Sunday, February 19, 2017

Another failed book on Jesus and his alleged Davidic dynasty family

The Invention of Jesus: How the Church Rewrote the New TestamentThe Invention of Jesus: How the Church Rewrote the New Testament by Peter Cresswell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Good on textual criticism; gobs of gibberish elsewhere

Cresswell does good work on textual criticism of Codex Sinaiticus, and related topics, such as its relation to Codex Vaticanus and the possibility that Sinaiticus was created to serve as an exemplar for the creation of 50 bibles Constantine wanted Eusebius to do.

Much of the rest of the book is rank speculation, and no, that comment is not coming from a conservative Christian, but from someone at least as educated in critical biblical scholarship as Cresswell.

First rank speculation is the idea that "Pauline Christianity" is largely derived from Mithraism. First, take the Eucharist, as first articulated by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Many Greek mysteries had similar fellowship meals; this isn't something unique to Mithraism. Second, other themes allegedly from "Pauline Christianity," such as miraculous birth of the savior-god and a dying-rising savior god, were of course known around the eastern Mediterranean long before the rise of Mithraism. Indeed, a lot of scholarship shows that the development of Mithraism was itself influenced by these other mysteries, as part of what made it become a mystery religion itself.

Wikipedia, in its piece on Greco-Roman mysteries, lists a full dozen of them. Indeed, in its piece on Sabazios, it notes Jews were accused of worshiping this mysteries god, under confusion of Sabazios with either the Sabbath or Yahweah Sabaoth.

Third, for Paul allegedly incorporating so much of Mithraism into Christianity, at least in this book, Cresswell doesn't tell us what he considered genuine Pauline letters.

And, though not mentioned here, Cresswell would probably cite the Dec. 25 date of Christmas as showing Mithraic influence. Really? Why isn't that a sign of the influence of Saturnalia instead? Of more likely, of Sol Invictus? Or what about Christmas in early Egypt being placed at Nov. 18, which just so happened to be the date of a major Osiris festival — which gets us back to a non-Mithraic mystery?

Next, on to the idea that Jesus and Davidic family members were quasi-Zealots not only revolting against Rome, but a dynasty of sorts. This Eisenman-Tabor-DaVinci Code idea has no support within the canonical New Testament and has little in other early Christian literature, until one goes mucking around in the Pseudo-Clementines or else taking a "sectarian" (I see what I did there) view of the Dead Sea Scrolls as reflecting a fight between Paul and heirs of Jesus, rather than being sectarian, non-Christian Jewish literature covering a wide range of issues.

Jesus might have been a revolutionary — with OR WITHOUT being being part of a Davidic dynasty. Or he might have been Geza Vermes' et al's Jewish faith healer. Or he might have been the Jewish Cynic of Burton Mack, and at one time of John Crossan. The fact is, the Second Quest for the historic Jesus and its extension through the Jesus Seminar etc has brought us no closer to a denouement than did the First Quest. Jesus might have been one of the Pharisees crucified by Alexander Jannaeus for all we know.

There's also an element of petard-hoisting here. While claiming limited historicity for gospels allegedly edited by the Constantinian and post-Constantinian church, Cresswell, Eisenman, Tabor et al will nonetheless do their own mining of the gospels for anything alleged to support their Davidic family dynasty ideas. But — how do you know Jesus family passages were edited? if we do have some evidence, how do you know what they were edited from? Cresswell does show some cases where we can know this. In others, he engages again in rank speculation, the biggest of course being that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife.

Elsewhere, Cresswell presents himself as having insightful learning only to later shoot himself in the foot. He rightly points out that the "barjona" of "Simon Barjona" in Matthew likely does not mean "son of John" but is the Aramaic for "outlaw." He then, later, laughably claims that "Arimathea," as in Joseph of, is a botched transliteration of "ab Maria," as in "mother of Mary." The reality is that it is a place-name surname, after a Jewish village. Indeed, Eusebius himself, so touted in discussing the text-critical history of Sinaiticus, makes the specific village identification.

That, in turn, undercuts a claim made elsewhere by Cresswell that such place-based namings were rare in the New Testament — a claim he (along with Eisenman and others) employ to claim that "Jesus of Nazareth" must be "Jesus the Nazorean." Truth is, per Joseph of Arimathea's name (and dispute over whether Judas Iscariot is "Judas the man from Kerioth" or "Judas the Sicarian") we don't know.

And I haven't mentioned until now that Cresswell's idea that the "we" sections of Acts reflects a separate document from the third-person narratives of Acts is also laughable. Sherwin-White in his "Roman Law" has addressed this, noting that switching to a "we" narrative was a literary commonplace in the 1st-2nd centuries CE in this type of literature whenever the protagonist was on a shipboard journey.

Also laughable is his claim that Matthew (in Cresswell's attempt to give credibility to Papias) originally worked with an Aramaic version of Q, combined with Mark, and wrote his Matthew in Aramaic.

And, all of this information undercutting Cresswell (and Eisenman, Tabor, et al, to the degree they hold it) is easy to find.

So, contra breathless blurbs, this is NOT a "pivotal" or "groundbreaking" book, other than on the textual criticism areas, perhaps.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 09, 2017

One will be taken and the other left

For people not familiar with the Christian scriptures, whether some atheists, or some Xns both liberal and fundamentalist or conservative evangelical, that's Matthew 24:40 I'm referencing. And, whether riffing directly off Pauline material or not, the "Great Apocalypse" of the synoptic gospels at least arguably supports Rapture-type ideas, contra, oh, an L.D. Burnett at S-USIH, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, who claims the Rapture is un-Christian.

Baptism for the dead, of Mormon doctrine, is also Christian, L.D. and others. Deal with it.

But let's get back to why that header I have us up there.

In the fairly small town to which I recently moved, a lady announced earlier this week that she had officially been pronounced cancer-free by her doctor after a fairly severe cancer with arduous treatment process.

She took this all as a gift from Jesus, etc. She also went so far as to say, even for comment to the newspaper, that she was using this as a tool to try to convert her atheist doctor.

Erm, not so fast, ma'am.

The very next day, a young firefighter, or rather, a young ex-firefighter on forced medical retirement due to extensive radiation-induced heart damage due to an infancy neuroblastoma cancer, died.

And, where was god then, when in an existential Rapture-like sense, one was taken and one was left.

Was it better for the firefighter to die as gain than live for Christ?

Well, the conservative Christian apologists will offer up the tender mercies of god, the inscrutability of god, silver linings that we can't see, etc.

Then, when the likes of me counter with Ye Olde Problem of Evil?

Some of them will counter with "original sin."

Do not go there, unless you really want your biblical literalism to be that repugnant.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A new Mahler 2 for the listening list

Bruno Walter's 1958 version is now on YouTube. I'm pretty sure it's pretty recent. Oh, and this is the whole schmeer as one video, not a stream of 20 snippets.

Go give it a listen, then save it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What is it like to be a chicken ... owned by Tyson?

The header before the ellipsis points, for those not getting it, is riffing on Nagel's famous essay "What is it Like to Be a Bat?"

The riff, and even more the portion after the ellipsis, is based on living in an area of the United States where chicken farming is a major employer and even more, is chicken processing, namely, by Tyson.

Seeing a flatbed semi loaded with chicken coops, all carrying a fluffy white bird headed to his or her demise, and the highway-speed wind effects ruffling feathers (yes, literally) more than enough to expose naked chicken flesh prompted me to start writing.

First, re Nagel. Yes, bats fly by echolocation. But, it doesn't work over long areas, so, "blind as a (hypersonic) bat" is more true than not, perhaps. Per Dan Dennett, the idea that this makes their "whatness" harder to discuss or picture than other animals of similar intelligence probably isn't true. That's even if we accept at least a "soft" version of qualia. (And, it's also Dennett finding an acorn in the forest.)

That said, and Tyson ownership aside, it's surely likely that it's easier to picture what it's like to be a bat than to be a chicken. Wild chickens probably aren't as smart as bats, and domestic ones are dumb — though perhaps not as dumb as domestic turkeys.

Chickens are less social than bats, or humans, too. And ... animal rights issues aside for now, surely have a lesser emotional palette.

Plus, given that the expression of both intellect and emotions occurs in reaction to environmental stimuli, that domestic chicken living on a 40,000-bird Tyson farm, most all of his or her life spent in a cage about the size of a kitchen trash can.

That is, per existentialism, "existing" and not "living."

It's even worse.

Humans who have been close to chicken farms know what the ammonia-like smell of chickenshit is like. Most humans probably assume that birds in general, with beaks not noses, may not have much of a sense of smell.

Well, new research shows that's wrong for birds in general and chickens in particular.

I don't care how many vent fans there are in a modern breeding house (without which, in hot Southern summers, the birds would die in 15 minutes). That shit has to smell shitty to a chicken, I would think.

 It's like being incarcerated. No, scratch that.

It IS being incarcerated. And, while a chicken isn't a human, it's closer, evolutionarily and culturally both, to a human than it is to, stay, a sea star. So, to some degree, it might be easier for humans — at least those who have spent time in jail — to understand what it's like to be a Tyson chicken than a bat.

Don't tell me that a Tyson chicken doesn't have its fair share, or far more than its fair share, of anxiety and other mental health issues. Don't tell me that, at some base level of instinct, it's not yearning for freedom.

At the same time, don't overread and over-project. That chicken has never experienced freedom, and doesn't fully know what it's like. For that matter, neither does a free-range chicken know freedom. It's free — and still highly protected until slaughter — on a carefully selected range.

On the other hand, contra the Michael Pollans of the world, artisanal Smithfield hog hams and true (not fake PR) free-range chickens aren't the answer, unless we all (1 percent as well as 99 percent, Michael) simply eat a LOT less meat.

We need to do that anyway, for other reasons, of course.

And, if we want anything above just grams of meat per day, and we want to reduce agricultural stress on our planet, we need to start rooting for Dutch scientists to make test-tube meat a success — a commercial and ecological success — as soon as possible.

The answer until then is ameliorating animal conditions on factory farms, even more for hogs and cows, likely more intelligent than chickens.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The failures of MBTI/Jungian personality tests

Yeah, my sister, as a social worker, and other reasons, loves them.

So do other people.

Like a lot of bosses.

Like, I thought, my boss, but, as it turns out, the owner of my company. (In hindsight, I should have thought of that first.

The issue starts with the pseudoscience of Jung's original. It is arguable that there is a delineation into introverts and extroverts among humans, using the everyday meaning, and everyday spelling, of the second term, not Jung's. But even that is often situationally based.

The thinking/feeling is definitely so, it would seem, on situational use. At a minimum, there's no proof it's globally dominant.

The sensation/intuition could better be called reductionistic vs holistic thinking. That would be more accurate than Jung's idea, but still not a globally dominant one.

The MBTI's layer on top of that, of judging/perceiving, has even less support, and the whole idea behind it is wrong, pseudoscientific and unresearched. And, the 16 Personality Factors extension of the MBTI is worse yet, claiming to measure not just a tendency toward each of these personality factors but also the strength of that.

But, it's on a par with much of America's search for black-and-white, single-minded answers to complex questions. In the workforce, it's of a piece with things like Taylorism. Since companies cannot use IQ tests to screen would-be employees, the MBTI/16PF is used next. Note: the MBTI is NOT the MMPI, a test with a greater degree of legitimacy.

Now, new personality ratings like the Big Five are the hot thing. They're more scientific than the MBTI, but still nowhere near perfect. And, the Big Five's developers, per Wiki's link on the MBTI above, undercut their own science credibility by saying the MBTI can be incorporated into their test.

That's called pandering for business testing dollars.

Beyond Wiki's criticism section of its MBTI article, Skeptic's Dictionary has a great overview of its problems and those with the Jungian background.

Per a book I'm currently reading, "Weapons of Math Destruction," the MBTI may also be illegal, if not necessarily unconstitutional, as IQ tests are for employment, at least in certain situations. Any such test that leads a would-be employer to make a mental health diagnosis of a would-be employee is likely a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It definitely is if such a diagnosis becomes part of the hiring decision.

Good luck proving that of course.

Part of the solution?

With the 16PF, it's simple. Answer questions middle of the road. Throw an occasional answer slightly to highly one side or the other, but do it opposite what your normal tendency is, especially if it's theoretically not a big issue.

It's like having a burner email address, or even a burner physical address from your past for polls and surveys. (What, you don't do that?)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Riffing on Robert Frost

I took the road less traveled
And later, in that New England chill
I met Robert Frost.
We talked, and conversed
About fences, and posts,
And autumn-time poignancy.
I soon recognized that,
Per the sages of the East,
The only good poet is a dead poet.
So, I shot Robert Frost,
And pushed him over the fence again.
Good fences good neighbors make.

It has been suggested that I misunderstand Frost in his original poem "Mending Wall." Rather, per that Wikipedia link, I see myself as picking up on just a couple of the themes of what is indeed a complex poem.

And, per what I said to an online friend on my Google Plus account, I partially agree, partially disagree. And, by "partially agreeing, partially disagreeing," arguably, I do pick up on the idea that Frost identifies explicitly with neither the narrator nor the neighbor.

Per this link, which would be rephrased as what my dad said, "Trust everybody but still cut the cards," Ben Franklin agreed with me.

And, per this roundup of professional literary critics, I may not be interpreting Frost so wrongly anyway. If, per the second critique, an unspoken punnery of playing on the word "Frost," as in the author's name, is not just "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," but that runs from there through the whole piece, then I've interpreted him on that one particular theme at least semi-correctly after all.

So, Frost remains shot, and pushed back over his fence.

Besides that, per a later critique which includes a quote from Frost, he arguably explicitly supported some sort of reader-response criticism.

George Montiero notes:

Asked once about his intended meaning, Frost recast the question: "In my Mending Wall was my intention fulfilled with the characters portrayed and the atmosphere of the place?" Characteristically, he went on to answer obliquely.
I should be sorry if a single one of my poems stopped with either of those things—stopped anywhere in fact. My poems—I should suppose everybody's poems—are all set to trip the reader head foremost into the boundless. Ever since infancy I have had the habit of leaving my blocks carts chairs and such like ordinaries where people would be pretty sure to fall forward over them in the dark. Forward, you understand, and in the dark. I may leave my toys in the wrong place and so in vain. It is my intention we are speaking of—my innate mischievousness.
No other poem in the Frost canon better illustrates his manner—as he described it—and his overall poetic intention.

"Good friends good neighbors make."

There, I've deliberately modified Frost's order. Frankly, I think my meter and cadence are better than his.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Word to the Disabled


I wasn't disabled myself
But I was, briefly,
A blur of gray,
An attempt to turn and spin and brake
And a crash.
A compact car loses
To a full-size truck.

I stare at my arm
And my displaced hand.
With numbness,
Then shock.
The doctor said;
"Not your typical break."

Lids don't turn;
Tops don't pop;
Tab don't pull.
Not for months, not easily.
Not with that left arm.
I learn that life is more difficult
When I can't open the diced tomatoes
With my hand can opener.
Having to learn new ways
Of putting on shirts
And not even wearing some,
Because it was too hard,
Is part of a process, too.

I've gotten better.
Fortunately, if not young,
Despite my PT's words,
I'm not old.
I'm healing
And looking at full recovery.

But, I've learned, 
At least briefly,
What it's like to be semi-disabled,
And gained
A bit of empathy
For the fully disabled.

It's not just physical challenges, 
Or so it seems.
Fear. Anxiety. Frustration.
Many other emotions.

And, to the disabled —
I hope I remember
At least a bit of what I have learned.

You don’t want patronization
Any more than pity.
You’d like respect, and understanding,
Along with sympathy.
Even better — empathy, if possible.

Above all, you’d simply
Like to be seen as human.
And not a mascot,
Not an “always on” inspiration,
Or otherwise on a pedestal.

Simply human.
With the full gamut
Of human emotions

And human drives.

I hope I remember.
If I don’t,
Especially if I know you personally —

Please remind me.