Category Archives: history

Chris Hallquist on the History of Fundamentalism

This is a pretty good post. Here’s a little excerpt:

One of the most famous attempts to counter the rise of theological modernism came in 1909, when a pair of wealthy businessmen named Lyman and Milton Stewart decided to finance a series of essays opposing liberalism and defending the truth of the Bible and what they regarded as traditional Christian doctrine. A couple essays explicitly endorsed a 1893 statement by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which stated, “The Bible as we now have it in its various translations and revisions when freed from all errors and mistakes of translators, copyists and printers, is the very Word of God, and consequently, wholly without error.” This doctrine is known as “inerrancy.”

Over several years these essays, known as The Fundamentals, were sent free to Christian pastors and missionaries, and later they were republished as a four-volume set [10]. The word “fundamentalist” itself was proposed in 1917 by Baptist preacher Curtis Lee Laws, to describe himself and other Christians who were willing “to do battle royal for the Fundamentals”.

[…N]o one uses the word “fundamentalist” to describe anyone who lived much longer than a hundred years ago. Yet the beliefs defended in The Fundamentals are much, much older than that. In particular, Biblical inerrancy has been advocated by the most influential theologians in the history of Christianity.

For example, Augustine (354-430), the most influential Christian theologian from after the apostle Paul until the late middle ages, wrote that the authors of the books of the Bible “have not erred in any way in writing them.” Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), one of the most influential philosophers of the middle ages (some would say the most influential), quotes this statement approvingly near the beginning of his Summa Theologiae. (Ia.1.8) Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), the two most important leaders of the Protestant Reformation, also accepted inerrancy. (Cite also W) As I’ll show in later chapters, all these men had ideas about what the Bible says that were closer to those of modern fundamentalists than to those of modern religious liberals.

It’s a short post, but you should go read the rest.

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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in history, post-nicaea Christianity


The "Illiterate Goat-Herders" Insult

This is one of those insults that gets repeated over and over when atheists discuss the beliefs of theists. It’s been repeated so many times that atheists accept it without thinking critically about it.

The thing is, a book (collection of books) like the Bible — any book produced in antiquity really — was created and maintained by the intellectual elite. All of the books in the Bible were created by the “1%” so to say, since reading and writing were something that the vast majority of normal people in antiquity did not know how to do. They didn’t know how to do it because they couldn’t afford the education.

In ancient Israel and Judah, it was the intellectual elite who wrote down, redacted, and promulgated the narratives from Genesis to 2 Kings because the illiterate goat-herders were, well, illiterate. The common people at this time, before the Exile, were polytheists. The intellectual elite, however, were the heno/monotheists. So the condemnation of the illiterate goat-herders, their beliefs really, is rampant throughout the elitist first few books of the Bible. And even in the Prophets and Writings, these books were also produced by the elite.

The same thing happened with the New Testament. The gospel of Mark was not written by an illiterate goat-herder. It was written by someone who was probably among the most educated 10 – 15% of the entire Roman Empire. Matthew and Luke were written by people who were probably more educated than Mark, and John was probably written by that elitist intellectually snobby 1%.

So then, as history goes, religion will always be controlled by the 1%. The beliefs of the intellectual elite will always trickle down to the unwashed masses. It happened in ancient Israel & Judah with the intellectual elites’ views (monotheism) winning out over the plebes (polytheists), it happened with Rabbinic Judaism, it happened with Christianity, and it will happen with atheism. So no, the religions of the book were not created by illiterate goat herders. They were created by intellectuals; at least, the intellectuals of yesteryear.


Posted by on March 8, 2012 in historiography, history


Pilate The Procurator, And Why Tacitus’ "Annals" Is Not Independent Evidence For Jesus’ Historicity

Richard Carrier posted his M.Phil thesis paper in which he argues that Herod the Great was Procurator of Syria. In doing so, he also points out that Pontius Pilate was also a procurator, which was something that Tacitus purposefully points out to both demean Christians and demean Pilate.

Here is Tacitus’ Annals 15.44 where he describes Jesus:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin** suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Some people argue that this is an interpolation because Tacitus mistakenly refers to Pilate as a procurator. But in fact, Pilate held both titles simultaneously since they weren’t necessarily separate titles.

Here is Dr. Carrier’s take on it:

Tacitus almost certainly got this information from his good friend Pliny the Younger, who would have gotten it from his strong-arm interrogation of a Christian deaconess in 110 A.D. (when Tacitus and Pliny were governing adjacent provinces in what is now Turkey, and carrying on a regular correspondence in which Tacitus evinces asking Pliny for information to include in the history books he was then writing). And she [the deaconesses] would certainly have gotten the information from the Gospels, many of which were being read in the churches of the time. So yes, Tacitus is in fact giving us useless evidence, since it is not independent of the Gospels (that’s why his account contains nothing not in them, yet that would have been in an official government record, like Jesus’ full name and crime). But Wells’ argument to that same conclusion is incorrect, due to another oddity about the ancient Roman system that non-experts don’t know about (and that even many experts don’t know about, not having specifically studied the matter of imperial administration and economics).

In actual fact, Pilate was both a prefect and a procurator. An imperial procurator, to be precise. In fact this was true of all the prefects of Judea, and many other regional prefects, such as the prefect of Egypt who governed that whole province directly for the emperor


One of the persistent drums Tacitus beats throughout his entire Annals is that it was shocking (why, just shocking!) that lowly equestrians were being given the official powers of senators. As business managers, procurators were only ever equestrians, or often even plebs or slaves; no senator would disgrace himself by taking such a servile job (again, imagine the President of the United States taking a job as a “common” real estate agent). But Tacitus was annoyed even by idea of prefects running things. Procurators were just an even bigger insult. Since an imperial procurator was the legal agent of the emperor, he literally had power of attorney to represent the emperor in court and contracts. Which meant that in practice, lowly procurators could tell mighty consular senators what for. It’s not like a senatorial governor is going to cross the emperor. Thus procurators often wielded in effect imperial scale power. And that pissed off consular senators like Tacitus. His Annals is full of morality tales illustrating how so really disastrous and awful this was.

Which gets us back to that passage in the Annals where Tacitus says Christ was executed by Pontius Pilate “the procurator.” Tacitus was a consular senator who had held many imperial provincial governorships and nearly every other office in the land. He knew full well that Pilate was a prefect. He would not have had to check any records to know that. He also knew full well that Pilate, like all district prefects, was the private business manager of the emperor, a lowly money collector and landlord, a filthy procurator. He clearly chose to call Pilate a procurator and not a prefect in this passage as a double insult: on the one hand, his aim was to make paint the Christians as pathetically as possible, and having their leader executed by a petty business manager was about as low as you could get (and Tacitus would never turn down a good juicy snipe like that); and on the other hand, he was always keen to remind the reader of his persistent protest against granting equestrians real powers, and thus calling Pilate here a procurator does that, by reminding the reader that the chief of police who executes criminals in Judea is a “fucking business manager” (“and what the hell is he doing with judicial powers?”). The fact that Pilate was also a prefect and thus had real constitutional authority is the sort of honest detail that would screw up Tacitus’ point. So he doesn’t take the trouble to mention it.

So there you have it. Though, the entire post is worth reading to get some insight into Roman politics and its class system.

**note: the -ianus suffix, as in Christianus, ported over to Greek as Χριστιανος :: Christianos, where we get the word Christian, means “belonging to Christ[us]”

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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in early Christianity, historicity, historiography, history


The Nazis Were Atheists and Darwinists

On the contrary, Nazi racial ideology was religious, creationist, anti-materialist, and anti-Darwinian in nature. Some highlights from that blog post: 
Chamberlain is totally dismissive of the Darwinian idea that man could ascend from “a bestial past” and that “… natural selection, in its blind choice, is forsooth to transfigure us into an exalted being”.

This passage is worth quoting more fully, since the usual accusation is that the Nazis took from Darwin an idea of using selective breeding to create a “master race”. Chamberlain, the foremost intellectual founder of Nazism, totally and explicitly rejects this, instead wanting to preserve the past:

“Darwin specially recommends his theory for our acceptance in that it also promises to mankind that all corporal and mental endowments will tend to progress in the direction towards perfection. I, on the contrary, should have thought that we might have contented ourselves with the gifts of a Plato, a Descartes, a Leonardo, a Goethe, a Kant … how far better this than that we, fooled by delusions out of a bestial past that is no past … should with outstretched greedy hands, without cease or rest, clutch at a phantastic future in which natural selection, in its blind choice, is forsooth to transfigure us into an exalted being, the like of which is beyond the imagination of the great and holy and sublime men of the present generation!”

Thus, to Chamberlain, Nazi theory was not about using selective breeding to perfect a master race, Nazi ideology was that the Aryans were already a master race, and had always been, since an original creation by God. And that the Aryan master race was now threatened by interbreeding with “lesser” races of human, which it was their duty to prevent. This theme was later to make up a large swathe of Mein Kampf.

[Nazis] disliked Darwinism precisely for the reasons that other Christians do, that it points to man as a product of material, natural world, whereas the Nazi’s preferred to regard man as divine special creation endowed with a spiritual soul.
Ironically, the blaming of “atheism” for the Third Reich is itself a Nazi-style tactic: the Nazis blamed the ills of society on Jews, building on centuries of antipathy towards a group that refused to acknowledge the Christian god. Blaming the ills of society and history on “atheists”, as by Ratzinger and other Christians, has the same motive: antipathy towards a group that refuses to acknowledge their god. One can excuse Ratzinger for having joined the Hitler Youth at the impressionable age of 14, at a time when it was expected of all German boys; but he should not be excused for displaying Nazi-style prejudice at an age when he should know better. 
Hitler, and many other Nazis, actually equated Jewishness with atheism
Mein Kampf does not mention Darwin even once. Where atheism is mentioned (twice) it is pejorative, associating atheism with Jews and Marxism (e.g. “They even enter into political intrigues with the atheistic Jewish parties against the interests of their own Christian nation” and “… atheistic Marxist newspapers …”).
It might stand to reason that Hitler hated Marxism (thus Communism) because it was Jewish in origin; Karl Marx was Jewish. Hitler even went out of his way to eliminate freethought organizations:
One of the early acts of the Nazis one gaining power was to disband and outlaw atheist groups. By 1930 the German Freethinkers League had 500,000 members. It was closed down in 1933, with Hitler saying in a speech that year: 
“We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” (Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on Oct.24, 1933) 
Chairman of the German Freethinkers League was Max Sievers, who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and executed.
Nazi ideology had the same hatred for “materialism” that modern Creationists have: 
In the introduction to “Foundations” [Houston Stewart] Chamberlain writes of Darwinism as “A manifestly unsound system”. He explicitly advocates a dualistic and spiritual vision of man, rejecting “monism” (the idea that humans are simply physical material) and saying that Darwinism and “so-called `scientific’ monism, materialism” were “shallow and therefore injurious systems” … “which have nevertheless in the nineteenth century produced so much confusion of thought”. He then says that as a result of such “errors” … “theists become in the twinkling of an eye atheists, a strikingly common thing in the case of Jews …”.
Thus to the Nazis Darwinism was something they largely rejected and opposed. As with many Christians they opposed Darwinism because it saw man as an evolved ape, whereas they saw man as God’s special creation, and they opposed Darwinism because it was materialist, stripping mankind of the spiritual dimension, and because it did not give man a moralistic destiny.

That is why, in a list of books they banned from the Third Reich libraries, the Nazis listed:

“Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).”

“Monism” is the idea that mankind is solely material, with no spiritual soul.


Gunther Hecht, who represented the National Socialist’s Department of Race-Politics (Rassenpolitischen Amt der NSDAP), issued a monitum:

“The common position of materialistic monism is philosophically rejected completely by the volkisch-biological view of National Socialism. . . . The party and its representatives must not only reject a part of the Haeckelian conception — other parts of it have occasionally been advanced — but, more generally, every internal party dispute that involves the particulars of research and the teachings of Haeckel must cease.”

To equate atheism and the Theory of Evolution to Nazism and the Holocaust is a grave, abject, and abhorrent historical error. It's actually Creationism that contributed heavily to the Holocaust. This doesn't mean that Creationism is false, it just means that Creationism actually has the moral failing that it projects onto Darwinism.
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Posted by on November 17, 2011 in apologetics, atheism, history


The Traditional Jesus

This is not my wording, but I don't think I can express it better than “spin” did.
Just on the subject of the traditional Jesus, the notion of tradition is very important to the position, hence the name, for want of better. The position revolves around the problems of traditions and how one can–if at all–derive any historical information from traditions. The stupidity of probabilities, modern common sense, or application of rules for extracting history from them brings derisive laughter from me. It's like expecting to send a meteor into the sun and be able to say where any of its parts are at any given time. Few data that enter a tradition will retain any history. One may point to a particular event, such as the census in Luke, and claim that that supplies a historical date, and, by itself, it does, but how is that date relates to the tradition is a mystery. It's a terminus a quo for the datum attached to that particular date, but how does it relate to the rest of the tradition? When did the tradition start and when did the datum enter the tradition? Pilate for example implies a date range, but when did Pilate get absorbed into the tradition? The tradition is unable to tell you, though of course it couldn't be before Pilate. At what stage was the tradition when Pilate entered it? The tradition doesn't say. We are slightly fortunate because we have a few visions of part of the tradition in the various gospels. There is the possibility of setting up some sort of relative chronology of some of the elements in the tradition.
The Jesus of this view is–at the moment–unreachable and he always may be. We have no way in and the tradition cannot help. Imagine that the tradition is an avalanche that we can see at one moment of its downhill course. From your position all you can see is the event front. What it has absorbed and is dragging with it is behind that event front. The tradition, as far as we can see, is the event front in that moment. Paul may have been the prime mover of the event, but there is no way to be sure, as things stand. The tradition itself keeps its secrets jealously.
This is part of what is behind the notion of traditional.
I think this makes me a “believer” in the traditional Jesus. It is a belief in belief in some ways: I believe that the early Christians believed in some sort of tradition(s) about Jesus. But tradition itself does not permit us to differentiate between what is “real” and what is “not”. It is probably a more nuanced position than a simply “Agnostic Jesus” position. It actually explains the agnosticism. That's why I think more scholars should be honest and preface their “facts” about Jesus with “tradition” statements.
It was a tradition that Jesus was crucified. Was Jesus actually crucified? Who knows; we only have what the tradition says. Was Jesus a wandering preacher? We have one tradition (the gospels) where this is the case. We have another tradition (Paul) where it is not. 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in early Christianity, historical jesus, historicity, historiography, history, jesus myth


Politics and the Bible

It’s always been said that “Biology only makes sense in the light of [the theory of] Evolution”. Well, after reading about the history of the Bible, the different time periods the different books were written in and how it was compiled, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “historicity” of the Bible only makes sense in the light of politics. Politics, as we’ve come to know it, is simply about the attainment and consolidation of power. Many stories in the Old Testament are about how the Jews rose and fell ad nauseum in power. What they don’t tell you in Bible class though (unless you’re getting a doctorate in Bible studies) is that archeology doesn’t correspond with the early Biblical account of how things happened.

For instance, who is the “pharaoh” in Exodus? You would think that if Moses went up and talked to that pharaoh to demand he “let his people go” that he would know the dude’s name. Especially if he’s the one who wrote the first five books of the OT. There’s no evidence of 1 – 2 million people being displaced and wandering around the desert in the area between Egypt and modern day Israel. There is evidence of small communities rising and falling with the same trends as the larger kingdoms around them in that area.

King Solomon was said to have a kingdom that spread from modern Israel to Egypt – that’s a huge flippin’ kingdom! A kingdom that size wouldn’t be known in history until Roman times in around 300 – 400 CE. A good 1,000+ years later. How come there’s no record of this kingdom from other kingdoms that we know about? In other words, how come no Egyptian kings from that time period (11,000 – 800 BCE) wrote about this huge Israel kingdom right next to theirs in any of their letters to other kingdoms in that area?

The hypothesis is that these stories were embellished to give solidarity and a sense of history to the early Jews as a means of unifying them under a common banner. Much like the story of King Aurthur for the Saxons. It wasn’t meant as history, but as politics.

And what about the New Testament? First of all, none of the synoptic gospels or the gospel of John names their author. They were all written anonymously – any Bible scholar will tell you that. It’s the equivalent of getting one of those annoying chain mail emails that are written anonymously and one of the forwarders just types in “from Bill Cosby” in the text and then forwards it. In my readings, I oddly enough traced Gnosticism back to Paul of Tarsus, you know – the dude who’s letters make up the bulk of the NT. Valentinus, who’s said to be a student of Theudas, who was said to be a student of Paul, was a major figure in early Christianity. He was a major proponent of Gnosticism for the Gnostic Christians, and a major antagonist for what would become the Trinitarian (the concept of the “Trinity” didn’t exist in 100 CE) Christians. The popularity of the Gnostics was huge in the second century. How come, then, Christians today aren’t Gnostics? Not because of any divine authority, but because of politics. Ireneaus, who is mostly responsible for the modern NT, was highly annoyed and threatened by these Gnostics, so he wrote “Against Heresies” in the second century. In it, he vociferously attacks Valentinus and Gnosticism, and claimed that his church had what was called “Apostolic Succession” – their churches could be traced back directly to the original apostles, while Valentinus and the Gnostics could only be traced back to Paul. If Ireneaus lost his churches to Gnosticism, he would lose his power.


Marcion, who was another popular figure in early Christianity, compiled his own “NT” with what he called the Gospel of Truth, which was simply a modified version of the Gospel of Luke (it’s been argued by scholars that the Gospel of Luke might actually be a modified version of Marcion’s Gospel of Truth) and all of Paul’s letters. This is also reportedly where we get a 3 Corinthians from. At the beginning of the second century, there were a crapload of gospels going around – too much to name here – and it’s believed that these gospels were all written in response to other gospels and such and so forth. None of these original gospels survive today. This is the time period that we get the Gospel of John, which isn’t a synoptic gospel. It must’ve been a terrible job to sort through all of the noise to get a “one true” NT during this time period – much like today there are thousands of denominations of Christianity, the same was true back in the first century. There was no one unified church – and all of these churches wanted to be the “one true” church, the universal (“universal” in Greek is “catholic”) church. That one church would get all of the power – politics.

And what about that whole “blaming the Jews” thing? Doesn’t that seem odd – considering that Jesus was a Jew? The hypothesis is that after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE – the Jewish-Roman war, most Jews began to consolidate into what is now Rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisees. The Essenes and the Sadducees pretty much disappeared from the scene due to how closely their spirituality was to the Temple (Sadducees) or how apathetic they were to the Temple (Essenes). Jewish-Christians also fell off the map at this time.

So around 70 CE is when Christians start converting Gentiles in heavy numbers. This is also around the time that the first gospel is actually written down (Mark). So if these new Christians are in majority Gentiles, and they want Christianity to gain more ground with more Gentiles, in Roman territory, how can they blame the death of Jesus on Roman rules? As Pilate is quoted “I wash my hands of this” when he asks whether the Jews want Jesus dead or Barabbas dead. Thus, in order to gain popularity with Romans Gentiles, Jesus’ death is blamed on the Jews.


As we all know, Constantine I is largely responsible for the modern incarnation of the Catholic Church. One of his homeboys – Eusebius – was a major adviser in the First Council of Nicaea. Right now I’m trying to find the link between Eusebius and all of these 2nd and 3rd century churches and writings. Why he decided on which books to accept, and which ones he decided to reject – Arianism, Marcionism, Gnosticism, etc. He also could have been responsible for the anti-Jewish, Roman neutral slant of the gospels…

If we look at politics today, there’s a huge joke that an honest politician is a politician that doesn’t exist. We all think of politicians as crooks and liars, only out to get more power. More prestige. Election after election we’re spoonfed biased statistics, half-truths, and only the facts that put the politician in a good light. Dirt from the opposing party’s past is brought up as a means of diminishing the popularity of the other politician. Think about this for a second – we have all of these problems today in an age of the Internet and are supposedly a more informed generation. But we still get people who are like “I’ll never vote for Obama because he stole the Democratic Nomination from Hilary” or “Obama is a child-molesting muslim terrorist – that’s why I’m voting for McCain” or “McCain doesn’t know how many houses he owns – he so out of touch with the regular American.” These are propositions that people are taking seriously in their decision to vote for a president! And this type of stuff happens repeatedly and repeatedly – every election, every year. If we can’t even get a descent noise-to-signal ratio, how would people in the first and second century get a descent noise-to-signal ratio? You can bet the same type of assertions and personal attacks were going on in the first century, second century, 18th century, 3rd century BCE, and all throughout human history. How can we discern any true picture from what politicians write about themselves and their enemies?

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Posted by on August 28, 2008 in bible, Christianity, gnosticism, history, politics

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