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29 Jul 23:16

The midrash of the Ten Famines: The challenge of determining historical primacy of exegetical traditions

by Christian Brady

A long title. I shall have to find a shorter version, but it gets at the challenge we often find in Targumic studies. For those who are not familiar with the Targumim a very simplistic description is this: Aramaic translation of the biblical text PLUS interpretive material. A little more precisely, I would say that most Targumim present a word-for-word representation of the biblical text into Aramaic and occasionally add exegetical material, but in a way that allows the result to be read as a flowing single text. In other words, if you did not know the biblical text, you would not necessarily know that anything had been added. For a far more detailed description of Targum see

Alexander, P. S. (1988). “Jewish Aramaic Translations of Hebrew Scriptures.” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading, and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. CRINT II, 1, 217-53.

While in Freiburg I am working on my book on Targum Ruth. This weekend I have been tackling the opening verses and I thought I would share a couple of pages related to the “Ten Famines” found in Tg. Ruth 1:1 and in the midrashic texts Gen. Rab., Ruth Rab., and Midrash Shmuel.1 The question here is, how do we determine which source is earliest. There is little to help us linguistically so we need to consider other, literary factors.

We now join the book already in progress…

Ten Famines

rembrandt_boazruth1Once again we find that V is missing a word that most mss contain, תקיף. In this case, the word is an addition to that which is found in mt and not necessary to reproduce the biblical text. Most mss of the Targumim add תקיף, “severe,” to qualify the famine. Once again, Beattie believes that this is more likely a sign of V’s originality than a corruption or error, although he grants that it is a ms with errors.1 Yet V and all but two mss2 contain the list of ten famines that follows. Perhaps תקיף is an addition, but the qualifier provides the hook on which to hang the midrash of the ten famines. The section opens, עישׂרתי כפנין תקיפין איתגזרו מן שׁמיא, “ten severe famines were decreed from Heaven….”3

Famine was a common reality of the biblical world. They were often mentioned and used to progress the narrative in the biblical text. In Tg. Ruth the reference to “a famine” provides the Targumist an opportunity to remind the audience of God’s history with his people.

Ten severe famines were decreed from Heaven to be in the world from the day of the creation of the world until the time when the King Messiah shall come, to reprove through them the inhabitants of the world. The first famine was in the days of Adam. The second famine was in the days of Lamech. The third famine was in the days of Abraham. The fourth famine was in the days of Isaac. The fifth famine was in the days of Jacob. The sixth famine was in the days of Boaz, who was called Ibzan the Righteous, who was from Bethlehem. The seventh famine was in the days of David, the King of Israel. The eighth famine was in the days of Elijah the prophet. The [ninth] famine was in the days of Elisha in Samaria. And the tenth famine will be [in the future], not a famine of eating bread nor a drought of drinking water, rather of hearing the word of prophecy from before the Lord.

Since the motif of famine is so common in the Bible it is not surprising to find a number of other rabbinic texts that have near-identical lists. They can be found in Gen. Rab. 25:3, 40:3, 64:2; Ruth Rab. 1:4; and Midr. Sam (Buber) 28:3. Gen. Rab. and Ruth Rab. are both considered fairly early midrashic collections, with Gen. Rab. usually dated to the 5th century ce and Ruth Rab. to the 5th or 6th century ce.4 Midrash Samuel is a late text, probably from the 11th century ce.5

The versions of the list found in Gen. Rab. and Ruth Rab. are presented in typical midrashic fashion. That is to say, an assertion is made and then a scriptural citation is offered to support it. For example, in all instances of the list in the midrashic texts we find the first famine listed as “once in the days of Adam: ‘Cursed is the ground for thy sake.’” For each famine listed, a proof text is always provided. While Ruth Rab. contains this same material, again in nearly identical wording and format, it prefaces the section of citations with a simpler list, very similar to that which is found in Tg. Ruth.

Ten famines have come upon the world. One in the days of Adam, one in the days of Lamech, one in the days of Abraham, one in the days of Isaac, one in the days of Jacob, one in the days of Elijah, one in the days of Elisha, one in the days of David, one in the days when the judges judged, and one which is destined still to come upon the world.6

This introduction is then followed by the usual, midrashic listing of identified famines with proof texts.

The version found in the Targum is both simpler and more stylistic than those found in Gen. Rab. and Ruth Rab. While the introduction to the list of famines found in Ruth Rab. is most similar to Tg. Ruth, even in this case the language of Ruth Rab. is curt and abrupt compared with the flowing prose of the Targum. Tg. Ruth reads, “Ten severe famines were decreed from Heaven to be in the world from the day of the creation of the world until the time when the King Messiah shall come, to reprove through them the inhabitants of the world.” While this is clearly a single exegetical tradition, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty which text preserves the older form, that found within the midrashim or Targ. Ruth. There are literary reasons, however, for considering the targumic form as later.

The Targumist has crafted and adapted the traditional list so that it fits seamlessly and smoothly into the text. It seems likely that such a reworking is presupposed upon an existing tradition. The fact that the Targum does not present any proof texts further supports this suggestion. The Targum merely states that there were famines in “the days of Lamech” and in “the days of Abraham,” for example, with the assumption that the audience will know the texts obliquely referenced. Of course the genre of Targum prefers such a style. Actual citation of proof texts is the style of midrash, not Targum. Still, it seems unlikely that this addition in the Targum would function well if the audience were unaware of the pre-existing tradition.


1 {Beattie 1994a@342}

2 The exceptions are the Antwerp polyglot and the Paris polyglot. See {Beattie 2002@234, n. 6}

3 For more on the other eschatological lists in the Tg. Meg. see {Brady 2009}

4 See {Strack 1992@304 and 344}

5 {Strack 1992@}

6 {TheSoncinoMidrashRabbah 1995}


  1. You can find my complete translation of TgRuth elsewhere on this site.
29 Jul 23:10

Creationism, Evolution, Communion, Suffering, and the Banal Materialism of Christian Fundamentalism

by jeriwho

Over the last few years, as I have become more acquainted with the concepts of the Real (as opposed to the transitory), I have become a lot more sensitive to the problem of being merely literal in the search for truth.

Our era is one that believes that statistics will reveal truth. In other words, whoever digs up the most fossils that proves their theory of Origins wins the game. And some so-called Creationists have carved a nice living out of meticulously debunking fossil evidences of evolution. They don’t realize that if fossils cannot prove origins one way, then they cannot prove origins another way, either.

Another error common to our religious culture is the assumption that everybody, all through time, thought and expressed ideas the exact same way that we do. Many Christian Fundamentalists and Evangelicals assume that the apostles and writers of Scripture regarded the heavens as the same empty vacuum that has been taught to us: a far away place inhospitable to human life, populated by occasional hunks of rock and giant balls of gases that are passing through.

And yet another error of both the secular and sacred minded is that the Bible literally intends everything that it literally lays out, though clearly it does not. For example, does God, the omnipotent, omnipresent, actually sit in a throne? A chair? Of course not. So how can the Lord Jesus stand at His right hand? God does not have a right hand. The Bible deliberately anthropomorphizes God, with the full intent of its writers, who wrote knowing that they were anthropomorphizing God, with no intention of having readers take them literally.

When you try to capture God, eternity, heaven, etc., in print, you can only create a frail image, a partial representation that our senses can understand.

There are truths written into Scripture that can be expressed only in terms that we understand because otherwise we would remain entirely ignorant of the hope that we have. And yet, once those truths have been expressed in purely human and material terms, they become limited in what they communicate. When the eternal, timeless, and sinless has to communicate with frail, corporeal, and sinful creatures, it does have to dumb things down a bit to get the information into a form we can digest. But the point of the Bible is not to give us the schematics of how heaven, eternity, omniscience, omnipresence, etc., work. The point of the Bible is to equip us to go to heaven, to participate in what really matters in our condition and on our terms: righteousness, mercy, justice, humility, joy, while here on this earth.

There is no doubt about it, the Bible is written in earthly terms, a book acceptable to the human frame and human points of reference. So the Bible never even tries to define for us what type of body God has, or how the trinity exists, or how eternity can work, or how heaven came into existence (if it did) or how and why and when the angels fell. (Most of that material is human theory or legends that existed before written history.) Or how election and predestination operate.

Having said that, I will also say that the Bible itself allows for the mystery of the earth that it does not explain or define. In a nutshell, the Bible doesn’t bother with the theory of evolution because the theory of evolution didn’t exist when the Bible was written. But even if it did, the Bible is far more concerned with the day-to-day doing of good and fearing God, than it is with the latest theories of science, or education, or politics, etc. The Bible does not tell us to be capitalists, to own guns, to vote republican, to fight for our freedom, etc. It tells us to feed the hungry, give to the poor, deal kindly with servants, and forgive our enemies. Indeed, the Bible tells us to turn the other cheek, and to accept our lot as servants if this is the lot we are given (at the same time, we see Paul artfully arguing Philemon into agreement to give up his slave, Onesimus).

The writers of the Old Testament, for example, refer again and again to the heavenly host. Look up at night. See the stars? That’s the heavenly host. It is God’s army: each point of light being one of His servants. Yes, that is the heavenly host; ie, the heavenly army. I actually do believe it is His army. But most Christians don’t. They believe the heavens are made up of big chunks of rock and giant balls of gases. And, in a limited sense, so do I. But I see more than they see because they are taking the heavens at a very literal value. The statistics and observations that both Fundamentalists and Evangelicals worship as Truth will keep them looking at the heavens as merely a great big vacuum, through which travels big hunks of rock and giant balls of gases.

Do you believe in Creation because the Bible says it's true? Swell. Do you believe in a literal heavenly army? Because the Bible also says that is true.

The Old Testament refers to the heavenly host numerous times, but the New Testament, only twice: once in Luke when the angels burst into singing at Christ’s birth, and once in Acts, when worshiping the heavenly host is described (rightly) as a trait of the pagans. Otherwise, the New Testament writers take a far more Ptolemaic view of the heavens than their Old Testament counterparts. The stars, rather than being looked at as personal warriors of God, or as giant balls of gases (as modern believers view them), are viewed as meaningful objects in the heavens: in Matthew, the Magi (astrologers) follow a star to find the Son of God. Jesus Christ identified Himself with that star, Jupiter, in the Book of Revelation. Peter also identifies Christ with Jupiter. John narrates the constellations of Virgo and Hydra as participants in (and by indirection, emblems of) the struggle of mankind, through the travail of Mary, against the serpent.

I also take this seriously, as a person who believes in the relevence of understanding the import of Virgo, Hydra, and all the other signs of heaven. When Jesus Christ talks to us about signs in the heavens, I watch for signs in the heavens. Christian Fundamentalists and Evangelicals do not. They are literalists, which is another word for materialist. They can reduce the Bible to a sort of codebook or index of their truths by ignoring the Bible’s treatment of the heavens and by throwing away the import of what Jesus said about the vitality of communion in His name. But in their materialism they cannot see the vitality of the sacrament of communion, nor can they see that the heavens are meaningful, so they have to throw these away.

To Fundamentalists and even to many Evangelicals, literal truth (material truth) is the same thing as all truth. And the inverse also applies in their thinking: Truth is only and exactly literal/material truth.

Hence, a brash young man writes that because the Lord Jesus quotes Genesis, Jesus is quoting Genesis as historical truth, and not only as historical truth, but as the historical truth that this particular young man understands, which is a materialistic interpretation of Genesis. So he then fallaciously reasons that his own interpretation of Genesis has been validated by Jesus Christ Himself, and therefore the earth is only about six thousand years old. And then he has the audacity to claim the right to “guffaw” at those who disagree with him.

I mean, where do you even start with a mind like this? What he doesn’t see (yet) and fails to appreciate, is that his materialistic interpretation of Genesis is leading him away from the truth of Genesis and all its import. Genesis is an incredibly important book, and I say this as a Creationist, a real one: a person who believes that the full Creation has been imbued with meaning and truth. I believe that the stars above me form the heavenly host, ever watching the sons of men, ever ready to carry out the commands of God. I believe that when I take communion, Jesus Christ is with me, with us, His Church. I believe that when I suffer, I enter into the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Unlike the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who, in their materialistic outlook, view all suffering as an aberration, possibly a sign of disapproval from God, and something that must be ended as quicklyas possible, I believe that suffering can be one of the hallmarks of faith, and that Jesus Christ knows me and I Him in my suffering, through my suffering.

This young man, and most Fundamentalists/Evangelicals just like him, read the book of Genesis as glibly and as superficially as they read an end user agreement or a software manual. That is, they read it in just the same way as those who set out with no more worthy goal than to debunk Creation. Both sides read Genesis ignorant of what it implies and what its writer expected his audience to understand.

My health is not very good right now, but as I am able, I hope to devote some time to explaining to this materialistic, dumbed down version of Christianity the meaningfulness and value of the book of Genesis as something that is true. And Genesis is true whether or not you can fit it into a tidy schedule of events like a subway timetable. (And, as a matter of fact, you cannot. If you could, Genesis would be only a fable.) The fact that the writer of Genesis does not try to fix a time for it (though he does fix a location) is a pointer to its truth, because the account of Genesis begins before time, or at least time as we know it, began.

29 Jul 23:09

2013.07.35: Sin: The Early History of an Idea << Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Review of Paula Fredriksen, Sin: The Early History of an Idea. Princeton; Oxford: 2012. Pp. vii, 209. $24.95. ISBN 9780691128900.
29 Jul 23:08

My Thoughts on Academic Blogging with Josh Mann

by Michael F. Bird
Josh Mann (Ph.D cand. at Edinburgh Uni) interviews me about academic blogging here.
29 Jul 23:04

Administrative << Charles Ellwood Jones (AWOL: The Ancient World Online)

by (Charles Jones)
Over the next three weeks or so activity on AWOL will be light as I move and make the transition from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World to Penn State University, where I take up the post of Tombros Librarian for Classics and Humanities.
29 Jul 23:03

Christians and the Old Testament: don’t expect Jesus to solve your problems (or do; it depends)

by Peter Enns
When Christians run up against interpretive challenges in the Old Testament–like killing Canaanites to take their land or the meaning of the Adam story vis-a-vis science–a common way of handling these challenges is to make an appeal like: “Yes, but we can’t just look at these passages on their own terms. We have to keep [Read More...]
29 Jul 21:24

More Secret Scriptures 6: The Preaching of Simon Cephas in the City of Rome

by Tony

(The latest in a series of posts about little-known Christian Apocrypha that could not be included in my recent book, Secret Scriptures Revealed: A New Introduction to the the Christian Apocrypha, now available in Europe and to be released in North America in November, 2013.)

I have added to the More Christian Apocrypha page a little information on a seldom-read text known as the Preaching of Simon Cephas in the City of Rome. The text was published in 1864 by William Cureton from two manuscripts, but four more have become available since his day. Hopefully we will include the text in a future volume of the More Christian Apocrypha series. You can read the entire text HERE.

29 Jul 21:24

Gay marriage in the year 100 AD

by Annalee Newitz

Gay marriage in the year 100 AD

Gay marriage sounds like an ultra-contemporary idea. But almost twenty years ago, a Catholic scholar at Yale shocked the world by publishing a book packed with evidence that same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the early Christian Church during an era commonly called the Dark Ages.



29 Jul 21:10

Francis Collins interviewed in Times Book Review

by Matt Young

An interview with Francis Collins was published in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. The most interesting quotations, from our point of view, were possibly,

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Considering my own stance on the satisfying harmony of science and faith, you might be surprised to find on my shelves nearly everything written by Richard Dawkins (including “The God Delusion”) and my late friend Christopher Hitchens (including “God Is Not Great”). One must dig deeply into opposing points of view in order to know whether your own position remains defensible. Iron sharpens iron.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

As an atheist evolving to agnosticism, and seeking answers to whether or not belief in God is potentially rational, my life was turned upside down 35 years ago by reading C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.”

No further comment!

29 Jul 21:10

“The Rule of Creative Completion: Neofiti’s Use of שכלל” now available in Aramaic Studies

by bobcargill (@xkv8r)
You are invited to read my latest article in the Brill Journal Aramaic Studies entitled, “The Rule of Creative Completion: Neofiti’s Use of שכלל“. Here is the abstract: The verb שכלל never appears as the sole verb of a creative process in Targum Neofiti—a practice unique to TgNeof among the Palestinian Targums. Rather, the authors […]
29 Jul 20:39

When Home-Schooling Goes Horribly Wrong…

by Hemant Mehta

Susan Svrluga of the Washington Post has an incredible story of a Christian home-schooling family where the parents don’t want to send their children to the local public school, and the children, knowing they’re not getting a good education, are fighting back:

Trust me; home-schooling doesn’t always work this well…

[Son] Josh Powell wanted to go to school so badly that he pleaded with local officials to let him enroll. He didn’t know exactly what students were learning at Buckingham County High School, in rural central Virginia, but he had the sense that he was missing something fundamental.

By the time he was 16, he had never written an essay. He didn’t know South Africa was a country. He couldn’t solve basic algebra problems.

The article raises the question of what requirements must be in place when it comes to home-schooling. In Virginia, where this story takes place, there is no oversight whatsoever. If parents claim a religious exemption from public education, the state government doesn’t do anything to check in on them and make sure they’re doing a decent job.

It’s scary to think that 7,000 children in the state are being home-schooled and we have no idea how many of them are getting a decent education. We don’t know how many can read or write. We don’t know how much math they can do. We don’t know what books they’re reading (besides the Bible, anyway).

One argument in favor of home-schooling offered up by chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association Michael Farris is that public schools let plenty of students through the cracks, too. He’s not wrong, but at least we can identify those students and try to rectify the situation. When home-schooled kids in the state fail to get an adequate education, we have no idea that’s even happening before it’s too late.

That’s what Josh realized after he enrolled in community college:

Josh Powell, now 21, wonders how much more he could have accomplished if he hadn’t spent so much time and effort catching up.

“I think people should definitely have the freedom to home-school as long as it’s being done well and observed,” he said. “I don’t see any reason for there not to be accountability.”

Most of all, he worries about his siblings: There are 11. One, old enough to be well into middle school, can’t read, Josh Powell said.

The saddest thing about the story is that it’s clear Josh’s parents are trying to do their best… yet failing at it. And if this family’s story is now public, how many are more are going untold?

There have to be regulations of some sort; these parents need to be held accountable for their kids meeting the same standards that public school children are held to. More power to the parents if they can do a better job than the public schools, but we need to spot the bad seeds early before their children are so far behind the other kids that they’ll always be playing catch up.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Robert for the link!)

29 Jul 20:38

Is the Flood Account a Beautiful Story about Rainbows?

by (Jeremy Myers)

the flood rainbowOf all the violent texts in the Old Testament, the portrayal of the flood in Genesis 6–8 may be the most difficult text to understand.

As I was struggling with the way the flood is presented in Scripture, I had frequent conversations with my wife about this troubling text. One night, as we went back and forth on how to understand this passage, she playfully said, “I don’t know what the flood story means! All I know is what I taught in Sunday school, that it’s a beautiful story about rainbows!”

We laughed, but the tragic reality is that this is most people think about the flood. It is often read and taught sort of like an old-wives tale about how rainbows came to be.

The Flood Story is Appalling

The flood story, however, is anything but a beautiful fairy tale. On its surface, the flood story is an appalling account of how millions (and possibly billions) of people died a horrible death by drowning because God was angry at them.

family drowning in the floodAside from the grim image of every living thing on earth gasping for breath and choking on water as they sink beneath the waves, the flood story also paints a troubling portrait of a God who seems incompetent because He regrets that He made mankind (Didn’t He know this would happen?), and who then foolishly tries to solve the world’s addiction to evil and violence by committing the greatest atrocity of all: worldwide genocide. One author describes the story with these words:

The Old Testament also describes God as a mass murderer. …Despite cute songs, child-friendly play sets, and colorful artistic renderings of the story, “Noah’s Ark” is not a happy tale of giraffes and panda bears clambering aboard a floating zoo. It is a story of catastrophic death and destruction that, incidentally, results from divine decree. Nearly the entire human population perishes because God drowns them. It is a disaster of such epic proportions that even some of Hollywood’s doomsday scenarios pale by comparison (Seibert, Disturbing Divine Behavior, 20).

Strong words! Yet the apparent genocidal behavior of God in Genesis 6–8 is not the only troubling element to this text. Although there is a rainbow at the end and a promise by God that He will never do such a thing again, one is left with several questions about the way God is presented in this text.

The Troubling God of the Flood

For example, if He can promise that He will never do it again, why did He send the flood in the first place? Did He realize the flood was a mistake? If so, He sure seems prone to mistakes, for He first regretted making mankind, and then He regretted killing them all. So is God schizophrenic? Is He bi-polar? Did God realize the flood didn’t work as intended, and that mankind would not learn to refrain from evil simply because God annihilated them all? Maybe He realized this isn’t the example He wanted to set for mankind, and so resolved to be a nicer, gentler, more merciful God in the future? Was the flood “Plan A” and when the violent drowning of all mankind didn’t work, God decided to go with “Plan B” in eventually sending the Messiah?

None of this sounds like any God we read about in Scripture. If He had any foreknowledge at all (as God does), He would have known that the flood wouldn’t stop humans from committing evil. So what was the flood supposed to accomplish? Since it didn’t “work,” it seems like nothing more than gratuitous evil on the part of God, or at the bare minimum, some sort of childish temper-tantrum when the people He created stop doing what He wants. He creates humanity. They sin. He gets upset. So He kills them all.

Then after everyone is dead, He says He is sorry for getting angry, and asks us to love Him anyway. And look! Here’s a beautiful rainbow to prove how much I love you!

Imagine a man got angry because his children didn’t obey him, and so he drowned them all in a bathtub. When his wife showed up, he says, “I’m sorry I did that. I promise not to do it again with our future children. And to prove it, here’s a bouquet of roses!”

Do you think she’s going to be too eager to go make more babies with him? No, most likely not.

This is why the traditional reading of the flood account is so troubling. You may not like the way I propose we read the flood account in the posts that follow, but at least it does away with this violent, murderous, schizophrenic, second-guessing God that is present in the traditional reading of the flood account.

People will object, of course, that in this post I painted a caricature of God that is not actually present in the text. If you think so, just find an atheist friend and have them read Genesis 6–8 and ask what they think of the way God is presented in these chapters. Check out this picture to see what I mean:

the flood atheist

We Christians too often read the Bible with blinders on. We think that since God is God, He can do what He wants. The problem with our Christian way of reading this text is that at the end of the flood account, God Himself recognizes that what He did was so wrong, He will never do it again (Gen 8:21). If God is God and can do what He wants, and so it was okay for Him to send the flood, why would God promise to never send another flood? If it is okay for God to do it once, isn’t it okay for Him to do it a second time, or a third time, or however many times He wants? If it is true that “God is God and can do whatever He wants” there is no good explanation for why God decides to never send another flood.

The reading I propose in the following posts, however, will give an explanation for God’s statement in Genesis 8:21 and will show that under the surface of this troublesome and tumultuous text, the flood account truly is beautiful story about rainbows, just as my wife said.

In the events surrounding the flood, we will see a God who looks surprisingly like Jesus Christ.

Other Posts on the Violence of God in Scripture

God of the Old Testament and JesusTheories on the Violence of God in the Old Testament My Proposal for Understanding the Violence of God in the Old Testament Theological Chaos Theory The Violence of the Flood Miscellaneous Posts on This Topic
29 Jul 18:23

Diggin’ In the Holy City

by James Tabor
29 Jul 18:17

Revisiting the Labor Movement

by Richard Beck
Last week I posted about my growing disillusionment with American liberalism. Specifically, I mentioned that liberals should be more focused on things like strengthening the labor movement than worrying about our kids eating too much sugar.

That reference to labor may have struck some of you as odd or out of the blue. It came to my mind because I've been reading a lot lately about the labor movement. Why?

Some of my reasons are summarized in this article by Henry Blodget in the Business Insider, "I've Always Hated The Idea Of Labor Unions, But It May Be Time To Reconsider".

After noting many of the (very legitimate) problems with labor unions, Blodget brings to our attention a few trends, trends that I'm pretty concerned about.

First, income disparity--the separation between the proverbial 99% and the 1%--is the greatest it has been in America since the Great Depression. (To explore more about these trends you can examine these charts in a separate article by Blodget.)

Second, corporate profits are at an all time high.

Third, wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low.

Fourth and finally, Blodget shares this chart from the EPI showing the increasing income disparity in America against the decline in union membership:

Now, of course, correlation does not equal causation. But the problems we are facing--historic levels of income inequality and decreased wages--are real and are creating a sociologically and politically volatile and unsustainable situation. Class warfare isn't a phantom being ginned up by President Obama. It's an economic reality getting worse every year. And it's going to keep getting worse until something--God knows what--hits the fan.

(And all that is to say nothing about the collision course we are on between capitalism and the finite resources of the environment.)

At this moment I am unsure about if the labor movement, as it has done in the past, has the resources that can help with the crises we are facing. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. The labor movement was pretty damn corrupt.

And yet, the labor movement has been the only force outside of the government in American history that has successfully challenged and chastened the corporate profit motive.

The point being, if the government isn't the solution to these problems then perhaps we should be looking toward the people.
29 Jul 18:16

Tel Gezer Update

by John Byron
Although I wasn't able to join the team this year, the work at Tel- Gezer continued under the leadership of Steve Ortiz and Sam Wolff. The season is now over, but an update of the work has been posted by Steve Ortiz.

Here is the press release.

JERUSALEM -- The period of the United Monarchy has received much press and attention this summer as current excavation projects in Israel have presented sensational results. While much attention has been paid to King David’s activities, archaeologists have been quietly excavating one of the famed cities of Solomon since 2006. A team of nearly 80 staff and students from several countries (U.S., Israel, Palestinian Authority, Russia, Korea, Hong Kong) spent the summer digging at Tel Gezer, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in a valley that guards the pass that leads up from the coastal road (the "Via Maris") to Jerusalem.
Tel Gezer is known from several ancient Egyptian and Assyrian texts as a major city located on the coastal highway between the kingdoms of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is known from biblical texts as a city conquered by an unnamed Egyptian pharaoh and given to Solomon as a wedding gift between the Israelite king and pharaoh’s daughter. Solomon is credited in the Bible with building the walls of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15-16) -- four major sites that are currently being excavated.
The excavations at Gezer are sponsored by the Tandy Institute of Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with several consortium schools. The excavations are directed by Steven Ortiz of the Tandy and Samuel Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
In this, the sixth season of excavation, one goal was to remove a portion of the city wall built in the Iron IIA period (10th century BCE) in order to investigate a Late Bronze age destruction level (ca. 1400 BCE) that lay below it. To the surprise of the team, in the process of excavating the city wall, an earlier wall system dating to the Iron Age I (1200-1000 BCE) was discovered. This wall was one meter thick with several rooms attached to it. These rooms were filled by a massive destruction, nearly one meter in height,that included Canaanite storage jars, Philistine pottery and other items. A fragment of a Philistine figurine was also found this season. The biblical text record that the king of Gezer organized a Canaanite coalition against Joshua and David had a battle with the Philistines where he chased them “all the way to Gezer.” Perhaps the biblical accounts retain a memory of the importance of Gezer and its close relations to the Philistines during this period.
Beneath this city was an earlier city that was destroyed in a fierce conflagration. This city was functioning during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty’s rule over the southern Levant. Within the destruction debris were several pottery vessels along with a cache of cylinder seals and a large Egyptian scarab with the cartouche of Amenhotep III. This pharaoh was the father of the heretic King Akenaton and grandfather of the famous Tutankhamun (King Tut). This destruction corresponds to other destructions of other cities in the region, a reflection of the internecine warfare that was occurring between the Canaanite cites as reflected in the well-known Tell el-Amarna correspondence.
The archaeology of Solomon has been controversial, fueled by various theories over the dating of the archaeological record. The dating of the Gezer Iron Age Gate is at issue. The Gezer expedition is slowly stripping away layers of public and domestic structures of the 8th and 9th centuries BCE in order to reveal the 10th century city plan adjacent to the City Gate. This summer the tops of the 10th century walls began to poke out, making the archaeologists optimistic that in future seasons more of the Solomonic city will be exposed.
The results of the Tel Gezer excavations will be presented at the end of the month at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies to be held in Jerusalem. The excavation results will be presented along with other projects in the region in a joint session on the history of the Shephelah region (foothills of Judah).
The Gezer Excavation Project is one of three field projects of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology. Gezer is the flagship archaeological field school of the Tandy Institute including the support of the following consortium schools: Andrews University (2013), Ashland Theological Seminary, Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Lycoming College, Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School, Marian Eakins Archaeology Museum at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information see
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, co-directors of the Tel Gezer archaeological excavations in Israel. Ortiz is professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology in Fort Worth, Texas. Wolff is senior archaeologist and archivist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.
29 Jul 18:15

Evangelicals, historical criticism and the second coming

by Andrew

One of the most encouraging developments in evangelical thought in recent years has been the willingness of scholars to engage with scientific and historical criticism. I have recommended the work of Kenton Sparks and Peter Enns before. Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, edited by Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry, is very much in the same vein. It serves as a good introduction to a number of critical debates. Did Adam and Eve exist? Did the exodus really happen? Did Israel’s covenant theology predate the exile? Did the prophets always predict the future accurately? Does the phenomenon of pseudepigraphy compromise the canon? Is the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels historically reliable? And is the Paul of Acts compatible with the Paul of the Letters?

The aim of the book is to show that historical criticism can be done honestly and critically by evangelicals without jeopardizing the fundamental tenets of a Christian confession. The argument in most of the chapters is that even if, in any instance, we were to accept—let’s say hypothetically—the findings of historical criticism, the basic theological truth at issue remains pretty much intact. Not surprisingly, there is less willingness to entertain the hypothetical possibilities when it comes to the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus.

29 Jul 17:33

1. ‘The Amityville Horror’ is not based on a true story

by Fred Clark

The Amityville Horror was not based on a true story.

I’m sorry if that disappoints anyone, but we’re not free to change what is or is not true based only on what we find to be disappointing.

It’s also a bit odd that anyone would be disappointed to learn that a “horror” is not real. That’s like having a horrifying nightmare and then waking up disappointed to realize it was only a dream. You’re not supposed to be disappointed when you wake from a nightmare, you’re supposed to be relieved.

I know that the movie posters and book covers all said that this was based on a true story, but I’m afraid this is another disappointing truth: You can’t believe everything you read on movie posters.

Benjamin Radford wrote a lengthy debunking of the story for Snopes back in 2005, when the most recent movie version came out:

Researcher Rick Moran … compiled a list of more than a hundred factual errors and discrepancies between [author Joe] Anson’s “true story” and the truth.

“The Amityville Horror: A True Story” is not a true story.

… Over and over, both big claims and small details were refuted by eyewitnesses, investigations, and forensic evidence. Still, the Lutzes stuck to their story, reaping tens of thousands of dollars from the book and film rights.

The truth behind The Amityville Horror was finally revealed when Butch DeFeo’s lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he, along with the Lutzes, “created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” The house was never really haunted; the horrific experiences they had claimed were simply made up. Jay Anson further embellished the tale for his book, and by the time the film’s screenwriters had adapted it, any grains of truth that might have been there were long gone. While the Lutzes profited handsomely from their story, Weber had planned to use the haunting to gain a new trial for his client. George Lutz reportedly still claims that the events are mostly true, but has offered no evidence to back up his claim.

… The revelation that the story was based on a hoax has led to embarrassment, especially among the handful of “paranormal experts” who “verified” the fictional tale. The Lutzes must have had a good laugh at the expense of the mystery-mongering ghost hunters and self-proclaimed psychics who reported their terrifying visions and verified the house’s (non-existent) demonic residents.

Foremost among those “ghost hunters and self-proclaimed psychics” who confirmed this hoax were Ed and Lorraine Warren. They cited their paranormal and religious expertise, as well as Lorraine’s alleged extrasensory intuition, in validating a story later proved to be a total sham. So either the Warrens were knowing participants in the hoax, or they were themselves credulous dupes duped by their own eagerness to find devils in doorknobs and monsters under the bed.

This old MovieWeb interview with Lorraine Warren has me guessing maybe it was a little bit of both of those. Warren seems to have a Mike Warnke-esque knack for putting on the kind of show she knows will appeal to her devoutly religious target audience. But she also seems like a dealer who’s getting high on her own product — a victim of the “shut-eye.” It’s hard to tell whether or not she’s in on her own joke. Michelle Dean’s recent profile — “The Long, Strange Career of ‘The Conjuring’ Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren” — leans toward the more cynical interpretation.

As the headline to Dean’s piece notes, the Warrens are back in the news due to yet another horror movie adapting yet another of their cases as “religious demonologists.” The Conjuring reportedly plays up this religious aspect, and the movie studio has hired Grace Hill Media — the current go-to PR firm for this kind of work — to sell the movie to churchgoers.

Filmmaker brothers Chad and Carey Hayes say their film isn’t your typical “Christian” movie fare, but it nonetheless carries a strong religious message that can appeal to faith-minded audiences.

It is, they say, a “wholesome horror film.”

No it is not. It’s a hoax, just like the other stories of its kind sold by the Warrens and the Warnkes of this world to gullible audiences who for some reason wish these stories — and even worse things — to be true.

That “wholesome horror film” quote above comes from Kevin Eckstrom’s Religious News Service story, “Can a horror film lead people to God?

The answer to Eckstrom’s question is “No.” Or, at least, “Maybe, but not this horror film.”

This film is a pep rally for a witch hunt. Witch hunts do not lead people toward God. Witch hunts and witch-hunters lead people, instead, toward the lethal notion that it is their job to identify and destroy the enemies of God. The stories witch-hunters tell are never true stories, but the victims those stories produce are all too real. And there is nothing “wholesome” about that.

29 Jul 17:29

how to beat people up without even touching them

by David Hayward
feel like crap cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

Clickety click on this image real quick and you’ll to my store just lickety split!

I have been on a huge learning curve this last week. I’ve come to realize on a deeper level how significant a role shame plays in our culture, and especially our religious, spiritual and church culture.

I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1986 and began the ministry by pastoring three small rural churches. The sermons the people liked the best were the ones where I poured out my wrath upon them for not measuring up to my idea of what a Christian should be. They loved those ones. Then, after I went through a major spiritual transition and realized how arrogant and manipulative I was and decided to change the way I spoke to the people, there were complaints. I recall one woman in particular begging me with tears to spiritually beat her up every Sunday and make her feel guilty. She actually said, “I love to be brow-beaten!”, which essentially means “to intimidate or subjugate by an overbearing manner or domineering speech”.

It saddened me then that this was what people wanted. And it saddened me to realize that because we were in the church and I held the position of authority, that this was what I could easily give with their permission.

Why? Do people feel like crap and like to be reminded? Are their identities so wrapped up in shame that they only feel addressed when their shamed selves are addressed? Is our theology so anti-human that the language of shame is the only accent we can understand? Is church culture so dysfunctional that we only know how to function when it is sick as usual?

Shame is the air we breathe. It’s a major part of our culture. It’s everywhere, pervasive and toxic, to the point that many people can’t even feel unless they’re humiliated. And the church is one of the most perfect sub-cultures to fine-tune shame into an art form to dominate people.

There are too many people administering shame. There are too many people taking it.

We are addicted to shame, and we have our dealers and users.

To provide an encouraging and non-shaming space is one of the reasons I started The Lasting Supper. I personally extend an invitation to you.

29 Jul 17:28

Readers speak: Why are scientists so much less likely to believe in God?

by Tyler Francke

A reader’s response to one of my previous posts. Alan graciously agreed to let me share his thoughts with you:

Hi Tyler,

My name is Alan. By way of introduction, I come from a young-earth creationist background, but “evolved” to an old-earth creationist position when I was in my early 20s, and then “evolved” further to an “evolutionary creationist” position about 3 years ago in my late 30s.

Anyway, I enjoyed many of your posts, in particular the one entitled “3 seriously bad theological implications of YEC.” I wanted to give you my two cents regarding your comment on the prevalence of atheism/agnosticism in the sciences (particularly the biological sciences). My view is that while it may be true that atheism is more prevalent in the sciences, my sense is that part (not all) of the reason for that is that Christians have largely abandoned the field!

Because of the false dichotomy between “evolution” and “belief in God,” a dichotomy promoted by BOTH atheists like Richard Dawkins AND creationists like Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, you are bound to have atheists more inclined to study/pursue subjects (evolutionary biology, paleontology, etc.) which they have been conditioned to believe 1) upholds their worldview and 2) undermines Christianity. Additionally, and for the same reason, you are bound to have Christians who tend to fear the study/pursuit of those same subjects, which they have been conditioned to believe (just like the atheist) 1) upholds atheism and 2) undermines Christianity. If the church had long ago come to reject the false dichotomy, it might have rather encouraged its people to pursue careers in biology, paleontology, etc., and there would likely be much more proportional representation of both Christians AND atheists in those fields.

What do you think?

Alan S.
Baltimore, MD

I told Alan that I think he might be onto something. We know belief in God is much lower among scientists than it is in the general public, and, ironically, that fact is used to serve the agendas of two extreme and diametrically opposed views. Richard Dawkins, for example, makes use of the data in his book, “The God Delusion” and elsewhere, as proof that science has unraveled enough of life’s mysteries that we no longer have any “need” for God. Meanwhile, K-Ham and the like use it as evidence that the findings of science can’t be trusted (unless they come from Answers in Genesis!), and that the scientific endeavor itself is built upon a fundamentally atheistic worldview that erodes faith like acid.

I suppose the only way to really test their theories would be to analyze the percentage of individuals whose preexisting spiritual beliefs change upon in-depth exposure to the sciences. I’ve heard a number of anecdotes either way (believers becoming atheists the more they study science and vice versa), but I’m not aware that any comprehensive study such as this has ever been done. If it were undertaken, I would wager that its findings would support Alan’s hypothesis: That atheist scientists were generally inclined toward atheism before they became scientists, and that theist scientists were generally inclined toward theism before they became scientists.

And of course, I agree with Alan’s opinion that “faith or science” is a false dichotomy. I think the church, as a whole, was far more in line with what it should be when devout clergy like Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître were helping lead the world into a new era of scientific breakthrough, than it has been since certain branches of it embraced nonsense like “The Genesis Flood” with open arms.

What do you think, readers? Why is faith in God so much lower among scientists than the general public?

Tyler Francke

29 Jul 17:28

God or Gorilla?

by jonnyscaramanga

W.A. Criswell’s Did Man Just Happen? is a creationist classic, first written in 1957 and revised in 1972, making it an early example of the modern creation movement.

Did Man Just Happen, W.A. Criswell

Found in the fiction section of all good bookstores.

It’s completely fucking terrible.

Now, I’m not aware of any creationist literature that’s good, but it’s hard to imagine much of it is worse than this. There are creationists who consider themselves rigorous scientists, and try to theorise workable creation models. Criswell is not among them. He was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and his argument consists almost entirely of assertion and irrelevancies. His characterisation of evolution is so far from what scientists actually think that the book could only be persuasive to someone who has never read any mainstream science, and never been taught to think critically. Such as – just for a hypothetical example – a student in Accelerated Christian Education.

Interestingly, Accelerated Christian Education chose it as the sole piece of creationist literature on their 9th grade syllabus. And it’s still there today, in the USA. In the UK, as we’ve discussed, it has been replaced with After the Flood, possibly the only book in the world that’s actually worse. Presumably Did Man Just Happen will have to be replaced on the US syllabus too, because it appears to be out of print. Even if it is removed from the curriculum, its influence will live on, since most of the anti-evolution arguments in the science PACEs are drawn from it. At the time of writing, though, it remains on ACE’s ‘Scope & Sequence’, with the description:

Did Man Just Happen? By W. A. Criswell. The case for creation is presented in a way that ends the question.

ACE appears to consider these arguments good. But then, ACE’s syllabus also covers the Order of the Illuminati (seriously – search the Scope and Sequence) as part of its government education, so credibility is not a high priority for them.

Like Kent Hovind’s dissertation, Criswell provides no bibliography and no citations. Of course, Criswell isn’t pretending to be an academic, but when he’s making claims like these, it would be good to have some attribution:

Sir Arthur Keith said: “Evolution is unproved and unprovable. We believe it because the only alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable.” Professor D. M. S. Watson of the University of London said: “Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists, not because it has been observed to occur or because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.

As a child, I found this an absolutely knockdown argument. The theory of evolution admitted to be a conspiracy by the scientists themselves! Unfortunately, no one has verified that Keith said any such thing. Other Creationist books containing the same quote cite Did Man Just Happen as their source. The Watson quotation is real, although in the context of the original article it becomes clear that he regarded the theory of evolution as fitting “all the facts of taxonomy, of paleontology, and of geographical distribution”, and as offering greater explanatory power than any competing explanation.

But even if Watson’s and Keith’s were represented fairly by Criswell, so what? They were wrong. The quotations used aren’t representative of any consensus view. It is instructive that Criswell, who argues exclusively from authority, uses the words of one man as though he speaks for science itself.

Criswell spends a lot of time arguing that evolution is a useless theory because it doesn’t tell us how life first originated. This is irrelevant, because evolution doesn’t need to explain this in order to work. Plainly, life does exist, and as an explanation of how life developed from a common ancestor, evolution simply assumes this obvious fact. It’s even stranger since Criswell is equally adament in his opposition to theistic evolution, and abiogenesis isn’t even a problem there. The theistic evolutionist could solve the problem by saying that God was the first cause of life.

There’s no shortage of argument from ignorance. This one appears on the final page, suggesting Criswell (or the publishers, Zondervan) thought it was one of the strongest:

No one on earth understands how a muscle is made, or how it moves. Man has already discovered fifteen enzymes in the functioning of a muscle. One enzyme will take what the other has done and work on that, then another enzyme will come and take that product and change it until finally energy is liberated. How? No one knows.

Lots of time is devoted to what Criswell calls “the hoaxes of anthropology” – Nebraska Man, the Piltdown Man, the Jada Ape-Man, the Heidelberg Jaw. In arguing against evolution, Criswell also manages to refer to jungle-dwelling tribes as “savages” on at least two occasions, because you can’t beat a good bit of racism when attempting to prove intellectual superiority.

Many other arguments stem from a misunderstanding of what evolution entails:

If the truth of evolution is established, if the fact of it can be demonstrated, just give us more time and we will evolve into celestial and immortal archangels. [emphasis mine]

I don’t think that needs any comment (apart from this one, obviously).

If there is any change, it is not up, it is not evolving, it is not evolution. If there is any change, it is degeneration – it is devolution. For example, when I went out to the museum I saw there the fossil skeleton of an enormous elephant, the “Elephas Imperator.” The biggest elephant we have had was called Jumbo… Why, he was a pygmy compared to the elephants we used to have! Instead of going up, elephants are coming down.

Here, and elsewhere, Criswell incorrectly assumes that evolution must mean that things are getting bigger and better, evolving from lower to higher forms. When I read this book as a child, I thought evolution was supposed to be a quasi-conscious process, as though nature had some ultimate goal in mind. That made no sense to me. I was right.

We do not see cats turning into dogs, and we do not see cows turning into horses, and we do not see horses turning into apes, and we do not see apes turning into man.


Acquired characteristics are never inherited. You can take a dog and cut off his tail, but when that puppy has puppies they will have tails. And you can cut those tails off and cut those tails off for a hundred thousand generations and the puppies that are born will still have tails.

Indeed you can, and this has nothing to do with evolution by natural selection. Criswell should be commended for debunking Lamarckism, though. The 18th century no doubt sends its congratulations.

What I find shocking about the continued use of Did Man Just Happen in ACE schools is that even some of the teachers must know that these are bad arguments. Even if Creationism were right, Criswell’s points would still be catastrophic failures of logic and triumphs of wilful ignorance. The ACE supervisors who gave me this book to read were well-educated people with degrees from good universities. It’s inconceivable that they didn’t see these arguments for the tosh they were. They simply didn’t care, because they thought turning me into a servant of God was more important than giving me a sound education.

Related posts:

29 Jul 17:27

Reza Aslan on FOXNews (embarrassed to be a human today) - Le Donne

by ..............
In the past few hours, I have been alerted by five different friends of this interview of Reza Aslan by Lauren Green of FOXNews.  If you are a human who would like a reason to be ashamed of your species, I highly recommend viewing the nine-minute interview.

I have been asked about Aslan several times since his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth was published. To see some preliminary thoughts on this book by friend of The Jesus Blog, Larry Behrendt, click here. I am only a few chapters into the book myself, so I will withhold my thoughts on the book itself for now. A few words are warranted about this debacle of an interview.

Lauren Green begins the interview in an almost accusatory tone. According to Green, the most important thing to know about Aslan is that he is a Muslim. She barely veils her contempt and is openly offended that a voice from Islam might have something to say about Jesus. She repeatedly returns to the fact of Aslan's heritage and faith. I think that this fact is interesting. Aslan disputes a handful of beliefs about Jesus by the Qu'ran and Hadith. I also think that a case might be made for an anti-American agenda (I will have to finish the book before I can speak intelligently about this). For both of these reasons, I think that asking Aslan about his motives for writing the book are warranted. But Green does so without courtesy or tact. Because she will not accept his answer, this interview fails to cover almost any of the topics related to the book. That Green calls the exchange "a spirited debate" at the end is comical. As one friend wrote me, the interview was "quite an exercise in refusing to listen to each other."

For Aslan's part, it is generally bad form to cite one's credentials rather than supporting the merits of one's argument. Green made it about Aslan's qualifications, so Aslan was well within bounds to do so once. But to do so repeatedly sounds a bit like Anchorman's Ron Burgundy: "I'm kind of a big deal." One of the biggest problems with Aslan's book is that he has several blindspots in his research. The most embarrassing moment of the interview might be when he points out how many footnotes are in the book. The other quote that came to mind was from Hamlet's Queen Gertrude: "The lady doth protest too much."

Thank you, FOXNews. We're all just a little bit less intelligent because of you.

p.s. Some interesting discussion re: Aslan's qualifications on Jim West's blog.
29 Jul 17:26

Fox News Anchor’s Brain Is Broken By The Thought Of Academic Biblical Studies

by agathos

Everybody put on your surprise faces: Fox News doesn’t understand the humanities or historical biblical studies.

In this video, Lauren Green interviews academic and author Reza Aslan, who is forced to respond to a barrage of idiocy from the Fox News anchor. Holy cow, talk about adventures in missing the point. She just doesn’t get the academic thing. She’s the “religion correspondent” for Fox ‘News’ but demonstrates that she knows very little about religion other than some possible fear-mongering and hyper-polemics.

It’s hard to believe someone could be this daft, but here’s the evidence.

I half expected Lauren to yell out in the middle of this interview, “You damn dirty Muslim.” Or “Biblical Studies what does it mean?”

You can watch the entire interview HERE, where Green drops further gems of ignorance such as:

You’re quoting yourself as a scholar, and I’ve interviewed scholars who have written books on the Resurrection, on the real Jesus, and who are looking at the same information that you’re saying… to say that your information is somehow different from theirs is really not being honest…

She also accuses Aslan of not disclosing that he is a Muslim, despite the fact that he actually does state that in the opening pages of his book.

Of course, I have never encountered religious discrimination like Mr. Aslan; however, I have had mildly similar conversations trying to explain to people historical biblical studies.

It’s an awkward conversation with a confused person looking at you askew and asking you ten different ways why on earth you would want to study that, and what the hell are you going to do with a degree in that.

Sometimes, if I’m in a playful mood, I’ll lay down the historical and sociological deconstruction of the Hebrew texts pretty thick just to cement in their mind that I’m probably the biggest heretic walking the planet.

29 Jul 17:05

Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

by Jim

mythicistMaurice Casey’s book is slated to appear in the early days of 2014.  Here’s the info (or as the kids say, the 411) -

Did Jesus exist? In recent years there has been a massive upsurge in public discussion of the view that Jesus did not exist. This view first found a voice in the 19th century, when Christian views were no longer taken for granted. Some way into the 20th century, this school of thought was largely thought to have been utterly refuted by the results of respectable critical scholarship (from both secular and religious scholars).

Now, many unprofessional scholars and bloggers (‘mythicists’), are gaining an increasingly large following for a view many think to be unsupportable. It is starting to influence the academy, more than that it is starting to influence the views of the public about a crucial historical figure. Maurice Casey, one of the most important Historical Jesus scholars of his generation takes the ‘mythicists’ to task in this landmark publication. Casey argues neither from a religious respective, nor from that of a committed atheist. Rather he seeks to provide a clear view of what can be said about Jesus, and of what can’t.

And here’s what’s in it:

1. Introduction
2. Historical Method
3. The Date and Reliability of the Canonical Gospels
4. What is Not in the Gospels, or Not in ‘Q’
5. What is Not in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
6. What is Written in the Epistles, Especially Those of Paul
7. It All Happened Before, in Egypt, India, or Wherever you Fancy, but there was Nowhere for it to Happen in Israel
8. Conclusions
Appendix: Latinisms

It is an absolute gold-mine of mythicist debunking.  It is, to be honest, the funeral dirge sung at the grave of mythicist perspectives.  It’s a great book (and will doubtless be even better in its final form).

Filed under: Books Tagged: Maurice Casey, mythicists
29 Jul 02:45

Bruce Chapman—"The Pseudo-Science Guy"

by Matt Young

by Steven Mahone

Bruce Chapman, the Big Cheese over at the Discovery Institute, is apparently feeling a bit threatened by an interview that Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) recently did for the Seattle Times. Chapman wrote an article expressing concern that Bill’s straight talk about science literacy might somehow implicate his cherished “Intelligent Design” theory by lumping it in with young earth creationism, thereby leading some to conclude that ID is nothing more than the pseudo-scientific equivalent of those get-rich-working-from-home schemes so ubiquitous on the radio and Internet.

Nye is a respected, reasonable voice who is imploring our educators and politicians to cut to the chase and dispense with the myths and misunderstandings that cloud our public policy and educational system. Otherwise, the challenges set out before us will only be made more difficult to remedy. Nye knows that we have an obligation and a responsibility to leave our descendants with the intellectual insight and courage to take on the universe for what it is; there are no shortcuts, nor are there any get-rich-quick alternatives. How does Chapman react to Nye’s honorable efforts? He accuses him of being the “Red Herring Guy” and essentially calls him a liar. Geez.

The irony of the “Red Herring” claim is that Chapman has burdened Nye with naming a congressional district that has mandated equal time for young earth creationism; yet Nye has never made such a claim and Chapman knows it! The misdirection here is all Chapman’s, who evidently intends that you pay no attention to the Gallup Poll showing that nearly 50% of Americans believe that man was created less than 10,000 years ago. He’s also hoping that you separate his organization from those other creationist Ponzi schemes; all Chapman wants is the academic freedom to present alternatives to well-established scientific principles that have attained expert consensus. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Only if you ignore that pesky Dover trial, which settled this issue years ago. Unfortunately for Chapman, Nye has a pretty good memory.

While we’re at it, here are some of the other typical talking points that Chapman’s organization offers, along with a translation into the vernacular:

“Random mutation and natural selection can’t account for the complexity of the cell!” is equivalent to, “A single mother in Miami is now enjoying a Darwin free life after purchasing the DI’s new best seller on Cambrian explosion!”

The ever popular, “Highly qualified professors are being persecuted by the Darwinian establishment for simply suggesting alternative reading materials for their courses!” is actually, “The Designer still loves you, even if you’re taking a rigorous upper division physics course at a prestigious university run by heartless, amoral liberals.”

And finally, “Intelligent Design makes no claims about who the designer is, nor is it a religious idea!” can be summed up as, “Even though our Fellows at the DI appear on the same Christian programs as Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, our claims are different and you need not be concerned that we didn’t make the Nobel Prize shortlist!”

Sorry, Mr. Chapman. The jig is up. You know it, Bill Nye knows it, and sooner rather than later, everyday people like me and that single mom in Miami are going to figure out that there’s no substitute for diligence and hard work, especially where the payoff will be long term success for our progeny. My concern now is how you’re going to handle the upcoming remake of Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey which will be hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and underwritten by Fox (yes, the same Fox that employs Bill O’Reilly!) My suggestion is that you choose your insults carefully on this one. Remember in the movie “Casablanca” when the character of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is asked, “You despise me, don’t you, Rick?” Bogart then utters the greatest back-handed slight of all time: “If I gave you any thought I probably would.” I recommend that you not put Dr. Tyson on the spot with a similar question.

Steven Mahone is an Engineer and a founding member of Colorado Citizens for Science.

29 Jul 02:44

Jewish persecution against Christians in Acts

by Matthew R. Malcolm

The SNTS conference in Perth is now over. I attended a few bits of it, around teaching commitments. One of the papers I attended was by James McLaren on ‘The Account in Acts of Jewish Actions Against the Followers of Jesus Within the Context of Roman Rule.’ This is part of a bigger research project by McLaren, in which he is asking ‘Why Jesus Died’ – from the perspective of a Roman historian.

In this paper he had three main parts:

1) Review of the role of attacks on Christians in Acts: He pointed out that these attacks by Jewish opponents are an important feature of the book of Acts, and serve to illustrate the conviction that Christians did not pose a threat to Roman order.

2) Current trends in scholarship, which highlight the Jewish context: McLaren pointed out that recent studies have seen such Jewish persecution as understandable in the Jewish context, and therefore as historically likely.

3) The imperial Roman Empire context: Whereas within Acts the Jewish persecutors are viewed as able to take action against offenders without seeking Roman approval, whether in their homeland or outside of it, confident that the Romans would take little interest, outside of Acts the picture is different: Josephus indicates that Rome had strict control over the temple and high priestly vestments, and that Jews were in a precarious situation, being regarded as outsiders and foreigners in the diaspora.

The conclusion was that Acts presents an ideologically driven picture of early Christian experience, which must be seriously questioned, e.g.: How could Paul possibly have persecuted Christians simply by getting permission  from the high priests? He could not have pursued legal persecution without Roman permission, so where is Rome in all of this? It is conspicuously, and suspiciously, absent from the text.

There were a number of responses from the floor. I have a couple of thoughts myself:

a) Of course it’s incontestable that Acts only provides part of the story. This is inevitable, and a normal part of storytelling. The general point that we should be aware that there are Roman issues beyond what we see in the text is quite appropriate.

b) Why would we think that Paul was acting legally? I cannot fathom why Paul would want to seek Roman approval in order to pursue the correction and cleansing of a minor Jewish sub-community in Damascus. Similarly, although that Jewish sub-community in Damascus could “legally” have appealed to Rome, it would not be in their interests to do so, as it would represent defiance against their own temple.

29 Jul 02:30

Five Reasons Why I'm a Unitarian Universalist

by Travis Mamone

I'm a Unitarian Universalist now. Unitarian Universalists are cool.

Okay, so I haven't officially joined a congregation, but I've been going to a local fellowship since May, and so far I'm loving it! I've been reading about the UUs for a few months, but I never had the courage to go to the local UU fellowship until a few months ago. I thought it might be too weird. Surprisingly, I've really adapted, and the more I attend the UU fellowship, the more it fits like a glove. In fact, I can think of five reasons why I feel like I'm in the right place right now:

1. No dogma. Unitarian Universalism is non-creedal faith, which means that you can believe anything you want. Most UUs tend to be pantheistic and humanistic (I label myself as both), but you will also find Buddhists, pagans, and even atheists who identify themselves as UU.

2. Social justice. I know I'm going to sound like hipster, but when it comes to social justice, UUs have been doing that shit long before Brian McLaren and the Emergent Christians made it cool. Throughout history UUs have participated in the abolition of slavery, the women's suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, environmentalism, and the marriage equality movement. Speaking of which . . .

3. Queer affirming. The UUs have opened their doors to LGBTQ people long before progressive Christians. It's not even a "controversial issue" for UUs. LGBTQ families are treated just like heterosexual families.

4. Coffee hour. After service there is a coffee hour where the congregation drinks coffee and chats with one another. It is a great way to get to know people. Plus anytime coffee is a part of church, I'm all in!

5. Welcoming congregation. This is probably the most important part. If you're worried about not fitting in, don't worry. They'll make you feel at home.
29 Jul 02:29

Stay Heilig, My Friend

by Scot McKnight
29 Jul 02:25

QOTD: Martin Hengel

by Clifford Kvidahl

martin hengel

The bond which held the Hellenistic world together despite the fragmentation which began with the death of Alexander and continued thereafter, was Attic koine. Its sphere of influence went far beyond that of Aramaic, the official language of the Persian kingdom. Greek merchants dealt in it, whether in Bactria on the border of India or in Massilia; laws were promulgated in it and treaties concluded in accordance with a uniform basic scheme; it was the language of both diplomats and men of letters; and anyone who sought social respect or even the reputation of being an educated man had to have an impeccable command of it….Impeccable command of the Greek was the most important qualification for taking over Greek culture. The final establishment of and dissemination of the koine was probably the most valuable and the most permanent fruit of Alexander’s expedition.
Martin Hengel. Judaism and Hellenism, pg. 58.

28 Jul 18:59


by (Darrell)


My thoughts and prayers go with the families of those who lost loved ones in the highway tragedy at Colonial Hills Baptist church.

We’ve had harsh words in the past for Chuck Phelps but today I hope we can set those things aside and weep with those who weep. Nobody deserves to lose a child, a brother, a sister, a father or mother this way. Anyone who would follow the darker angels of their nature to find some sense of retribution here runs the risk of losing both their humanity and my sympathy.

Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrows of those for whom we pray. Remember them, Lord, in your mercy; nourish them with patience; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance upon them; and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

28 Jul 18:58

Zondervan’s NIV Greek and English New Testament, reviewed

by abramkj

Zondervan GNTZondervan continues to publish great resources for learning and using Biblical Greek and Hebrew. I reviewed their Greek and Hebrew Reader’s Bible here. Now they have published a “diglot,” a Bible with two languages side-by-side, on facing pages, for the New Testament.

This is also known as a “parallel Bible,” so that the reader can easily see both the Greek and English side-by-side. It’s not an interlinear Bible, though (English interspersed line-by-line with Greek), so you can easily just read all English or all Greek any time you want to. Both the Greek and English section headings are the same (in English), which makes it easy to stay on track when reading through. Each page is single column format.

The Greek text is not the scholarly NA27 or NA28 critical edition. Rather, it is the Greek text that the NIV translators agreed on as the textual basis for translation. The few times (and there aren’t a ton of instances) when this Greek text differs from the NA27, footnotes provide additional information.

Greek font preference can be subjective, but I find this one pleasing and easy to read:

Greek English

The italics are for an Old Testament quotation.

The leather/Italian Duo-Tone version has a single ribbon for marking one’s place. Its feel is pleasant and flexible, yet durable. It’s a well-made Bible.

I wondered when reading whether not having the critical Nestle-Aland Greek in front of me would be a problem, but (a) the differences are minor and (b) if one’s goal is just to read Greek (not do textual criticism), whether or not one has Nestle-Aland is not hugely important. Besides that, there are possibly places where the NIV translators have made a better textual choice than the NA folks! (We’ll find out when we get to see all the original “autographs” in heaven, I suppose.)

There is also a 146-page Greek to English dictionary included at the back (Mounce Concise) which has word frequency information, a short gloss/definition, and verse references where words are used. It’s basic, but a good dictionary, especially for quick look-ups when doing daily reading.

One advantage to this diglot over other diglots (RSV and NET versions) is that the Greek is always on the left-hand page and the English is always on the right-hand page. In these other two diglots (perhaps for ease of printing?) it changes every two pages, so that this left-hand page is Greek, this other left-hand page is English. It’s a small thing, but it makes it easier to use.

As for the English version employed, this is the 2011 NIV, the update to both the 1984 NIV (New International Version) and the 2001/2005 TNIV (Today’s New International Version). Much ink (and many bytes) have been spilled over the differences between these three and the controversy surrounding the TNIV. (Much ado about not-much, in my opinion.) The TNIV opted to be more gender-inclusive than the 1984 NIV in how it translated masculine Greek words, so “brothers” would be “brothers and sisters.” If Paul clearly has men and women in view (he often does), “brothers and sisters” is the best way to translate the masculine Greek noun. But this gender inclusivity (I prefer “gender accuracy”) displeased some, and so now the TNIV is off the shelf (as is the old NIV) with the NIV (2011) in its stead.

The 2011 NIV seems to either lean more toward the TNIV or to split the difference on gender. For example, take Galatians 1:11 in the three versions:

NIV (1984): “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.”
TNIV: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.”
NIV (2011): “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.”

Here are Galatians 1:1-2. Note how the new NIV matches neither of its predecessors.

NIV (1984): “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers with me….”
TNIV: “Paul, an apostle—sent not with a human commission nor by human authority, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me….”
NIV (2011): “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me….”

Rodney Decker has a thorough (and I mean thoroughreview of the new NIV here.

Although I never had the pleasure of seeing a TNIV-Greek diglot (I don’t think Zondervan published one?), this one is the next best thing. Especially for preachers and students and Greek-learners who want to stay close to the NIV, this diglot is yet another great language resource from Zondervan.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy. See a sample file here (pdf). You can find purchasing information about the book at Amazon or at its Zondervan product page.

Filed under: Book reviews Tagged: books, Greek, New Testament, reviews, Zondervan