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:

‘Doing’ History in Light of Memes and Cultural Memory Both Ancient and Modern

A recent article by Paul V.M. Flesher on Bible and Interpretation was posted on cultural memory a few days ago, and it was while I was in the process of writing this post, so I thought I might incorporate it into this discussion.  Here is a snippet and a relevant definition of ‘cultural memory’ and how we might consider using it here:

For Bible-believing students, an academic approach to the study of Scripture may constitute an attack on their personal identity. It works to recast their “cultural memory”—a key component of their psycho-social makeup which identifies their past (their personal pre-history, if you will) and locates their place in its progression. A course presenting a literary or historical Introduction to the New Testament, for example, can become for these students a threat to their self-understanding and to their ties with their religious community.

Memories shape an individual’s identity. Frequently we think of memories as recollections of events, activities, or experiences that happened in our own lives. Some of these experiences happened to us alone and constitute private memories, while other events were experienced by other people and thus comprise shared memories. Often many shared memories take place with identifiable groups of people, whether small groups like a family or kindergarten class or large groups such as citizens of a nation, members of a religion, or even fans of a World Cup soccer team. These experienced memories are not cultural memories, although a few may ultimately enter that classification.

Most cultural memories, by contrast, do not recall experienced events, but instead refer to events that happened in the past, usually to people conceived of as one’s ancestors or forerunners. These “memories” must be taught in some way, whether through formal classes, informal instruction or storytelling, or through reading. They constitute acquired knowledge rather than recollections of experienced events. Cultural memories differ from other knowledge of the past in that the events selected comprise pivotal moments that shape the identity of the group preserving their memory, whether this is an religious, ethnic, national or familial group. These are not just any events from the past, but events that are particularly relevant to the social group passing on the cultural memory. To a Frenchman, the revolution of 1789 would constitute a national cultural memory, but the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs would not. It is one thing to learn history, it is quite another to acquire a cultural memory.

I suppose the subject of this post is threefold.  First, (1) how quickly historical memes spread (often false historical memes) and (2) how quickly they can become rooted in cultural memory.  From that point, how does a historian consider the question if ‘cultural memory’ is considered ‘truth’, as rooted in society as well as individuals’ upbringing?

Every few months now, and with greater frequency since the creation of the Tea Party,  there seems to be an onslaught of fictional attributions to America’s founding fathers.  Whether it be words they never spoke, or deeds they never did, or beliefs they never held, America is on the cusp of a knowledge revolution, wherein ‘facts’ are becoming less important than tradition–especially tradition, albeit newly invented, which conforms to America’s current ideological trend.

Paul Revere is also related to Jack Black, apparently... (but don't quote me on that)

Consider the lies being told, the refashioning of history, where in certain politician’s worldviews, is a past where the founding fathers said the Pledge of Allegiance and Paul Revere warned the British, or where Jon Quincy Adams (the son of John Adams) was a founding father and that these founding fathers worked to end slavery.  I believe one commenter said it best, “Will these historical snafus cause [these politicians – ed.] any supporters? It doesn’t look like it, but it makes one wonder if they could pass a citizenship test.”  And perhaps that is also the scary part.  Who educated these politicians?  I am reminded of the comment by junior Senator Mark Pryor to Bill Maher, “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the senate.”  Aside from the obvious question (“Why the hell not!?”), we must wonder how these politicians are elected into office and why they have such a strong following when they can’t even adequately reproduce the history of the country they are attempting to serve!

The answer, I believe, is in the transmission of the meme through an ideology already set in people who, clearly, don’t care about the facts.  And I don’t even mean just one political party, because it goes beyond politics (and as it turns out, both parties are responsible for disseminating quotes without fact-checking and fabricating false quotes to fit their agendas).  In general, and probably predominantly in this country, people are starting to care less about facts and more about impact.  And once such a powerful, traditional meme is transmitted through social interactions (general conversations, viral media, social websites, whatever have you), people latch onto it without bothering to fact-check, and in some instances some seek to actively include such falsities into books and websites used to educate others.

Why this happens  is as interesting as the how, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a result of seeking to propagate an agenda.  As my generation gets older, having grown up with the internet, and a new generation who is even more in tune with technology starts to come into its own, the internet is the one-stop source of information.  I know that the internet is becoming more integral to education as well, wherein students are allowed to use it for research, often under some guidelines.  What implications does internet research have for students today when the most used online encyclopedia can be edited and fixed without any sort of peer review?  Many will undoubtedly say that Wikipedia editors try to be fair and eliminate bias where possible, but it remains to be an editable site where the majority of opinion will supersede any balance at times and with complete anonymity, anyone can edit without the slightest worry about retraction.  And such a site has repercussions for those whose work has been stolen by Wiki editors:

By the time you happen to find your work copied onto Wikipedia, it has already been propagated all over the net by Wikipedia copycats, making the job of going through their copyright infringement office all but meaningless.

And once a false statement is disseminated to other sites, blogs, social media, people will trust it because it comes from people they, themselves, trust: a blog they read all the time, a friend on Facebook or Google+, a news source which might not have verified the facts first before writing a story on it, and in a more relevant case, a news source who runs with a story about either history or religion without consulting experts in the field first.  So people will assume, without much concern, that these sorts of memes are okay to spread and are trustworthy because, well, their friend on Facebook is smart and trustworthy and has no reason to lie,and in our social-media culture the share button is all too easy and tempting to hit.  And thus the fictitious meme is spread by those who, while not having negative intentions, are caught up in a wisp of a motion they do every day, unbeknownst that the shared content wasn’t fact checked by their friends on Facebook, nor the source that their friends retrieved it from.

Your Brain on Memes (via Graphjam)

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, the internet was abuzz with quotes attributed to Martin Luther King and Mark Twain.  The quote of Martin Luther read “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy” and of Mark Twain, “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”  These were found everywhere, except by those who paused for as moment to fact-check, and a good thing they did!  It turns out they were both falsely attributed–that is to say, fake.  And as a result of some noteworthy research, a trail could be found–where it originated wasn’t some malicious attempt to subvert history but a ‘whisper-down-the-alley’ mash-up of cut and pastes which, somewhere along the way, were so convoluted what became of it was a fictional quote.  And as it turns out, we are doubly guilty of allowing this as it happens a lot.

Even a fellow Biblioblogger, known for his fact-checking and for his ridicule of others who spread false information, was just recently caught using a fake quote from Charles Darwin in order to promote a particular ideal to which he follows.  The quote was spread by Lady hope who claimed to have been with Darwin on his deathbed, but those who we know were actually there (like his family) state firmly she was never at the bed of Darwin and that her story is a falsity.   And the Biblioblogger’s source in this case was a friend on Facebook, one  with whom I also am familiar and know did not spread the quote with any intention of deceiving, he simply didn’t know.  The quote can be found on all sorts of quote sites, especially Christian/Creationist sites.  This Biblioblogger picked up on it, trustingly, and proceeded to spread it, unaware that he was disseminating false information; it is a rarity with this Biblioblogger, but even he, the ineffable scholar he is, can fall prey to his own ideological desires and cultural memory.

And it doesn’t even just occur with the use of quotes; chain letters are another popular internet phenomena proving, for our own age at least, that people care little about checking into the truth of claims and more about the message behind them.  Indeed, letters are sent around without a care whether or not the individuals are real or completely fictitious.  And this really brought to light, in my mind, interesting parallels to the past, sans current technology, and how quickly a meme can spread and change and what implications there might be.

When you stop to consider how popular ideas can become, and how ardent we are, as social beings who seek out patterns and affinities, about creating cultural references to popular ideas, is it any wonder that we fabricate and create and exemplify and exaggerate?  Some fictional legends about our founding fathers are already ingrained in our cultural memory and some are even teaching them as fact!  For example, I was tough in elementary school that George Washington had wooden teeth.  It was only when I was older and was able to read things for myself that i found this to be a complete fiction.  Washington actually had teeth carved from ivory and gold.  One set of them is on display at a Baltimore museum.  There are, of course, folk legends about historical figures: Johnny Appleseed, Black Bart, Buffalo Bill, and so on.  These were historical figures with huge legends about them.  But there are also folk stories, based around fictional characters from dime novels, which are also ingrained in our cultural memory.  Stories about Cordwood Pete and Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Ichabod Crane, and John Henry (a very noteworthy African-American folk legend) abound and I am certain there are those who believe these stories are based off historical figures, even though they are characters invented by dime novelists and writers.  There are even fiction figure like Uncle Sam (who is the personification of America, whose name stems from a historical person Samuel Wilson) who make up a large part of our cultural patriotism, who of course are not historical figures, but created to exemplify certain ideals we felt, as a nation, best covered us.

The same seems to be true for those in antiquity.  In a paper, soon to be published in a volume of great interest (if I don’t say so myself), Kurt Noll argues that the spread of memes in antiquity happened quite fast, faster than people currently give credit.  This actually makes sense, if we consider it from a standpoint of the ancient mythic mind.  In antiquity, fact-checking even among the more elite of society–the historiographer and biographer for example–was virtually nonexistent, and among the lay audiences or listeners of tales fact checking was just not important.  While it might have taken time for news to funnel through the trade networks and social channels in antiquity, once a meme was transmitted, they took on a life of their own.  This is perhaps why we have so many differing narratives, conflicting and divisive, even about common myths (like with what happened to Romulus).

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The same might be said about early Christianity (whether you believe Jesus was an earthly figure or not–it is irrelevant for this discussion); Bultmann, a believer in the earthly, historical figure of Jesus, still made clear his views that what we have in the New Testament represent cultural memory, or kerygma–the post-Easter traditions–from the early church and not ‘history’ in the sense of real, historical events.   Fictional words, deeds, and actions attributed to Jesus and the early church fathers are commonly found in our sources.   The Canonical Gospels are no different.  When the controversial Jesus Seminar analyzed the 1500 words supposedly spoken by Jesus, they could only agree on 2% likely being authentic.  In fact, 82% of the sayings attributed to the figure of Jesus were thrown out.  Of course, of the 2% left which the Jesus Seminar believed were authentic, other scholars have put forth studies showing they aren’t at all authentic (most notably, the inexpensive book The Messiah Myth by Thomas Thompson comes to mind, but also Thomas L. Brodie’s massive, yet decently priced, book The Birthing of the New Testament–so pick them up!).

In antiquity, this was a common occurrence.  Moses, for example, is often portrayed, similarly to Jesus, in different ways, speaking different (sometimes contradicting the modern canonical narrative we now possess) words, imitating certain actions, traveling to different lands, and so on.  Like American folk history, legends were built up around ancient individuals who had historically lived, and sometimes the legends came about during their own lifetimes, like Julius Caesar, but usually after their deaths like Apollonius of Tyana, Socrates, and Pythagoras.  Other stories, though, also arose from fictional characters, or those who appeared in fiction writing but were historicized later into cultural memory, like Lycurgus of Sparta, Moses, Abraham, Judith, Horatius Cocles, Romulus and Remus, Aeneas, and so on.  There are perhaps hundreds of cases where individuals who never existed were historicized into the past in antiquity.  No scholar worth their salt would dispute this (the numbers are too numerous).  The question isn’t about whether or not fictional characters could be accepted as historical figures, but the speed at which a fictional story could transform into a mythic one.

In out day, cultural memory plays a large part in the spread of memes circulating around false information.  Of course the internet and social media technology certainly don’t hinder the process.  But if cultural memory is the reason why we spread information the way we do, as self-serving as that might appear, then we must expect that in antiquity, cultural memory was also a catalyst for the spreading and distortion of memes surrounding legends and myth.  The introduction (by Bernard Knox) to M.I. Finley’s The World of Odysseus (See also Barbara Graziosi’s Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic), contains an interesting little story about the power of cultural memory and the spreading of a story while highlighting the speed at which this can be spread within just a few decades.

In 1953 the late Professor James Notopoulos was recording oral heroic song in the Sfakia district of western Crete, where illiterate oral bards were still to be found. He asked one of them, who had sung of his own war experience, if he knew a song about the capture of the German general and the bard proceeded to improvise one. The historical facts are well known and quite secure. In April 1944 two British officers, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain Stanley Moss, parachuted into Crete, made contact with Cretan guerrillas, and kidnapped the German commanding general of the island, one Karl Kreipe.

The general was living in the Villa Ariadne at Knossos, the house Sir Arthur Evans had built for himself during the excavations at the site. Every day, at the same time, the general was driven south from the villa to the neighboring small town of Arkhanes, where his headquarters were located. He came home every night at eight o’clock for dinner.  The two British officers, dressed in German uniforms, stopped the car on its way home to Knossos; the Cretan partisans overpowered the chauffeur and the general. The two officers then drove the car through the German roadblocks in Heraklion (the general silent with a knife at his throat) and left the car on the coast road to Rethymo. They then hiked through the mountains to the south coast, made rendezvous with a British submarine, and took General Kreipe to Alexandria and on to Middle East Headquarters in Cairo.

So much for epic history. Nine years after the event the British protagonists have been reduced to one nameless general whose part in the operation is secondary and there can hardly be any doubt that if the song is still sung now the British element in the proceedings is practically nonexistent—if indeed it managed to survive at all through the years in which Britain, fighting to retain its hold on Cyprus, became the target of bitter hostility in Greece and especially among the excitable Cretans.

It took the Cretan oral tradition only nine years to promote to the leadership of the heroic enterprise a purely fictitious character of a different nationality. This is a sobering thought when one reflects that there is nothing to connect Agamemnon, Achilles, Priam, and Hector with the fire blackened layer of thirteenth-century ruins known as Troy VII A (the archaeologists’ candidate for Homer’s city) except a heroic poem which cannot have been fixed in its present form by writing until the late eighth century, at least four illiterate centuries after the destruction.

Sobering indeed.  We have a world where a search on a browser will produce exact results to a search queue, which puts information at our fingertips, in our faces, in mere seconds..  Memes spread quickly in our era as a result of how quickly information is available.  But even in pre-computer culture, where memes are spread via oral tradition, something common in antiquity, it only took 9 years to alter the story completely, introducing a new character completely fabricated, and shine light on another faction of the narrative.  Only 9 years.  And the reader is only told of the one bard.  If the same question were posed to other bards, the song might be completely different still.

So the question that follows all of this is how does one locate ‘history’ when even our earliest sources are nothing better than cultural memory?  And clearly the first Christian communities, whomever they were, could not agree upon those existing cultural memories (which is why we have competing doctrines, competing Gospels, conflicting theologies and exegeses).  This doesn’t just follow for Christianity, but Judaism, or the history of the Greeks, or the Romans, or the Sumerians, or those civilizations for which we have nothing but bones and pottery shards?  How does one separate ‘history’ from the ‘meme’ and cultural memory when we have trouble even in our own day!  And it does make one wonder why future historians will be arguing about over our generation, assuming we don’t kill each other before then.

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.

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: 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.

More Dead Fish!!! RUN!

Let the dilettante media go at it again.  Who will be the first to go into a religious theme while reporting this?

LOS ANGELES — Millions of anchovies washed up dead early on Tuesday in the harbor area of Redondo Beach, Calif., just south of Los Angeles, puzzling authorities and triggering a cleanup effort.

Local television news footage showed the mass of dead fish, said by a police spokesman to be about a foot deep on the surface, choking the waters in and around dozens of private boat slips in the King Harbor Marina.

“We’re having millions of anchovies die off in our harbor,” Redondo Beach police Sergeant Phil Keenan told Reuters in a telephone interview. “At this point it’s an unknown reason.”

He said one possible explanation was that too many of the fish had congregated into a relatively small area, exhausting the water’s oxygen supply, “but that’s still to be determined.”

Anchovies are prey for bigger fish and marine mammals, so large numbers may have swarmed into the harbor from deeper waters seeking shelter, he said.

“The issue now is cleanup because we have tons and tons of dead fish rotting and purifying, which obviously creates hazardous material,” Keenan said. “We’re in the process of figuring out what were going to do.”

Trudy Padilla, the marina’s tenant services coordinator, said the dead fish suddenly began showing up overnight, and that one end of the marina has been blocked off as cleanup operations get organized.

She said the smell of decay has not become so strong yet, “but it’s going to if they don’t clean up the fish.”

King Harbor Marina provides 850 boat slips to private vessels.

via Millions of dead anchovies swamp marina – U.S. news – Environment – msnbc.com.

For those concerned citizens out there who think this is the end of the world:  Don’t worry.  There is nothing biblical about it.

Huffington Post: Evangelicals Hate Jesus?

What an interesting article by Phil Zuckerman.  Here is a snippet:

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

What’s the deal?

via Phil Zuckerman: Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus.

I have my own answers to this question: less scholarship and more depravity in their theological teachings.  I’m sure Jim West would agree.  But do read on to see what Phil Zuckerman offers as an explanation.

Timothy Beal: In the Beginning(s): Appreciating the Complexity of the Bible

What an excellent article by Timothy Beal at the Huffington Post. This is what I have been trying to say for years now.  Definitely check it out; it is worth the read.  Here is a snippet:

Unlike the creationism in circulation today, the Bible’s own creationism is rich in different, mutually incompatible ways of imagining cosmic and human beginnings. There is no single biblical account of creation. The Bible doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. Why should we?

Whether or not we should have a problem with this biblical polyvocality, I’ve learned the hard way that many indeed do. I recently wrote a short piece for Askmen.com on “Five Things You Didn’t Know” about the Bible. The first of those five things was that there are multiple accounts of creation in the Bible. I expected some people to disagree, and I looked forward to a serious back-and-forth about the texts I had pointed out. That’s not what happened. Instead, I was overwhelmed with a flood of angry responses, most of which were as impious, rude and downright unchristian in tone as they were reactionary and unthinking in their “defense” of the Bible.

Once I got over being called a “gay moron” and “fatass nerd editor sitting in his basement,” I could see that what I’d gotten myself into was an amplified version of the debates that go on every day between “Bible-believers” and atheists, who looked to me very much like two sides of the same coin.

Both sides agreed that my goal was to “discredit” the Bible, to “make the Bible look stupid, irrelevant, and full of holes” and “a load of bullshit.” The only difference between them was whether they supported or condemned me for doing so. Neither side was remotely interested in engaging with the logic of my argument, let alone the biblical texts I used to support it.

Never mind that I’m a Christian, that I regularly teach about the Bible in confirmation classes and in Sunday school, and that I’ve dedicated more than two decades to studying and teaching biblical literature as a college professor. I think I have my facts right, and the biblical references were right there. It would’ve been easy to go and read them before responding. But no one on either side of the argument did.

via Timothy Beal: In the Beginning(s): Appreciating the Complexity of the Bible.

I can’t recommend it enough.  (h/t to James McGrath on Facebook)

Joseph Tyson on Hector Avalos: Biblical Studies and Secularism

Joe Tyson recently reviewed Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies; it’s an interesting article (and I have a great amount of respect for Joe–so please go check it out!).  Here is a snippet:

Recently I had an opportunity to re-read The End of Biblical Studies by Hector Avalos. I read it shortly after it originally appeared but had not kept up with the subsequent comments from Avalos, his supporters, and his opponents. After reading through some of the essays on this web site, I went back to the book to read it in light of the comments.

And his conclusion:

Avalos includes an important clarification in his essay, “Six Anti-Secularist Themes: Deconstructing Religionist Rhetorical Weaponry:” “Contrary to the objections expressed by many of my opponents, I am trying to save biblical studies in public academia, but saving it requires a thorough reorientation and secularization. Faith-based approaches in biblical studies need to realize that their days in public academia are numbered if they don’t fully integrate with the approaches we find in the rest of the Humanities and Social Sciences.” If it were not for the obvious religionist nuances, Avalos’ book might have been entitled, The Salvation of Biblical Studies.

via The Bible and Interpretation.

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