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Archive for the ‘History and Myth’ Category

Carved Stone shows Jerusalem is 2000 years old!

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Israeli archaeologists are eagerly promoting the finding of an ancient stone carving once part of an ancient pottery workshop as the oldest known instance of the word “Jerusalem” spelled out in full. Earlier inscriptions, spell Jerusalem as “Yerushalem” or even just “Shalem”, rather than “Yerushalayim” as in modern Hebrew. Even in the Bible, in which “Jerusalem” appears 660 times, it is spelled in the “modern” way only five times, in Jeremiah 26:18; Esther 2:6; 2-Chronicles 25:1; 2-Chronicles 32:9; 2-Chronicles 25:1, all of them late additions. So the new find must, one imagines, be an earth shattering discovery perhaps showing Jerusalem (spelled as we know it) harks back to some time in the Jewish book of foundation myths showing perhaps that they were not mythological at all, but real history–Moses or David and Solomon, eh?

Not a bit. The carving, written in Aramaic, says, “Hananiah son of Dodalos from Jerusalem”, dates only to the first century AD, and so is only about 2,000 years old. That is from Roman times when no one doubts that Jerusalem actually did exist! Not surprisingly this spelling occurs only in one other instance, also from Roman times, on a coin from the Jewish War (66 to 70 AD).

Written by mikemagee

11 October, 2018 at 4:28 pm

The Fortunatianus Biblical commentary

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The oldest Latin commentary on the Bible shows it was read allegorically not as literal history

»In October 2012, Dr Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher at the University of Salzburg, was examining the manuscripts of the Cologne Cathedral Library. He was looking at an anonymous manuscript and realized that this ancient text contained the earliest Latin commentary on the Gospels. Dorfbauer was not the first scholar to examine the manuscript, but he was the first to realize its significance. Here, as part of the 100-page fourth century AD commentary, was the earliest Latin translation of the Gospels. It’s now available in English.

The author of the commentary was Fortunatianus of Aquileia, a fourth-century North African who later became a northern Italian bishop. Scholars had known about the commentary from references to it in other ancient works, but until Dorfbauer identified the Cologne manuscript it had been lost for more than 1,500 years.

When scholars had looked at this turn-of-the-ninth century manuscript in the past, they had been much more interested in a forged letter “on Pride and Folly” that claimed to be from the Jewish high priest Annas to the famous Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. To be sure, forged letters between Seneca and Christian religious figures are fascinating (there’s a set of letters between the Apostle Paul and Seneca, as well), but they are of little consequence next to the earliest extant Latin translation of the Bible. The rediscovery of Fortunatianus’s commentary is itself of enormous significance. He was so highly regarded by his successors that a number of ninth-century theologians had looked for his commentary and come up empty-handed.

• What makes this particular discovery truly astonishing is that the text of the Gospels that it uses is different from the next-oldest known Latin translation of the Bible.

Up until now, the oldest complete Latin version of the Gospels was the Vulgate, a late-fourth-century translation attributed to the priest and theologian Jerome. Jerome, incidentally, was a great admirer of Bishop Fortunatianus, describing his commentary as “a pearl without price”. Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome to update the “Old Latin” (Vetus Latina) version of the Gospels used by the Roman Church. Jerome went one better, compiling a translation of the entire Bible. The influence of the Vulgate is enormous–over a thousand years later, at the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church would affirm that it was the “authentic” Bible.

But now we have more evidence of something older. The English translation of the text was prepared by Dr Hugh Houghton, deputy director of the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE), and is available online for free from De Gruyter press.

• What’s most revealing about the commentary is the manner in which its author interprets his source text. Rather than treating the Gospels as literal history, Fortunatianus viewed these stories as a series of allegories.

For example, when Jesus enters a village, Fortunatianus might see the village as a cipher for the church. Other “figures” of the church include boats, sheep, and hens. Other instances of this kind of reading involve numbers–The number 12 is always a reference to the 12 disciples, the number five is a symbol of the five books of the Pentateuch, or Jewish law, and the number 99 (an imperfect version of 100) is a symbol of evil and the Jews. [The Church held the Jews to be responsible for the death of God!] Houghton said:

• “For people teaching the Bible in the fourth century, it’s not the literal meaning which is important, it’s how it’s read allegorically.”

It’s not that Fortunatianus thinks that the Bible cannot be read literally, it’s just that he is much more interested in its symbolic meaning. While he sometimes uses the verbs “to figure” or “prefigure” to explain his interpretation, he mostly describes the passages as “showing” or “indicating” a particular allegorical truth.

What’s especially striking about this new discovery is that Fortunatianus is commenting on the content of the Gospels, the central component of the Christian message. This seems strange to modern readers because so much modern religious Biblical interpretation, especially among conservative Christians, assumes that Bible should be read literally. Houghton notes that literal interpretation did not become de rigueur until the mid-15th century, when the invention of the printing press brought precise uniformity and conformity to the Biblical text. Prior to this point no two manuscripts of the Bible were identical to one another, and literal reading of the text was just one (and not even necessarily the most important) interpretive method.

Of course, allegorical readings of the Bible pre-date Fortunatianus. One of the most celebrated ancient interpreters of scripture, the third-century theologian Origen of Alexandria (who is a likely source for Fortunatianus), argued that the Bible could be interpreted literally (what he calls the “letter”) and spiritually (allegorical interpretation). He actually distinguished three kinds of interpretation that he mapped on to the parts of the human body: “the flesh,” “the soul,” and “the spirit.” Origen’s three senses of scripture have been profoundly influential and led him to offer some startlingly modern interpretations.

For example, when writing about the (in modern contexts) highly controversial Creation stories of Genesis 1-3, Origen says this:

• “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first day, and second and third day, and the evening and the morning existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky?… And if God is said to walk in paradise in the evening, and Adam is to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally.”

• In other words, Origen doesn’t think that the Genesis stories are literally true.

He doesn’t write this as a response to scientific discovery, but he also does not think that the stories are bankrupted as a result. Instead, he thinks, like many others, that these stories are meant to be interpreted allegorically. Allegory isn’t a response to science, it’s an authentic and traditional way of reading and writing texts.

For most people invested in the religious authority of the Bible none of this will be too shocking. After all, as Houghton himself points out, reading the Bible as allegory can actually solve some of the difficulties that readers encounter when they read the New Testament:
“There’s been an assumption that it’s a literal record of truth—a lot of the early scholars got very worried about inconsistencies between Matthew and Luke.”

• What writers like Fortunatinus and Origen show is not just that you don’t have to read the Bible literally all the time, but that for most of the Christian Era nobody thought that you should.«

(The Daily Beast, Candida Moss, lightly edited)

Written by mikemagee

4 September, 2017 at 3:27 pm

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death

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Heaven may not be what you imagine

Because every one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise. Until recently emotion and emotional processing have been largely neglected by experimental psychology and neuroscience more generally. Emotion has adaptive and biological value for humans and other animals, and substantial psychological and neuroscientific evidence suggests that each emotion is localized in specific neural structures, and so souls or spirits are not needed to explain emotions or emotional processing held to be distinctive of a soul.

In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife all in one place. Divided into four separate sections, this essay collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest available evidence as to whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that face the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—Heaven, Hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems undergirding those notions. In the last section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.

Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student in philosophy, religious studies, and theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death, Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds), Rowman & Littlefield (2015)

Written by mikemagee

13 April, 2015 at 2:01 pm

How the Christian Teutonic Knights Civilized the Baltic Pagans

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Stanford Assistant Professor, Krish Seetah, and researchers from Reading University studied the archaeology of the Baltic region—a region that includes modern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and parts of Sweden and Russia—in the years from the 12th century to the 16th century, when the Teutonic Order, a Germanic brotherhood of Christian knights, waged war against the last indigenous Pagan societies in Europe.

Fighting under the guise of religion, the warriors exploited the Baltic’s pristine forests and rich fauna to foist an urban, Christian way of life on Pagan tribes that viewed many elements of Nature as sacred. Within a few centuries, the Teutonic warriors led a major ecological and cultural transformation that snatched the Pagan Baltic tribes into the fold of European Christendom. Professor Seetah said:

Pagan groups did it differently from the Germanic Teutonic Order.

The team found evidence that the Baltic Pagans ate dogs, but they abruptly stopped doing so after the Teutonic invasion, one assumes because the western European Christian knights had no taste for dogs as food, and imposed their will on the natives.

The Teutonic Order owed much of its success in conquest to their horses, whose strength and stature allowed them to bear armor and weaponry, unlike the Pagans’ smaller horses. In the Southern Crusades in the Middle East, it was the Arabian horse, stronger and swifter than the European breed, that led ultimately to the Islamic crusaders’ victory.

Increased reliance on local animals for supplies inevitably led to the extinction of some species, including the aurochs, an ancestor of modern cattle. The relatively rapid disappearance of species marks a dramatic shift in how the indigenous Baltic culture perceived the natural world. A belief in the interconnectedness of the land’s flora and fauna gave way to the more exploitative, Christian view of nature.

The research team compared Teutonic castles—massive forts whose construction required the clearing of vast expanses of forest—to the less intrusive, more organic pagan settlements. Medieval castles formed the backbone of the new Christian states because they were for the security of the class that had conquered in the period of tribal movement around Europe that lasted a millennium from the fall of the western Roman empire. Today they appear as crumbling, moss-grown relics resembling modern urban centers which flourish then fall into dereliction, as an inspection of many of our inner cities will show.

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Written by mikemagee

1 January, 2013 at 3:20 am

Religious Interest Falls in the USA. Voters Do Not Know Romney is a Mormon Not a Christian

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I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.

Joseph Smith

 

Mitt Romney has to Face Questions about His Religion in the USA Elections

A Pew study released found that many Americans do not know the religious faiths of President Obama or presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. A third of Americans do not know that Romney is a Latter Day Saint, a Mormon! The Mormons have conservative views, especially on gender and homosexuality, and are intolerant of members’ questioning official teachings.

The United Church of Christ, President Obama’s church of choice, is more liberal on these issues. Unlike the Mormons, the UCC is not centralized to the extent that the Mormon sect is. It is not uniform across congregations because doctrinal issues in the UCC are left to the congregations, not to a central institute as is the case with the Mormons.

17 percent of Americans say Obama is a Moslem. In 2008, Americans were likely to correctly identify his religion as Christian. Political opposition to Obama as president aimed to remind voters of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But Pastor Wright’s supposedly racist remarks actually showed them Obama was Christian.

The separate Pew Research Center “American Values Survey”, which polled more than 3,000 adults nationwide, found that approximately one in five Americans don’t have a religious affiliation at all—the most ever documented. It also found that 32 percent of the latest adult generation have doubted the existence of God—double the number of those who felt the same way just five years ago.

This survey found increased tolerance for difference in every age, religious preference and political group. The new generation is known for wanting to distinguish itself from its peers—to stand out so to speak—by adopting unorthodox ideas.

Criticisms of Mormonism

The doctrine of the Mormon Church separates it from Christianity according to the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant religions, all of which descended from Jesus Christ and his apostles. Mormons had no apostolic succession by which the holy Spirit is passed from priest to priest from the original apostles, could not have been involved in the Nicene Creed, and Mormon cosmology with its plan of salvation including pre-mortal life, baptism of the dead, three degrees of heaven, and exaltation by which humans may become gods and goddesses on a par with Jesus is alien to Christian thought.

Critics have questioned the legitimacy of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of LDS, as a prophet as well as the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and include claims of historical revisionism, homophobia, racism, and sexism and paedophilia. Evangelical Christians argue that Smith was either a fraud or deluded.

Written by mikemagee

11 October, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Was Jesus an Essene?

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An Essene Leader Proselytizing Jews Worried about God's day of vengeance

The evidence is too scrambled and distorted with age and intention to sort out the certain truth, so we have to find the best hypothesis. It is that, if Jesus was historical, he was a senior Essene. The scrolls say that when the End approaches (the apocalypse) the Essenes must try to bring into their fold as many righteous Jews as they can. Essenes considered themselves as the righteous Jews, so it meant finding Jews willing to join them in view of the impending day of God’s Vengeance. To do so, the Jews willing to had to repent with sincerity and not sin until the kingdom came (the apocalyse again). So Essenes had to go out as evangelists proselytizing ordinary Jews.

Leading Jews were highly conscious of the uncleanliness of the unrighteous mass, but they were required to be humble, so the duty of proselytizing fell upon the senior Essenes above all. The gospels are versions of the attempt of the leaders, John the Baptist, Jesus and then James the Righteous, with Jesus central for Christians, to convert Jews to their cause. Jesus plainly expected the End when he and his apostles were in the Garden of Gethsemane. The End did not come, and Jesus was crucified as a usurper of the emperor’s right to rule. Essenes removed his body for a decent burial according to Essenic tradition, but the followers, converts, not lifelong Essenes, thought he had arisen. Thus began Christianity. This reconstruction has the advantage of accounting for the data without requiring God’s intervention.

More…

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19 August, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Biblicists Identify an Unidentifiable Seal as Being Samson Killing a Lion!

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Beth Shemesh: the "Samson" Seal

Archeologists from Tel Aviv university led by professor Shlomo Bunimovitz, have declared a tiny stone seal, just 1.5 centimeters in diameter (a little more than half an inch), found while excavating Tel Beit Shemesh to have an image of the biblical Samson killing a lion on it! Really! Can this animal really be a lion? The seal has an image of an unidentifiable animal, it is so badly depicted, possibly with a rider—faint, perhaps partly erased or unfinished—being controlled by an apparently human handler with something like a rope attached to its muzzle—unless it has a long tongue! It suggests a horse rather than a lion.

The seal was discovered with other finds on the floor of an excavated house, dated by the archaeologists to the 12th century BC. Along with the seal, two structures were discovered, which were apparently used for ritual purposes during the same time period. In one of them researchers found a kind of table, resembling an altar, next to which a large number of animal bones were found. Prof Bunimovitz believes the animals may have been used for sacrifices. Or maybe they were simply the remains of feasts, or both, as feasts usually accompanied sacrifices.

The stories in Judges have no known connexion with real history, and are more likely to be myths adapted to events of a much later age, namely the period after the victory of Cyrus the Persian when the Hill country was sparsely populated by native Canaanites and a few hopeful colonists from Persia. Samson is the same word as Shemesh, a Semitic sun god, the equivalent of the Greek Herakles, and beth (“house”) ususally meant a temple when associated with a God’s name. So Beth Shemesh was the place where the sun god was worshipped.

Sun Gods from sometime in the first half of the first millennium BC at least have had twelve legends associated with them one each for each constellation they pass through during the solar year. Samson depends on his long hair for his strength, the hair representing the power of the sun’s rays. The stories about Samson may be an abridgement of the full solar cycle of myths, many possibly lost when worshipping all gods other than Yehouah was forbidden. Thus, Samson, according to the story in Judges, fought a lion on his way to marry a Philistine woman. Hercules too fought a lion in what is usually listed as his first labor. Eventually Hercules is betrayed by a woman, just as Samson was.

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18 August, 2012 at 9:41 pm