Self-Help is Bogus and Dangerous

I hope he spends a long time in jail.

Ray used the sweat lodge as a way for participants to break through whatever was holding them back in life. He warned participants in a recording of the event played during the trial that the sweat lodge would be “hellacious” and that participants were guaranteed to feel like they were dying but would do so only metaphorically.

“The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you’ll ever experience is the fear of what? Death,” Ray said in the recording. “You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it’s OK to die.”

Witnesses have described the scene following the two-hour ceremony as alarming and chaotic, with people dragging “lifeless” and “barely breathing” participants outside and volunteers performing CPR.

via Self-help guru convicted in sweat lodge deaths – US news – Crime & courts – msnbc.com.

If you fall into the trap that these conmen set to sell books and feed their greed and depravity, then you risk losing more than losing your money.

I’m reminded of George Carlin’s words:

Noah’s Ark in the Media

Oh Media, when will you learn that you shouldn’t mess with the past?  You can’t ‘recreate’ something that never existed in the first place.

While Noah will likely always remain the first name in arks, tourists are chomping at the bit to climb aboard “Johan’s Ark,” an ambitious re-creation of the biblical boat that’s attracting gawkers galore along a waterfront shipyard in Dordrecht, a city in the western Netherlands.

via Meet the man who’s re-creating Noah’s Ark – TODAY People – TODAY.com.

Abortion: Taking the Plunge into the Discussion

In the local paper (online) today, I read an interesting perspective on the abortion debate by Paul Carpenter (you can read it here, and please do).  Mr. Carpenter got me thinking (a herculean feat by any stretch!); I haven’t weighed in on abortion in some time.  As I started thinking about what to write (οἷς κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς, as St. Paul might say, is the product you are reading), I was surprised about how torn I was about such a divisive and hostile issue.  The more I thought about my feelings on the matter, the more I felt disgusted on the black and white polemical attacks from both sides.

Like many Americans, I am split on the discussion of abortion.  I am aware of the arguments on both sides of the debate, and for the sake of discussion and fairness, I’ll explain the difficulties on both sides, if only to extrapolate my divided feelings on the matter.  I can completely understand the pro-life movement (though I cannot agree with all of what it stands for).  However, it has a religious overtone that has completely taken over the discussion.  Religion clouds this issue, in my humble opinion, and turns off a lot of people to the recognition of the emotional part of the discussion.  Sure, firm rationalists might find emotional arguments unpersuasive.  But such a rationalist might as well be a logical dogmatist; if we so swiftly disregard our emotional reasoning, we might as well give up on our humanity.   But I also see the problems inherent in pro-life campaigns, and completely abolishing abortion has terrible and tragic consequences, and is certainly not necessary.  So allow me to work through this, piece by piece, and when all is said and done, I shall express my concluding thoughts.

It might behoove the reader to know that I am not religious, so my reasons for finding fault with abortion have nothing at all to do with faithful convictions or a literal interpretation of scripture (Read a debate between two secularists arguing both for and against abortion).  From a secular perspective, I can appreciate the desire to preserve life, the concept of personal responsibility, and the value of adoption to those who cannot conceive.   Parenting appears to be one of those gargantuan tasks which can lead to incredible, if not devastating, consequences if the parents are not completely devoted to their roles in it.  But often those roles are not well perceived by the young, who engage in sexual promiscuity, servants to their hormones and to society.  As a result, those who are whimsical with protection (condoms, if used correctly, prevent pregnancy 98% of the time), whimsical with their choice in mates (care little for the type of person they might be—for example, if they hook up with someone who has motives to sabotage a condom or might forgo contraception), whimsical with the amount of partners they have, or whimsical about being on narcotics or alcohol while engaging in sex (ahem, Bristol Palin), will most likely end up pregnant without a valued understanding of what it means to be a parent.  Personal choice has a HUGE role to play.

Jim West often reminds his readers that abstinence is 100% effective (except if you happen to be named Mary, living in Roman Palestine, some 2,000 years ago), and that is true.  But staying abstinent is not easy.  Sure, moving against peer pressure is like trying to wade through a river against a strong moving current, but the urges we have to have sex are biological (and as Hamby points out in the comments section, also socially necessary).  The drive starts young, that is to say, it starts at a time when we are not mentally ready to have children and parent.  Whether Jim likes it or not (he can call it the Devil, if he so wishes), we have an evolutionary drive to reproduce; it’s a survival mechanism that we cannot rid ourselves (and if we did, our species would no longer exist!).  This is why Catholic campaigns in Africa for abstinence aren’t successful and why they aren’t successful here either (and in fact are failing exponentially).  They fail because abstinence isn’t in our genes.  Every fiber of our being urges us to have sex, and many of us are slaves to that urge without realizing it (the way we dress, what type of car we drive, what status we achieve or hope to achieve—all contribute to our end goal: to attract a partner and reproduce).  According to the Guttmacher Institute:

A strong body of research shows that these programs do not work,” says Heather Boonstra, a senior public policy associate at the New York City–based organization. “Fortunately, the heyday of this failed experiment has come to an end with the enactment of a new teen pregnancy prevention initiative that ensures that programs will be age-appropriate, medically accurate and, most importantly, based on research demonstrating their effectiveness.” Among teens who were not heeding the abstinence advice and were sexually active, about 15% became pregnant, down from a peak of 22% in 1990.

In the end, this implies that those who are becoming more educated about the practice of safe sex have staved off pregnancy better than those who are not.  But while I firmly believe in personal responsibility, there are some parts of this argument that are very problematic.  The truth is the highest age risks for sexual promiscuity are children only 14 year olds.   Why?  Well, it’s simple.  Most children (and this includes teens) are not yet capable of making mature decisions about the rest of their lives.  It’s an unfortunate side-effect of youth—that is, being completely and totally oblivious.   This also means that many also lack complete sense of responsibility.  But the drive to have sex is still there and it is at one of its peaks around the age of puberty.  Of course there are other mitigating circumstances, which factor into this discussion.

For many children, particularly in low-income families, or from families without the care or attention of loving parents, who become delinquents (miscreants, deviants, what have you) are more likely to engage in sex, often without STD or pregnancy prevention .   Without guides–and by this I mean parents—to explain sex, to explain what it is and what it isn’t, to encourage responsibility and demonstrate that responsibility (to avoid confusion, I mean that parents shouldn’t say one thing and do another), children will have sex without a sense of the consequences, and they will do so especially if they are often irresponsible about other things (and many kids are).   Having a stable home is necessary towards the promotion of responsible actions (and therefore responsibility towards sex).  By this, and to be clear, I do not mean to imply that single parent family homes cannot be stable—they certainly can be and have been demonstrated to be just as stable as a two-parent household.  But responsible parenting is especially key to responsible children.

Susie better watch out…

Yet the amount of young women impregnated every year seems to be on the rise.  This leads to a problem: now you have a situation where a child without grasp of responsibility is bearing a child.  Hopefully the reader will recognize the cycle.  And it is a vicious one.  Delinquent teens giving birth to children who will, in turn, likely become delinquent teens, and continue the trend.  And it is precisely because household life contributes to the development of the child; irresponsibility breeds irresponsibility.  But this is also an argument that is often used by those in support of abortion rights for first term pregnancies.  According to Time:

In 1990, 43.9% of pregnant white teens terminated their pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher report. In 2006, 29.3% did. Among Hispanics, the rate dropped from 28.1% to 22.9% in the same period. But among black teens, the rate has not moved much in 15 years — holding steady at about 41%.

Nearly half of all irresponsible pregnancies were aborted.  While this might disgust some, it has actually provided some interesting statistics, provided by the (now well-known) Donohue-Levitt hypothesis.  Popularized by the recent book/documentary Freakonomics, this hypothesis demonstrates that the legalization of abortion contributed to a dramatic decrease in crime (see the hypothesis above, but also this article on Freakonomics for full details).  ‘Why had this happened?’ you might be asking.  The answer is surprisingly concrete: unwanted pregnancies which were aborted did not lead—as it had in the past—to unwanted births, to unwanted children (coalescing in disruptive or violent or abusive family life), to delinquent teens, for the process to repeat itself.  The cycle, effectively, had ended.  According to the study (in brief):

After abortion was legalized, the availability of abortions differed dramatically across states. In some states like North Dakota and in parts of the deep South, it was virtually impossible to get an abortion even after Roe v. Wade. If one compares states that had high abortion rates in the mid 1970s to states that had low abortion rates in the mid 1970s, you see the following patterns with crime. For the period from 1973-1988, the two sets of states (high abortion states and low abortion states) have nearly identical crime patterns. Note, that this is a period before the generations exposed to legalized abortion are old enough to do much crime. So this is exactly what the Donohue-Levitt theory predicts. But from the period 1985-1997, when the post Roe cohort is reaching peak crime ages, the high abortion states see a decline in crime of 30% relative to the low abortion states. Our original data ended in 1997. If one updated the study, the results would be similar.)

And if we look at statistics, in 2010, crime rates continued to fall, especially in big cities.  Now, the fallacy of argument should not follow that I think that more abortion rights would lead to lower crime rates.  That is not at all what I am getting at.  In fact, while this statistic in quite interesting (and it does account for other mitigating factors, like drug abuse, if you read the research), I would not want to strengthen our existing abortion laws.  But it would benefit the reader to recognize, at least, that abortion has led to a surprising result.

I am not so sure that pro-life advocates have a way to handle the fallout of illegalizing abortion.  For example, how do they intend to handle in increase of unwanted pregnancies?  What contingencies do they have to appropriate handle, and with what sort of care, the increased stress to foster homes (already brimming with inhabitants and, moreover, often in impoverishment) and the increase in crime?  I would be especially interested in hearing solutions from them, since pro-life advocates tend to be those who also want to limit government control in our lives (and there is the argument that, if they really wanted less government control, why are they advocating for government control in this instance?  It is a little hypocritical—but this is neither here nor there).

And while I support the concept of foster care and adoption agencies, the truth is that they don’t work as they are structured currently.  Indeed, it seems as though there is an epidemic of unwanted pregnancies among young women who are in foster care!  The system is not only failing, but it is proving to be a haven for that same vicious cycle that was just discussed above!  So while I think that there should be a means to develop a better system for those who seek another option rather than aborting their child, the current system will likely destroy that child, emotionally and physically, probably just as terribly as if the unwanted child were to be raised by their own parents.  The current pro-life movement, with their heads predominantly in the heavens, believes that more religion will do the trick, as if bringing their children in closer to God will protect them from the desires of sexual intercourse.  But this is wishful thinking at best, which can lead to dangerous consequences.

Aside from the fact that parents who replace parenting duties with religion ultimately are no better than delinquent parents who replace parenting duties with television or drugs, it is simply not supported by the facts.  In truth, states with highest number of conservative Christians tend to be the same states with the highest number of teen pregnancies.  Why?  Because when you teach your children it’s bad to use condoms and to have sex, when they have sex, they won’t use condoms; which leads to unwanted pregnancies, which leads to unwanted births (because abortion laws are more strict in those states or because peer pressure from their family and church forces the adolescent to have the child rather than to abort it), and the cycle repeats.  And if that doesn’t really prove it to you, I’m not sure much else will.  With the rash of perverse ministers, preachers, pastors, and clergy, how anyone can really think that more religion will lead to less sexual activity leaves me completely baffled (it didn’t work for Ted Haggard).  It seems the most religious are the most at risk.

But while I do not think abortion is the answer, finding solutions to these problems—real, serious, worthwhile solutions—appears to be the furthest thing from the minds of the pro-life activist community.  Removing funding from Planned Parenthood, for example, will only flood other clinics with more unwanted pregnancies (because both information and contraceptives will be more difficult to get), result in more STD transmission (because people won’t know where else to get tested), and will ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophecy for a pro-life movement (which will claim, hands down, that safe-sex education doesn’t work, even though statistically it works better—and is healthier—than their methods!).

When you limit options, and unwanted babies are still being conceived, you are only making the situation worse.  So instead of helping people, they make them desperate, and when you make people desperate they are likely to do unthinkable, terrible things.  You’ll start to see people spending extravagant amounts of money to fly to other countries, set up abortion clinics on ships in international waters, or build their own illegal underground clinics with subpar equipment.  It may even get to the point where people take their lives in their own hands and attempt to abort their own children still inside of them.  People (re: sick people) do it today, even when appropriate medical care is provided; take away the choice all together and who knows what might happen.  Indeed, there might be a link between “successful” campaigns for pro-life (like in the 1990’s, where abortion rates dropped in all but 15 states) and infanticide (which rose exponentially in the 1990’s, and has since declined a lot since that time—60% of all known cases of infanticide were committed by parents, another 7% by other family members).  This is something that needs to be studied more thoroughly, but it would not at all be surprising to find that this were the case.

Some might now argue that killing an infant and abortion are the same thing.  Perhaps in some circumstances, yes, it might very well be the same.  But in most circumstances, and with the laws we have in place, they are not the same.   I think back to what I once read in Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation on the issues of embryonic stem cell research and abortion:

A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembered, in this context, that when a person’s brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst.

Perhaps you think that the crucial difference between a fly and a human blastocyst is to be found in the latter’s potential to become a fully developed human being. But almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering. Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings. (p. 30)

And when one considers the use of contraception, like a condom (where conception doesn’t even happen!) or with a birth control pill (where again, contraception is prevented when the pill releases hormones that stops a woman from ovulating), one must wonder why it is considered so bad?  I believe Paul Carpenter handles the situation well enough, citing, for example, Gen. 38.  But using this verse to support anti-conception measures is problematic, and the reader might wonder why the religious would attempt to argue moral authority from a verse where God demands a man to impregnate his sister (and killing him when he doesn’t abide).

This is perhaps my biggest concern in the whole abortion debate.  I would perhaps be less opposed to abortion regulations if pro-choice advocates were better educated about the differences between contraception and abortion, rather than dumping them together in odd ways like this.  Restricting both contraception and abortion makes little sense (since one prevents pregnancy and another terminates existing pregnancies).  In the end, it does seem to me to be an attempt to subjugate what people can and cannot do with their own lives (i.e., utilizing ‘free will’), which once more raises the question ‘Do you want more government control in people’s lives or less?’

To be clear, I think that it is perfectly acceptable if a certain religion says that, theologically, it is a sin and if anyone participates in a sexual act which utilizes contraception or they have an abortion, they will be banned from the church and doomed to a spiritual damnation—that is religious prerogative and as Americans, they have a right to preach what they want and, as private organizations are welcome to accept or dismiss any member from it without recourse.  But when it comes to public law and policy, well, I wouldn’t want someone telling me how I can and cannot live in the privacy of my own home.  I certainly agree with Carpenter when he writes:

I am sure people can find just as many passages in the Bible that support the argument that abortion is immoral or unholy, and if individuals or churches preach against it on that basis, I shall not object, as long as they do not try to impose purely dogmatic views on others by force.

After all, how can I take responsibility for my actions if I have someone telling me how to act?  Again I think back to the hypocrisy of it all, how completely backwards it is, and am reminded of Harris’ words again:

Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral – that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians … expend more “moral” energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year. (p. 25)

Still, as I’ve said before, I am not advocating for abortion, nor am I suggesting we limit it in any way as it is.  Instead I think that the conversation, as it stands, is old and unhelpful, reiterating old arguments that produce zero solutions and work to make more enemies than compromises.  The religious trends in the pro-life movement, those that control the rhetoric, argue that life starts at conception—if that is the case, then why limit the use of tools which prevent it?  I certainly don’t know where they get the idea that life starts at conception, in any event, as the Bible is a little vague on it, as Carpenter points out in his article:

Even if Santorum and others are right about forcing all Americans to fall in line according to Judeo-Christian theology, we need to at least consider what the Bible actually says about abortion and related issues. I am not a biblical scholar. Far from it. But I can read, and some biblical passages get a little confusing about that. For example, if we want to make laws conform to ecclesiastical doctrine (assuming Roe gets overturned), and if we say abortion is murder because “personhood” begins at conception, how about Genesis 2:7, which says “man became a living soul” only when he took his first breath?

Deuteronomy 12:23 is about eating, but also says life depends on blood. The human fetus does not have a circulatory system for a few weeks after conception, so how can the holy claim it’s a live human being?

Exodus 21:22-24 says that if somebody injures a pregnant woman, causing an abortion, it warrants only a fine, not the standard “eye for eye” penalty for murder.

So the Bible calls for only a fine if it’s abortion, but it says the death penalty should be imposed for a man who spills his seed instead of depositing it where it can make somebody pregnant.

I believe these are interesting concerns; it should raise the level of conversation a notch, however, and I think that is what I am attempting to do here.

In conclusion, as someone with no definitive position, I am looking to be persuaded, but not by the same old arguments.  I don’t want to hear ‘well it constitutes the death of a person’ when the data shows something different.  I don’t want to hear ‘abortion is a fundamental human right’ because I simply don’t agree.  Abortion is at times practical and necessary, but not something of which to take advantage.  Perhaps the development of a program whereby sexually active individuals can get checkups regularly to determine pregnancy earlier rather than later might solve the troubling issue of early development abortions (after week 4, for example)?  Perhaps better access to contraceptives to prevent pregnancy would be a better goal?  Indeed, if the pro-life/anti-abortion groups were more active towards preventing pregnancy than advocating for celibacy (completely unrealistic, as demonstrated above), lost the religious rhetoric, and started advocating for stricter laws rather than the complete illegalization of abortion, I might jump on board.

But it certainly depends, and some might argue that I am coming from a biased position. That position of course being that I’m alive!  Though, I suppose my problem with abortion is much more introspective.  That is not to say I was about to be aborted (nothing of the sort), but I was born.   And my life, its success and its failures, stands as a testament to that birth.  I think of all the hardships and all the triumphs I’ve had, the various emotions and the experiences, and I wonder what I’ve shared with the world—whatever small contribution it might be—and where others around me might be had I not been.

Though I also am very privileged; I’ve always had a great deal of luck on my side.  I come from a large, happy, middle-class, white, suburban family.  I don’t have the sorts of complications that others might have and therefore my position might very well be skewed by my position on the social chain.  At this point, I see the arguments on both sides.  I just feel that the conversation is losing its grasp on reality—it needs a good swift kick in the pants, a refresher course on the data.  Maybe that would help?  Who knows for sure.  But isn’t it worth a shot, before it’s too late?

Analysis of Possible Coptic in New Images

I’ve taken a number out of the Steve Caruso book and came up with a simple analysis sheet.  These images come from the new pictures which Jim West put up on his blog.  Click to enlarge.

See background here, here, and here.

Possible Coptic Script on the Lead Codices?

Steve Caruso chimed into the discussion with some interesting insights (as usual), and he posits that some of the script on the lead codices (recently supplied by Jim West) might be Coptic.  So I took a look (Caveat: I am not proficient in Coptic, but I’ve studied enough Coptic to have an amateurish grasp of it).  I leave it to the experts to tell me how I did (Marvin Meyer, if you’re reading, or April DeConick, leave a note or two) and offer any additional comments.

(Edit: Steve Caruso alerted me to this file [shown below] examining Coptic script in earlier pictures of the faux codices)

I had noted to myself some similarities to Coptic before but dismissed it when it became clear the tablet iconography were but modern casts.  Returning to Jim’s posted pictures I did see some similarities to Coptic.  Of course there is the shai (Ϣ) and ti (t), and also what might be a fai (Ϥ), but they are all backwards…that is, they are facing the wrong direction.  And this is among other characters I am not familiar with.  I am not sure if this represents an additional instance where the inscriber/forger was simply unfamiliar with Coptic and because of his method of copying, copied them backwards or if this is due to something else.  Either way, there is one important thing to remember: These are also on the same tablet with images which appear to be taken directly from the coins provided by Robert Deutsch (via Jim West’s blog)…

And of course, I share Steve’s frustration and curiosity, and what better way than this?

Background here (post from earlier) and here (Bible and Interpretation article).

Just When You Thought it was Over…

There is yet more coming out on the Lead Codices.  Jim West highlights, with the help of Robert Deutsch, more photos of the lead codices, just released, with the coins the images were forged from (yes, more coin iconography!).  And yesterday a new article from the JT came out about the 14C dating:

Preliminary lab results indicate that a collection of metal books unearthed in northern Jordan may indeed represent the earliest Christian texts ever discovered, according to experts.

According to the Department of Antiquities (DoA), initial carbon tests to determine the authenticity of lead-sealed metal books billed as the greatest find in biblical archaeology since the Dead Sea scrolls have been “encouraging”.

“We really believe that we have evidence from this analysis to prove that these materials are authentic,” DoA Director Ziad Saad told The Jordan Times.

The tests, carried out at the Royal Scientific Society labs, indicate that the texts may date back to the early first century AD, at a time when Christians took refuge from persecution on the east bank of the Jordan River.

But as I’ve said time and time again, along with others, old lead is common and doesn’t prove the iconography is ancient–just the metal.  The evidence against their authenticity is pretty daunting.  But there are problems with this which again establish quite clearly the lie behind the veil…as Jona makes it quite clear, 14C testing is done on organics (re: biological), not inorganics (like lead).  Even Wikipedia gets it right:

Carbon-14, 14C, or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with a nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleagues (1949), to date archaeological, geological, and hydrogeological samples.

For additional information on dating techniques, though there might be errors (because its on Wikipedia) so consult an actual archaeologist, you can get a quick overview of archaeological dating methods here.  You can also check out this article on dating methods in archaeology from about.com.  From the about.com page:

Although I am hardly a chemist or a physicist, and so will leave the detailed explanations to those who are better at it than I (for example, Anne Marie Helmenstine’s page in About Chemistry), essentially radiocarbon dating uses the amount of carbon 14 available in living creatures as a measuring stick. All living things maintain a content of carbon 14 in equilibrium with that available in the atmosphere, right up to the moment of death. When an organism dies, the amount of C14 available within it begins to decay at a half life rate of 5730 years; i.e., it takes 5730 years for 1/2 of the C14 available in the organism to decay. Comparing the amount of C14 in a dead organism to available levels in the atmosphere, produces an estimate of when that organism died. So, for example, if a tree was used as a support for a structure, the date that tree stopped living (i.e., when it was cut down) can be used to date the building’s construction date.

And any number of books could be accessed to prove this point over and over.  Here are just two:

  • Robert L. Kelly and David Hurst Thomas, Archaeology (Cengage Learning, 2009), 133-136.
  • Herbert D. G. Maschner and Christopher Chippindale (eds.), Handbook of Archaeological Methods (Rowman Altamira, 2005), 307-336

Finally I get to use the background in inorganic chemistry I’ve gained from working in a lab for the past year and a half.  The thing with archaeology is you’re digging it up, so there are bound to be organic traces (contaminants, actually) in everything.  But this really comes down to, say, the actual inorganic metals (like those excavated from a mine).  So you could theoretically test the organic contaminants for 14C but you’re not going to get an accurate reading since it is, after all, contaminants and there is simply no way to now where those contaminants came from and it is only possible (again theoretically–not practically) to test if someone perhaps held it with their hands or scraped off skin cells or something, and even then you’d have to test relatively quickly and the longer something is in the ground, the more improbable it is that you could adequately test it.  And again, these are contaminants on the metal itself and could have come from anywhere.  Since the provenance of these codices are unknown and sketchy it muddies the issue even more.

And testing the metal itself will do absolutely nothing since inorganics can’t contain 14C (it has to, after all, be something that contains carbon).  Now it might be possible to date the lead using other methods and lead does contain different isotopes than other inorganics (so testing for Uranium decay in the lead might actually be useful), but that wouldn’t validate the ‘authenticity’ (whatever that might mean) of the codices as a whole (iconography, status as ‘relics’ for example), it would only validate the age of the lead itself.  And we already know that the ones we’ve seen are modern fabrications.

Jim Davila also weighs in on this new article by the JT (snippet here):

1. The claim is that the new metal codices in the hands of the Jordanian Government are part of the same cache as those announced back in March. I take them at their word, but no proof has yet been advanced.

2. What’s this about “carbon tests” and “carbon dating” on metal plates? Carbon-14 dating is applied to organic material. Is there organic material, such as leather scroll, associated with these plates? Or, more likely, has someone made a careless mistake here?

3. Assuming the latter, it appears that the current tests indicate that the metal of the plates is ancient. It has been known for a long time that the fake metal codices may be made of genuinely ancient metal. The first report, on 3 March, in the Jewish Chronicle (cf. here), reported this:

Undeterred, Mr Feather instead cites the findings of Peter Northover, a metals analyst at Oxford University. Conducting tests on two samples of metal from one book, Dr Northover concluded that their composition was “consistent with a range of ancient lead,” and that it was clear from the surface corrosion that the book was “not a recent production”.

The IAA remains unconvinced, arguing that the metal could have been taken from an ancient coffin while the messages could have been fabricated later.

This test was done privately and has not been published. The IAA has replied adequately: such ancient metal is available and could be used for such forgeries, so the new test does not tell us anything very interesting.

Defining Mythicism: Mythical Jesus, Mythicist Jesus, and Tertullian on 1 John 4:3

Landon Hedrick has written an interesting blog post. Here is a snippet:

If you believe that Jesus walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, raised people from the dead, and was himself resurrected from the dead, then you don’t get to dismiss the “Jesus never existed” theory as too silly or crazy to take seriously.

….

I’m not arguing for mythicism here (I’m not a mythicist). That’s not what I’m up to. Nor am I arguing against it. My point is rather simple: as unbelievable a view as it is, you have no room to dismiss it so casually on the basis of its being totally bonkers if you believe in a magic Jesus yourself.

via Landon Hedrick Blogs: New Rule.

I think it is an interesting perspective. It is definitely worth the read. I can associate with Avalos on being an agnostic about the question, as I am also an agnostic. But I did find this additional comment from Hedrick quite interesting (it is the first comment listed under the blog itself):

According to Hector Avalos (article in preparation), 1 John 4:1-3 at the very leasts suggests that, even at the time of the New Testament writings, there were a group of self-described Christians who did not believe that Jesus had come in the flesh at all.

The passage (RSV) reads:
[1] Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
[2] By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
[3] and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.

But how could there even be prophets saying that Jesus had not come in the flesh if everyone agreed that he was a blood and flesh person all along? So, for Avalos, 1 John 4 suggests that, even at the time of the New Testament writings, Christianity was already divided into what we might call “historical” (if that means a flesh and blood person) and “mythicist” (if that means not a flesh and blood person) views of Jesus.

This passage is noted by Earl Doherty (Jesus Puzzle, pp. 43 and 307).”

What is interesting specifically is that the interpretation of this passage. In the Greek (SBL NT):

Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε, ἀλλὰ δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον. ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκετε τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ· πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη.

The last verse in this group (bolded above), 1 John 4:3, is where this interpretation really rests. The RP (The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, comp. and arr. by M. A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont [Southborough, Mass.: Chilton, 2005]) which is noted in the SBL NT, notes an additional section of Greek text:

Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα

Which fits into the verse as such (bolded):

καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα, ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστι· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη.

And the NA27 (another authority, as it were) also indicates that early witnesses (c. 4th century manuscripts) attest to the Greek with the inclusion of Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα. And if we follow this thinking to the early church fathers, Tertullian, in his De praescriptione hereticorum, ch. 34, he writes:

But in his [John - ed.] epistle he especially designates those “Antichrists” who “denied that Christ was come in the flesh,” and who refused to think that Jesus was the Son of God. The one dogma Marcion maintained; the other, Hebion.

This was written in the early third century, meaning that Tertullian was aware of a manuscript which probably incorporated the Greek addition above. So I have to agree that the rendering in English (from the AKJV):

And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

So Avalos’ point actually is quite interesting; indeed it would seem that in the third century, at least, and assuming this rendering dates back to the autographa (which we don’t have), in the second century, there had been at least one sect of Christians which did not believe in an earthly, fleshly, human Jesus. This verse is also quoted, to some small extent perhaps, by Polycarp (assuming the letter is authentic), in his Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 7. If the letter is indeed authentic, it would validate an early second century date for the passage.

h/t to James McGrath for posting this and bringing it to my attention.

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