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Sam Harris Apparently Suffering From “Islamophobia”

Of course, the accusation makes no sense. Or does it? It seems to have the same sociological function as saying THAT’S RACIST. As a matter of fact, that purpose isn’t a hidden premise at all; Harris’ “Islamophobia” is also being called “scientific racism”.

People, people, people…

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Posted by on April 3, 2013 in Uncategorized


My ὑπομνήματα about religion

So what exactly is a ὑπομνήματα? That is, “hypomNEmata”? (the stressed “e” is like the one in beta) The prefix, “hypo-” should be well known (hypothermia, hypodermic [needle], hypothetical, etc.), and the rest of the word, mnemata, should also look familiar. It’s where we get the word “mnemonic” from, meaning that mnemata has something to do with memory.

Justin Martyr, when he speaks of “Memoirs of the Apostles”, actually writes ἀπομνημόνευμα τῶν ἀποστόλων::apomnemoneuma ton aposolon. The “apo” prefix in this case denotes that it is “from” memory, in this case it means something akin to published memoirs.

So it’s my interpretation that ὑπομνήματα is memory aids (the -ατα ending is plural, like the difference between stigma [mark] and stigmata [marks]), sort of like unpublished notes. That’s exactly why many of the ancients refered to their notes and such with a word that has a relationship with memory, since writing was “new” back when people like Plato started associating writing things down with memory and memory aids.

So this blog functions as my “notes about religion”, to help me remember cool or interesting things that I come across that have some relevance to religion.

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


Critiques of Criteriology in Historical Jesus Research

It seems as though a lot of the observations that myself and others outside of NT scholarship about the invalidity of criteriology is being addressed by the scholarly community. Here is a blog dedicated to exploring the scholarship behind the gospel of Mark (my personal favorite gospel) writing comments about Mark Goodacre’s own blog post about the upcoming book.

One of the things I’ve tried to express a few times on my own blog is that there’s a difference between the “Historical Jesus” and the “actual” Jesus. From the Euangelion Kata Markon blog:

Finally, to help students from different faith backgrounds come to terms with the study of the HJ, I like to distinguish between Jesus and the HJ. We do not have access to the former, unless we invent a time machine, apart from the memories of his followers. The HJ is a scholarly reconstruction built on arguments about probability and evidence

Here are some of my own observations about the various criteriology that could lead to false positives (not all have been on this blog).

The mistaken assumption behind the criterion of embarrassment:

It seems pretty obvious that any sort of “criterion of embarrassment” is an anachronism. What might have been embarrassing to a Catholic or proto-orthodox late 2nd century Christian – the tradition that seeds all modern Christianity – would not necessarily be embarrassing to whoever wrote the gospel of Mark, whenever he wrote it. It’s anachronistic because it is looking through all of Christian history through the lens of orthodoxy:

“Mark was an orthodox Christian because he is held as canonical by the orthodoxy. Therefore, since orthodoxy was embarrassed by Jesus’ baptism it must follow that Mark was embarrassed by it as well. Since he didn’t remove this embarrassing detail from his gospel, it must have been too well known to take out.”

When looked at like this, the fallacy becomes pretty self-evident.

Thinking that Aramaic sayings must go back to Jesus and critiquing independence:

The token Aramaic words in the NT seem to have been placed for literary purposes. At Mark 10.46, the writer redundantly writes “the son of Timaeus Bartimaeus”. Someone who’s paying attention would note that “bar” would mean “son of”. Later in the narrative at 14.36, Jesus has a redundant prayer where he says “Abba, father, everything is possible for you,….”. Again, someone paying attention and not reading it devotionally would note that “abba” might mean “father” (in both cases, later gospel writers who copied from Mark leave out the redundancies). In the very next chapter, we are introduced to a character called “bar abba” who is about to be crucified. This isn’t a historical narrative that someone is writing down, but more like something that was intended for literature or theology. A false son of the father is about to be crucified when the real son of the father shows up and the Jews have the real son of the father executed while releasing the fake one.

The fact that all gospels we have include this invented character “Barabba” means that none of them were fact-checking or anything and using Mark as their source.

The same thing happens with town names, like Bethphage. [E]arly Christians attempted to find where this town was, but since they didn’t know that it literally means “house of unripe figs”, they didn’t make the connection that this is the town that Jesus is close to when he curses an unripe fig tree. The fig tree being a cipher for the Jewish temple which he clears out the money changers immediately after cursing the fig tree, since it is withered after he does the cleansing. Jesus later “predicts” that the Jewish temple will be “withered” like the fig tree, which actually happens in history in 70 CE during the war between the Jews and Romans. Which probably means that this narrative was crafted sometime during or immediately after the war between the Jews and Romans.

Again, here is the Kata Markon’s apt observation about the criterion of double-dissimilarity:

Double Dissimilarity: this one tries to reach an assured minimum (if it can’t be attributed to other Jews or Christians it must have be the HJ), but I agree it is a bad criterion. The HJ appears in a vacuum neither influencd by his Jewish context or influencing his followers. It assumes we know enough about Second Temple Judaism(s) or Christianities to ever declare something unparalleled and the criterion was born in a German liberal Protestant context which wanted to claim Jesus as unique and superior visa-vie Judaism. Instead, it might be useful looking for something relatively distinctive (e.g., son of man is characteristically on Jesus lips but is rare outside the gospels or for others to refer to Jesus as son of man), but also understandable in both a Jewish context and explains the rise of early Christian views.

This seems to link back to Hector Avalos’ observation that a lot of NT scholars want Jesus to be a unique larger-than-life being with no faults, which if Jesus existed and was a regular human being, he must have had some faults. Avalos writes:

So how is it that most Christian academic biblical scholars never see anything that Jesus does as wrong or evil? The answer, of course, is that most Christian biblical scholars, whether in secular academia or in seminaries, still see Jesus as divine, and not as a human being with faults.

Such scholars are still studying Jesus through the confessional lenses of Nicea or Chalcedon rather than through a historical approach we would use with other human beings [such as Alexander the Great or Augustus Caesar, (where) they note the good and the bad aspects of their actions].

Anyway, it’s good that we are starting to see more critiques of tools that are possibly inherently faulty. Now, if only there were some method of placing all explanations on the table and seeing which one has the highest probability of being correct once we do away with faulty tools…

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Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


Cosmic Irrelevance

“Can it be that every life—beginning with my own, my husband’s, my child’s, and spreading outward—is cosmically irrelevant?” 
You can’t answer this question normally. When believers or even questioning non-believers ask this question, the only proper response is “Are you really that arrogant?”.
I posted the above comment over at Jerry Coyne's blog, a blog post of his which was his response to a New Yorker article “dissing” atheism.
Indeed, you cannot answer this half-rhetorical, half-serious question on its face. Implicit in this question – about cosmic irrelevance – is that our lives should be relevant to the universe but, according to one paradigm, it is not. This very much hidden premise, this hidden “should be”, needs to be justified in some way. And the only reason people seem to justify it is due to arrogance.
Hell, even if a religionist thinks they have the answer to this question, in truth they do not. By positing an afterlife, they are emphatically affirming that this life is indeed irrelevant; it is just that there is some other life waiting for us that has “more relevance”. In essense, it makes this life infinitely irrelevant since the difference between some finite number and eternity will always be infinite.
Especially the Christian framework (aside from the Protestant Work Ethic), the extent to which you are successful in this life is inversely proportional to how successful you will be in the next life (hell or “expulsion from their god's presence”); and how unsuccessful you are in this life is how much more successful you will be in the next (heaven). This paradigm basically fetishizes suffering in this world, since said suffering would be considered veritable μακάριος (archaic “blessed” but more modern vernacular “congratulations”; cf Matt 5.3). If suffering is a blessing – a sign of how much more we will inherit in the next life – then what motivation do you have for alleviating your suffering now?
You have none.
You will see any suffering or the possibility of suffering and liken it to Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac – and follow through with it when you have the choice not to endure that suffering (or sacrifice) because you think suffering is a blessing. Or you will view suffering as the glory of Christ and not do anything about it (cf 2 Cor 12.7-10). A reversal of values, as Nietzche rightly points out in his critique(s) of Christianity.
Of course, my argument here is really just a subset of a couple of arguments I made before. One of them was that, if a god gives your life meaning yet that god itself has no reason for its existence, then by proxy your life also has no meaning. Trying to give god meaning is to place something more important than that god which also makes that god meaningless. It is really a no-win situation for theists who think that their god gives their life meaning. The other (for those who believe in this sort of thing) was that if a god who has some sort of master plan exists, then your life, again, has no meaning. Because this god's plan will come into fruition no matter what you do.
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


"Not Jehovah, and not Yahweh"

Over at another blog the argument was made (albeit for personal reasons) not to pronounce HaShem / The Name YHWH. Note the impasse in semi-professional circles over whether to pronounce YHWH or not:
I’ve had professors (who were trained in England/American institutions and obviously Evangelical) be very adamant about the veil being torn and therefore we have access to God in such a way we SHOULD say Yahweh.  Then I have professors (secular and Evangelical) who’ve studying in Jerusalem and prefer adoni (LORD).
 A minor nitpick, but it should be adonai (אֲדֹנָי) not adoni (אדֹנִי). For example, a Hebrew literate would read Psalm 110.1 that way (Adonai says to adoni…).
Anyway, I really don't have a dog in the fight over which pronunciation we should use. Some Church Fathers knew how to pronounce The Name. Clement of Alexandria had in his church this particular tradition:
Again, there is the veil of the entrance into the holy of holies. Four pillars there are, the sign of the sacred tetrad of the ancient covenants. Further, the mystic name of four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called Jave (Ίαουε), which is interpreted, Who is and shall be. The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters. (Stromata 5.6).
It's nice to know that Clement's tradition is that close to modern scholarship about both the pronunciation of HaShem and what it means. That being said, a quote that the blog I referred to above quotes from is very telling:
Waltke writes of the matter:

“As an aside, let me explain why I uniquely, in a biblical theology, render God’s personal name- which is represented by the four Hebrew consonants YHWH- as “I AM,” not as “Jehovah,” “Yahweh” (as I did in my Genesis commentary) [n]or “LORD” (as I did in my Proverbs commentary).  Providence has not preserved the vocalization of this tetragrammaton (“four letters”). Scribes, who in the Second Temple period preserved and transmitted the Scriptures, read the tetragramation as adoni. YHWH cannot be pronounced. That was the scribes’ intention but not the original author’s intention. “Jehovah” confounds the vowels of adoni with the four consonants. Yahweh, though the probable normalization, is nevertheless speculative.  Moreover, it seems to demote the status of the living God to that of just another ancient Near Eastern deity, like Marduk of the Babylonains or Asshur of the Assyrians.  This normalization alienates God from the modern reader- at least, so it seems to me.” (emphasis his)

Since I am a secularist, and I think we should be teaching the Bible from a secular perspective, we should be likening YHWH to other ancient Near Eastern deities like Asherah or Marduk. We should be fair across the board in our objective study of religion and history. But of course the quoted section has its own internal logic; since Waltke still worships YHWH, it's his own personal preference for not pronouncing the vocalization of YHWH.
Ironically (I guess) on a related note, some Jews from the (2nd? 6th?) century CE claimed that Christianity was started by a man who carved YHWH into his flesh and performed miracles due to the power inherent in the name.

Posted by on July 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


Objective Scholarship

Secularism in Religious Studies and the Jesus Myth Hypothesis
The primary problem I see in New Testament scholarship since reading about the arguments for a “non-historical” Jesus is one of objective scholarship. This was touched on by a blog post that Neil Godfrey linked to on his blog. In that blog post, “Quixie” points out the following dogmas that would surely hinder any unbiased look at any well-reasoned arguments for an ahistorical Jesus:
Are most New Testament scholars Christian?
Yes, by far. I think most do self-identify as such.
Do most of them believe that Jesus was born miraculously of a virgin?
Most of them? … Hmm … Possibly.
Do they believe that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead on that first Easter morning?
Yes, almost universally.
In context, he was talking about things that NT scholars have a “consensus” on, but this consensus isn't one that is arrived at via critical scholarship. To me, this signals a pretty large hurdle that has to be overcome in NT scholarship. One that was also touched on in Hector Avalos' “The End of Biblical Studies”.
The problem is secularism.
In a comment James McGrath makes, he states that not all NT scholars believe the things that “Quixie” listed. I agree (and a book I highlighted in a previous post pointed out this divide of belief between NT scholars and laypeople). But there most certainly is one dogma that almost all NT scholars believe: That's the resurrection of Jesus. While not all NT scholars believe it as a historical fact or believe in a physical resurrection, they do believe the resurrection as some sort of fact nonetheless (McGrath's comment leads one to think of a sort of Christian specific version of the fallacious NOMA). I don't see how a scholar can be objective and unbiased in his or her approach to the NT while still holding on to this belief.
As far as I know, the only NT scholars that don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus (whose books I've read) are all infidels: Bart Erhman, R. Joseph Hoffman, Robert M. Price, and Hector Avalos. I mean, I have to wonder… if the resurrection of Jesus isn't a historical fact, then what kind of fact is it? (Should what we believe happened in history be restricted to historical facts and what logically follow form those historical facts? I guess that would be another blog post/note altogether).
If all of the other religionist NT scholars believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then a priori there must have been a Jesus that lived and died in the first place. This presupposition largely exists due to the [some other qualifier besides “historical”] resurrection. They all have a fundamental roadblock from travelling the road of any sort of argument against the historicity of Jesus impassionately. Worse yet, I get the impression that this roadblock includes having experiences and encounters with the risen Jesus… possibly every Sunday. 
This roadblock is inherently a supernatural event, and thus precludes any pretense at secularism.
Of course, I don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead. What I do think is that the first Christians (whoever they are and whenever they lived) did believe in some sort of resurrection of Jesus. I think that statement would be a statement of historical fact. But their facts are not my – or our – facts. At least, not the facts of a modern secularist. That their facts are not our facts is something that (from what little I've gleaned) Earl Doherty is trying to bring to light.
Out of the list of non-theist NT scholars that I wrote above, only Price is any sort of proponent of an ahistorical Jesus. Erhman is a historicist. Hoffman is, I think, either agnostic or apathetic, and Avalos' position I'm not sure of.
What Is A Christian?
This, I think, brings me to another problem. Can a scholar of the NT still be a Christian if they don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus in some fashion? Besides Robert Price's identification as a “Christian atheist”, I'm not sure. Modern Christianity has as its unifying “fact” that Jesus rose from the dead. Anyone who doesn't toe that line seems to be removed from the Christian religion, either willfully or by the wider community.
From my own point of view, while I was a Christian I considered myself one because I was trying to be “Christ-like”, which ostensibly meant following the example that Jesus provided and following his teachings. But there are plenty of non-Christians who either follow or admire the teachings of Jesus (like Thomas Jefferson and Ghandi) and didn't consider themselves “Christians”. 
Historically, not all ante-Nicaean Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus, since this wasn't the cornerstone of their faith. Many of these Christians also only followed the teachings of Jesus; some of these Christians even made fun of their “orthodox” bretheren for worshipping death because they worshipped a dead man. It wasn't Jesus' death that conquered death, it was his teaching – ostensibly pointed out by the first line of the gospel of Thomas.
So the question I have is whether a modern Christian could still consider themselves a Christian and be a proponent of an ahistorical Jesus. For me, it seems like a “no”. However, a secularist would be more open to discussing the historicity of Jesus without the added pressure of whether its conclusion would prove or disprove their fundamental worldview. Hopefully in the future there will be more non-Christian scholars of the NT and history who will tackle the issue.
GRE in one month for me, though!
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


iPhones and Koine Greek

So I just bought an iPhone on Friday and I've been playing around with apps. It seems there are a wealth of apps on the iPhone that help with studying languages. I've downloaded some to help with learning Koine Greek. One app I've downloaded is the “DailyWord” app that has a word of the day. Today's word is παλιν which means “again”. If παλιν sounds familar, it is – that is Sarah Palin's last name lol!
Now we have the wonderful opportunity to lament every time she shows up in the news. “Not Sarah again…” 
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Posted by on November 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

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