Monday, December 31, 2012

December 2012 E-Block

We'll close 2012 with a review of the contents of the latest E-Block.

Misreading Exercises: A new series in which I offer commentary on chapters from that excellent book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. As a bonus, I have an Indonesian friend who is adding his own thoughts, filling in a few extra details to round off the text.

Prayer Breakfast in Hell: I was asked to check on a claim that 1 Cor. 10, which speaks of not eating at the table of demons, would forbid participation in interfaith prayer breakfasts. The answer is no -- not unless Zeus is cooking in the kitchen.

Chapter Previews: Direct Application New Testament -- E-Block readers will get sneak previews of 2 chapters from the next Tekton E-Brick. (It would have been one chapter, but Zeus zapped one of my files I planned for another article.)

Countercounterforgery -- first in a two part look at Bart Ehrman's treatment of NT books in his Forgery and Counterforgery.

Subscribe to the E-Block.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Citium Medal: An Update

For years now we’ve wondered about an alleged Phoenician medal – one appealed to by various members of the pagan copycat crowd – which is said to have been found in the ancient pre-Christian ruins of Citium, and supposedly depicts a cross, a rosary, and the “Lamb of God” who takes away the sin of the world. This medal was reported to have been pictured in a work of Daniel Clarke, a mineralogist, and we wondered whether anyone knew where this medal was now, and how experts today regard it.

Well, we’re still looking for modern experts and all, but Tekton Research Assistant Punkish earned a double gold star when he dug out Clarke’s original work, which is now on Google Books. The results are quite interesting.

First, the only expert Clarke appealed to date the medal was a fellow named Robert Payne Knight. He wasn’t exactly an expert on this sort of thing – his specialty was phallic symbolism. 

Second, Clarke admits the medal wasn’t found in the ruins; it was obtained from one of the locals:

 I wouldn’t make much of this ordinarily, but fundy atheists often get in a snit because e.g., the James ossuary wasn’t dug out by a professional archaeologist. So fair is fair. Let’s have experts look at this medal the way they did the ossuary. Assuming, of course, that anyone knows where it is right now.

Third, the Christ myth crowd says they see a lamb, a rosary, and a cross. Clarke himself saw a ram, not a lamb, and in looking at this thing as depicted, I’m inclined to suppose that the cross and rosary require some imagination to be seen as well:

To me this looks more like a baby’s teething toy than a cross and a rosary; one has to ask why they’re arranged in this fashion, if that is what they are. It’d be nice to have a real expert in this sort of thing make an evaluation, rather than relying on the testimony of an art historian whose greatest claim to fame was a book on Priapus and making a stench of himself over the Elgin Marbles (which apparently ruined Knight’s reputation).

But of course that’s the rub. We’re still waiting for the mythers to tell us where this thing is now, and what modern experts say about it. 

I think we’ll be waiting for a long, long time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Snap: Stephen Huller's "The Real Messiah"

From the September 2009 E-Block. This will close out what I will be posting from that issue. Now to move to October!


"Desperate people will clutch at any available straw, even if it comes along in the form of an eight- or nine-year-old boy." (Stephen Huller, The Real Messiah, 53-4)

Stephen Huller's The Real Messiah (TRM) has already garnered many nominations for crackpot theory of the year; admittedly, it is not simply making up people like the Roman Piso theory does, but it does make enough wild, undocumented, and unproven assertions to give the Piso theory a run for its money, and even resorts to the same collapsing of personalities and tenuous connections between persons: E.g., Marcus Agrippa, that is, Agrippa II, was also Barabbas [30], as well as a Samaritan wise man named Marqe [124], and the Jewish historian Philo was his uncle [42]; this latter, based on "Alexandrian tradition" (more on that shortly). 

The dizzying thesis of TRM is that Marcus Julius Agrippa, the last ruler of Palestine, was the same person who authored the original Mark's gospel (the one we have now is somewhat edited, supposedly), and was also acclaimed as the Jewish Messiah - as prompted by many, including Jesus himself, who was actually crucified in 37 AD (in Samaria, by the way, not Jerusalem) at roughly the same time Agrippa was (as a child) enthroned Messiah in Alexandria, symbolically seated on an artifact we today know as the throne of St. Mark, which is reportedly the item which got Huller started on all of this to begin with. 

Thereafter, Agrippa it is said was the "acclaimed and almost universally accepted Messiah of the Jews" [1]. Jesus, it is said, acted as a sort of John the Baptist for Agrippa, not the actual founder of Christianity, which is really Agrippa's gameplan.

In the process of arguing his case, Huller frequently - though not as frequently as, say, Acharya S - argues for esoteric interpretations of evidence, suggestions of cover-ups by scholarship, and relationships of convenience based on minor, statistically insignificant coincidences. As with most revisionist histories, this is inevitably how it goes: Even evidence of writers of that period is manhandled into submission; Josephus for example, who knows not a bit of this thesis, is dismissed as an unreliable witness whose works have been tampered with too much. [20] (Tacitus, who also seems to know nothing of Agrippa founding Christianity, is ignored except for a brief reference [14] to what he said of Caligula; Annals 15.44 might as well not exist.)

The central piece of Huller's case is a rather obscure artifact called the Throne or Chair of St. Mark, of which, more shortly. Obscurity and esoteric reading, however, is a frequent resort for Huller, especially at critical points in his case. We shall provide samples as evidence.

[9] Huller refers to a "generally ignored passage from a virtually forgotten Christian manuscript, which said that the original Gospel of St. Mark wasn't really about Jesus as much as it was about the author himself." In a note Huller quotes what he says is a "roughly paraphrased" comment by Adamantius, author of a work against the Marcionite heresy, as saying, "What right has he [a heretic] to assert that the Messiah wrote the gospel? The gospel writer did not refer to himself as the Christ but to Jesus who he is proclaiming." This is said to be in response to "the same suggestion" (as the one Huller makes) made by the heretic Adamantius was replying to.

Unfortunately, the text of this work, where this portion is written, is not readily available anywhere in English, which by itself renders Huller's report suspect; why does he not quote (or even "roughly paraphrase") the heretic's actual words? Roger Pearse of checked this for me, and he notes that Huller has indeed ignored the preceding context: a response to the question by the pagan Eutropius, "is the gospel by Peter?"

Even so, Huller's own "paraphrase" by itself suggests that the heretic was speculating that Jesus himself wrote the Gospel rather than Mark, whose name was on it.

[12] The Throne piece, as noted, is Huller's central proof; he supposes that Agrippa himself sat on it, as a child, during a coronation ceremony in Alexandria. Every credible source I can find, however, dates this artifact to at least 500 years later than Agrippa's lifetime. How does Huller get rid of those intervening years?

It's all quite circular in the end: There is an inscription on the throne that says, "The Coronation of Mark and Evangelist of Alexandria" and there is a denotation of a specific year. According to Huller, this can only be a Jubilee year referred to, and there happened to be one of those in, um, 37 AD when he thinks Agrippa was enthroned, which was also the only Jubilee that happened when Agrippa was actually alive. [12] Therefore we must date this throne to the first century. Unfortunately, he says, we can't be specific about where the throne was in those intervening 500 years. [166]

[29, 240f] Much is made of the way Jesus supposedly denies that he is the Messiah, a matter Huller would have solved much more readily had he been aware of the nature of the honor-shame dialectic that governed public proclamations about one's one identity. (See here.)

[42] One example of a tenuous connection made: "...Alexandrian tradition suggests that Philo was Marcus Agrippa's uncle." Referenced for this is the book Mark the Evangelist by a 20th-century Pope of the Coptic Church, Shenouda III. But that's not quite what the book says. The book is online here and on page 9, cited by Huller, it says:
A Jew With A Gentile Character: St. Mark was a Jew from the Levite Tribe (1), he preached both Jews and Gentiles, but mainly among the gentiles. He had two names, "John", is the Jewish name and "Mark", is the gentile one. Mark became his distinctive name. He was born a Jew in Africa, thus he is an African born Apostle. His birthplace was in Gyréne, one of the Five Western Cities in Libya, in a small village called Aberyatolos.(2)

Two Names:
His Jewish name, "John", meant "The Kindness of God" (3) and it was mentioned twice in the Book of Acts. [Acts 13:5, 13]. His Roman name was "Mark" which meant a "hammer"(4), an unfamiliar name to the Jews. (5) Josephus, in his book, mentioned that he was the cousin of Philo. (6) Our Apostle was mentioned as Mark in all the epistles of St. Paul [Cor 4:10 ; Phi 24 ; II Tim 4:11] ; St. Peter in [1 Peter 5:13] and in the Book of Acts [Acts 15:39]

On three occasions, his two names were mentioned together. It was either said, John who was named Mark, or John who was known as Mark.
In other words, Shenouda does not say that Agrippa was Philo's cousin, but that Mark the evangelist was, and Huller arbitrarily assumes that his Mark = Agrippa connection is valid in order to illicitly abuse Shenouda's authority. Not that Shenouda seems to have it on the ball to begin with. He references "Ant. 18 :8 :1 and 19 :5:1" as sources for his claim, and it appears that Shenouda himself has somehow confused St. Mark with Marcus. The first reference says:
But Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the alabarch, and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to make his defense against those accusations; but Caius prohibited him, and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about him, that they should be of good courage, since Caius's words indeed showed anger at them, but in reality had already set God against himself.
While the second says:
But when Marcus, Alexander's son, was dead, who had married her when she was a virgin, Agrippa gave her in marriage to his brother Herod, and begged for him of Claudius the kingdom of Chalcis.
How Shenouda understands this to be Mark the evangelist is hard to say, but it is obviously a case of wishful thinking on his part.

Later, Huller also misuses Shenouda's work [141] saying that he "even makes the suggestion that St. Mark married a woman by the name of Berenice!"

Despite the exclamation point, there seems to be no reference to "Berenice" as anything but the name of a city in that document. Huller also imagines, without explanation, that Mark as we know him was incapable of doing things like founding a theological school as Shenouda says, so therefore, Shenouda must be talking about Marcus Agrippa "whether he realizes it or not."

His one other clue is that Shenouda says that Mark had a "scholar" named Justus run the school for him, while "Marcus Agrippa had a secretary named Justus" who was an "expert in pagan philosophy." What Huller neglects to consider is that "Justus" was a common name of that day, especially among Jews, as it meant "righteous". This is an example of Huller making too much out of a statistically insignificant coincidence.

[45-6] Huller appeals to a record by Philo of a "mock coronation" held in Alexandria, in which a random "poor, unfortunate fool" was dressed as a king and mocked by the crowd that was actually angry at Agrippa. Huller supposes this to be a parody version of Agrippa's own actual, honorable coronation, rejecting it as historical because, he says, "nobody seems to have noticed how utterly implausible Philo's argument is, when read its totality." Unfortunately, while Huller quotes the story of the "poor fool" in full, he does not quote these allegedly "utterly implausible" arguments by Philo, which he reports as:

"First, Philo says Marcus Agrippa was absolutely innocent, simply a victim of his own modesty."

It is hard to say what part of Philo Huller refers to here, since he refuses to quote where this is said, but based on the translation here, it appears that he means this:
Accordingly, going down to Dicaearchia, and seeing some Alexandrian vessels in the harbour, looking all ready and fit to put to sea, he embarked with his followers, and had a fair voyage, and so a few days afterwards he arrived at his journey's end, unforeseen and unexpected, having commanded the captains of his vessels (for he came in sight of Pharos about twilight in the evening) to furl their sails, and to keep a short distance out of sight in the open sea, until it became late in the evening and dark, and then at night he entered the port, that when he disembarked he might find all the citizens buried in sleep, and so, without any one seeing him, he might arrive at the house of the man who was to be his entertainer. With so much modesty then did this man arrive, wishing if it were possible to enter without being perceived by any one in the city. For he had not come to see Alexandria, since he had sojourned in it before, when he was preparing to take his voyage to Rome to see Tiberius, but he desired at this time to take the quickest road, so as to arrive at his destination with the smallest possible delay.
As far as can be told, Huller has confused "modesty" here to mean "humility" when it seems quite clear that Philo is referring to the way Agrippa arrived with a lack of fanfare in order to enhance the speed of his journey (e.g., "modesty" meant that the contingent was small and not noticeable). But even so, Huller does not explain what is "implausible" or "ludicrous" about this in the first place.
"[Philo] then suggests in effect that it wasn't Agrippa's enthronement that caused the rioting and that the rioters themselves set up a parody enthronement that incited the anti-Jewish riots." [46]

And yet, Huller will in the very next paragraph go on to say that it is "quite possible that Philo was reporting a real event here too" because, he says, common rabble sometimes did parodies of actual enthronements at the same time a "real" one was going. So Huller has just used the very argument he called "ludicrous" a paragraph ago. But that said, it is once again hard to decide what Huller is referring to here, for Philo says:
But the men of Alexandria being ready to burst with envy and ill-will (for the Egyptian disposition is by nature a most jealous and envious one and inclined to look on the good fortune of others as adversity to itself), and being at the same time filled with an ancient and what I may in a manner call an innate enmity towards the Jews, were indignant at any one's becoming a king of the Jews, no less than if each individual among them had been deprived of an ancestral kingdom of his own inheritance.
What seems at work here is a matter of honor: It would be a greater honor to be under the rule of a client-king like Agrippa than to be under the thumb of a Roman prefect - just as indeed being under Pilate was a "step down" in honor for Judaea, since it was a step further away from self-rule. The reaction of the people is perfectly intelligible, and therefore, Huller's attempt to suppose that Philo's version is a coverup for the anger expressed over Agrippa's supposed Alexandrian coronation ceremony falls flat.

[54-5] Huller supposes that Agrippa "had good reason to believe" that he was the Jewish messiah. Sadly, Huller makes this assertion apart from any consideration of Jewish messianic expectations, only drawing vague parallels between Agrippa's rise to power in which Agrippa supposedly saw this rise as a sort of "resurrection" (!) paralleled to the sort of "resurrection" Isaac went through on the altar. This is also based in part on the assumption that Agrippa is the same person as Barabbas (taken to mean, "son of Abraham").
[80] As part of an attempt to connect Agrippa's wife Berneice with the Biblical St. Veronica or St. Berneice, Huller quotes this passage from a work called the Macarius Magnes here:
CONCERNING Berenice, or the woman with the issue of blood. . . . Berenice, who once was mistress of a famous place, and honoured ruler of the great city of Edessa, having been delivered from an unclean issue of blood and speedily healed from a painful affection, whom many physicians tormented at many times, but increased the affection to the worst of maladies with no betterment at all, He made to be celebrated and famous in story till the present day in Mesopotamia, or rather in all the world---so great was her experience ---for she was made whole by a touch of the saving hem of His garment. For the woman, having had the record of the deed itself nobly represented in bronze, gave it to her son, as something done recently, not long before. . . .
...leaving out the portions in bold, so that he may suggest to the reader that this "queen of a certain place" means she was Agrippa's queen. But the text says mistress of a famous place, not queen, and this woman is directly connected (as a ruler) to the city of Edessa, which is in Turkey. Yet note that Huller has removed the reference to Edessa and Mesopotamia as well. One can only wonder why (facetiously). Huller also selectively quotes John Francis Wilson, as only saying that the author conflated the story of Agrippa's wife/sister with that of the woman who had an issue of blood; Wilson also mentions the Edessa connection, but then again, there seems to be little reason to read into Magnes any connection between the Berenice he names and the one married to Agrippa.

[88] It is claimed that the rabbinic Mishnah "has a story of how the ancient sages actually acknowledged Marcus Agrippa as (Messiah)" with reference to the book's appendix., where Huller provides a long list of authors who supposedly acknowledged Agrippa as the Messiah, but not one quote or specific line reference is given. [238] It appears that Huller is doing all he can to avoid having his work checked.

[99f] Huller misuses the thesis of David Trobisch's book The First Edition of the New Testament to argue for an original gospel document by Agrippa from which the current four are derived - a thesis Trobisch himself would hardly endorse.

[101] Huller also makes the incredible claim that "there is no historical reference to St. Mark the Evangelist outside the Gospels themselves." What about Papias, Irenaeus, and others who referred to him? On the next page Huller makes it clear what he means: There is no "contemporary historical source, and hearsay" - in other words, he merely hastily disposes of these later references, without any serious justification that would not also dispose of the vast majority of recorded history (though we have perhaps seen that that would hardly concern Huller at all).

[106] Huller discerns a secret code proving that Mark (eg, Marcus Agrippa) ultimately wrote all of the Gospels:
Matthew the elect, whose symbol is M, Mark the chosen, whose symbol is R, Luke the approved, whose symbol is K, and John the beloved, whose symbol is H.
According to Huller, the Latin parallel letters are M, R, K, and A, and this is a secret code informing us that Mark was the author of all four gospels. Unfortunately, Huller neglects to mention that the manuscript (Borgian Diatessaron) that has this opening is in Arabic, and dates to around the 14th century AD - and it seems to be little but imagination that turns an Arabic H into a Latin A.

[109] Huller appeals to the discredited Secret Mark for a point in his favor.

[116-7] An extended passage said to be a "smoking gun" for connecting Mark with Marcus Agrippa is presented as from "a "Latin copy of Jewish Wars" in which Agrippa, in a speech, warns the Jews that their rebellion will lead to disaster. Huller perhaps wishes to leave the reader with the impression that this comes from Josephus, but it does not: It comes from a "very free and Christianized" translation of the Wars, which is wrongly ascribed to the second century author Hegesippus, but was more likely done in the fourth century.

Thus, Huller's use of this reference is dishonest, and his argument that it is too coincidental that Mark in his Gospel could have made comments about the destruction of the Temple, and Agrippa could have done the same at roughly the same time, is upended.

[124] Huller relies on "the Samaritan document called Tulida" for events of the first century, apparently not concerned to let his readers know that this document is dated in portions to no earlier than the twelfth century.

[172ff, 188f] Huller provides a sometimes esoteric, sometimes strained interpretation of the carvings on St. Mark's throne to support his thesis, generally begging the question of the historicity of his "Marcus enthroned" scenario to force an interpretation. He finds parallels to Revelation, which admit the obvious answer that the throne's designs were based on Revelation, but insists that the throne must have come first, because the author of Revelation misread an animal on the throne as a lamb, when it is in fact a ram, "and its horns are clearly visible if anyone takes the trouble to look closely." From here, Huller re-interprets the scene as that of the ram caught in the bush who subbed in for Isaac.

One looking closely notices, however, that this lamblike figure does not have the large, curved horns of a ram; if there are horns at all - which there may or may not be - they are small, and are just as well representative of the horns of the lamb that stands for Jesus (though he has seven - Rev. 5:6). But even if not, Huller's reason for the disassociation, that "lambs do not" have horns, is false: Sheep breeding sources that I have consulted indicate that lambs have horns as early as 6 months; see for example here:
Please note that lambs will develop horns at an early age. In our experience homozygous (meaning two genes for horns) horned lambs will show horn development by the time they reach about 10 lbs. The ewe lambs will sometimes have very tiny "nubbins"at birth, which will begin to grow out and be visible by the time they are 20 lbs. or about 2-3 weeks of age. Truly horned sheep do not suddenly develop horns when they are 6 months to a year old. However, polled sheep can develop scurs that can become dangerous by growing back into the skull.
It seems that Huller's "twenty years" of research did not include any research into animal husbandry.

Those are just a sample of the errors and obfuscations Huller offers, and in that, those that are checkable; most of his claims are not, given that he refuses to give precise source citations or quotations, or uses sources generally not accessible, often at the most critical junctures.

I decided to challenge Huller publicly on TheologyWeb, and this provided some interesting moments. First, I would provide the reader with two rather informative quotes. From Huller's blog here is an assessment of something argued by Bart Ehrman:
UPDATE Here is what that fool Bart Ehrman says on the subject (The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research p. 77) "[i]n raw chronological terms, the Diatessaron antedates all MSS of the NT, save that tiny fragment of the Gospel of John known as P52." That perfectly demonstrates what we already know i.e. that Ehrman read the fragment AND FURTHERMORE KNEW THAT ALL THE EARLIEST GOSPEL WITNESSES COME FROM THE DIATESSARON (I didn't even mention this earlier) and STILL IN SPITE OF HIS KNOWING THIS Ehrman didn't realize that P52 could well be YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE DIATESSARON PREDATING ALL OTHER MSS. Indeed in light of what he says in the first part of his sentence HE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN. THE SCALES TIP IN FAVOR OF P52 BEING A DIATESSARON FRAGMENT IN LIGHT OF THE CUMULATIVE EVIDENCE CITED IN HIS TESTIMONY. Why doesn't he recognize the truth standing right in front of his eyes? The polite way of expressing matters - he has been victimized by his brainwashing at the hands of the Irenaean paradigm. The not so polite way of expressing the same idea - yet another big name scholar whose not as smart as he seems.
The significance? Huller apparently sent Ehrman his book hoping for an endorsement -- and didn't get it. Hence Huller has turned on him. We of course do not consider Ehrman to be completely honest ourselves, but this matter of P52 is one of a consensus that is held across ideological lines. Clearly Huller is not able to handle it when scholarship contradicts him.

Finally, much can and has been made of Huller receiving an endorsement from Robert Price. Given Price's reputation for endorsing just about anything, this means little to begin with, but when I confronted Price on this subject recently, and asked if he thought the book was accurate, he replied:
It is not so simple as "accurate" or not. The man is proposing a complex alternate paradigm in which old bits of evidence are interpreted in new ways. Personally, I do not find myself persuaded by the basic thesis. But that is true of most books I read since I am constantly trying to widen my horizons by reading perspectives new to me. You can't sign on the dotted line on many or most. However, I am grateful for the challenging new readings he provides in case after individual case. I believe such ideas ought to be given "air play" so interested readers may make of them what they deem best.
This speaks certainly to Price's character as a scholar -- negatively -- but more importantly here, it seems rather dishonest of Huller to use Price's endorsement the way he does when Price himself is not persuaded by the thesis.

Huller's credentials indicate that his primary profession is that of a circus performer, and based on this book and what we have seen, I do not find that hard to believe.

Update: In the process of confronting Huller for his errors, I have caught him in a deliberate act of fabrication with respect to the quote above re Ehrman. For more on this, see the thread on TheologyWeb here, page 2.

Tekton Research Assistant "Punkish" also discovered a blog by Huller here with a rather outrageous title (be forewarned) that also deserves to be quoted from:
I certainly could have picked a better name for this blog. In fact for over a century scholars have noticed countless 'problems' with Josephus but somehow managed to express themselves with more decorum. Steve Mason makes a very good case for the basic witness of Josephus while acknowledging Christian additions. The difficulty however is that all scholars assume that the basic structure of the text is sound and the 'additions' are mostly superficial attempts to 'admit' Josephus 'into the Church' by getting him to acknowledge basic truths of Christianity.

So it is these academics seem to acknowledge that this or that particular passage might be acknowledged to have been 'added' and 'subtracted' (see Feldman Contra Apionem p. 205). Nevertheless, in spite of it all, we are inevitably encouraged to 'take heart' because once these various additions are 'ignored' we are still left with a compelling (if not the only) witness to Jewish life leading up to the first century CE.

I think these scholars suffer from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome. The texts of Josephus were preserved by the Church which made the interpolations and now we - as desperate students of history - are not told essentially that we are left with no other option other than accepting the material at face value.

My solution is to argue that what has survived from antiquity is not Josephus' original work but a deliberate Christian corruption of that original text which has as its underlying purpose TO DIMINISH THE STANDING OF MARCUS JULIUS AGRIPPA, THE LAST KING OF ISRAEL AND THE UNIVERSALLY ACKNOWLEDGED MESSIAH OF THAT COMMUNITY IN THE LATTER PART OF THE FIRST CENTURY. My arguments on behalf of Agrippa's 'messiahood' appear in another book the Real Messiah and the website devoted to support its claims This blog tackles the thorniest issue at that heart of that thesis - why the existing texts of Josephus should not get the last word on the contemporary significance of Agrippa.

My purpose in assembling the present material is to demonstrate THAT THE CORRUPTIONS IN JOSEPHUS ARE NOT LIMITED TO A RANDOM 'SPRINKLING' OF 'CONFESSIONS OF FAITH' ON THE PART OF THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR OF JEWISH ANTIQUITIES AND THE JEWISH WAR. Instead the editorial manipulations go much deeper into the material than previously realized all with the explicit purpose of undermining Agrippa's original messianic claims.

I will trace the Christian editors manipulations all the way back to Chapter Fifteen of Jewish Antiquities the section which initiates the discussion of Agrippa's connection to Herod the Great and - more significantly - AGRIPPA'S GENEALOGICAL LINK TO THE MESSIANIC LINE OF THE HASMONAEANS THROUGH THE ELUSIVE FIGURE OF MARIAMNE. There are well known 'idiosyncrasies' in the account of Mariamne which - until now - have been viewed as a separate problem from the so-called Testomonium Flavianum and the various difficulties associates with the person of Agrippa of himself.

It will now be argued that there are all separate aspects of one and the same problems - i.e. A DELIBERATE AND METHODOLOGICAL ATTEMPT TO SYSTEMATICALLY UNDERMINE THE ORIGINAL UNDERSTANDING OF JEWS, CHRISTIANS AND SAMARITANS THAT MARCUS JULIUS AGRIPPA WAS THE MESSIAH. It was Agrippa rather than Jesus who had the strongest claim to Davidic ancestry (through Mariamne). Seen this way Agrippa was both a 'son of David' and a 'son of Mary.'
And on yet another blog, Huller argues here that Paul was also Mark!
All that we are left with is the story of their former master’s heavenly ascent and the implied revelation of "another" god. In the surviving Catholic writings of the "Paul," the apostle is allowed to keep his revelation but through various deliberate textual corruptions he vows never to reveal its contents to anyone! This is why Tertullian comes after the Marcionites for saying that they know what the apostle saw. Only an idiot can’t see through this screen. And should be clear what their apostle received from the "other" God – the revelation of the gospel itself.

"It is my gospel!" the apostle screams out over and over again in his epistles. "It came to me by a direct revelation from God!" The Church Fathers are left scratching their heads asking why the Marcionites don’t call it the "gospel of Paul" if this were true. The answer is quite simple – they identified the apostle as being named Mark as Hippolytus infers in his account of the sect and their gospel was the original gospel of Mark.
As can be seen, Huller has no reservations about resorting to calling scholars incompetent, or suggesting conspiracy, when the evidence is not cooperative. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Severe Unitarianism

From the September 2009 E-Block. I'm way, WAY behind on posting these back issues; but for now, this will be it until sometime next week as I take some time off for Christmas and other observations. The Ticker will return next Wednesday.


The figure who calls himself "Servetus the Evangelical" - hereafter STE - is currently offering a contest to see if anyone can guess who he is. Whatever the ultimate answer may be in terms of a personal name, "competent scholar" is not part of his identity - at least not in terms of what he addresses in The Restitution of Jesus Christ (RJC), in which he argues that Jesus was not divine, save in the sense that God "fully indwelt" Jesus [xii] as a mortal man. 

For my own studies on the subject of the divine identity of Jesus, I generally look at works by critics of Trinitarianism for how well they understand what I consider to be the critical template for understanding the doctrine - and that of course is Wisdom theology. STE, sadly, is barely aware of this thesis, and what few criticisms he offers reflect standard Unitarian arguments that we have already refuted more than once. 

In terms of length, RJC could have been about half its pages and missed nothing substantive for it. Historical surveys are useful to some, no doubt, but the excess length does little save add to the pretense that things like the "name me contest" already emphasize. As we shall now see in this sample survey, pretense is also the order of the day for most of RJC's contents. I see no need to answer all arguments presented therein; some are actually useful (there are many passages used in favor of Trinitarianism that I agree should not be used, like Matt. 28:19); others, though potentially capable of defense, are simply not so useful as to warrant our attention. And so, we shall simply focus on material closest to our experience and expertise, which will be sufficient to show that STE is not a credible witness against orthodoxy.

[x] One of STE's frequent refrains has to do with why he does not see more scholars say that "Jesus is God." The answer, suggested by Murray Harris, is that such a statement suggests in turn a reversal, "God is Jesus," which is not correct. In other words, despite STE's misplaced expectations, "Jesus is God" would be one of the most infrequent assertions we would expect in Trinitarian theology, if indeed it were to be made at all. I would never use it, both because of Harris' warning, and because "God" has been wrongly morphed into a personal name (when mostly, people mean the Father when they say "God"). Thus as well STE's wonderings of why scholars "avoid" this formulation are misplaced.

He does later [19] note that one other reason given is to avoid having others think that Christianity was ditheistic - a real concern, as shown by Segal's book The Two Powers Heresy. STE's reply to this is rather peculiar: "On the contrary, since when do we think that the first Spirit-filled Christians formulated their theology in reaction to others, especially to non-believers? And why should we think that people in the 1st century would so react any more than people in any other century?"

On this latter point, STE shows an appalling lack of awareness of 1st century society. Segal's book shows precisely why Jews would so react; and as for Gentiles, it seems hard to see why STE cannot grasp why such a reaction would emerge in a polytheistic culture.

In terms of the former, STE is misstating the case: We are not talking about formulating of theology, but explaining it. And explaining it in ways it can be understood fits right in with the dictum to "be all things to all men" and the missionary approach in Acts which tailored evangelism to the respective audiences.

[xv] STE's comments that Trinitarians "know quite well about the difficulty in understanding and explaining their doctrine" seems rather much bravado. I have found no difficulty at all in relating the doctrine; the analogy of a source of light (= Father), with the light (=Jesus/Wisdom/Word) and heat (=Spirit), has done very well in every instance I have tried it, with the caveats that light sources are not a) persons, b) eternal. His further issue that "(s)ome Christians find it difficult to relate to such a Jesus" reflects an interesting personal shortcoming on the part of some Christians, and is a good argument for better education in our churches, but reflects nothing else than a problem of an individualist society - an ancient, collectivist person would never be concerned about "relating to" other persons, especially not a transcendent deity.

[xix] STE's demand that Christianity be redefined so as not to exclude heretics such as himself appears far too self-serving, and is especially ironic given that it mirrors the words of a number of Mormon apologists. Will STE next argue for deeming the "God is an exalted human" position orthodox?

[9] STE also commits the frequent mistake of appealing to "monotheism" as a reason why Trinitarianism is false. What then of scholarship by those such as Tigay, Winston and Hurtado that show that it is improper to even use "monotheism" as a category with respect to Jewish beliefs? We shall see what is said of it later.

[12] STE argues that Jesus called the Father "his God" and that this would make no sense if he was God himself. This is simply the confusion of God as a proper name; it is better to say that Jesus shared the divine identity of the Godhead. Jesus calling the father "his God" in this sense is fully intelligible, as the Father is the ontological source of Jesus' divine identity as a hypostasis.

[17] STE lists what he thinks are "The Three Foremost Irrefutable Texts" against Trinitarianism:
  • John 17:3 - as noted in our reply to Buzzard and Hunting linked above, this is misused by confusing Unitarianism with monotheism, as noted:
    A proper regard for what Trinitarianism actually teaches, however, refutes these applications in favor of a Unitarian position. By Trinitarian understanding, the Word and Spirit are by nature attributes of God which proceed from the Father. They are inclusive of the "one Lord" of whom there is "none other" -- they are not separate Lords or Gods, but are part of the divine identity of the one God.
  • 1 Cor. 8:4, 6 - this appeal is especially ironic, as STE fails to recognize that here specifically reformulates the Shema to include Jesus in the divine identity; as we noted:
    Verse 4 clearly alludes to the Shema, as all agree; but recall the Shema again for v. 6: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." Paul has used the key phrase "one Lord" and applied it to Jesus Christ, thus including Jesus in the divine identity! And there is more: phrases like "of" or "by whom all things" are parallel to Jewish formulations that express God's relationship to Creation. This is in line with the Jewish concept of Wisdom, God's attribute, as God's tool for creation. Monolatry is maintained by including Jesus within the divine identity.
  • Eph. 4:4-6 - I have not seen this one used for Unitarianism before, but the error is the same as with John 17:3.
[25] STE offers several standard Unitarian "stumpers," many of which confuse "God" to be a personal name, and neglect the hypostatic dimension which allows a hypostatic person of the Godhead to incarnate, and thereby also set aside, as it were, expressions of the divine identity such as omniscience. (See here.) STE also says things like, "If Jesus was a God-man, then He could not have been either fully God or fully man." This "stumper" (and others) frames matters in terms of modern understandings of personality and identity rather than understandings which existed in the Biblical world. Actions, and what others thought of you because of those actions, determined your personal identity. By this reckoning, Jesus need only be recognized as "man" and "God" by his contemporaries to achieve full identity in both. He did not have to always immediately possess and use the attributes of God to be called "God".

Two chapters following this are mostly historical survey. We next offer comment at:

[109] STE discusses what he calls "Kenotic Christology". We would note that there should be no confusion about this, per the article linked above: this is not the kenotic heresy, but something of a different nature. STE discusses two "schools" of thought on the matter, and our view comes closest to what is called the Giessen school, in which "Jesus did not conceal his relative attributes but merely chose not to exercise them." [110] STE raises charges against both schools.

First, he says that this does not cover a charge that Jesus is being duplicitous by not accessing his divine nature and revealing the time of the end. This criticism is flawed on two points.

One, it does not consider that Jesus was ordered not to access information about the time of the end, by the Father, in order that he not do something which might inadvertently reveal it.

Two, and relatedly, it is neglectful of the uses of truth in an agonistic society. Truth was not something any person was considered to have an automatic right to. STE's objection assumes that he and others have a "right" to the truth about the time of the end, and that Jesus was obliged to do what he could to get at that truth. STE's objection is thus anachronistic.

Next, STE raises the proposition that a dual nature suggests that "Jesus was psychologically imbalanced and perhaps even a victim of multi-personality disorder." [110] Let me assure STE that there are plenty of suggestions made by critics to this effect already, and without any reference to the issue of Jesus' identity with respect to the Father. But even if there were, we may return to STE his own words: "Since when do we think that the first Spirit-filled Christians formulated their theology in reaction to others, especially to non-believers?"

After some more historical survey, STE raises other objections [111], but these are based on modern psychological theory (Jung) that have no bearing whatsoever on models and expressions of personality in an agonistic/collectivist society, if indeed on personality as it actually is.

Later in the book, STE returns to kenotic theory with reference to Phil. 2:6-11 and adds the peculiar objection that if Jesus is supposed to be pre-existent, this "does not accord with the Apostle Paul's purpose" which was to "teach humility and its divine reward by citing Jesus as the archetypal model to imitate." [452] One is hard pressed to see why this is the case, and STE does not explain why, save perhaps with an allusion to not being able to relate to such a thing as humans. Why is this such a problematic concept for STE? How hard is it to draw a lesson about humility from a pre-existent, divine being descending to the order of a mere human?

After this, we have much in the way of historical survey and points where there is little to no disagreement with orthodoxy. We do note that STE resorts to explaining Prov. 8 [140] as merely a personification, which we will relate further to his treatment of John 1:14 later. Our own finding is that it is clear that the NT authors took Prov. 8 to refer to a person; and further, that there is no reason to say that any other author - even the author of Proverbs - regarded Wisdom merely as a "personification." The designation is achieved only by circular reasoning. Indeed neither side can assert a surety based on Prov. 8 alone. On the positive side, STE agrees to interpret the critical verb, qanah, as "possessed," which coheres with a Trinitarian view.

Slightly later [147-8] STE discusses the Shema in the OT. Once again he merely assumes that it means monotheism, and here, finally acknowledges [150] recent scholarship by those such as Hurtado who have deemed "monotheism" an inappropriate category. However, STE provides no serious arguments whatsoever on this subject, merely asserting that "Rabbinic Judaism has always argued that any departure from strict monotheism which allows for other divine beings, even if of a lesser divinity than that of Yahweh, never represented normative Judaism." [152] He finds this point "most compelling" but it is nought but a distraction: Rabbinic Judaism was also quite reactionary - notably to Christian assertions. As STE himself admits, unaware of the implications of his own confession, the rabbis had a "strong reaction to the Two Powers Heresy" of the early 2nd century. So likewise, Rabbinic Judaism's strong affirmation of monotheism is suited as a reaction to Christian (as well as Jewish) beliefs which allowed for hypostatic intermediaries.

STE also quietly bypasses a very important matter. As we note in our article, the NT alludes heavily to certain intertestamental works with reference to hypostatic Wisdom. STE objects to a formulation of Christology by Hengel using this material because they are "non-canonical sources, most of which Rabbinic Judaism never viewed as reflecting normative Judaism." [153] And therein lies an obfuscation: For the NT itself alludes to these very sources - and once again, it is arbitrary and erroneous to make Rabbinic Judaism the standard to judge by. Indeed, STE fundamentally contradicts himself here, since he dismisses Hengel's use of "non-canonical sources" while at the same time appealing to the quite "non-canonical" texts of Rabbinic Judaism.

It may also be added that Rabbinic Judaism is hardly to be equated with Judaism of earlier stages. Not only so, Rabbinic Judaism had the Memra, which was itself a hypostatic entity.

Other than this, STE can do little to refute the views of Hurtado, Hengel, et al on this issue, as he can only note that some (he says) disagree with this view, but the persons he cites are in two cases ideological foes of evangelical interpretations (Casey, Cupitt) on nearly all counts, and the third, Harvey, is not even writing about Christology and is not a specialist in the subject. And in not one place does STE confront the data behind the arguments.

STE's treatment of the Son of Man title [171f] requires little comment. Our essay on that title here is barely touched in concept; most of what STE offers on the SoM is non-controversial and in the context of the critical question of Jesus' divinity, of little relevance. In the end STE agrees that Jesus is to be identified with this figure in Daniel 7, but spends almost no time on the question of whether that figure is a divine being [189-91]. His reasoning is circular and again appeals to irrelevancies: To the point that the SoM rides on a cloud, and that divine figures only rode on clouds, STE yet again appeals to rabbinic opinion that the Messiah was not divine, and a rabbinic statement that Moses rode on a cloud to heaven - both clearly intelligible as reactionary statements responding to Christian belief. It is left for us to wonder indeed why STE regards the rabbinic literature as inerrantly faithful to God's purpose, knowing (as he ought to) that Rabbinic Judaism was descended from the Pharisaism that the NT repeatedly repudiates.

STE also offers some equivocation, saying, "Christians should not think someone being in/on clouds necessarily indicates that person is divine," and citing 2 Thess. 4:17 which says Christians will meet Jesus IN the clouds. STE has illicitly expanded the category from "on clouds" to "on OR IN clouds". But the far more important aspects - being seated at the Ancient of Days' right hand, and the sources for the SoM phrase - are untouched.

Past this point STE offers some more substantive engagement with various claims of Jesus' divinity. We will at this point be selecting only certain parts to deal with, for the sake of space and in no sense indicating thereby that we agree with STE's handling of texts we do not address. Some material is also repetitive.

[282f] STE discusses the passages in which Jesus forgives sins. Our treatment is found here and in turn addresses STE's response, which merely appeals to Sanders (whom we have addressed) and offers no other response, save that the people "glorified God" rather than recognizing Jesus as God, which is hardly disputed by anyone. STE also points out that the Angel of the Lord in the OT is permitted to forgive sins, but must assume (as we would not) that the Angel of the Lord is also not a divine manifestation. Finally, it is noted that Jesus gave his disciples the authority to forgive sins, but this too neglects to consider that this only makes sense if Jesus has the authority to extend such authority - as divinity - in the first place.

In commenting on John's Logos [302] we arrive again at something of our special interest, Wisdom Christology. STE shows no direct knowledge of the many allusions in John's prologue to the Wisdom texts of the OT and intertestamental period (per our link far above) but does misuse it for his own purposes as we will see. He opts for a familiar argument from Unitarians, that Jesus "was the man that the Logos became" where prior to Jesus; this we addressed in our article on Unitarian arguments:
As noted in our review, Buzzard and Hunting interpret the prologue as saying that the logos only became personal at verse 1:14, where it is said to have "become flesh," and they call upon Dunn for support. If this is true, one wonders why John used the word logos without qualification earlier in the prologue. John does not say at any point that the logos "became personal" -- saying that it "became flesh" doesn't qualify.

"Flesh" (sarx) is associated with the human body and weakness, but it was not considered the seat of what we would call consciousness -- that was the "heart" (kardia). If John wanted to say that the logos obtained personality, kardia was the word to use, not just sarx by itself, since it is clear from the existence of beings of spirit (God and the angels) that sarx isn't a requirement for personhood. An impersonal entity that "became flesh" would just sit around doing nothing -- the Tin Man did have a heart, he just didn't know it.
STE offers the objection that John does not say "Jesus is the Word" (!) which is rather pedantic, and merely a way of arbitrarily raising the bar of evidence to the necessary height to achieve STE's desired outcome. Other than this, STE merely reiterates the "Prov. 8 is just a personification" argument [305] noted above, and then finally acknowledges the parallels to OT and intertestamental literature, and perversely argues thusly:
  1. In these passages, Wisdom was merely a personification
  2. Therefore, John meant for the Logos prior to Jesus to be understood as a personification
We have noted several problems with this argument. In addition to the matter of John 1:14 above, there are other texts in which the pre-incarnate Jesus is given the characteristics of a person, not merely a personification:
John 17:5: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. Buzzard and Hunting have difficulty explaining this one. It clearly indicates Jesus was pre-existent and personal "before the world was" since it is a little hard to experience glory when one is not personal.
However, the question is begged and we are told that we will have to "adjust our understanding" [158] (i.e., assume their view is correct) to really get the point. They go all the way over to 2 Cor. 5:1, "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." It is said that since here (and in Mark 10:21) we are said to "have" that which is to come in the future, Jesus is "merely asking for the glory which he knew was prepared for him by God from the beginning. That glory existed in God's plan, and in that sense Jesus already 'had' it. We note that Jesus did not say, 'Give me back' or 'restore to me the glory which I had when I was alive with you before my birth.'"

That Buzzard and Hunting know this is semantic gymnastics is clear in that they immediately thereafter resort to the "completely foreign to Judaism" argument (false, as noted). The reference to the past foundation of the world clearly makes this a "give me back" matter, though expressed in far more respectful terms. It also matches far better with the kenotic emptying (Phil. 2:5-11).

Colossians 1:15ff: As noted in the review Buzzard and Hunting dispense with this rich passage in less than 3 pages, and their keystone is to quote Dunn's overcautious comment that Paul was not "arguing that Jesus was a particular preexistent being" but was rather saying that wisdom was "now most fully expressed in Jesus..." versus previous manifestations. If this is so then it seems odd that the language does not express that Jesus became these things -- the image of God, etc. -- versus that he is, was, and always was, as the language implies. It is hard to swallow that Paul (or the creed he quotes) made these numerous allusions to pre-existent Wisdom and yet did not make this very important distinction clear.
Furthermore, what "fuller expression" could there be than actuality? Dunn accuses Christians of "ransacking" the language in such cases, but this merely assumes that to borrow the language was not intended to transmit a truth about the identity of Jesus. In the end Dunn's argument only assumes what Buzzard and Hunting want to prove, and fails to explain how otherwise Paul could have written in order to directly equate Jesus with Wisdom.

1 Cor. 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
I have not previously seen this verse used to argue for preexistence of Christ; Buzzard and Hunting read it in terms of as a figure of speech, as in "this cup is my blood". They also state that "obviously, a literal rock did not accompany Israel through the wilderness" and say this is an OT typology.

They are apparently unaware of the use of the Sinai story in later Jewish sapiential literature, as in Philo, who equates the rock with Wisdom and does say that Wisdom guided the Israelites. Philo's intention is allegorical, but nevertheless, Buzzard and Hunting's connection is non-existent, whereas there is a clear reference to the Wisdom hypostasis, and Paul therefore now states that Christ, as Wisdom and as a person, did indeed guide Israel through the desert. (Their use of 10:11 to dismiss all of these as "types" ignores the clear historical references in 10:6-10 which are called "types".)
Notably, and astonishingly, STE has no comment on any of these last two passages in these terms. John 17:3 is briefly disposed of [350] with a contrived explanation that Jesus is referring to the Shekinah glory of the Exodus, which makes no sense of any part of the statement: It says, "glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee"(though STE omits "with thee" in the heading) "before the world was" (not, in the desert).

Concerning the "I am" claims of John 8, STE is at least aware of scholarship paralleling these statements to texts in Isaiah, as we have noted here. STE's responses amount to a non sequitur, as he merely quotes the conclusions (not the arguments) of earlier commentators that such equations would be mistaken, and in one case offers their arbitrary reinterpretation. [365]

STE does argue that if Jesus had indeed so identified himself as divine, the Jews would have stoned him as they later did. In this he does not see his own self-refutation, since he admits they DID try to stone Jesus for this very thing, and they did so at the end of the very statements we are discussing (John 8:59). However, STE also errs in supposing that this ought even be an issue, even if Jesus were not stoned right away: Capital power was held by Rome, and one could only get away with a stoning in very unusual circumstances - or would try it only if one had lost much of their self-control.

STE also declares the orthodox interpretation "preposterous" because Jesus did not make it more clear what he was saying in equating himself with God. In this, STE displays a lamentable lack of knowledge of the nature of the NT world. In an agonistic, collectivist society, direct statements of identity to an outside group (as opposed to one's ingroup) would not satisfy the strictures of honor; implicit statements would be the norm, and be far more effective. STE is essentially imposing an unwarranted, modern demand for "clarity" on the text.

In the final analysis, STE does nothing to refute the parallels drawn to Isaiah. Merely quoting authorities who simply disagree and then provide their own interpretation - as a way of avoiding the correct one - is not a rebuttal to the equations. Nor is it acceptable to contrive some explanation such as that they mean "merely that God manifests Himself as such [e.g., light] through Jesus his agent." [370] This is merely a contrivance that begs the question and adds words and unjustified meaning to the text in the service of a desired, predetermined conclusion.

There is no perfect analogy to the hypostatic relationship in human terms, but roughly, it would be as though there were two persons, John and Jack; and Jack was well known for certain specific statements about himself, such as, "I am the world's greatest hockey player, no holds barred." If John showed up at the local rink saying exactly the same thing, these are the conclusions we could reach:
  1. He is claiming Jack is wrong and that he is taking over the claimed rank of world's greatest hockey player.
  2. He is claiming to be Jack.
Option 1 obviously will not work for Jesus and the Father. But STE would have us believe that it meant, 3) "Jack manifests himself as the world's greatest hockey player through John his agent." Even if indeed Jack has hired John as an agent, who could possibly come up with such a contrived conclusion?

The irony is that STE is surely right about Jesus being the Father's agent. Yet like many Unitarians, he misses the significance of passages like Is. 42:8:
I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.(cf. 48:11)
This is far more relevant than we realize. Let us keep in mind the distinction between two forms of personal honor: ascribed honor and acquired honor. Both forms are alluded to here: (ascribed = name; acquired = praise). God will share neither of these with anyone. For the Father to manifest him through anyone, whether Jesus or anyone else, through characteristics to which He has ascribed Himself, would amount to a sharing of glory and honor, contrary to Is. 42:8/48:11 - a point that could not have escaped Jesus or his listeners as he alluded to the very same prophet's words.

The only resolution is that Jesus must somehow have shared in the divine identity - as eternal, hypostatic Wisdom.

STE's further explanations of the "I am" passages are similarly contrived, and similarly add words and concepts to the text, and so require no unique comment.

We move now to Pauline material. As noted, STE is unaware of any connection between Col. 1:15 and Wisdom theology; STE merely refers to Adam and Eve as made in God's image (and not being divine) and quotes Vermes' negative assessment of an equation (without any argument). [416] As our article linked above shows, the parallels are much deeper than this:

Colossians 1:15a He is the image of the invisible God...
Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 (Wisdom is) a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.
Colossians 1:15b ...the firstborn over all creation.
Philo's reference to Wisdom as the "firstborn son" and offspring of God.
Colossians 1:16a him all things were created..
Wisdom of Solomon 1:14 "for he created all things that they might exist"
Sirach 1:4 and Philo refer to Wisdom as the "master workman" of creation.
Colossians 1:17b He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:7 ...that which holds all things together knows what is said...
STE's claim that these passages do no more than (again) show Jesus to be God's "agent" [429] fails to capture the full picture.

In addition, STE fails to properly define "image" seeing it merely as a matter of a "representation of an original," neglecting or else unaware of the aspect of authority implied in the words (see on this here).

In the same way, as noted, STE is without awareness of 1 Cor. 8:4-6 as a rewrite of the Shema which includes Jesus in the divine identity. [419] As we have said in our response to Buzzard and Hunting:
And in closing, about 1 Cor. 8:4, 6. Buzzard and Hunting use this as an example of the supposedly pristine unitary monotheism promulgated by Paul, but they are unaware that this passage is essentially a rewrite of the Shema which includes Jesus in the divine identity. Let's see that passage:

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one...But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Verse 4 clearly alludes to the Shema, as all agree; but recall the Shema again for v. 6: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." Paul has used the key phrase "one Lord" and applied it to Jesus Christ, thus including Jesus in the divine identity! And there is more: phrases like "of" or "by whom all things" are parallel to Jewish formulations that express God's relationship to Creation. This is in line with the Jewish concept of Wisdom, God's attribute, as God's tool for creation. Monolatry is maintained by including Jesus within the divine identity.
In light of this, STE's argument (following Dunn uncritically) that Paul calls Jesus "Lord" in order to distinguish him from God is merely an obscene parody of Paul's intention.

STE is further confounded by OT texts reframed by Paul such that Jesus now takes the place of YHWH, and again, merely adds words and concepts to the text to reach the desired conclusion: eg, when Paul in 1 Cor. 2:16 applies Is. 40:13 to Jesus, STE contrives the answer, "The meaning is surely no more than that the risen Christ and Yahweh think alike." [421] The "surety" of this, however, is no argument whatsoever, merely a predetermined conclusion which uses part of the truth (Jesus and the Father DO think alike) to resist the whole truth (WHY they think alike - eg, sharing the divine identity, which is the only reasonable and most natural conclusion for Paul's thematic substitution, especially in light of Is. 42:8/48:11).

Further on [480] we find again the error we have answered against Buzzard and Hunting, regarding Hebrews 4:15:
[There is] the claim that the Trinitarian Jesus could not be a real human being (once again assuming modern anthropological categories illicitly) and could not meaningfully suffer temptation. This rests on an assumption that the Temptations of Jesus were a matter of testing weakness; I disagree. Here is my take on that matter: ...."Could Jesus have failed the Temptations?"...No, I don't think Jesus could have failed -- not in the least. Someone will say, "Well, so what did the temptations prove, then?" I'll explain what they proved with an analogy. Let us recall the story of the Sphinx: Persons approaching this creature were required to answer a riddle posed by it in order to pass. Losers were summarily dispatched. The only way to get past it was to answer the riddle -- right?
Well, let's say that rather than answer the riddle, one of these Greek fellows stopped by the time travel surplus store, and instead of answering the riddle, blew the Sphinx away with a howitzer. So did he defeat the Sphinx? Of course he did. And he did so by rendering the Sphinx's challenge irrelevant.
As I see it, this is what the purpose of the Temptation of Jesus was -- it was to prove Satan to be irrelevant in context. Jesus experienced temptation firsthand (Hebrews 4:15) and knew what it was like, but this is not the same thing as saying that he could have fallen for it (and as Hebrews goes on to say, he didn't fall for it -- cf. Hebrews 2:17-18:
"Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." ).
A Greek could hear the Sphinx's riddle, and say, "Yeah, so what?" before blowing the beast to smithereens. In the same way, Jesus was tested, and was guaranteed a 100%. The Temptation was a glorious demonstration of what the Incarnation had accomplished.
We come now to a close of this critique, reminding the reader that it has been a critique by example; we do not claim here to have directly answered all of STE's material, for much of it is not relevant; some of it is on target against less competent arguments for Jesus' divinity, and much of it is repetitive, and covered by other material we have written. The purpose here has merely been to show that STE provides nothing new or unique - his arguments are merely the same Unitarian arguments that have circulated for a considerable amount of time; his methods of argument are also the same, involving contrivance, bare denials without actual argument, and begged questions.

STE indicates he will reveal his identity in 2011, but based on his rather poor scholarship, that is a revelation that we expect should be welcomed not with a fanfare, but with a yawn.

Update: In November 2009, STE revealed his identity as retired professional golfer Kermit Zarley. We are not in the least surprised that he is not a credentialed scholar.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jeconiah One and Two

Recently I made a vid on TektonTV about the so-called "curse of Jeconiah" (see below). Someone with the apparent mind of a fundamentalist left a comment with a rather ridiculous alternate solution -- that there were two Jeconiahs, and the one in Jesus' genealogy wasn't cursed.

This type of solution comes close to madness. Why not expand it?

Did Judas hang himself, or explode in a field? 

Oh, no problem. Jesus had two disciples named Judas who each betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver; one hung himself, the other exploded, and in two different fields that both ended up called "Field of Blood". Yep. And the cock crowed nine times, too.

How did this guy find a second Jeconiah, though? It's pretty lame, and as you might expect, shows a remarkable lack of grasp of how ancient genealogies worked. 

He first makes much of the fact that Matthew 1:11 says, "Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried a way to Babylon." Then he points out that in Jeremiah 22, Jeconiah is the son of Jehoiakim. Conclusion: Two different Jeconiahs. Add derps, stir, and half-bake at 350 degrees for an hour to make a delicious fruitcake.

As we've noted in several articles, ancient genealogies were normally "fixed" at specific numbers of generations. That meant that every time a new generation was added, another was dropped, which inevitably leaves gaps. The commentator is therefore left without the ability to argue, based on Matthew, that there was a Jeconiah One (son of Josiah) and a Jeconiah Two (grandson of Josiah). It's just a contrivance of the nine-crowings order.

There's only one Jeconiah -- a grandson of Josiah, as affirmed as well by 1 Chron. 3:15. Matthew has dropped out one generation, which is simply normal practice for recording genealogies. This answer is simple and in accord with known practices of the ancient world, and does not require inventing Jeconiah Two out of thin air to resolve the question.

The commentator is in even more of a bind with 1 Chronicles 3, since it makes it clear that there was just one Jeconiah -- a grandson of Josiah. So how does he deal with this? With yet another contrivance.

Four people are listed in 1 Chr. 3:15: Johanan, Jehiakim, Zedekiah, and Shallum. He notes that Jehoiakim's name was changed, and was originally Eliakim. (2 Kings 23:34) He also notes a name change to Zedekiah, who used to be Mattaniah (2 Kings 24:17). Finally, he argues for a name change to Shallum; I am not as certain of this one, since it is only inferred, but it would not need to have happened for the argument to be pursued.

So what of this? He rambles in non sequitur fashion, the one son of Josiah left for him to cover -- Johanan -- must have had his name changed to Jeconiah. Though he admits that unlike the other three names, there's no evidence for this, except maybe...uh, Matthew 1:11. Nothing like circular reasoning for good exercise.

However, that lack of mention is really quite significant. The renamings were made by conquering kings, and were a device indicating their dominance over the royal family. The renaming of Johanan, had it actually happened, would not simply be completely left out, as it is part and parcel of the theme of how the Jews were paying for their disobedience by becoming subject to foreign powers. 

At the same time, it grossly begs the question of the theory to suppose that of the name change did happen, it must have been a change to the name "Jeconiah". Moreover, the two names changes we are assured happened, both happened because the two renamed men were made kings by the conquerors. When did Johanan become king?

So what happened to Johanan? As the firstborn, and prince of the king, he'd be out on the front lines fighting Egypt, Babylon, and whoever else came running with spears -- where he'd get killed rather easily. Or, as firstborn, he may have been considered a choice morsel to bring back as a prisoner. Or really, in this age when the average lifespan was 35, and high infant and child mortality rates were the rule, odds are that with 4 kids, Josiah would have at least one that simply never saw too many birthdays. Given Johanan's notable lack of ascension to the throne -- his inalienable right as firstborn -- any of these three explanations are highly likely contextual solutions that dispense with the need for Jeconiah Two, and are also in accord with the comparative silence on the subject of a name change for Johanan. They are also representative of explanations offered by scholars for why no more is said of Johanan. The idea that he was given Jeconiah as a nome de plume does not appear on any scholarly radar that I can find.

In light of all this, it is rather laughable and arrogant for this commentator to state that "for whatever reason, most people, and even many Bible scholars, have completely overlooked this most obvious conclusion. " He supposes they have not "fully researched" the issue. That the scholars might be a little brighter than this is not even considered.
He ofers one final attempt to justify his absurd conclusion, pointing out that Matthew refers to "brothers" in the plural, even though 1 Chronicles 3 says there was just one brother. Ergo, Jeconiah Two again.
Well, it's rather amazing that this person who merely invents Jeconiah Two doesn't have the temerity to just invent some more brothers for Jeconiah. This isn't wholly impossible, actually; if Jeconiah had some "bad" brothers, they'd get knocked out of official genealogies as readily as people today get knocked out of final wills for being bad. But it's also not necessary. As is usual for this age, familial language had a wider semantic range than we would assign, and "brethren" here is able to cover a lot of ground. In this case, as Robert Gundry (a highly reputable and erudite scholar who, despite a magisterial commentary on Matthew, has evidently not "fully researched" the issue) offers the point that "brothers" in 1:11 would most naturally carry the national sense of "fellow Jews" -- which makes rather a lot of sense given that the small circle of relatives of Jeconiah were far from the only ones carried into captivity.

Frankly, I wish such people as this commentator would stop inventing "just me and my Bible" explanations like this one, and start applying contextual solutions. Otherwise they're just giving us all extra work defending their incompetencies from atheists.