Goodbye for Now?

Many of my readers may have noticed the lack of activity on this blog over the past five months; maybe even the past year. You might even be wondering why I’ve been so quiet.  I’ve been neglecting you all; for that I apologize.  You are owed an explanation and I have been wanting to give one to you.  I just have had a hard time finding the words… so here is my best attempt.

When I started this blog, I was going through a pretty life-altering transitional phase. Believe it or not, that was six years ago; my first post was a Calvin and Hobbes strip on October 10, 2008. I was shedding my younger self the way your body sheds old cells (and trust me, it was just as ugly); I wanted to grow, to expand my potential, to make a better future for myself.

holdit

You see I didn’t like the person I had become and I needed an outlet to express who I wanted to be, and I was fairly certain I knew what that would look like.  I had come to realize that the criticism I had received over the years had gotten to me, because it had been fairly accurate.  I was pretending to be a scholar, pretending to be educated.  I really didn’t have a clue back then (and to a certain extent, I am still learning). My first step towards this better me was enrolling in college; a colleague told me it was a good means of finding my way.

Since that time, I’ve faced a lot of changes; my views on certain subjects have dramatically shifted as well. I don’t know if it is maturity or education or something else entirely, but I know that I don’t have the same goals and beliefs that I had when I started to build up this blog.

I know, I’m beating around the bush. Let me be blunt about it: I need a change in scenery.

I’ve been involved in Biblical Studies for over a decade now, and as far as interest goes I’ve been reading the bible, the church fathers, and the noncanonical books since I was 16 when I first picked up a copy of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologica. Over the last three years I’ve published a handful of academic papers, co-edited a collection of essays, given a few lectures, and co-presented a paper at SBL (though Joel did the presentation, because he’s awesome). All of this I’ve done while working a full time job and going to school part time so I can earn my laurels and gain some credibility.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but it has been one that has tried me. I have been questioning my own motives for a while now; I mean, why am I even studying the bible? I do know how I got involved in it.  Initially, when I was a teenager, I wanted to become a priest. While actually reading the texts, I lost my faith, and then became focused on validating that loss.  I spent my late teens and early twenties doing really stupid, immature things as a part of that validation.  When I got into my mid-late twenties, the bible became all I knew.

When I started to take academia seriously, began working on my academic credentials, it had already started to lose its appeal to me.  I had to focus on my book, or on this project, or on that article. After a while it just became habitual; I was studying for studying’s sake. I was going to school and taking classes in Classics and Ancient History and Biblical Studies because it was all I had known, it was something at which I was good (as indicated by the consistently high marks I received).

But just doing something because I could was starting to feel a bit hollow. Part of me felt as though I was just going through the motions. Worse yet, and I hate to say this but, I was outpacing most of my fellow students when it came to basic biblical knowledge. That isn’t me being full of myself, it was an actual thing. There were students who couldn’t even identify trivial knowledge about Jesus and many of these students had grown up around close-knit church communities. I would sit in class and get annoyed, legitimately annoyed, at the sort of things most of my classmates would say or ask. Deep down I knew that for them, these classes were just an elective or something to get them to their last credit before graduating, but that just bothered me more. I mean, didn’t they care? Didn’t they want to learn about it? Why would you spend all that money, go into debt, if you’re just going to not care?

existence

At the time, I thought I was just mad at them.  To an extent, I suppose I was.  It was more than just simple anger; it was instructive.  It became apparent that I didn’t have answers to the very questions I was asking about my peers.  Did I want to learn about this?  Do I really care?  Slowly it became apparent to me that I was burning myself out.

I began to ask myself if I had it in me to deal with that unease every day for a full semester over multiple facets of different types of classes. If this was the path I stayed on, could I consistently teach about something that I felt less inclined towards, to students who consistently cared less and less? I know this isn’t every student—I befriended a lot of great people who were exceptionally smart and fun to be around—but it does represent a good portion. I remember one student showed up for class maybe three times the whole semester; then for his final exam—essay heavy, I might add—he “finished” it after only a half an hour.  It was demoralizing.

There were also lots of little things that added up after a while.  The intimidation of the loss of tenure-track positions in the field, academic pushback against challenging new concepts, and the amount of pure drivel being published by highly acclaimed, tenured professors—some that passes for academic work these days—also frustrated me. The media’s insistence on ignoring solid, serious scholarship in the field while championing some of the most obvious fakes, frauds, and charlatan’s I’ve come across did not help alleviate my consternation.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the RU Screw (It’s actually in the urban dictionary)—anyone who attends or has attended Rutgers knows what it is I mean.  To say that I’ve become disenfranchised with academia is an understatement. I still hold that a college degree is important (which is why I’m still going), and I still think that everyone needs a solid education—those are characteristics I am glad to have found useful and don’t intend on leaving behind. I’m just having a harder time believing the idealistic dream I once had that working hard in academia always yields results and respect. It has for me, so far, but only because I’ve been lucky in my friends (I cannot take any credit for myself).

So where does that leave us, this blog, my future? Well, I don’t know. I’m still very passionate about history, but I think I need to step back and reexamine my choices. The college I am now currently enrolled in does not have a Classics program and so what I’m left with is a basic history degree. That suits me, as it broadens my reach a little bit more while stripping away from the specialization that was becoming a little too suffocating.

There is a surprising amount of good that has come from this. Stepping back from Biblical Studies has also allowed me to reacquaint myself with American history, a subject I’ve always loved.  It has been a welcoming host; I think part of why I have been so unhappy in Biblical Studies is that I have always had a greater love of American history.  After finding personal links to the Revolution through ancestry research, I’ve become even more interested in it.

Incidentally, my schooling has been part time because as a nontraditional student I have to work to pay bills.  I think that if I had been able to go to school full time from the start, I not only would have already graduated, but I would be well on my way in grad school.  So in a way, while slow-going, it has been a benefit to me to be able to shift fields, if it comes to that.

That also means that with two more years left until I graduate, I have time to figure it all out.  In order to find my way, I need to step back from this blog. I need to step aside from Biblical Studies and focus on my work and see where it leads me. Maybe I will find a way to link both fields of American history and Biblical Studies; one friend has suggested combining them into ways to discuss how the bible influenced policies and politics in Colonial America.

nothingmatters

Either way, I’m done for now, here, with this blog.  I leave you in much of the same way I came–with Calvin and Hobbes and a sincere ‘thank you’ to all my readers over the years. I have tried to do right by my readers and the interwebs, for what it is worth, in an attempt to make up for past transgressions. I hope that you don’t think less of me for this new move, and that I will continue to have your support going forward.  This isn’t goodbye forever; however, it is goodbye for now.

From Amateur to Student: A Personal Journey

Over the past few years, I have seen an increase of self-published books by self-proclaimed ‘scholars’ out there, proposing this crappy theory or that terrible hypothesis; and they do so often under the banner of anti-elitism or anti-Academy.

Simcha Jacobovici (no academic credentials in the field of Biblical Studies, Ancient History, Classics, or similar fields) throws credible scholars (of which he is neither) under the bus when he calls them “sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy” without ever once considering the views of those who are criticizing his work.  He fancies himself and his work to be akin to Indiana Jones.

David Elkington, the man who brought attention to the fake Jordan codices, has no academic credentials whatsoever (he was in art and design school for a bit, but apparently he never finished).      Yet he portrays himself to the media as a biblical scholar and archaeologist–even though these are specific fields of scholarship which often require graduate-level degrees which he doesn’t hold.   Similar to Jacobovici, Elkington berates scholars (those with credentials) who are critical of his work and his credibility by suggesting that they are somehow not scholars.

Joe Atwill, the man behind the ‘Jesus was an invention by the Romans’ hypothesis (one that is clearly bogus), studied computer science in college.  While he may be an excellent chess player (as his ‘About Me’ suggests), that does not make him a scholar.  His views on the New Testament, on Josephus, and on the Dead Sea Scrolls are naive and represent a conspiracy theory–not accurate, dedicated historical research.

More recently, Ralph Ellis has published a new edition of his book on Izas Manu.  This recent travesty of a hypothesis (I take his sample chapter apart here) follows a long series of books by Ellis (Jesus as the last pharaoh, Jesus as King Arthur, etc…crazy and bizarre claims that are rightly not taken seriously), usually self-published.  Though he apparently has no formal education, like Elkington, he falls back on his many years of independent study.  Just how many years? It is impossible to know, as in one place he has 20, another place he lists 25, and yet another he claims 30.  But he feels he is better equipped to handle history as he is “independent from theological and educational establishments“–a nice way of admitting he is not credible.  And yet when those of us who are affiliated with an academic institution criticize his work, he labels them as frauds and seeks to harass them and threaten them with legal action if they don’t remove their criticisms.

These represent a handful of examples of the plethora of individuals out there who feel the same way.  They view academia as if it were some useless game, without a real value.  Or, in extreme cases, they see academics as the primary suspects in a cover-up of the ‘real truth’ and only they–the outsiders–can really expose the false teachings of the false prophets in the ivory towers.  It is delusional, offensive, and–worst of all–there are many people out there who buy into it.

Truth be told, I am well acquainted with this sort of thinking as, unfortunately, I used to be one of them.

Before you ask, yes, I’m aware of the student debt crisis.  Yes, I’m aware the economy is in shambles.  I am absolutely aware that the job market is terrible and for some people, it is impossibly difficult to find a start to their careers as a result.  I recognize the problems, I see the dilemma.  But today I am proud to be a student and am thankful I decided to get an education.  But I wasn’t always this positive about it.

Six years ago I was against any sort of higher learning.  It cost too much, it took too long; I saw it as a hindrance on what I viewed as my research–who wants to take courses in subjects, like Biochem that meant absolutely nothing to me, just to earn a degree in Philosophy or History?  It made no sense to me then.  I wanted to spend all my time reading books I wanted to read on my own time, spending money the way I saw fit, on subjects about which I wanted to learn.  After all, paying thousands of dollars for a few credits here or there seemed absolutely ludicrous.  Where was all that money going, anyway?!

This mentality was fueled by attention, unfortunately.  The more attention I was given by people just as adsorbed as I was, the more authority I imagined I had, and the less school seemed to matter.  In my mind’s eye, I pictured myself as a true academic.  The thought of college tasted flat to me, it felt like such a dated idea; it was where rich kids went to avoid having to do any real work for four years or so.  While they were off partying, I was face-down in texts–in my own version of reality, I was the one doing the real studying.  I was making break-through after break-through that I believed would challenge academia for ages to come.

On the occasions where I was brushed off by scholars, I tried to tell myself it was because I was unfettered by scholastic institutions and could think more freely.  I saw them as a religiously-motivated force that stood against me.  But this was all a fantasy I had concocted; inside I knew I was the one who was not credible.  And when certain individuals called me out on this, I became aggressive and defensive and reacted harshly.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Then, years ago, something clicked inside.  I was betrayed by a colleague who, while to my face appeared to be a friend, behind my back would talk down about me because of my lack of credentials.  When I discovered this, I was at a loss.  As much as I had this build-up of hatred and bile against this individual–who I shall not name–I realized that it was my own fault.  I had stepped into a world bigger than myself and I was, frankly, out of my league.

Soon all those excuses about college and how it ‘wasn’t for me’ meant absolutely nothing, because no matter how much I thought I knew, no matter how many books I had in my library, I had no laurels and I would not be taken seriously.  Ever.  I wanted to be an academic, but those doors would always be closed to me without a higher degree.  It was heartbreaking.

For a few more months after this event, I continued to try to tell myself that college was meaningless, but the same old arguments I’d used before just melted away, like wax to a flame.  While college may be a way to avoid a real job for some people (a rather expensive avoidance tactic at that), the truth was that my own job prospects were limited by my meager High School diploma–I might find a great place to work and get a decent salary, but it would never be the job I wanted to do (teach ancient history) and I would never be completely happy there.  It would be a job, but not a career.

This was also during the very beginning of the crash in late 2007, and jobs were hard to come by–if they were had at all.  When I was applying for new work, I was consistently being turned down by applicants with higher degrees.  Even in basic industrial work, college grads–even those with associates degrees–were getting jobs.

That settled it for me: I had to go back to school.  I was completely ignorant about the process, however, and I had no idea where I was going to go.  But everything started to move quickly the second I decided on a college.   Money was surprisingly not much of a factor for my first few years; the jobs I worked paid too little and I ended up finding the financial assistance I needed.

In a bit of good fortune, I found that I owned a lot of the textbooks already, or I had something comparable that I used instead, which cut the costs of class expenses for me a bit.  Going part time also helped me a great deal, as I still needed to work to pay my bills.  Working and going to school is a difficult life choice and of course I recognize that not everyone can find the time to do it.  But I have met some fantastic human beings, my professors have been brilliant (mostly), and there are some classmates who just continue to impress me (especially the single parents who work and go to school–bravo!).

But having lived that life prior to college, I can now intimate where the mentality comes from, that is, the belief that continuing your education doesn’t matter. In my opinion, and from experience, it stems from insecurity.  These sorts of individuals will probably never be scholars, and I think that really bothers them. So in a way, I can see why some of them demonize historians and scholars.  For those who do, they have to see themselves has superior–they have to be right and the establishment, therefore, is wrong.  Not only does this empower them, but it makes them feel like a real scholar (as flawed as that perception is) and, in some ways, not just a scholar, but one of the greatest scholars.  So they essentially fulfill their own fantasy.

While Joe Atwill may be a smart fellow and a nice guy (which I understand him to be), his work will never be ‘scholarship’.  It will only ever be a hobby he does in his free time.   And his hypotheses will only ever be conspiracy theories.  The same is true for Ralph Ellis (though I hold out little hope he will ever see his bizarre conclusions for what they are), for Simcha Jacobovici (who may just be a C-list television producer who sits around all day, editing his documentaries in his underpants), and for David Elkington (who might not even be genuine in character).  There is one absolute fact that unifies them: they are not academically affiliated, on occasion they overstate their credibility, and they often disregard actual academic arguments which contradict their claims.  Conspiracy and mystery clouds their conclusions.

Interestingly enough, the attempts to sabotage my credibility now are mostly from dated websites that criticized me for the same exact things I’m criticizing others for now.  Someone will state that ‘no college will accept me’ and they’ll send this to my .edu email address (and for these sorts of individuals who love to put two and two together, they certainly miss that detail all the time).  They’ll tell me that I have no academic support, but then I’m the one who actually bothers to publish academically while they can only produce self-published volumes.   Maybe at one time in my life these criticisms were valid.  But if they were, they have long since become obsolete.

To those of you out there reading this who are of a similar state of mind, let me offer some words on the matter.   The grounding that college gives you is extremely valuable.  All those generic classes that you take your first few years, they are what gives your experience depth.  For many college freshmen, they can be a guide towards discovery.  College is not about manufacturing a certain brand of people–don’t listen to that hype.  It is about building you up as a person; what you get from college is what you put into it.  It has made me a sharper thinker, a better writer, a more dedicated researcher, given me a broader perspective on life and nuance, an appreciation for different tastes and cultures, and much more.  My suggestion, always, will be do better yourself.  College is a step towards doing that; at least, it was for me.

Tim’s Online Book Launch

You’ll want to check out Tim’s book launch:

Do please participate in helping me to make my latest experiment in online publication work better. I want to explore how authors and readers can engage more and at greater depth through using online communications. My book Not Only a Father is not only available as a paperback on Amazon, but also the full text is online at http://bigbible.org/mothergod/ using a WordPress plugin that allows commenting and discussion at paragraph rather than post level.

Tim’s Online Book Launch.

I’m sure it will be great!  Jim West also blogged this.

James McGrath is Finally (Almost) Getting It!

I hope James doesn’t mind the title of this blog.  I have been following the recent discussion of the ‘Social Media’ and ‘Myth’ discussion with interest, though I will have to blog my own thoughts on it soon.  I was pleasantly surprised to see this comment from James:

And even if it were so applied, it presumably wouldn’t convince the mythicists, who are determined to be denialists, while for mainstream scholars it might simply confirm what the evidence already points to.

Was the Historical Jesus on Facebook?.

But James still is using this term ‘mythicist’ in a wide, umbrella-type format that is problematic, since not all mythicists can be lumped into this.  Perhaps he might amend the statement to read something like:

“And even if it were so applied, it presumably wouldn’t convince many mythicists, those who are determined to be denialists, while for the mainstream scholars it might simply confirm what they believe the evidence already points to.”

See the difference?  One is hyperbolic, the other is far more accurate and erudite.  And fair.  So maybe James will consider rewriting that paragraph in a manner akin to what I have rewritten above?

Incidentally, it might also be worth mentioning that simply because someone has a new method, it does not necessarily mean that method is useful or will provide any particular information within a different field of study.  So I am not in agreement with James that by simply applying the method, it would suddenly prove the validity of the historicity of the figure of Jesus.  One does not simply apply the same method the way, across all types of texts.  That is irresponsible scholarship, and I’m sure James would agree.

Carpenter and Τέκτων

I was alerted by someone this morning that in a message board discussion on freeratio.org there is some confusion over the title of my forthcoming book.  Here is the criticism:

anyone who even states jesus was a “carpenter” looses credibility based on their failure to study what and how the word tekton is used.

And Toto was right to point out:

Luckily, no one has stated that – the title of the book is a quote from Mark.

But I’d like to clarify a point here.  The criticism Toto is responding to is an example of judging a book by its cover (or title).  In fact the reason why Thomas Thompson and I chose the title is very important to the concept of the book.  We spend a good portion of the introduction discussing the use of the word τέκτων and how it has been misused, and how that actually raises some questions about the function of our ancient texts through various socio-cultural lenses.  This then bleeds into the conversation about how we define the question of historicity in our book.  So the question of ‘τέκτων’ is a very important one for us.

However, yes, the misuse of the word is a problem, and the criticism is actually a valid one, but it doesn’t apply to our book.   I would ask everyone to be read the book before just presuming its content and attacking it (i.e., without doing the slightest bit of research as to its content).  Granted, I realize the book is expensive, but at some point it may be released in paperback at an affordable price.

Thomas L. Thompson and the Purpose Behind ‘The Messiah Myth’

Right from the book:

Throughout the preface and first chapter he makes his goal clear, laying out the function and purpose of his book.  It is not to discuss the problems of the historical Jesus–his book doesn’t address such a figure and pays it little or no attention.  Rather what is clear is that Thompson is concerned primarily with the Gospels and their portrayal of the figure of Jesus.  Some may quibble over his interpretation, or his methods–and those who do will need to address them though, and not attack a strawman.

If Thompson’s claim that the function of the Gospels are something other than historical significance, which is not new or fringe–quite the contrary–such a claim has no bearing on a historical figure.  It may have implications as to what we might know about such a figure, what we might use as a source of evidence and how we use these sources for that figure. But even if every word of the Gospel is just ancient imitatio, it wouldn’t therefore follow that such a figure never existed; even fiction can be written about a historical persons or events.    That is what separates his claims from mythicists.

Again, critics should read what they are criticizing; otherwise they just end up with a foot in their mouth.

All 786 Known Planets

Thank you xkcd for this awesome graphic:

Click through to see in full size.

And if you want to get some perspective on how small and insignificant we really are compared to everything, see my post here.

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