Thursday, September 29, 2005

Interview with Stephen Carlson

Check out the interview with Stephen Carlson on Wason & West’s Note Stephen’s good taste in blogs. :)

In the interview Stephen mentions John Meier’s Marginal Jew, approving the scholar’s vision of an unpapal conclave (Catholic, Protestant, Jew, agnostic) used to get at the historical Jesus. Carlson suggests throwing an evangelical, Unitarian, and atheist into the mix. Right on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Lying and Deception in Authorship

(Prologue to this series here. Part I here. Part II here.)

In discussing pseudepigraphy on Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean Phil Harland advises caution when using value-loaded terms, suggesting that we distinguish forgery (implying deceit) from pseudonymity (reflecting admiration), even if both may be found on a spectrum in varying degrees. He writes:
The fact that the practice of attributing a work to some respected figure of the past was widespread in the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds, and that the ones doing this almost always liked or respected the figure whose identity they were 'borrowing', suggests that something other than deliberate deception and forgery was going on.
Other scholars have made similar distinctions. Bruce Metzger ("Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha", JBL, 91 (1972): 3-24) argues that some pseudepigraphy intends to deceive while other such works do not. Wolfgang Speyer (Die Literarische Fälschung im Heidnischen und Christlichen Altertum, 1971) suggests three categories: "authentic pseudepigraphy", "forged pseudepigraphy", and "fictional pseudepigraphy".

I don't think we should be hiding behind double-speak like this. Those who wrote pseudonymously, even if "in admiration", were no less deceitful than those who engaged in other lies and deceptions for socially acceptable reasons. They forged, pure and simple. And they did so for any of the reasons Ehrman notes -- profit, malice (if II Thess is any indication), or admiration. Most often it was simply to gain a hearing for one's views and be taken seriously. In cultures like the ancient Mediterranean, only honorable people are taken seriously, and forgery becomes a way of acquiring that greatest form of wealth (reputation).

Indeed, against Metzger and Speyer, Jeremy Duff (A Reconstruction of Pseudepigraphy in Early Christianity, D. Phil. Thesis, University of Oxford, 1998, pp 134-135) and Lewis Donelson (Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles, Tn: JCB Mohr, 1986) are, to me, convincing. Texts carried authority not on the basis of what they said but who wrote them; authorial identity was taken very seriously. Artificial (apologetic?) categories like "authentic pseudepigraphy" and "forged pseudepigraphy" miss the point. Pseudepigraphy is, by definition, forgery; by nature deceitful. It's just a question of whether or not the deceit can be pressed into an honorable goal, and if one can get away with it.

Harland later qualifies his remarks in the comments section of my first post in this series:
The duality of deceit and admiration is more a result of Ehrman's categorizations (rejecting ideas of admiration and emphasizing deceit). Motivations for writing in the name of another ranged between these two extremes and should not be described in blanket terms, and it may not be impossible that in a particular case admiration was accompanied by a little deceit.
I don't quite see Ehrman making this duality. He thinks admiration is one of four reasons for engaging in deceit/forgery (as noted above; see pp 30-31 of Lost Christianities). It would perhaps be more accurate to say, representing Ehrman, that deceit could be accompanied by admiration (or interest in profit, or malice, or a general interest to receive a hearing for one's views).
They forged for the love of Pythagoras, so to speak, and their intentions were focused on inspiring similar respect or honor for this philosopher on the part of their readers or hearers.
Just a side-note about Pythagoras. Duff has apparently argued that Iamblichus' statement about him doesn't necessarily provide evidence for a group of neo-Pythagoreans, only that a scholar three hundred years later thought this may have been the explanation. The passage cited (On the Pythagorean Life 198), according to Duff, may indicate that Iamblichus had contemporary disciples in mind. But however we adjudicate on the question of the "neo-Pythagoreans", we must again bear in mind that admiration and deceit can go readily hand-in-hand.
Ehrman's claim that forgery was clearly and almost unanimously rejected in classical times is precisely what I am contesting (and I don't think he provides evidence in support of that position -- rather assertions). A better way of putting this, I think, is that when someone disagreed with the views expressed or practices advocated in pseudonymous writing, they were likely to charge the author with the equivalent of forgery or being a fake. If someone agreed with the views or enjoyed the story, then this would not be an issue, and nothing close to "forgery" would be the charge...
Here I think Harland is on the right track. Forgery was clearly and unanimously rejected -- if it was called out as such. The honor-shame world is all about (1) public perception and (2) not getting caught. If the forged text was well received, and no one else exposed it as fraudulent, then, as Harland says, there would have been no issue. But this is regardless of the intentions of the author, whether sinister or positive.

It's like with lying. Being called a liar is a great public dishonor, for it (obviously) implies that one really is lying. But as we saw in the last post, many forms of lying and deception, both positive and negative, "don't count" as such. The public is the final arbiter here; one's audience decides whether or not the cause of honor has been served. (Imagine a modern courtroom where a verdict depends entirely on what the jury decides, without any official guidance from statutes or case law.) Intentions have nothing do with it. It's a matter of staying clean in the eyes of others, whoever those "others" happen to be.
My overall impression, from cases such as the Acts of Paul and Thecla, for instance (in Tertullian), is that the intentions of authors do not fit with terms such as deceit and forgery.
Perhaps Harland doesn't care for the way Ehrman aligns the case of Secret Mark with three others. In Lost Christianities he discusses (1) the Gospel of Peter, (2) the Acts of Paul and Thecla, (3) the Gospel of Thomas, and (4) the Secret Gospel of Mark, describing them, respectively, cleverly, as (1) "the ancient discovery of a forgery", (2) "the ancient forgery of a discovery", (3) "the discovery of an ancient forgery", and (4) "the forgery of an ancient discovery". (Chapters 1-4).

These are indeed all forgeries, irrespective of intentions. I agree with Harland that intentions matter -- an ancient presbyter who forged "for the love of Paul" is different from the modern scholar who expanded on Mark for other reasons -- but I don't believe they warrant narrowing definitions to make our view of the ancients more palatable. We need to resist romanticizing the ancients, in any case. For scientific and historical purposes, the term forgery should be used as neutrally as lying and deception themselves.

In next part of this series we will look at lying and deception in the postmodern age.

UPDATE: Stephen Carlson jumps into the fray with astute observations about "The Seriousness of Forgery in Antiquity". Nice presentation. I look forward to his sequel post, in which he plans on addressing the propriety of the term "forgery". What I'm pushing for in this series is that it's not only appropriate but necessary to become comfortable with the terms "lying", "deception", and "forgery", in order to understand double standards for what they are, and how they vary in application across time and culture.

UPDATE (II): See Phil Harland's further comments. Phil notes that "[Loren and Stephen] have every right in the world to find 'forgery' exciting." I hope it's clear that I haven't been condoning use of the term for sensational reasons.

UPDATE (III): Carlson's sequel post, "Toward an Understanding of 'Forgery': Metzger", steers somewhere between my position and Harland’s on the propriety of the term "forgery". He makes an interesting point about indirect authorship -- "the employment of ghostwriters, secretaries, amaneuenses, or other agents of the named authors" -- which no one considers forgery. But this is because the author consents to have someone write under his/her name. I agree that forgery becomes an inappropriate term for describing such cases of brokered authorship. (Though a graduate student is given less choice about the matter than a ghostwriter.) When authors authorize someone to write in their name, "forgery" loses its significance.

UPDATE (IV): Carlson's on a roll. See the next part of his series, "Toward an Understanding of 'Forgery': Speyer".

The complete series:

Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens
Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Cultures
Lying and Deception in Authorship
Lying and Deception in the Postmodern Age

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Gospel Hoax: Table of Contents

Two months after a tantalizing blurb in Publisher’s Weekly, Stephen Carlson offers his own preview of Gospel Hoax with the Table of Contents. I feel like I’m back in the fall of 2003, when bits and pieces of Jackson’s Return of the King were being released slowly, painfully slowly, over the course of four months -- teaser trailer on The Two Towers DVD at the end of August, theatrical trailer following in September, and then all the previews and spoilers which could be found on the web to tide us over until the big day in December. Maybe Library Journal will get around to reviewing Stephen’s book for an October teaser. I almost wish I was still a reviewer for LJ; I might have had the privilege of reviewing Gospel Hoax myself.

Monday, September 26, 2005

New Blog

Word is getting around about the new biblioblog in town. Check out Raphael Rodriguez's Verily Verily.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Societies

(Prologue to this series here. Part I of the series here.)

In various essays and The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible, Context Group scholar John Pilch has written about the phenomenon of lying and deception in honor-shame societies, where lies are seldom moral failures. Deceiving enemies is honorable, because it's not "really lying"; it’s simply depriving them of the respect and honor to which they have no right as rivals. Likewise, lying in order to maintain harmony among friends is honorable, because it also isn't "really lying"; it's simply making them feel good and giving them the face they deserve as friends. It's shameful to tell the truth if it dishonors or hurts the feelings of a friend or family member.

In collectivist (group oriented) cultures, truth has more to do with appearances than reality. Contrast the psychological relationship between the selves for Western and Mediterranean people. (For a better-looking chart of this, see Bruce Malina’s The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels, p 85.)


Publicly defined self
Privately defined self

In-group defined self


Publicly defined self
In-group defined self

Privately defined self

In Western individualist cultures, the publicly defined self is generally expected to coincide with the privately defined self, while the in-group defined self recedes into the background. In other words, "to speak one way while thinking another" is hypocrisy. But in Mediterranean collectivist cultures, the publicly defined self is generally expected to coincide with the in-group defined self, while the privately defined self recedes into the background. In other words, "to speak one way if it's not what people expect or want to hear" is dishonorable.

I learned this lesson the hard way while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. One day I had to leave my village and make a trip to the capital. A fellow villager asked me to run some errands for him and bring back a substantial amount of goods from various places in the city. I replied, quite truthfully, that I probably wouldn’t have time to visit many of those places -- and that, in any case, my backpacks would be stuffed to a breaking point. That was the wrong thing to say. Though I gave an honest answer, I had seriously insulted him. He was belligerent and hostile for weeks afterwards.

I later learned that I should have told the villager I would run the errands for him and bring back whatever he needed, even if I knew in advance that I could not (or would not) do this. I should have given him the face he deserved as a friend and member of my community. Only after returning from the city should I have accounted for any failure to do as requested. The situation between me and this villager was exactly the same as between the two sons and their father in Jesus' well-known parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28-30). I had behaved like the first son instead of the second. The first son said "no" to his father -- an outrage and serious dishonor, regardless of his subsequent attempt to rectify that disgrace. I said "no" to a fellow villager -- likewise an outrage and serious dishonor, regardless of how honest and sincere my motives were. Even if I had ended up picking up the things he wanted, the damage had been done, and a lot more would have been needed to effect a reconciliation. As it was, it took weeks to bring about such a reconciliation.

This may sound crazy to Western ears, but even individualists have socially required forms of lying, as in cases of thanking someone for an unappreciated gift or saying that someone’s new hairdo looks nice even if it looks ghastly. In these cases, the publicly defined self coincides with the in-group defined self, not the privately defined self. (A lie is told so as not to hurt someone’s feelings.) Yet for the most part, individualists are raised to believe that lying is a bad thing. Note that I said raised to believe. In the last post we saw that 60% of these individualists tell three lies for every ten minutes of conversation anyway. I'm not sure someone like Pilch realizes this.

The key to remember is that lying in order to (a) preserve harmony among friends, or (b) deceive or degrade enemies, are both equally honorable and very often expected of people in collectivist cultures.

Pilch identifies seven kinds of lies and deceptions employed in the service of honor, and offers biblical examples of these strategies (in Cultural Dictionary of the Bible). Naturally, the greatest biblical heroes were liars. I add a couple of examples, and see also Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, for the example in 4.

1. Concealment of Failure
Example: the second son in Mt 21:28-30

Pilch notes that a group of surveyed Lebanese villagers unanimously agreed that the second son -- who told his father he was going to work in the field, though he did not actually do so -- was the good son. He gave his father a respectful answer and told him what he wanted to hear. The first son -- who refused to work in the field but later went anyway -- was outrageously insulting. Again, appearances are more important than reality. The first son dishonored his father, regardless of his later attempt to rectify the disgrace. The second son lied in order to conceal his failure, thereby honoring his father and giving him face. As mentioned above, I learned this lesson the hard way living in Africa.

2. On Behalf of Kin, Friends, Guests, or Patrons
Example: Rahab in Josh 2:3-6

Rahab lied to the king’s men concerning the location of Joshua’s spies, in order to protect her guests as honor demanded.

3. Avoiding Quarrels or Trouble
Examples: Abraham & Sarah in Gen 12:11-12 & 20:2,5; Peter in Mk 14:68,70,71

Abraham and Sarah lied about their marriage while traveling as aliens in Egypt, and Peter’s triple bald-faced lie saved him from the fate of his savior. That Peter is faulted in the context of the Markan narrative, while Abraham and Sarah escape censure, isn’t the point. The point is that in each case one acts out of an honorable code of self-preservation.

4. Sheer Concealment (Habitual)
Example: Jesus in Jn 7:1-10

This is an interesting example. As Judeans were looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus (Jn 7:1), his relatives urged him to go to the festival anyway, because (so they said) his mighty works would enhance his honor rating (7:3-4) -- though in reality, they probably figured his death would rid them of a perpetual disgrace to family honor (for in fact “his brothers did not believe in him” (7:5)). Jesus lied: “I am not going to this festival” (7:8). He remained in Galilee (7:9) but went to the festival as soon as his relatives departed, “not publicly but secretly” (7:10). It's precisely because Jesus’ brothers “did not believe in him” that they deserved to be lied to. Jesus was at home in the honor-shame world, deceiving his rivals as they deserved.

5. For Gain
Examples: Jacob in Gen 27:24-41; David in I Sam 21:1-6

Jacob lied to his blind father, claiming he was Esau, robbing his brother of his birthright. Likewise, David lied to the priest of Nob, saying that he was on an urgent mission from the king, sacrilegiously obtaining the Bread of the Presence for him and his men to eat.

6. False Imputation (Slander; Insults)
Examples: Jezebel in I Kings 21:1-16; Jesus in Jn 8:39-59

These are lies of degradation more than deception. Jezebel ruined Naboth’s honor with lies of false imputation, engineering his death by stoning, and obtaining his vineyard for the king. Jesus called the Judeans murderers and children of the devil -- to which they retaliated by lying in turn, calling him a Samaritan. From the perspective of the biblical authors, Jesus is a divine protagonist and thus cannot really be a liar, while Jezebel and the Judeans are certainly understood to be liars. But from the antagonists’ perspectives, the opposite is true. This is what the agonistic milieu of honor-shame is all about.

7. Pure Mischief
Examples: God and Satan in Gen 2-3; God in I Kings 22:19-23 & II Thess 2:11-12

God lied to Adam, saying that to eat the forbidden fruit would result in immediate death. The serpent exposed God’s lie by telling Eve this was not true. In the honor-shame context, God is perfectly justified countering Satan’s mischief with his own. So he sends “a lying spirit into the mouths of many prophets” in order to bring about King Ahab’s disaster, just as he sends his enemies “powerful delusions, leading them to believe lies”, precisely “so that they will be condemned”.

Pilch, Malina, and Rohrbaugh thus inform us that collectivists lie and deceive more than individualists. I would put the matter differently. Individualists lie/deceive as habitually and often as collectivists, even if the collectivist cultures encompass more socially acceptable forms of lying/deception, as dictated by the honor-shame canons. The results of evolutionary-psychology and cultural-anthropology, taken together, point to a phenomenon which is consistent across the species, but valued differently according to culture. Individualists are thus more pretentious about truth and honesty, and end up violating their own values more than collectivists.

In the next part of this series, we will look at lying and deception in authorship, i.e. forgeries and hoaxes.

The complete series:

Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens
Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Cultures
Lying and Deception in Authorship
Lying and Deception in the Postmodern Age

StumbleUpon’s Censorship

Due to StumbleUpon’s horrendous new censorship policy, I’ve been forced to join it so I can continue reading the R-rated blogs. Up until Friday, the R-rated (though not X-rated) blogs were viewable to non-Stumble users, but no more, apparently because of some legal problems that have arisen across the globe.

For those unfamiliar with it, StumbleUpon is a great browsing tool that links you to other users who share similar interests. (It requires the Firefox browser, which is the best anyway.) So I now have a second blog, which isn’t R-rated itself and should thus be viewable to anyone. On the other hand, some of my networked “friends” at StumbleUpon are R-rated, and who knows, this may well end up making me R-rated by default. One of those friends, incidentally, happens to a real-life friend, Matt Bertrand, who has been on the blogroll of The Busybody since day one. So for any readers who have been following Matt’s blog (I have occasionally linked to him in posts), you will now be stonewalled from the review portion of his blog unless you join StumbleUpon. It’s bloody shameful, and I’m glad to see aggressive protests to the new policy.

My rant for the day against censorship.

UPDATE: (9/26) StumbleUpon has resolved the problem. From now on, non-Stumble viewers who visit R-rated blogs will get a message, "This profile is R-rated. If you are 18 or older, you can view the content on this page by clicking here." That was easy enough.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens

(Prologue to this series here.)

In Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, David Livingstone Smith explains that homo sapiens are continually engaged in lies and deceptions, as well as self-deceptions. We deceive others and ourselves all the time, because it's advantageous to do so as a species. "As humans, we must fit into a close-knit social system to succeed, yet our primary aim is to look out for ourselves above all others. Lying helps."

Psychologist Robert Feldman, from the University of Massachusetts, conducted an amazing study which found that 60% of people tell on average 3 lies for every ten minutes of conversation. The frequency applies to men and women equally, though the sexes tend to lie about different things: men to make themselves look better, women to make others feel good.

This has in view all types of lies: socially acceptable lies (normally not considered lies), unacceptable lies (blatant or bald-faced lies), lies of omission (silent lies), and many other forms of deception. The field of evolutionary psychology is broadly inclusive on the subject, and it's only beginning to come to terms with the phenomenon of self-deception.

Self-deception is seriously underrated -- rather understandable, since none of us wants to admit we deceive ourselves (which is part of the self-deceiving process). But lying to ourselves is essential, says Smith, because it soothes the stresses of life, and in the process helps us lie efficiently to others. The unconscious region of the brain, where truth can be effectively obscured, makes this possible.

"Lying to ourselves promotes psychological well-being," states Smith in an online interview. Research shows that depressed people deceive themselves less than those who are mentally healthy. They have a better grasp on reality than most people, and in his book Smith cites the philosopher David Nyberg who wryly remarks that "self-knowledge isn't all that it's cracked up to be" (The Varnished Truth, p 85). It would seem that the religion of gnosticism starts from a horribly wrong premise!

In the interview, Smith continues at some length about self-deception:
"Self-deception relieves us from a sense that we're constantly living in contradiction. We each have a set of values that we constantly violate. When you're aware of transgressing one of those values that you hold dear, you tend to feel bad about yourself. In deceiving ourselves, we relieve ourselves of that burden, making life a lot easier and lot more pleasant for ourselves. It's quite wonderful.

"Finally, if we convince ourselves we're not really lying, we can lie far more effectively than might otherwise be the case. All of our social lies, like the fake smile, involve the manipulation of how others see us. Our lives are saturated with pretense and dishonesty. Although we claim to value truth above all else, we are also at least dimly aware that there is something antisocial about too much honesty."
But the trick lies in balancing lying and honesty in appropriate measures. Deception and self-deception are obviously not always advantageous. Furthermore, it's necessary to be economical with lies, otherwise lying/deception would become self-defeating (the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome, notes Smith). "Unless self-deception is limited to the right dosage, the disadvantages of information deprivation would outweigh the benefits of social manipulation and nature would select it out of existence." (Why We Lie, p 78)

None of this addresses the morality of lying and deception, only their naturality. The point is that lying and deception are perfectly normal, and necessary for the sake of mental health.

In the next part of this series, we will look at lying and deception in honor-shame societies in particular, with the Bible providing examples, and see how the phenomenon is even more common (or acceptable) in these cultures than in the individualized west.

The complete series:

Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens
Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Cultures
Lying and Deception in Authorship
Lying and Deception in the Postmodern Age

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Translators and Legislators on Swearing

Tyler Williams discusses the shortcomings of modern translators with I Sam. 25:22, where in most cases "one male" is substituted for "any who piss against the wall":

"May God do so to the enemies of David, if by morning I leave as much as one male of all who belong to him." (most translations)

(instead of)

"May God do so to the enemies of David, if by morning I leave of all who belong to him any who piss against the wall." (KJV)

Tyler rightly suggests that "this is a case of modern translations -- both formal and dynamic -- wimping out. You can't have 'urinate' in the Bible, much less 'piss'! It's the same concern for a false sense of propriety that softens the translation of שׁגלׁ in the Hebrew Bible or σκύβαλα in the New Testament, among others."

But there's not much way around propriety in a text like II Kings 18:27, where those doomed people sitting on the wall "eat their own dung and drink their own piss", a text mentioned in Tuesday's New York Times article, "Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore". Reporter Natalie Angier notes the prudishness of state legislators (much as Tyler does of bible translators), who are getting ready to consider a bill that will increase the penalty for obscenity on the air if passed. What silliness. Swearing is good for the soul, and someone with a lot of sense once said, "swear if you care". Translators and legislators seem to care about the wrong things these days.

The Odd Duck

On the Crosstalk mailing list, Andrew Smith notes that Secret Mark is the only (supposed) non-canonical fragment quoted by church fathers which doesn't contain an actual saying of Jesus. Stephen Carlson suggests this is all the more remarkable given that the Secret Mark fragment is longer than others, with plenty of missed opportunity -- no return dialogue from Jesus in response to, "Son of David, have mercy on me"; none explaining the "mystery of the kingdom of God".

"If the non-canonical gospels appear to us as odd ducks," says Carlson, "Secret Mark is the oddest duck of the lot." Morton Smith was a rather odd duck, wasn't he?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

RBL: Questioning Covenant Theology and Divinity

Two RBL reviews for brief discussion.

McGinn, Sheila E., ed.
Celebrating Romans: Template for Pauline Theology: Essays in Honor of Robert Jewett
Review by Julia Fogg

One thing in Fogg's review caught my eye. Apparently James Dunn is challenging ideas of covenant theology in Paul, arguing that "promise theology" better describes Paul's thought. Very interesting. I wonder how compatible this "promise theology" is with Philip Esler's ideas. (I think Esler is correct in refuting Wright's ideas about covenant theology.)

Neyrey, Jerome H.
Render to God: New Testament Understandings of the Divine.
Review by John Mason
(There's another review by Richard Edwards, posted back in May.)

Neyrey is one of the oldest members of the Context Group, and from Edwards' review, we see that he follows many scholars in arguing that Jesus isn't equated with God until John and Hebrews. He frames the discussion in terms of patrons, clients, and benefactors. Thus in Mark, Jesus is the faithful client, God the patron; in Matthew, Jesus is again the client, God again the patron but even more so a benefactor -- "the relationship with God is based not on performance but on God's applied mercy"; in Luke the relationship between God and humanity extends beyond that of patron-client, since God is humanity's benefactor who continually cares for people; in Paul Jesus is no longer a client, rather "an elevated conduit of God's mercy", with the apostle serving the role of a broker. In John, Jesus is finally equal to God; and in Hebrews, he is even more clearly God, enjoying the deity's primary characteristics. Jesus is thus either client, conduit, or patron (deity), depending on the writer.

But Philip Esler, another Context Group member, follows Richard Bauckham's view that Jesus is seen as divine in all the NT sources, that high Christology happened more as a "big bang" than evolution. It will be interesting to see more debate about this, especially when Bauckham completes his two-volume project on Christology.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Lying and Deception: Prologue

Truth and honesty are terribly overrated. More and more, experts are telling us that even the most righteous people lie and deceive with a vengeance. "Deceit is the Cinderella of human nature," says David Livingstone Smith, "essential to our humanity but disowned by its perpetrators at every turn"; lying "is normal, natural, and pervasive"; and human society is nothing less than "a network of lies and deceptions that would collapse under the weight of too much honesty." (Why We Lie, p 2).

The classical philosophers and theologians have differed on the subject. Some maintain that lying is wrong, period (Augustine, Wesley, Kant); some that it all depends (Montaigne, Voltaire, Bacon); others that lying can be as good as it is natural (Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Wilde). The above citation falls in line with the last group, and David Smith actually speaks of the "Machiavellian module" which has evolved in the human brain.

There are three approaches to lying which have recently come out of the natural/social science fields, all of which I believe merit close attention. Culture critic Ralph Keyes argues that we live in a post-truth era, in which society is abandoning honesty more than ever before. Cognitive scientist David Livingstone Smith (cited above) thinks this is the wrong tack, and that humanity has been a species of habitual liars right from the get-go, today as much as ever before. Biblical scholar John Pilch seems to think that lying and deception is consistent over time, though not across cultures: collectivist (honor-shame) societies have more socially acceptable forms of lying and deception than in the individualized west.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll look at the issue from each corner. We'll consider (1) the evolutionary-psychological perspective (Smith), which tells us that homo sapiens lie and deceive almost as soon as they open their mouths to speak (telling on average three lies for every ten minutes of conversation), (2) the cultural-anthropological approach (Pilch), which explains why lying and deception is all the more acceptable in honor-shame societies (the Bible will be a good illustration here), and (3) the cultural-critical idea (Keyes) that postmodernity has increasingly blurred distinctions between lies and truths. The three approaches, taken together, will vindicate the third group of philosophers (Machiavelli, Nietzche, Wilde) more than the others, and ask us to think twice about the way we view honesty as an achievable virtue.

The complete series:

Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens
Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Cultures
Lying and Deception in Authorship
Lying and Deception in the Postmodern Age

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Which Book of the Bible Are You?

Sean du Toit mentions an interesting quiz -- ”Which Book of the Bible Are You?”. On the quizpage it states that it’s written for Christians, which I’m not, so take my own result with a grain of salt. (Though in some ways it’s pretty accurate.)

You are Proverbs<

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Library Thing

Matt Bertrand calls attention to Library Thing, a great tool for cataloging your own books online. I'm going to start using this myself. It's free until you catalog more than 200 books.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Anne Rice and Jesus

Jim Davila notes Anne Rice's upcoming book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, featuring none other than Jesus as the lead protagonist. I have a somewhat lower opinion of Rice than Davila does, though I liked a few of her older novels. The problem is that she has a habit of running too far with a good idea until it's completely stale. The first three books of The Vampire Chronicles are pretty good, but everything following in the series is a waste of time. The Witching Hour tells a powerfully original story, but the sequels (Lasher, Taltos) are appalling. She gets lazy in subsequent installments, more interested in subjecting the reader to heavy doses of pseudo-theology than just telling a good story.

I suspect this book on Jesus will be entertaining if nothing else.


Brandon Wason, Mark Goodacre, and Jim West all kick around the definition of a biblioblog.

Wason/West: "...a weblog that focuses primarily on Biblical Literature, related fields, and occassionally contemporary events. It's purpose is to offer news, opinion, and conversation for those interested in the Biblical text. Biblioblogs occassionally refer to personal matter, but that is not the primary focus."

Goodacre (more simply): "...blogs which have a primary focus on academic Biblical Studies."

Jim West notes further that while some biblioblogs are "pure", focusing almost exclusively on biblical studies, most of them throw personal, political, and theological postings into the mix.

I'd say that probably at least two-thirds of a biblioblogger's postings should relate to the topic at hand (biblical studies), though forays into unrelated or quasi-related territory are nice too. Sub-topics of my blog include the theological world-view of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, and the field of evolution/evolutionary psychology. Sometimes sub-topics relate back to the main. For instance, I recently compared the way Paul uses the figure of Abraham with the way Tolkien uses the character of Sam. Next week I want to post on the phenomenon of lying and deception, as it applied specifically to people from the biblical world, and more generally to homo sapiens as a species, and what we can say about "lying" in general. (So we need to brace ourselves for strong doses of cynicism next week.)

Most are aware of, run by Wason and West. They offer a good list of biblioblogs, though there may be more out there which deserve to be included.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Book of Vile Darkness

Over the weekend I bought a supplemental manual for the Dungeons & Dragons game, called The Book of Vile Darkness. It caught my eye with the warning label, "Intended for Mature Audiences", though I don't think it's quite as extreme as some reviewers make it out to be. I partly agree with the reviewer at RPGnet:

"I don't think Wizards of the Coast wanted a mature book on evil, but wanted to present the idea that they were going to target the more mature side of the D&D consumer base... Book of Vile Darkness smacks more of cartoon villainy than an actual attempt at any sort of vile horror or evil. It appears, after all, the real evil of a campaign is to be blamed on the devil. What about the world's evil: like pedophiles, rapists and other degenerates? Why are they missing in a mature title about the nature of evil?...

"Book of Vile Darkness was undercut to make it more a marketing ploy than an actual book about evil that could scare the hell out of the reader. Is the book mature? Yes, and no. Mature enough that some of the concepts might send a few players tittering away at the mention of necrophilia and other topics, but then, the History Channel can cover those topics, as well as Discovery, without the delve into the juvenile mindset."

This is a healthy corrective to some of the more squeamish (or righteously indignant) reactions to the book. On the other hand, I wouldn't exactly call this material "cartoon villainy". It involves plenty of the "worldly evil" demanded by the reviewer: masochism, sadism, torture, disease, necrophilia. It may be a bit top-heavy on demonology, but that's what the game involves. Some of the spells are quite creative. I particularly like the one which allows an evil priest to transform into a disease -- actually become the disease itself -- and invade someone accordingly. Imagine what that would be like?

Anyway, this stuff will doubtfully find its way into the teen program at my library, but for mature role-players who like running dark campaigns, I recommend The Book of Vile Darkness without reservation. As the author Monte Cook puts it, the darker the evil, the more good will shine in the end.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rude Reality and Reinterpretations

Sean du Toit objects to many arguments set forth in my post on the empty tomb. Sean wrote:

Why is it surprising that more Jewish groups didn’t make wild and offensive claims in order to make success of their failures? I don’t think that it is. Jewish groups weren’t in the habit of making things like this up to compensate for failed dreams. They didn’t do this with other messianic failures, why should we suppose that they did it with Jesus? Following this, I’m not at all sure that it is abundantly plain that apocalyptic groups become wildly creative, unpredictably creative, in the face of failed expectations.

But of course they do. Many apocalyptic movements die, but many survive. Those which do survive always find ways of coping with their dashed hopes. Dale Allison has noted many cases of such "secondary exegesis" (see Millenarian Prophet, p 94 and The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate, pp 87, 103). When the Guarani prophecies failed, for instance, shamans attributed the failure to messenger birds being killed so that the ritual dancing couldn't achieve its goal. William Miller calculated the date of Jesus' second coming, and when Jesus didn't show up some of Miller's followers said that Jesus had gone instead to a "heavenly sanctuary" in order to begin a new phase of salvation history. Members of a Baha'i sect predicted earthquakes and a meteor striking the earth in 1991, and when nothing happened, the leader explained that there had been a "spiritual earthquake" instead. Muhammad Ahmad preached that Allah would come to earth and destroy the oppressors of humanity; when that didn't happen, his later followers said that Ahmad himself had "destroyed oppression" as a reformer of Islam.

There is no difference -- none whatsoever -- between these preposterous claims and that of the early disciples, that their leader had been resurrected in the middle of history before the apocalypse. Meaning, there was no more precedent for these particular claims than there was for that of the early Christians. Wright makes a big deal out of the "lack of precedent", but there's no obstacle here.

"Rude reality reinterprets prophecies," as Allison says (The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate, p 87), and as the gospels illustrate. Jesus' prediction that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days is a glaring example of a failed prophecy given forced reinterpretations. What's the difference, really, between John's bodily temple (Jn 2) and the Bahai's spiritual earthquake?

Sean continues:

The thought that transphysical visions of the dead are common is also hard for this student to digest...Now how does one have a vision of transphysicality? I may be arguing semantics, but I’m confused as to how one can say that you can “see” [vision] transphysicality. Just because one has a vision that is interactive [hear, see & touch], does not make the vision transphysical. So this is a misnomer.

Allison's point is simply that reported visions share a lot in common with "transphysicality" as Wright defines the term, despite the fact that Wright supposes Jesus' transphysicality to have been rather unique. That's all.

My last quibble with Loren’s comments is that I’m not convinced that because of this mysterious vanishing act, we today have the doctrine of the resurrection. Maybe I’m being pedantic, and if so please forgive me, by the doctrine of resurrection precedes Christianity by some time. Wright and others have demonstrated this well.

I'm talking about the sectarian (Christian) doctrine of the resurrection, not the standard (Jewish) one. Because of the empty tomb, we today have the Christian idea that Jesus rose from the dead before the apocalypse.

Why did the early Christian movement believe this had already happened to Jesus? Why did they not just die out like many other messianic movements that lost their leader? Why make the daft claim that God had acted so decisively, if he clearly hadn’t?

Let's try this again. History shows us plainly that some millenarian movements die while others continue in defiance of reality. The latter are perfectly capable of "secondary exegesis", or creative revisionism, as mentioned in the examples above. However, people generally resort to such revisionism in the face of failure (cognitive dissonance), and the disciples would not have seen Jesus' death as a failure. There's a difference between being demoralized and failing. Jesus' suffering and death would have squared with what he told them to expect in the tribulation period. So the disciples had no need to resport to revisionism after all -- that is, until such revisionism was imposed on them by the sight of Jesus' empty tomb. It took the empty tomb to do this.

So it's in this sense that Allison believes Wright is correct, but only despite himself. The Christians made a "daft claim", as you say, because the revisionism was imposed on them. Allison and Wright both think it took the empty tomb (in conjunction with visions) to yield the radical resurrection belief. But they arrive at this conclusion very differently -- Allison, I think, with better sense and caution. Allison also happens to be more humble about what we can say actually happened to Jesus' body. Answer: any number of things.

Thanks to Sean for engaging these important issues.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sean du Toit on the Empty Tomb

As I mentioned yesterday, I don’t have time for extensive blogging this week-end, but readers should take the time to read Sean du Toit’s formidable reply to my post on the empty tomb. Hopefully I’ll have time to respond to Sean’s objections next week.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Expect little if any blogging over the week-end, as I'll be devoting my full energies to preparing a Dungeons & Dragons adventure for a teen program at my library. It's been well over a decade since I've played this game, let alone dungeon master for it. But it's all coming back to me pretty fast. Should be fun.

In light of Jesus' empty tomb and the question of his resurrection, some of the spells for clerics in this game are interesting. D&D makes a distinction between raise dead and resurrection, the latter being a more powerful version of the former. Frankly, I think spells like these make things too easy on the players. But I was never an especially kind dungeon master.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Paul's Abraham and Tolkien's Sam

Paul believes that God fulfilled promises made to Abraham (Rom 4:13,16), though not covenant promises. Despite what scholars like Tom Wright tell us, there is no "climax of the covenant" in Paul's thought, which would imply continuity between the times of Abraham and Christ. Rom 4 (especially Rom 4:18-25) implies the opposite. During the period between Abraham and Christ the promise was not fulfilled by anyone, because no one had the faith-righteousness of Abraham (so Esler, Conflict and Identity in Romans, pp 192-194, 286). Such righteousness was anticipated by figures like David and Moses -- it was "spoken of" by David (Rom 4:6), and "written about" by Moses (Rom 10:5) -- but nowhere does Paul imply that David or Moses, or anyone other than Abraham, actually attained such faith-righteousness. Abraham alone was so righteoused for the precise benefit of later Christ-believers (Rom 4:23-25). There is no "build-up" to a climax in Christ, far less any salvation-history to speak of here. Abraham is an exception proving the rule in a faithless era.

Tolkien uses the character of Sam Gamgee much as Paul uses Abraham. For Paul the Judaic era was faithless; for Tolkien the pagan era was hopeless. In Lord of the Rings, evil is expected to be ultimately victorious. Frodo's wisdom speaks: "It’s like things are in the world; hopes fail." (The Field of Cormallen) Likewise, Sam "never had any hope in the quest from the beginning, but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope." (The Black Gate is Closed) (I have written much about the theme of hopelessness in Tolkien's classic, for instance here.) Yet in Mordor, when Frodo and Sam are at their lowest, Sam succumbs to that vice which pagans know to be foolish:
"Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach." (The Land of Shadow)
Hope is seen here, exceptionally, as a virtue: evil is but "a passing thing"; and good can be counted on to prevail in the end. Perhaps being overcome by a sign of beauty in the worst place on earth is what it takes to bring about desperate optimism against the conventions of ordinary wisdom. But I think we can be stronger here. Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings as a pre-history to our own, and he may have intended Sam's "epiphany" as a pious anticipation of the future. If this is true, then Sam's hope in the Morgai Vale isn't so much for Frodo's quest, but for a radical change which would someday break the cycle of the world's suffering. It anticipates, however obliquely, the Judeo-Christian victory. Sam thus serves as an exception to the rule of his time. Like Abraham in Rom 4, he anticipates "something better" in a distant future.

Of course, there are as many differences between Paul and Tolkien as there are similarities. Paul was a convert, and a hostile witness to his parent faith. He had actually experienced plenty of faith and righteousness as a Jew, despite what Rom 7 tells us. He had been blameless by the law (Philip 4:4b-6). He'd had a robust conscience, faithfully fulfilled the law, and knew that nothing could be more glorious than the Israelite covenant. But from his hostile hindsight perspective (Philip 3:7-11, cf. II Cor 3:7-11), he now understands this to have been a pseudo-righteousness -- faithless, in fact, without the benefit of the messianic redeemer.

Tolkien had never been a pagan; he was Catholic to the core, a faith he always took for granted. Because of this, he is able to depict the pagan world-view more on its own terms. Far from "hostile hindsight", Tolkien writes from the perspective of "outsider emulation". He loved the ancient sagas of the north which evoked courage for its own sake, against all the odds. Unlike the apostle, Tolkien doesn't promote something new over and against an inferior past. The superiority of the present is taken for granted, which allows him, ironically, to appreciate the nobility of the pagans despite themselves. He well understood how the northern pagan tradition demanded more of people than the Christian: to resist and combat evil, not because there is any hope in doing so -- after all, evil will be triumphant in apocalypses like Ragnarok -- but simply because it is the right thing to do.

Paul the apocalyptic convert looked back on the era of the Jewish covenant as a dark age, and at Abraham as a lone faith-figure who anticipated better things to come. He used Abraham to bash a faithless past and glorify the present/future. Tolkien the more secure Catholic looked upon the pagan era as grim but inherently noble at the same time, emulating pagan virtues even knowing they were vices. He used the character of Sam only subtly to hint at greater things to come. Both Abraham and Sam, in any case, show their authors' need for something greater than what was offered by the traditions they adored.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Albert Schweitzer

Jim West writes as follows:

"Albert Schweitzer died on this day in 1965. Schweitzer was one of the most gifted persons in Western history.  His abilities in historical Jesus studies, medicine, and music were simply amazing.  His Quest of the Historical Jesus is required reading for anyone who studies the subject and his books on Bach are insightful and uplifting."

I almost never agree with Jim (he is, after all, a Bultmannian), but he gets this right. Schweitzer's legacy and vision remain unsurpassed. I often find myself reading portions of Quest just to drink in the rhythm of the prose. Let's make the following a quote for the day:

"As of old Jacob wrestled with the angel, so modern theology wrestles with Jesus and will not let him go until he bless it -- that is, until he will consent to serve it and will suffer himself to be drawn by the modern spirit into the midst of our time and civilization. But when the day breaks, the wrestler must let him go. He will not cross the ford with us. Jesus of Nazareth will not suffer himself to be modernized.

"The mistake was to suppose that Jesus could come to mean more to our time by entering into it as a man like ourselves. That is not possible. First because such a Jesus never existed. Secondly because, although historical knowledge can no doubt introduce greater clearness into an existing spiritual life, it cannot call spiritual life into existence. History can destroy the present; it can reconcile the present with the past; can even to a certain extent transport the present into the past; but to contribute to the making of the present is not given unto it.

"For that reason, it is a good thing that the true historical Jesus should overthrow the modern Jesus, should rise up against the modern spirit and send upon earth not peace but a sword. He was not a teacher, not a casuist; he was an imperious ruler...He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not. he speaks to us the same word: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is."

(Quest, pp 312, 399, 403)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Importance of the Empty Tomb: Allison vs. Wright

Tom Wright has repeatedly claimed that without the empty tomb, it’s inconceivable that the disciples would have claimed Jesus was raised from the dead. On this basis he further concludes that Jesus actually was raised from the dead. “I regard this conclusion as coming in the same sort of category of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.” (Resurrection of the Son of God, p 710).

Bad judgments like these mar an otherwise fine piece of work, for Resurrection of the Son of God is on the whole a magisterial study. Plowing through mountains of Jewish and pagan literature, Wright argues convincingly that both Paul and the gospel writers fall in line with the orthodox view that Jesus rose bodily from the grave, in a transphysical body, the same body as before yet also changed. On this point he is entirely convincing, against those like Richard Carrier, on whose arguments see my review on the Crosstalk mailing list.

But Wright is not so convincing in other areas, and even when he is onto something, his arguments leave much to be desired. In this post I want to deal specifically with his contention that the disciples would doubtfully have claimed Jesus was raised from the dead if they hadn’t found his tomb empty.

I believe this statement is true, but it needs careful unpacking. Dale Allison, in his newly released and powerfully presented Resurrecting Jesus, shows why Wright is right only despite himself. We need to consider how the empty tomb relates to (I) cognitive dissonance and (I) the visions.

(I) Cognitive Dissonance When Wright says that the disciples would doubtfully have claimed Jesus was raised from the dead if they hadn’t found his tomb empty, he means that the disciples wouldn't have made the radical claim that their messiah had been raised from death without external evidence pointing to this; that the idea of an individual’s resurrection before the apocalypse was just too wild and blasphemous. No other Jewish groups, after all, claimed such things: when messiahs were killed, people either found another messiah, or just gave up.

But as far as I’m concerned, Wright has this backwards. Given what we know about millenial groups, it’s surprising that more Jewish groups didn’t make wild and offensive claims in order to make success of their failures. It's abundantly plain that apocalyptic groups become wildly creative, unpredictably creative, in the face of failed expectations (so Festinger). It’s no stretch of the imagination, at all, that the disciples could have invented a resurrection belief (and thus a tale about an empty tomb) in order to cope with broken dreams and keep their movement going.

But here’s the problem, says Allison, and why Wright is onto something, despite himself. The disciples’ dreams actually hadn’t been broken. Allison writes:

“Reinterpretation of eschatological expectations stems from dissonance bred by the distance between prophecy and event, and -- despite widespread scholarly assumption to the contrary -- before belief in Jesus’ resurrection, no such cause for dissonance existed.”

Jesus’ death was not a cause for dissonance in the minds of the disciples. It would have demoralized them, but ultimately been taken as part of the apocalyptic drama. Jesus, after all, had braced them for such tragedy: they were living in the tribulation, and suffering/death had to precede the kingdom. The shame and scandal of the crucifixion would have put them, as Dale says, "emotionally down but not theologically out". They would have gone on hoping for the imminent apocalypse and the general resurrection of the dead, at which point they would have been vindicated and reunited with their savior. Jesus’ martyrdom does not constitute a failed expectation, and that is why Wright, despite himself, is right. It’s not that revisionism itself is unlikely (for indeed it is); it’s that there was no need for revisionism in this case. For the disciples, things were still going “as expected”.

Contrast the early followers of Jesus with a group like the Lubavitchers, who recently split over the question of Schneerson’s messianic identity. Over on The Sword, Michael Turton used them as an example to show why it’s easy to believe the disciples invented the empty tomb and resurrection legend:

“While some people sensibly give up their beliefs when faced with reality, others simply deny that reality exists. Look at the Lubavitchers...”

To which I replied (citing Allison’s line of reasoning):

“Those who deny reality like this do so as a way of coping with failed expectations and broken dreams. For instance, the account in Jn 2 about the spiritual temple copes with the failed rebuilding of the actual temple. The radical idea of Jesus' resurrection would thus have been a way of coping with the failed arrival of God's kingdom and the general resurrection. But had the disciples actually given up on this expectation? Didn't Jesus' crucifixion conform to martyrdom theology -- all the sufferings and trials Jesus told them to expect? Unlike the case of Schneerson, whose strokes, illness, and death were hardly built into the original messianic expectations of the Lubavitchers.”

This is what distinguishes the case of the early Christians from other millenarian groups who revise in order to deny reality. Turton has the right idea: the early Christians were capable of denying reality as much as any other religious group. (Look at Jn 2!) But on this point they had no reason to.

(II) The Visions When Wright says that the disciples would doubtfully have claimed Jesus was raised from the dead if they hadn’t found his tomb empty, he also means that the visions of Jesus alone would not have produced the resurrection belief. It took the sight of an empty tomb in conjunction with the visions. Dale Allison agrees with this, particularly against Gerd Ludemann who says otherwise. Allison writes:

“It would have been easy enough for Peter and [others who saw the visions] to declare that God had vindicated and exalted Jesus without using the concept of the eschatological resurrection. If, as Ludemann contends, the first community knew nothing about an opened tomb, Peter and his fellow believers could have said, in a manner reminiscent of Jubilees 23:31, that while Jesus’ bones rested for now in the earth, his spirit was exalted into heaven. Or they could have spoken about Jesus the way the Testament of Job, without using the language of resurrection, speaks about its hero: Job’s soul was taken to heaven immediately after his death while his body was prepared for burial.”

Indeed, Judaic belief easily accommodated ideas about the immortality of the soul. The visions of Jesus, by themselves, hardly account for the resurrection belief, especially with no cognitive dissonance in place.

What’s curious here is that Wright actually undercuts the importance of the empty tomb by claiming that the visions were exceptional in their transphysicality. The idea of a body appearing out of nowhere, disappearing, and transcending physical barriers is bizarre, according to Wright, and so the resurrection belief must have come about from reflecting on encounters with this unexpectedly transphysical Jesus.

But Allison strikes a heavy blow against the so-called uniqueness or exceptional nature of the visions. As recorded in the gospels, they show every sign of pointing to a widespread phenomenon. There is abundant documentation for the recently bereaved reporting contact with the dead, and far from ghostly shades, they are more often reported to be transphysical: being seen and heard (even touched); seen first by one person, then another, or by more than one person at the same time; seen by individuals who did not know them in life; creating doubt in some recipients; offering reassurance and giving comfort; giving guidance, making requests, or issuing imperatives; being seen less and less as time goes on (most apparitions are seen following shortly after death). Even more so than Ludemann, Allison makes a powerful case for grief-induced visions, however exactly they are to be understood.

Acknowledging this, of course, only strengthens the importance of the empty tomb in accounting for the resurrection belief. But for Wright, the gospel visions have to be unique, since he believes Jesus actually was resurrected.

(III) Conclusion Bearing these two caveats in mind -- that wild revisionism is common and to be expected of millenial groups, and that transphysical visions of the dead are common; both against Wright -- Dale Allison agrees with Wright’s conclusion, if not how he got there: It could only have been the empty tomb (when taken in conjunction with visions) which caused the disciples to make the claim that their messiah had been raised from death before the apocalypse, and before the general resurrection for which they obviously kept hoping.

So what happened to Jesus' body? Wright thinks it's historically evident that Jesus was resurrected by God. Historically evident? One is hard pressed not to laugh. Allison, who describes himself as a “reluctantly cryptic deist”, likes the idea of Jesus being resurrected while acknowledging there is obviously no way of knowing what happened to the body. Richard Carrier entertains the idea that the body was stolen (that is, on days when he’s not claiming the empty tomb is pure legend), since grave robbing was a common problem in antiquity. Jeffery Jay Lowder suggests that Joseph of Arimathea kept the body in the tomb for a day and then moved it to a final resting place after the sabbath.

I personally like the grave-robbing explanation, but Dale is right, there's no way of knowing what happened to the body. All we can say is that it was missing from the tomb when later visited by the women. And because of this mysterious vanishing act, we today have the doctrine of the resurrection.


Allison, Dale. Resurrecting Jesus. T. & T. Clark, 2005. [Note that page numbers are not cited above, since the page numbers I have come from an unpublished draft. I still haven’t received my official copy of the book.]

Ludemann, Gerd. The Resurrection of Christ. Prometheus, 2004.

Price, Robert & Lowder, Jeffery Jay. The Empty Tomb. Prometheus, 2005.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

KAIMOI Still Alive

What do you know, last Friday, Ken Olson wrote his fourth -- yes, fourth -- post on KAIMOI since its inception back at the end of March. Four posts in five months! Ken is a sharp critic with great ideas about the New Testament, and I hope he starts posting more regularly after he’s ensconsed at Duke University. I was starting to give up on KAIMOI.

Come to think of it, Ken just gave me another good idea. I’m having barbecue tonight.

Rising in the East, Setting in the West

Tuesday's New York Times reported disturbing statistics, most notably that 1 in 5 adult Americans thinks the sun revolves around the earth. Matt Bertrand notes this on his StumbleUpon blog. Is it any wonder that Intelligent Design won't go away?