Friday, November 27, 2015

Is This Not Appalling Scholarship?

From the September 2012 E-Block.


  I've taken it upon myself, as editor and primary author of Shattering the Christ Myth, to keep abreast of any new works on the subject of Jesus' existence, and produce any needed replies. The volume Is This Not the Carpenter? (INC) edited by Thomas Thompson and Thomas Verenna, represents a mixed-interest entry into the subject matter, with contributors ranging from the moderate (Lester Grabbe, Jim West) to the fringe lunatic (Robert Price, James Crossley, Thompson himself). A reader generously donated the volume (which costs nearly $100!) so well devote some entries to a somewhat selective examination. As it turns out, many of the chapters do not side with the Christ-myth thesis at all. 

The introduction is credited to Thompson and Verenna, but based on the content is clearly mostly Thompson at work (whether directly, or indirectly), so I'll save some time by just referring to Thompson as author. I'd have to say the intro typifies a certain naivete found in fringe scholarship, one in which absurd ideas are concocted to explain textual phenomena because far more prosaic and contextualized interpretations are either ignored, or more likely, are off the fringe writers' academic radar screen. Some time ago I reviewed Thompson's Messiah Myth (MM -- link below) and the introduction to INC repeats the same fallacious patterns, so that if you read my review, you have a refutation of the introduction in principle. But you might want them in terms of specifics, so let's have a look at some of those.
The focus is on the story of Jesus healing in his hometown (Mark 6:1-6 and variants). As with MM, Thompson excels in esoteric readings that quite frankly seem to have been pulled out of thin air. Thompson's ignorance of more prosaic explanations emerges from the get-go; he is on from the start about an alleged "leifmotif of hands" in Mark's version (which is excessive in and of itself, as mark mentions "hands" only twice in the account), which he goes on to connect to "the figure of the Greek god Hephaestus, who was the god of craftsmen, who himself had forged the magnificent equipment of the gods...Does the question about the carpenter identify Jesus as Jewish Hephaestus?" Let's try for something more contextual and prosaic, shall we? Mark does mention "hands" twice, but it's not because he's dreaming of Vulcan's forge (we can only be glad Jesus never healed anyone with a hammer and an anvil). Rather, the emphasis is on the hands as "zones of interaction," as we have explained elsewhere: 

The "hands and feet" bit has to do with one of three "zones of interaction" recognized by anthropologists. Malina and Rohrbaugh in their social science commentary on the Synoptics [356] note that the hands and feet were a "zone of purposeful action" and "of external behavior or interaction with the environment." It includes the hands, feet, fingers, and legs. Thus the hands and feet are not presented as evidence of crucifixion but as evidence of physical ability to interact.

Of course, this is all a mountain out of an anthill by Thompson in the first place; if indeed the historical Jesus had been out healing people, and being a carpenter, the hands are the obvious instruments to use; he is obviously not going to be sawing wood, hammering nails, or performing healings with his toes, elbows, or glutes. As we noted in the review, Thompson needs to learn Albert Lord's Lesson. The one thing he does get right is that Mark is certainly being ironic by comparing the deeds done by Jesus' hands. But all that about Hephestus is just plain silly.

In other aspects, Thompson's presentation is, as in MM, remarkably high on assertion and remarkably low on real argument. Bias or trickery is seen under every rock; it is said of John's version, for example, that John "is so committed to a Christian supersessionist polemic against Jews that he freely compares the Jews negatively with Samaritans, Galileans, and foreigners in support of the presentation of Jesus as 'the savior of the world'. " Well, could it be that John is committed to that polemic because it happens to represent a a certain truth? That Jesus really is the savior of the world, offering a new covenant to succeed the older? Nah, couldn't be. It's so obviously wrong we don't even need to argue it, right? (And not so incidentally, Thompson here hints at, but does not explicitly state, the usual error of turning John into an anti-Semite; if he's under that illusion, he needs the contextual clue that "Jews" = Judeans, not religious Jews.)

We also have Thompson up to his usual efforts of finding "thematic elements" repeated from an older story to a newer one, and using this to hint at ahistoricity; this is again a failure to learn Lord's Lesson, so we need not take that aspect further. He also embarks on a rather comparison of Mark's version of the story to that of Matthew and Luke, and the Lesson applies just as well.
From there, there is a brief discussion of the "Quest for the Historical Jesus." It is rather ironic for Thompson, as a fringe author, to speak disparagingly of the "assumption of a historical Jesus" and "unquestioning acceptance" of the historical Jesus as though it were some sort of lunacy in itself. His own theory of imagined "motifs, themes and tropes" (discussed, again, in the review of MM) is suppsoedly providing the genius element all those other schoalrs are missing; they are misunderstanding the "implicit functions of our texts." Yes indeed. Alvin Boyd Kuhn felt the same way, didn't he? And he was no better at providing evidence for his views, or arguments that were any less circular than Thompson's.

As noted in the review of MM, Thompson's claims of "mythic and theological representations" are little better than the same sort of arguments produced by Acharya S. An unhealthy combination of imagination, semantic machination (involving crashing two highly different situations together by using vague, generalizing descriptions), and selectivity is all that it amounts to, and it is simply an arbitrary exercise that can be used to dehistoricize Lincoln as easily as Thompson dehistoricizes Abraham, Moses, or Luke. It can even be used to dehistoricize one of his own contributors, Robert Price (link below). Is this not the fringe Bible scholar?

The intro closes with descriptions of chapters to follow, but we'll deal with those on their own terms in further entries. 

Chapter 1 is by formerly prominent blogger Jim West, discusses the phenomenon of "minimalism" in history. There is not much to address here; West appeals to some of the typical canards common to those who accuse the Gospels of historical error (including the rather strained idea that Matthew and Luke put the "Sermon on the Mount" in entirely different places). West uses this to argue that the Gospel authors were themselves "minimalists" in reporting history. Here, however, West is merely imitating the "higher critics" who don't even bother to look for or evaluate solutions to these alleged problems, and simply opts for the simplistic idea that such differences are best explained as efforts to make esoteric "theological points." As with Thompson, such views require more imagination than consideration.

Chapter 2 by Roland Boer is a historic survey looking back at the work of David Strauss, Bruno Bauer, and Ludwig Feuerbach. I have read Strauss alone of these three, and can certainly attest that he would fit in well with the Thompson crowd: Like them, he owed much more to imagination for his findings than practical consideration, and was well versed at inventing problems either out of ignorance or thin air. In any events, as little more than a "look back" at the history and roles of these three authors, Boer's chapter contains nothing that concerns me.

Chapter 3 by Lester Grabbe is a brief survey of non-Christian references to Jesus. It is naturally not as comprehensive as our own treatment in Shattering the Christ Myth, but does contain a handful of the same points, and in general agrees with our own conclusions. Grabbe apprently believes Jesus exists, so that he represent the reasonable sector of INC.

Chapter 4 is little more than a historical survey/sermonette by Niels Lemche, the point of which appears to be that 1) higher criticism is wonderful; 2) even moderate like Willieam Dever are brainwashed by their religious upbringing. If Lemche had an argument of any sort intended to prove his points, he neglected to include it, and so there is really nothing to address here; and if there were anything to address, it would be difficult to find it among Lemche's stream-of-consciousness meanderings.

Chapter 5 by Emmanuel Pfoh begins with the assumptions asserted by Thompson -- that the Gospels are myths reflected by motifs, not history ,and come of the "mythic mind" of ancient persons who, after all, were too primitive to properly relate the difference to us clearly. Pfoh relates a sort of agnosticism about a historical Jesus (he says there "might have been a person" by that name). However, the essay barely gets out of the realm of methodological survey otherwise; overall it merely assumes, rather than arguing for, the Jesus of the Gospels as a "mythic figure," and so contains nothing that can be seriously addressed.

Chapter 6 by Robert Price asks the question of whether a Christ-myth theory requires that the Pauline epistles be dated early. Price uses the opportunity to resurrect some of his favored corpses (like Raglan's theories), Since the date of Paul's epistles is the main focus for Price, there is little else new here. Price is still oblivious to the high-context nature of the NT world, and why that is a reason why we would not, despite Price, think that Paul had "ample occasion to revisit [materials about Jesus]" -- and here Price even commits the profound error of drawing an analogy to a "modern preacher" (from a low context society!). He also notes Dunn's similar argument (without the knowledge of high context) that Paul's readers were expected by him to recognize allusions to Jesus' teachings. Rather than educate himself about high context societies, Price chooses a Monty Python allusion in mockery ("wink, wink, nudge, nudge") and alleges that it is merely an argument made to "wriggle out of a tight spot." He asks, "Given the whole point of appealing to dominical words, who would neglect to attribute them to explicitly to the name of Jesus?" Who would? Members of a high context society, that's who.

Other than that, Price offers a survey of views by varied outdated parties, including mythicists like Drews with no relevant qualifications, and floats the trial balloon that Marcion was the author of the Pauline epistles, and that Marcionite thought lies behind the Gospels. This is accomplished via his usual taffy-pull method of exegesis, to wit, on John's Gospel, which we will use as a sample.

John is Marcionite because "Moses and his Jews knew nothing of God." That's a wacky statement that ought to get some significant support, but here is all Price has to offer:
  • "Despite all that Deuteronomy says about Moses seeing God face to face, John denies that any mortal has ever seen the true God." Price is, as usual, oblivious to ancient idiom and too wedded to his former fundamentalism; as we have noted in other contexts, "face to face" simply means "on a personal level." It does not mean Moses "saw" God in any form other than a hypostatic manifestation.
  • "Jesus' Father is not the same God the Jews worship." (8:54-5) Oh? That makes John Marcionite? Then that also makes followers of Artemis Marcionite. And followers of Zeus. And followers of Booga, Lord of Road and Streets.
  • "All who came to the Jews before Jesus, presmably the Old Testament prophets, were mere despoilers." (10:8) That "presumably" is a failure. The reference is rather to those prior to Jesus with what Price would call messianic pretensions -- people who presumed to broker God's covenant grace -- or other false prophets of the same quality.
  • "The Father is unknown to the world," (17:25) Er -- yes. The world had no covenant with the Father. Marcion may have believed this, but so did the Jews.
  • "The Torah has nothing to do with grace and truth." (1:17) No, I have no idea how Price gets that out of John 1:17.
  • "Jesus raised himself from the dead (10:17-18)." Again, what makes this uniquely Marcionite? It isn't.
    Chapter 7 by Mogens Muller will not detain us long, as Muller does not adhere to the Christ-myth. He does, however, take for granted a number of ridiculous and/or radical ideas (e.g., dating Luke's Gospel 120-30 AD!), and since he only does take these for granted rather than arguing them, there is little to be engaged that is not conceptually covered by what we have already noted.

    Chapter 8 by Thomas Verenna is one we cannot pass by without noting that Verenna was formerly known as Rook Hawkins of the Rational Response squad. I would like to say that Verenna's scholarship has improved since those days, but while he has become more adept at assuming a scholarly tone, his ideas have not made the same graduation. His chapter is one of the longest in INC, and is narrowly focussed on Paul's "born under the law" description of Jesus in Galatians. Verenna flies with the premise that Christians created history from texts, and is apparently unaware that he has this precisely backwards; he only briefly alludes to the idea, but merely dismisses it quickly as only being a "suggestion based on a continuing trend of assumptions rather than one founded on an unbiased investigation of the state of the evidence." As the link below shows, that is simply false. This is no mere "assumption" but a reality of the social world of the NT. Verenna's lack of awareness here is so deep that though aware of the processes used (e.g., imitatio), he nevertheless repeatedly gets the process backwards.

    However, in the end, although exceptionally verbose (especially where Verenna reassures himself that his way of reading the texts really isn't fringe nonsense which departs from the actual use of imitation procedures), the chapter boils down to Verenna digging out past textual echoes which he feels render "born under the law" into a non-historical statement.

    Especially laughable is Verenna's tendentious effort to beg for the existence of an otherwise unknown, unattested Jewish acceptance of a crucified, humiliated Messiah, which amounts to Verenna asking "how do we know there weren't some that did accept such a thing" ten different ways; appealing vaguely to diversity in views about the Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism (while still failing to give any reason to expand that diversity into the "crucified and humiliated" range), and picking out texts like Ps. 22 that only Christians after Jesus related to a crucified and humiliated Messiah.

    If this sounds familiar to veteran readers, it should. Verenna here is merely repeating the same arguments used by Richard Carrier in response to my first point in The Impossible Faith. He even has the temerity to use the figure on Inanna as an alleged crucified and resurrected deity, which, as we have shown in reply to Carrier is also false. In essence Verenna here simply repeats Carrier's errors while either ignoring, or being unaware of, my responses.

    Even more outlandishly, Verenna interprets Paul's profession to have been "crucified with Christ" as an indication that the crucifixion happened in the realm of myth. This is yet another example of what I said to begin: It typifies a certain naivete found in fringe scholarship, one in which absurd ideas are concocted to explain textual phenomena because far more prosaic and contextualized interpretations are either ignored, or more likely, are off the fringe writers' academic radar screen. What is below Verenna's radar here is the social fact of the collectivist mindset, wherein one's identity is rooted corporately in an ingroup leader. This is what Paul means when he says he has been crucified with Christ: Because he shares a collective, virtual identity with Christ, he, too, has been crucified. Thus this statement does not, as Verenna supposes, render the crucifixion non-historical.

    Further on, Verenna simply chooses to ignore vast argument to the contrary in rendering the "rulers of this age" in 1 Cor. 2 as heavenly beings, and proceeds to argue as though it is proven that they are.

    It gets even more outlandish, as Verenna reads Paul's report of Jesus as of the seed of David, offering a false dilemma of only two possible readings: 1) Jesus' mother was impregnated by a "celestial seed" of David or 2) it is an allegory. What about it meaning Jesus was a descendant of David? Verenna dismisses it because Paul doesn't include more to satisfy Verenna, e.g., also naming Mary, or using the word "descendant" -- although in fact neither of these is necessary, nor shown to be by other appeals to Davidic remote lineage (e.g., Matt. 9:27).
    Verenna similarly mistreats 1 Cor. 11:23 and the reference to James as "brother of the Lord"; we need no treat those in detail ourselves, as Verenna's analysis is not even to the depth of Earl Doherty's on those passages, and so does not overcome our own replies to Doherty. As strained as it becomes, Verenna points out that Luke nowhere explicitly names James as Jesus' brother. This is true, but how much is needed to connect the dots here?

    Chapter 9 by James Crossley is on the topic of the historicity of John, and so will not detain us for now when our concern is the Christ-myth; we may return to it later.

    From here there is nothing of substance to address that concerns us. Chapter 10 by Thompson, and Chapter 11 by Ingrid Hjelm, are case studies using Thompson's mystical motif methodology, in which the two authors use varying degrees of hypercreativity to dig out motifs and themes in the NT that mirror the OT. Chapter 12 by Joshua Sabih is about Jesus in the Quran (!). Chapter 13 by K. L. Noll does not deal with the issue of Jesus existing, but does demonstrate a level of insanity even worse than that of Robert Price, as Noll applies Dawkins' outlandish idea of memes to Christianity and makes up ridiculous arguments out of thin air and paranoia (e.g., "...Matthew's Jesus seems to attack Paul directly in Mt. 5:19 and 7:21.").

    Thus it is that INC contributes little to the issue of Jesus' historicity. The $100 price is better spent on a night at Outback Steakhouse for four.

    Messiah Myth review
    Price as myth (PDF file, see Appendix 1)
    Scripturalizing history
  • Friday, November 20, 2015

    Near Death Checks, Part 3

    From the September 2012 E-Block.


    For our next entry, I selected a book said to have an extended collection of NDE accounts; namely, Jeffrey Long and Paul Perry's Evidence of the Afterlife. Long heads his own institute devoted to the topic of NDEs (the Near Death Experience Researcher Foundation), and collects NDE experiences as part of his efforts.

    The good news, then, is that this time we had plenty of stories to evaluate. The bad news is that in not one case did we have one with elements we could evaluate for the purpose of this series. In other words, there was no story in which someone saw Jesus with nail holes in his hands, or wrists. There was evidence given of knowledge of present situations (e.g., someone seeing themselves on an operating table), but none given of knowledge of past events.

    So, what are we left with? As was the case last time, we are left with a chance to make a few miscellaneous observations.
    • One NDE experience offered this commentary:
      It was like going home at last, at last. A feeling of belonging, of meaning, of completeness.

      We should note that a "feeling", here, is not as objective an indicator as we might like. However, it is nevertheless of interest that this is fully in accord with our thesis of hell as a life of exclusion and meaninglessness.
      Long also reports that NDErs "may dramatically describe their strong attraction to the light [that they see during their experience] and their emphatic desire to approach or merge with the light." This, too, coheres with our model of heaven and hell, with the caveats we expressed in the last installment, like no NDErs successfully approached or "merged with" said light.
    • Some NDErs describe a "life review" which (ironically!) sounds a great deal like a scene from the Chick tract we examined last issue, This Was Your Life! They speak of seeing every important event, including a first birthday or first kiss. Of particular interest is this description: ...[you will] experience your emotions and others that you hurt, and feel their pain and emotions. What this is for is so you can see what kind of person you were and how you treated others from another vantage point, and you will be harder on yourself than anyone to judge you.
      Again, with the prior caveats in mind, this bears a striking resemblance to a thesis I offered in the recent e-book on hell:

      A second image comes from the Voyager incarnation of the Star Trek series. One of the crew members, accused wrongly of murder, was sentenced by a planet’s justice system in which the death penalty was considered too cruel. Rather, mind-altering technology was used so that the crew member would periodically relive the murder, from the point of view of the victim. (The pain of being murdered was not clearly involved in this; the main focus was apparently on the experience.)

      The Biblical perception of justice makes punishment equitable to the crime (reaping what you sow). A Hitler would be shamed more than (say) a robber baron by the degree of his deeds; but also, they might be compelled to relive the experiences of their victims. Thus, for example, Hitler might be compelled to endure, from the point of view of the victims, each and every one of the millions of deaths he caused, in an endless, eternal loop. (That can be fair since the victim will remember it eternally also!)

    • Long notes the story of Betty Eadie, but does not discuss it much. It occurs to me that hers may be the sort of detailed account (like Colton Burpo's) I have been looking for, and may be especially interesting (and likely to suffer disproof) given Eadie's Mormonism.
    • Here is a description that deserves a contrast: ....I felt as though I had never been more alert. My mind was fast, even though I physically was unconscious.
      Compare this with our commentary on the nature of the afterlife in the OT (link below), in which the afterlife is a “sleepy” (but not “sleep”) state.

      Of course, the NDErs description is merely an impression, and a subjective one at that. He says his mind was fast, but what kind of test did he endure to indicate this? Later, Long quotes another NDE researcher as saying that NDErs often describe their mental processes as "remarkably clear and lucid." But in what way? Could these persons now do advanced calculus with ease? Or could it simply be that they were lacking in their state a good deal of the mental clutter associated with daily conscious life? Alternatively, has something changed from the period of the OT, such that the afterlife is no longer a "sleepy" state? Without more data, it is impossible to say.
    • One story offered by Long reports an alleged extended talk with "God," though how this NDEr determined that they were talking to God is not stated. The message from "God" professes a quite simple works salvation, and relates that how good or bad one was will in turn affect how one "feels" in the afterlife.
      Even apart from consideration of Christianity, this account seems like an oversimplified version of popular conceptions of heaven. It is enough reason to be suspicious of either its authenticity, or its accuracy. Another NDEr professes to have received a message of pantheism.
    • In contrast, one NDEr explicitly states that when they were shown the bad things they had done in life, their response was to fall down on their face "in shame." Though this is in accord with our thesis, the account regrettably contains no more verifiable data than the one we noted previously.
    Such are the limited observations we gleaned from Long. In order to arrive at some substance for our intended purpose in this series, we will consider Betty Eadie's account in our next installment.

    Friday, November 13, 2015

    The Petrus Romanus Fraud, Part 3

    From the September 2012 E-Block.
    The following represents, for now, our final installment on Petrus Romanus (“PR”). Not that there is very little left; however, much of what remains, from the point we last stopped, consists of tendentious anti-Catholic rants, which places the commentary outside my scope of expertise. I will only say that since they rely on popular writers like Dave Hunt and John MacArthur for much of their information (and barely interact with any Catholic scholarship) I would be disinclined to trust Horn and Putnam, even if they happened to be right.

    Mayan Mess

    Starting on page 157, the authors appeal to the work of another fringe theorist, David Flynn. Flynn, it so happens, died in January 2012, so we won’t see any new material from him, which is just as well. His own specialized lunacy relates to the alleged “face” on Mars, and he was also into the usual Roswell conspiracy nonsense.

    In PR, though, he is used for reference to alleged satellite images which found “a vast network of patterns that surround Lake Titicaca in Bolivia…”. Appeal is also made to “the megalithic ruins of Tiahuanaco”, which are alleged to exhibit “technological skill that exceeds modern feats of building.” Both of these are used in service of a notion that these things were built by Nephilim (i.e., giants).

    How much is all of this worth…really, nothing. Horn’s website features airborne images of the “patterns” and Flynn’s analysis, but doesn’t mention that someone else more qualified decided that these were not what Flynn thought them to be. The patterns were determined by a scientist to be the remnants of an enormous agricultural project – one pursued by normal, everyday farmers (see link below). Flynn was aware of this interpretation, and while he admitted that some of the patterns are related to agriculture, he assured us that:

    The raised farming fields (viewed above) are distinctly labyrinth in design and though extensive, constitute a small portion of the patterns that appear more ‘ritualistic’ in design.

    We are also assured that one particular feature “is not consistent with any Inca farming technique,” though what qualifications Flynn has to assess and report on such a specialized topic is not explained.

    What then of the ruins of Tiahuanaco? On this, it seems clear that Flynn and Horn are simply uncritically repeating folklore. One example will suffice: It is said that one of the larger stones was about 400 tons, and was moved to the site from over 200 miles away. Multiple sources (including David Browman’s Advances in Andean Archaeology) indicate that the heaviest stone at the site weighs 131 tons – and was taken from a site a mere 6 miles away. If this simple fact is gotten wrong by Flynn, what more needs to be said of the rest of his analysis, which attributes this feat to a race of giants?


    Again, I won’t say much about the anti-Catholic rants in PR, but there are a couple of points worthy of note. One is the complaint that the Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther, but not Hitler or Mussolini. Thus it is said, “Rome’s record of spiritual fornication is unparalleled.”

    There is, although, a big problem here; namely, this PR position is incorrect. Of Hitler, Margherita Marchione says in Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace:

    Because of their apostasy and violent actions against German clergy, Hitler and the other Nazi leaders, who were born Catholic, incurred automatic excommunication under Canons 2332 and 2343, which state, in part: “Those who, either directly or indirectly, impede the exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction…persons who lay violent hands on the person of a Patriarch, Archbishop or Bishop…incur excommunication….

    Of course, it is important to note that Hitler, as an adult, had long since abandoned Catholicism, so in a way, there was no basis on which to “excommunicate” him. One may as well try to excommunicate Farrell Till, from the Church of Christ, decades after his apostasy.

    By the same token, just how relevant an excommunication would have been to Mussolini is open to question. Multiple academic sources report that Mussolini was an avowed atheist, and a fan of Nietzsche. This is a simple matter to discover, which says volumes about the lack of competence of Horn and Putnam as researchers.

    2012: Later Additions

    In Ticker posts we explored some claims of Horn from Apollyon Rising that in 2012 was predicted as an end by certain factors. To this he now adds that Jonathan Edwards – using Harold Camping-like mathematical shenanigans – predicted 2016 as an end date, and since this is 3 ½ years after 2012, it could fit in with a Tribulation period. As the authors unwittingly admit, though, Edwards' prognostication was based on shaky premises; namely, that he interpreted the 1260 days of Rev. 12:6 as years, and then counted up 1260 years from two dates he assigned significance to (i.e., the AD 606 recognition of the bishop of Rome, and the AD 756 acceding of temporal power to the Pope, the latter leading (+1260) to 2016). Though these are significant events, this is simply the same process used by Camping, in which he selected events and counted forward, merely picking the events randomly when others would do as well. Whatever virtues Edwards had as a preacher, he was clearly too creative when it came to eschatological exegesis. Although, and to Edwards’ credit, he also admits that his ideas were speculative (see link below for a copy of a letter reflecting his views).

    The authors also managed to find a Presbyterian minister in 1878 who selected 2012 as an end date for the world, based on the same mathematical premises Edwards used, but selecting AD 752 as his start date, and so ending up +1260 at 2012. Unfortunately, the event he chose as his “start,” the Donation of Pepin, which organized the Papal States, didn’t occur in 752 (as the authors admit, but not clearly enough, when they refer to “a little disagreement” over the date). Instead, it consisted of two donations, in 754 and 756, but of course, the authors have the expedient for 756 of also using the 3.5 years of the alleged Tribulation.

    Failure is already evident for PRs 2012 predictions by the authors’ use of rumors they heard in February 2012 that Pope Benedict would step down in April 2012. Rumors of Benedict’s resignation at that time, of course, proved false, and there is currently no sign of any resignation. The authors will be in for quite a time if Benedict remains pope as of 1/1/13, but we are sure that, like Harold Camping, Edgar Whisenant, and so many before them, that they will have excuses ready.

    We also find a few new “2012” markers that have been added and, some others from Apollyon Rising, no longer present. Appeal is made to the Jewish Zohar, which is a forgery (link below), but which also contains this:

    In the year seventy-three (5773 or 2012/2013) the kings of the world will assemble in the great city of Rome, and the Holy One will shower on them fire and hail and meteoric stones until they are all destroyed, with the exception of those who will not yet have arrived there.

    Horn and Putnam were so excited about this one that they failed to notice a problem connecting it to their own ideas. They believe Petrus Romanus will destroy Rome, but here, it is not the city that is destroyed, it is the “kings of the world.” In addition, they fail to report the manifest failure of surrounding prophecies. If indeed, as they say, "73" is 2012-2013 (which is also far from clear, but we will leave it at that), then this prophecy should have been fulfilled in 2005/2006 -- and obviously has not been:

    In the year sixty-six the Messiah will appear in the land of Galilee. A star in the east will swallow seven stars in the north, and a flame of black fire will hang in the Heaven for sixty days, and there shall be wars towards the north in which two kings shall perish. Then all the nations shall combine together against the daughter of Jacob in order to drive her from the world.

    Another point, which I may have missed in Apollyon Rising, is a reference to the “Cherokee Indian calendar” and a set of prophecies that allegedly see an end coming in 2012. A problem arose at once when I could find no reliable academic sources that recorded these alleged prophecies. Eventually I dug out an astrology website (! – link below) that made these claims:

    The Cherokee Rattlesnake Prophecy, also called the Chickamaugan Prophecy, is part of the Cherokee prophesies of 1811 made by “Charlie” and two women of the Cherokee tribe. They had visions in early February of 1811 near Rocky Mountain in Georgia. These prophesies are all over the internet, and from what I can gather, they were originally documented by missionaries and then finally published in 1993 in the American Indian Quarterly [1].

    I ordered this magazine -- which surely ranks as the oddest thing I have ever ordered for the ministry -- and the article does not list any of these alleged prophecies reported by Horn and Putnam (see below). Thus I am now without even any proof that these prophecies they appeal to are authentic.

    But what does it all mean, even if it did? Not much. The prophecies allegedly say, “In the year 2004 and 2012 an alignment will take place both on the Cherokee Calendar and in the heavens of the Rattlesnake Constellation both. It is the time of the doublehead serpent stick. It is the time of the Red of Orion and Jupiter against White Blue of Pleiades and Venus.” The astrology site connects this to a rare occurrence called the transit of Venus, in which Venus slides right in front of the sun (from our perspective). The rub of this: This isn’t a common phenomenon, but it does happen in a predictable cycle. Stargazers have been observing it for centuries, and the last instances occurred in 1761/1769 and 1874/1882. Quite frankly, it would not have been that hard for even an amateur stargazer to have calculated that the next one would be in 2004/2012.

    Siri Thesis

    As noted, we won’t comment extensively on issues related to Catholicism, but we would comment on the authors appeal to the so-called “Siri Thesis” – the idea that Cardinal Giuseppe Siri was elected as Pope in two conclaves, but refused the office because of some outside pressure. Horn and Putnam relate the pressure to “Masonic influences,” but are there any grounds for this “Siri Thesis”?

    No, none at all. This is yet another fanciful conspiracy theory, and you can find it debunked in several places (links below), which also connect the alleged refusal of Siri to potential pressure from the Communist bloc (Siri was anti-Communist). One of the links also deals with the one scrap of real evidence Horn and Putnam allude to for this thesis, which is a quote from Siri in which he says he cannot reveal any secrets.

    Horn and Putnam also appeal to rather questionable evidence by Malachi Martin, who claimed to have been an eyewitness to the conclave and seen this happen. However, apart from Martin’s questionable reputation as a conspiracy-monger (see earlier entry in this series), Horn and Putnam quote Martin as saying that there was influence by an “emissary of an internationally based organization” and then add in parentheses after the quote, “the Freemasons.” Martin himself does not name the Freemasons as the “organization” and there is no argument given for why they should be. It should also be noted that their chief source is one “Dr. William G. von Peters,” of whom nothing is said (in the online document) in terms of qualifications, or what that doctorate is in, and the only person by that name I can find is a doctor of alternative medicine.

    Finally, a shameful note: Horn and Putnam incredibly buy into the proposition that the Spanish Inquisition killed around five million people, saying: “the death toll of the inquisition is difficult to ascertain largely because of Rome’s penchant for revisionist history.” Not surprisingly, they do not use a real scholarly source, like Kamen, for this claim; rather, their source is a horrifying-looking KJV Onlyist website ( which in turn cites J. 

    A. Wylie, a 19th century Scottish Protestant commentator with no relevant credentials.
    Our present interactions with Petrus Romanus conclude here, with the ultimate disproof being only a few weeks hence.

  • 42 months
  • Andean references: one, two
  • Siri thesis, one, two
  • Zohar
  • Cherokee references here

  • Friday, November 6, 2015

    Near Death Checks, Part 2

    From the August 2012 E-Block.

    For Part 2 in our series on NDEs (Near Death Experiences), I ordered Pim van Lommel's Consciousness Beyond Life (“CBL”). Unfortunately, there was a problem in that CBL is overwhelmingly a scientific look at NDEs, with little in the way of descriptive accounts of the sort we intended to evaluate in this series, and from those accounts that are present, nothing is suitable for evaluation.
    However, all is not lost, for Lommel does provide something useful to sink our teeth into. CBL discusses twelve "NDE Elements," or factors common to NDE experiences on pages 17-40. In this entry, we will discuss the 12 elements in terms of our perspective on Christian theology and the afterlife. Not all of the 12 are relevant to our concern, but we will at least briefly describe all of them.

    One: Ineffability The inability to describe in words what one saw during an NDE. We might expect this factor under any view of NDEs as it would certainly be the result of any genuine experience. Under our rubric, any stage in the afterlife -- even one in which the subject would inevitably find out that they are ultimately excluded from access to God -- might result in an ineffable experience. The poignant lack of God's presence in the fallen world -- as opposed to even the minimal presence associated with God simply "being there" manifested in what we might call another dimension or universe -- would sufficiently account for such an experience.

    There is more that can be said related to our thesis of hell as shame and exclusion. We might ask of a subject:

    • Were they made aware of their sins by anyone, whether God or someone else, while experiencing the NDE? Shame, as understood in the Biblical world, is based on what others think of you. If you are not aware of what others think of you, then you cannot experience shame as a result of their thinking or judgment. Put another way, the subject of a positive NDE who is without salvation is conceivably in a state where "ignorance is bliss" -- they have yet to meet God or anyone who will make them aware of their sins and what effect they will have in eternity. Of course, those that enter into a "hellish" NDE will, by the same token, be experiencing that reality.
    • Did they have direct access to God at any time? This is the "exclusion" aspect. Did the subject get to "approach God"? Did they get to make petitions of God, as a client to a patron?
    If these questions are answered no, then we have a viable explanation for why an unbeliever's NDE can be relatively positive.

    Two: Peace, Quiet, Lack of Pain As with the first factor, this would understandably be relative to experience in a fallen world, and also devolve to the same questions as above. Of course, if they have no body, it is not remarkable that they have no pain!

    Three: Awareness of Being Dead
    Four: An Out of Body Experience
    Neither of these would be specially tied to any view of NDEs, or cause any epistemic problem for a thesis of hell as shame and exclusion.

    Five: A Dark Space This one is particularly of interest, as what is described matches well with an understanding of hell as exclusion. Lommel says that persons describe this space as "an enclosed space, a void, or a well." He also notes that 15 percent of those who experience this void regard it as "frightening". If 85 percent do not regard the experience as frightening, this may be explained by the relative seriousness of the accountability for sin these persons may experience. Or, it may simply be subjective.

    Another interesting point is that many see a light at the end of this tunnel and get pulled towards it and out into it. This might signify some sort of status or honor elevation from a fallen world. Lommel also notes that 1-2 percent of those who experience this darkness "find themselves pulled even deeper into the profound darkness." This is in accord with the idea of hell as darkness, as presented in the New Testament. Others describe experiences of falling, fire (though Lommel does not record that they felt burning), hearing screams and smelling a horrible stench. Any of this could accord with hell as shame. Alternatively, it could be argued that these experiences were merely some sort of dream, influenced by reading something like Dante, or Lewis' Great Divorce , a point Lommel acknowledges when he says that one description has a "remarkable similarity" to Dante.

    Six: Perception of an Unearthly Environment
    As with 3 and 4, this one is equivocal for our purposes.

    Seven: Meeting and Communicating with Deceased Persons
    This one is of interest, inasmuch as we would be prompted to ask how such meetings can be read in light of Biblical descriptions. In my view, the judgments of Jesus as depicted in Matthew 25 started in 70 AD and continue to this day as people pass on. Since people are seen to be judged together, it is hardly unlikely that they would be able to communicate with one another, no matter whether they are "sheep" or "goats." But can the "sheep" and "goats" communicate with each other? This is a question we should pursue as we examine more NDE accounts. Jesus' teaching of Lazarus and the rich man implies a chasm that cannot be crossed; but it also, nevertheless, has Abraham and the rich man communicating easily across that gap. The gap might thus be read as a status representation rather than a physical chasm.

    Eight: Perception of a Being of light
    An interesting point here is that Lommel notes that a "person's religious background is a significant determining factor" in how they identify this Being of light. As we noted in our last issue, no examples but one were found where an NDE subject asked who the Being was (i.e., specifically asking of “it” if it was Jesus) and got a negative answer. Lommel offers three accounts, and none report that the subject communicated with this Being of light but merely report subjective impressions.

    Nine: Panoramic Life Review
    Ten: Preview/Flash Forward
    Eleven: Perception of a Border
    Twelve: Conscious Return to the Body
    As with 3, 4, and 6, these factors are equivocal for our purposes. I should note that for #11, the border is one which is perceived as a "point of no return" for the NDE subject, such that if they cross that border they cannot go back to being alive again.

    This completes our survey of the twelve points. We will close with some miscellaneous observations on the rest of the Lommel CBL text.
    • A notable set of statistics tracks religious allegiance before and after an NDE. "No religion" among NDE subjects grew from 46% before to 84% after. Roman Catholic went from 12% to 8%. Church of England went from 24% to 4%. It seems interesting that Catholicism, with its minor emphasis on experience through ritual, changed the least of all noted affiliations. However, the rest of the groups included (Jewish, Lutheran, etc.) all started with less than 2% of NDE subjects being allied with them.
    • Another survey shows that after an NDE, subjects as a whole assigned less value to organized religion, attended church less, prayed more often and meditated a lot more often. I would suggest that this reveals that modern organized religion doesn't provide enough "meat" or reason to be loyal, which I ascribe to as well. Under such circumstances, it is no surprise that an experience like an NDE can grab a person's attention and inspire such devotion.
    • Lommel provides a longer and more detailed account of the NDE of Pam Reynolds, whom we mentioned in our last entry in this series. The one relevant detail we may note is that Reynolds asked persons she met in the NDE what the "light" was and whether it was God. The response: "No, God is not the light, the light is what happens when God breathes." This is of interest because in the Bible, the Holy Spirit is functionally compared to wind, or breath, inasmuch as the word for "spirit" can also carry those meanings. What this could mean, in terms of Reynolds' experience, is open to speculation, but I might suggest that it reflects something missing from the atmosphere of a fallen world; namely, the presence of God, the Shekinah glory which appeared over the tabernacle. But, rather than being localized like that presence, the NDE subject visits some realm where the Spirit permeates everything. This is also reminiscent of this passage: Col. 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
      Could this reflect that, in a fallen and decaying world, God does not “hold together” the creation as closely, because His presence is not as manifest as it had been over the tabernacle, and perhaps, in the world visited by the NDE subject?

      The importance of this is that it would also accord with non-believers being able to experience this light during an NDE. The localized Shekinah presence of God did not destroy or injure non-believers merely by being present in the world, and there was no barrier to them observing it.
    In Part 3 of this series we will examine another book by another NDE specialist.

    Friday, October 30, 2015

    The Gospel of Lashon Hara

    From the Auguts 2012 E-Block.


    Recently, on Tekton's YouTube Channel, a rather amiable atheist of Jewish descent remarked that while he often enjoyed my videos, he would no longer be watching because he felt there was too much harsh language used. I replied by noting the use of harsh language in the Bible; to which he replied that in Judaism, there was a law against such things, that he called lashon hara. He then expressed regrets that in using harsh language, Jesus had apparently abandoned those principles. 

    I was rather suspicious of this argument, knowing what I do of both the use of harsh language in the Old Testament and as part of the honor-shame dialectic in the NT world. So I investigated the matter, and present the results here.

    Not surprisingly, the amiable atheist was engaging in some rather wishful thinking. Lashon hara was for real, to be sure, but there is no evidence of the regulations associated with it existing prior to the Rabbinic Age -- some hundreds of years after Jesus. In addition, its regulations make it quite clear that it could not have existed in the Biblical Era -- or that, if it did, no one paid any attention to it, at least in terms of how the amiable atheist was trying to apply it. Finally, I found that lashon hara was hedged about with certain exceptions and caveats that made it much less prohibitive of harsh language than my amiable atheist indicated.

    Broadly speaking, lashon hara referred to slander, abuse and tale-bearing, but in specific terms, it is used to forbid saying, essentially, any bad thing about any person whatsoever, except under very strict standards… even if what is said is true. That these regulations have sometimes gone overboard is shown in that they have been used even to silence those who are victims of abuse, as this comment by Rabbi Mark Dratch indicates:

    The prohibition of Lashon Hara (slander, gossip, tale-bearing) is often used as a tool to silence abuse victims and their advocates from speaking out against abusers. “You are not allowed to say negative things,” they are told. “There’s no proof!” “There are no witnesses.” “You can’t make this public.” “Keep the secret! Remain silent!” And so women, girls, boys, and men are silenced and are often unable to get the help that they need or appeal for the support that they deserve. By invoking lashon hara improperly, the community to which they turn not only revictimizes them, but enables their abusers to continue abusing them and, potentially, others as well.

    Dratch offers a more nuanced view of lashon hara, but even what he offers is simply not justifiable, if we wish to observe only Biblical authority. The one Biblical basis offered is Lev. 19:16: “You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people; nor you shall stand by the blood of your friend; I am the Lord”. This is quite narrow in scope and prescribes only against slander, not all harsh language. Dratch notes, however, that the definitive work on the subject was written by a sage who lived from 1838 to 1933! This alone makes it clear that lashon hara, in its fully developed stage, could not be Biblically justified.
    Indeed, Dratch's description makes this quite clear:

    The prohibition against lashon hara does not only pertain when one’s intentions are negative, i.e., the discrediting of another’s reputation—to shame him or degrade him; they apply even when one one’s intentions are neutral or one’s statements are merely in jest.

    If this is so, then it is painfully evident that lashon hara did not exist in the NT era -- for clearly, both Jesus and the Pharisees engaged in honor contests designed to shame and degrade the other, in order to discredit public reputation.

    Dratch then uses an interesting exception; namely, when negative information is used for a positive purpose. He notes an example of another rabbinic commentator, appealing also to Lev. 19:16:

    ...if he hears that others are conspiring to harm him and have set a trap, and he does not reveal this information to him, he violates that which is said in the Torah, “You shall not stand on the blood of your neighbor.”

    Other commentators appealed to by Dratch include preventing financial and personal harm as valid reasons to engage in derogatory speech. Thus, for example:

    In applying this ruling, R. Ovadia Yosef, Teshuvot Yehaveh Da’at, IV, no. 7, obligates a physician to report to the Department of Motor Vehicles a patient afflicted with epilepsy in order to have that patient’s license suspended. He rules that this obligation to prevent harm not only overrides the prohibition of speaking negatively about another, but even supersedes the doctor-patient privilege of confidentiality.

    Yet another analysis includes exceptions such as protecting others from harm; preventing others from learning inappropriate behavior; shaming the subject into repenting; and clearing one’s own reputation. Certainly, one can argue that when Jesus attacked the Pharisees, it was for an ultimately positive purpose -- stopping them from deceiving others. The same could be said of Elijah confronting Baal's prophets.

    But, to be fair, the designated exceptions are hedged about with caveats. For example, there must be no personal bitterness when one uses harsh language, and one should verify facts before speaking. It is clear, however, that the lashon hara regulations are far from being a universal prohibition of harsh language, as my amiable atheist claimed. It is also clear from certain caveats that lashon hara was unknown or ignored in the Biblical world. One caveat reads:

    One should first rebuke the transgressor, if possible, in a calm and appropriate manner in order to motivate him to change his ways. Only if one is unsuccessful, may he publicize the misbehavior.

    We obviously do not see either Jesus or the Pharisees "calmly" rebuking one another to "motivate" change in each other, nor do we have any hint that Elijah "calmly" pulled aside the priests of Baal to "motivate" them to recognize Yahweh as the true God.

    In the final analysis, it appears that lashon hara either 1a) did not exist in the time of Jesus or the Old Testament, or 1b) did not exist in the later forms appealed to by my Jewish viewer; or 1c) existed, but was ignored by even the most pious representatives of Judaism. Given the lateness of sources about lashon hara, and the agonistic nature of the Biblical world, 1a) seems to be the likeliest option.

    However, an interesting point is raised by Dratch regarding the limits of Lev. 19:16, which says that slander shall not be repeated among "your people." Of this, Dratch writes:

    Those who engage in antisocial or heretical behavior have written themselves out of the community and have no claim on its protection and should not expect its privileges as expressed in numerous interpersonal obligations. Thus, a heretic or morally corrupt human being who has removed himself from the spiritual or social community has no claim on communal charity or aid and is not protected against such violations as lashon hara. In fact, it is a mitzvah (obligation) to speak out against such a person.

    If lashon hara was in full force in the Biblical era, then there can be little doubt that the Pharisees and Jesus saw each other as "out of the community," or as heretics or as morally corrupt. By the same token, this would clearly mean that my Jewish contact was in error in his application -- for by any reckoning, YouTube (and many Internet forums) are filled with such people. Further on, Dratch specifically counts persons who perform physical, emotional or spiritual abuse as exempted from the protections of lashon hara, stating: "No social obligation or protection applies to anyone who does not abide by accepted and appropriate societal norms."

    Our conclusion: Our amiable atheist friend was misapplying the regulations of lashon hara.

    Friday, October 23, 2015

    The Petrus Romanus Fraud, Part 2

    From the August 2012 E-Block.
    For our next installment on Petrus Romanus (“PR”), we will have a look at some of the outlandish conspiracy theory claims the authors use as secondary evidence for the corruption of the Catholic Church (which, in turn, enables them to more freely errantly argue that Petrus Romanus is the expected "false prophet" of Revelation). 

    Satanic Practices

    PR appeals to the works of several authors who assert that various Satanic practices have been hidden by Catholicism. The first alluded to is Luigi Marinelli, an author of Gone with the Wind in the Vatican. The reliability of this source can be immediately questioned – as the obituary linked below notes, “no names were given, and most of the stories were decades old.” None of this means, of course, that the Vatican is free from scandal, but it also means that Marinelli is not a credible source to use for such outrageous charges made light of by the authors. Professional researchers, and practicing law professionals, would never use such tenuous material as evidence.

    The authors also appeal to Emmanuel Milingo, who reputedly, while at an “Our Lady of Fatima” conference, charged high ranking members of the church hierarchy with being in league with Satan. It becomes quickly apparent that Milingo is not exactly a credible witness. Milingo is famous for having taken part in a marriage ceremony under the auspices of Sun Myung Moon (link below). Any evangelical leader who pulled such a stunt would hardly be taken as a credible witness. His statement about Satan, moreover, was tied to unspecified accusations of sexual impropriety, not to any sort of conspiracy theory. Again, this is not to say that the Vatican is free of all such things, but that the use of someone like Milingo as a source is the wrong way to make a solid case.

    Their chief source of the sort, however, is Malachi Martin – a rather prolific writer in his time who also produced works of fiction. In one of those works, Windswept House, there is an account of a reputed "enthronement of the fallen Archangel Lucifer" in the Roman Catholic Citadel, on June 29, 1963, with an alleged parallel ceremony in Charleston, South Carolina, the site of an important Masonic Lodge. The authors make much of this, and you can find this story repeated on many conspiracy-theory websites. Yet why take this as history when it is in a fictional novel?

    That’s a Dan Brown story of sorts wherein the authors appeal to an interview of Martin by John McManus, in the New American of June 9, 1997, in which Martin said that the events described actually happened. However, there’s plenty of reason to be suspicious of these claimed “facts” based on what little Martin offers in the interview:

    Q. Your book begins with a vivid description of a sacrilegious "Black Mass" held in 1963 in Charleston, South Carolina. Did this really happen?

    A. Yes it did. And the participation by telephone of some high officials of the church in the Vatican is also a fact. The young female who was forced to be a part of this satanic ritual is very much alive and, happily, has been able to marry and lead a normal life. She supplied details about the event.

    Any prosecutor would find a conviction difficult based on such limited hearsay. Martin’s sole source is (reputedly) one woman who was said to be part of this event – and who apparently only concluded, based on a telephone conversation at the event, that Vatican officials were on the other end of the line.

    Various sources – many of them also of questionable worth – identify the woman pseudonymously as “Agnes” and say this event occurred in 1957, not 1963, and connect the event to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (who was also accused of pedophilia by someone else later on, though those charges ended up dropped when the reputed victim, Stephen Cook, recanted – suffice to say there’s enough controversy there for another article entirely). At the time, the woman was supposed to be 11 years old, and supposedly reported these events to Martin in 1990.

    Given historic hysteria surrounding claims of Satanic ritualism, and the confusion of dates, these claims will require a lot more refinement and checking to deserve the status and importance that PR gives them.

    Franklin’s Hellfire

    Among selected claims that follow are many offered in the service of a thesis that America was in some way founded as a Freemason’s occult paradise. We will check some of these in more detail in other contexts, but here, we will consider a claim – borrowed from their fellow conspiracy theorist Christian Pinto – that Benjamin Franklin was involved in occult sacrificial practices.

    The sum of the matter is that Franklin – reputedly a Freemason of some note – was a member of a group called the Hellfire Club that mocked traditional religion, took part in orgies and also performed animal and human sacrifices. The main claim we will consider is this:

    On February 11, 1998, the Sunday Times reported that ten bodies were dug up from beneath Benjamin Franklin’s home at 36 Craven Street in London. The bodies were of four adults and six children. They were discovered during a costly renovation of Franklin’s former home. The Times reported: “Initial estimates are that the bones are about two hundred years old and were buried at the time Franklin was living in the house, which was his home from 1757 to 1762 and from 1764 to 1775. Most of the bones show signs of having been dissected, sawn or cut. One skull has been drilled with several holes.”

    The original Times article reported that the bones were “deeply buried, probably to hide them because grave robbing was illegal.” They said, “There could be more buried, and there probably are.” But the story doesn’t end there. Later reports from the Benjamin Franklin House reveal that not only were human remains found, but animal remains were discovered as well. This is where things get very interesting. From the published photographs, some of the bones appear to be blackened or charred, as if by fire… It is well documented that Satanists perform ritual killings of both humans and animals alike.

    To begin, I think it is wise to report what the whole of this Times article said, including important parts PR (or Pinto?) left out, with the most important bolded.

    WORKMEN have dug up the remains of ten bodies hidden beneath the former London home of Benjamin Franklin, the founding father of American independence.

    The remains of four adults and six children were discovered during the £1.9 million restoration of Franklin's home at 36 Craven Street, close to Trafalgar Square. Researchers believe that there could be more bodies buried beneath the basement kitchens.

    Initial estimates are that the bones are about 200 years old and were buried at the time Franklin was living in the house, which was his home from 1757 to 1762, and from 1764 to 1775. Most of the bones show signs of having been dissected, sawn or cut. One skull has been drilled with several holes. Paul Knapman, the Westminster Coroner, said yesterday: "I cannot totally discount the possibility of a crime. There is still a possibility that I may have to hold an inquest."

    The principal suspect in the mystery is William Hewson, who, like Franklin, was a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the husband of Polly Stevenson, the daughter of Franklin's landlady, Mary Stevenson.
    In the early 1770s Dr Hewson was in partnership with William Hunter, who, with his brother John, was one of the founders of British surgery. Dr Hunter and Dr Hewson ran a school of anatomy in Soho, but after an argument Dr Hewson left to live in Franklin's house, where he is believed to have established a rival school and lecture theatre. Dr Knapman added yesterday: "It is most likely that these are anatomical specimens that Dr Hewson disposed of in his own house, but we are still not certain about the bones' exact age or origin."

    Evangeline Hunter-Jones, deputy chairman of the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House, the charity concerned with restoring the property and opening it to the public, said: "The bones were quite deeply buried, probably to hide them because grave robbing was illegal. There could be more buried, and there probably are."

    Brian Owen Smith has volunteered to lead researches on behalf of the friends. He said yesterday: "The discovery represents an important insight into very exciting years of medical history. Benjamin Franklin, through his support for Polly and Dr Hewson, socially and scientifically, was very much part of that."

    To the suggestion that Franklin might have been a grave robber, or an accomplice to Dr Hewson, Hilaire Dubourcq, of the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House, responded: "It is possible that he has an alibi. It seems likely that he actually let Dr Hewson have use of the whole house for his school for a time, and went up the street to live with Mary Stevenson. He did not necessarily know what was happening below stairs in the house during his absence."

    Dr Hewson fell victim to his own researches at an early age. He accidentally cut himself while dissecting a putrid body, contracted septicemia and died in 1774, aged 34.

    Franklin, who wrote the opening words to the Declaration of Independence, continued to support the widowed Polly, and when he returned to Philadelphia he invited her there to live as his neighbour. Both her sons became eminent medical men, as have successive generations of Hewsons in America.

    If the first Dr Hewson did obtain bodies for his experiments and demonstrations by robbing local graveyards, he risked the death penalty or deportation. He might have had the help of his students in secretly burying the remains beneath the four-storey house, where the dissections may have been performed.

    It is hoped to reopen the house to the public at the end of the year. Regular visitors during Franklin's residency included Pitt the Elder (the Earl of Chatham), Edmund Burke, James Boswell, Adam Smith and Thomas Paine, the author of The Rights of Man.

    It is notable that PR omits all reference to Hewson – and to the house being four stories, which makes it all the more possible that someone like Franklin could miss such a thing in “his own house.” (Pinto's own website, in what appears to be a 2011 version of what is quoted, does refer to Hewson, but merely quotes authorities as being "uncertain" of the reason for the bones, and does not check any further. Unfortunately I cannot check earlier versions as the page is not archived.) The official website of the Franklin house (links below) affirms the connection, as these worthy quotes indicate:

    During the conservation of 36 Craven Street, excavation of the basement uncovered over 1,200 pieces of human and animal bones in what would once have been the House’s garden. Glass slides, ceramics, mercury and other material found, as well as the marks of saws and other instruments, suggest that these were the remains of William Hewson’s anatomy school, run from the house between 1772 and Hewson’s death of septicaemia in 1774. For the first time since their discovery ten years ago, a variety of the larger bone fragments, including skull and limb bones showing instrument marks, will be on display at Benjamin Franklin House, along with contextual information and images on Hewson’s life and contributions to anatomy and surgery.
    The human remains derive from over 15 people and show dissection marks from surgical instruments (animal remains were found primarily in the front of the House in the old coal depositories). For example, a femur bone has been cut cleanly probably demonstrating the process of amputation. This was a valuable skill when there was little knowledge of sterilization and much diplomacy took place on the battle field! The skull pieces have circles drilled out from a trepanning device – a sample of one is on display in the Seminar Room. Trepanning was primarily used to relieve pressure on the brain. However, relatively few surgical operations had any likelihood of success; invasive procedures were made difficult by the possibility of major blood loss and infection, and the lack of anesthetic, not used until 1846.

    Key evidence linking the Craven Street bones to Hewson’s anatomy school is a portion of a turtle spine and mercury found in the bone pit. In an experiment conducted in 1770 at the Royal Society, Hewson showed the flow of mercury through a turtle to highlight the lymphatic system. With help from Franklin, Hewson was elected to the Royal Society and received their Copley Medal for his work. Other items linked to anatomical study were also found in the bone pit, including microscope slides.

    In Georgian England, the practice of anatomical study became increasingly popular. Limited hospital teaching left a gap filled by private schools like Hewson’s. They also satisfied growing interest in public health and talks by the experts were financially successful. Despite this, procuring bodies for dissection was not easy. It did not become a fully legal practice until 1832. It is likely that some of Hewson’s cadavers came from the so-called ‘resurrectionists’ – bodysnatchers who shipped their wares along the Thames under cover of night.

    Given the evidence related to medical practice, it seems rather outlandish to make any connection – as Pinto and PR do – to any sort of occult activity. Pinto himself, in the aforementioned article online, waves off the evidence by saying that unnamed "researchers" are "doubtful" about this explanation; from this one suspects that the "researchers" are not actual experts in the subject, but conspiracy lunatics like Pinto. Another source, the Royal College of Surgeons, notes that:

    Human and animal bones and teeth were interspersed with fragments of pottery, glassware, metalwork and even free-flowing globules of mercury. Amongst the zoological remains there was material from cats, dogs, fish and even marine turtles.

    One wonders what Satanic rituals Pinto has in mind that sacrificed fish and turtles?

    That leaves one point, where Pinto says that from “published photographs” some of the bones “appear to be blackened or charred as if by fire...” It is hard to address this without knowing what photos Pinto has in mind, but I could find no reputable source saying the bones had been burned or charred. I did find that bones can turn black because of manganese (an element critical to bone health, which also happens to cause the black staining one often sees in the toilet!), so barring better documentation by Pinto or PR, this should be taken as the better option.

    We might close with some alleged "uncomfortable questions" Pinto asks in a vain attempt to refute the evidence:

    If the humans were medical cadavers, why were they disposed of like so much trash beneath the house? Why not give them some kind of proper burial? If grave robbers could sneak into a graveyard to steal a body, they could also sneak in to put one back. Furthermore, why were the human remains mingled with those of animals?

    Pinto is evidently not very bright, as it fails to occur to him that sneaking remains back invokes at least twice the risk of getting caught. That they "could" sneak back is true, as true as it is that a bank robber could return to rob the same bank twice. And not make a bit of sense in doing so. As for the mingling of bones, one may as well ask why medical experiments are done on animals even for human products. The disposal was obviously a convenience regardless of the purpose. Pinto's "uncomfortable questions" merely reflect his own ignorance and wishful thinking.

    The Name of America

    Common knowledge says America’s name came from an Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci. PR has a conspiracy theory with what they think is a better explanation which “mainstream academia has yet been willing to accept.” I can’t imagine why not!

    According to PR, America was named after “Amaru” – a Peruvian deity to be equated with Quetzalcoatl. Thus, it is said, “Amaruca” literally means, “land of the plumed serpent.”

    Their source for this claim is already a red flag the size of Rhode Island; namely, a non-serious historian named Manly P. Hall, a Freemason. A number of difficulties attend this thesis, not the least being one that escapes PR even as they have it in their own book: “America” is first listed as such on a map in 1507 by a German cartographer, while Hall traces the origins of “Amaruca” to the activities of Spanish priests in the early 1700s. It never occurs to PR’s authors to ask about the missing 200 years and where the German cartographer got the name.

    There are a few other problems as well. “Amaru” associated with South American history is the name of an Inca monarch who lived in the mid-1500s (link below). Listings of Inca deities from various sources are conspicuously void of any “Amaru,” although there was apparently a tribe by that name, and the word did mean “serpent.” At best, it seems Hall confused an abstract term for a proper name.

    One would like to see some comment on this sort of thing from a linguist specializing in the Incan language, but alas, Manly P. Hall is somehow good enough for PR. In the meantime, what do the real scholars say? There are other options on the table (link below, including a note that the –“ica” suffix would mean something like “great” or “high,” as applied to mountains – which belies Hall’s reading of “Land of the serpent”). An older one is that the name came from a gold-rich district and tribal name in Nicaragua, Amerrique. Another theory has the name coming from a Welshman named Richard Ameryk. And so on, as reflected in the conclusion to the article:

    No definitive conclusions can be reached. Too many claims are, for lack of hard evidence, based on speculation. Theories about the true origin of the name are ultimately historical fictions. Yet behind these fictions lie compelling views of the New World. Taken together, they form a multicultural vision of its distinctive character. To hear Americus in the name; to hear the Amerrique Mountains and their perpetual wind; to hear the African in the Mayan iq' amaq'el; to hear the Scandinavian Ommerike, as well as Amteric, and the Algonquin Em-erika; to hear Saint Emeric of Hungary; to hear Amalrich, the Gothic lord of the work ethic, and the English official, Amerike — to hear such echoes in the name of our hemisphere is to hear the wishful projections of their proponents, as well as ourselves.

    That is probably the best way to describe how PR manages to see “Amaru” involved.

    Read more:
    On Marinelli
    On Milingo
    Forum post preserving Times item on Franklin (WARNING: Forum user uses profanity)
    Items from official Ben Franklin house website here and here
    Items on Amaru here and here
    On America's name here

    Friday, October 16, 2015

    Near Death Checks, Part 1

    From the July 2012 E-Block.


    Not long ago I wrote a review of the book Heaven is for Real, which is the story of an alleged near-death experience (“NDE”) by a small child by the name of Colton Burpo. I evaluated this account as false, based on the inconsistency of the reports with known facts, particularly: The placement of Jesus' crucifixion nails, and Burpo reporting Jesus to be a white Anglo-Saxon (see link below).
    Since that time, a reader has initiated a correspondence indicating their own interest in NDEs, citing them as one of the lines of evidence that convinced them that Christianity was true. They noted that there were certainly many levels of credibility to be assigned to NDE accounts, although Burpo's was of the sort the reader found least credible. After some discussion, I decided it would be a good project to investigate to evaluate what were considered the most credible NDE accounts and to see if they could be tested for historical verisimilitude the way Burpo's was.

    I chose Michael Sabom's Light and Death (“LD”), written in 1998, for the first part of this series. I am familiar with Sabom as one who, like I, writes for the Christian Research Journal publication, which is why I chose his book as a place to begin.

    The result: Sabom offers less than a dozen accounts in LD, and none provide evidence that is unequivocal in terms of my specific target of interest. This does not mean that I have judged the accounts false, merely that they offer little if anything to which I can direct my attention:
    • The NDE account of Pam Reynolds, which Sabom says is regarded as one of the most reliable, consisted of Reynolds perceiving herself as floating above her own body on the operating table. An NDE like this, with no involvement by any reputed divine being (which, in effect, doesn't "leave Earth!") can obviously provide nothing for me to evaluate. Several other examples offered by Sabom were of this nature.
    • Likewise, NDE patients who encounter deceased relatives can offer no basis for the sort of evaluation we are engaging in here.
    • Some basis for evaluation might be found when a person claims to see God or Jesus. If this happens, we may be able to evaluate the experience of someone like Sabom's subject "Darrell." Darrell claims that he was out of his body and that Jesus stood next to him while he was, so-called, "out." Darrell, however, describes Jesus as having "reddish-brown hair" and a "blue T-shirt." [21] The former by itself makes it highly unlikely that the being was Jesus, for as a Semite, Jesus would have had black hair. However, this does not disqualify Darrell's experience in and of itself, because as Sabom points out, many people who have NDEs identify certain beings as "God" or "Jesus," even though the beings themselves make no such declaration and do not identify themselves. Rather, Jesus is only "intuitively identified" [214] by most subjects. Sabom reports only one instance of a subject actually asking such a figure if they were Jesus, and interestingly, though this figure was described in exactly the same terms as others who said such a figure was Jesus (dazzling white, in a robe, a kind, loving look), the being answered this one person by saying they were not Jesus.
      This ends up being the most "detailed" of Sabom's reports where we are concerned. A second experience by Margaret describes Jesus as having "long hair and white robes." This is not specific enough to evaluate. Nor is a person named Bobby Jean who says she met a Jesus with "white clothing" and a "kind, loving look." [94]
    In closer looking, we found nothing in Sabom upon which to offer an evaluation, so we shall try again next time. However, I would like to close with an observation that may resolve some aspects of NDEs that have been found puzzling by Christian commentators on NDEs who express concern that even non-Christians have "seen the light" in arguably authentic NDEs.

    One of the recurring themes in NDEs reported by Sabom is that a person "seeing the light" (presumed to be God) will reach a certain point and find their way barred or being told to turn back. [68] The assumption is that this is because they are turned back to live longer on earth, which may indeed be the case. But under the rubric of heaven and hell , as either conditions or states of honor or shame, and access to God, these experiences can also be interpreted in terms of even an unsaved person having a view of God, but not being permitted the sort of honor-access a saved person might receive. Theoretically, such a person might also feel the sort of peace and tranquility associated with an NDE, for, if nothing else, the presence of God might reflect that even to an unbeliever -- especially when compared to what is currently experienced on earth, where God's presence (in the Old Testament, "manifestation" sense) is minimal. Interestingly, and a confirmation of this, is that Sabom reports that some "hellish" NDEs have the subject reporting a sense of "eternal nothingness" or emptiness, and "an experience of being mocked." [109]

    We will see whether this too bears out with further investigation.