Defining Mythicism: Richard Carrier – “Did Jesus Exist?”

This video is some years old and people’s perspectives become more refined over time.  So I asked Richard if he still stands behind this video before vlogging.  Richard noted, in response:

In the intro of the S.II talk I establish caveats (that the talk itself is tongue in cheek and doesn’t address lots of other issues like the Josephus passages or letters of Paul and so on), but the overall argument is something I will formalize, possibly with some changes, in On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. Obviously that only treats Acts in relation to the question. I’ll have different chapters on extra-biblical evidence, the epistles, the gospels, etc. I give a somewhat serious version of the argument in my online debate with O’Connell (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/carrier-oconnell/)

Richard adds another caveat:

My argument now is that we face a dilemma, either (a) Acts is fiction from the ground up, or (b) it is based on an earlier set of sources; if (a), then obviously Acts is eliminated as evidence for historicity; but if (b), then the earliest sources behind Acts can be shown to have been suspiciously lacking a historical Jesus. Ironically this means the more reliable you deem Acts to be, the less likely Jesus existed as a historical person (unless you deem Acts to be so reliable as to be free of any error or distortion whatever, but only fundamentalists would believe something so absurd of any ancient historical narrative).

It’s a little crass at times, but overall humorous and provocative food-for-thought.  I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the Q&A; I like that carrier does not resort to conspiracy theory.  In fact in the end, during Q&A, Carrier outlines his problems with the movie Zeitgeist and his frustrations with it are my own.

Richard Carrier “Did Jesus Exist?” Skepticon 2 Redux – YouTube.

A New Sort of Maximalist: Alien Astronauts

This is absolutely absurd and its a shame I have to waste my time to write this.  But as with all ridiculous conspiracy crap that exists out there, those dilettantes who actually believe in alien astronauts that came to earth and helped mankind are actually getting media attention through the History Channel. I don’t know why; these people are completely delusional.

First, they don’t seem to care (or they simply cannot fathom) the difference between modern history and ancient history.  That is, they haven’t yet figured out that ancient literature is exaggerated, often filled with fictitious tales that were outright fabricated using earlier literature, and often grounded in political and religious idealism.  So when one reads about ancient military victories, one shouldn’t automatically assume that the Greeks actually had a super weapon, or were literally handed gifts from the gods to win.  The same goes for the Romans, the Egyptians, the Israelites, and so forth.

Second, these dilettantes can’t seem to fathom that the ancient mythic mind was not at all concerned with ‘fact’ vs. ‘fiction’.  Those who were able to write the sorts of literature that have survived today (literature, mind you, not personal letters–ancient histories count as literature) cared little whether they were recounting things as they happened.  They didn’t care whether or not Apollo was there with his bow, mowing down Greeks outside the walls of Troy.  To them, it happened and it didn’t happen.  This might be a difficult concept for modern people who have a completely different, rational mindset then those authors from antiquity.

Finally, these alien astronaut ‘experts’ are reading all sorts of things into the text and are fabricating all sorts of nonsense based totally on pseudo-archaeology.  This sounds like something BAR would publish, if we replace “ancient astronaut” with “Biblical Israel”.   Indeed, these alien astronaut supporters are sounding more and more like maximalists.  And frankly, I’m not sure what is worse….

For a full analysis of the Ancient Alien show, I suggest everyone get acquainted with two links:

Jesus and Adonis: The Bethlehem Connection

Yes, I know, I’m always cautioning people about parallelism/parallelmania and that doesn’t change here.  A scholar (Jill, Duchess of Hamilton) went on air and discussed the similarities between Jesus and Adonis.  I am uncertain of her qualifications on the matter, though she is clearly working on her PhD.  You can listen in here and there is a transcript available if you just want to cut through it all.  Here are a few snippets:

Could an archaeological dig under the monumental 6th century Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem verify facts about the ancient written records which tell of the people of Bethlehem venerating a grotto as the birth cave of that central cult figure Adonis, Tammuz in various mystery religions? Some mythologists insist that the Adonis shrine is the very same one as the Christians revere, that instead of originating with Jesus and Christianity, the shrine began with the cult of Adonis, a deity of rebirth and vegetation. They say that the holy cave was consecrated by the heathens to the worship of Adonis and that it was the Christians who took over this pagan centre giving a precedent later for the many early churches in Europe and America being built on the sites of pagan temples.

Indeed, the actual existence of Adonis worship in Bethlehem cannot be disputed it is just a matter of when it took place – before or after the birth of Jesus. Yet the fact that the Church of the Nativity, the oldest continuously used Christian place of worship in the world covers the site of a former temple to Adonis is seldom mentioned.

You’ll have to listen in or read on to find out more details.  My concern is that people might jump to the false conclusion that because of these similarities, Jesus did not exist.  This is silly; fictional stories can be written about historical figures.  The case for the historicity of Jesus doesn’t hinge on the nativity scene being historical.  H/T David Meadows.

Additional Related Links:

Gerd Lüdemann – The Death of the Biblical God

Gerd Lüdemann has a new article up on Bible and Interpretation’s website.  Here is a snippet:

Ultimately all this presents a problem for all three “Abrahamitic” religions. The Church, regarding herself as the New Israel, has always taken the Old Testament myth of Yahweh’s election and concern for Israel as a firmly established constituent of the Salvation history that culminates in Jesus Christ. But if the historical framework of the Old Testament is essentially fictitious, and both the biblical Israel and its exclusive God are theological constructs of exilic (beginning 587 BCE) or post-exilic (starting after 538 BCE) Judaism, then reading the Old Testament as the pre-history of Jesus and Muhammad becomes a whimsical affectation.

via The Bible and Interpretation – The Death of the Biblical God.

I’ve always enjoyed Lüdemann’s works, particularly on Paul.  Go check it out for yourself, it is compelling as it is useful to the discussion.

What I Do and Do Not Believe

I seem to be getting a lot of queries lately about who I am and what I believe.  So here it is in a nutshell.

My “religious” affiliation: Possibilian, Deist.

  • I am not an atheist.  I am also not a Christian (that is, I do not affirm a belief that Jesus Christ is my lord and savior), nor am I a Muslim or a Jew.  I ascribe to no particular faith, but I do see the value in it even if I choose a secular path.  No, you cannot ‘save’ me.  If you are the generous sort, however, you might tolerate me.  Since I tolerate you, I don’t think that is too much to ask.
  • I don’t try to define ‘god’ (nor do I necessarily see the value in substituting a ‘g’ for a ‘G’–‘G’ should only stand for one thing, Geometry.  That, as they say, is that).  So my deism is refined enough, and just enough, to know that I imagine there being some being out there that might be defined as ‘divine’ or ‘supreme’.  Beyond that, I don’t have a clarification beyond a simple generalization.
My perspectives on the Bible and religion: Read the following blog posts…
My perspective on the historical figure of Jesus: I’m agnostic about the historicity of the figure of Jesus.
My political perspectives: Vote, because it is your right to do so, but most likely you’re electing in the same type of person, that is to say, a politician.  But for additional details about my stance on certain political perspectives, see these blog posts:

2010 Debate on Reliability of Scripture « XKV8R: The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill

Thanks to Bob Cargill, you can watch the whole debate between Bart Ehrman and Craig Evans on the reliability of the Bible.  Do check it out!

If you have an hour, you really ought to listen to the 2010 debate between Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Craig Evans on the reliability of scripture. Below are the YouTube videos in 9 parts.

I’ll let you decide whose argument is more compelling. However, I agree with the moderator, Pastor Jerry Johnston, who states after one of Dr. Evans’ responses (Pt. 3, @ 3:37), “Sounds like an evangelist.”

The key questions are as follows:

1. Are the gospels reliable? (Pt. 1 @ 3:50)

2. Do the gospels accurately preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ? (Pt. 2 @ 3:42)

3. Do the gospels accurately preserve the activities of Jesus Christ? (Pt. 3 @ 3:42)

4. Do the gospels contain eyewitness tradition? (Pt. 4 @ 4:25)

5. Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources? (Pt. 5 @ 4:05)

6. Have the gospels been accurately preserved down through the centuries? (Pt. 6 @ 6:22)

7. Do scribal errors and textual variants significantly impact any teaching of Jesus or any important Christian teaching? (Pt. 7 @ 7:33)

8. Final Remarks (Pt. 8 @ 7:01)

via 2010 debate on the reliability of scripture between bart ehrman and craig evans « XKV8R: The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill.

Searching for Muses: Do Bible Verses Support Osama’s Death?

According to statistics today, a great deal of blog hits have come from people searching for Biblical support for Osama’s death.  I worry greatly about people who seek validation for modern affairs in a book, as a part of a corpus of other books, gathered hundreds of years ago, wherein the books within were written thousands of years ago, and for completely different reasons (albeit, the reasons were theological–not prophetic).

Here are some of the search queues:

  • bible verses osama
  • bible verses to support osama bin laden’s death
  • bible verse osama bin laden
  • acripture regarding bin ladens death (sic)
  • good bible verses relating to osama’s death
  • bible verses about osama bin laden death
  • christian verses on bin laden
  • bible verses on the death of osama
  • how to apply scripture to bin ladens death

I stress again what I have stressed countless times before.  It is dilettante-esque to believe one can (a) find passages to support murder in an ancient book, written for other reasons, hundreds of years ago and (b) find verses which mention or discuss current events (you have to not only be a dilettante, but you have to be completely stupid to think Osama is mentioned or discussed in the Bible–so if you were one of those people who were searching for Biblical references to Osama…don’t admit it to anyone and save yourself the embarrassment).

So what should you do if you want to find validation for the death of Osama?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Seek council from other (currently living, that is to say, alive) human beings.  You can find them in your church, synagogue, mosque, community center, school, where ever.  But the Bible doesn’t have the answers because (*gasp*) the books of the Bible weren’t written for you.
  2. Consider why you are seeking reasons to happily justify death with more death (while I am as relieved as any other American that Osama is dead, I still recognize that killing is killing, regardless how you dress it up).
  3. If you are seeking evidence from the Bible that the death of Osama will usher in the end times, you might need serious medical or psychological evaluation.  Or you can join a cult and follow this loon.  He’s a dilettante as well, so you can have all sorts of deplorable and dilettantish conversations that distort and manipulate the Biblical texts. (But just to be sure you’re aware, since you are into these sorts of dilettante things, the world will not end this month either).

Whatever you choose to do, do something.  Because, trust me, if you got here by searching for these or similar terms, you’re doing it wrong.

Wife of God: Was Asherah Edited Out of the Bible?

This is old hat as far as scholars go, but I’m glad it is getting wider distribution.  TIME posted the follow article (snippet version):

Some scholars say early versions of the Bible featured Asherah, a powerful fertility goddess who may have been God’s wife.

Research by Francesca Stavrakopoulou, a senior lecturer in the department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter, unearthed clues to her identity, but good luck finding mention of her in the Bible. If Stavrakopoulou is right, heavy-handed male editors of the text all but removed her from the sacred book.

What remains of God’s purported other half are clues in ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in an ancient Canaanite coastal city, now in modern-day Syria. Inscriptions on pottery found in the Sinai desert also show Yahweh and Asherah were worshipped as a pair, and a passage in the Book of Kings mentions the goddess as being housed in the temple of Yahweh.

J. Edward Wright, president of The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies and The Albright Institute for Archaeological Research, backs Stavrakopoulou’s findings, saying several Hebrew inscriptions mention “Yahweh and his Asherah.” He adds Asherah was not entirely edited out of the Bible by its male editors.

via Fertility Goddess Asherah: Was ‘God’s Wife’ Edited Out of the Bible? – TIME NewsFeed.

Read on for the full article.  There are some problematic things with article (for one, the ‘Bible’ did not yet exist at the time when Asherah would have (a) been included in the books referenced and (b) when the redactors would have removed her, so the title is misleading).  Overall it is a decent public expression of the facts, and a lot of it is acceptable.  But while TIME is just posting this now, the concept behind this article had been expressed years ago, perhaps best noted by “maximalist” William Dever (we minimalists sometimes give Bill a free pass) in *gasp* BAR (I know, sacrilege!) in 2008:

The small house shrine published here for the first time provides significant support for the contention that the Israelite God, Yahweh, did indeed have a consort. At least this was true in the minds of many ordinary ancient Israelites, in contrast to the priestly elite.1 In what I call folk religion, or “popular religion,” Yahweh’s consort is best identified as “Asherah,” the old Canaanite mother goddess.2

Some of the most powerful evidence for this contention is in the Bible itself. The fact that the Bible condemns the cult of Asherah (and other “pagan” deities) demonstrates that such cults existed and were perceived as a threat to Israelite monotheism. Based on the Biblical texts alone, we can conclude that many ancient Israelites, perhaps even the majority, worshiped Asherah, Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven” and perhaps other female deities. Their sanctuaries (ba¯môt, or “high places”), we are told, were “on every hill and under every green tree.” (The phrase recurs numerous times in Kings and the Prophets.)

Some of the clearest physical evidence for the existence of a cult of Asherah is the growing collection of small house shrines. The technical name is naos (plural, naoi), a Greek word that means “temple” or “inner sanctum.”

(Reproduced here but for a small fee(!) you can get it on BAR)

And the great  scholar, the late G. W. Ahlström, in his book The History of Ancient Palestine (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1994) discusses the subject to some degree and earlier still, in 1963, in his book Aspects of Syncretism in Israelite Religion (C.W.K. Gleerup).

Also Mark S. Smith deals with this subject extensively in his many works on the origins of Biblical monotheism (The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts [Oxford: OUP, 2003], God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010]) and the contextual “religious” aspects of the ancient world.

Of course this list isn’t comprehensive, but it does express a very large gap in time between what scholarship discusses and when the public learns about it.  This is a problem that hopefully the internet will continue to solve, though for those interested, above are reliable resources for the study of the subject matter.

How Not to Teach the Bible in Public Schools

There is an excellent article out there on AU’s official blog about why things are going so wrong in Arkansas.  I have always advocated the (critical and secular) teaching of religions in Public school, so long as they are not simply havens for proselytizing by Sunday School teachers and pastors.  If a student wants to learn about their faith, churches and synagogues and mosques provide an element that public schools, the bastions of our general education (not to mention it’s paid for by government funds, i.e. taxes), should not teach.  However, critical education about religion should be taught, since a great deal of what fundamentalists want to teach is not only anti-science, but anti-Bible, anti-scholarship, anti-archaeology…well, just about anti-everything (that doesn’t conflict with the faith of the fundamentalist in question).  Here is a snippet from the AU blog article:

Every year, you can count on state legislators coming along with proposals for public schools to teach “about” the Bible and its influence on art and literature.

It sounds good in theory. After all, the Supreme Court has never said that objective study about religion is unconstitutional.

In fact, in the landmark 1963 school prayer decision Abington v. Schempp, Justice Tom Clark observed, “[I]t might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

But, they say, the devil is in the details. And some people who are promoting these classes seem to be trying to hide that devil.

via Awry In Arkansas: How Public School Classes ‘About’ The Bible Can Go Astray « The Wall of Separation.

I recommend it highly.

Searching for Muses: Is the Hebrew Bible True?

It’s that time again… I looked over the list of people who found my blog via searching Google and this question popped up.  For those who might also be curious, I thought I might help offer some clarification for you so you can better answer the question yourselves.

First, clarify your question.  For what exactly are you looking?  What “truth” do you seek?  Theological, archaeological, historical, or textually?  Are you curious about certain figures, events, locations?    There are (depending on how you count them) twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible and they represent a wide spectrum of genre, not many of which deal with what might be considered ‘historiography’.

Second, such a broad question can’t possibly yield a useful answer.  Since the question is so broad, it can only warrant a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  And what then?  Where do you go?  Formulating a strong first question will yield you stronger search results and maybe even a reliable paper or two from an academic journal or series.   The implications of these questions are really what will matter, and you cannot consider those implications unless you first acknowledge that there will be a more complex answer.  So if you were wondering if the theological message of Exodus was based upon historical events, for example, you should ask what archaeological evidence supports the Exodus narrative.  You’ll probably come across lots of articles and blog posts and apologetic materials.  A careful browse of the arguments will lead the reader to find that there is zero archaeological evidence for the Exodus.  Upon this discovery, the implications of that find should be obvious (but we’ll look over one of them anyway): The Exodus might not have happened historically.  This should lead you to do more research.

Third, starting off with a question like this reminds us–those who are learned enough to recognize the error in the question–of dilettantism.   Perhaps a better question to start your search would be “What is the Hebrew Bible?”  At least that way you can have some ground to start from.  If you don’t even recognize what it is you’re asking about, how can you expect to find an answer adequate enough?

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