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Archive for April, 2008

Correlating biblical traditions and “extra-biblical” evidence – Answering a Childish Dilemma

Posted by NT Wrong on April 30, 2008

In 1974, the late Brev Childs compared two rather extreme approaches to correlating the biblical traditions and “extra-biblical” evidence:

There are two traditional approaches to this … problem, both of which, in my judgement, are inadequate. The first is the ‘supernaturalistic’ viewpoint. According to this position the biblical witness is the normative, and therefore historically accurate, record of the event in accordance with which the extra-biblical evidence must be corrected and controlled. This position suffers in that it seeks to employ categories taken from outside the Bible, such as historicity, objectivity, and the like, and yet to retain without criticism the content of the canonical witness. It seeks to guarantee a reality testified to in the canon by means of dogmatic controls employed outside the area of faith. The second position, which is that of rationalism, represents the opposite extreme. It seeks to determine the truth of the biblical testimony on the basis of critical evaluation according to rational criteria, based on past human experience. It suffers from assuming that its criteria are adequate to test all reality, and it eliminates the basic theological issue by definition. In terms of the manna story, the supernaturalists claim that the exodus story is a historically accurate report of a unique miracle which is unrelated to any natural food of the desert. The rationalists conversely claim that the exodus story is an imaginary (or poetic) projection into the supernatural sphere of a natural phenomenon of the desert which can be fully described scientifically.”
– Brev Childs, The Book of Exodus 1974: 299, 300; cited by Philip Sumpter, Narrative and Ontology Blog

Childs identifies two opposite positions which can be taken. Both are distinctly modernist, but not in a properly self-reflective way. One tries to defend ancient ‘miracles’/’the supernatural’ in terms of the modern category of ‘history’. So, the bible is judged to be correct according to a misapplied modern criterion. The other position tries to explain ancient ‘miracles’/’the supernatural’ in terms of modern material monism. So, the bible is judged to be false, and is re-explained according to a modern criterion that should never be applied to a miracle story.

How do we avoid these two mistakes? I’ll suggest a couple of ways. First, we need to recognise that the particular mythistory done in the Bible is not the same genre as the mythistory done in modernity. The conceptions and boundaries of reality differ. So any criterion which unreflectingly imposes a modern distinction of ‘the supernatural’ and ‘historical’ (or ‘real’) is on dangerous gound. Second, we might realise that the modern standard of historiography, with its deliberate sifting of materials according to criteria and recognition of bias in cultural memory, has a significantly different focus from ancient historiography. We can write a modern history of Israel, or we can examine Israel’s history, but the two don’t usually greatly overlap. Hence the form of Mario Liverani’s Israel’s History and the History of Israel.

Posted in Historiography, Pentateuch | 2 Comments »

New Reviews in The Review of Biblical Literature – 30 April 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on April 30, 2008

There’s some interesting reviews in the latest Review of Biblical Literature:

Alice Hunt, Missing Priests: The Zadokites in Tradition and History

As well as being the latest word on the Zadokites, apparently chapter three provides “a lucid discussion of historiography”.

“Hunt discusses the theories pertaining to the history of ancient Israel, with special focus on the dichotomy between the so-called ‘minimalists’ and ‘maximalists’ and on the various social-scientific approaches to history … ”

William M. Schniedewind and Joel H. Hunt, A Primer on Ugaritic Language, Culture, and Literature

The first of its kind: an student’s introductory text to Ugaritic. A “good first step” for learning Ugaritic.

Also, for more advanced steps, the reviewer, Robert D. Holmstedt, recommends:
– Sivan, A Grammar of the Ugaritic Language (1997)
– Tropper, Ugaritische Grammatik (2000)
– Bordreuil/Pardee, Manuel d’Ougaritique (2004)



Adriane B. Leveen, Memory and Tradition in the Book of Numbers

The reviewer says this provides a good summary of the literature on memory and tradition, in the Halbwachs and Assmann sense. Sounds damn trendy.




Posted in Books, Hebrew & Semitics, Historical Books, Historiography, Pentateuch | Comments Off on New Reviews in The Review of Biblical Literature – 30 April 2008

Write about Evil Fundamentalists and Win $5,000.

Posted by NT Wrong on April 30, 2008

Want to win $5,000? Do you attend a college or high school in the U.S.? Then, you could try this essay competition (entries due November 30, 2008):

In his new book, Bondage of the Mind: How Old Testament Fundamentalism Shackles the Mind and Enslaves the Spirit, R.D. Gold takes the following position:

The doctrines of Orthodox Judaism – and, by extension, the doctrines of all religious fundamentalism – are false. Therefore, it makes no sense for an individual to exchange much of his or her personal freedom for the straightjacket of enforced obedience to a strict religious law based on demonstrably false dogma.

Explain, in 1,500 to 2,000 words, why you agree or disagree with this thesis.

RD Gold’s book is a popularist rant against biblical literalism, from a liberal Jewish perspective. It covers issues such as biblical archaeology, biblical errors and biblical ‘codes’. The publisher of the book appears to have published one book … Gold’s.

Posted in Fundamentalism, Religion & Society, The Bible | Comments Off on Write about Evil Fundamentalists and Win $5,000.

Words to Live By

Posted by NT Wrong on April 29, 2008

“Those who are afraid to make mistakes will usually contribute little to the sum of human knowledge. They will play safe, never stepping out of line from the current view, never challenging the paradigm. Many volumes are published each year in which all that has been achieved is a slight rearrangement of the pieces on the board. Consensus is the order of the day. Real contributions are commonly made by those who are prepared to take the risk, and not only to challenge the consensus and rattle the bars of the paradigm-cage, but also to speculate and ask new questions about an old problem, and even identify new ones.”

– Nicolas Wyatt, “’Water, Water Everywhere…’: Musings on the Aqueous Myths of the Near East.” Pages 189-233 in The Mythic Mind: Essays on cosmology and religion in Ugaritic and Old Testament Literature. London and Oakville: Equinox, 2005: 189.

Posted in Academia | Comments Off on Words to Live By

The $7 Billion Dollar Christian Fundamentalist Pop-Culture Market

Posted by NT Wrong on April 28, 2008

“Christian pop culture is now a $7 billion industry that includes a vast, growing, and diverse publishing sector; Christian comedy circuits and sex advice seminars; creationist theme parks that compete in the shadow of Disneyland; a thriving music and recording industry; and enough Jesus-branded T-shirts and trinkets to keep all the prison-factories in Godless China busy until the Rapture.”
What Do Evangelicals Listen to on Their iPods? By Alexander Zaitchik

This quote comes from a review of the newly released book, Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Popular Culture by Daniel Radosh (Scribner, 2008). The book explores the $7 billion dollar Christian fundamentalist pop-culture market. Read and be suitably indignant.

Posted in Books, Fundamentalism, Religion & Society | Comments Off on The $7 Billion Dollar Christian Fundamentalist Pop-Culture Market

Liberation Theologian & Priest becomes President of Paraguay

Posted by NT Wrong on April 28, 2008

Former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo became President of Paraguay last week. Lugo remains a priest in the Catholic Church, but had to resign from his position as bishop in order to run for President under the Paraguayan constitution. As a proponent of the Marxist-Christian Liberation Theology, Lugo may of course not be a priest much longer, if the Panzer Pope has his way. But Lugo’s election has brought to an end six decades of one-party rule in Paraguay.

“Known as “the bishop of the poor,” Lugo is strongly influenced by liberation theology, a school of thought which took shape in Latin America in the 1960s, partly as a result of the renewal of the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council. Recognising the pressing need for social change and social justice, it challenged the Church to defend the oppressed and the poor.”
IPS News

Lugo promises a socialist redistribution of land-holdings to farmers:

“We believe Paraguay must recover its credibility on the international stage, and one essential element is land redistribution.”

Lugo even has his own blog: http://fernandolugo.blogspot.com/

And here’s the quote of the week, from Bolivian President, Evo Morales:

“Well, first of all, I would like to tell my colleague, brother, President-Elect Fernando Lugo, welcome to the Axis of Evil. But I am so sure that it is an axis for humankind, liberating democracies that are not subjugated.”
Democracy Now


Posted in Politics, Religion & Society | Comments Off on Liberation Theologian & Priest becomes President of Paraguay

The Ascent of Jesus & Visionary Ascents – One and the same?

Posted by NT Wrong on April 26, 2008

In many early Christian texts, there is a curiously close connection between the account of Christ’s crucifixion, death, ascent, and heavenly exaltation and the visionary ascension experiences of the authors who describe it. Are we dealing with one and the same phenomenon? Is the account of Jesus’ ascent to heaven derived from visionary ascents experienced by followers of the Jesus Movement?

For example, in Ascension of Isaiah 6, Isaiah induces a trance that results in the separation of his visionary soul from his stationary body. Richard Bauckham dates the Ascension of Isaiah as early as AD 70, and other interpreters date it to the late first or early second century. David Halperin describes the trance scene in Ascension of Isaiah 6 as a “vivid and realistic-sounding account of a shamanistic trance”, which most probably reflects the author’s actual visionary experience(s) (Faces of the Chariot 1988:66). In addition, there are a number of other indicators of early Jewish (and Christian) mysticism: requirement for passwords during descent, physical transformation of the visionary into an angelic form, and angelic opposition to human ascent. All of these factors reflect elements in early Jewish visionary experience.

What is more, the very form of the Ascension of Isaiah, which alternates the ascensions and transformations of the visionary ‘Isaiah’ with those of Christ betrays the influence of the visionary ascent experiences. Isaiah has a visionary ascent to heaven, in which he sees Jesus descend to earth and then ascend to heaven, after which Isaiah descends to earth again. The Ascension of Isaiah intimately connects visionary experiences of Christians with the ascent of Jesus.

A wide range of visionary ascent motifs is again present in the Odes of Solomon, where Christ’s descent to Hades and ascent to heaven is celebrated in hymns or odes. The Odes of Solomon is a Syrian collection which dates to this same late first or early second century priod. Again, there are a number of indicators of visionary experience. The visionary-odist experiences transformation into a heavenly figure, mystical union, ascension in a merkavah, avoidance of evils and dangers in ascent, and an angelus interpres figure. All of this strongly suggests that the description of Christ’s battle against evil powers and subsequent ascent to heaven were created from visionary experiences which themselves involved Christians attempting to overcome evil in an ascent to heaven.

Another book from this period is the Book of Revelation, which provides yet another mixture of visionary heavenly ascent with an account of Christ’s own ascent. In Revelation 4.1, John sees a “door opened in heaven”, and for the remainder of the book is “in the spirit”, experiencing a series of visions. John’s vision of his ascent to heaven involves a vision of Christ’s descent, defeat of Satan and ascent into heaven and exaltation (Rev 12.1-9). In Rev 1.13-18, John’s initial vision of the One like the Son of Man makes reference to his death providing freedom from Death and Hades and depicting him as being exalted in heaven.

Visionary experiences like those reported in the Ascension of Isaiah, the Odes of Solomon, and the Revelation of John arguably formed the basis of the resurrection accounts. They may even have occurred immediately following Jesus’ death when the period of trauma and grief was most intense. They may have been experienced by figures such as Peter or Mary Magdalene–both described in early Christianity as having visions. The vision reports they told would have provided the earliest accounts of Jesus’ ascent (to heaven). Thanks to the survival of works such as the Ascension of Isaiah, the Odes of Solomon, and the Revelation of John, we also have a good idea what those earliest vision reports of Jesus’ ascension might have looked like.


Posted in Gospels, Historiography, Judeo-Christian Practices | Comments Off on The Ascent of Jesus & Visionary Ascents – One and the same?

A Syrian travel diary: The last Aramaic Speakers

Posted by NT Wrong on April 25, 2008

Michael Gebicki’s travel diary in today’s The Australian covers an area in Syria where some of the last speakers of Aramaic live. His lavish descriptions make me want to go there, in order to experience it all first hand! 

“Sequestered in these stony hills in the Qualamoun Mountains, a pocket of Aramaic speakers remains, a link with the ancient world of the Old Testament. If Jesus Christ were alive today, he could have held a conversation with this woman.”
Back to the Beginning

And, as a special bonus, here’s a first century mp3 recording–believed to be Jesus Christ himself! Can you work out what he says?

Jesus recorded LIVE (in Aramaic)


Posted in Hebrew & Semitics | Comments Off on A Syrian travel diary: The last Aramaic Speakers

Pope Flies Out after U.S. Tour

Posted by NT Wrong on April 25, 2008

Posted in Humour, Religion & Society | Comments Off on Pope Flies Out after U.S. Tour

Join a Protest against Scientology! It’s a Free Society.

Posted by NT Wrong on April 24, 2008

A group called “Anonymous” has been organising an ongoing series of protests against The Church of Scientology. About once a month worldwide protests are advertised, via the internet.

The group claims no leaders. Members endorse peaceful protest only.

Why should you join a peaceful protest against Scientologists? Because Scientology robs the weak and downtrodden. Scientology kills people. And Scientology is very powerful.

As for that last claim, consider what happened at the Anonymous protest on March 16, 2008. The US state government arrested two protesters for speaking against the Church of Scientology in Atlanta, on March 16, 2008. The US state government also fined passing motorists who honked in support of the protestors.

And here’s a coincidence:

“Georgia state Senator Nancy Schaefer appeared at a ribbon cutting event in Atlanta for an exhibition sponsored by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) … CCHR happens to be a group sponsored by the Church of Scientology that labels psychiatry “an industry of death.” According to the Savannah Morning News article that I linked, Schaefer’s also listed by CCHR as being a member of their board of advisors, which Schaefer denies … In the past Schaefer has advocated doing away with mental health screening in public schools.”
Liberal Lucidity

Protesters arrested at anti-Scientology event in Atlanta Sunday, March 16, 2008

While protesting outside the Scientology Church in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, two members of the group Anonymous were arrested by DeKalb County riot police while standing opposite the Church of Scientology-owned building. The two protesters, who earlier participated in the delivery of a ‘global speech’ collaboratively written and read by members of Anonymous at protests worldwide, are believed to have been charged by Dekalb police for protesting without a permit and causing ‘offensive or hazardous conditions’. However, other members of Anonymous who took leading roles in arranging the protest are adamant that the Dekalb police had previously told them they did not need a permit to protest…

Members of Anonymous have composed an open letter to Dekalb’s Chief of Police, asking if such a show of police strength was really needed at a non-violent protest organised and attended mainly by college students and young Americans…

Drivers showing their support for the protesters by honking their car horns while driving past were followed by police bikes waiting in the Scientology building’s driveway and given tickets for violating noise ordinance laws. However, many members of Anonymous have voiced confusion over these tickets, as the honks of support were only 2-3 seconds in duration at most, and noise ordinance laws state a horn must be sounded for longer than 60 seconds to count as a violation of the law. When, after the arrests were made, the police started to adopt the policy of ticketing drivers who honked, members of Anonymous quickly raised “Do not honk” signs to drivers.

Both of the members of Anonymous have been released, one with a bail of $763.00. There are confirmed to be two charges standing against one. No information has been released from the police department at this point. … They did no wrong, and that building they were led into was reportedly the Scientology Org Building…

Posted in Non- Judeo-Christian 'Others', NRMs, Religion & Society, Video | Comments Off on Join a Protest against Scientology! It’s a Free Society.