Friday, January 27, 2017

Where's Semiramis?

This is a chapter from an ebook I did which included a look at the works of Alexander Hislop -- the Christian version of Acharya S. Sadly, even Christian leaders as prominent as John MacArthur fall for this kind of stuff.


Who can forget those "Where's Waldo?" books, where you had to strain your eyes while scanning a giant cartoon picture looking for that one guy with the glasses, the striped shirt and the funny hat? If you were good at finding Waldo, you might also be good at finding Semiramis. She isn't in the Bible. She's also not in the works of the Jewish historian Josephus. So, we have to ask ourselves a question. Alexander Hislop says that Semiramis is pretty important as the wife of Nimrod, and co-founder of the Babylonian mysteries. But how can this be the case about someone who isn't even found in the Bible?

Let's start this round with a look at the history of Semiramis in the real world. The most complete and detailed history of Semiramis is found in the work of Diodorus, an author of the 1st century BC. In his Bibliotheca Historica, Diodorus says that Semiramis was born at Ashkelon, to her mother, the goddess Derceto, and her father was an anonymous young man, who was doing a sacrifice to Derceto. Apparently, Derceto wasn't much for the romance. Ashamed, she killed the young man and abandoned the child, leaving her to be taken care of by doves. Eventually, the child was adopted by the head of the royal sheepfolds, Simma, who named her Semiramis, which is a variant on the word for "dove."
Semiramis became a very beautiful girl, and the Assyrian governor of Syria, Onnes, fell in love with her and asked for her hand. He took her to Nineveh, where they had two children, Hypatus and Hydaspus. Later on, Onnes was called to military duty, and after he went away, he sent for Semiramis to join him. As it turns out, though, Semiramis had a hidden talent for military tactics: She used a ruse to help defeat the city they were besieging.

Thanks to all the fame that came of this coup, the Assyrian king, Ninus, rewarded her and also fell in love with her. As kings were wont to do, he first asked for her hand in marriage and then threatened to take her from Onnes if he didn't comply. Not being able to handle the stress, Onnes hanged himself, leaving Ninus to marry her. (Based on our last chapter, you can now begin guessing how and why Hislop connects Nimrod to Semiramis.)

Eventually, the couple had a son they named Ninyas. After Ninus died, he left Semiramis as queen, and from there, she went on to have a successful career founding Babylon. During her reign, she toured her kingdom and she created all sorts of wonderful parks and public works. She never remarried, but did give certain favors to handsome men in her army, who she showed her gratitude towards by making them disappear.

For her last great act, Semiramis raised a huge army of 3 million men and went after the natives of India, who ended up sending her back home defeated, with wounds in her arm and back. At that point, Ninyas plotted against her, but by this time, she was 62 years old and pretty tired, so she handed the reins of power over, and disappeared.

This won't sound a great deal like what Hislop has to say about Semiramis. The biggest problem, though, is the assigned date for Semiramis by scholars. She's supposed to have been around somewhere between the 9th and 7th century BC. That means that she's over a thousand years after the time when Nimrod lived, if we take Biblical chronology strictly.

Part of Hislop's confusion comes from the story of Semiramis founding Babylon, while Nimrod founded Babel. As we explained in the last chapter, although the two cities are related, they are not exactly the same. The city has undergone more than one renaissance in its history, and Hislop merely assumed that there was just one possible "founding" event - and that is one reason why he incorrectly put Nimrod and Semiramis together as contemporaries.

Historically, Semiramis is probably to be identified with Sammuramat, who was known from an inscription to be a queen from 823-811 BC, during the reign of a king named Shasmshi-Adad V. She was a regent for approximately four years, as is confirmed by the Babylonian 3rd century BC historian/priest Berosus, who interrupts his Babylonian King list to refer to "government of Semiramis in Assyria."

This equation does leave some aspects of her legend unexplained, like her alleged founding of Babylon. There are also some other testimonies about her that seem contradictory; however, all agree that she didn't live at the same time as Nimrod. [1]

[1] For more on Semiramis, see an essay by Georges Roux, "Semiramis: The Builder of Babylon, in Jean Botterfo, Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (Johns Hopkins University, 1992, pages 141-61)."

What would Hislop offer in response to this, in order to foist Semiramis into the time of Nimrod? Again, we won't be able to address every single point Hislop makes, but we can address a good number of them, sufficiently to show that he cannot be taken seriously.

Eusebius. Hislop initially notes three sources about Semiramis: Ammianus Marcellinus, Books 14 and 23; Justinus, Historia, Book 1; and the Chronicle of Eusebius.

Ammianus' reference in Book 14 doesn't even mention Semiramis. It only mentions Ninus:

And first after Osdroene, which, as has been said, I have omitted from this account, Commagene, now called Euphratensis, gradually lifts itself into eminence; it is famous for the great cities of Hierapolis, the ancient Ninus, and Samosata.

Book 23 does reference Semiramis, and says:

In this Adiabena is the city of Ninus, which once possessed the rule over Persia, perpetuating the name of Ninus, once a most powerful king and the husband of Semiramis; also Ecbatana, Arbela, and Gaugamela, where Alexander, after various other battles, overthrew Darius in a hot contest.

Neither of these, though, does anything to advance Hislop's case to early date Semiramis.

The reference in Justinus offers much of the information we related above, including Semiramis as founder of Babylon. As noted, Hislop confuses Babel and Babylon, so this does not aid his case.

The last reference, in Eusebius, Hislop considers prime evidence, for he says that Eusebius had Ninus and Semiramis reigning in the time of Abraham. This turns out to be true, but there isn't much useful about it:

Year one of Abraham. He was the first patriarch of the Jewish people. During his time Ninus and Semiramis ruled over Assyria and all of Asia.

Once again, though, we're hard pressed to see why Eusebius, writing some 1000 to 2000 years after the fact, is to be taken as correct over the evidence that has been gathered by historians indicating a different chronology. And, even more problematic for Hislop is that Eusebius disagrees with Hislop on certain other issues as well. Contrary to Hislop, Eusebius identifies Asshur as a person (see prior chapter). He also clearly does not regard Ninus as the same person as Nimrod, and doesn't think Ninus/Nimrod was chopped into pieces by Semiramis (i.e., Eusebius says: "Semiramis buried Ninus' body in the palace").
A secondary problem is that Eusebius isn't here testifying to what he thinks is actual history. In the Chronicle, Eusebius was collecting and reporting varying chronologies from different sources.

Beyond this, Hislop found himself compelled to address an authority in his own time and who dated Semiramis to a later age. Hislop's reply is instructive:

Sir H. Rawlinson having found evidence at Nineveh, of the existence of a Semiramis about six or seven centuries before the Christian era, seems inclined to regard her as the only Semiramis that ever existed. But this is subversive of all history. The fact that there was a Semiramis in the primeval ages of the world, is beyond all doubt, although some of the exploits of the latter queen have evidently been attributed to her predecessor.

In other words, Hislop is compelled to invent a second Semiramis to accommodate his thesis, and then, to accommodate his thesis yet further, speculates that the deeds of the earlier one have been attributed to the later one! The reality is that there is no evidence of an earlier Semiramis - save in the writings of authors like Eusebius who were in no position to confirm the chronology. Once again, Hislop merely picks and chooses what he wants to believe ignoring the rest.

Today, Rawlinson's view is the standard among scholars, and is also decisively in accord with the evidence. We're also compelled to ask, if we use Hislop's rules of evidence, why Berosus is to believed over Eusebius, when he was much closer to the time in question than Eusebius. That doesn't mean Berosus is automatically right - but it does put a burden on those who support Hislop's theories to give an explanation.

God of fortifications. To further connect Semiramis to Nimrod, Hislop appeals to Daniel 11:38, which refers to a "god of fortifications." But it's not really that "god" with whom Hislop is concerned just yet. He rather uses the reference to segue into a "goddess of fortifications," whom he identifies as Cybele, because she "is universally represented with a mural or turreted crown, or with a fortification, on her head." This much is true as Cybele's crown looked like a city wall, but what does this have to do with Semiramis?

Hislop quotes the Roman poet Ovid as saying that Semiramis, as first queen of Babylon, "surrounded Babylon with a wall of brick." This is not exactly true. The line from Ovid says:

In Babylon, where first her queen, for state, Rais'd walls of brick magnificently great...

Semiramis is not specifically named, but, since other writers of Ovid' s day regarded her as the first queen of Babylon, that is probably who is in mind. At any rate, Hislop completes the equation by saying that Cybele wore a crown that looked like walled towers because "she first erected them in cities." From this he concludes that Semiramis must also be Cybele, since Babylon was the first city in the world after the Noahic flood that "had towers and encompassing walls"!

The problem here is that we just don't know if or when Babel had walls. We also don't know for sure what city was the first to have them, though we have a relatively high degree of certainty that Jericho was the first walled city (Cambridge History of Warfare, Geoffrey Parker, 414). Babylon did have walls as well, but it is not regarded as a contender for "first walled city."
Hislop also has another problem as he must admit that another ancient historian, Megasthenes, reported that it was a "Belus" who built the walls of Babylon. Here is what Megasthenes reports:

It is said that from the beginning all things were water, called the sea: that Belus caused this state of things to cease, and appointed to each its proper place: and he surrounded Babylon with a wall: but in process of time this wall disappeared...

As you may guess from the context, "Belus" was a Babylonian creator-deity. But Hislop doesn't report this; in fact, he misrepresents what the text says of Belus:

As "Bel," the Confounder, who began the city and tower of Babel, had to leave both unfinished, this could not refer to him. It could refer only to his

So Hislop has "solved" his historical problem by conveniently rolling yet another identity into Nimrod - namely, Belus! It doesn't matter to Hislop that Megasthenes doesn't say Belus didn't finish the wall (indeed, his words imply that Belus did finish it). Instead, Hislop covers all his bases by making Nimrod responsible for starting the walls of Babylon, and Semiramis responsible for finishing them! And so, in turn, Hislop also claims that Daniel's "god of fortifications" is none other thanĂ¢€¦you guessed it -- also Nimrod.

Like a Virgin? As noted, one of Hislop's goals was to rebut Catholicism, and to this end he found another use for Semiramis:

As time wore away, and the facts of Semiramis' history became obscured, her son's birth was boldly declared to be miraculous: and therefore she was called "Alma Mater, the Virgin Mother."

The object here, of course, was to imply that this pagan accounting was a source for Catholicism. Not that this would work even if it were true: Hislop himself would hardly deny that Mary was a virgin even when she was the mother of Jesus. Unfortunately, Hislop was so excited about this proposition that he neglected to provide documentation that Semiramis ever was called a "virgin mother." He also does nothing to keep from undermining his own (quote Protestant) belief in the virgin birth, using the same arguments.

Even more poorly documented is this argument:

The dove, the chosen symbol of this deified queen, is commonly represented with an olive branch in her mouth, as she herself in her human form also is seen bearing the olive branch in her hand; and from this form of representing her, it is highly probable that she has derived the name by which she is commonly known, for "Z'emir-amit" means "The branch-bearer." (From Ze, "the" or "that," emir, "branch," and amit, "bearer," in the feminine.)

As we noted above, though, "Semiramis" means dove, not "branch bearer." But once again, Hislop has a -- connect the dots explanation: Noah's wild dove (or pigeon) carried a branch back to the ark, and that is how we also turn "Semiramis" into "branch bearer"! Nor can he produce any record of "Z'Emir-amit" as a historical person rather than as a fanciful linguistic construction.

In short, Hislop's treatment of Semiramis, like his treatment of Nimrod, is more fantasy than fact.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Defining Hitler Into Christianity

This is a reprint of the last chapter of my ebook Hitler's Christianity. In it I address claims that in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, Hitler should still be reckoned a Christian because...well, because!!


In spite of all the information we have presented in this volume, and the twisted nature of Hitler's Positive Christian beliefs, and of the Nazi persecution of mainstream churches, and in spite of the attempted destruction of European Jewry, there are critics who will nevertheless insist that this is insufficient to disqualify Hitler (or any Nazi figure) as a Christian. We will now consider a collection of objections designed to argue this point, although ineffectively.

The Self-Profession Argument

The first objection has been formulated by one online atheist source as follows:

The basic problem (for religious folks) is that Hitler said he was a Christian, and God apparently didn't feel the need to disagree in public.

We may disregard the rather childish supposition that God is in some way obliged to think on our behalf, and save us the trouble of critical discernment when it comes to the religious professions of others. The key argument in this statement is that: Hitler was a Christian, because he said he was one. In the same way, referring to theologians like Kittel who accepted Nazi doctrine, Ericksen says: "Their self-definition as believing Christians cannot be doubted." He notes other signals of their religious allegiance: A professed personal meeting with Christ; being asked to preach; practicing piety, and regular Bible reading and prayer. [1]

A more sophisticated variation of this argument can be found even in the otherwise excellent historical work of Steigmann-Gall, who points out that "many Christians of the day believed Nazism to be in some sense a Christian movement." He further states that "only false-consciousness theory allows us to contend that millions of sincere Christians could create a non-Christian movement." And, finally, he adds that proponents of Positive Christianity "maintained that their anti-Semitism and socialism were derived from a Christian understanding of Germany's ills and their cure." [2] Though written in more formal terms, the argument is little different in substance than that of the former atheist website; namely, a self-profession and self-conception is sufficient to objectively classify one's self as a Christian.

We may immediately note that this argument sets a rather low bar of evidence for how one may be defined as a Christian. If simple self-profession and self-conception is all that is required to define one's personal identity, without any reference to objective criteria, then there is little to stop even a hardened atheist from referring to themselves as a Christian.

This is not so outlandish a proposition as one might suppose. Among the wide variety of movements on the market today is one that terms itself "Christian atheism." The sum of this view is that, while Jesus is not God, and God does not exist, the moral teachings of Jesus are superior and ought to be followed.
The designation of "Christian atheism" leads to a salient point. As we have noted in prior chapters, cults or deviant movements are frequently posed as, "Christianity plus," or, perhaps "Christianity minus," with the implication that the differences make the variation purer than, or superior to, mainstream Christianity. Can we accept that when a person or group adds a term (or beliefs) to differentiate themselves from another group, that this might place them outside the defining bounds of that other group?

Indeed, the extra designation exposes a key problem with the "self-profession" argument. The critic is intent upon resting in the broad definition of "Christian" as defining a group or body of persons which would include Hitler. One critic put it this way: "A Christian is simply a person who believes in God and Jesus in some form or manner." Needless to say, such a broad designation is difficult to defend. [3]

But let us grant for the sake of argument that Hitler and his associates added the designation "Positive," to define themselves separately from other persons designated as "Christian." The critic argues that Hitler was a Christian in order to suggest that persons in the category of "Christian" are somehow immoral, dangerous, or could be responsible for the sort of evils Hitler perpetrated. But why then use the broader designation of "Christian" rather than the more specific designation of, "Positive Christian?" Why not say, as we all will agree, that it is "Positive Christianity" specifically that leads to immorality in its adherents?

The "Variety of Christianity" Argument

The above offers a segue into the second form of objection, which is that Hitler's Positive Christianity was simply another "variety" of Christianity. One atheist critic put it this way:

There can be little doubt that Hitler was a Christian. You really don't get to disqualify Hitler's beliefs just because you believe a different version.

And, yet another atheist critic said:

The trouble is, there are thousands and thousands of different groups out there and they all claim to be Christians. Isn't it just a little bit arrogant to say that a Jehovah's Witness, a Mormon or a Roman Catholic is not a true Christian, especially since they might well say the same about you? Since as far as I can see there is no way of being able to decide who is and who is not a Christian Adolf Hitler's claim to be one is as good as yours.

Steigmann-Gall again provides a more sophisticated form of the argument: "[T]he Nazis represented a departure from previous Christian practices. However, this did not make them un-Christian." [4]

As with the first objection, however, the critic is refusing to consider objective criteria, and is instead making an emotional appeal to the sensitivities of those who are designated as not Christian. It is at this stage that we must now show that objective criteria are the only basis whereby a person's religious identity can rightly, and must be defined. To illustrate this, I have created what I term the Patriot Analogy.

As one may ask, "Who is really a Christian?" it is also possible to ask "Who is a loyal, patriotic American?" (Of course, the reader may substitute any national or political designation for "American.") Would it be someone who:
  • Displays a flag?
  • Is willing to join the military (or other organization) to serve the country? Or, to serve the country in other ways outside an organization?
  • Knows the contents of the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence?
  • Knows the laws of America? Arguably, these are all things (though not the only things) one can or must do to be called a Patriot. Yet of course, the absence of these things does not cause us to say someone is not a Patriot. At a minimum we suggest they must love their country. Yet if they do none of these things, or are unwilling to do them, or refuse to do them, what do we say? Is it evident that they do love their country as they profess? They may be:
  • A real patriot, but not an active one; or,
  • A patriot who takes issue with some of the claims of the country upon them, but still loves the country and adheres to the core values of the nation; or,
  • A "wolf in sheep's clothing" pretending to be a Patriot, for whatever reason (i.e., like friendship, etc.) By now one can guess that this is analogical to the question, "Who is a true Christian?" Let's rework some of the questions above. Who qualifies as a real Christian? Someone who:
  • Displays a cross or a Christian T-shirt?
  • Is willing to join the church (or other organization) to serve the body of Christ? Or, to serve the body in other ways outside an organization?
  • Knows the contents of the Bible?
  • Follows the precepts of the Bible? Arguably, these are all things (though not the only things) one can or must do to rightly be called a Christian. So in light of the above, does the absence of these things not cause us to say someone is not a Christian?
  • At a minimum we suggest they must love God, and Jesus. Yet if they do none of these things, or are unwilling to do them, or refuse to do them, what do we say? Is it evident that they do love their God as they profess? They may be:
  • A real Christian, but not an active one; or,
  • A Christian who rejects some part of the Bible's teachings, but still adheres to the core principles of the faith; or,
  • A "wolf in sheep's clothing" pretending to be a Christian, for whatever reason (i.e., like friendship, etc.) Of course, there is another issue: What about someone who is a member of a cultic group (like the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witnesses) who qualifies on all counts for the list above? In that case, the question turns not just upon, for example, whether they follow the Bible, but it also follows upon whether they do so accurately. Ericksen pointed out that professed Christians as Kittel performed actions in accord with that profession (e.g., Bible reading and prayer). This adds a step to the argument, but is no more definitive. These actions are expressions of devotion to a specific doctrine, but if the doctrine is a false one, those actions may as well be directed to a brick wall.

  • If someone claimed adherence to the Constitution, but professed to somehow read out of it a model for a dictatorship (!), wouldn’t we rightly wonder of their ability to be defined as a “patriotic American?" Certainly, the more selective a person is with beliefs, the less likely it is that they can satisfy the definition of "patriot" to a given cause.

    Now, let us turn this back to the issue of Hitler's religious beliefs. Is it really impossible to wedge Hitler or anyone else into the fold at our convenience, just because they say "I am a Christian?" To do so, one must show that Hitler was at the very least loyal to Christian principles, otherwise, the claim is unreasonable. To illustrate the folly of the critics, can you imagine a conversation like this being seriously pursued?
  • Skeptic: "Osama bin Laden is a patriotic American!"
  • Christian: "What?"
  • Skeptic: "He said in one of his own speeches he was!"
  • Christian: "Anyone can call themselves a patriotic American, but that doesn't make them one."
  • Skeptic: "Oh yeah? How can you judge who is a patriotic American?" Of course, it is always possible that some flag-waving, Bill-of-Rights-quoting person out there is really some sort of false patriot, a terrorist in disguise plotting to blow up something, but we recognize that such people are the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, consider the absurdity of designating, as an American patriot, someone who, in parallel to the major deviations of Positive Christianity:
  • Declares that we should ignore half of the Constitution, including more than half of the Amendments;
  • Claims that George Washington was actually a Communist;
  • Believes that we should ignore the nation's laws and just concentrate on activities like having Fourth of July picnics. How much credence would we give to someone who advertised this as “Positive Patriotism?”

  • There is one final point, which shows that this objection can also backfire. One frequent argument of Christian apologists is that Hitler was inspired by the teachings of Darwinism. We will not here pursue the accuracy of that claim, but it is rather instructive to consider one Skeptic's response to this argument:

    ...what reached Germany was not the English version of Origin of Species, it was a translation by German paleontologist Heinrich Georg Bronn that was a main source of German notions of Darwinian evolution, and those notions were a distortion of Darwin’s views. Bronn had a substantially different conception of evolution than Darwin, and Bronn’s translation apparently incorporated a good bit of his own conception rather than being a straight translation of Darwin. Bronn even added an extra chapter to OoS to incorporate his own ideas. [5]

    Using the same logic of critics, however, can we not say that Bronn's "distortions" are merely another "variety" of Darwinian teachings? The critics who use the "variety of Christianity" argument end up cutting off their nose to spite their face.

    The Flattened Criteria Argument

    Once a critic is compelled to consider objective criteria as a way to define who is a Christian, an attempt may be made to flatten the criteria by classifying Hitler's Positive Christianity variation as somehow comparable to the mainstream. In this regard, the critical issue is whether the key variations of Positive Christianity -- a bowdlerized canon, a dejudaized Jesus, and a hypertrophied orthopraxy -- are sufficient to divorce it from mainstream, orthodox Christianity. The matter is somewhat tendentiously summed up by one critic as follows:

    Hitler was no more anti-Christian than your run-of-the-mill Protestant bigot. His Christianity was odd, surely, but so is that of many die-hard believers today.

    Concerning the canon of Positive Christianity, Steigmann-Gall, though he admits that Hitler's conception of Christianity "contained a good deal that was far from orthodox," [6] says that the criterion of canonicity "do[es] not constitute a reliable gauge, as others whose Christian credentials are undisputed would similarly fail to pass." [7] Unfortunately, Steigmann-Gall does not say to whom he refers in this context, only vaguely saying that “the rejection of the Old Testament in fact found expression within bona fide varieties of Protestantism." [8] But what were the "bona fide varieties?" Steigmann-Gall does not explain, so no answer can be directly made. Why would it not be argued in reply that the "varieties" Steigmann-Gall has in mind are not "bona fide" at all? And why would this not especially be the case for Positive Christianity followers, whose radical surgery on the canon involved discarding some 80 to 90 percent of it?

    What about the doctrine of a dejudaized Jesus? As we noted earlier, one critic has pointed out that the Aryan Jesus of Positive Christianity has parallels in mainstream views that depict Jesus as a blond, blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon. But this is an inapt comparison. Mainstream depictions of Jesus in this fashion come of a mistaken idea that all Jews of the first century were white Anglo-Saxons. In other words, it is not the result of an active racism, as was the case with Positive Christianity, but rather, the result of simple ignorance. At the same time, if we ignore questions of Jesus' fundamental identity, and say that someone who "follows Jesus" counts as a Christian, we are left to admit into the Christian fold all manner of outlandish deviations. As noted earlier in this volume, one of my "favorite" books as an apologist is titled The Elvis-Jesus Mystery, by Cinda Godfrey. This amazing volume declares that Elvis Presley was the Messiah, and as the title indicates, makes a direct connection between the fundamental identities of Elvis and Jesus. If we follow the logic of such types of critics to its proper conclusion, even Godfrey must be admitted to be a Christian!

    It is true that even early Christianity was subject to a certain amount of diversity. Nevertheless, it must also be apparent that diversity has its limits. Critics naturally have no desire to place limits on the acceptable limit of diversity within Christianity, but if they fail to do so, they risk making the definition of "Christian" so broad that it has no meaning at all.

    Steigmann-Gall writes, "By detaching Christianity from the crimes of its adherents, we create a Christianity above history, a Christianity whose teachings need not ultimately be investigated. Seen in this light, those who have committed such acts must have misunderstood Christianity, or worse yet purposefully misused it for their own ends. 'Real Christians' do not commit such crimes." [9] But this is not a matter of detaching Christianity from the crimes of its adherents. This is a matter of whether, indeed, the alleged adherents have, in fact, misunderstood, distorted or misrepresented Christianity, according to a set of objective criteria, and not their crimes. In the final analysis, the critics simply do not do enough analysis to answer this question.

    [1] Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler, 39.
    [2] Steigmann-Gall, Holy Reich, 5, 6, 10.
    [3] A distinction should be made, though, between defining "Christian" in historical and theological terms, and defining it in strictly anthropological terms. Social scientists with no concern for theology may define a wide variety of groups as "Christian" using the same broad definition as the critic, with no intention to besmirch the Christian belief. Of course, the critic may try to shift the goalposts by arguing that Hitler was anthropologically a Christian, when whether he was theologically a Christian is far more meaningful in terms of their argumentative goals.
    [4] Steigmann-Gall, Holy Reich, 262.
    [5] Accessed August 10, 2013.
    [6] Steigmann-Gall, Holy Reich, 37.
    [7] Ibid., 6.
    [8] Ibid., 11.
    [9] Ibid., 267.

    Friday, January 6, 2017

    Is Inerrancy a Heresy? Part 2

    For Part 2 of our look at Rodger Cragun's The Ultimate Heresy (TUH), which claims that the doctrine of inerrancy is heretical, we first look at examples in which he supposes he has shown that what is found in the text is incompatible with inerrancy. As we have noted last time, however, while what Cragun presents would cause problems for a hyper-fundamentalist view of inerrancy, it would have little bearing on a contextualized understanding of the doctrine. He also presents far fewer arguments than I expected him to provide -- in fact, what he offers amounts to three broad arguments:

  • Jesus broadened or sometimes placed restrictions on the law. This shows that he didn't consider it inerrant. Cragun offers multiple examples of how Jesus either broadened or narrowed the OT law, but Cragun could have saved himself the trouble, and spared the reader pages of irrelevant examples. As we have noted in numerous contexts, the OT law was didactic, which means that it was never meant to be understood as a wooden, "follow to the letter", procedural handbook. Within that context, the adjustments made by Jesus (and rabbis, as Cragun notes) to the OT law are within the proper bounds of understanding that law as inerrant.

  • That Cragun fails to understand the didactic nature of the law is shown when he complains that, e.g., Deut. 22:13-22 does not consider that an unmarried girl might have a ruptured hymen for reasons other than that she had sexual intercourse before marriage. A didactic code leaves it to the discretion of local judges and officials to make such determinations.

  • The NT misuses OT texts like Is. 7:14 as prophecies of Jesus. Yet again, Cragun unwittingly imitates the worst sort of atheist critic with this charge, and also unwittingly adopts his own fundamentalist hermeneutic of the text. As we have also pointed out in numerous venues, the NT's use of the OT is perfectly in accord with Jewish exegetical methods of the period, in which a text like Is. 7:14 is not seen as a prophecy of the future, but in which present events are seen as a re-enactment of Is. 7:14. That means that the NT is not using texts like Is. 7:14 "out of context," because the idea is that only that single verse is being re-enacted.

  • There were a lot of different ideas about what should be in the canon. Again, like some of the worst atheists, Cragun appeals to "specter of diversity" arguments as though they have any relevance or merit, which they do not. All they would mean is that humans may not have recognized the contours of what was inspired as inerrant but not that the texts themselves weren’t inerrant. The contours of the canon would have no bearing on the matter, whether the text was inerrant or not.

  • And that, oddly enough, is all Cragun has to offer before he once again returns to the prior non sequitur routine e.g., "inerrancy is a heresy because it has led to divisions." He also offers what he presents as a survey of the historical development of inerrancy as a doctrine, but even if it is 100% correct (and it may well be), it would still be a non sequitur to raise it as though it had any bearing on the truth of the matter.

    In contrast to the above, I would raise a point of agreement with Cragun. I would agree that 2 Tim. 3:16 would not really bear the exegetical weight put on it by some inerrantist commentators. Cragun spends a great deal of time on this verse, but as far as my views are concerned, all that he offers is moot.
    We will close with a look at places where Cragun professes to find "loud dissent" with inerrancy within the text of the Bible itself. His first example, which he alleges to be "most decisive and destructive," fails to produce anything but another massive non sequitur. He notes that in Acts, after his vision of a sheet from heaven, Peter acknowledged he was wrong about something; namely, Gentiles in the Kingdom. From this Cragun concludes that he has demonstrated that Peter "could be in error." Oh? By that rubric, if I find one mistake in Cragun's text, we have thereby proved that he could never produce any text without errors -- no matter how short it is, or no matter what the conditions are. Indeed, by that logic, even if he writes "2 and 2 is four" he is immediately under suspicion of error. Cragun's error is again typical of the "all or nothing" mentality of the very fundamentalism he decries.

    Cragun's next argument is that because some prophets like Jonah were able to resist their prophetic call, they were only human. What bearing this has, again, on inerrancy, and on specific conditions associated with producing an inerrant text, is hard to say, but it would once again place Cragun under suspicion, even if he told us the sky was blue.

    Third, Cragun points out that some pagans, like Balaam, were inspired. Yet again, we're not sure what the point is. Apparently, Cragun thinks the only way someone could produce an inerrant text is if they were being inerrant on everything 24/7. I know of no one, not even a fundamentalist, who believes such a thing.

    Fourth, Cragun delivers some arguments against a mechanical view of inspiration. Since I don't hold to such a view, there is nothing for me to address, though there may be something there requiring an address by some fringe fundamentalists.

    Fifth, Cragun argues that church fathers did not "idolize" the Scriptures, but that is not really the point. What he needs to show is that the church fathers thought Scripture erred. As it is, he can come no closer to this than e.g., Jerome discussing problems in the text (such as Matthew referring to the "thirty pieces of silver" passage in Zechariah -- an issue, by the way, that is easily resolved under Jewish exegetical and citation procedures). Although Jerome discusses the problem, he does not say, "this is an error." What Jerome does do is suppose that e.g., Matthew might be charged with "falsehood" for such things as adding, "I say unto thee" to the translation of "Talitha cumi." But as Cragun admits, this sort of thing comes more of Jerome's perceived neurotic compulsion for detail than from any real problem.

    Thus concludes our look at Cragun, and all in all, he could have spared us the trouble of what amounted to his own exercise in neurotic compulsion.