Saturday, October 29, 2005

More on Literary Hoaxes

Stephen Carlson reviews my list of top 20 literary hoaxes on Hypotyposeis. We continue to quibble over terminology. He prefers distinguishing between forgeries and hoaxes, the former involving cheating in order to get ahead (whether for money or fame), the latter involving the testing of others for amusement's sake.

We need to be careful in redefining words. Generally speaking, a forgery involves false authorship, while a hoax is even more general -- something false passed off as genuine. Forgeries can easily be hoaxes and often are. Where Stephen uses "hoax" to refer to something more specific, I would use the term "prank". He writes:

Of the list of twenty literary fakes [on Rosson's list], I would classify the following as a hoax proper:

• No. 2, The Secret Gospel of Mark, by Morton Smith
• No. 6, Parthenopaeus, by Dioynisius the Renegade
• No. 11, The Malley Poems, by James McAuley and Harold Stewart
• No. 15, Transgressing the Boundaries, by Alan Sokol
• No. 20, An Amusing Agraphon, by Paul Coleman-Norton

I say these are pranks. Here the hoaxers wanted to have a good laugh and assess the critical acumen of their peers. (And, as I noted in my blogpost, one of them is not a forgery: Alan Sokol's postmodern hoax, since he signed his own name to it.) Smith fabricated a gospel out of intellectual disdain for his colleagues. Dionysius invented a play to make a fool out of Heraclides. McAuley & Stewart wrote some god-awful poetry just to see if randomly plagiarized lines would be accepted as artistic. Sokol wanted to fool the postmodernist crowd with an essay of nonsense. And Coleman-Norton just loved his own joke a little too much.

Other hoaxes are done for attention or fame (#s 3, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17), to justify an ideology (#s 1, 5, 9, 13, 18), or for profit (#s 4, 7, 16, and 19). There's overlap in some cases. Mark Hofmann forged his Salamander Letter (and other anti-Mormon tracts) out of ideological hatred, but mostly he did it for money. Pierre Plantard was also motivated by profit and ideology, but more the latter in his case. But these are all hoaxes, even if they involve cheating or getting ahead as opposed to just "having a good laugh".

Carlson also mentions the unidentified forger from the fifth century who wrote books and epistles in the name of Dionysius the Areopagite (in Acts 17:34). This actually made my original list but I ended up omitting, because I wanted to avoid any hoaxes that edge into the "forgery out of respect" territory (otherwise many of the NT authors would be eligible). But Stephen makes a good point. In terms of lasting influence, pseudo-Dionysius could well deserve a place on the list, and I originally placed him at #14, where Thomas Chatterton now resides (and who, coincidentally, just happens to be the one Carlson would oust in order to make room for pseudo-Dionysius).

Stephen has great observations, as always, and I have added his recommendation of Joseph Rosenblum's Practice to Deceive to my reading list.

Eight Essays on the Resurrection

James Crossley calls attention to the latest issue of the Journal of the Study of the Historical Jesus here. It's a special issue focusing on the resurrection, with the following contributions.

Dale C. Allison, Jr, "Explaining the Resurrection: Conflicting Convictions"

Gary R. Habermas, "Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?"

David J. Bryan, "The Jewish Background to The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright"

James G. Crossley, "Against the Historical Plausibility of the Empty Tomb Story and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: A Response to N. T. Wright"

Michael Goulder, "Jesus' Resurrection and Christian Origins"

Larry W. Hurtado, "Jesus' Resurrection in the Early Christian Texts: An Engagement with N. T. Wright"

N. T. Wright, "Resurrecting Old Arguments: Responding to Four Essays"

Craig A. Evans, "Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus"

Weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading James' essay, in which he makes a fine case against the historicity of the empty tomb (though I'm not persuaded). It's nice to see the entire spectrum represented, from the atheist (Goulder) to the apologist (Wright, Evans). According to Crossley, Dale Allison's article examines the other articles. But of course -- who is better equipped to stand back and assess the entire lot? After I get a copy of this issue, I'll no doubt be blogging heavily on the subject.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Quote for the Day: Jesus and Us

“What can historical Jesus research do for us? Well, maybe this will surprise everyone, but my view is: very little... Too many expect too much from historical Jesus research. We also have ethics professors, theologians, and philosophers. How come? Why do we need them if historical Jesus research gives us our answers? We need them because it doesn't... I truly think the big issues are best addressed by philosophers, scientific theorists, theologians, poets, and novelists, not historians. Cut my own throat there, didn't I?” (The Allison Seminar, April 3, 2003; Dale Allison’s response to Bob Schacht)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lying and Deception: Epilogue

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

If we're going to be honest about lying and deception, we need to start by being honest with ourselves: truth is terribly overrated. People often don’t want to hear the truth anymore than they want to tell it, and they follow their instincts accordingly with society's approval. The philosophers and theologians who say otherwise -- Augustine, Wesley, Kant -- deceive us and themselves. We need to lie, in order to stay well and functional.

Lying becomes pathological not when it's habitual (for it's always habitual), but when it leads to certain conduct disorders. Irresponsible people, criminals, and those with substance-abuse problems lie in order to rationalize hurting and mistreating others, as well as stealing. But even here a word of caution is in order. Because anti-social disorders are common in lower class urban settings (i.e. challenging home situations), some psychologists argue that such behaviors result more from a "protective survival strategy" than "pathology" per se.

We've seen that the inclination to lie and deceive is hardwired into the human race, and that it becomes stronger in specific contexts. Honor-shame cultures and the postmodern climate, for different reasons, summon even more deceptions from humanity. Literary authors have lied about their identities, for reasons ranging from the respectful, to the selfish, to the playful. In the end, the only lies called out as such are those deemed socially unacceptable.

If we're stuck with being a race of liars and deceivers, we can at least be truthful enough to acknowledge it. We can stop pretending that honesty is attainable to the degree other virtues are -- like compassion, justice, and wisdom -- or that it's necessarily a virtue at all. Honesty actually has very little to do with morality. To imply that something is wrong because it's dishonest is about as meaningful as saying that something is wrong because it's unnatural.

Bibliography to this series

Ehrman, Bart. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Keyes, Ralph. The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Pilch, John. The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. Liturgical Press, 1999.

Smith, David Livingstone. Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind. St. Martin's Press, 2004.

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blog Comments

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers cites Carl Zimmer as follows:

"People who start a blog and don’t have a commenting function – I just think they’re cowards. I mean, if you’re going to be out there, you’ve got to have a real blog. Everybody else does! It’s kind of pathetic to be a professional journalist and feel like you can’t handle the heat. All those amateurs out there allow comments, and that’s what makes a blog really interesting, because it’s a conversation."

Jim Davila might have a few things to say about this, and "cowardice" may be a harsh judgment, but I agree with that Zimmer is getting at. A blog without a comments section is like a presentation without a Q&A session. Dialogue makes the blogosphere what it is.

The King Kong Diaries

iFMagazine reports some pleasant news. Peter Jackson will be releasing a detailed account of the making of King Kong a day before his film opens in theaters.

"For the first time in the history of cinema, film fans will have the opportunity to experience the production of a major motion picture from the unique perspective of a master filmmaker with King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries. The three-time Academy Award winning director (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) personally invites viewers to immerse themselves in this unprecedented project, which combines a full-color book with more than 50 pages, four stunning production conceptual art prints, and two DVDs to create a step-by-step, first-hand account of the film's intense eight-month production process. In another first, King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries will be released December 13, 2005, a day before the movie opens in theaters."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Top 20 Literary Hoaxes

Guardian Unlimited has a list of Top 10 Literary Hoaxes, which prompted me to double their efforts, as I find the choices somewhat lacking. So here’s my own top-20 list, rated in descending order, with notoriety, how successful the hoax was (and for how long), and lasting cultural influence in view. I also throw in a couple of personal favorites, like Coleman-Norton's hoax. One of the most successful literary forgeries, of course, has been recently debunked by one of our bibliobloggers.

But before this, a word about motives. In Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman describes four motives for forging literary documents in the ancient world: profit, malice, admiration, or to support one’s views (see pp 30-31). The hoaxes on my list also owe to one of four motives. Five of them are pranks (which may owe to malice); six involve the hoaxer seeking attention or fame; five support ideologies; and four were done for profit. Forging out of admiration has obviously faded from the human scene.

1. The Donation of Constantine, in the fourth century. Fabricated in the eighth century by the papacy. Debunked by Lorenzo Valla in 1440. The most famous forgery in European history, describing Constantine being cured by Pope Sylvester I, and then rewarding him by giving the papacy power over temporal rulers. Valla was a pioneer of certain debunking techniques, involving the study of word usage variations.

2. The Secret Gospel of Mark, cited by Clement of Alexandria in the second century. Fabricated by Morton Smith in the 1950s and placed in the Mar Saba library in 1958. Disbelieved by Quentin Quesnell in 1973. Debunked by Stephen Carlson in 2005. Smith's prank fooled many scholars and called forth intriguing theories about early Christians who used an unorthodox version of Mark's gospel. Carlson finally spotted the hilarious confessions Smith planted in "Clement's" letter.

3. Fragments of Ancient Poetry, by Ossian the Bard in the third century. Fabricated by James Macpherson in the 1760s. Disbelieved by Samuel Johnson in 1775. Debunked at the end of the 19th century. As with Secret Mark, some scholars were too smart to be hoodwinked, but it took almost a century and a half to put to the ghost to rest.

4. Letters of Historical Figures -- Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Cleopatra, Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, Joan of Arc, Cicero, Dante, etc. All fabricated by Vrain Denis-Lucas between 1854-1868. Debunked in 1869. Relatively short-lived, but one of the most embarrassing hoaxes ever: all these letters were written in French, yet not only did people buy into them -- they bought them, and Denis-Lucas ended up making hundreds of thousands of francs off the fools.

5. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, by "Jewish elders". Written by Hermann Goedsche in the 1860s, and redacted by Matvei Golovinski in the 1890s. First printed in 1897. Debunked by Lucien Wolf in 1920. But these anti-semitic legends of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world (and using the blood of Christian children for passover) continued to find adherents, mostly because the hoax played on prejudice more than gullibility per se.

6. Parthenopaeus, by Sophocles in the 5th century BCE. Fabricated by Dionysius the Renegade in the 4th century BCE. (Dionysius confessed.) One of the most amusing hoaxes, whereby Dionysius set out to fool his rival Heraclides and succeeded with a vengeance. Heraclides insisted that Sophocles wrote the play even when told it was a fake. Only when Dionysius pointed out the nasty insult embedded in an acrostic ("Heraclides is ignorant of letters") did his rival realize he’d been had in the worst way.

7. The Hitler Diaries, published in 1983. Fabricated by Konrad Kujau. Debunked soon after extracts were published in magazines like Time. One of the most notorious hoaxes, especially for having fooled an expert like Hugh Trevor-Roper. Stern magazine paid about ten million marks for the diaries.

8. Vortigern and Rowena, by Shakespeare in the 16th century. Fabricated by William Ireland in 1790s, along with Shakespeare's love letters to Anne Hathaway, a letter to Elizabeth I, and early manuscripts of other plays. Debunked soon after by Edmond Malone. But that didn't prevent it from being performed in 1796 to a packed house. Ireland had done all the forgeries to please his father.

9. Pedigree of the Merovingian dynasty, recorded by Godfrey de Boullion in the 11th century. Fabricated by Pierre Plantard in the 1960s, along with other forged manuscripts relating to the "Priory of Sion", all of which were placed in the Paris National Library between 1965-1967. Discredited in the 1980s. Thoroughly debunked in a 1996 BBC documentary. This hoax has had lasting influence in the conspiracy theory promoted in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which in turn was used as a basis for the blockbuster novel, The DaVinci Code.

10. The Diary of His Excellency Ching-shan, and other Chinese memoirs, found in Ching-san's study in 1900. Actually fabricated by Edmund Backhouse around this time. Denounced as a forgery in 1963. Debunked by Hugh Trevor-Roper in 1976. Backhouse ended up donating tons of bogus manuscripts to the Bodleian library between 1913-1923, and used other forgeries to establish himself as an Asian scholar.

11. The Malley Poems, published in 1944. Fabricated by James McAuley and Harold Stewart. McAuley and Stewart confessed that "Ern Malley" never existed, and they had written nonsense simply to prove how easy it is to fool people with pastiche and randomly plagiarized lines. Interesting anecdote: the American poet John Ashbery asked his students to read a Malley poem in conjunction with one of Geoffrey Hill’s poems and decide, without knowing in advance, which was fake. Half the students thought Malley's poem had to be the genuine one.

12. Fragments: Memories of a Childhood, by Holocaust survivor Benjamin Wilkomirski, published in 1995. Wilkomirski’s real name is Bruno Dossekker, and he's neither a Holocaust survivor nor Jewish. Debunked by Daniel Ganzfried in 1998. Many people have excused this hoax for being emotionally honest, a lie pointing to a greater truth which can help victims of the Shoah.

13. The Education of Littletree, an autobiography of a Cherokee published in 1976. Actually written by KKK member Asa Carter. Debunked the year it was published. This book continues to inspire children and is still considered good literature by some teachers, regardless of authorship and the racist stereotypes it promotes.

14. Poems by Thomas Rowley, a 15th-century monk. Fabricated in 1769 by Thomas Chatterton. Debunked soon after, and Chatterton killed himself. He was romanticized after his suicide; many people were so moved by his poetry and didn’t care if they were forgeries.

15. “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, by Alan Sokol. Published in 1996. Sokol soon confessed that what he had written was nothing more than a postmodern joke. (Sokol's hoax differs from the others on this list in that it's not a forgery; he submitted the hoax in his own name. But it's a great example of an academic prank done for the sake of testing one's colleagues.)

16. The Salamander Letter, by Martin Harris (companion of Joseph Smith) in 1830. Fabricated by Mark Hofmann in the 1980s. Debunked in 1985. Hofmann forged other anti-Mormon documents, as well as a poem by Emily Dickinson. Motivated partly by his hatred for Mormonism, he did it mostly for the money, and Mormon leaders were indeed willing to pay considerable amounts to sequester these heresies. Hofmann was a murderer too, and perhaps got his just deserts when wounded by one of his own bombs.

17. Notes and Emendations to the Text of Shakespeare’s Plays, from Shakespeare in the 16th century. Fabricated by John Payne Collier in 1852. Disbelieved by Samuel Singer and Alexander Dyce right away. Debunked by Clement Ingleby in 1861.

18. Irenaeus Fragments from the second century. Fabricated by Christopher Pfaff in 1715. Disbelieved by Scipio Maffei. Debunked by Adolf von Harnack in 1900. Pfaff used these extracts to support his views during Pietist-Lutheran controversies.

19. The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, written in 1971 (never published), co-authored by Hughes and Clifford Irving. Actually written by Irving alone. In 1972 Irving confessed that he never met Hughes. But before this, many authorities who read the manuscript pronounced it genuine "beyond doubt", and leading handwriting experts said the signatures possessed by Irving were indeed those of Howard Hughes. Experts declared: "It is beyond human capability to forge this mass of material."

20. “An Amusing Agraphon”, about a verse in the Gospel of Matthew. Fabricated by Paul Coleman-Norton in 1950. Debunked by Bruce Metzger soon after it was published. [EDIT: see below] Known as the "denture joke", this is one of my favorite hoaxes, in which Jesus assures people that in the afterlife God will provide teeth to the toothless, so that everyone will be able to weep and gnash their teeth.

EDIT: With regards to #20, Stephen Carlson pointed out to me that not only did Bruce Metzger deduce the hoax before it was published, he didn't go public with it until 1971, after Coleman-Norton's death. So I stand corrected on two accounts. Hoax debunked in 1971.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Quote for the Day: Exegetical Amnesia

(See previous quote here.)

"The past is certainly full of nonsense to be unlearned, and surely our predecessors were ignorant of all sorts of things now known. And of course they had prejudices we cannot tolerate. But then all this will likewise be the future's verdict upon us, and we like to think that we still have some useful things to say. I submit that it is the same with those who came before us, and sometimes we may move forward by going backwards." (Dale Allison, "Forgetting the Past", The Downside Review, Vol 120, No 421, p 269)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Wealth and Poverty in the Blogosphere

Find out how much your blog is worth. For me it's the goose egg. What this says about my ideas I don’t really care to know.

I checked some other URLs. Wayne Leman, Jim Davila, Jim West, and Mark Goodacre are clearly the elite of the bibliobloggers. Ed Cook, Richard Anderson, and Stephen Carlson do nicely. Rick Brannan, Brandon Wason, Michael Bird, Michael Turton, James Crossley, and Chris Heard get by. Chris Weimer is barely surviving. The zeroes, the dirt poor -- who are always with us -- include Alan Bandy, Phil Harland, Peter Kirby, Ken Olson, Michael Pahl, Pete Phillips, Rafael Rodriguez, Sean du Toit, Tyler Williams, and myself.

For what it’s worth. :)

The Meaning of “Israel”

On Euangelion, in the comments section of Michael Bird’s post, I mentioned the importance of distinguishing Galatians, where Paul refers to the Christ-movement as “Israel” (Gal. 6:16), from Romans, where he does anything but. In Rom 9:1-11:36, Israel is Israel, every step of the way. J.B. Hood responded to me as follows:

It's at least possible [in Romans] that Israel becomes something new with the grafting in of Gentiles [Rom 11:17-24]... True, he's still talking about the Israel tree that was "pruned" -- but he has just added the "grafting in" of the unnatural branches...and mentions the possibility of other natural branches being grafted in again. That's one funny looking tree, that is! Isn't it possible that he is using Israel to label all believers, regardless of race? As he says earlier, Israel isn't always ISRAEL. [Rom 9:6]

Let’s go through this carefully. Paul statement that “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel” (Rom 9:6) means simply that “not all Israelites are presently faithful”. Thomas Tobin cautions that the passage shouldn’t be pressed beyond this loose meaning (Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts, p 327). It does not mean, literally, that unbelieving Jews are no longer part of Israel anymore than it means that the Christ-movement (i.e. believing Jews and Gentiles) has become Israel (ibid).

Philip Esler argues similarly: “Despite the inclusive message of Rom 9:6-13, Paul does not identify the Christ-movement with Israel. He comes perilously close, but avoids taking that final step.” (Conflict and Identity in Romans, p 279.) Likewise, in Rom. 9:14-29, Paul refrains from calling the remnant of faithful Christians “Israel”. He may have done so years before, in Galatians, but he’s not willing to do this now.

Rom 9:30-11:14 actually makes clear that “Israel” refers to ethnic Israel rather than a spiritualized (Christian) Israel. Paul contrasts Israel with the Gentiles (Rom 9:30-10:4), that is, the Jewish people as a whole with the Gentile nations, and then insists that despite all appearances, God has really not abandoned his ethnic chosen people (Rom 11:1-12).

He then develops his famous olive tree metaphor in Rom 11:17-24, returning to the view of faithful Jews and Gentiles (9:6-29), the remnant who have turned to Christ. But again, he does not refer to this group as Israel. In fact, this new Christian entity is distinguished from what immediately follows in Rom 11:25-27: “All Israel” will be saved after the Gentiles have been evangelized and joined the faithful Jewish remnant. The Jewish people as a whole, in other words, can count on an apocalyptic miracle in the end to save them from the consequences of unbelief.

Esler and Tobin each come to terms with the differences between Galatians and Romans in different ways. Esler believes the Roman church was locked in ethnic conflict, and Paul needed to play fair ball with Jews as much as Gentiles. Tobin thinks Paul’s reputation had become so bad by the time of Romans, that he was desperately trying to exonerate himself by revising his theology. I think both are correct.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Deficit of Eschatology in Corinth

Michael Bird asks, "Was the problem at Corinth an over-realized eschatology or not enough eschatology?", noting that Thiselton argued the former, Hays the latter.

The answer depends on whether the Corinthians understood their status achieved at baptism more in terms of a present resurrection of the body or an immortality of the soul. I Cor 15 seems to point in the latter direction. Paul tells the Corinthians: "If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?" (I Cor 15:12) While the Corinthians pay lip service to Jesus' resurrection, they shun the idea otherwise, believing their baptism to have given them something like immortality of the soul.

But that the Corinthians viewed their baptism in more Hellenized terms may be partly Paul's doing. Rom 6 seems to be even more strongly concerned that the message of eschatology isn't lost on the reader. Thomas Tobin, in fact, argues that Romans was crafted to counter misleading perceptions arising from Paul's earlier teachings in Galatia and Corinth. "Baptism [in Rom 6] should not be understood as allowing for the kind of ethical confusion and disarray found in the Corinthian community." (Paul's Rhetoric in its Contexts, p 206). Paul's earlier use of baptismal imagery, in which believers baptize into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13) and indeed "clothe themselves with Christ" (Gal 3:27) calls to mind Greco-Roman mystery initiations (thus Tobin, p 200). That's why in Rom 6 he emphasizes baptizing into Christ's "death" more than into his "body".

By the time he wrote Romans, Paul had evidently acquired an unsavory reputation. People thought he was anti-Torah, anti-Israel, and even anti-eschatology/resurrection. He had to jump through theological hoops left and right to make sure he wasn't misunderstood. So to answer Michael's question, I think Hays has the right of it. The Corinthians, in Paul's view, "didn’t have enough" eschatology. But that was partly Paul's own fault.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Scholars to Spend Time With

If you could spend a weekend with an NT scholar (living or dead), and have fun shooting the breeze about biblical studies, theology, and life in general, whom would you choose? Here’s my top-10 list. Schweitzer’s my obvious top choice; I found myself surprised that Morton Smith came in second.

1. Albert Schweitzer. I’d be so in awe that I’d hardly know what to say, though there would be a lot of ground to cover: NT studies, classical music, travels abroad in service, all of which interest me. Above all else, I’d want to hear Schweitzer’s critique of the so-called 'third quest' of the historical Jesus, and find out what he thinks of the work of the Context Group.

2. Morton Smith. Certainly one of the most intriguing scholars: a genius ahead of his time, able to bamboozle people with the hoax of the century. Far from a pleasant man, but one you could learn a lot from, in more ways than one. I’d have him read Stephen Carlson’s Gospel Hoax, and ask him if he laughed himself to sleep every night thinking about what he did.

3. Richard Rohrbaugh. My mentor as an undergrad, an amazing authority on biblical culture, and a swell guy to boot. Has great stories about his time living on the West Bank. I’d want to hear more from him about how relevant the honor-shame Jesus can be in the modern west. His essay on the parable of the “prodigal son” is just amazing.

4. Dale Allison. He has sense and wisdom in abundance, and deals so well with the relationship between history and modern needs; Resurrecting Jesus ends up being surprisingly stronger for its excursions into theology. I could easily warm to this “reluctantly cryptic deist”, as he describes himself, living his life as though God made the world and then went away.

5. Philip Esler. He puts scripture in context like no other, and has a dynamic approach to theology that leaves me tongue-tied -- urging communion with one’s biblical ancestors, disagreement with them when necessary, and a willingness to remain challenged by their alien ways of thinking. I’d like to hear more about which books of the canon, besides Galatians, he believes to be inappropriate for theological guidance.

6. Michael Goulder. A brilliant and fascinating man -- in fact, a bit too brilliant for me to appreciate until Mark Goodacre later spelled out some of his anti-Q ideas more clearly. I'd enjoy hearing more about why he turned atheist after almost becoming an Anglican bishop.

7. Mark Nanos. A Jewish scholar willing to give Paul the benefit of the doubt all the way, a rather rare phenomenon. Mystery of Romans has to be one of the most fruitful cases of thinking outside the box. Mark is a cool guy too, and understands what Jewish-Christian dialogue should be all about.

8. Ed Sanders. An academic giant who deserves his reputation, but rather opaque about his own beliefs. Who is the real Sanders? What makes him tick? It would be neat to find out over a few beers.

9. Stephen Carlson. A cautious scholar who keeps his cards close to his vest -- but watch out when he’s finally ready to let loose. Stephen sets a good example for all of us, having no (discernible) axes to grind, and just seems to enjoy solving puzzles and letting chips fall where they may. Still waters run deep here, and I suspect that we've only begun to appreciate his penetrating ideas about source criticism.

10. Richard Bauckham. My favorite evangelical scholar, who has been shaking things up with a big-bang theory of high Christology. I’d be keen on discussing his book on hope and eschatology, since my sympathies lie more in the opposite direction, with the pagan souls portrayed in Lord of the Rings. For things are ultimately hopeless.

UPDATE: See Mark Goodacre's comments.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quote for the Day: The "Third Quest"

“I am no antagonist of innovation, but I do not wish to trumpet it where it does not exist. The assertion that we have recently embarked upon a third quest [for the historical Jesus] may be partly due, one suspects, to chronological snobbery, to the ever-present temptation, instinctive in a technologically driven world, where new is always improved, to flatter ourselves and bestow upon our own age exaggerated significance, to imagine the contemporary to be of more moment than it is.” (Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, p 14)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Works of the Law: The Problem with Rapa, Dunn, and Wright

One of the RBL reviews provides a good springboard for discussion.

Rapa, Robert K.
The Meaning of the Works of the Law in Galatians and Romans
Review by Guy Waters

Rapa evidently follows Dunn and Wright in his understanding of the term "works of the law", arguing that observances like circumcision, food laws, holy days functioned as badges of covenant membership, or boundary markers, for the Jewish people, and were seen this way by Greco-Roman pagans. But Philip Esler has rightly criticized this for two reasons:
"It is most unlikely -- especially in a fiercely competitive culture such as that of the ancient Mediterranean -- that one group (here comprising Greeks and Romans) would take its cue on how to regard another group from the latter's own self-understanding, rather than engaging in the usual process of simplifying and stereotyping, often in a derogatory nature... Equally implausible is Dunn's assumption that insiders would, in effect, define themselves only with respect to 'overt signals' and not also 'value orientations' and that they would concern themselves with the public face of the boundary to the exclusion of its private mode." (Galatians, p 183)
Rapa also wishes to maintain that Paul affirmed the law as a whole while disparaging its works (also like Dunn and Wright). From the review: "Paul expresses in Galatians and Romans an integrated and consistent theology of the law. Paul's objection to the law, as evidenced from the 'works of the law' texts, are not absolute. They are directed toward a particular abuse of the law by certain individuals."

But Paul speaks of dying to the law as a whole, not to the works of the law. "Works of the law" and "law" are actually almost synonymous. The use of a broad range of lexical items to cover the same area reflects a typically sectarian strategy, called "overlexicalization" (on which see especially, Malina and Rohrbaugh's Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John).

It's true that in some contexts, Paul objects to works of the law as particular observances which effectively limit salvation to the Jewish people. This is, after all, why Paul was driven to attack the Torah on behalf of his Gentile converts. But in a context like Rom 9:30-10:8, Paul goes beyond saying that the law is over as a "badge of privileged election". He says the entire law is finished, period, and Moses himself anticipated it would be a dead-end project. Christ-believers, in Paul's view, now have access to the best which the law promised but never delivered, by an entirely different route: the spirit. Paul's objection to the law is thus indeed absolute, against Rapa, having little to do with "abuse" and everything to do with sectarian redefinition.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I need some levity today, and this does the trick. Watch this clip of Stanley Kubrick's "Shining", pointed out to me by a co-worker last week. It's amazing what sound and editing can do.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Maxims for Malfeasant Speakers

This is good. Over on Pharyngula, PZ Myers cites a lovely set of bad rules for public lectures: How to give a bad talk. Things to bear in mind for upcoming SBL presentations.

* First and foremost, your work is clearly superior to all others and this fact entitles you to ignore any complaints that others may have if they happen to follow you in the speaking schedule.

* Use the words "new" and "important" often when describing your work. It is particularly vital that both words show up in the title, the abstract, the first paragraphs, and the conclusion.

* Make it clear that, even if other people's names are associated with the work, you did most of it all by yourself. The others will understand you are only getting the credit you deserve.

* Don't bother distinguishing between what is planned and what has been accomplished. Anything that isn't finished yet cannot be that difficult; it's just a matter of doing it.

* Repeat, often, things your audience already knows.

* Repeat, often, things you have already said.

* Use lots of adjectives and adverbs.

* Use lots of acronyms and jargon.

* Remember that form is more important than content: Make sure your visuals conform to corporate standards, even if they don't say anything of consequence.

* Remember that form is more important than content: Use lots of gratuitous graphics in your visuals.

* Spend a very long time on each slide.

* Repeat the information on each slide at least three times -- before you show the slide, while it is projected, and after you have passed it.

* Take much longer than your allotted time, even if you don't have that much to say.

* Whenever possible, draw figures and write out equations while giving the talk. This adds to the suspense and gives you excuses should they not quite support your point. Better yet, write out tables of data during the talk.

* Always have many slides, each with many, many points on them, all in very tiny fonts. Better yet, print the entire presentation on slides and read it out loud.

* Use the "strip tease" technique when working with overhead transparencies. By slowly revealing each point on each transparency with a paper blind, you keep your audience from getting ahead of you. They shouldn't be allowed to read any faster than you can speak.

* Stand between your audience and the projection screen. If they have to peer around you to see what's on your slide, that will force them to pay attention.

* If you must point to something on a slide, be sure to point to the slide itself. Never point to the screen; it is much more effective to put big shadow next to your material than simply to point to it.

* Speak softly so everyone has to listen real hard to what you are saying. That way they will hear what they want to hear, rather than what you said, and it won't be your fault if they misunderstand you.

* Answer all questions in fine detail. The person asking seldom wants just the answer to their question. Besides, this may be the last chance you will ever have to convince the audience that you have complete mastery of the topic.

* Go off onto tangents, especially tangents of tangents. This shows that your work touches all aspects of your field and the human condition.

* Should the moderator tell you that your time is up, look surprised, but keep right on going at the same pace as before. Otherwise your audience will be disappointed that they did not hear your entire talk.

* Never rehearse your talk, or review the slides if you have not given it in a long time. This removes the spontaneity, and, besides, the audience enjoys it when you get lost or confused; it adds humor to the presentation and they don't really see it as wasting their time.

To be taken in conjunction with Danuta’s Advice for Lecturers, mentioned by Stephen Carlson a couple of weeks ago.

Pauline Chronologies

Brandon Wason and Mark Goodacre offer timelines for Paul's activity. In the past I’ve sided more with Brandon’s view of the dating of Galatians (earlier), though I’m less confident these days. It’s always been the most difficult letter to date.

For a more radical chronology, see that of John Hurd, used on Bob MacDonald’s website. Hurd is known for keeping the testimony of Acts at arm’s length and relying solely on the letters. He puts Galatians late (around the same time as Romans), and II Thessalonians as the first letter, written in 41, about five years before I Thessalonians.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Lying and Deception in the Postmodern Age

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

In The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, Ralph Keyes presents the postmodern age in all its ambiguity, calling it a post-truth era and ethical twilight zone.

Keyes believes people were more honest in the past, not so much because they were more conscientious, but because the concept of truth was more absolute, and most interactions took place among familiar faces. Not only does postmodernity blur distinctions between right and wrong, online communication makes lying and deception easier (p 38). "Email is a dissembling godsend. We needn't worry about the quiver in our voices or the tremor in our pinkies. A digitized lie doesn’t feel as though it has the same gravity as one uttered in person or murmured over the phone." (p 198)

In today's professional world, human resource people assume that most resumes are inflated. San Francisco mayor Willie Brown said, "I don't know anyone who doesn't lie on a resume." This is especially true with the listing of unearned degrees. Keyes reports startling investigations which suggest that about half million Americans hold jobs for which their purported qualifications are bogus. One investigation, conducted by the General Accounting Office, exposed twenty-eight senior federal officials who didn’t have the college degrees they had claimed. In another case, one third of a group of applicants for a hospital job withdrew their application forms once told that their credentials would be checked by a professional firm.

If David Smith is right about homo sapiens being a species of natural-born liars, how much more does the postmodern atmosphere inflame our genetic inclinations? In a world where truth is a social construct, and useful myths are valued more than barren truths, honesty grounded in facts becomes almost pathological. Jeremy Campbell isn’t being overly cartoonish when he says that to a postmodernist, being too concerned with telling the truth "is a sign of depleted resources, a psychological disorder, a character defect, a kind of linguistic anorexia; without at least the capacity to lie, a person is not fully human and may even require professional help" (The Liar's Tale, p 260). This squares with Smith's findings about those who are too honest (especially with themselves): they're mentally unhealthy.

Similarly, sociologist J.A. Barnes suggests that what others call lies a postmodernist might call "meaningful data in their own right" (A Pack of Lies, p 60). Keyes notes that a biographer of Liberace agreed with this principle, saying that the pianist's lying under oath in court (denying having engaged in homosexual activity) signaled a broader truth about the danger of being openly gay (pp 144-145). Binjamin Wilkomirski's firsthand account of the Holocaust won prizes and was hailed as a classic of Holocaust literature in 1995, until withdrawn by the publishers four years later after being exposed as a hoax ("Wilkomirski" wasn't even Jewish, rather a Swiss gentile named Bruno Doesseker). Amazingly, many people excused the hoax for being "emotionally honest", a lie pointing to a greater truth which could help victims of the Shoah (p 140).

Some legal scholars (notably Farber and Sherry, in Beyond All Reason) have even suggested that we need to replace our truth-seeking proclivities with "storytelling" and "narratives". According to them, trial participants need to be free to relate their own versions of truth, unhindered by the constraints of fact-finding accuracy. As Keyes notes, "this grows out of the political position that socially constructed versions of 'objective truth' invariably favor the powerful and should be replaced with narratives and stories" (pp 147-148). Farber and Sherry thus envision legal proceedings in which the oppressed would be able to state their case without getting bogged down in factual details.

Although "postmodernism has lost its cutting edge" (Keyes, p 146), the idea of truth as a relative construct has set in, rampantly fueling our inclinations to lie and deceive. In the next and final post, I will wrap up in epilogue, and address to what degree we can call honesty an attainable 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

Friday, October 07, 2005

Harold Bloom's latest

Jim Davila mentions an interview with Harold Bloom in Forward. The provocative Jewish author answers questions about his new book, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. You can register free to read it.

Bloom shakes things up as always, though this new book doesn't appear to pack as much wisdom as it does punch. That's too bad. Bloom's American Religion remains one of my favorite critiques of contemporary American Christianity.

Excerpts from the interview:

“Christianity has four gods and none is Yahweh. They have Jesus Christ who is not Yeshua but a Greek theological god, then they have God the father, whatever you take that creature to be, then they have the most amazing invention, the Holy Ghost, now so dominant in Pentecostals in United States, and then they have the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are in fact a polytheism. I feel no particular indignation about that. After all, we have done it also, though in very different ways, with the Shekhina, if you read Moshe Idel's book ‘Kabbalah and Eros.’

“There is no question that, alas, either there is Yahweh or there is just nothing at all. If indeed there is Yahweh, as I greatly fear there is, then I can only say that He has deserted, gone into exile. I read ‘eheye asher eheye’ (‘I shall be as I shall be,’ Exodus 3:13-14) as being that I will be absent whenever and wherever I choose to be absent. There are, as you know, in the world today 1.5 billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims; there are 14 million of us, so clearly He has been absent and is not to be trusted. Forgive me for saying so, but there it is.

“My wife, who kindly read my book, but only after the proofs were sealed and no more changes could be made, said, ‘Harold, there's a sentence that should not be there.’ But this sentence is indeed in the book, and that has to be the answer: ‘If Yahweh is a man of war, then Allah is a suicide bomber.’”

The Booklist reviewer thinks Jesus and Yahweh is “more personal than argumentative”, and the above citations certainly confirm this. I suppose I’ll read the book anyway.

UPDATE: Jim West prescribes doses of Martin Marty instead of Bloom.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Smith's Last Laugh" (Gospel Hoax, continued)

As an afterthought to this morning's review, there's a particular paragraph from Carlson's book mentioning "Smith's last laugh from the grave". I feel for the scholars who had faith in Morton Smith's character, especially those who dedicated careers defending the authenticity of Secret Mark. Scott Brown in particular comes to mind. Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery, which I reviewed here on the Crosstalk mailing list, has barely shown its front cover to the world before Gospel Hoax renders it obsolete next month.

In a Maclean's article, Brown states:
"To study Secret Mark I had to study Smith for 10 years. I've never found anything dishonest in him, and I think I would have after that long."
Others knew Smith as someone contemptuous of his colleagues, an irreverant scholar who enjoyed cutting into the pious whenever he could. Bart Ehrman describes him thus:
"One of the truly brilliant scholars of ancient Christianity in the late twentieth century: massively erudite, enormously well-read, and, to put it bluntly, an intellectual cut above most of the academics he had to contend with. And he knew it. Known for his rapier wit, his general unwillingness to suffer fools gladly, and an occasional mean streak, Morton Smith was not someone to cross swords with." (Lost Christianities, p 70).
Stephen Carlson concludes in chapter six:
"If Smith was motivated partly by malice against his opponents, it is ironic that exposure of Smith's hoax may end up hurting mainly those who trusted him...the people whose work will be called into question are those who trusted Smith but ignored the red flags surrounding Secret Mark. But scholarship is ultimately about truth, not about faith in others. Come to think of it, that is what Smith spent his career trying to teach. Smith's last laugh from the grave is also his last lesson." (Galley for Gospel Hoax, p 86)
A sobering lesson at that.

Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark

What can be said about Gospel Hoax? In a sentence, that Stephen Carlson's case is entirely convincing, and nearly irrefutable.

I was going to write one of my long detailed reviews, but for this book I think that would be cheating the reader. This is a rare conspiracy-thriller come to life -- unmasked, finally, after three decades of controversy -- and it's just not fair to spill the beans with the surprising details. Suffice to say that Carlson goes beyond rehashing arguments as to why Smith likely fabricated Clement's letter to Theodore. He proves it, beyond a reasonable doubt, by exposing hitherto unnoticed "confessions" planted in the letter. Smith didn't forge Clement's letter to support his academic theories; he wanted to test his colleagues with an elaborate prank.

Because of this, Carlson insists that "hoax", and not "forgery", is the appropriate term. But actually, both terms apply: Clement's letter remains a forgery by definition. I see what Carlson is getting at. His point is that when people think of forgery, they usually imagine motives other than hoaxing. I would simply say that in this case, hoaxing was the motive for forgery.

There won't be many defenders of Secret Mark's authenticity after Gospel Hoax becomes widely read. If there are, then there's a serious problem in academia, and Donald Akenson's indictment bears repeating:
"We examine the Secret Mark issue because it is a rare moment, a clear adjudication point that allows laymen -- anybody with a literate interest in the bible -- to judge the competence of leading scholars in the field...and to determine, not to put too fine a line on it, whether they have at least as much common sense as God gives to a goose. For look: Secret Mark is a forgery and not one that requires forensic methods and high magnification to detect. Anyone who could not spot it as a forgery from the height of 3000 feet should not be allowed to make authoritative pronouncements on the authenticity of texts that relate to Jesus of Nazareth." (Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, pp 86-87)
I agreed with this when I wrote my amazon-review for Akenson's book back in December 2000. But we need to add a caveat now: It's true that it doesn't take a specialist to spot the fraudulent nature of Secret Mark. But it did take a legal expert to prove it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Library Thing (Revisited)

Rick Brannan, Brandon Wason, Bryan Cox, and I have joined Library Thing, an online service for cataloging personal book collections. It doesn't require any software, and it's free up to 200 books. (For a lifetime fee of $10 you can catalog any number of books.) It's really nifty, allowing you to visit other people's libraries, and links you immediately to those who share your interests.

I only started cataloging yesterday, prodded by Rick's recent blogpost, and am over 80 books -- I'll end up going way over 200, of course. This is what my catalog looks like so far. I agree with Brandon: it would be nice to see more bibliobloggers join.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Male-Dominated Blogdom

Ed Cook, Jim West, Joe Cathey, and Mark Goodacre ponder the dearth of female bibliobloggers. I think the answer is simple as it is unattractive.

Men have a biological need to impress others more than women. This isn't gender stereotyping (Mark's concern), just verifiably factual, and I noted as much recently in a blogpost about lying and deception. Statistics show that while men and women lie in equal abundancy, they do so for different reasons, the former for self-aggrandizement, the latter for easing awkward situations. We like to make ourselves look good -- what a great vehicle the personal, individualized blog is for this! -- while women incline towards making others feel good. That could be why Amy-Jill Levine is visiting prisons and doing more "useful things", as she sees it.

Blogs feed our male egos like no other internet forum, and there's certainly no point pretending (lying) otherwise, even if we also have positive motives for being involved in this network of shared learning. Stephen Carlson's recent idea for increased team blogging could help address the individualized aspect of the problem -- and kudos to the folks at Better Bibles, though of course even among this team-blog of six, there are no women. Quelle surprise.

UPDATE: Jim West disagrees with my take on the matter. He writes:

Loren has suggested, by the way, that we males blog because it's an ego thing and then he implies that if we disagree with that assessment we are lying. I don't think its as simple as that. For me, its a matter of sharing with others what I find interesting myself.

It’s a matter of this for me too, as I’m sure it is for most bloggers. As I said above, “...even if we also have positive motives for being involved in this network of shared learning.” Certainly we have benign motives as well as selfish ones. Many of us are educators, pastors, librarians; we indeed want to share our knowledge, and in turn learn from others. But so do women. So why aren’t they blogging about these things? That’s the question Jim leaves unanswered.

I’m suggesting that women share their interests with others in less self-aggrandizing ways. The “anonymous female” who responded to Mark Goodacre confirms this, when she says: “I think the main reason [I don’t blog] is that I am just not comfortable with the idea of telling random strangers what I think about things.” We men, by contrast, are very comfortable doing this.

It's not an ego thing- it's an information thing. If it were about ego and I wanted to generate tons of site hits I would blog on things that generate site hits. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and sports. I would talk about Paris Hilton's engagement ending or the Vol's victory over Ole Miss. But those things are Dreck so far as I am concerned so I don't bother with them. Zwingli, on the other hand... well, I could talk about him all day.

Jim may be deceiving himself here, but not me. (Sorry!) For a biblioblog, his site gets a juicy number of hits per day. Contrasting Biblical Theology with “sex and drug” sites is just subterfuge. The topic of religion can actually be a greater catalyst for self-aggrandizement than raw, mundane stuff.

So, in sum, it's not ego that drives we male bibliobloggers, its interest.

I think it’s both. It’s just that we don’t like admitting the first part.