Saturday 31 March 2012

The Jesus Discovery

A nice roundup of what we know about the program airing over Easter, based on Prof. James Tabor's "Jesus Discovery", can be found on Jim West's blog, with a wealth of links for those who want to investigate further.  As Jim tactfully puts it...
On April 12th (just at the Easter Season passes) the Discovery Channel will air a program called ‘The Jesus Discovery’.  Watch it if you must.  Buy the book if you must.  But before you do there’s something you need to know: it is a load of nonsense.

Friday 30 March 2012

Human Bible 3

Bob Price's latest Human Bible podcast is now up.
"...we get up to speed on the many names of God—can't he just pick one already? We answer questions on plagues and virgin births, wonder where C.S. Lewis came up with some of that stuff, and read into the verse that claims Paul took over for Jesus when he wasn't quite suffering enough—wait, what? Don't miss it!"

The Art of Biblical Interpretation?

This graphic appeared on Gary's ex-WCG blog. 

Thursday 29 March 2012

Great reflection on Ehrman's Jesus

John Shuck has packed an awful lot into his post on Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?  Nothing dogmatic (John isn't the dogmatic type), just some amazing double-edged sword-style questioning. A brief excerpt.
Dr. Ehrman's book deserves to be read.  He also provides a helpful bibliography of both mythicist literature and historical Jesus (and related topics) literature.   Dr. Erhman believes that he has provided a rock solid case.   It could very well be that Dr. Ehrman is right.

I find his apocalyptic Jesus really depressing.   That Jesus is hard to preach.  I am not sure if we have to have Jesus resemble Harold Camping to be a real guy.   We might be skeptical of a Jesus we admire, but we might also be skeptical of a Jesus we despise.  It may be equally hard to accept that Jesus is an onion.  Peel off each layer of fiction until you get to...nothing?  Give this country preacher a break!  I have to encourage the folks, you know?
I do think this book will open this debate wider, not settle it.  All I mean by saying that is that movements that are outside the academy grow when they get a response from someone "inside the beltway" like Dr. Ehrman.   The mythicist movement is certainly uneven.   Much of it as Dr. Ehrman points out is amateurish.  But there are credible academics (Carrier, Price, Thompson and others) whose arguments may get better, more refined, and more accepted over time.   More may join them.
Indeed, and in fact their arguments are pretty refined in the here and now (witness Price's latest book), even if not widely accepted.  That, I think, has less to do with the rigour of those arguments than the domination of the field by those driven by faith commitments. 

Meanwhile Bob Price has announced that an anthology of essays in rebuttal is being planned by the very same scholars who got slagged off in DJE, to be published by American Atheist Press.  This dust storm ain't dying down any time soon...

Wednesday 28 March 2012

More Canon Fodder

Debate on the canon continues in America's most distinctive tabloid church publication, The Journal: News of the Churches of God.  A version of my own canon article appears in the latest issue along with the following letter from David V. Barrett.

I see your [Dixon Cartwright's] Bible-canon rethink has created some waves.

It’s a matter of scholarship vs. belief, I suppose. I think you pointed out that the first list of the New Testament as we know it was as late as Athanasius in A.D. 367.

In many early Christian churches several books (Revelation and six epistles including Hebrews) were regarded as “doubtful,” and others (the Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas and Apocalypse of Peter) were often included in the canon.

But even today different parts of Christianity have different versions of the Bible — not just the Catholic and Protestant inclusion or exclusion of the Apocrypha but the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox churches—including several extra books.

We tend to take the Bible as “given.” But the complications of its composition, the fluidity of its content—and the authenticity of some of the books such as 2 Peter — really deserve more attention from those who have it as their sacred text.

Speaking of the book of Revelation, imagine how much less apocalyptic certain preachers would have been — William Miller, Herbert W. Armstrong, Harold Camping, Ronald Weinland — if Revelation hadn’t made it in.

I’m giving a talk on failed prophecies of Jesus’ imminent return next week before someone else’s talk on 2012 prophecies. I’ll finish up by saying we won’t need to worry about December 2012 if Ron Weinland’s right about May 27.

David V. Barrett
London, England

Also included in this issue is discussion of women's ordination in the COG tradition, a tribute - along with some interesting historical background - to the late Charles Hunting, formerly a high profile WCG evangelist.  There's a half page ad from William Dankenbring headlined "The Armstrong Era is OVER - It's Time to Move Forward!"  (Guess in which general direction Dankenbring would like you to move!)  And, of course, for COG news addicts, that's just a selection of what's on offer.  Once again Dixon Cartwright has provided a full PDF version of the paper for free download, which you can access here.

Update:  You know this is a better than usual issue of The Journal when LCG's Doc. Thiel throws a hissy fit over its contents.
The latest issue (print date February 29, 2012) of The Journal just arrived here electronically.  The two main topics of this issue were related to the role of women as possible pastors etc. and arguments about the biblical canon... overall, this was one of the most disappointing issues ever of The Journal.  Typically, I quote, link, and comment about certain parts of The Journal, but today I will not quote it nor link to it.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Monday 26 March 2012

Biff Baff Bart

It's great entertainment.

Bart Ehrman has waded in on the mythicism debate, and trying to keep up with the responses is likely to give you whiplash.

I'm halfway through the book in question, Did Jesus Exist?  While I'm a fan of Ehrman, I wouldn't count this as his best work.  It's a cursory treatment, with a whiff of sniffing disdain.  Maybe it improves in the second half.  I hope so.  Regardless, it doesn't seem an adequate response to Earl Doherty, Bob Price or even George Wells. 

So did Jesus exist?  Uh, which Jesus?  The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar?  The Jesus of bleeding heart Catholic iconography?  The Jesus of Joel Osteen?  The plaster Jesus that hung above the altar at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in my childhood?

No, no, no, no.

The Jesus of the gospel stories, understood - as most folk do - literally?

Get outa here!

The real Jesus, the bloke obscured behind the layered myth?  Is he, if he lies hidden at the heart of these many legends, recoverable.  If he is, then I side with Ehrman.  He must have been an apocalyptic prophet who only faintly resembled the many projections that Christians have invented in his stead.  If he isn't recoverable, the whole question becomes moot.  The stranger of Galilee remains an utter stranger, and his putative existence doesn't make much difference.

Meantime the battle (should that be bartle?) lines have formed, and the generals are huffing and puffing, talking past each other, clarifying, explaining, re-explaining, reclarifying, taking pot shots.

If you're into this sort of thing it's probably the best show in town.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

2 Peter - why the apologetics won't fly

Following Tim's comments on the earlier 2 Peter posting, maybe it would be helpful to briefly revisit the issues.

2 Peter is pseudonymous.  That's not in question.  Whoever wrote it, it wasn't Peter.  The fingerprints of forgery and/or fiction are all over it.

2 Peter was admitted to the canon with difficulty.  The problem was recognized long ago, but conveniently sidelined and ultimately ignored.  The 2008 edition of the evangelical NIV Study Bible, no friend of biblical criticism, notes that "it was not ascribed to Peter until Origen's time (185-253), and he seems to reflect some doubt concerning it.  Eusebius (265-340) placed it among the questioned books, though he admits that most accept it as from Peter." 

2 Peter claims to be written by Peter.  The writer explicitly says so: 1 From Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.  And a few verses later he claims to have been tweeting at the Transfiguration: 16 We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

2 Peter is still claimed for Peter by many commentators and 'authorities'. Evangelical sources generally nod toward the difficulties, and then airbrush them away with comforting coos of reassurance.  No dear reader, worry not your silly little head about such things for we can indeed explain it away at a stretch, given a large enough rubber band.  Thus the NIV Study Bible, the awful NLT Study Bible, the Orthodox Study Bible...  In fact 2 Peter makes a great litmus test when you're thinking of acquiring a Study Bible. 

2 Peter as a creative piece of canonical fiction is modern construct.  If I understand Tim's position, this is his view.  Yes, 2 Peter is fictive, but that's okay.  All we need to do is grasp the subtleties of genre and the problem disappears.  Tim isn't alone, of course, in taking this position.
Many scholars believe the letter was written some years after Peter's death, by someone who wrote in his name.  This was an accepted practice in ancient timesThe references to Peter... would have been understood by the original readers as literary devices used in this type of writing. (Augsburg Fortress Lutheran Study Bible.)
Convinced?  Not really.  Who exactly were "the original readers"?  In a largely pre-literate society I'd suggest the best term would be "original hearers", and that by and large they were sucked right in.  It's a tad easier to buy the genre defence with Jonah, for example, and even the apocalypticism of Daniel.  Fair enough.  But the Epistles
If the people who forged the New Testament letters of, say, Peter and Paul had "no intention to decieve" and did "not in fact" deceive anyone, we again are left with the problem of why everyone (for many, many centuries) was in fact deceived.  Bart Ehrman, Forged, p.126.
And where is the evidence that the early church indeed regarded 2 Peter as a trendy piece of inspired fiction?  Such did exist - the much loved Shepherd of Hermas for example, and the marvelously inventive Acts of Paul (and Thecla).  But did either make the canonical cut?  And was it really "an accepted practice in ancient times"? 

2 Peter is a forgery, and forgeries were condemned in the ancient world.  Bart Ehrman devotes a full chapter in his book Forged to all the various excuses that have been hauled out to justify or explain away pseudonymous writings.  One of the slickest is called, with an appropriate nod to academic jargon, "reactualizing the tradition", the brainchild of David Meade.  Ehrman's response is well worth reading in full.  Bald claims like those in the AF Lutheran Study Bible are quickly put to the sword; there is little or no evidence to back up such sweeping assertions.
They state it as a fact.  And why do they think it's a fact?  For most New Testament scholars it is thought to be a fact because, well, so many New Testament scholars have said so!  But ask someone who makes this claim what her ancient source of information is or what ancient philosopher actually states that this was a common practice.  More often than not you'll be met with a blank stare.  Bart Ehrman, Forged, p.130.
There is another problem here too.  If 2 Peter is pseudonymous and fictive, but it says what we need it to say, then it's all hunky dory.  If the Acts of Paul and Thecla is pseudonymous and fictive, but it says things we don't like (perhaps a strong female character portrayed in the strapping Thecla), then it's another matter entirely. 

There's a useful summary in Ehrman's The New Testament: An Historical Introduction.  Forgery was commonplace in the ancient world, and it did have it's legitimate place as a classroom exercise in rhetorics.  There were lots of attempts to lard up the canon with such documents (3 Corinthians anyone?)  Some, like 2 Peter, got through anyway.  Despite the pious finessing of the apologists, forgery was almost universally condemned at the time.  And why is it that those scholars who would sooner wash their mouths out with soap and water than talk about forgeries in the New Testament, usually have no such compunction when it comes to so labelling documents outside the New Testament.

Frankly, even with truckloads of both sophistication and sophistry, it's a mess. 

Monday 19 March 2012

And you thought Jesus Mythicists were bonkers...

Say hello to Dr. Susannah Cornwall.

This dear lady has managed to do what few others have in the world of biblical studies: discovered a new 'take' on the historical Jesus.

Cornwall isn't the first, nor will she be the last, to mould Jesus into a reflection of either her own political agenda or her imagination.  But, give the doc. credit, this attempt is more original, in a pointless sort of way, than most.

In that darkened zone beyond the razor wire where biblical fantasy meets feminism, behold!
A feminist theologian is claiming that Jesus may have been a hermaphrodite.

Dr. Susannah Cornwall, a professor at Manchester University's Lincoln Theological Institute, wrote in a recent paper that the idea that Jesus was male is "simply a best guess."
Simply a best guess?  Oh, okay.  I understand Cornwall is wielding this bit of nonsense in a righteous cause, but even in the quest for tolerance, progress and women bishops in ye olde C of E, this is a travesty.  The full story, if you have the cojones for it, is here.  In fact, why not knock yourself out completely by downloading the actual paper - Intersex and Ontology - from the nice people at Manchester University.

Meantime I'm off to bang my head repeatedly against a hard surface...

2 Peter - a cuckoo in the nest

Yeah, right!
The New Testament book of 2 Peter is almost universally regarded by scholars as pseudonymous.  In other words, it wasn't written by Peter but by someone else and much later.  This comes as news to many biblicists who are convinced otherwise based on little more than wishful thinking. 

Richard Bauckham writes in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary:

2 Peter belongs not only to the literary genre of the letter, but also to that of "testament"... In Jewish usage the testament was a fictional genre... It is therefore likely that 2 Peter is also a pseudonymous work, attributed to Peter after his death... These literary considerations and the probable date of 2 Peter... make authorship by Peter himself very improbable.
Scot McKnight, writing in the Eerdmans Commentary notes that 2 Peter

was probably composed within two decades after his death. No book in the Bible had more difficulty establishing itself in the canon. As late as Eusebius (d. 371) some did not consider 2 Peter to be from the Apostle or part of the canon... doubts continued for centuries (e.g., Calvin and Luther)
McKnight adds:

There is clear evidence that 2 Peter is either dependent on Jude or on a later revision of a tradition used by the author of Jude and then by the author of 2 Peter... The letter probably emerges from a Hellenistic Jewish context, probably in Asia.
Neither Bauckham nor McKnight can be regarded as skeptics, both are firmly within the conservative Christian tent.  Bart Ehrman, on the other hand, isn't. He notes that
 whoever wrote 2 Peter, it was not Simon Peter the disciple of Jesus. Unlike 1 Peter, the letter of 2 Peter was not widely accepted, or even known, in the early church. The first time any author makes a definite reference to the book is around 220 CE, that is 150 years after it was allegedly written. It was finally admitted into the canon somewhat grudgingly, as church leaders of the later third and fourth centuries came to believe that it was written by Peter himself. But it almost certainly was not... As scholars have long recognized, much of the invective is borrowed, virtually wholesale, from another book that found its way into the New Testament, the epistle of Jude. This is one of the reasons for dating the letter itself somewhat later... it is dependent on another letter that appears to have been written near the end of the first century.
Sadly, none of this prevents idiots from playing fast and loose with the text.  Elsewhere I've noted the suggestion by a magazine writer that 2 Peter 1:12-15 proved ol' Pete himself was a prime mover in the creation of the canon!  Even worse are these downright deceptive notes provided in a copy of the awful ESV Bible.
Peter probably wrote this letter from a Roman prison about A.D. 67-68, shortly before his death... Recalling his firsthand experience of Christ's glory at the Transfiguration (1:17-18), Peter explains the "more sure" truth of the gospel as an antidote to heresy. (ESV, NT book introductions, 2 Peter.)
Total rubbish.  "Peter probably" did no such thing. This is whistling in the dark, hoping the peons in the pews won't dig beyond shallow reassurances. Ignorance is bliss.  Way back in 1981 James Barr wrote:
[I]t can be said, and should and must be said, that in some at least of the new 'evangelical' translations the Bible itself has been doctored to make it say the sort of thing that modern revivalist fundamentalists say...
[F]undamentalism is not basically concerned with the Bible and what it says, but with the achievement of dominance for the evangelical tradition of religion and way of life. (1981 foreword to "Fundamentalism".)
 It's not that there was merely an innocent misidentification of 2 Peter's authorship, the forger deliberately misrepresented himself as Peter.  How do we know this?
16 We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.
To put no too fine a point on it, the author is telling blatant, in-your-face porkies.  He witnessed nothing with his own eyes, heard no voice from heaven and was not with Jesus on any holy mountain.  Bob Price pulls no punches:
2 Peter is thus a double fraud: it is not a Petrine writing, and its author is baldly lying about being an eyewitness to the Transfiguration.
So what do we do with 2 Peter?  Can it even be scripture in any meaningful sense of that word?  And if it can be, why not the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Thomas or the Book of Mormon?

Friday 16 March 2012

Dr. Bob on Apologetics

[T]he apologist begins with faith, not with the facts and data.  He then goes on to "spin" the evidence.  He believes he knows where it must in the end lead.  And he will make sure it gets there, no matter how much road construction he may have to do to clear that path, - he will do it to make straight the way in the wilderness for his God.

Apologetic arguments are directed to the doubter within...

Bob Price, Night of the Living Savior.

By the bye, the second episode of Bob's new podcast, The Human Bible, is now up.  "In this episode, we answer listener questions about unicorns and dragons, learn about the Old Testament's sources, premiere a new segment called "Apologetics Is Never Having to Say You're Sorry," and ask whether or not the Bible thinks human sacrifice is A-ok!"

Monday 12 March 2012

The Christotelical Time Machine

(This post follows on from Demon out - demon in.)

"I'm just off to tell Moses what he means to say."
Problem number one with Christian Smith's "time machine hermeneutic"?  It's riddled with supercessionism.  Hebrew Bible?  What Hebrew Bible?  The Jewish scriptures are, according to this bizarre theology, no such thing.  Jews, ancient or modern, are completely clueless about their true intent.
[W]e always read scripture Christocentrically, christologically, and christotelically...
Christotelically?  It ain't in the Merriam-Webster.  Ain't in the Oxford, and lawdy, it ain't in the Chambers either.  Check that ultimate authority on all things - Wikipedia - and, oh dear, it is still missing in action.   From what I can gather, the term (Christotelical) was coined (cooked up) by Peter Enns in the Westminster Theological Journal, where a great many other things have been creatively cooked over the years.  Enns simply tortured the Greek word telos till it screamed for mercy, then bunged it together with the front end of christology.  Gimme a break!  Quidditch will enter the Chambers before this bit of fatuous nonsense.

Oh, sorry, I forgot; it already has.

But back to Smith's amazing christotelical time machine!  How anyone can maintain this supercessionist bulldust on this side of the Shoah defies comprehension, and yet Smith seems totally oblivious to the problem.  This incredibly myopic theory requires us to believe that nobody could possibly, truly, understand the books of Job, Jeremiah or Psalms, for example, until the Council of Nicea rolled around.  Too bad if you were Job, Jeremiah, a psalmist or a Second Temple Jew... and too bad if you're a twenty-first century Jew.  Which is, of course, the position taken by Al Mohler and former Southern Baptist President Bailey Smith.
With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew. (source
Talk about dripping condescension!  Nope, more likely it's Mohler and the Smiths that are clueless.

To be clear, I'm not even vaguely suggesting that the author of The Bible Made Impossible is anti-semitic, any more than Barth was.  To read his book is to appreciate a genuine effort to move evangelicalism onward from crass biblicism, and that's got to be a good thing.  But reading the Bible backward as he advocates it certainly does disenfranchise everyone who can't bring themselves to stand in line and salute along with the disciples of bog-standard trinitarian orthodoxy.

So to point out the issue of supercessionism is only to state the obvious.  A backward reading of the Bible poses even broader problems, and one suspects that not even the ghost of Karl Barth could paper over those cracks.

To be continued.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Demon out - demon in

A few days back I made some positive preliminary comments about Christian Smith's book The Bible Made Impossible, and his first section, debunking biblicism, is without doubt a case powerfully put.

But Smith must erect a new superstructure in its place, and here the disappointment bites bitterly.  He hauls out the tired old supercessionist drivel that - literally - wants to read the Bible backward in the name of 'Christocentrism.'

Worse, Smith trots out theology's equivalent of the Addams Family in support: Goldingay, Stott, Packer, Vanhoozer, Bloesch, Berkouwer and, finally and inevitably, Karl Barth.  In fact he devotes a whole section to singing Barth's praises.

Unless, Smith warns, "we are anticanonical hermeneutical nihilists, we must believe in some kind of internal biblical coherence or unity - despite the Bible having been written by many different authors who lived in highly divergent historical and cultural circumstances."

Yeah, right.  And that coherence factor would be?

"If believers today want to rightly understand scripture, every narrative, every prayer, every proverb, every law, every Epistle needs likewise to be read and understood always and only in light of Jesus Christ and God reconciling the world to himself through him."

Every, every, every, every, every...  Oh really?

And moreover: "we always read the Bible as committed trinitarians."

"From the Bible's account of the creation of the world in Genesis to its final consummation in Revelation, it is all and only about the work of God in time and space in the person of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world."

"All and only"?  Talk about a sweeping hermeneutic!

Having swept the hovel clean of the demon Biblicism, Smith wants to recruit some nice new ones to help pay the rent.

More on this next time.

Saturday 10 March 2012

The Bible, Authority & Inquiry

We live in an age where intellectual curiosity is valued.  In underlies every aspect of human progress.  We want our kids to be able to think, and think critically.  If someone makes a sweeping claim about a new product, for example, we expect that person, company or ad agency to be able to back up those claims.  If they can't, then there's the option of an appeal to legislation that protects consumers from snake-oil salesmen.

Where is the virtue of curiosity and the thirst for evidence-based knowledge demonstrated in the Bible?

The Bible is largely the product of a time when, in the absence of the scientific method, knowledge was based on proper authority, not evidence.  Society was held together by everbody knowing "their place."  Troublemakers asked questions.

So, for a moment at least, put yourself in the place of a pastor in a progressive church, or maybe an intelligent and informed layperson taking an adult Sunday School class.  Their mission this week is to encourage the congregation or group to ask questions, to explore the ambiguities that lie on the growing edges of human knowledge - including Christian knowledge, to get people to move beyond the torpor of taking things at face value, and actually dig a little deeper.

What biblical passages would you suggest?  Are there any?

I once heard it suggested that Adam and Eve performed the very first scientific experiment - and look where it got them...
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. (Gen.3:6)
Curiosity - here at least - is a very dangerous thing.   

There are passages that encourage humans to seek wisdom, but wisdom is pretty-much hedged about and legitimated with the demands of tradition and authority, not enquiry.  You just need to follow the aphorisms - the good advice - and all will be well.

So, where are the positive biblical exemplars?  It's not a rhetorical question; I'd be really interested to know if anyone could come up with a lectionary reading that would support an intellectually curious approach to life.

Any takers?

Thursday 8 March 2012

The Human Bible

You should definitely not tune in to the new podcast from Robert M. Price, oh heavens to Betsy no (as Snagglepus was wont to say).  It's called The Human Bible, and your mortal/immortal (select one) soul is most assuredly at risk should you attempt to listen.
The Human Bible is a podcast that deconstructs and demystifies the Bible. It takes a secular, sober, and impartial look at the Bible—no belief in the supernatural, no favoritism, no animosity. No questions are off limits, and no dogma stifles our inquiry.
All this, presented with good natured banter?  Danger Will Robinson!
Join host Robert Price as he answers listeners’ questions and delves into amusing, peculiar, and puzzling issues in regular segments like "Prophetic Scorecard" and "Is That in the Bible?!"
We'll cover everything from the Q Source (including explaining what the heck that means) to that one time God wanted to kill Moses for having a foreskin. It's not to be missed!
So, who is Robert Price?
At Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary he took an MTS degree in New Testament (1978), then, at Drew University, a PhD in Systematic Theology (1981) and a second PhD in New Testament (1993). He has served as Professor of Religion at Mount Olive College, North Carolina, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montclair, NJ, and Director of the Metro NY Center for Inquiry... His books include Beyond Born Again, The Widow Traditions in Luke-Acts, Deconstructing Jesus, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, The Da Vinci Fraud, The Reason-Driven Life, The Pre-Nicene New Testament, Jesus Is Dead, and The Paperback Apocalypse
Don't be fooled.  The first episode is now up, stay away!  Avoid at all costs.

You have been warned!

Revelation Unveiled At Last

99% of books and articles on the book of Revelation are rubbish.  100% of books on Revelation sold by your local Christian bookstore are rubbish.

Which is why you probably won't find Elaine Pagels' new book there.

Jim West today provided a link to an interview with Pagels on NPR's Fresh Air.  It's definitely worth a listen, so get it while you can.  Just imagine what the folks at Dallas Theological Seminary could learn from this if they bothered to prise their minds open just a millimeter or so.  Or Spanky Meredith, Dave the Packatollah or Gerry Six Pack...

Fat chance.  Not only does Pagels have an informed position (heretic!) but she's a (gasp) woman!  But why not download the podcast and arm yourself with a little free and cogent information?

Sadly, the book itself is not yet available in e-book format.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Luther and Anti-Semitism

Eric Gritsch is an ELCA theologian, author of The Wit of Martin Luther, A History of Lutheranism, and a number of other significant works.  He was also recruited, like young Joseph Ratzinger, into the Hitler Youth in the dying days of World War II, later studied under Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, and recently completed a book entitled Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism, published by Eerdmans.

This is a subject widely neglected among Lutheran Christians, and when it is raised, as it ought to be, it is often met with prevarication and denial.  While Lutheran pastors and lay people are keen to beat their gums on justification by faith, grace alone, and the boldness of the Reformer who stood up to Rome with his battle cry "Hier stehe ich!" (Here I stand), not so many are willing to talk openly about his scatological rhetoric on Jews or his violent reaction to the so-called Peasant's Revolt.  Luther's colleague Melanchthon referred to his friend's controversial and intemperate nature as rabies theologorum, the rage of theologians.  There have been more than a few "mad theologians", past and present, but Luther surely set a high-water mark.

Well, nobody likes to have the skeletons in their closets rattled under their noses, or have outsiders pointing gleefully to their founder's feet of clay; but then again, if we don't learn to look our own history in the eye, how then can we move on?

Gritsch is not just another semi-apologist seeking to sandbag Luther's anti-semitism with a thousand qualifications.  This is the best treatment of the issue I've seen anywhere.  Within the covers of a small book we have an intelligent, honest appraisal of the man, his limitations, and the legacy of his ill-considered outbursts.

Was Luther a genius or a villain?  Both and neither.  At the risk of sounding preachy, maybe the man's own coinage might apply. Simul Justus Et Peccator, both sinner and saint.  I just wish conservative Lutherans, particularly those in the synodical ghettoes of Missouri and Wisconsin, would front up to the tragedy of his vicious limitations.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

COGs as biblicist sects

It's not every day that a post-Armstrong COG sect gets a mention in a 'respectable' source.  Ever rarer that two such bodies get mentioned in despatches.  Enter Christian Smith, author of The Bible Made Impossible.  Smith, an evangelical Christian himself, launches a broadside at 'biblicism', the idea that the Good Book speaks clearly on all matters of faith and practice.  Case in point, various forms of sabbatarianism.
... Christians disagree.  Groups like Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists, the United Church of God, the Living Church of God, and the True Jesus Church, advocate a seventh, not first, day of observance of the Sabbath.
Spanky, of course, doesn't read much beyond selective news clippings garnered by his myrmidons, so probably isn't aware that his designer sectette (LCG) has been given a wee pat on the head.  The UCG is doubtless relieved they got the mention, and not the wooden-headed schismatics that recently dived off the deep end into the even more biblicist COGWA.

Nice to see that the True Jesus Church gets a mention among the riff-raff (SDBs excluded).  Their theology might be just as questionable, but at least they've emerged from a different cultural matrix, and without the standard American Adventist baggage (they have some nifty baggage of their own of course!)  With two and a half million adherents, they make the COGlets look like small potatoes.

Archidiot of Evangelicalism

Franklin Graham, what a doofus.

I'm not sure what qualifications Franklin waved around to secure the ascendancy to his dad's evangelistic empire, but I suspect it didn't have a lot to do with intellect, talent or spirituality.  Nope, it was probably the lure of taking on the lucrative family business or, to put no fine point on it, nepotism.  A quick dose of repentance for youthful indiscretions (whiskey, guns and motorcycles) and ta-da, a big payout from well intentioned but naive supporters... perhaps the devil made him do it.

Graham has chronic foot-in-mouth disease, Rush Limbaugh with a leather-covered Bible, a braying ass in an expensive suit.  His fans admire this trait; they call it 'outspoken'.

Okay, he's entitled to an opinion.  Every moron in a hurry does.  He doesn't have the right to bear false witness, to misrepresent, to lie.

A little lesson in humility wouldn't hurt.  And a substantial slash in income to his guilt-based religious extortion racket.

For the record, Graham shows little evidence of being a Christian himself, or much of a Christian, judging by the "fruits of the spirit" criteria in Galatians 5:22-23.  You know - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Maybe he's a closet atheist...

Saturday 3 March 2012

Bob and Bart

March promises to be an interesting month with the release of Bart Ehrman's defence of the historical Jesus, Did Jesus Exist? His position: "The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not."  Sounds like compulsory reading to me.

Getting in ahead of him has been Bob Price with The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems.  You might think from the title that this too is a book demonstrating how the mythic position doesn't hold up, but of course it takes the opposite tack.  Bob's position: "we must view the gospels and Acts as analogous with the Book of Mormon, an inspiring pastiche of stories derived creatively from previous scriptures by a means of literary extrapolation."

I already have Price's book to hand, courtesy of an instant Kindle download, while we're all going to have to wait till the 20th of the month for Did Jesus Exist?  In hardback format it runs to some 430 pages, though it'd shrink considerably if the in-full Bible passages were relegated to references.

One parallel Price draws, which came as news to me, was between the story of Paul's 'conversion' in Acts 9 and the tale of Heliodorus in the deuterocanonical book of 2 Maccabees, chapter 3.  You can read the chapter in full here.  The following is Price's summary.
In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:5) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth...  Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot.  The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews.  But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback.  The stallion's hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26).  He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher.  Pious Jews pray for his recovery...  The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce [that he]... will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God.
It doesn't require much imagination to see the connection; Benjaminite, Tarsus, knocked down by a vision, blindness, prayer, recovery, and reorientation.  Add to this that the New Testament story, as it stands in Acts, has remarkably little corroboration in Paul's own letters.  Coincidence?

Food for thought...

Tabor controversy - something fishy?

Dr. James Tabor is no stranger to controversy in the world of Biblical Studies, especially as it intersects with archaeology.  His career began most inauspiciously, at Ambassador College in Pasadena, before gaining credibility with legitimate degrees and teaching posts.  Dr. Tabor, now a longtime professor of religious studies at UNC Chapel Hill, is undoubtedly a decent and sincere man, an impression that has come through strongly in personal correspondence I have had with him on a variety of issues.

Like a moth to the flame, Tabor - along with filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici - is back in the limelight with a new archaeological discovery to revolutionize our understanding of Bible times.  Or maybe not.  There has been almost universal skepticism over those claims from those best qualified to judge.  Andrew Vaughn, executive director of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) put it bluntly: "In my assessment, there's zero percent chance that their theory is correct."

I suppose it might seem crass to describe the discovery as "fishy" (much is made of a fish symbol in the new tomb), but the team that previously brought us "the Jesus family tomb" seems to have spent its credibility capital all the way down into overdraft.  Stephen Fine observes:
The interpretation presented by Professor Tabor is not grounded in the evidence, nor in even the most basic rules of art-historical analysis. The image has nothing to do with Jonah, Jesus, or Judea in the first century. Elsewhere I have referred to this genre of media-driven discoveries as the “DaVinci Codification” of our culture—the presentation of odd and associative thinking previously reserved for novels as “truth” to the general public. The “Jonah Fish” is just the next installment in the Jesus-archaeology franchise—timed, as always, to precede a major Christian feast. 
I, for one, am wearied by the almost yearly “teaching moment” presented by these types of “discoveries.” I am hopeful, however, that—this time—a forceful and quick display of unanimous dissent by the leading members of the academic community will be taken seriously by the media and the public at large. (Full comments on ASOR)

 Of course, there's a book - just released - to flesh out the claims.  The Jesus Discovery (co-authored with Jacobovici) follows in the wake of The Jesus Dynasty and, well off the mass market circuit, Restoring the Abrahamic Faith (reviewed here in 2009).  Having read the earlier two, I think I'll pass on the latest.

Mind you, the mullahs of the Missouri Synod are very excited!  Paul McCain seems to have swallowed the fish, fins and all.