Saturday, March 24, 2018

Did God will the Fall?

It's common for freewill theists to deny that God willed the Fall. More generally, it's common for freewill theists to deny that God wills moral and natural evils, viz. war, famine, murder, disease, natural disaster, fatal accidents. Bad events stand outside God's will. Bad events are antithetical to God's will. They think it's blasphemous to attribute bad things to God's will. They think Calvinism is wicked for attributing natural and moral evils to God's will. 

I'd like to consider one aspect of that denial. Take the Fall. If Adam hadn't sinned, world history would turn out very differently. You and I exist in a fallen world. You and I wouldn't exist in an unfallen world. You and I are the end-product of a complex chain of events which includes natural and moral evils at various turns. Procreation is about men and women meeting and mating at a particular time and place. Even slight changes in the past ramify into the future so that our would-be ancestors will miss connections. For instance, WWII killed millions of people, but by the same token, millions of people exist as a result of the dislocation caused by WWII–who wouldn't be conceived absent that massive disruption.

So that raises a question: if you're the end-product of an evil event that's inimical to God's will, then doesn't this imply that your existence is inimical to God's will? If you exist as the result of some past evil, and if the historical cause of your existence is antithetical to God's will, then isn't the effect antithetical to God's will? 

To put it another way, if you could step into a time machine and erase the results of a past evil, would do so–even if that meant erasing resultant future generations from the space-time continuum? Would you erase your own parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, children, and grandchildren? If the precipitating event that led to their existence was diametrically opposed to God's will, then doesn't that implicate all the consequences? 

Calvinism in the Octagon: two men enter, one man leaves

With or without God

Of course, some atheists "don't like the idea of life [with] God". Take Alduous Huxley in Ends and Means:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning - the Christian meaning, they insisted - of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.

Corn gods

Continuing my analysis of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014). I'll comment on a section from chap 5,

Incarnate sons (or daughters) of a god who died and then rose from their deaths to become living gods granting salvation to their worshipers were a common and peculiar feature of pagan religion when Christi­anity arose…

i) Heathen deities are typically physical, and frequently humanoid beings to begin with, so they can't become what they already are. Some of them are shapeshifters (e.g. Proteus), but that's changing from one physical form to another. Heathen deities are modeled on the world. Modeled on human society and animals. They personify natural forces and natural cycles. Often they come into being through sexual reproduction. They can be killed. A fundamentally immanental and anthropomorphic view of deity. 

ii) Carrier fails to distinguish between incarnation/resurrection, apotheosis/translation, and descending/reascending from the Netherworld. But those are categorically distinct. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

The genealogy of Jesus

7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph [or Asa], 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos [or Amon], and Amos [Amon?] the father of Josiah (Mt 1:7-10).

1. The interrelationship between the "genealogies" of Matthew and Luke poses a long-standing crux. I put "genealogies" in scare quote because that in itself may be part of the problem. In modern English, "genealogy" has a narrow, technical connotation, and it's prejudicial to assume that Matthew and/or Luke were recording "genealogies" in that specialized sense.

2. For instance, is the selection criterion in Matthew strictly and solely ancestral, or does he have other criteria? In vv7-8,10, he seems to use double entendres, where "Asaph" is a pun for "Asa" while "Amos" is a pun for "Amon". Although it's possible that "Asaph" and "Amos" are scribal errors, they represent the stronger manuscript tradition. Cf. B. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament (UBS, 2nd. ed., 1994), 1-2. 

If "Asaph" and "Amos" are original, then Matthew is substituting a psalmist and a prophet for Hebrew kings. A homophonic wordplay that trades on association with each. If so, then Matthew isn't constructing a pure family tree; rather, his selection criteria include theological kinship as well as lineal ancestry.  

But in that event, the question of whether Matthew and Luke have contradictory "genealogies" is confused, since, at least in the case of Matthew, this was never meant to be strictly ancestral in the first place. The genre is more complex. Matthew, writing for a Jewish audience, has subtle puns to indicate that Jesus is not only David's royal heir, but heir to the psalmists and prophets. 

Seen by God


I continue my romp through Richard Carrier's diatribe On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014). In chap. 4, he makes the following claims:

Christianity began as a charismatic cult in which many of its leaders and members displayed evidence of schizotypal personalities. They naturally and regularly hallucinated (seeing visions and hearing voices), often believed their dreams were divine communications, achieved trance states, practiced glossolalia, and were (or so we're told) highly suscepti­ble to psychosomatic illnesses (like 'possession' and hysterical blindness, muteness and paralysis).159 These phenomena have been extensively docu­mented in modern charismatic cults within numerous religious traditions, and their underlying sociology, anthropology and psychology are reason­ ably well understood (in addition to what follows, see also Element 29).

For example, we know the first Christians regularly practiced glosso­lalia. Acts 2 mythologizes this phenomenon, depicting the first Christians 'speaking in tongues' in the middle of Jerusalem as if this actually meant miraculously speaking foreign languages fluently that they were never taught, when in fact we know 'speaking in tongues' actually meant (as it does now) babbling in random syllables, which no one could really under­ stand except special interpreters who were 'inspired' by the holy spirit to miraculously understand and translate for their congregation. We know this because Paul tells us so (in 1 Corinthians 14; in fact the phenomenon is addressed throughout 1 Corinthians 12-14). Thus Acts has taken this real phenomenon and exaggerated it into a legendary power. But we know from Paul it operated differently. And in fact, the phenomenon Paul describes is known across the world, in countless cultures and religious traditions, and has been extensively studied.160 When we see in antiquity a phenomenon we've documented scientifically as commonly occurring in various cultures, it's far more likely to be the same phenomenon than something entirely new yet coincidentally identical. We must therefore conclude the first Christians had some social and anthropological similarities to other cults that practice glossolalia.

Acts represents this as a recurring practice in the church: Acts 10.46; 19.6 (confirmed in Mk 16.17); and in 1 Cor. 14.18, Paul himself says he spoke in tongues more than anyone, and throughout that chapter makes clear it was so commonly happening to others in his churches that he had to set up rules to govern it. And as for glossolalia, so for the other phenomena Paul reports as regularly practiced by the first Christians. The most important of which for our purposes was hallucination (visual and auditory). Humans are actu­ally biologically predisposed to hallucinate. The neurophysiology of hallu­cination is built-in and thus must have evolved for some useful function (or as a side-effect of something else that did).

Normals can hallucinate when exposed to triggers. The most common of which is sleep paralysis (where normals hallucinate at the threshold between being asleep and awake); but the most familiar are pharmaceuticals (many drugs induce hallucination, including several that were not only available in antiquity but known in antiquity), while the most culturally transmitted are trance behaviors.163 Extreme fatigue, heat, illness, fasting, grief and sleep or sensory deprivation ('incubation') can all induce halluci­nation in normals. And by the time of Christianity, cultural practices had long developed to intentionally trigger hallucination, including fasting and sensory or sleep deprivation, but more typically rhythmic prayer or chant­ing or the use of music or dance to induce an ecstatic state (Paul alludes to singing and prayer as likely trance-inducing behaviors in his congregations in 1 Cor. 14.12-15; see also Acts 16.25; Eph. 5.19; and Col. 3.16; which might suggest also dance, as in other cultures whirling or spinning are known triggers). Fasting (i.e., starving) is also attested within the church.

Accordingly, in antiquity, where schizotypals would routinely be regarded as prophets and holy men (and not seen as insane, as they are in modern cultures), we can expect schizotypals will actually gravitate into religious cults that socially integrate them or even grant them influence and status. The availability of niches of strong social support for schizotypals would explain why in antiquity there were few reported cases of psychosis (and why hallucination was not regarded as a major index of insanity except when wholly crippling or conjoined with fever), and why miracles and visions (not just Christian and Jewish, but pagan as well) were so frequently reported and widely believed to be genuine. Obviously schizotypals would prefer the company of people who take them seriously. 

And yet even non-schizotypals can become regular trance hallucinators within cults and cultures that encourage and develop their capacities in this regard. Even in hostile cultures (like our own), normals find themselves hallucinating with remarkable frequency, particularly within the context of religious assumptions and expectations (Christians hallucinate Christ; Buddhists hallucinate Buddha), and psychological priming (UFO enthusi­asts hallucinate encounters with aliens; the bereaved hallucinate encoun­ters with the recently deceased).

Many members of a cult will claim to have seen or heard things, when in fact they didn't, and pretend to go along, because (a) they want to belong (and this is the only way to fulfill their desire to fit in), or they need the benefits the community provides (such as food, shelter, love, companionship), or (for reasons of dysphoria or dissonance outside the cult) they want to believe its claims are true because they are ultimately comforting (such as giving their lives hope or meaning that they did not previously have), or they want the power and influence that being a revered spiritual leader affords them (if they can be adequately convincing and also effective at winning support). These psychological motivations can be quite powerful, and have certainly been documented to compel people to engage in conforming behavior in other contexts, so it can surely happen in this context as well. These members will pick up all the social cues and simply agree with everyone, to both fit in and convince themselves. which if sustained can even alter their memory so that they honestly believe they saw or heard things they didn't (or else they will delusionally refuse to acknowledge, even to themselves, that they didn't).

We should expect this same social phenomenon in the orig­inal church, which is why only apostles 'saw the Lord', as that is what it was to be an apostle: to be one whom the Lord chose to reveal himself (1 Cor. 9.1; 15.5-8; Gal. 1.11-12; note how Gal. 1.8 indicates that revelations from lesser divinities couldn't make one an apostle). This also explains why their number was limited. The Lord might still communicate to lower ranking members through intermediaries (angels and benevolent spirits), but you dare not claim to have 'seen the Lord'...

All of this provides considerable background support to what sev­eral scholars have already argued: that the origin of Christianity can be attributed to hallucinations (actual or pretended) of the risen Jesus. The prior probability of this conclusion is already extremely high, given the background evidence just surveyed; and the consequent probabilities strongly favor it as well, given the evidence we can find in the NT.181 Chris­tian fundamentalists are really the only ones who do not accept this as basically an established fact by now. 

Thus, in Acts 2, we see the entire church hallucinating floating tongues of fire and then babbling in tongues in a mass ecstatic trance. In Acts 7, in the middle of the Sanhedrin court, Stephen hallucinates Jesus floating up in the sky, but no one else there sees it. In Acts 9, Paul hallucinates a booming voice and a beaming light from heaven (and suffers hysterical blindness as a result); and Ananias hallucinates an entire conversation with God. In Acts 10, Cornelius hallucinates a conversation with an angel, and Peter falls into a trance and hallucinates an entire cosmic dinner scene in the sky. In Acts 16, Paul hallucinates a revelation of a man who tells him where to travel (this story probably drawing in one way or another on Paul's own mention of receiving such a revelation in Gal. 2.2). In Acts 27, Paul hallucinates a conversation with an angel. Many Christians receive spirit communications ('prophesy'), as indicated in Acts 19.6 and 21.9-10-and Acts 2.17, which quotes Joel 2.28-31 as being fulfilled in the church: 'I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams'.

Paul confirms this general picture firsthand. In Gal. 1.11-12, Paul says he learned the gospel only from a hallucinated encounter with Jesus (a 'rev­elation') whom he experienced 'within' himself (Gal. 1.16). He confirms this in Rom. 16.25-26, where Paul says, 'My gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ is according to a revelation'. 183 The other apostles received their information from revelations as well. 'Unto us', Paul says (meaning the apostles), 'God revealed [the secrets of the gospel] through the Spirit' (1 Cor. 2.10). And in 1 Cor. 15.1-8 Paul says, 'the gospel I preached' (which in Galatians and Romans he confirms came only by revelation) is the same gospel Peter and the others preached (this is the whole gist of Galatians 1 and 2: see discussion in Chapter 11), who also experienced special iso­lated visions of the Christ just like Paul's, which again was the qualifying requirement to be an apostle ( 1 Cor. 9.1: 'Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?'). 

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says he and others have many glorious 'visions and revelations of the Lord', and among these he includes hallucinated trips to heaven where the hallucinator hears and sees strange things, much like the entire book of Revelation, which is a veritable acid trip, an extended hallucination of the bizarrest kind, an example of the kind of thing going on all the time in the early churches (even despite the fact that that particular example is probably wholly fabricated). Paul then goes on to relate in that same chapter a whole two-way conversation he had with God, demonstrat­ing that he not only heard voices but conversed with them; he also says he experiences an 'abundance of revelations' (2 Cor. 12.7). And in 1 Cor. 14.6, Paul says 'what use am I to you, unless I speak to you by way of a revelation, or knowledge [gnosis, meaning spiritual knowledge], or prophesying, or teaching?' 

Similarly, the fact that Christians regarded as inspired scripture such books as Daniel, which depict authoritative information coming from God through both visions and dreams, entails that Christians believed authori­tative information came from God through visions and dreams (otherwise they would not deem such books as honest or reliable, much less scripture). They could therefore see their own visions and dreams as communications from God, too. Thus, even if books such as Revelation are fabricated, as symbolic discourses on the times, they still represent themselves as genuine hallucinatory experiences. 

Early, Non-Extant Documents On The Resurrection

The early Christians had a lot of information we don't possess today that's relevant to Jesus' resurrection and other subjects. Few people would deny that Paul communicated some information orally that he didn't write in any of his extant letters, that James knew more about the resurrection appearance to him than what's described in 1 Corinthians 15:7, that the gospel authors only wrote about some of the information they had rather than all of it (John 21:25), and so on.

But it's often asserted or implied that the additional information the early Christians had in such contexts was communicated orally rather than in writing to an inordinate degree. We're told that oral communication is less stable than written communication, that memories and oral traditions wouldn't have held up well over the few decades that passed before the gospels were written, and so forth.

Responses to such objections often take the form of arguing for the reliability of the unwritten transmission of the information in question. Memory is more reliable than the critics suggest. The ancient cultures under consideration had developed sufficient methods for preserving information orally. The gospels should be dated earlier than the critics date them. Etc. Those responses are good as far as they go. However, we need to be careful to not concede too much about the alleged lack of written sources in these contexts.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Richard Carrier: Christian apologist

The most ironic section of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014) is chapter 4, where he unwittingly makes a case for Jesus as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. Of course, that's not Carrier's intention, but he's blissfully blind to the apologetic thrust of his argument:

Even before Christianity arose, some Jews expected one of their messiahs heralding the end times would actually be killed, rather than be immediately victorious, and this would mark the key point of a timeta­ble guaranteeing the end of the world soon thereafter...First, the Talmud provides us with a proof of concept at the very least (and actual confirmation at the very most). It explicitly says the suffer­ing servant who dies in Isaiah 53 is the messiah (and that this messiah will endure great suffering before his death) [b. Sanhedrin 98b and 93b]. The Talmud likewise has a dying-and-rising 'Christ son of Joseph' ideology in it, even saying (quoting Zech. 12.10) that this messiah will be 'pierced' to death [b. Sukkah 52a-b].

There is no plausible way later Jews would invent interpretations of their scripture that supported and vindicated Christians. They would not invent a Christ with a father named Joseph who dies and is resurrected (as the Talmud does indeed describe). They would not proclaim Isaiah 53 to be about this messiah and admit that Isaiah had there predicted this messiah would die and be resurrected. That was the very biblical passage Christians were using to prove their case. Moreover, the presentation of this ideology in the Talmud makes no men­tion of Christianity and gives no evidence of being any kind of polemic or response to it. So we have evidence here of a Jewish belief that possibly predates Christian evangelizing, even if that evidence survives only in later sources.

The alternative is to assume a rather unbelievable coincidence: that Christians and Jews, completely independently of each other, just happened at some point to see Isaiah 53 as messianic and from that same passage preach an ideology of a messiah with a father named Joseph (literally or symbolically), who endures great suffering, dies and is resurrected (all in accord with the savior depicted in Isaiah 53, as by then understood). Such an amazing coincidence is simply improbable.

But the Talmud and the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel are not our only evidence of a pre-Christian dying-messiah theme. The book of Daniel (writ­ ten well before the rise of Christianity) explicitly says a messiah will die shortly before the end of the world (Dan. 9.2; 9.24-27; cf. 12.1-13). This is already conclusive. Given my definition of 'messiah' (in §3), Christianity looks exactly like an adaptation of the same eschatological dying-messiah motif in Daniel.

Isaiah 53 was already under­ stood to contain an atonement-martyrdom framework applicable to dying heroes generally...But of the more specific notion of a dying messiah, we also have other pre-Christian evidence in the form of a Dead Sea Scroll designated 11Q13, the Melchizedek Scroll...There are many such pesherim at Qumran. But this one tells us about the 'messenger' of Isaiah 52-53 who is linked in Isaiah with a 'servant' who will die to atone for everyone's sins (presaging God's final victory), which (as we have already seen) later Jews definitely regarded as the messiah. At Qumran,11Q13 appears to say that this messenger is the same man as the 'messiah' of Daniel 9, who dies around the same time an end to sin is said to be accomplished (again presaging God's final victory), and that the day on which this happens will be a great and final Day of Atonement, absolving the sins of all the elect, after which (11Q13 goes on to say) God and his savior will overthrow all demonic forces. And all this will proceed according to the timetable in Daniel9.Thus, 11Q13 appears to predict that a messiah will die and that this will mark the final days before which God's agent(s) will defeat Belial (Satan) and atone for the sins of the elect.

Regardless of how one chooses to understand the text of 11Q13, we still have Dan. 9.24-27, which is already unmistakably clear in predicting that a messiah will die shortly before the end of the world, when all sins will be forgiven; and Isaiah 53 is unmistakably clear in declaring that all sins will be forgiven by the death of God's servant, whom the Talmud identi­fies as the messiah. So there is no reasonable basis for denying that some pre-Christian Jews would have expected at least one dying messiah, and some could well have expected his death to be an essential atoning death,
just as the Christians believed of Jesus Even apart from 11Q13 there is evidence the Dead Sea community may have already been thinking this, since one of their manuscripts of Isaiah explicitly says the suffering servant figure in Isaiah 53 shall be 'anointed' by God and then 'pierced through for our transgressions'. For this and the following points see the discussion of the pre-Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 in Martin Hengel, 'The Effective History of Isaiah 53 in the Pre-Christian Period', in The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources (ed. Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher; Grand Rapids, Ml: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 75-146.

The Christian gospel is thus already right there in Daniel, the more so if Daniel 9 had been linked with Isaiah 52-53, which is exactly what 11QI3 appears to do. But even without such a connection being made, the notion that a Christ was expected to die to presage the end of the world is already clearly intended in Daniel, even by its origi­nal authors' intent, and would have been understood in the same way by subsequent readers of Daniel. The notion of a dying messiah was therefore already mainstream, well before Christianity arose. 

The suffering-and-dying servant of Isaiah 52-53 and the mes­siah of Daniel 9 (which, per the previous element, may already have been seen by some Jews as the same person) have numerous logical connections with a man in Zechariah 3 and 6 named 'Jesus Rising' who is confronted by Satan in God's abode in heaven and there crowned king, given all of God's authority, holds the office of high priest, and will build up 'God's house' (which is how Christians described their church)

In the Septuagint text, Zechariah is commanded in a vision to place the crown of kingship upon 'Jesus' (Zech. 6.11) and to say immediately upon doing so that 'Jehovah declares' that this Jesus is 'the man named ''Rising" and he shall rise up from his place below and he shall build the House of the Lord'. The key noun is anatole, which is often translated 'East' because it refers to where the sun rises (hence 'East'), but such a translation obscures the fact that the actual word used is the noun 'rising' or 'rise' (as in 'sunrise'), which was not always used in reference to a compass point, and whose real connotations are more obvious when translated literally. In fact by immediately using the cognate verb 'to rise up' (anatelei, and that explicitly 'from his place below') it's clear the Septuagint translator under­ stood the word to mean 'rise' (and Philo echoes the same pun in his interpretation...

If this 'Jesus Rising' were connected to the dying servant who atones for all sins in Isaiah (and perhaps also with Daniel or 11Q13), it would be easy to read out of this almost the entire core Christian gospel. Connecting the two figures in just that way would be natural to do: this same 'Jesus' who is named 'Rising' (or, in both places, 'Branch' in the extant Hebrew, as in 'Davidic heir', or so both contexts imply) appears earlier in Zechariah 3, where 'Jesus' is also implied to be the one called 'Rising' (in 3.8). Both are also called 'Jesus the high priest' throughout Zechariah 3 and 6, hence clearly the same person. And there he is also called God's 'servant'. And it is said that through him (in some unspecified way) all sin in the world will be cleansed 'in a single day' (Zech. 3.9). Both concepts converge with Isaiah 52-53, which is also about God's 'servant', whose death cleanses the world's sins (Isa. 52.13 and 53.11), which of course would thus happen in a single day (as alluded in Isa. 52.6). And as we saw earlier, Jews may have been linking this dying 'servant' to the dying 'Christ' killed in Daniel 9 (in 11Q13), whose death is also said to correspond closely with a conclusive 'end of sin' in the world (Dan. 9.24-26), and both figures (in Daniel and 11Q13) were linked to an expected 'atonement in a single day'...These dots are so easily connected, and with such convincing I am concerned only with the existence of the scriptural coincidences.

As I mentioned, an 'exoteric' reading of Zechariah 3 and 6 would con­clude the author originally meant the first high priest of the second temple, Jesus ben Jehozadak (Zech. 6.11; cf. Hag. 1.1), who somehow came into an audience with God, in a coronation ceremony (one would presume in heaven, as it is in audience with God and his angels and attended by Satan) granting him supreme supernatural power over the universe (Zech. 3.7)...As it happens, the name Jehozadak means in Hebrew 'Jehovah the Righteous', so one could also read this as 'Jesus, the son of Jehovah the Righteous', and thereby conclude this is really 'Jesus, the son of God'. This is notable considering the evidence we have of a preexistent son of God named Jesus in pre-Christian Jewish theology...And all from connecting just three passages in the OT that already have distinctive overlapping similarities. 

The pre-Christian book of Daniel was a key messianic text, laying out what would happen and when, partly inspiring much of the very messianic fervor of the age, which by the most obvious (but not originally intended) interpretation predicted the messiah's arrival in the early first century, even (by some calculations) the very year of 30 CE...By various calculations this could be shown to predict, by the very Word of God, that the messiah would come sometime in the early first century CE. Several examples of these calculations survive in early Christian literature, the clearest appearing in Julius Africanus in the third century.47 Julius Africanus, in his lost History of the World, which excerpt survives in the collection of George Syncellus, Excerpts of Chronography 18.2.

The date there calculated is precisely 30 CE; hence it was expected on this calculation (which was simple and straightforward enough that anyone could easily have come up with the same result well before the rise of Christianity) that a messiah would arise and be killed in that year (as we saw Daniel had 'predicted' in 9.26...

Jesus could do no mighty work there

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them (Mk 6:5).

In his commentary, Darrell Bock makes a couple of trenchant observations about this provocative statement. Cf. D. Bock, Mark (Cambridge 2015), 202. I'd like to briefly expand on Bock's comments:

i) Bock's first point is that in the Gospels, people are usually healed by coming to Jesus or being brought to Jesus. If, however, Jesus faces a wall of animosity in Nazareth, then far fewer people than normal will present themselves to be healed. So it's not about his absolute inability to heal them, but about their refusal to seek him out for healing. Jesus typically leaves it to the ailing individual (or friends and family) to take the initiative. 

ii) In addition, there's a link between faith, the message, messenger, and healing. Jesus won't make a policy of healing people who aren't open to the Gospel. Physical healing is secondary. That's for this life, whereas salvation is primary–that's for all time. Jesus won't reward hostile unbelief. Accepting the gift but rejecting the giver. 

Is Jesus a mythical hero?

I'm continuing my analysis of Richard Carrier's turgid monograph On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014):

The twenty-two features distinctive of this hero-type are:
1. The hero's mother is a virgin. 
2. His father is a king or the heir of a king. 
3. The circumstances of his conception are unusual. 
4. He is reputed to be the son of a god. 
5. An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby. 
6. To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him. 
7. He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents. 
8. We are told nothing of his childhood. 
9. On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.
10. He is crowned, hailed or becomes king. 
11. He reigns uneventfully (i.e., without wars or national catastrophes). 
12. He prescribes laws. 
13. He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects. 
14. He is driven from the throne or city. 
15. He meets with a mysterious death. 
16. He dies atop a hill or high place.
17. His children, if any, do not succeed him. 
18. His body turns up missing. 
19. Yet he still has one or more holy sepulchers (in fact or fiction). 
20. Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary
(such as a king, giant, dragon or wild beast).
21. His parents are related to each other. 
22. He marries a queen or princess related to his predecessor.

1. Qedipus (21) 
2. Moses (20) 
3. Jesus (20) 
4. Theseus (19) 
5. Dionysus (19) 
6. Romulus (18) 
7. Perseus (17) 
8. Hercules (17) 
9. Zeus (15)
10. Bellerophon (14) 
11. Jason (14) 
12. Osiris (14) 1
3. Pelops (13)
14. Asclepius (12) 
15. Joseph [i.e., the son ofJacob] (12)

“Leaving Doctrinal Truth Untouched”

Rorate Caeli used this photo
with this article
The folks at the Rorate Caeli blog (“Traditionalists” who still maintain “communion with the successor of Peter”) are looking forward to the publication of Ross Douthat’s book on Pope Bergoglio:

Mr. Douthat had a column in the Sunday New York Times (largely an excerpt from his forthcoming book) exposing the myth that Francis would grow the Church (Mass attendance has been down under this pontificate), and examining how calling for a "truce" on hot-button issues has been part of a stealth agenda of incremental liberalization.

This paragraph is perhaps the most eloquent we have seen in a while, unmasking the tactics of Bergoglio:

The papal plan for a truce is either ingenious or deceptive, depending on your point of view. Instead of formally changing the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, euthanasia — changes that are officially impossible, beyond the powers of his office — the Vatican under Francis is making a twofold move. First, a distinction is being drawn between doctrine and pastoral practice that claims that merely pastoral change can leave doctrinal truth untouched. So a remarried Catholic might take communion without having his first union declared null, a Catholic planning assisted suicide might still receive last rites beforehand, and perhaps eventually a gay Catholic can have her same-sex union blessed — and yet supposedly none of this changes the church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble and suicide a mortal sin and same-sex wedlock an impossibility, so long as it’s always treated as an exception rather than a rule.

These are folks who operate with the understanding that “the Church” can operate with one or two bad popes, and still be ontologically “the same Church” (structurally) that was supposedly instituted in seed form at Matt 16:18.

They operate (as Douthat may not) with the understanding that this one bad pope won’t harm the underlying structure.

The hero's journey

Ever since the 19C (James Frazer's The Golden Bough), some atheists have attempted to classify Jesus as a variation on the mythical hero archetype. One methodological problem with that tactic is the sheer variety of classification schemes. There are many different hero mythotype taxonomies, depending on which comparative sources are used, and which features are included or excluded to abstract a lowest common denominator. So the classification scheme is very rubbery. An atheist can mix-and-match to manufacture a designer mythotype that will dovetail with his preconceived agenda. Here's a useful list:

Various Patterns of Hero Journeys from folklorists who compared hero stories from around the world. Levi-Strauss' is the one I rely on most. Kluckhohn's is the most general and useful of the other type. Campbell's coordinates well with patterns of the ritual process. Most were produced in the mid-20th century from comparisons of many stories 
Claude Lévi-Strauss’s view of the hero (based on comparison of myths from around the world, but especially Native American myths) = Structuralism
  • Series of impossible mediations between oppositions which are ordered according to
o     Geography: e.g. east – west
o     Cosmology: e.g. below – above
o     Logic: e.g. integration, resolve distances
o     Sociology: e.g. patrilocal – matrilocal residence
o     Techno-economic schema: e.g. water famine à hunt à success
o     Global integration (of 2 exreme propositions
·       Hero = Mediator between dualities / oppositions
o     Often in TWIN form: Messiah & Trickster
Clyde Kluckhohn's Pattern (based on his study of Spencer’s analysis of Navaho mythology which lead to his own realization of these similarities with other world mythology)
  •         The hero has adventures and achievements of extraordinary kind (e.g., slaying monsters, overcoming death, controlling the weather).
  •         There is often something special about the birth of the hero (occasionally heroine)
  •         Help from animals is a frequent motif.
  •         A separation from one or both parents at an early age is involved.
  •         There is antagonism and violence toward near kin, though mainly toward siblings or father-in-law. This hostility may be channeled in one or both directions. It may be masked but is more often expressed in violent acts.
  •         There is eventual return and recognition with honor. The hero’s achievements are realized by his immediate family and redound in some way to their benefit and that of the larger group to which the family belongs.
Johann Georg von Hahn’s Hero Pattern (based on biographies of 14 heroes--mostly Western--including Oedipus)
1.    The hero is of illegitimate birth
2.    His mother is the princess of the country
3.    His father is a god or a foreigner
4.    There are signs warning of his ascendance
5.    For this reason he is abandoned
6.    He is suckled by animals
7.    He is brought up by a childless shepherd couple
8.    He is a high-spirited youth
9.    He seeks service in a foreign country
10.  He returns victorious and goes back to the foreign land
11. He slays his original persecutors, accedes to rule the country, and sets his mother free
12. He founds cities
13. The manner of his death is extraordinary
14. He is reviled because of incest and he dies young
15. He dies by an act of revenge at the hands of an insulted servant
16. He murders his younger brother
 Jan De Vries Hero Pattern (based on comparison of traditional folk tales, mostly European)
             1.    The hero is begotten
2.    He is born
3.    His youth is threatened
4.    He is brought up
5.    He often acquires invulnerability
6.    He fights with the dragon or other monster
7.    He wins a maiden, usually after overcoming great dangers
8.    He makes an expedition to the underworld
9.    He returns to the land from which he was once banished and conquers his enemies
10.  He dies
Lord Raglan’s Hero Pattern (based on comparison of 18 classical myths, mostly from the Western world)
1.    His mother is a royal virgin
2.    His father is a king, and
3.    Often a near relative of his mother, but
4.    The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5.    He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
6.    At birth an attempt is made, often by his father, to kill him, but
7.    He is spirited away, and
8.    Reared by foster parents in a far country
9.    We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10.  On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
11.  After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beat,
12.  He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and
13.  Becomes king
14.  For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
15.  Prescribes laws, but
16.  Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
17.   Is driven from the throne and city.
18.   He meets with a mysterious death,
19.   Often at the top of a hill.
20.   His children, if any, do not succeed him.
21.   His body is not buried, but nevertheless
22.   He has one or more holy sepulchers.  
Joseph Campbell’s Structure of the Heroic Journey (based on comparison of parts of narratives from around the world). Similar to the pattern of separation, initiation/transformation, return of the ritual process (see Victor Turner)
1.    The Call to Adventure
2.    Refusal of the Call
3.    Supernatural Aid
4.    Crossing the First Threshold
5.    Passage Into the Realm of Night
1.    The Road of Trials
2.    The Meeting with the Goddess
3.    Temptation
4.    Atonement
5.    Receiving the Ultimate Boon
1.    Reconciliation
2.    Healing
3.    Paradise Regained

“Catholic Converts”: Come Back Home to Genuine (Protestant) Christianity

C.S. Lewis gave this reason for why he never became a Roman Catholic:

“The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.” From “Christian Reunion”, in Christian Reunion and Other Essays, edited by Walter Hooper, London: Collins, 1990, p. 17-18.

This statement becomes more of a fulfilled prophecy all the time, especially as we begin to see the fruit of the “Pope Francis” papacy.

Now that conservative Roman Catholics (and the ones we know are mostly the converts from Protestantism) are lamenting, in fact, holding conferences, to “Address the Crisis of Confusion in the Church”. Here is one announcement by the milquetoast “National Catholic Register”:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Free ebooks by Warfield

Art imitates life

I'm continuing my analysis of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014). 

Analogously, the mythical Abraham is conveniently named ('father of many') in Gen. 17.5 (and his original name, Abram, 'exalted father'. is no less convenient). similarly anticipating what he would become in the future. which doesn't tend to happen in the real world [240n9]

i) To begin with, do we even have Abraham's original name? Or do we have a Hebrew cognate? Abraham didn't speak Hebrew. His parents didn't give him a Hebrew name. He has a Hebrew name because the OT is written in Hebrew. But presumably that's a translation. 

ii) More to the point, a name that forecasts a future destiny is, indeed, improbable in a godless universe, but of course, that's hardly the viewpoint of the Pentateuchal narrator. Rather, the Pentateuch depicts a God who is orchestrating events behind-the-scenes to their appointed end. History as a series of divinely-planned events. As such, there's no incongruity within the narrative viewpoint of figure who has a prescient name. 

That should make us suspicious from the start. Isn't his name abnor­mally convenient? The 'Christ' part was assigned by those who believed he was the messiah, and thus not accidental. But what are the odds that his birth name would be 'Savior', and then he would be hailed as the Savior? Are historical men who are worshiped as savior gods usually so conveni­ently named? [240]

But according to Matthew and Luke, both his parents had angelic revelations regarding the future destiny of Jesus. Of course, Carrier is an atheist, but the point is that there's nothing inconsistent with his having a "convenient" name given the Jewish outlook of the Synoptics. 

Common Grace and the ‘Already and Not Yet’ Theme of Scripture

Already spring, and not yet finished shoveling snow.
We’ve been treated to at least one more snowfall, this one having been “inaugurated” on the first day of spring. It looks as if the snowfall will continue for another day or so.

While I was out shoveling, I was reminded of the phrase “already and not yet” as it applies to our redemption in Christ, as we still live in this fallen world.

It’s already spring, but I’m still shoveling.

One of the striking themes in the NT is that of the “already–not yet.” God has inaugurated his kingdom, but he has not consummated it. He has begun to fulfil his saving promises, but he has not yet completed all that he has started. No one can grasp the message of the NT if redemptive history is slighted. The NT does not negate the OT but fulfills it (Thomas Schreiner, “New Testament Theology”, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2001, p. 14).

I’m amazed at the common grace of God, enabling us to see (foresee) traces of His plan in the midst of common, everyday life. I wonder how many people will be complaining of the snow, all the while, missing this quite evident symbol of our current place in redemptive history.

The promised new creation will become a reality at the coming of Jesus Christ. God’s covenantal promises will then be fulfilled, and the groaning of the old creation will end when the new world dawns with all its stunning beauty.

What will make the new creation so ravishing is a vision of God and his dwelling with his people. Believers will enter the new creation with the resurrected bodies that they have been awaiting eagerly in the interval between the already and the not yet.

They will receive the reward of eternal life and the kingdom promises that they grasped by faith while on this earth. The final inheritance and salvation that were longed for will then become a reality (p. 864).

We are already redeemed. Until then, the task of shoveling snow is made lighter, knowing that it’s already spring, and the snow won’t last long at all.

Nature miracles

Graham H. Twelftree, ed.  The Nature Miracles of Jesus: Problems, Perspectives, and Prospects.  Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017

Craig Keener offers what is the most impressive chapter in the volume.  As he has done in his major two-volume work on miracles and in several subsequent journal articles, Keener offers a representative collection of examples (including some new ones) of well-documented and very credible contemporary parallels to the major categories of the nature miracles in the Gospels:  instantaneous, helpful changes in the weather after public Christian prayer or prophecy, multiplication of food, extraordinary fish catches, water turning into wine, and walking on water.  Other miracles could only happen after certain modern inventions—a life-saving journey in a car filled only with water after it had run out of gas to make it safely to the next village in the central African bush, for example.  

Tim McGrew focuses on the resurrection of Humean arguments in New Testament scholarship in an age when most philosophers have recognized their illegitimacy.  He rehearses the major fallacies in each of them and reminds us that Hume’s critics in the eighteenth and nineteenth century already highlighted these flaws.  More interdisciplinary work is needed so that scholars in one discipline will come to recognize the contributions of the other.  But McGrew also finds Keener’s approach part of a growing body of literature that has documented miracles even in the Western world, even under the scrutiny of hospital doctors.  Ironically, it may turn out that we can accept Hume’s stricture that we must have analogies in our own experience of reported events to be able to accept them because of the mounting contemporary evidence that miracles like those in the Gospels still happen.

It should come as no surprise, in light of my own writings, that I find Keener’s and McGrew’s contributions the most valuable of the collection.  I have personally witnessed inexplicable healings and have had analogies to nature miracles described to me by close friends and family members in contexts that make them virtually impossible to doubt. 

Craig Blomberg