Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Zombie Bible Series

The Bible -- with Zombies! Today only $.99 on the Kindle Daily Deal, which, if you have Kindle, you should be watching. The Blurb...

Father Polycarp has a Gift. He can bring peace and rest to the restless dead.

At his touch, each hungering corpse lies still at last. But to do this, Polycarp must first look into each one's blind eyes and find the remnant of the soul caught within the shambling corpse. He must witness its secrets, its suffering -- all that it loved and feared and regretted in its brief life. Only then can he absolve that soul and set it free. Only then will it cease to walk and feed.

But Polycarp has more than the dead to worry about: second-century Rome is bitterly divided.....

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Streetview brings you old Israel

Missing Israel? Streetview now does it:
To help you explore Israel’s history and present, we’ve launched imagery of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa on Street View. You can explore the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City and each of its four quarters, walk along the Via Dolorosa and see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, visit the Western Wall and theMount of Olives. You can stop by the Biblical Zoo, then visit the Israel Museum and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum—and explore more with the Art Project and the Yad Vashem photo archive. Or you can stroll through Tel Aviv’s bohemian Neve Tzedek neighborhood and the ancient port of Jaffa, and take a virtual trip to some of Tel Aviv’s scenic beaches or to Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reviewing Ehrman Did Jesus Exist?: Introduction

Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
Bart Ehrman
HarperOne, 2012

I've decided to do a chapter by chapter review of this hefty volume on the historical argument for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth by longtime New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, a thinker and scholar whose previous works I have found both admirable and informative -- his books are generally well written, interesting, erudite, and broad-minded.

When this book was first announced last year, there was great enthusiasm and excitement in the community of mythicists on the internet. This was partly because (1) we knew that no matter how good or bad it was, it would generate new interest in mythicism; (2) such books for lay audiences are uniformly and predictably shallow and bad yet Ehrman is no William Lane Craig or Josh McDowell; and (3) it was by Bart Ehrman. Bart Ehrman! For many of us in the community of interested people who do not subscribe to any of the Historical Jesus views held by the various academic schools, Ehrman has always been a congenial figure, writing about topics such as forgery and the theological diversity of early Christianity that are of great interest to the mythicist community.

Ehrman begins his introduction by explaining how he came to write this book. In this opening section he lays out the first prong of a four pronged approach to defending the historical existence of Jesus while at the same time showing that mythicism is false.

The first prong of this approach is relegating mythicism to the status of crank belief ("conspiracy theorists," he calls them) and reassuring readers that they will be with "the experts" and the majority. This is a purely social and rhetorical tactic -- it consists of placing oneself in the "reasonable center". Ehrman accomplishes this by locating himself in the "center" with those fringe mythicists off to one side and eventually, at the end of the work, the fringe fundamentalists on the other. Thus reassured, the reader can join him in the center where the "reasonable" people reside.

Ehrman's observation that only one New Testament scholar who is a mythicist is part of this rhetorical tactic. In fact Ehrman did not do his homework, there are others, and they could easily have been found, though of course his main point that they are a tiny minority is correct.

Another key aspect of this rhetorical approach is that Ehrman presents mythicism as the result of atheism which is driven by the desire to debunk Christianity. At then beginning of the book he claims that mythicists are driven by an agenda, while at the end, states "It is no accident that virtually all mythicists (in fact all them, to my knowledge) are either atheists or agnostics". This is a gross error, and Ehrman does a profound injustice to the field.

This, as well as Ehrman's failure to locate easily found mythicist scholars, raises an issue we will see throughout the book: striking omissions.

Indeed, it appears that the second and perhaps most important prong in Ehrman's four pronged approach is omission. Simply put, whatever is not convenient to his case...disappears. Why it disappears is difficult to say, perhaps it is deliberate, perhaps not. The usefulness of this approach is that if called on it, Ehrman need merely claim that he didn't have enough space or that it wasn't important. I will have more to say on this topic as we delve into this volume. Let it be sufficient to note that once Ehrman has presented his claim that mythicists are people who cannot be convinced, he then appears to treat them as if they need not be listened to.

Ehrman alludes to the third prong of his approach in the introduction: presenting the historical case for the existence of Jesus. I will discuss this in the relevant chapters.

The fourth prong of his approach to the debate I will discuss at an appropriate point in the review, but it is already garnering much attention over at Neil Godfrey's Vridar.

In reading the introduction, the reader should keep in mind when confronting this flow of rhetoric designed to isolate mythicists on the fringe that it is really as simple as this: there is only one reasonable position, and that is the one supported by evidence generated using robust and reliable methodologies, assembled into the interpretive framework that explains the data most comprehensively and with the fewest anomalies. The reader should hew to that view in assessing Ehrman's presentation, and simply ignore the constant flow of pointless rhetoric.

In reality, the mythicist-historicist debate is a clash of competing interpretive frameworks, a clash over the same body of data over which there are divergent interpretive views -- one of which claims success because it has powerful social support. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in the social and historical sciences.

Readers who are familiar with the history of science can probably name many examples of how social approval in a historical or human field for a given interpretation of the data hindering consideration and acceptance of new ideas. The struggle to overcome the Clovis First interpretive framework that came to dominate North American archaeology until about three decades ago is a good example (the battle is still ongoing, and will likely end when the last of the Clovis Firsters dies off). Another good example is the way paleoanthropology was changed by the influx of females in the 1960s; the interpretive frameworks had been dominated by males and their points of view. Every August in the US we see another example of the clash of competing interpretive frameworks over how the atomic bombings of Japan should be understood.

Thus, the reader should be aware that the clash between mythicists and historicists is not a clash between loons similar to those who think the moon landings were faked and NASA, or between Creationists and real scientists, as Ehrman would have it. That is mere rhetoric, lazy, cheap shots.* In evolutionary biology or climate science the methodologies are robust and testable and the evidence overwhelming and the Denialists on either part are essentially anti-science. Historical explanation is not like scientific explanation (though it may draw on it), and scholars who bluster that mythicists are like Creationists are (probably deliberately) making a serious category error.

In historical Jesus studies both mythicists and historicists learn the same ancient languages and study the same texts, using the same methodologies. Both sides keenly appreciate and esteem good scholarship and hold basically the same set of New Testament scholars in high regard, including Ehrman himself. I suspect that if you compared the bookshelves of most people writing on mythicism with Ehrman's own, they would look very much alike. None of the major mythicist writers can remotely be described as anti-science or anti-scholarship. Again, the problem is not denial of reality, but a clash of competing interpretive frameworks.

Because all this is new to him -- Ehrman was surprised to discover this body of literature, he avers -- Ehrman's writing on mythicism often exhibits the level of familiarity shown by an anthropologist who has decided to learn all he can about a mysterious tribe -- by observing them through field glasses at a distance. As far as I know, and I am a moderator of one of the most important mythicist discussion groups on the internet, Ehrman has never participated in any of the discussions in the major mythicist forums (I'd welcome correction on that assertion, btw). Save for Robert Price, whom he apparently contacted for information on mythicism, Ehrman does not seem to have interacted much with any of the major mythicist writers.

In sum, as we will eventually see, this is a surprisingly mediocre book in every way, pairing an enfeebled, ignorant discussion of Jesus mythicism with a similarly impoverished, doctrinaire discussion of the historicity of Jesus. Instead of mind-expanding cataclysm, Ehrman has, sadly, given us mere catechism.

See you soon with a look at Chapter 1.

*The comparison to Holocaust Denial is simply beyond the pale.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

University Class Editing of Wiki Pages

This came over the intertubes from H-Asia. Might be useful as a class project in your field...

April 2, 2012

Wiki Writing?
From: Richard Jensen <>

The folks at Wikipedia are promoting the idea of university classes incorporating Wikipedia projects.  That is the students would made additions to Wikipedia articles, for class credit. The professor would monitor the quality, and the folks at Wikipedia would provide all sorts of technical help.

I'm one of those helpers--and I've been editing a lot of Wikipedia articles, including some on India and Japan. Looking at hundreds of history articles, my take is that the average Wiki contributor is a&nbsp;male undergraduate who is mostly interested in military or political history, and is generally not familiar with social or cultural history, nor with historiography, nor with the scholarly literature.  The articles need help. Since they are the #1 source used by students any upgrading would be a public service. But it also may teach the students to write and cite--and get instant feedback, with their work actually published for the world to see.

The program is in startup mode and is operating mostly in the USA right now. The project covers all academic disciplines, and has been endorsed by the Sociology and Psychology associations, which have
activities underway.

There will be an online training program for teachers this summer, plus a help desk and maybe even on-campus help.  I edit a private discussion list you can join. Anyone interested in giving it a try
for next year should contact me at

Richard Jensen

There is some information on the Wikipedia program at

on the sociologists see

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hippolytus, Josephus, Essenes: Christian editing of Josephus?

Sid Green, a net-acquaintance, argues that Hippolytus in Refutation of All Heresies copied his information on the Essenes from Josephus, and the way that he presents the information indicates that Josephus has undergone editing by Christians.

I thought I'd compare the two to see how this idea works, and to flex my rusty NT blogging muscles. For reference, At the bottom of this post after the READ MORE fold I've placed both side by side, more or less topic by topic.

It's important to note that Hippolytus normally follows Josephus faithfully, line by line, sometimes even preserving interesting words or language from Josephus. There are, however, several interesting, and Green argues, telltale, differences.

First, Josephus writes:
then, that he will maintain just actions toward humanity; that he will harm no one, whether by his own deliberation or under order; that he will hate the unjust and contend together with the just;
...while Hippolytus, normally faithful to Josephus, suddenly veers from the Josephean text:
next, that he will observe just dealings with men, and that he will in no way injure any one, and that he will not hate a person who injures him, or is hostile to him, but pray for them.
Clearly the description in Hippolytus makes the Essenes more "Christian" in their outlook than the extant Josephus text does, since Hippolytus has the Essenes praying for their enemies. Did a Christian editor change the text of Josephus to make it less Christian, or did Hippolytus make the Essenes more Christian? If the latter, what could possibly have been his motive?

In discussing the four orders of the Essenes, Josephus writes:
They are divided into four classes, according to their duration in the training, [H] and the later-joiners are so inferior to the earlier-joiners that if they should touch them, the latter wash themselves off as if they have mingled with a foreigner.
...while in Hippolytus, where the [H] is above, he has an entire passage with no parallel in Josephus about fundamentalists who are tougher than average about rules, randomly circumcise people, and who are known as Zealots and Sicarii:
For some of them discipline themselves above the requisite rules of the order, so that even they would not handle a current coin of the country, saying that they ought not either to carry, or behold, or fashion an image: wherefore no one of those goes into a city, lest (by so doing) he should enter through a gate at which statues are erected, regarding it a violation of law to pass beneath images. But the adherents of another party, if they happen to hear any one maintaining a discussion concerning God and His laws— supposing such to be an uncircumcised person, they will closely watch him and when they meet a person of this description in any place alone, they will threaten to slay him if he refuses to undergo the rite of circumcision. Now, if the latter does not wish to comply with this request, an Essene spares not, but even slaughters. And it is from this occurrence that they have received their appellation, being denominated (by some) Zelotae, but by others Sicarii. And the adherents of another party call no one Lord except the Deity, even though one should put them to the torture, or even kill them.
..when you look at the passage carefully, the obvious seam in Josephus jumps out. He moves immediately from declaring that there are four types of Essenes to discussing the later-joiners relative to the early joiners. Whereas, in Hippolytus, the progression of ideas, from discussing what fundamentalists the more-Essene-than-the-Essenes are, to the late-comers, a progression that makes more sense.

A little further down, Hippolytus does not parallel a passage in Josephus about 'the war against the Romans' since that would likely make no sense to a reader a century removed from Josephus.

Further on, once again we are faced with the choice of either an editor removing a passage from Josephus or Hippolytus Christianizing the Essenes:

For the view has become tenaciously held among them that whereas our bodies are perishable and their matter impermanent, our souls endure forever, deathless: they get entangled, having emanated from the most refined ether, as if drawn down by a certain charm into the prisons that are bodies.

Now the doctrine of the resurrection has also derived support among these; for they acknowledge both that the flesh will rise again, and that it will be immortal, in the same manner as the soul is already imperishable.
In the extant Josephus passage, the Essenes believe the body will die but the soul will live. Hippolytus has them supporting a doctrine similar to that of Christianity with resurrection of both the body and of the soul.  Did Hippolytus make the Essenes more Christian? If so, whatever for?

The final passage I'd like to point out offers some very interesting changes. Josephus writes (I've marked them into two parts, A and B):
For the good, on the one hand, sharing the view of the sons of Greece they portray the lifestyle reserved beyond Oceanus and a place burdened by neither rain nor snow nor heat, but which a continually blowing mild west wind from Oceanus refreshes.

For the base, on the other hand, they separate off a murky, stormy recess filled with unending retributions. It was according to the same notion that the Greeks appear to me to have laid on the Islands of the Blessed for their most courageous men, whom they call heroes and demi-gods, and for the souls of the worthless the region of the impious in Hades, in which connection they tell tales about the punishments of certain men—Sisyphuses and Tantaluses, Ixions and Tityuses—establishing in the first place the [notion of] eternal souls and, on that basis, persuasion toward virtue and dissuasion from vice.
In Hippolytus this is completely different.....
And this locality the Greeks were acquainted with by hearsay, and called it Isles of the Blessed. And there are other tenets of these which many of the Greeks have appropriated, and thus have from time to time formed their own opinions.

For the disciplinary system in regard of the Divinity, according to these (Jewish sects), is of greater antiquity than that of all nations. And so it is that the proof is at hand, that all those (Greeks) who ventured to make assertions concerning God, or concerning the creation of existing things, derived their principles from no other source than from Jewish legislation. And among these may be particularized Pythagoras especially, and the Stoics, who derived (their systems) while resident among the Egyptians, by having become disciples of these Jews.
In Part A Hippolytus appears to make the claim that the Greeks have appropriated tenets of Jewish thought, though that's not completely clear. Josephus was ever eager to prove the antiquity of the Jews and their greatness. It strikes me that this is a very Josephean claim. Yet this claim is not found in the Josephean "original".

Part B is as different as night and day. Josephus gives a run-down of Greek beliefs, completely veering from his discussion of the Essenes to talk about how the Greeks established their own ideas of the soul. Hippolytus continues his very Josephean train of thought, attributing the development of Greek ideas of God to the Jews, claiming that Greek wise men got their ideas as the disciples of Jews, and fronting this with the very Josephean claim that Jewish ideas of the Divinity predate those of all other nations!

In fact, Josephus makes this exact claim of Hippolytus' in Contra Apionem, in Part II, where he asserts the antiquity of the Jewish law over those of other lawgivers among the non-Jews, points to cultural borrowings from the Jews now prominent among the Greeks, and claims that Pythagoras and other thinkers held ideas about God similar to those of the Jews, with the clear implication that they learned such ideas from the Jews.

Thus, it would seem that the position Josephus holds in the passage on the Essenes is the opposite of the one he holds elsewhere. Moreover, if you read the passages against each other, it almost looks as if Josephus is replying to Hippolytus' assertions that the Greeks depended on the Jews by saying that, no, the Greeks developed their own ideas based on their own mythological characters!

I think it is very clear, but especially in this last section that an editor, probably a Christian editor, has been at work adjusting Josephus to de-Christianize his discussion of the Essenes.

Once again, the two passages are set against each other in a long table below the READ MORE line. To save space I've reduced the font size, just hit CONTROL and + to increase the size of the font in your browser window.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Canon SX260 HS Review

Well well. I've finished a careful reading of Doherty's Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. I've got Price's book on the problems of mythicism and Ehrman's new volume waiting for me to put eyes on them. Expect reviews shortly. In the meantime, I've got a first impressions review of the new Canon SX260 HS I just got on my Taiwan blog with some sample pics.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Not yet....

Still trying to get going blogging here, but too much stuff going on right now.