‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ in Paperback – Available for Pre-Order!

It’s here!  Sort of…  The paperback edition, published through Acumen (a subsidiary of Equinox), has produced the volume on their website for pre-order starting now!  And what an attractive volume it is:

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I’m quite happy with the relief of the Egyptian carpenter, making wondrous things in his shop, as an example of some of the motifs one may locate in the Jesus narratives; such a conceptual and engaging visual is perfect for our volume.

I am also thrilled to see the price significantly reduced!  While the hardback fetched for $110, this volume in paperback is available at a list price of $33.00, with a reduced (discounted) price of only $26.00!  Pre-order your copy today and spread the word!

UPDATE: Apparently the Acumen group has not yet set up the Amazon page so attempts to pre-order the volume may not work yet.  Sometime in the next few weeks, the volume should be available.  I’ll update this page when it is available.

UPDATE #2: It’s finally available for preorder now!

Calvin on Christmas Eve Dinner

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Sandy Hook and the Battle of Fredericksburg: Guns, American Culture, and the Will to Kill

(FYI: Be sure to click through the links as you go and then read them after you finish the article)

Last week marked the anniversary of one tragedy and, due to unspeakably horrible events that unfolded on Friday, saw the birth of a new one.  Coincidentally (and unfortunately), both these tragedies involved the use of guns.

Friday was the 150th anniversary of the last day before the withdrawal of troops from a bloody battle in the American Civil War: the Battle of Fredericksburg.  In that battle, fought over roughly a week’s time, the Union suffered over 12,600 casualties when their five assaults on the Confederate position on Marye’s Heights failed.  The Confederates suffered over 5,000 dead, wounded, or missing during the engagement.   Over 186,000 men, most of them armed with rifled muskets—capable of killing a man accurately within 500 yards—that could be fired roughly three times in a minute.  So many rounds of ammunition were spent during the battle that one man, Private William McCarter of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry Reg., Irish Brigade, was shot a total of 5 times; three wounds were serious.  Following the battle McCarter found another 36 spent rounds in his equipment (which he carried into battle) that had nearly struck him.

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Also on Friday, and quite traumatically, there was a mass shooting incident that I’m certain everyone reading this blog is familiar with; twenty children and six others were massacred at the hands of a mentally unstable individual.  This individual forced his way into school with three extremely accurate weapons: a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, a kin of the US Military’s M16 assault rifle, and two handguns (10mm and a 9mm).  He shot all of his victims mercilessly—having fired between 50-100 rounds—and multiple times (his final victim had been shot 11 times).  Many of us have had to come to grips with this difficult tragedy in our own ways, trying to explain to our children what has transpired.

Some may say that the two events are completely different; after all, the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg had signed up to face death, were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, so surely these two events don’t share any relevance.  If only that were the case.  What these two terrible and bloody situations highlight is a very pivotal function of the sorrow we all now are experiencing in the wake of Newtown: Guns are made to kill.

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It seems like a simple statement of fact.  Over the past few days, however, there is a push back on this fact.  I’ve heard bizarre statements like ‘guns are a deterrent’, but are they really?  I’m not so sure. After all, in the wake of Sandy Hook, gun sales soared.  But for what purpose?  Is that something we should be championing?  Adding yet more guns to a volatile situation is not going to suddenly lower the threat but, as the statement implies, add to it!  We live in a culture where ‘manliness’ and ‘guns’ go hand in hand, where the company who manufactures the same rifle that was used in the brutal murder of innocent children can boast an add campaign that suggests that your ‘man card’ can be given only once you own one of their ‘amazing’ killing machines.

So what do you think will happen when two or more armed people (who are not as well trained as your average infantryman) find themselves in an emotionally-driven, high-stakes encounter with another gunman?  Do you think that pulling out a gun of their own will suddenly make the situation less intense or more intense?  Think carefully about the way you answer, because usually in such situations, time is not on your side.  People make split-second decisions with a weapon, that we know is made to kill things, and if they react without thought–as even trained soldiers will occasionally do (we even have a word for it: friendly fire)–someone is going to get hurt.  The whole argument that ‘if someone at Sandy Hook other than the shooter had a gun, maybe there would only be one casualty–the killer–is a stupid one.  Here’s a revelation for you: this is how gangs operate and we all know how well that works out for innocent bystanders (it is called a ‘gun-battle’ or a ‘shootout’–you know, like the old west–and even trained officers will occasionally find they miss their intended target–sometimes more than once).

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That whole ‘deterrent’ line seems to me like a gimmick someone invented to cover up the fact that the gun, often carried loaded, is meant to kill.  A gun’s deterrent is not in its having, but in its killing.  We arm our soldiers with these sorts of weapons because we hope that they kill more people than the other guy.   Having more guns is only going to cause more violent gun-related deaths.  Owning a gun is not akin to a nuclear missile crisis–as if just the thought of the other person having one is going to stop someone else from using theirs.

Just today I was reading a post which stated, confidently, that 37 people may die a day due to guns, but “1200 people are saved every day by the lawful use of a gun”.  I’m not sure which part is more frightening: (a) that someone thinks 37 deaths a day is acceptable to brag about or that (b) there is a way to measure how ‘lawful’ practices can save lives?  Are we supposed to feel better that almost 85 million Americans didn’t kill someone today?  Because I’m sure the Sandy Hook shooter’s mother, who owned the guns and acquired them legally, never shot anyone either.  And look what happened to her.

The fact that so many own a gun is not comforting to me.  How many gun owners lock them up or hide their ammunition?  How many guns are stolen from these ‘law abiding’ citizens and how many fall into the hands of criminals?  You’ve never heard of someone filing down a serial number?  And what of those ‘law abiding’ gun owners, anyway (the ones who don’t let their guns get stolen)?   How much does it take to push someone with a gun over the edge?  Because I hear that fatal road rage incidents are a thing now.  And sometimes those shooters miss too.

It’s all a lie, folks.  It is a sleight-of-hand trick.  Because those 37 deaths a day are caused by someone with a gun who probably was one of those 85 million the day before, and the day before that.  The Sandy Hook shooter–that scum that he was–did not fall into the category of ‘murderer’ until he pulled the trigger.  That is how it works.  So don’t be fooled by those pro-gun lobbyists, those ‘pro-second amendment’ people, clinging to their weapons of destruction ‘just in case’ our government should turn all ‘King George’ on them.

Remember the Battle of Fredericksburg?  Remember the Civil War?  Remember how that all started?  Right, you guessed it: the ‘will of the armed populace’ got together, grabbed their guns (the confederates were generally not issued weapons–they brought their own) and fired on a fort.  And as a result of their ‘will’ to save themselves (but not the slaves!) from what they felt was oppression (even though they held their slaves in bondage!) over 620,000 Americans died.  These two tragic and unnecessary incidents, Sandy Hook and Fredericksburg, happened because someone had both the will and a gun.

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There is a reason why the saying ‘live by the gun, die by the gun’ exists.  It used to be ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’, but then people started bringing guns to knife fights. At one time, the gun was carried because the frontier was wild and untamed: everything out there was trying to kill you and you had to defend yourself–not by showing it and deterring an attack–by killing them first.

The guns we used to have when the 2nd Amendment was installed was a humble (compared to a Bushmaster) flint-lock musket or pistol that could be fired once, then had to be reloaded, and your chance of hitting the target was 50/50 because rifled barrels were not common.  Today, our handguns–legal handguns–are accurate, fire up to 15 rounds in seconds, can use different types of deadly ammunition, and are concealable.  These are not the guns of our founding fathers.  These are the guns wrought by war.  Guns today are the product of death and it is death that they deal.

Now, let me be clear.  Maybe banning all guns is the wrong move.  Maybe we need some level of personal protection–maybe, though I am not convinced.  After all, when there are no guns in private homes, there are no guns for criminals to acquire illegally.  They’ll have to either go about it the legal way and register the gun and subject themselves to background checks or they’ll have to go even deeper into the underworld of the black market.  But keep in mind, the black market exists all over the world.  Crazy people exist all over the world, and somehow only 14 mass school shootings have occurred worldwide since Columbine.  In the United States we have managed to double that figure (32 total) in the same amount of time.   That tells me something; we are doing something wrong.

Coincidentally a mad man attacked a school in China on Friday as well, as Joel Watts brings attention to, but instead of a gun the crazed man brought a knife and stabbed 22 children.  Guess how many died there?  Zero.

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Maybe we need better and stricter gun laws, maybe we need to submit all potential gun buyers to a certified and credible psychologist before granting them permission to purchase a firearm.  Maybe we need to ban certain types of guns: percussion cap, breach-loading muskets work great for hunting and modern variants are very useful–so is a bow and arrow (just FYI).  Shotguns should perhaps be limited to one per household and handguns should be banned entirely, along with semi-automatic and automatic rifles.  This is what I think is appropriate.  Certainly many will disagree.  That’s your right.  The good thing about disagreements is that they aren’t hurting anyone–that is, so long as the other person doesn’t decide to pull out a gun.

Secret of the Savior? Book Makes Some Bizarre Claims

A commenter by the name of Sid Martin left me a note about a forthcoming book he is writing (self-publishing?) on the Gos. Mark which looks to be absolutely dreadful.  Here is the ‘about the book’ section quoted in full:

This book unearths the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Mark is a myth about the history of salvation. Jesus is a process, not a person, the process of God saving, which is what the name Jesus means. Jesus is a symbol of salvation. God is the savior. Jesus is the savior, not incarnate, but personified. That is the secret of the savior. The Gospel of Mark is an allegory of the history of Israel from

the Essenic point of view. Jesus is a serial composite character. Jesus first is Joshua, then David, then the Teacher of Righteousness, who founded the Essenes. There is not just one historical Jesus, there are many historical Jesuses. Be prepared for an exciting adventure in literary archeology. What we are doing is no less than unearthing the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Nearly everyone agrees that Mark was the first Gospel written. Matthew and Luke are rewrites of Mark. They preserve the basic story in Mark and repeat much of Mark nearly word for word. The story of Jesus is to a remarkable degree dependent on the Gospel of Mark. The Myth of the Messiah in Mark — that is where the story of Jesus really came from. Let’s see how Mark made the whole thing up.

via Secret of the Savior – Home Page.

If you’re not completely sold on the idea that this book will be a huge mistake, read his chapter summary.  What’s more is that he attempts to link in some arguments I’m sympathetic with (i.e., syncretism, early Christianity, intertextuality) but the way he presents his case shows his utter ignorance of these concepts and how they are applied to New Testament.

For example, in his above overview, he writes that the Gos. Mark is “the history of Israel from the Essenic point of view.”  And he attempts to present various reasons for this claim, including some rather bizarre presumptions like:

“Mark has “Jesus” confront the Pharisees over their differences with the  Essenes.”

But Jesus never mentions the Essenes.  In fact the Essenes don’t show up at all in the New Testament.  It is also narrowed thinking to think that Essenes were the only sect who took full ritual baths before eating–there were potentially hundreds of Jewish sects in the region during the Roman period and we only know of about thirty.  The Therapeutae, mentioned by Philo, were so similar to the Essenes discussed in Josephus and Pliny the Elder that some have argued that they are one and the same, the difference being that one allows for marriage while the other does not.  The same could be said of the Pharisees.  In fact, it may have been that the Essenes were a splinter sect from the Pharisees and thus some would have found them to be indistinguishable from each other—another reason why they have no mention in the New Testament.  These points all make Martin’s whole argument here a little moot.

But there is more.  There is always more when a dilettante attempts to write about a subject about which they are unfamiliar.  The fact is we don’t know for sure if the Dead Sea Scrolls were actually written by Essenes or some other sectarian group (in fact it is becoming more accustomed to call the Dead Sea Scrolls ‘sectarian’ rather than ‘Essenic’ writings).  Indeed, all our contemporary accounts of their sect, and those written about them later by Christian theologian Hippolytus, for example, suggest that the Essenes were not confined to one region but to many regions—in every town there were communities of Essenes to be found.  Lawrence Schiffman takes it a step further and argues that the sect at Qumran weren’t Essenes at all, but Zadokites, a sect similar to the Sadduccees.  Further complicating matters, archaeological evidence at Qumran have contradicted certain laws and customs found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, making some scholars question whether or not the scrolls were composed at the site or somewhere else, implying that someone or a group of people just hid the scrolls at the site after the fall of the temple.

Additionally, it may be true that these are not a single collection of sectarian texts but a library of texts which contain content from all sorts of perspectives, which may be why we find competing eschatologies in the scrolls (the place of wisdom vs. the place of law in a community, for example) along with competing messianic expectations (heavenly messiahs vs. Davidic messiahs vs. two messiahs vs. just one messiah).  Granted, these may represent the changing of theological positions over time, but that alone does not explain away these discrepancies.

I don’t see any sort of engagement with any of these issues in Martin’s book and I suspect that in the actual text we will not see any either.  And this is a central part of his thesis!  Imagine what one can find when examining his supporting claims; like his woeful understanding of the healing of the Canaanite woman in Mark 5 as part of a continuing motif of the reversal of the status of the poor and unclean (he falsely labels the woman a “Jerusalem”—not sure where he picks this up from).  The woman is bleeding—not as a result of Herod’s bloody reign, as Martin falsely suggests—as a result of a motif contra Lev. 15.25, which suggests that she is unclean and unable to be touched.  When she falls upon Jesus in faith and is purged of her uncleanliness, it is again a part of the larger play on a series of healings of the unclean, the poor, and destitute through faith and works, so central to the message of Mark 5.  God giveth these sufferings and God taketh away, as it were, through the faith of his followers.

The point in all this is simple: if you aren’t going to deal with the complexities of the scholarship of your subject, then don’t write a controversial book on it.  If you don’t know the subject well enough, don’t write on it.  You’ll confuse people, mislead them, and make the work for real historians more difficult.

This Holiday Season

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Lena Einhorn on the Figure of Jesus and ‘the Egyptian’

Philip Davies sent along Lena Einhorn’s paper from SBL and I thought I’d share it with my readers.  Dr. Einhorn has been known to me since 2008 when an earlier version of this paper came across my desk, submitted to Thomas Thompson and I to review for inclusion into our volume ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’.  While we both enjoyed the paper, we did not see it as a good fit for the volume as a whole.  I am pleased to see that Dr. Einhorn has vetted the paper a great deal and fleshed out some of the concepts a little more and has, in fact, produced quite a compelling paper.  Here is a snippet:

One of the limitations facing historical Jesus studies has been that the New Testament is the only source of first century texts in which Jesus unequivocally is described. This is in spite of the fact that the period in other respects is fairly well documented. Flavius Josephus wrote De bello Judaico and Antiquitates Judaicae in the 70s and the 90s C.E., respectively. Both works describe personalities mentioned in the Gospels: Pilate, Annas, Caiaphas, Quirinius, etc. Josephus also describes several Jewish messianic leaders of the first century: Simon, Athronges, Judas the Galilean, Theudas, ‘The Egyptian’, Menahem, etc. But excepting Testimonium Flavianum (A.J. 18.63-64) – by most scholars considered at least a partial later Christian interpolation – Jesus from Nazareth is not visible in the works of Josephus. Nor was he, according to Photius, described in the now lost works of another first century local historian, Justus of Tiberias. Only from the second century do we begin to see more unequivocal extra-biblical references to Jesus.

The fact that the Gospels describe Jesus as someone with a large following, and one whose trial involved two high priests, the tetrarch of Galilee, and the prefect of Iudaea, heightens the discrepancy between sources.

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I must admit I had not considered the role of the robbers in the Gospel narratives as particularly odd until I read her paper.   I am not entirely convinced of her argument (that Jesus and the Egyptian are the same), since I feel that many of the similarities come from a familiarity between some of the Gospel authors an Josephus (that is to say, they imitated Josephus).  But in my humble opinion it is definitely worth a read and should be discussed in greater detail by the community.  The concept behind the robbers in both Josephus and the Gospels does have its own implications that have been missed by many an analysis on the subject.

A Little Doodle to Help You Understand the Nativity

Here is a fun little doodle I drew up today.

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Also, I’m refraining from making any comments on the historicity of these narratives (suffice it to say, these events probably never happened).

For additional details, however, check out the following:

Thomas Thompson on Competence and New Testament Scholarship

Thomas Thompson gives it back to Casey on Bible and Interpretation.  We live in exciting times.  It has been educational, watching Thompson’s and Casey’s exchange.  Here is a snippet:

The Messiah Myth, moreover, is neither a book dealing with the history of the New Testament, a history of Jesus nor of the early church. It rather analyzes and attempts to trace the antiquity and nature of the sources for the messiah myth. It is a study in comparative literature. It deals only indirectly with the historicity of Jesus, as it treats many of the proverbs and parables that have been associated with such a figure and it comes to deal with the use of the Gospels’ for such historical questions, only insofar as they are related to the many sayings found in Matthew and Luke—such as the sermons on the mount or, respectively, the plain, which some conservative New Testament scholars, such as those involved in the Jesus seminar—and Maurice Casey—have considered ipsissima verba of Jesus. My purpose was quite different: to demonstrate that they were, in fact, sayings and tropes that were considerably older than either the gospels or any hypothetical, historical Jesus.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Competence and New Testament Scholarship.

Read the rest.

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