New Blog on American History

I started a brand new blog (it’s shiny) on American History. Please go check it out (I moved over relevant blogs from here to there):

This is to keep this blog relevant to the subject and also I hope to give myself a chance to springboard my other passion (American History) in a less invasive way here (because not everyone gets American History-especially Americans).

Feel free to follow the new blog as well.

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 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 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.

In Memorandum: Joe Fox – Friend, Leader, Humanist

The world lost a brilliant person and a beautiful human being this weekend.  Joe Fox’s death came suddenly and sorrowfully to those of us who knew him well.  I am not sure I have all the right words, nor am I certain I can do him justice, but as someone who spent a lot of time with Joe over the past few years, I’m grieving and now is perhaps the best time to remember a friend.

For some background: I met Joe years ago when I was invited down to speak for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.  At the time Joe had a leadership role in that community and had heard of me through acquaintances.  After my presentation to the community, Joe and I sat down and, over conversation and a few drinks, became fast friends.  One of my struggles at that time was my detachment from the broader atheist movement as a whole; I was questioning who I was and what I wanted to do–I knew that going to school was a priority at this point and I knew that I wanted to find something more positive and uplifting than my past had been as an outspoken atheist activist.  As I got older, I just didn’t agree with the modern movement I helped to create–it had become something different, something angrier, that just didn’t feel right for me anymore.  Joe became a beacon for me.  He introduced me to humanism and I, after some contemplation, was drawn to it.

Joe was one of the nicest individuals I have met; he was inclusive, he was a loving father, he was a leader and an organizer, but most important of all, he made an effort to help people as much as he could.  Joe Fox was there for me when I needed a ride to group events, he pushed me to start my freethought group, he encouraged community outreach in our organizations–helping the poor, doing blood drives; Joe showed everyone the humanity of humanism.  He always smiled, even when he was going through some complicated personal problems.  He laughed all the time, always had a joke, was constantly engaging people, and making them think.

In my world, that is the world of a secularist, when someone dies, I don’t ask for prayers (though, if that is what you do, that’s fine); instead I try to remember them, to keep their good works alive, to instill in everyone the sense that the one we lost had an impact on the future.  In this sense, both the humanist or the religionist are trying to grasp hold of immortality, albeit in different ways.  But for the secularist, seeking immortality is a materialistic venture–and it is a life-long endeavor.  We try to do good deeds often and plentifully, we try to give back to our communities, we want to be remembered as great individuals so that when we die, our memory lives on.  But as many of my readers know, memories are fickle things and not everyone attains that glory.

As for Joe Fox, he will easily be remembered as the excellent man he was.    I greatly regret not making more time for him the past year; with school and work constraints I did not always have the ability to make it out to meetings or community movie nights.  But I will always think of Joe fondly as a mentor and friend.  I will remember the fun times we had, all our conversations (some important and others not so much).

For those of us who knew Joe, we will never forget him.  In fact we miss him terribly.  We can mourn him–and we are–but it is clear to all of us he left behind, he has gained immortality.

Tom Verenna:

Another case of ‘Biblical Archaeology’ jumping the gun. When will they learn that archaeology is not about proving the Bible true, it is “The scientific excavation and study of ancient human material remains.” Nothing more, nothing less. And what those remains tell us is important, not what we tenuously pretend they tell us.

Originally posted on Zwinglius Redivivus:

George Athas convincingly argues that the bulla newly discovered which the IAA says proves the existence of Bethlehem does no such thing at all.

Once again, however, it seems that we have an Israeli archaeologist jumping to inordinate conclusions that simply do not reflect the actual evidence, all so that they can make a sensational political statement about Israel or Judah in antiquity. There are a number of issues with Shukron’s proposal:

And then George shows why Shukron is wrong.  He concludes

It seems we need to wait for some more reliable and unsensational epigraphic analysis to be done on this bulla. Unless I’m very much mistaken(1), it seems fairly clear from the published photo that this bulla does NOT refer to Bethlehem. I lean towards seeing this as the seal of a prominent woman, though ultimately I can’t even be sure of that. Could a decent epigrapher please go…

View original 95 more words

Carrier on Ehrman’s Dubious Replies (Part 2)

Another blow against Ehrman.  Frankly, I am still surprised some in the blogosphere are still supporting Ehrman on this.  Either there are some out there who do not recognize what constitutes a solid and sound argument or they are blinded by their own presuppositions.  Either way, it is disappointing.

Carrier’s conclusion:

In the end Ehrman ducks behind the “it was just a pop book, you shouldn’t expect it to be all accurate and the like” defense. This requires no reply. The reader can judge for themselves whether that excuse only makes the whole matter worse. (Can you imagine him accepting that excuse from any of the mythicists he attacks?) He also tries to play the victim card and claim I violated my own principle of interpretive charity. But in fact I did not. I gave him the benefit of a doubt everywhere an innocent explanation was conceivable, exactly as my principle requires (for example, I assumed that when he wrote “Justin of Tiberius” for Justus of Tiberias on p. 50 that that was a mere typo). But my principle also states (exactly as he himself quotes it) that when no such interpretation is plausible, we ought to point that out, so the author can correct their error. Which is exactly what I did.

Thus, his attempt to twist a rule of interpretive charity into a monstrous absurdity doesn’t cut it, and only exposes how poor a grasp he has of logical reasoning. Authors don’t get to say the exact opposite of what they meant and then claim it is our responsibility to telepathically know that that is what happened. Authors don’t get to say things that clearly indicate they badly mishandled their sources, and then claim we are always to assume they never do that. Authors don’t get to say things that clearly indicate they didn’t check their facts, and then claim we are always to assume they nevertheless did. Indeed, as his own quote of me says, if you cannot reconcile a contradiction or error in my work, you should call me on it so I can correct myself. Well, I called him on it.

via Ehrman’s Dubious Replies (Round Two) | Richard Carrier Blogs.

Go read his post to see how he got there.


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