truth and that the conventional Christians had it all wrong, while the conventional Christians were equally sure that theirs was the true Christianity. Within the confines of faith, the charge of heresy can be resolved objectively only on the basis of which side more accurately transmitted the original teachings of Jesus. That decision must come down to sources (p. 152)."

"Had the Gnostics prevailed, they presumably would be viewed today rather more in the manner that Pagels and other 'Ivy League' Gnostics would wish, assuming that such a thing as Christianity still existed. But the Gnostics did not prevail, because they did not present nearly so plausible a faith, nor did they seem to understand how to create sturdy organizations. Instead, most of them did and taught their own 'thing'. To sum up, the Gnostics gospels were rejected for good reason: they constitute idiosyncratic, often lurid personal visions reported by scholarly mystics, ambitious pretenders, and various outsiders who found their life's calling in dissent. Whatever else might be said about them, surely they were heretics. As N.T. Wright put it, they 'represent ... a form of spirituality which, while still claiming the name of Jesus, has left behind them every things that made Jesus who he was, and that made the early Christians what they were' (p. 154)."
 I believe Stark has hit the nail on the head. That is the point of my discussions on the topic and that of other commentators. As I have earlier noted, the problem with Ehrman and Pagels name dropping alternative 'early' Christianities is that they present (1) later schools of thought and (2) fail to discuss their legitimacy as first century alternatives. Would Ehrman and Pagels take the challenge to argue that Jesus was in fact a Gnostic? We know that Ehrman does not hold this view (see his Apocalyptic historical Jesus based on the earliest sources) yet he makes no qualification in Lost Christianities.

Stark is absolutely correct in stating:
Within the confines of faith, the charge of heresy can be resolved objectively only on the basis of which side more accurately transmitted the original teachings of Jesus. That decision must come down to sources.
As I have repeatedly stressed, we can make an argument for orthodoxy and heresy historically. What do our earliest sources say? When did these alternative movements emerge? Do the alternative movements fit the Jesus movement? Do they fit the context of late second temple Judaism? All legitimate questions that can give a 'faith-free' answer to the debate.