Saturday 29 August 2009

Mindless in Missouri

Don't get me wrong, I have a grudging admiration for Martin Luther, more-so having recently read psychoanalyst Erik Erikson's biography - an oldie but goodie first published in 1959 - Young Man Luther. No doubt about it, Anfechtung has a lot to answer for!

But these two pictures are nothing but jaw-dropping in their Lutherolatry. I mean, c'mon guys, talk about putting someone on a pedestal! The first is apparently arranged to exhibit the excellencies of Concordia's ESV Study Bible being released about now. Weighty. Authoritative. I mean who would argue with a glowering visage like that!

The second is the somewhat unimaginative but phallic cover of the initial volume in the Concordia edition of Luther's works. The reformer protectively holds a bible while gazing upward. It begs for a caption: Nein Katie, you must stay up in the loft, these chocolates are mine, all mine!

You'll need to click on the photos to appreciate the utter horror of it all in larger form. Mercifully, both publications come from the whinging Misery Synod, famous for its wooden literalism, rather than any responsible Lutheran body, but still... this is verging on cultic.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Rodney vs the Reprobates

Rodney Stark is author of The Rise of Christianity, a volume with a good deal to recommend itself - at least from the perspective of the church history paper I took a year or so back. Stark is a sociologist with a fascinating reconstruction to offer on how early church growth reached warp drive so quickly in the first centuries CE.without the aid of either WGN or a Branding Task Force.

Stark's subsequent books have been tilted in an ideological direction, something bemoaned here once before. The Stark truth is that Christianity turned out to be the best thing since sliced bread. No wait, that's a bit redundant... sliced bread owes its genius to Christianity (or something like that.)
Wicked rationalist Richard Carrier is calling his bluff. Stark would have us believe that the scientific weltanschauung could only arise in the Christian West. This is just bad history, according to Carrier, in two podcasts for the Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour. This is an amusing excursus, if you're moderately geekish or into ancient history.

Okay, so you have to be a bit patient while Carrier and his affable host "Dan the Demented" indulge in a spot of intellectual banter on famous-but-forgotten Greeks and Romans, but perseverance will reward with some weirdly fascinating historical stuff (did you know that Luther is said to have had a copy of Josephus with no references to Christ?)
Sorry Rodney, but I think you're toast.

Sunday 16 August 2009

And Matthew begat Josh

I've just had one of those "duh!" moments. You know, when something completely obvious finally penetrates through your thick skull.

How many times have I read through (or skipped over - it's not exactly riveting) the alleged genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. These passages have proven to be a minefield of bad exegesis over the centuries. The two disagree, and given that there's supposed to be no genetic contribution to Jesus from Joseph's side anyway, the whole purpose seems a bit irrelevant.

Of course there are the Josh McDowell types, eager to race in and explain it all away, but then they would, wouldn't they? Working back from the conclusion to fiddle with the evidence till it fits... not a good look.

Then a light snapped on, courtesy of Julie Galambusch. In her book The Reluctant Parting she writes:

Matthew begins his gospel with a rather quaint nod to tradition: a genealogy of Jesus modeled on the "begats" of the Hebrew Bible. Matt. 1:2-16 is based loosely on 1 Chron. 3:1-3, but with the generations juggled in order to divide Jewish history into three distinct, fourteen-generation epochs... Matthew seeks to demonstrate numerologically (a practice called gematria in Hebrew) that the moment for the messiah's birth has arrived.

That's it - gematria! Forget all the tortuous apologetic drivel from McDowell, and even much of the painstaking eisegesis in the commentaries, we're talking numerology. Matthew wasn't completely incompetent after all, nor was he trying to be dishonest by the standards of his time. As a Jewish scribe he is doing something quite predictable, and something McDowell himself would understand in the event that he had a moment of honest clarity: he's fiddling with the numbers to make them say what he needs them to say - but (as I'm sure they'd both assure us) all in a good cause.