Discussion in 'Ancient History and Mythology' started by Tommy Shue, Jul 28, 2008.
yay! another guru!
This has certainly been a lively and wide-ranging thread. In rereading it all this morning, I was surprised to see that the chief concern of the Subj.-Head. is not introduced until page 8! This may be the first thread on the Web I've ever encountered where the opening pages were more discursive than the later ones! Unless there are a few pages before page 1 that have now been placed elsewhere under another heading? Or maybe it originally had another title/Subj.-Head.?
The cross has been misused. The name cannnot be JEHOVAH.
There's a terrific blog that's just been started pointing out all the inaccuracies in Acharya's work on the Jesus myther racket. It's here --
-- and I'm hoping many will get to read it and comment on it here. I wish I had half the level of scholarship shown by this blogger!
Hi Operacast —
Had a look. I do like this kind of stuff ... critical scholarly thinking as opposed to playing to the gallery.
I've contended the same issues here, on a number of occasions. The Theosophical Association seems a major culprit of playing fast and loose with texts and interpretations, and many have realised just how much you can get away with by their example, and how many you can lead astray — in her biography for example, Shirley Maclaine unwittingly repeated the fiction put forward by the Theosophist Geddes MacGregor that Origen (2nd century) preached reincarnation — he included citations in his argument, but no-one has been able to find them, and he finally admitted he made them up.
Of course, offer the public anything that batters hierarchical institutions and the general public will happily suspend their critical faculties — just look at the followers of The DaVinci Code!
In the 80's it was fashionable to dispel Christianity as a myth. Serious scholars today widely accept that such a position reflected social mores rather than good science. Today the consensus is that someone called Jesus Christ walked and talked, seemed to perform wonders, but it invariably takes the public a long time to catch up, and there are many who are drawn to the idea of conspiracy, etc.
Among the believing christians.
We are confusing the Christian model here with the historical model. The fact is that the general consensus among secular, unaffiliated, and frequently agnostic or atheist scholars today is that one Jesus of Nazareth did in fact exist as a normal human being, but a normal human bieng only, and one who died from trauma related to crucifixion and did not reappear. Jesus of Nazareth probably did teach around that area, around Palestine and the area around Galilee. This is a working historical model arrived at by scholarly consensus from modern up-to-date researchers, many of whom are not Christians by any stretch of the imagination at all. In fact, many of the most modern up-to-date professional researchers today are deeply resented by the fundamentalists on precisely that count. These are the modern nondenominational scholars today who have independently arrived at this very general working historic model through various individual lines of inquiry not conducted in tandem with some herd at all.
This coalesced historic model also posits a likelihood that Jesus of Nazareth may have also attempted two or three healings that _appeared_ to be magic and that were then embellished and assumed an urban-legend circulation out of proportion to what really happened. In generating this working historic model, the most reliable sources outside of the different texts that were later anthologized in the New Testament (which are of widely varying reliability) are historic chronicles, letters, etc., that come from the pagan/Greek/Roman world of that day, not from Christian communities at all. It is from texts like the twentieth chapter of Josephus's Antiquities, or from Tacitus, etc., that it becomes clear that there was a simple teacher called Jesus who got into trouble with Roman authorities and was crucified during the time of Tiberius.
People ignorant of recent scholarship today generally come in all creeds and all persuasions, from fundamentalists to atheists. Few of those who are ignorant of the most recent professional scholarship fail to bring an extreme bias of one sort or another to the uncomfortable prospect of acknowledging the working consensus of modern professional researchers and bona fide professional historians. "Uncomfortable" because the figure that emerges from the most modern bona fide professional research is a Jesus of Nazareth who is neither supernatural nor fictional. As a result, such a figure would inevitably displease any who are both ignorant and dogmatic, as many of the more ignorant fundamentalists and atheists often are. The most ignorant fundamentalists insist on the purely supernatural and the most ignorant atheists insist on the purely fictional.
So it's no surprise that neither group -- provided they are woefully ignorant of modern scholarship and wear the metaphorical equivalent of tin-foil hats -- is going to be happy with the model that has emerged from professional unalligned historians today. It just doesn't mesh with any of the "narratives" affixed inside their limited, prejudiced, ignorant and tiny brains. Unfortunately, the presence on the Internet of these virtual cultists on both sides is louder than the soundness of their so-called "scholarship".
It can be startling and uncomfortable when a sober carefully researched model emerges from painstaking work undertaken through rigorously peer-vetted professional scholarship from many different perspectives. The result can be especially uncomfortable for those with flagrant axes to grind whose ignorance and dogmatism render them less interested in probabilities -- which is mostly all you're going to get in ancient history, face it -- than in absurd certainties invoked purely in order to brainwash.
Instead of donning metaphorical tin-foil hats when confronted by a sober historical model that conforms to no dogmatic bigot's presuppositions at all, the wiser alternative is to read up further among the real professional peer-vetted journals related to the most rigorously peer-vetted professional research of today. That at least might ameliorate somewhat the sort of woeful ignorance that stems from dogmatism of all kinds. And it would provide a useful insight into how much in ancient history can be surmised as merely probable -- for instance, a teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, in the 1st century c.e. _probably_, but not definitely, accomplished a few healings that were then blown up out of proportion -- versus certain -- for instance, a teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, in the 1st century c.e. was _certainly_, and most definitely, crucified by the Roman authorities in Palestine.
Deal with it.
Some are apathetic christians, some are agnostics or atheists (though born as christians).
Teacher/rabble rouser/proto-communist/schizophrenic/otherwise mentally stressed/made up by others. With due respect to christians, it is very difficult to ascertain so far down in history with hardly any historical evidence. Actually we discussed in another forum, the historical evidence for Buddha.
Same model. You're assuming a contradiction.
Whether He is just an ordinary person, or the Incarnate Son of God, is a matter of faith and not scholarship, as how could scholarship alone prove the point either way?
Modern scholarship does not make me 'uncomfortable' about my faith in Christ, although it does lead me to question the institutional history of the church.
I would say that the assumption that the above is the only rational conclusion based on available evidence is, frankly, very far from certain, and to claim the latter statement to be 'certain' demonstrates a somewhat dogmatic and fundamentalist reading of a far more nuanced scholarly position.
You can, of course, pick your scholars as suits your conception, as do I, but at least I am honest enough to admit that my position is not 'certain', whereas I would have to say anyone who asserts Jesus Christ is certainly not the Christ of faith is showing an unreasonable degree of blind faith in their favoured argument.
I don't understand your point, there are plenty of people with different backgrounds who believe there was a Jesus. Are you arguing that only Christians (or ex-Christians) believe that? I don't understand the point or the basis of claim.
Actually, I was addressing those aspects of which we can be certain without at all meaning to say that other aspects are therefore ipso facto not true. I wasn't really saying anything one way or the other about the latter.
The problem I'm addressing instead is that there is an unwritten -- and ignorant -- assumption on the part of certain ill-educated posters throughout the Internet (who don't know how to read ancient texts) that all atheists, like them, just "know" that even Jesus the human teacher never existed, never mind the Christ of faith! Now that is manifestly absurd. The earliest written record, from well outside and well beyond the circle of apologetic Christian texts and extending into the earliest pagan documents, makes it perfectly clear that, at a minimum, there was certainly a real teacher from Palestine, Jesus of Nazareth, who was definitely crucified by the Romans. It is strictly that minimum that I was stressing in my previous, without addressing the pros and cons of the Christ of faith at all.
I do have my own thoughts about who and what Jesus of Nazareth really was. But I was trying not to bring that into the thrust of my main argument in my previous. I suppose I will have to clarify that now........... <sigh>
You see, the problem with dealing with ignorant atheists who don't know how to read history is that they just assume that any scholarship that comes from anything but a strictly oppositional perspective to Christianity is automatically bogus. I base that statement on personal experience. I have encountered on line these ignorant types of atheist all too often myself.
Even if some solid modern professional much-published professor who is an atheist from an Ivy League university were to publish a rigorously peer-vetted study in this field of ancient Palestinian history, and even if that study would show that -- at a minimum -- a human Jesus of Nazareth most definitely taught around that area and was certainly crucified by the Romans, such a study would not be accepted by this peculiar toxic brand of Internet atheist even if the scholar in question be an atheist her/himself. Once an atheist scholar is seen, however rigorously, sifting ancient texts, whether Christian or pagan, for what can be viewed as definitely historic and what is probably historic and what is possibly historic and what more unlikely than not, and so on down the line, s/he is viewed by these ignorant atheists as automatically tainted because s/he has not instead rejected the entire Jesus of Nazareth episode as entirely unhistoric.
The fact that such a ludicrous conclusion is flat-out contradicted by ancient chronicles from the pagan milieu, not just the Christian, is of no moment to these Internet creeps: "If the atheist scholar does not come out with a conclusion that even Jesus the human teacher of the pagan documents is pure myth(!), then that scholar is a traitor and no true atheist; never mind the written record from the non-Christian milieu/world." Fortunately, such a hidebound fundie attitude is still a distinct minority among atheists today. But I worry that it won't always be.
Of course, we all know that ignorance heightens dogmatism, and this is a flagrant case of just that. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised at this. But I am disgusted by it. It also means that bringing out one's own beliefs -- as I tried to avoid doing, unsuccessfully, in my previous -- inevitably acts as a magnet in which these ignorant Internetties, these mythers, come like a moth to flame to query one's personal perspective at length, thus conveniently moving the goal-posts away from the chief thing at issue: the emphatically historical nature of one Jesus of Nazareth who definitely taught in the area around Galilee and was certainly crucified by the Romans.
My own beliefs may very well deflect attention away here from the ludicrousness of supposing that there was no historic Jesus of Nazareth who taught in Palestine and ended up on a Roman cross. That emphatic historicity of Jesus the teacher is still the chief issue here. But at least my warning here, that my divulging my personal beliefs may attract myther goal-post-shifters to this thread, might to an extent blunt the impact of these fundie mythers on this discussion. Smarter readers here will be prepared for the kind of pernicious nonsense mythers here may pull in conveniently changing the subject, once I divulge my own beliefs.
Both my parents were college professors and atheists. My mother was an English professor and my father a History professor. The latter is one salient reason why it's -- frankly -- unwise for anyone ignorant of historiography to tangle with me. No, I'm not a professional historian myself, having specialized in music, but I've developed a very good nose for snake-oilers in the field of history, at least, and I've had occasion to apply that sense of smell quite a bit on the Net.
My personal beliefs were somewhat influenced by my parents at first, as is probably true of any of us. But they did encourage me to read everything, and they were not dogmatic. They were careful about my reading and encouraged me to read up thoroughly on all religious traditions as well as the rich history of agnosticism, skepticism and atheism. My reading eventually drove me to two main conclusions:
A) Skeptics are right that religions can be full of nonsense and cruelty, but
B) God itself is a real presence that we can only understand by studying the experiences of certain individual counter-culturalists through history, not the noxious creeds that they spawn.
In the latter conclusion, I differ from my parents.
I believe there are certain special individuals who introduced new ways of looking at humans as all one family -- Enmetena, Buddha, Socrates, Christ, etc. -- and who exerted a profound influence on their peers as a result, bringing about a greater social empathy with the usually "left-out". This sense of greater empathy with all can sometimes dissipate badly over time, but it's striking how such notions never collapse entirely. Once introduced into the human comedy, they always stick around, in however spotty a form. Humanity owes these trailblazers everything. The only reason why the strong don't abuse the weak today even worse than they already do is because the counter-cultural ideas these pioneers left us have imbued us with some sense of shame if we neglect the weak among us too callously.
I also believe it is no coincidence that these pioneers also appear to be the same ones who also recount the most direct encounters with deity. Sure, one can discount one such account or maybe two, but once we're dealing with half a dozen or so, each very different from every other, it seems silly not to acknowledge that direct encounters with deity, of whatever kind, are intimately involved with counter-cultural insights into social justice through the centuries. Such insights have been inextricably tied to these close encounters with deity for thousands of years. Jesus is one of those pioneers. But he is not the only one. I believe he is one of a very select few. He is not himself divine, in my view, but he does call himself a Son of God for a reason: he knew God and God knew him, and they communicated with each other, frequently.
Those are my beliefs.
Now, can we get back to history?
Of course, not. I am not a christian, but I do believe in existence of a historical Jesus, if not anything more than that.
Ok, I misread everything you wrote here. Sorry.
FYI, Buddha (and his predecessor, Mahavira of the Jains) never accepted the existence of any God and Socrates was accused of impiety (unbelief the in the Gods of the State) and was administered poison.
A notion that I long subscribed to myself. But if we look at the earliest textual stratum for Mahavira, we see that he did subscribe to the idea that there were gods -- not a God -- and that these gods were the transfigured souls of the most enlightened human beings who had passed on. So he was a polytheist and not a materialist, unlike some of his contemporaries who already subscribed to the Lokayata philosophy, which is indeed the earliest known atheist doctrine. In fact, atheism in the modern sense was first given a doctrinal title in ancient India -- this Lokayata philosophy -- and Mahavira ultimately stood apart from it in his polytheism.
Buddha also, in the very earliest textual stratum for his sayings -- the sermons in the Digha-Nikaya -- sets himself apart from the materialism of the day, actually citing with implicit disapproval a known adherent of Lokayata of his day (don't recall the name, although I recall that the initials are A.K.). Buddha even spends one whole sermon talking of attaining closeness to Brahma, while elsewhere he describes a true "Tathagata" (sp.?) as one who has known [paraphrase] "both men and gods". It's pretty clear that both of these figures do subscribe to a polytheism of sorts.
I was so startled at reading all this in the earliest primary sources, thanks to secular modern scholarship, for both these figures that I had to wonder just why I myself and so many of my parents' friends and colleagues and my own peers had generally assumed that both Mahavira and Buddha -- and even Confucius! -- were really atheists. In fact, Confucius too speaks, in the earliest textual strata for his Analects (chapters 3 through 9), of the will of Heaven!
I had to conclude that what's going on here -- and the reason why there is this pervasive "urban myth", so to speak, that these Eastern pioneers are atheists when they really aren't -- stems from the strongly Christian perspective in much of the West. In other words, the Western perspective has been so largely Christian for so long that the concept of theism has become inextricably linked here to the concept of deitic creation, among other things; but in neither Mahavira, nor Buddha, nor Confucius, are either the transfigured souls of the enlightened, or Brahma, or Heaven, involved in the creation of the cosmos. There are, in addition, times when Buddha strongly hints that neither Brahma nor the gods in general have total omniscience either, also a concept that flies in the face of the Western God.
All these factors taken together -- and some more, in addition -- are so foreign to what the West conceives of as "God" that a glib leap to atheism for the man in the street who has not actually read the earliest strata on these Eastern pioneers is all too easy to understand. Ironically, the article of "faith" here is that these Eastern pioneers are atheists as a result, while it is only rigorous analysis of early strata that reveals no such thing: These figures are in fact theists in their own way instead.
As for Socrates, that too is an "urban myth", although I was already aware of that at a much younger age, since I was already reading translations of many of the Greek classics at high-school age. True, he was hauled up for trial partly for atheism. Yes. But in our earliest strata here, Xenophon and the earliest dialogues of Plato, that is addressed directly by Socrates himself. Now, there are certainly some distinct differences between these two sources, of course, but they also agree on at least one thing: Socrates maintained always that, from childhood on, he had often heard a divine voice telling him "No" at crucial junctures throughout his life. There seems no question he viewed this as a divinity and always described it this way.
Again, this is an example in which a largely Christian West has now imposed its own Procrustean notion of what theism and "God" are, and since Socrates doesn't match that, the glib assumption of atheism is imposed instead. Careless, but again, understandable.
After all, the true materialist does not subscribe to the notion of an afterlife of divinity for the enlightened, or of attaining closeness to Brahma, or of a divine voice that tells one "No". And it is not an anachronism to view Mahavira, or Buddha, or Socrates, as distinct and separate from atheism, since atheism was already a philosophical doctrine with a known term, Lokayata, well before any of these three sages were born, a philosophical doctrine we can clearly recognize today as an unambiguous atheism of the kind that skeptical Westerners like my parents inherited.
So have I, in many guises.
Oh, agreed. A case in point is the Gospel of Luke, and Acts. I think it's now generally agred, on the basis of material archaeological evidence, that where many assumed Luke was wrong in his details (eg places, titles), it was the received opinion that was wrong, and that Luke was actually right. Places have been discovered in the location Luke puts them, where before scholarship assumed he was in error. A coin with a title under the image of a Roman dignitary bears an titular inscription that in Scripture, Luke was long assumed to have been wrong.
The converse is also true. The Jesus Seminar was the third attempt to isolate the 'Jesus of history' from 'Jesus of Scripture'. The JS's methodology of deciding what is historical, what is probable, possible and impossible has been thoroughly trashed by their peers.
And noble they are to. You have my respect.
My contention, of course, is that we simply cannot separate the historicity of Jesus from the testimony. There's too much water under the bridge; too much sand blown across the face of time.
And testimony is all we have. There is no other shred of material evidence to tell us who He is. Whilst at the superficial level we have the canonical Scriptures on the one hand, and various heterodox and heresiarch documents on the other, on another level they all point to the same thing: the witness of the man called Jesus. Indeed, even Pliny's letter in which he recounts his dealings with the Christians on a point of public order tells us a great deal. The pagan temples were empty, and as centres of commerce, trade was suffering. Christians met together and prayed; they took part in a Eucharistic rite.
In the absence of material evidence, all history can only be testimony. It then becomes a matter of reason and choice, and we make a decision about what to believe accordingly.
But you are absolutely right to assert that to deny the existance of Jesus altogether is patently absurd.
That someone happened, I think we can agree. The rest is a matter of detail.
(Apologies for not referencing Luke and Pliny. If you want me to dig them out, I can.)
And you're certain about this?
I do already have the Pliny in front of me -- thanks!
Internet History Sourcebooks Project
Personally, I find this material fascinating, but I appreciate some others may not.
Separate names with a comma.