Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for August, 2008

What is the word for taking everything literally?

Posted by NT Wrong on August 29, 2008

Looking, as I regularly do, at search terms which landed at this blog, I found that somebody had searched for:

They found a quote by James Barr, that late, great iconoclast of being literal.

And so — just what is the word for ‘taking everything literally’? Probably the best word you could use is the following:

    provanlonglongmanise /pruv-an-lawng-lawng-muhn-nahyz/ verb
    to provide an elaborate literalistic paraphrase of a text, which falsely purports to provide a scholarly assessment of it

I trust that will be of assistance in future searches.

Posted in Biblioblogs, Historiography | 1 Comment »

Umberto Eco Invented Dan Brown

Posted by NT Wrong on August 29, 2008

“The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist.”
– Umberto Eco, ‘The Art of Fiction No. 197’, Paris Review 185 (Summer 2008)

I loved reading Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s a perfect novel.

Posted in Books, Literature, Religion & Society | 2 Comments »

Returning the Bible to Fantasy

Posted by NT Wrong on August 29, 2008

“The Bible must be taken out of context. Re-turned to and into fantasy.”
– Jack Zipes. “The Messianic Power of Fantasy in the Bible.” Semeia 60 (1992):7-21, 8.

Paul Farrell returns the Bible to fantasy in his collection of children’s Bible stories, Illustrated Stories from the Bible (that they won’t tell you in Sunday School) .

His book includes all the children’s favourites, including ‘Jeptha’s daughter’, ‘Little Gershom’s Penis’ (Gershom is Zipporah’s son), ‘Moses Helps God to Understand’ (Num 13-14), and ‘When Jesus Drowned the Pigs’.

This page is from ‘The Slaughter of the Midianites’, which always gets the kiddies off to dream-land:

Posted in Books, Humour, Justice, The Bible | 2 Comments »

The Historical Arthur and The Historical Jesus

Posted by NT Wrong on August 29, 2008

King Arthur has a big place in British history-writing. The Historia Brittonum (AD 829/830) by ‘Ninnius’ tells the story of how the Anglo-Saxons dispossessed the native British (Welsh). A section on Arthur relates twelve of Arthur’s victories, including Castle Guinnion and Badon Hill. Arthur is described as dux bellorum (“commander in the battles”). In addition, the Annales Cambriae (AD 953-954) chronicles events from the fifth century onwards, and is sourced in Irish chronicles, yet interweaves seven events about Arthur, which are presented as historical. Arthur is also central to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous early history of Britain, The History of the Kings of Britain (ca. 1136).

But the earlier De excidio (ca 450-560), penned by Gildas, provides a narration of the same Saxon-Briton wars mentioned in these later texts. The battles climax with the famous battle at Badon Hill, which the later histories describe as Arthur’s great victory.

However, there is no mention of Arthur whatsoever by Gildas.

Today, it is widely agreed that there was no historical Arthur who in any way corresponds to the Arthur of later myth-historiography. That is, even if there were a person named Arthur who fought in the Saxon-Briton wars, we just don’t know anything about him.

As Ronald Hutton summarises:

“The most rational conclusion to be drawn from them, perhaps, is that there is some slight reason to believe in a historical Arthur even if very little can be said about him.”
Witches, Druids, and King Arthur 2003: 42

The lesson here for those who approach the stories of ‘David’ or ‘Jesus’ as ‘historical’ texts is clear. We shouldn’t be accepting stories which have a dominant interest in theological-religious viewpoints as ‘historiography’ in the first place. If there’s any historical elements in the stories, these need to be appraised in light of a careful evaluation of the facts, according to modern historical standards. Now, the best explanation of the facts might well be that aspects of the stories are factual. But, as Arthur historiography demonstrates, it is most unwise to proceed with an assumption of historicity.

Even when the Arthur stories had been proved to be entirely, or almost entirely, legendary, some popular historians continued to ignore it. Such scholars are the ‘Provan, Long & Longmans’ of Arthurian scholarship. One famous Arthurian scholar, who steadfastly defended the historical Arthur in the face of infidels was a modern druid — by the name of Winston Churchill. Here’s what Churchill says about the Arthurian legends:

“True or false, they have gained an immortal hold upon the thoughts of men. It is difficult to believe it was all an invention of a Welsh writer. If it was he must have been a marvellous inventor.”
– Winston S. Churchill. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Vol 1: The Birth of Britain. London: Cassell and Company Ltd, 1956: 46.

Churchill makes the classic argument of the believer-historian: ‘I just can’t see how it can’t be true’. Or ‘if you don’t believe this, you must be mad‘. The following evaluation from Churchill well demonstrates how a believer-historian can be carried along by his own beliefs (in his case, jingoism) so as to disregard the facts:

“In this account [Churchill’s] we prefer to believe that the story with which Geoffrey delighted the fiction-loving Europe of the twelfth century is not all fancy. If we could see exactly what happened we should find ourselves in the presence of a theme as well founded, as inspired, and as inalienable from the inheritance of mankind as the Odyssey or the Old Testament. It is all true, or it ought to be”
– Winston S. Churchill. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Vol 1: The Birth of Britain. London: Cassell and Company Ltd, 1956: 46.

Damn, that’s a funny quote.

Although I won’t go into my reasons here, I disclose that I think there is practically nothing about the biblical David which corresponds to any real person in the past. I also think that some of the ideas about Jesus in the canonical gospels and other early Christian writings correspond to some real Galilean apocalyptic-Enochian religious leader. For various reasons, I consider a historical figure called Jesus best and most economically accounts for the complex data in the Gospel. But, at the same time, I reject any claim that any such historiographical conclusion is ever “100% undeniable”. The historicity of works which are overtly religious, such are the Gospels, are unlikely to get anywhere near 100% reliable (generally speaking from my reading of religious texts). Moreover, in the specific case of Jesus, there is much which is untrue, unhistorical, false, etc. Ask any resurrected saint, and he’ll tell you most of the stuff is made up. Hutton’s estimation of the historicity of King Arthur materials holds also for King David, and I conclude that a few more basic facts can be established about Jesus.

There is one more lesson to be taken from Arthurian scholarship, again from the words of Ronald Hutton. He comments that the earlier, less critical historians and archaeologists chose to follow the legend of King Arthur. In so doing, they created:

“an enormous bubble of mythologizing. When this burst it was replaced by a triumphant scepticism which itself looks suspiciously like an emotional reaction.”
Witches, Druids, and King Arthur 2003: 43

So, there’s a stab both at the gullibility of the Provan, Long & Longmans of this world and the easy scepticism of Wells & Dohertys as well. Although scepticism is sometimes quite warranted (and open-minded questioning is always warranted), the nature of the particular text must be carefully evaluated for its historical value, if any.

Posted in Historiography, Jesus & Christ | 7 Comments »

Proofs of the Existence of God #812: Then, How Do You Know His Name?

Posted by NT Wrong on August 28, 2008

This proof for the existence of God comes from The Young Ones, in the Episode ‘Interesting’ (1982).

    [Rick opens door, and a Christian is at the door]…

    RICK: I think you’ve got the wrong house – you see, I don’t believe in God.

    CHRISTIAN: How do you know his name then, smart arse. [Grabs Rick’s groin and squeezes hard. He doubles over in pain]

So, there we have it. That God exists is 100% undeniable.

Posted in God, Historiography, Humour | 1 Comment »

The Lost Treasure of Ugarit

Posted by NT Wrong on August 28, 2008

Ugarit is about to hit the big screen — in the first film of the Jack Hunter series: The Lost Treasure of Ugarit.
(Any resemblance to Indiana Jones is purely coincidental.)

Here’s the trailer:

The trailer spells an unusual ‘Ugaritic’ hapax legomenon: ʿ-g-ṯ-ś-ǵ-h-ʾu-n-ṭ-ʾi-r , or ‘????? Hunter’. The so-called ‘Ugaritic’ is in fact nonsense. I wonder whether somebody (‘A’) managed to transliterate ‘Jack Hunter’ into Ugaritic cuneiform, but later on some ignorant Hollywood person (‘H’) came along and replaced some of the symbols with more visually interesting, yet incorrect and nonsensical, Ugaritic symbols?

Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei), an adventurous treasure seeker, goes to Syria after his mentor and father figure Professor Fredrick Shaffer (Sean Lawlor) is killed. Professor Frederick Shaffer believed that the people of Ugarit, a town in Syria that existed during the Pharoah’s reign, had buried a treasure before they were wiped out by the Pharoahs [sic]. Jack Hunter is one of the few archaeologists in the world who can interpret Ugarit writings [sic], however he never bought Frederick’s belief of a hidden treasure. Before he was killed, Frederick had discovered a clue that would prove his theory was true. We follow Jack to Syria where he meets Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly) the Ministry of Archaeology for Syria. Nadia thinks Jack is only coming to Syria to steal their historical artifacts and sell them to the highest bidder. She and her co-worker Tariq Khaliff (Mario Bassill) accompany Jack Hunter on his quest to find who killed Professor Frederick. During their travels, Jack discovers that the treasure is in fact real. Jack, Nadia and Tariq are caught up in a chase thru Syria, Egypt and Turkey trying to find the lost Treasure of Ugarit before Albert Littman (Thure Riefenstein) gets it for himself and the Russian mafia.
The Lost Teasure of Ugarit – Official Website

It looks spectacularly awful.

Posted in Films, Religion & Society, Ugaritic | 4 Comments »

… nope, they didn’t come. At least, not YET.

Posted by NT Wrong on August 28, 2008

Dear Faithful Remnant,

Although our prophets had prophesied the coming of the Nephilim, it appears that they had the date wrong. Let me make this clear — the prophecy is still correct, and the Nephilim will one day return in their great shiny UFO, piloted by Jesus and Mary Magdalene. But the year of His Second Coming was back-to-front. Obviously, reading right to left, like in the Language of God, the year of His Second Coming should have been A.D. 8002, not 2008 as the Great Prophets of The North Carolina Free Universalist Interfaith Church wrongly interpreted. This was a Test. Only those without True Faith will fall away. Amen.

Bishop N. T. Wrong
Durham, North Carolina

P.S. At least, while in the hills, I got to read John Gray’s Black Mass. What a hoot.

Posted in Historiography | 5 Comments »

The Nephilim are Coming!

Posted by NT Wrong on August 14, 2008

We are retreating to the hills for the next seven years. Posts on this blog will resume at that time.

N. T. Wrong
Free Universalist Interfaith Church
Durham, North Carolina

Posted in Historiography | 4 Comments »

Tim LaHaye Beware! – The ‘Right Behind’ Novel Series

Posted by NT Wrong on August 14, 2008

I just noticed Roland Boer’s new novel series: Right Behind.

In the best tradition of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Roland Boer is publishing the novel in serial form (on his blog) — free to the masses. Boer is understood to be writing the series by automatic writing. By reading Das Kapital backwards, in the original German, he is able to invoke the restless spirit of a nineteenth century man by the name of ‘J. N. Darby’, who tells him a small part of the story every few days.

Here’s the links to the story so far:

    Chapter 1 – ‘Ruptured’: Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4
    Chapter 2 – ‘Jesusland’: Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4

I very much like the title. The cover design is mine, with thanks to Donatello.

Posted in Books, Fundamentalism, Humour, Literature | 1 Comment »

Israeli David and Arab Goliath

Posted by NT Wrong on August 13, 2008

It’s not only sticks and stones that hurt our bones. The ‘David and Goliath’ metaphor has provided a powerful lens through which to view the Israeli-Arab conflict. Moreover, the metaphor has helped determine the way in which the Israeli-Arab conflict has developed in the real world.

“Israel’s partisans have worked hard to present the country as a tiny David facing a Goliath Arab military machine. In fact, however, virtually all experts—including the U.S. Department of Defence—believe the Israel Defense Forces have always been more than a match for their Arab neighbors.”
– Yahya M. Sadowski, Scuds or butter? : The political economy of arms control in the Middle East. Brookings Institution Press, 1993: 104.

“the Zionist Emergency Council and local Zionist groups provided the basic financial support for this Christian front, which soon, through local chapters and a budget of $150,000, was “crystallizing and properly channeling the sympathy of Christian America.” An effective speakers’ bureau dispatching lecturers across the country, supported by a monthly publication and other propaganda material, helped implant in Christian minds a picture of Israel as a “democratic little David taking on an evil Egyptian David.””
– Alfred M. Lilienthal, The Other Side of the Coin: An American Perspective of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Devin-Adair. 1965: 7.

“No simile better fits the war … than the legend of David and Goliath. David, of course, is little Israel, numbering less than 2.5 million souls. Goliath, of course, is the Arab world … a population of 20 to 40 million. … The Arabs and Communist representatives accused Israel of firing the first shots. [But] obviously, a nation that knows that it is in danger of stragulation will use its fists.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr, “David and Goliath” (Editorial). Christianity and Crisis 27.11 (26 June 1967): 141-142.

Political Stereotypes Israelis (Jews): Modern; western; having democratic orientations; good fighters; underdog; Israel as David facing an inept Goliath; trusted ally, and a true friend of the United States; a threatened party seeking and deserving peace and security in the midst of implacable enemies, etc.”
– media portrayal of Jews and Arabs, in Mohammed E. Ahrari, Ethnic Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987: 9.

“In the official Zionist rendition of the 1948 war the events are presented as a battle between a Jewish David and an Arabic Goliath. Central to key narratives in Israeli culture is the myth which depicts the Israel-Palestine conflict as ‘a war of the few against the many’. Since the early twentieth century Zionist historiography has based this narrative of the ‘few against the many’ on the biblical account of Joshua’s conquest of ancient Palestine, while mainstream Israeli historians continue to portray the 1948 war as an unequal struggle between a Jewish David and an Arab Goliath, and as a desperate, heroic, and ultimately successful Jewish struggle against overwhelming odds.”
– Nur Masalha, The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology and Post-Colonialism in Palestine-Israel. Zed Books, 2007: 56.

“The story of David and Goliath provided a reassuring myth of survival, not only because it told of the victory of the weak against the strong but also because the youthful victor of the battle against Goliath eventually emerged as the great ruler of ancient Israel, King David. By identifying with David, the Jews of both the pre-State and State periods could allow themselves to believe that they too would eventually achieve a high degree of political sovereignty, analogous to that of David in ancient times.”
– David C. Jacobson , Does David Still Play Before You?: Israeli Poetry and the Bible. Wayne State University Press, 1997: 84.

“the claim of “defenseless Israel facing the destruction of the Arab Goliath” does not correspond to historical facts. [Flapan] argues that Israel, on the eve of the “Arab invasion” had between 25,000 and 65,000 (low and high estimates) standing soldiers, while all the “Arab Goliath” had was 20, 269 to 23,500. By June of 1948, the Israeli fighting forces reached 41,000, and by December of the same year 96,441 ([Simha] Flapan[, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities. Pantheon,] 1987: 194-199). Concealing this fact came to valorize the “national spirit” and show its “superior and just cause” compared to the “evil, unjust, and destructive Arabs.” Then, in this discourse, the powerful is presented as “defenseless” and the “defenseless” is presented as the “destructive Goliath.”
– Riad M. Nasser, Palestinian Identity in Jordan and Israel. Routledge, 2005: 51.

“The international phase of the 1948 war has been filtered through the David and Goliath iconography with regard to the size of opposing forces and belief that Israel was on the defensive – the war taken to be an unalloyed military necessity rather than an outgrowth of expansionist goals. Concerning the relative size of military forces, Ben-Gurion claimed that 700,000 Jews are pitted against 27 million Arabs – one against forty.” The Arab countries equally indulged in wild propaganda about the magnitude of their threat to Israel. For example, the secretary general of the Arab League declared: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre that will be spoken of like the Mongol invasions and the Crusades.” This hyperbole about Arab strength, coming from both Jews and Arabs, could not alter the fact that the Arab Goliath was suffering from extreme poverty, domestic discord and internal rivalries. Nearly all the Arab countries were in imminent danger of internal collapse.”
– Thomas A. Baylis, How Israel was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Lexington Books, 1999: 80-81.

“Arab intransigence. On one side, a few million Israelis. On the other side, twenty Arab countries with a population of 100 million. Through ingenuity, resourcefulness, and courage, the beleaguered Jewish settlement in Palestine was able to forestall the attack of five Arab armies. David versus Goliath.”
– Summarising a media perception: William A. Gamson, Talking Politics. Cambridge University Press, 1992: 244.

“”The Auschwitz theme is back again,” says Marc H. Tanenbaum, director of the Interreligious Affairs Department of the American Jewish Committee. “The issue of Jewish survival is again at stake. You can’t have Judaism without Jews. The war assumes a metaphysical importance beyond the importance of individual Jewish lives.” Clifford A. Straus, who is organizing bond rallies in Miami, made the same point: “We’re scared as a people. How many times can David beat Goliath?” … The Chicago Civic Center was jammed with 5,000 people who applauded an enraged Mayor Richard Daley: “Go ahead, Israelites. Be sure to remove every Arab from the soil of Israel.””
– “A Unique Burst of Giving.” TIME Magazine, October 29, 1973.

“The relative sizes of Arab and Jewish populations have always been a serious concern, first to the early Zionists who sought in vain through Jewish immigration to build up a Jewish majority in Palestine, and later to Israel which has sought a larger population base to meet the threat implicit in the disproportionately Goliath-like Arab populations that surround it. But since 1967, the greatly disproportionate sizes of Israeli and Arab populations are only one part of the population problem. The new factor is the higher growth rate of the Arab population within Israel itself. For deriving from the conquests from the Six-Day War, the proportion of Palestinian Arabs to Jews within Israel’s new boundaries rose to a level that, if their higher growth rate continues, Palestinian Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel itself within a few decades, all other factors remaining constant.”
– Willard A. Beling, The Middle East: Quest for an American Policy. SUNY Press, 1976: 49.

“To the Arabs and the supporters of their cause, Israel is the Goliath, gigantic with American arms and money …”
– Ronald Segal, Whose Jerusalem?: The Conflicts of Israel. Cape, 1973: 11.

“In Washington, Ronald Reagan, by instinct a warm supporter of Israel, reflected that in the public perception, Israel had been transformed from the “David” to the “Goliath” of the Middle East.”
– William E. Smith, “Crisis of Conscience.” TIME Magazine, October 4, 1982.

Posted in Historical Books, Modern Israel, Reception | Comments Off on Israeli David and Arab Goliath