Timaeus…of Copenhagen?

Timaeus, it seems, was an early minimalist!

Timaeus says that the greatest fault in history is want of truth;and he accordingly advises all, whom he may have convicted of making false statements in their writings, to find some other name for their books, and to call them anything they like except history. . . .

For example, in the case of a carpenter’s rule, though it may be too short or too narrow for your purpose, yet if it have the essential feature of a rule, that of straightness, you may still call it a rule; but if it has not this quality, and deviates from the straight line, you may call it anything you like except a rule. “On the same principle,” says he, “historical writings may fail in style or treatment or other details; yet if they hold fast to truth, such books may claim the title of history, but if they swerve from that, they ought no longer to be called history.” Well, I quite agree that in such writings truth should be the first consideration: and, in fact, somewhere in the course of my work I have said “that as in a living body, when the eyes are out, the whole is rendered useless, so if you take truth from history what is left is but an idle tale.”

via Polybius, Histories, book 12, Timaeus On Divination.

Best Article on the Net?

Somebody hit the ‘submit’ button a bit too early, methinks.  Came across this brilliant piece on MSNBC’s website this morning:

Beards, Scholarship, and Trustworthiness

Listening to the radio this morning (93.3 WMMR Philadelphia, the Preston and Steve Show!), they were talking about the trustworthiness of men with beards verses men who are clean-shaven.  The study is not new, though; it is from a year ago.  According to the study found in the Journal of Marketing Communications:

The study showed participants pictures of men endorsing certain products. In some photos, the men were clean-shaven. In others, the same men had beards. Participants thought the men with beards had greater expertise and were significantly more trustworthy when they were endorsing products like cell phones and toothpaste.

But, oddly, men with beards were slightly less effective than smooth-cheeked fellows in underwear advertisements. Apparently we don’t want Zach Galifianakis selling us boxers.

But this is something we, in the academic community, have instinctively known to be true.  Any academic who has ever worked on an peer-reviewed paper, a thesis, has edited a collection of essays, or has written a monograph, can tell you about the monstrosity known as the ‘thesis beard‘ (which goes along with the a ‘thesis gut’).  The thesis beard is a sudden and rapid growth of facial hair over the course of your paper-writing, thesis-research/writing, volume-editing, grading (essentially any academic activity–I have a theory that this thesis beard grows even while in the process of giving a lecture) which starts sometime during your enrollment into undergrad programs and continues throughout the rest of your career.  This process is a result of spending long hours at a computer, time be damned.

And it appears that this process does not stop.  PhD Comics has a theory that hair actually migrates the longer you’re a professor, well into tenure status!

You see, the longer one is in the position of authority in the academy, the beard remains.  It is a symbol of their dominion over facts (those pesky things): ‘I am trustworthy, buy my new book on (such and such a subject that only a few select specialists will understand and appreciate), and believe whatever I say!’  And people will, as it turns out, since people with beards prove to be more trustworthy than those without.  This is why scholars are ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’.  It has nothing to do with their research, their language prowess, their grasp of postmodern concepts.  It is based solely on their beards.   And so it is; another dark academic secret revealed!

Richard Carrier on the Ending of Mark

It’s an excellent and thoroughly-researched contribution to scholarship.  And the best part is, it is available for free on ErrancyWiki!  Check it out here!  Below I’ve included a snippet:

Honest Bibles will tell you (in a footnote at least) that in the Gospel according to Mark all the verses after 16:8 are not found in “some of the oldest manuscripts.” In fact, it is now the near unanimous agreement of experts that all those verses were either forged, or composed by some other author and inserted well after the original author composed the Gospel (I’ll call that original author “Mark,” though we aren’t in fact certain of his name). The evidence is persuasive, both internal and external. In fact, this is one of the clearest examples of Christians meddling with the manuscripts of the canonical Bible, inserting what they wanted their books to have said (and possibly even subtracting what they didn’t want it to have said, although I won’t explore that possibility here). For the conclusion that those final verses were composed by a different author and added to Mark is more than reasonably certain.

If Mark did not write verses 16:9-20, but some anonymous person(s) later added those verses, pretending (or erroneously believing) that Mark wrote them (as in fact they must have), then this Gospel, and thus the Bible as a whole, cannot be regarded as inerrant, or even consistently reliable. Were those words intended by God, he would have inspired Mark to write them in the first place. That he didn’t entails those words were not inspired by God, and therefore the Bible we have is flawed, tainted by sinful human forgery or fallibility. Even the astonishing attempt to claim the forger was inspired by God cannot gain credit.1 For it is so inherently probable as to be effectively certain that a real God would have inspired Mark in the first place and not waited to inspire a later forger. The alternative is simply unbelievable. And in any case, a lie cannot be inspired, nor can a manifest error, yet this material is presented as among that which is “according to Mark,” which is either a lie or an error.

via Legends2 – Errancy Wiki.

He has also blogged about it here: Mark 16:9-20.  From the blog:

A good long while ago I completed a contract job to produce a thoroughly researched and argued case against the authenticity of the verses in Mark 16:9-20, which the mainstream consensus has long since rejected as an interpolation but fundamentalists keep trying to rescue. The final product has now finally been published at Errancy Wiki (which years ago also published a concise summary of my case for the historical contradiction regarding the date of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke: Luke vs. Matthew on the Year of Christ’s Birth).

The new article is: Mark 16:9-20 as Forgery or Fabrication. Like the earlier article, which decisively proves the bible historically errant, this article decisively proves the bible textually errant. It’s the most egregious and appalling case of doctoring the text of the New Testament on record. You may have often heard references to scholars having proved that the ending of Mark is an interpolation from manuscript and stylistic evidence. Well, if you are wondering exactly what that evidence is and how well it holds up, especially against any competent attempts to argue the contrary, this new article is for you. It is now the definitive treatment of the ending of Mark, being the most comprehensive summary of the evidence that I know. In fact when combined with the scholarship in its bibliography, it is the most complete treatment you’ll ever find.

Read what he has to say.  It’s quite astute, indeed.

Four Planets in Night-Sky Summit

This month will see a fascinating display of four planets–Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter–’dancing’ around each other to be connected with a crescent moon at the end of the May.  The article is quite interesting and makes note of this:

What might ancient sky watchers from 500 or 1,000 years ago have ascribed to such a series of gatherings as this?

Most likely, they would have felt a mixture of fear and wonder. A fine example was a case in 1186 A.D. when an unusual gathering of the five planets visible to the naked eye resulted in a near-panic across the whole of Europe after religious leaders predicted that worldwide disasters would result!

via A fascinating dance of 4 planets in night sky – Technology & science – Space – Space.com – msnbc.com.

The article cites 1186, and they are probably talking about the supposed prediction of John of Toledo in 1179 that the alignment would be a sign of the end of the world; unfortunately, I cannot track down a reliable source other than websites which just repeat the claim–so I am unconvinced of this presently.  But that doesn’t change the fact that this month has tenaciously held a place in the hearts of conspiracy theorists and fundamentalists, it seems.  On May 5, 2000, a large planetary alignment meant that groups gathered with fear in anticipation that the end was near!   With religious fanatics still claiming the end is near (at the end of the month), one can surely see how people continue to repeat history in a way indicative of sci-fi.

Blogging About Blogging through Doherty’s Book

I am enjoying James’ discussion of Doherty’s book, and have largely left myself out of the conversation as I have stopped defining myself as a mythicist and more a historical Jesus agnostic.  But I would like to highlight a problem I see continuously in James’ critique, as interesting as it has been.  He writes:

Obviously mythicism is unlike the various forms of creationism in that it is saying “Somebody did it” and not the much more scientifically/historically/academically/intellectually problematic “God/aliens/an Intelligent Designer did it.” But as always, that has not been the point of my comparison. Doherty’s mythicist “case” is like that of creationists in more important ways. It offers a “solution” to unsolved historical/scientific mysteries that is not completely satisfying, and at best “possible” without clearly being preferable.

via Exploring Our Matrix: Blogging through Doherty’s book – Interlude I.

This is an unfair analysis.  The truth is that historicists don’t offer a solution either.  In fact often historical Jesus scholars will speculate on parts of the narrative in ways which are hypocritical or otherwise promote double-standards in exegesis, in most cases asking the reader to ‘beg the question‘ along with them.

This is not an attack on historical Jesus scholarship, but rather an elevation of a continuing problem in Jesus research.  That is to say, everyone points at earlier research or new research and calls it out as ‘unsatisfying’ or ‘insufficient’ but while consistently ignoring the thorn in their own eyes.  I haven’t read James’ books on the subject, but I suspect from what arguments I have read from James that James does in fact make the same sorts of insufficient judgments that Doherty makes, he just makes them in different ways, about different parts of the text (and that shouldn’t be read as ‘better ways’ or ‘correct parts of the text’).  Methodology is the problem, because that influences the exegesis.  And that stands true for all historical Jesus research, from mythicists and historical Jesus scholars, and everyone in between.

Hamby’s Blog: Osama’s Missing Body

I enjoyed this brief challenge to fundamentalist conservatives (I would note that Hamby is not making any claims here, simply stating a fault in logical thought).  Here is a snippet:

All of a sudden, you are skeptics.  It happened within a week, but you’re digging for any reason — any reason at all — to doubt the authenticity of Bin Laden’s death.  Even when the highest authority available has sworn it to be true.  Even though the people who were sheltering him have corroborated the account.  Even though DNA experts have corroborated the account.  Even though the cost of lying would be enormous for the U.S.  (Imagine if Bin Laden released a time stamped video next week!)

And yet, you believe Jesus existed even though there is no body, no corroboration, no contemporary evidence whatsoever, and his “biography” is from an anonymous author decades after the alleged event.

I’m sorry, but that is one of the most preposterous double standards I’ve ever seen.  Hypocrite much?

via Osama’s Missing Body.

Eight Things NOT Found in the Bible (But You Think They Are)

An excellent post by John Byron over at The Biblical World blog.  Here is his intro.  Please go read the whole thing.

Last week’s post Urban Legends about the Bible generated a lot of attention. So I thought I would list some other things commonly thought to be in the Bible.

via The Biblical World: 8 more things NOT found in the Bible.

The Implications of Historicizing a Theological Sacrifice

I’m not against someone emulating a figure of their faith they believe to be pious and inspirational, especially if it is something akin to what Albert Schweitzer had done.  I’m not even against an adherence of certain Biblical principles, those which do not advocate hate or intolerance (or bodily harm) towards another.  But this news story below is a consequence of taking the Bible to a degree of ‘literal’ that is nothing short of tragic:

SEOUL, South Korea — The body of a man with his hands and feet nailed to a wooden cross and a crown of thorns on his head has been found in an abandoned stone quarry, South Korean police said Wednesday.

A man wearing only underwear, with a wound on the side of his torso and nylon strings tied around his neck, arms and stomach, was found crucified Sunday in Mungyong, about 115 miles southeast of Seoul, said Chung Ji-chun, chief of the violent crime section at Gyeongbuk Provincial Police Agency.

Two smaller crosses were erected on each side of the cross he was nailed to, Chung said.

Police also found nails, a hammer, an electric drill, pieces of wood and instructions on how to build crosses inside a tent near the scene, Chung said.

An SUV belonging to the dead man was found nearby.

via Body found crucified, wearing crown of thorns – World news – Asia-Pacific – msnbc.com.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new.  Crucifixion is reenacted every year by devout worshipers.  But this shows nothing short of a lack of understanding of the theological sacrifice of Christ as portrayed in the Gospel narratives.  His death, his physical death, is only important theologically because he was resurrected.  But this raises implications that need to be addressed.

First and foremost, God came down to earth, became flesh, died, and rose again to take his seat again at the right hand of God (or as God, depending on whether you’re a catholic or not).  In the realm of time, his suffering was a fraction of a fraction of a second.  And if one believes in the historicity of this event (I do not), then while we can admit it may be a magnanimous gesture, this is not a true definition of a ‘sacrifice’. I hear this thrown around a lot, that Jesus ‘sacrificed’ himself to save mankind.

Let’s step back for a moment, away from Christian kerygmatic tradition, and look at this another way.  You want it to rain because your crops are dying, the land has been in a drought.  So you go out to your field and look around at your livestock, drag back a goat, and you kill (known as ‘sacrificing’) the goat and offer it up to your deity.  A few days later it rains.  Ask yourself this: did it rain because you ‘sacrificed’ the goat?

And is this really even a sacrifice?  When we talk about heroes sacrificing themselves, they often expend their life for a purpose which brings about a direct result, immediately.  A soldier will sacrifice his life by falling on a grenade to prevent injury or death to his friends.  A fireman will rush into a building about to collapse to save people from certain death even at the cost of his own life; that is sacrifice.  But how is the act of physical death, even a brutal one for the sake of a magnanimous gesture, be considered a sacrifice?  Especially since (a) he is/was God (according to some traditions)?

Now let’s bring this back to the Passion narrative.  Jesus is slain by officials, wherein he gives himself as a sacrificial offering to God (himself, actually, if you believe that sort of thing), dies and, according to tradition, goes into hell (this is why Christian universalism fails, theologically) to free the spirits of the dead and, with Jesus, the righteous are resurrected.  Now mankind doesn’t descend into Sheol, as it once had, but, if righteous enough, will resurrect spiritually into Heaven (and if you’re a catholic, the bodies of the dead will be reanimated in the future).  Theologically, this sacrifice works.  It works because it has nothing to do with the physical world.  The death of the flesh has nothing to offer the world of the spirit.  The problem comes into play when one attempts to blend the two worlds together.

Then one must confront the inevitable problem:  how does the death of the flesh alter the world of the spirit?  And how does the death of the flesh effect the world of the flesh?  This is the part of the passion narrative which makes absolutely no sense.  We return back to the idea of the sacrificial goat; if you sacrifice a goat to God, as stated in Leviticus 16, what does that death accomplish?  How is the decay of matter effecting the outside world?  How is that same decaying matter interacting with the world of the spirit?  What influence can that possibly have and, more importantly, why would you want that action–the decay of matter–to be your link to something supremely amazing?  If you r answer is, ‘well, it’s a mystery’ you’re not really thinking this through.  But that is the point, isn’t it?

I can see the theological significance, and I would stress that I am not trying to dissuade readers from not believing in that particular function of the narrative.  The issue is that people truthfully believe that the physical act of dying on the cross had an actual impact on the fleshly world we live, and even on the spiritual world.  In a way, this is, in my humble opinion, directly related to the devaluation of the theological message behind the narrative and directly the result of the greater focus given to the death of Jesus by both scholars who can’t seem to get past it and the media (al la Mel Gibson’s Passion…) who can’t stop making it as important, violent, and bloody as they can.  If the death was most significant, Mark would have ended at 15:41.  They believe this so much that they impersonate the act of crucifixion.  And what does that say about a society who finds the value of the Passion narrative in the violent suffering and brutal death of Jesus rather than the celebration of rebirth, the renewal of spirit?

When people question why historicizing the narrative of the Gospels is a problem, I will direct them to this incident.  When you take a theological story, historicize it, and extrapolate the theological message, while telling your parishioners to emulate the narrative, you’re only setting yourself up for more and more news stories like this one.

Searching for Muses: More Osama Dilettantism

Dilettantes Internet browsers found this site by searching the following (I’ll be brief…):

is osamas death in the bible?


how does osama’s death relate to the bible

It doesn’t.

bible quotes about osama

There are none.

Now stop being dilettantes and go back to watching American Idol or something.

See here and here for more details.


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