Christopher Rollston: The Marginalization of Women in Ancient and Modern Times

I strongly believe this article should be read by everyone.  Chris Rollston knows what he is talking about.  Here is a snippet:

Augusta National Golf Club finally accepts its first women members, and so a Leviathan of gender discrimination at long last makes a move in the right direction. Conversely, Todd Akin falsely states that a woman’s body has biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy in cases of something he refers to as “legitimate rape.” One step forward, two steps back in our battle for women’s rights. Sadly though, the marginalization of women has been going on for a long time. Some 2,000 years ago, a Hebrew sage named Ben Sira wrote “the birth of a daughter is a loss” and “better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good.” Modern readers rightly label such words misogynistic. But they’re part of the historical record and Ben Sira wasn’t alone.

via Christopher Rollston: The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About.

Philip Davies asks ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ and Offers His Answer

Philip Davies has entered the discussion and his involvement is most welcome.  He concludes:

But why care? The issue of whether history or kerygma (let’s use the fancy theological term for such fabulation) should provide the basis for New Testament theology or Christian faith has been a persistent theme of New Testament scholarship since Strauss’s Life of Jesus (where myth reared its beautiful head). Still, both history and theology converge on a proper answer to this: the historical Jesus will always be a fabrication, and the search for him antagonistic to true religious belief. Yet some peculiar literal-minded historicist brand of (largely Protestant) Christianity finds impossible the temptation to replace the icons of Orthodoxy or statues and images of Roman Catholicism with the One True Image of the Lord: the Jesus of History. The result: poor history and, dare I say, even poorer theology.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Did Jesus Exist?.

You will want to go read the whole thing.  Go read it and then come back.  Back?  Good.

His discussion of the main issues in New Testament and the problems that plague those of us who even bother to *question* historicity are spot on.  The only minor issue that I might adjust is that he writes:

But one should not argue from these, as do Thompson and Verenna, that Jesus was invented.

But to my knowledge neither Thomas or I suggest that in our articles and I certainly haven’t suggested that Jesus was invented recently.  I make a point in my chapter to distinguish the claims that ‘Jesus was invented’ and ‘Paul’s Jesus is irrelevant to the Historical Jesus’ are entirely different.  One claim does not eo ipso lead to the other.  Indeed, even if Paul believed his Jesus was a completely heavenly, he could have been completely wrong.  My article was only to support the conclusion that Paul is useless as a witness to a historical figure, not that there couldn’t have been one because of it.

Though I would remark, and Philip might agree, that traditions can be invented and thus certainly most traditions surrounding a figure of Jesus are wholly invented (they have to be since only one tradition can be the ‘right’ one, presupposing historicity).  With that in mind, it isn’t so implausible to suggest that we haven’t even stumbled across the ‘right one’ (if there is one to find) and none of the ‘Jesus’ we have concocted in our academic quests resemble that historical figure.

Other than this one minor grievance, Philip’s article is wonderful and a welcome contribution to the conversation.

Every Bibliobloggers First Post

How Bibliobloggers Decide to Blog

Blogging Through a Classics Undergrad

The fall semester starts here in less than two weeks.  So during the next few months I will be blogging less but I hope to be blogging more about my classes, my thoughts about content discussed in classes, and my own vetting of the material.  Since I am double majoring at the moment, the next few years should prove interesting.  Hopefully that will translate into some rather interesting posts here as well.

Jordan ‘Lead Codices’ Redux

There seems to be a lot of conversation again about the lead codices.  So for those new to the conversation, there are some important links.

The video on why the codices are believed to be fakes produced in a workshop in Amman can be found here:

The two academically published articles on the codices and why they are probably fakes can be found at Bible and Interpretation here (to my knowledge these are the most thorough discussions and contain multiple links to roundups, academic interpretations, and are the only articles academically published on the subject):

You’ll also want to check out the Biblioblog Reference Library, as they have a whole section devoted to the codices. The website is very useful since it contains all sorts of information and useful multimedia so you can see the evidence for yourselves on why these are probably fakes and why most academics don’t trust them. See here:

Religion and Politics in the Blogosphere and Beyond

This is the blog post you deserve, but not the one you need right now.

Lately there is a lot of commotion in the community concerning a plethora of subjects.  First, some Tea-Party-Backed-Republicans are making some rather obnoxious claims about rape and abortion which are beyond ignorant.  These claims stem from their particular religious convictions and clearly even god is mad at them because he is sending a hurricane named after the son of Abraham (who incidentally was blind and a deceiver and was fond of digging holes for himself) to soak the region where they plan to have their convention.

Also, it seems that some evangelical Christians have become the victims of a ponzi scheme, like this one, where a man took them for over $2 million.  This isn’t new and for some reason Christian evangelicals seem to be the most susceptible towards these sorts of schemes.

In related news but not necessarily to that of Biblical Studies, Sioux tribes are trying to raise money to buy back land that is a part of their creation story.  Before you ask, no, there is no expedition to locate the shell of Turtle like there is for Noah’s Ark.  However, someone on eBay thinks that the Hebrew word chai is a “Vintage Navajo Moose” as reported by John Byron.

Chris Rollston shared this amusing video today comparing archaeology and paleontology.

A(nother) Roman lead curse tablet has been found.  These are the real deal, unlike those fakes peddled by the Elkington and others.  Speaking of curses, Cracked.com has a great roundup of some of the odder curses in the Bible.

Also, donkey’s with fricken WiFi attached to their backs!

Old Lives and New Delusions: Responding to Criticism

I just don’t have the time to respond to all my critics.  I wish I did have the time because I am a firm believer that some criticisms are useful and can help guide us all on a journey towards honesty and introverted reflection.  In fact a good amount of criticism is what made me deeply consider where I was headed on my previous path and has successfully steered me in the right direction.  Not all criticisms are equal, however, and some criticisms are just plain stupid.  By that I mean people can believe silly things and as a result they will say silly things.   I would get nothing done if I spent all my time worrying about who said what and why.  As a result, I just can’t find the time between work and class and blogging and writing and researching to respond to every problem people want to take up with me.   But occasionally I do find something that deserves a response.

Many of you know that I once went by a pseudonym and had a radio show. Well it seems that some people cannot let go of the past.  Nor can they seem to distinguish reality from their own mythic versions of the past (and present).  My former co-host and friend, Brian Sapient, appears to suffer from this very problem.  He seems to not recall certain events or instances where I’ve been explicit with him about my reasons for leaving, why I have changed my attitude, where I stand on various issues, and so forth.  The only reason I am bringing this up now is because there seems to be some discussion about my ‘behavior’ and lifestyle changes that have come about on his message board recently (thanks to the person who brought this to my attention).  Both Brian and another individual, who goes by the name Reverend Wells, would rather psychoanalyze my personality than simple send me an email.  If anything, this shows their inability to engage critically the events over the past few years–it demonstrates their inability to deal rationally with the world outside their comfort zone of ‘extreme atheism’.

For starters, neither of them can let go of their delusion about who I am and what I believe (and why I believe it).  Brian, for example, suggests that he was ‘baffled’ (really?) by my ‘conversion to Thomas Verenna’ (seriously? ‘Conversion’? That’s what you’re going with?) and that when I used a pseudonym, I was ‘more right’ than ‘Thomas Verenna’ (seriously?!).  Reverend Wells seems to think I am a mythicist because I believe in the ‘need to question the historicity of Jesus and the New Testament’ (which he seems to think is how ‘mythicism’ is defined) and that I ‘continue to post articles and help write books about it (mythicism-ed.) to this day.’  And that I’m just coping-out of my apparent atheism by calling myself a deist because, as Wells believes, I’m just playing the semantics game.  What is most amusing is this line from Brian:

It’s more important to be true to yourself, than do what you think others want.

Did you catch that?  Brian is arguing the point that we have to be true to ourselves, so that is why I should go back to being who I was when I was not myself, but when I was using my pseudonym!  Yes, don’t kid yourself, that is exactly what he’s suggesting.  He believes that my use of a fake name, with beliefs I no longer hold, with perspectives I feel are irrelevant,  with arguments which are no longer valid (or sound), is more ‘right’ than who I am now.  This, my readers, is delusion.

My name–my real name–is Thomas Verenna.  At one time, I used a (as in one, single) pseudonym due to many reasons–personal safety, as a radio show personality, as a means to say securely what I thought might one day ruin my chances at a real life beyond all of the hype of my youthful discretions (of being an activist).  But when I became serious about redirecting my life, that pseudonym went away.  I didn’t waste any time, and Wells is right that I fell off the earth.  But that is the point.  I got serious about life–my life–and my future; so I stopped acting like some naive kid and grew a pair, accepted responsibility for the words I used.  I made a huge mistake–mainly due to my own youthful ignorance–when I claimed I was an expert.  I wasn’t an expert.  And it was wrong of me to say that.  But I rectified that; I enrolled in college  in 2009 and now am attending Rutgers University.  I’m working towards a career; I’m taking seriously the profession of which I want to be a part.

Brian then writes:

I could play arguments of himself against himself.  I’ve got plenty of text and audio of him ripping on deism.  And even more of him ripping in to Christ as a man.

But this is beyond arrogant.  The fact is, those old arguments are meaningless now.  It isn’t that I just one day forgot what I said and what I argued.  No one does that–unless they suffer from some form of mental illness where memories just vanish (I do not, for the record).  I changed my viewpoints when those arguments failed to convince me any longer.  I am a Possibilian, and that may bother a lot of people who want to remain in their comfort believing (falsely) that an atheist cannot change their tune.  Brian would argue that believing in a god makes you intellectually weak or proves you to be a poor critical thinker.  I disagree.  Frankly, I don’t care enough about the question of god belief to give a damn either way.

As for the figure of Jesus, Wells is completely wrong.  My old posts on mythicism disgust me.  They aren’t at all useful and most contain a lot of misinformation (again, out of ignorance).  Also his definition of mythicism (given above) is rather narrowed and vague.  A lot of scholars find the historical value of the New Testament to be abysmal, but that doesn’t make them mythicists.  Also, who said I’ve helped write books on mythicism?  I know of none.  I’ve co-edited a volume of essays on the question of historicity in New Testament, some of the contributors are mythicists, and my article does diminish the role of Paul in the question, but the book is not on mythicism, nor do I or Thomas Thompson accept the label ‘mythicist’ as it just doesn’t describe us.  We’re minimalists; Wells would do well to learn the difference.

Also, there is a distinction between being a mythicist and being an agnostic (read).   I’ve written on this more times than I want to count (link to an article published in the online journal Bible and Interpretation dealing with Ehrman’s book on mythicism).   My older articles don’t compare to anything I’ve published or written recently; I used to be very polemical, very aggressive, made lots of baseless, unverified claims (visit link for additional links); these were symptoms of my mythicism–my denialism.  Thankfully, I’ve moved beyond this.

Unfortunately, Brian has not.  And some of his posters have not either.  I have asked them before to remove all my old content there.  It is not factually true, it is misleading, it makes people dumber for reading it.  It would be akin to publishing an average high school freshman term paper on biology in an academic journal.  There is no reason to keep those posts there.  No reason to keep defending them.  They’re wrong.  The only reason to keep them up is to satisfy some form of nostalgia or to reinforce some misguided notions one might have.  If you want to read decent articles on the subject of historicity, I have a number of published papers along with dozens of blog posts here that are much more articulate and contain better, more solid research.

As for my leaving the radio show and activism and atheism in general, I’ve discussed this a great deal.  I did not support Blasphemy Day and had expressed my displeasure with the atheist movement as far back as 2009.  This is nothing new for me.  It has been years.  I was annoyed with the fractious nature of the community and the hypocrisy latent within the organizations.  I was tired of the drama, of the whining, of the leadership’s failure to take personal responsibility for some of the problems that plague them.  I grew tired of the constant apologetica, the sectarianism growing within the activist groups (the Dawkinites, the Harrisians, the American Atheist Empire vs. the Atheist Alliance International Republic, and yes even the Rational Responders).  I found them all to be avenues towards isolationism–you had a pick of which group to join and thus isolate yourself from the other groups (and clearly I’m not alone; a new discussion appears to be happening in the community which proves all of my points).  I reevaluated my role in it, found it all to be philosophically weak.  So I left.

And by that I mean the whole ‘atheist’ thing is just weak.  I’ve even written a (very) brief autobiography on my rejection of atheism as a label and a personal identifier.  If I define myself in any way, it is that I’m a humanist and a secularist and an existentialist.   That doesn’t mean I don’t have an edge.  What it does mean is I just find labels to be useless.  Even the labels I used above have connotations that I don’t agree with or don’t think best describe me (which is why I list three and not one–four if you include my Possibilianism).

In the end, I don’t agree with that person I was in 2007.  I don’t like that person.  I loathe that person.  Because that person was an isolationist, a denialist, a hypocrite, an intellectually weak person.  I’m proud of myself for distancing myself from such a person, whose ideals were as thin as a sheet of paper.  Wells is quite wrong when he suggests that I am somehow shrugging off my past; I do not “ignore and deny it for a length of time”.  I’ve never denied it.  Ever.  I just don’t care for it.  Thinking about those years leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like I had been chewing on Thallium (which would be very, very bad, by the way–don’t ever do that).

If this thread on this forum is any indication of what the community is like now, I made the right choice to leave it.  Clearly some people cannot stand the fact that I’ve legitimately changed.  Apparently, thinking differently than they do is a bad thing (enough to find it ‘baffling’ that I’d not want to be included in the community!  What nerve I must have!).  Indeed, it is quite arrogant to presume that the answers can be found in atheism.  Or theism.  Or any brand.  And it is a real shame that Brian has to react like this to my departure.  By that, I don’t mean to suggest he was rude or ridiculing (in fact, his response was cordial and respectful), but his words betray an underlying ignorance about his own shortcomings and delusions, even if he doesn’t want to admit them.  He can believe whatever he wants about me, and so can Reverend Wells for all I care, but now he has no excuse to claim ignorance.  The facts about me are right in front of his face.

The Portrayal of the Disciples: What is the Big Deal?

Today I was defriended on Facebook by someone I consider to be a friend.  Why?  I’m not quite sure, since this same person often goes on at lengths about convictions and academic freedom and the ability to argue without being censored (so long as you don’t hide behind anonymity).  But the conversation started when my friend tried to argue that the disciples were not uneducated and ignorant, they were akin to grad students because they were under the study of a Rabbi.

In my opinion (and I’m not the only one who argues this), the perspective that the disciples were uneducated and ignorant stems from the evangelists portrayal of them in the Gospels.  I believe it to be a literary tool and a function of the text; it elevates the figure of Jesus in the Gospels to a higher status of brilliance when you surround him with people who are just dull and witless.  To quote Dennis MacDonald:

“More than any other gospel, Mark depict Jesus’ disciples as fearful, unfaithful, and uncomprehending.  Even though Jesus had told them explicitly about the “mystery” of God’s rule, they repeatedly demonstrated their failure to understand.  Four of them were fishermen, but when tossed about by a storm at sea, they were helpless.  Jesus had to force the Twelve to sail without him, and they mistook him walking on the waves for a phantom, quickly forgot that he could multiply loaves and fish, could not understand that he must suffer and die, argued with each other concerning who was the greatest, vied for privileged places in the afterlife, and squabbled like petulant children.” (D.R. MacDonald, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark [YUP; 2000], 20)

MacDonald provides some additional resources on this in his endnotes on the section.  My only point was that the portrayal of these disciples is where many get their impression of them as ignorant.  But some how, my friend thought I was making an entirely different argument: he apparently thought I was arguing they didn’t exist.  This isn’t what I said and I brought this up to him in another comment.  I clarified, that portrayals in ancient texts do not have any direct implication on the historicity behind the portrayals.

He responded, quite apologetically in my humble opinion, that the portrayals were based  upon historical reconstructions.  But this is not necessarily the case.  I challenged him to present evidence for such a maximalist claim (William Dever argues something akin to this about figures in the Old Testament) and in return he called me desperate.

So I asked him some questions, thinking that perhaps I was not being clear:

(a) It *may* be true that portrayals of ancient figures have some historical kernels, but not always.  How would one prove that a portrayal of someone is the same as ones historical figure?

(b) It *may* be true that the portrayals in the gospels of the disciples are either somewhat or wholly based upon historical events; but how–that is, by what criteria–can one determine which event is historical and which isn’t?

Keep in mind, I wasn’t saying the disciples weren’t historical–I was questioning the validity of the portrayals of them in the gospels.  I think such a question is quite reasonable.  Clearly my friend disagreed, since he said ‘farewell’ and then promptly removed me from his friends list.

But not before he made some suggestions of criteria: the criterion of embarrassment (which is completely fallacious and has been demolished in recent years as a terrible criterion) and the criterion of multiple attestation (ditto to the last).  I’ve written on this before here.

For examples of how the criteria for historical Jesus studies have been criticized, see M. Goodacre, ‘Criticizing the Criterion of Multiple Attestation: The Historical Jesus and the Question of Sources’ in Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne, eds., Jesus, History and the Demise of Authenticity (London & New York: T & T Clark, forthcoming, 2012), R. Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed (Lulu Press, 2009) and his Proving History, and R. Rodríguez, ‘Authenticating Criteria: The Use and Misuse of a Critical Method’, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 7/2 (2009), 155-6.

He may very well disagree with these assessments, but just removing me?  Calling me desperate?  I’m not sure that was the best way to deal with the situation.  I would like to believe this person respects open dialogue enough, respects critical questions enough, respects academic freedom enough (he’s written enough on these subjects) that he will reconsider this action.  He is a brilliant guy and says a lot of useful things and I think he’s hilarious.  Would be a shame if things ended on such a bizarre reaction to some honest questions.

Lester L. Grabbe Responds to Richard Carrier

Some of you may have read Richard Carrier’s review of the forthcoming collection of essays edited by Thomas L. Thompson and I.  The one paper in the volume he didn’t like he reviewed negatively; that paper belongs to Lester Grabbe.  He has asked me to reblog a comment he left on Carrier’s review.  I will post it here in length.  Here you go Lester:  

Since Dr Carrier has given a completely misleading impression of my article, I thought I might make a few brief points:

1.  Thank you for the reference to Van Voorst.  It was, unfortunately, unavailable when I did my research for the article.  However, my practice is to go to primary sources as the basis of any research.  It is also important to take account of secondary sources, but if you work from the primary sources, it is not usually a disaster if you overlook a secondary source.

2.  “Uncritical” is the typical sophomoric response of one who cannot refute the arguments of another.  Of course, there are many uncritical studies in the scholarly literature–as I have often pointed out–but my article is not one of them.  On the contrary, I critically analyzed every source and came to a considered judgment about its historical value for the question.  You might disagree with my conclusions, but it is not because I was uncritical.

3.  Your attempt to show I made an ignorant mistake about Pilate is cheap and disingenuous, as a full quotation of the passage quickly shows:

Thus, it seems likely that Tacitus’ source is Roman.  Tacitus is the only Roman writer >to mention Pilate (though we have confirmation of his existence from an inscription).  >If Pilate had reported to the Senate on the matter, this would likely have been available >in the senatorial archives.    [Is This Not the Carpenter?, p. 59]

My argument was about Tacitus, not Pilate.  As for the alleged lack of knowledge about the facts, I examined and discussed all or almost all the primary references to Pilate and also listed the main recent secondary sources already 20 years ago in my Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian (1992), pp. 395-97, 422-25.

4.  No, I didn’t take account of your article, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josepehus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200”, since it has not yet been published.  I’m afraid I’m not prescient.

5.  I think it highly unlikely that Josephus used Luke, and I think that few scholars of either Luke or Josephus would accept that proposition.  (I also doubt that Luke used Josephus, though that is a possibility.)

6.  Even though you assure everyone that I am mistaken, on not less than two occasions, you also urge your audience not to read my article.  Yet you devote about 25 percent of your entire review of the book just to my contribution.  I am left with the distinct impression that you are afraid for people to read it.

In conclusion, critical scholars will disagree with one another, which is fine–that’s part of scholarship.  But they should present evidence and careful argument for their positions:  chest-thumping and penis-waving will not substitute.

Lester Grabbe

I have asked Richard Carrier to comment here as well.  See comments below.

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