"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a rich widow." - Evan Esar


One of the POCM updated Watchthatpage somehow missed (or maybe he just updated the site but not the updates page):

"How come scholars disagree; 200 years of Christian Scholarship in 455 words

All the way into the early 1800s thinking people generally believed the stories in the gospels were based on real events. The details weren't certain—maybe Jesus was divine maybe He wasn't, but he was a real person; maybe the "miracles" were supernatural, maybe they were natural events misunderstood by naive ancients, but at the core of each miracle was a real event in Jesus' life. Jesus was a real person. The gospels, however ham-handedly, record actual events. That's what pastors believed. And laymen. And professors. No careful, reasoned analysis convinced people otherwise.

Then, in 1835, this German kid (at 27 already a university lecturer, fluent in ancient languages and expert in NT scholarship) genamened David Strauss came out with a book he called The Life of Jesus Critically Examined—"the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell." Professor Strauss lost not just his job but his career. Angry believers never allowed him to teach again.

Dr. Strauss' buch went through the gospels miracle by miracle, analyzing the best rationalist explanations of each of them. What his book shows, over and over, is that the rationalist explanations were so contrived and self contradictory and far fetched, they couldn't be believed. That was a very big deal, because everybody now saw that the "history" in the gospels could not be real history. The unavoidable implication of David Friedrich Strauss' the Life of Jesus Critically Examined was that—is that—the gospel writers got their "history" by making it up. The gospel stories are not history, they are myth. Oops.

Here's where the relevance to modern scholarship comes in. Not everyone was willing to accept Dr. Strauss' results. Stubborn believing scholars couldn't out reason David Strauss, but they could refuse to think about his ideas. They simply put their fingers in their ears and insisted the bible is history, Jesus did the things described there. La, la, la, la la la la. Rational scholarship and (some of) believing scholarship split.

Even rationalist scholars who accepted Strauss' reasoning disagreed with each other.

Some focused on the myth part of non-historical myth. A school of late 19th and early 20th century scholars worked out theories of the pagan origins of the Christ myth. The bible is myth. The New Testament has no meaningful history. Jesus is a myth explained by His parallels with other ancient myths.

Because myth means "untrue," and untrue means "no meaning," and even non-literalist believing scholars were anxious to preserve the meaning of Christianity, most rationalist scholars fudged myth and focused on the non-historical part of non-historical myth. The NT is not direct history but it is, they imagined, history filtered through the beliefs and circumstances of the early church. Jesus was a real person. He can be rooted out by picking through the gospel stories for the historical kernel. Thus the Jesus Seminar and much of 20th century academic New Testament scholarship.

Non-literalist believers focused not on myth or historical rigor but the meaning of belief. The NT is, vaguely, allegorically, somehow-historically an image of the reflected echo of the eternal Godhead. Jesus too. Kumbaya.

Christian scholarship splintered. Scholars who understand the NT as myth write articles about...the NT as myth. Scholars who imagine the bible is literally true are unimpressed, and uninterested. Ditto the Jesus Seminar historical rationalists. Etc. Scholarship about Christianity's origins is busted into little pieces, everyone with their own wildly different theory about what the most basic facts are. Other than occasional long range sniping, scholars in the various camps don't even talk to each other. They can't. The other guy insists on gibbering nonsense.

Splitsville leads to...
"There is more historical evidence for Jesus than there is for George Washington"
I get this email from time to time, from nice, ernest people repeating what they heard in church. It's from a group of silly claims that do the rounds among bible literalist Christians. You can do it yourself. Just fill in the famous person blank. There is more evidence for Jesus than there is for:   Plato / Alexander the Great / Caesar / Washington / your_famous_person_here.

My answer to these emails runs, "Please list exactly the evidence you have in mind. List the evidence for Washington (Plato / Caesar / etc.). List the evidence for Jesus." They can't, of course. Checking the facts has honestly never occurred to them. And that's the point. That's what Splitsville does to "scholarship." It splits the thinking up into little camps of like minded people, camps where fundamental-axiom-wise everyone agrees with everyone else, and no one checks the facts. Or challenges the basic reasons.

The scholarship of Christian believers isn't about whether the Jesus stories are true, it's about how the Jesus stories are true. It's the same for the other side. Fashionable academic scholarship isn't about whether the Jesus People theory is true, it's about how the Jesus People theory is true.

Does this mean Ronald Nash, and Arthur Darby Nock are bad people? Are the Jesus Seminar professors out to cheat and lie? No it doesn't. No they're not. The Christian origins question is a tough one. Honest people disagree, honestly.

What it does mean is that fundamentally none of the scholarship is rigorous, and you can't depend on this scholar, or that one, to tell you what to think."

There's also a good page refuting the claim that Christianity seems to have been borrowed from the pagans because it borrowed from Judaism (ignoring the fact that one small, unimportant kingdom could not have had so much borrowed from it):

"Here's the set up:

1. We read about ancient Canaanite religion in Canaanite clay tablets dug up at Ras Shamara in Syria. (In ancient times the sign said Ugarit.)

2.We read about ancient Jewish religion from the Old Testament.

3. Ugarit fell centuries before Israel existed; so if there was borrowing, it had to be from Canaanite to Israelite.

What Dr. Smith points out is that a number of technical religious words are the same in Ugaritic as they are in Biblical Hebrew. He gives a list, and he gives citations so you can go look them up if that will make you happy..

His point is: "This incidence of highly specialized sacrificial terms suggests a common West Semitic heritage.""
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