Friday, October 29, 2010

The Wolf Who Huffed and Puffed and Blew Himself Down

Observations/updates added 10/30 and 10/31 and signified by a *.

Thom Stark is remarkably inept at nearly all things, we have found, and that includes honesty as well as scholarship. As a case in point, let’s have a look at his attempt to foster a rebuttal to my analysis of his sub-scholarly analyses of the “Son of Man” title, as found in my last E-Block. His words hereafter in italics.

I want to begin by thanking Holding for taking the time to review my work. Even when I have strong disagreements with my critics, I appreciate any and all attempts to hold my feet to the fire.

No, he does not. Stark is a disingenuous manipulator who hides his hatred for those of greater faith than he by pretending to find something nice to say about them, so that the unwary reader will think he is interested in the pure water of dialogue. Scratch the surface, though, and the Halloween monster comes out – as seen in his prior posts to me, and his replies to Copan and Flanagan. Stark may deceive his loyal and unthinking followers with this sort of passive-aggressive hucksterism, but not anyone with the slightest draft of intelligence or discernment will fall for it: as an unknown name with no serious credentials, trying to sell a self-published tome with a controversial message that is certain to be ineptly presented, it behooves Stark to make himself seem as plausibly interested in earnest dialogue as possible. However, it is shown by his conduct to be a ruse; particularly his continued inability to admit the error of his association with John Loftus, even after the latter’s public posting of a “nude Jesus” picture and bragging of his own inebriation.

Holding claims that I am unaware of the work of Ernst ("Or “Ernest,” if you ask Holding as of 10/28/10) Herzfeld on Son of Man and am unaware of the way that Bar Enash (Son of Man) was used in Old Babylonian to depict royalty. In fact, I am quite aware of this (though Herzfeld’s research, published in 1947, is now dated), but I am also aware that Holding’s use of Herzfeld is selective and overwrought.

That Stark was aware of Herzfeld’s work before I brought it to his limited attention is rather doubtful. His work on the SoM showed little familiarity with anything specifically on the subject apart from Dunn and perhaps Vermes; there is no hint of the discussions found in sources like Casey and Hare, and certainly no evidence of any familiarity with Herzfeld.

As to that, there is nothing specifically “outdated” in the point I raised from Herzfeld. The simple fact of the use of bar enash is not something that can become “outdated”. This claim, and Stark’s childish focus on variable typography, reflect little more than a distractive attempt by Stark to overcome his lack of competent study and research in this subject area. If it were otherwise, why doesn’t Stark show where and how Herzfeld has become “outdated” on the specific point I used from him? He won’t, because he can’t. *Nor indeed can any of Stark's followers, who handwave book titles in the air but do not seem to be able to provide specifics, much less arguments -- which they undoubtedly cannot do. (Indeed, one of the books they wave in the air, at least, does not even mention Herzfeld, according to an inside data search, which if accurate would indicate a rather telling lack in a book that purports to examine the "debate" on the subject.)

Beyond that, Stark may wish to obtain an industrial crane to assist him in removing his foot from his mouth regarding that typography. In reality, “Ernest” is a proper, Anglicanized spelling variation of “Ernst” and while I cannot at this date recall why I spelled it differently, there is no error to speak of in the variation. Indeed I have found some sources that use that spelling, such as

Moreover, if indeed Herzfeld is “outdated,” when did this happen, and how did it happen to the entirety of his book? And did someone forget to spread the news to scholars like Michael Stausberg (Zoroastrian Rituals in Context, 2004), who cites Herzfeld’s book – and indeed, an older one of his, from 1920! – for support or illustration of certain points? Or what about Albert de Jong in Traditions of the Magi (1997)? Maybe the “outdating” only occurred in 2005, and Stark is the only one aware of it?

Clearly. Stark is simply grasping desperately at straws, and has no idea indeed whether Herzfeld is “outdated,” whether in any general way or on any specific point. Instead, he merely hopes that by flashing the 1947 date before his unwary readers, he will convince them automatically that the data is “outdated”.

After quoting my article on the Son of Man for a bit, where I say:

The combination bar enash and its parallels in Old Babylonian carry the meaning of an heir or successor to royalty, or of a free man of the highest class. A "man" here is not just any man, but as we might say, "THE MAN" as in royalty. Herzfeld notes an example of this usage in the Code of Hammurabi.

Daniel was written at a time when this phrase had a specific and known meaning. In the context of Daniel 7:13, in which the one "like a son of man" comes to the Ancient of Days (Almighty God) and is given dominion of the sort that God possesses, the significance of Jesus' "son of man" usage cannot be overstated. It is functionally equivalent to saying that the one like a son of man is rightful heir and successor to the divine throne. "Son of man" is essentially the same as "Son of God" in this context.

It is therefore clear that if Jesus is using the phrase consistent with its original meaning, it is a powerful and clear claim to deity. But before we take that further, let's look at some Jewish parallels that might substantiate the case.

Stark tries another shell game to overcome his failures:

The first thing to say in response to this is that it is most certainly not “clear that if Jesus is using the phrase consistent with its original meaning, it is a powerful and clear claim to deity.” If bar enash denotes royalty, it denotes royalty; not deity. Holding overlooks the fact that human kings and agents are called “son of God” (Adam, David, et al). If “Son of Man” is just another way of saying “Son of God” (as in royalty), then it denotes royalty, not divinity, strictly speaking. The monarch was ubiquitously considered to be the chief agent of the deity, and often times (even in Israel and Judea) quasi-divine. But it is not at all a clear claim to deity proper.

Stark seems to have a little problem here which involves mistaking a preliminary statement of conclusion with a full argument. I have more that follows that pieces my conclusion here together; this isn’t a conclusion at the end of an argument, but the summary of what is to follow which I intend to prove.

That said, Stark is also making a very common mistake of non-scholarly dilettantes. He confuses “Son of God” to be an expression in which “God” is a proper name with one in which “God” is an abstract noun. Adam and David are regarded in terms of the latter; they are “sons of divinity,” as it were.

However, I am utilizing the former usage: The bulk of the SoM article was written before I discovered this insight (courtesy of NT Wright), so that when I say “Son of God” here, I mean that the Danielic Son of Man is the son, or heir, of the Ancient of Days, properly speaking, as my further context indicates:

In the context of Daniel 7:13, in which the one "like a son of man" comes to the Ancient of Days (Almighty God) and is given dominion of the sort that God possesses, the significance of Jesus' "son of man" usage cannot be overstated.

Thus I have not “overlooked” anything about the usage of “son of God”; Stark is just badly educated on the usages and context of the phrase, which he should have further considered in light of the rest of my article as well as what I wrote in later articles such as this one (where I explain that “son of God” is NOT useful as a divine title or for a divine Christology), rather than mistaking this single paragraph for a final and overarching conclusion. Obviously, since he had to rush through a response for his limited admirers -- of which he has much fear of losing if his competence is questioned -- he merely hastily scanned my material on Son of Man and rambled through it in order, without re-reading his answer again later to check for consistency. As has been stated, Stark makes little effort at all to achieve a holistic picture of the subjects upon which he so ineptly pontificates.

He continues in vain:

The second thing to say is that Holding’s claim that “royalty” is the “original meaning” of bar enash is based on spurious grounds. Note that Herzfeld discusses the “Old Babylonian.” Holding then claims that “Daniel was written at a time when this phrase had a specific and known meaning.” This is what Holding likes to call a “bait and switch.” The Aramaic portions of Daniel were not written in Old Babylonian. Moreover, although it is true that Daniel is set in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, it was in fact written in Palestine in the second century BCE—quite a few centuries removed from Old Babylonian (20th-16th centuries BCE). To make his case for the meaning of “bar enash,” Holding cites one source published in 1947.

But once again, Stark manages to fail to explain what has changed since 1947 to alter the fact I cite from Herzfeld. In addition, it is he who here conducts a dishonest bait and switch, as he subtly tries to imply that there was some difference in meaning between bar enash as used in Old Babylonian and bar enash as it was used in Aramaic. (Also, I have written a refutation of the claim that Daniel is a second century product, which will likewise be over Stark’s head.) How is Herzfeld’s equation now “spurious”? We are not told. Nor will we ever be.

It is understandable why he needs the distraction. In the E-Block article I called out Stark for failing to report that “Son of Man” had different Hebrew terms behind it. As I said:

Ezekiel uses bar adam, not bar enash, as Daniel does. Stark evidently either has not consulted the Hebrew text, or else does not have enough sense to consider whether the difference in vocabulary is important. Indeed the former seems to be the case, inasmuch as he also says:

… the angel Gabriel is “like the appearance of a man” (8:15; 10:18), has the voice of a man (8:16), and is “like the resemblance of the sons of man” (10:16). In 9:21; 10:5; and 12:6-7, angels are simply referred to as “men.” So the language of “one like a son of man” gives the strong impression that the figure in 7:13 is an angel.

Unfortunately, the word used in 8:15 is not enash, and nor, actually, is it adam: It is a word that literally means warrior. 8:16 and 10:18 do say adam, but 9:21, 10:5, and 12:6-7 say ish (meaning “male”). These latter points may be of little relevance for our current purposes of evaluating the use of the SoM title; however, they do make it clear that Stark is treating the text as though the English word “man” is being used, and has little concern for understanding or interpreting their original contexts.

Tellingly, though Stark seems to have had access to my article, he does not quote these specific charges. Rather, he huffs and puffs that he will “refute” the charge of incompetence on these points and that it will “reflect poorly” on me, but in the end, does nothing but re-assert the refuted point by citing Collins’ belief that bar enash and bar adam are synonyms.

*I will add here that the fact that Stark designated the other uses of "man" apart from adam and enash is a fair indication that, indeed, he did simply conduct his study in English and is now vainly attempting to cover for his mistake by treading backwards using Collins for support.

The only specific “argument” actually offered in support of this point, however, is alluded to thusly:

Collins documents that the two terms are used regularly in Semitic parallelism as generic terms for “human being.” (See Job 25:6 for one example.) This is also attested at Ugarit.

It is quite telling that Stark refuses to offer any more specifics than Job 25:6. However, this argument is a fallacious one: Merely because enash and adam are used in parallel structures of phrase does not mean that they are parallels in terms of semantic content. Indeed, Job 25:6 is perfectly intelligible where enash means something like a royal heir, for 25:5 alludes to the moon and stars, the “rulers” of the night and symbols of governing powers (along with the sun). Thus the message would be that a human of no rank can match God. Stark failed to ask whether the meaning of enash supported by Herzfeld also was suitable to the context, if not more so, and so once again proved that his scholarship is of no depth to speak of, much less his analytical skills!

Beyond all this, I wish to add that I was well aware of Collins’ commentary on this subject, and dismissed it as superficial compared to the greater depth studies offered by scholars like Casey and Hare, and so did not use it. I also likely recognized (it has been many years) the inherent fallacy in making enash and adam simple synonyms. I’ve read the literature – far more so than Stark has, though I imagine he will examine more once he obtains a new box of Crayolas.

Following this, Stark offers nothing new for a time as he merely pads his posting with repetition of his prior points. He claims that I fail to show why his equivalence of the Danielic SoM with an angel is “grossly inadequate” and deftly avoids quoting the portions of my articles which show that this is the case (notably, the points from Bock) until much later, where we will see his dealings in the matter are patently dishonest and misinformed, as might be expected.

Stark further says:

He further fails to recognize that in the ancient cosmology, what happens on earth is mirrored in heaven, and so the significance of the champion angel’s promotion to the right-hand of God is meant to reflect the parallel earthly reality of the nation of Israel becoming a world-empire, Yahweh’s preeminent agent on earth (fulfilling the role of Adam to the rest of creation).

That’s nice. It’s also irrelevant. I am well aware of this sort of thing, actually – see the parallel issues discussed with reference to Earl Doherty’s Christ myth thesis, and the book of Hebrews -- and while it has bearing on how the text may have been viewed in the OT period, it has little if any bearing on usage in the NT period of the concept, and specifically, how Jesus made use of and adapted the Daniel 7 imagery. Stark is merely trying yet again to distract his fold of captured sheep. (That said, I also have serious doubts that the equation of the Son of Man with Israel is valid in the first place; this is also an artifact of modern anti-missionary arguments, and is singularly unimpressive, and is also conceptually identical with Casey’s identification of the SoM figure with the “saints of the Most High,” which I do refer to in my article quite prominently. Therefore, Stark dissembles yet again when he claims I “fail to recognize” this interpretation. I clearly “recognize” Casey’s variation – and refute it.)

*I'll add as well that this interpretation would be substantially at odds with the interpretation of the SoM figure as Michael; perhaps Stark needs to make up his mind which view he wants to hold this week.

In support of his ridiculous identification of the SoM figure with Michael, Stark then replies to my point that his “lack of familiarity with the scholarly literature on this subject is what has permitted him to make this identification” by pointing out that Collins made that identification. The point is what? Collins is still not the be all and end all of scholarship on this subject; thus my charge remains standing: Stark clearly limited himself to a tiny repository of sources, making no effort to check their findings against other sources with the same (or greater) qualifications than Collins. I will gladly stand against Collins with other scholars of equal or better worth on this point – and Stark can hardly deny this as worth doing, since he admits, “I disagree with Collins on some issues too.” In any event it remains that Stark failed to adequately evaluate the scholarly literature.

On the side, though Stark quotes thusly:

But this is just to make it crystal clear that if my position on Daniel 7 is only possible because I am “exceptionally incompetent and apparently unaware of it,” then the same must be true for John Collins.

-- the phrase in quotes is found nowhere in my article, so that Stark is yet again misleading his readers.

*In a blog comment. Stark now admits that this quote was taken from a personal email forwarded to him by a friend, though he does not admit his rank dishonesty in making it appear as though it came from my E-Block article, which he is certainly aware will not be available to the vast majority of his readers, save as he brokers it for them.

Stark next compels his dazed readers to endure a reiteration of his reasons for equating Michael with the SoM figure, and then sums up my own replies, taking as much time as possible to put his readers to sleep before he gets to an actual answer. I’ll instead reproduce my own version here, since Stark’s writing is rather dull to begin with:

Stark further identifies the SoM figure with Michael (!) who is referred to in Dan. 10 and 12. But to achieve this identification, Stark has merely compressed the identities of the SoM figure and Michael based on the loose association of both being defenders of Israel. The obvious logical flaw here is that the argument assumes that being a defender of Israel is the exclusive province of a single person. However, nowhere in Daniel is Michael, when named, granted the unique privileges that are given to the SoM figure (such as sitting at God’s right hand). Stark’s lack of familiarity with the scholarly literature on this subject is what has permitted him to make this identification.

A further loose association is argued in that while the SoM (Dan 7) is given eternal dominion, Michael’s work in Dan 12 ushers in “an era of everlasting peace.” The logical flaws are again apparent: It assumes that eternality is an exclusive property of the SoM figure, and also ascribes the property of “everlastingness” – associated not with Michael, but with the peace he “ushers in” – to Michael himself. This is not to say that Michael (as other angels) will not live eternally, in the same sense that humans also will. However, Stark has performed a semantic sleight of hand in which he plays a shell game with the proper descriptions of the SoM and Michael’s peace. I might add as well that being granted dominion is far from being the same as being a spearheading figure in a drive that will establish peace.

Stark offers two further rationalizations to forge this identification. The first is that “[n]o mention is made in chapter 12 of any other agent…” There is another sort of shell game here, for Stark is surely aware that the chapter divisions are artificialities imposed by later editors. There need not be “any other agent” mentioned in Ch. 12 – that agent has already been mentioned in what we now call Ch. 7, which is part of the same collection of oracles. Second, it is said, “Michael is specifically identified as the agent assigned to the protection of Israel (which is the duty of a king).” Where Stark gets this notion that protection is the exclusive duty of a king I cannot say. It is true that this is ultimately a king’s responsibility, but as David did not himself go out and fight every war by himself, so it is that every king has assigned agents who are charged with enacting that protection. In this case, Michael would obviously be the assigned agent of “King Yahweh”. To say that this duty makes Michael a king is like turning Joab into one as well. Note also that the word used for Michael (sar) is never used of a king, but is used of assigned agents such as the leaders of a military host or the keeper of a prison. That word, in turn, is never used of the SoM figure, who as one enthroned is clearly a cut above a sar.

Now for his replies. First, re what I sat being a defender of Israel:

This would be a logical flaw in my argument if it were in fact a part of my argument, but it is not. I never claimed that “being a defender of Israel is the exclusive province of a single person.” Holding has attributed that claim to me without warrant. What I claimed is that because Michael is shown to be the leading defender of Israel in chapters 10 and 12, it follows plausibly that he is the one being rewarded with enthronement in the heavens in Daniel7 (which takes place after the battle depicted in chapters 10 and 12).

This is merely semantic sleight of hand again. For Stark’s equation of the two figures to work, being a “defender of Israel” MUST be the exclusive province of one person. It is what his thesis requires, denials notwithstanding. All Stark has done here is meekly accede to my point by claiming that he wasn’t asserting the equation assuredly; rather, there was a little “maybe” attached and we didn’t see that. If Stark cannot logically follow his own argument, then we suggest he take a refresher course in critical thinking: His argument remains that ONLY Michael is a “leading defender” of Israel, and so therefore, he is the only one deserving of the Dan 7 enthronement. Attaching a “plausibly” doesn’t erase that connection he is trying to make, nor evade its logical implications.

The same sort of excuse is offered by Stark regarding the “everlasting dominion” argument. He continues:

And nowhere in Daniel is the SoM figure said to have done anything worthy of enthronement. Why is the SoM being enthroned? What did he do to deserve this highest honor? The only other figure in Daniel that behaves in such a way that would make such an honor fitting is Michael, who fought on Israel’s behalf and ushered in the new age of eternal life.

So in essence, because Stark does not have the imagination to conceive of why else the Dan 7 figure was enthroned, he must be Michael. By the same logic, the SoM might also be Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar, since they “deserved” to be enthroned as kings. However, Stark’s lack of imagination is not an argument for identifying this figure with Michael.

On one point of reply, Stark merely says, “This criticism backfires on Holding” and offers no explanation.

Next it is said:

Of course being “granted dominion” is not the same as “being a spearhead figure in a drive that will establish peace.” But who would be granted dominion? Someone who played no role in that drive to establish peace, or the one who spearheaded it?

We need go no further, because this is based on Stark’s limited ability (per above) to conceive of why the SoM figure was enthroned in the first place; and so, having no vision of any other possibility, just picks Michael out for the job. Again, Stark’s limited mindset isn’t an argument for anything but his lack of competence as a thinker.

Chapter divisions. Holding has apparently ignored my footnote which explains that these various visions, or “collection of oracles,” are composite in nature.

If that is the case, then Stark also ignored his own footnote in composing his argument, which is his own problem.

Yes, it is true that kings delegate responsibilities to military commanders. And that is precisely what we see happening in Daniel. Yahweh delegates this responsibility to Michael, and then when Michael is victorious, the Ancient of Days rewards Michael with a promotion and special honor in heaven.

That is not what Stark originally said. He said, “Michael is specifically identified as the agent assigned to the protection of Israel (which is the duty of a king).” Thus he meant to identify Michael with a king, and is now pedaling backwards to cover his error.

Contrary to Holding, it is patently untrue that the word shar is never used for a king. There are multiple examples of this. But I’ll only need to cite one: Isaiah 9:6.

Actually, Stark does not even have that. He says:

This passage refers to Hezekiah as the “Prince of Peace” (Shar Shalom).

But this is a confusion of two different offices held by Hezekiah, as it were: He was king of Judea; but prince of peace (which is obviously not a place; it is a metaphor). These are not the same offices, so Stark is in error to claim that sar is being used of a king: It is not being used of a king AS king of his domain, but as a “prince” of something else. That Stark fails to see this simple point speaks poorly of his reasoning and comprehension abilities (and perhaps that of Collins as well, which may well be why I did not think his commentary a useful source).

Further than this, Stark deems my point “entirely irrelevant” because he supposes that events of Daniel 12 are actually to be placed chronologically before events in Daniel 7. However, this is merely a begged question that is an artifact of his own theory.

Regarding 1 Enoch, it is hard to see the point of much of Stark’s rambling reply, which bears no relationship to anything I said. Stark’s thesis that“the equality the SoM enjoys with God is functional and limited” is not something I actually dispute with reference to 1 Enoch, so why Stark wants to make an issue of this is hard to say, though it seems to have more to do with a wish to impress his readers than with answering any argument I made.

Stark does finally close in on something I actually say, here, but still manages to fly right past any actual content with supersonic speed:

Holding mocks me for finding it (in my words) “difficult to determine whether [the Son of Man in 1 Enoch] refers to a human or to an angel.” It is difficult to determine because the language is ambiguous. Collins thinks the SoM in 1 Enoch is an angel (though not Michael), while others believe it is an exalted human being. It is certainly not a deity, because his title is “son of man,” his privileges are granted to him by the Lord of Spirits (i.e., Yahweh), and his unique privileges are temporary.

That’s nice and all, but again, I never said that the 1 Enoch SoM figure was deity anywhere. In my first article all I said of this figure was:

From the Jewish apocryphal Book of 1 Enoch, in a section referred to as the Similitudes (Chapters 37-71), we find a description of the Son of Man as one who was given that name before time itself; one who would become a light to the Gentiles, will be worshipped throughout the earth; and will "dethrone kings and crush the teeth of sinners." [Chars.JesJud, 40, 48]

In 1 Enoch 48 specifically, the terms "Son of Man," "Messiah," and "Elect One" are used interchangeably, indicating that in the mind of that author, they meant the same thing [With.JQ, 214]. The Similitudes may be later than Jesus; but they would serve to demonstrate the existence of a personal concept of the "Son of Man" at the time of Jesus or shortly thereafter, albeit not in a titular form.

However, the matter is complicated by the fact that this part of 1 Enoch is only available in a late, Ethiopic translation. This material cannot be used decisively for any argument.

Did I say anything about “deity” here? It seems that Stark is finding my actual arguments so hard to refute that he has to make up some easy ones for me. In the newer piece on Stark I say:

Stark is clearly not well informed concerning the meaning of such things as sharing a throne; even without the honor-shame template of the Biblical world, this would clearly suggest an equation and not merely an “exaltation”.

However, I do not say that equation is “deity” and Stark himself admits that what is given is a “limited and temporary equality” so there is no telling what he is on about here, unless he is arguing with his own alter ego in a mirror.

I would also comment that I know the concept of “agency” far better than Stark ever will: As far as can be seen he has no knowledge of the relevance of such concepts of patronage to the Biblical text, and I have used the very point he stresses, of “agency,” in more than one article over the years; see for example item #357.

Stark further denies that 1 Enoch’s non-equation of Michael with the SoM in Dan 7 should inform his own conclusions, but he defends himself by begging the question of the rightness of his own theory, saying that 1 Enoch offers one interpretation of Dan 7 and Dan 10-12 offers another. But the latter is again an artificial contrivance of his own thesis, and so cannot be used to circularly support his own thesis.

Regarding the Gospels, Stark first returns to his dismissal of Herzfeld out of hand, and claims he is informed by other scholars, which I reiterate that he is not. He denies that a connection to Jesus’ trial is a problem for him, but it is; playing the bad reader, Stark claims to not understand what “mere agency” is, though again, his limited mental horizon is not our responsibility to broaden. He might try using a dictionary, but that probably will not help him “sort out” my points, which so far only he has had a problem understanding.

The key portion, at any rate, is this one:

A considerable factor in Jesus' words is his comment that the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of God. This is far more significant than our phrase, "right-hand man" would suggest. In a study of the matter in Blashpemy and Exaltation in Judaism [203ff], Darrell Bock discusses parallels in Jewish texts and offers these conclusions:

  • In the literature of Judiasm of the period, "a proximate seating next to God" i.e., in His presence) "might be considered for a privileged few, either a few universally acknowledged greats" (Moses, Adam, etc.) "of the past or the future eschatological figure of judgment" (the Son of Man of Daniel 7).

But such honor "would never be comtemplated by the leadership for a humble, rural Galilean, preacher like Jesus." Being seated in God's presence (like being seated during the National Anthem) by itself was audacious, though not necessarily a claim to divinity, until we add:

  • The right hand reference, which means in this culture that Jesus is claiming to be seated by God "in a way that shares the highest honor with him." In other texts, the "right hand of God" is the place where the splendor and majesty of God comes from (Testament of Job), and the righteous are honored by being allowed to stand (not sit) at the right hand of God.

In short, Jesus thereby claims the prerogatives of God with the combination honor of being seated at the right hand of God, and therefore asserts his divine identity.

Stark offers to “break this down” but what we are given is just another of Stark’s mental “breakdowns”.

Bock’s first claim: being seated next to God is reserved for a privileged few (Moses, Adam, etc.), including the eschatological agent of judgment, but does not imply divinity. So, according to Bock, one could be seated next to God and not be God (obviously, since Moses and Adam are humans). However, Bock claims that attributing this privilege to Jesus would be too audacious because Jesus was just a “humble, rural, Galilean preacher.” Of course, Bock forgets to mention that both Moses and David were humble shepherds.

Of course, Stark forgets to mention that Moses was later broker of the first covenant and leader of Israel, and David was later Israel’s king and a man after God’s own heart, so their “origins” were superseded to warrant the privilege, leaving Stark in need to explain what Jesus did that was of the same mold. It sounds like he needs to take Sunday School in kindergarten all over again.

Bock’s second claim: when we add the fact that Jesus is described as having been seated at the “right hand” of God, then it becomes a claim about the divinity of Jesus. This is ridiculous. Being seated at the right hand of the king’s throne doesn’t make you the king; it makes you the person with the highest honor in the kingdom apart from the king himself.

No, it means you have equal honor. Stark is equivocating here when he says:

For instance, when in Psalm 45:9 the king’s bride is said to be at the “right hand” of the king, this does not mean that the queen is really also the king.

That’s not the argument, however; Stark is confusing a notion of primitive Christlogical expression (“Jesus is God”) which is misread as a personal one to one identification, with ontological equivalence. And since YHWH says he will not share his glory with another (Is. 48:11), that is all that can be taken from the “right hand” reference. Likewise James and John are asking for equal glory and honor with Jesus, not to also be kings in a specific office.

It is clear in all of this that Stark’s understanding of agonistic societies is severely limited. He professes not to see how Bock justifies his reading from the Testament of Job, because it is Job talking and Job is talking about his throne, and how its “splendor and majesty come from the right hand of the Father.” For this reason, its splendor is “in the world of the changeless one” and so unlike the splendor of the world, will not fade away.

In social terms, Job is referring to the acquired honor that the throne received from the Father, and the Father’s right hand is that source. The Father’s right hand is a place that shares God’s honor; any person in that position acquires the same honor.

*It is significant as well that Job's throne, not Job himself, is the one said to share the honor; see next point.

So again: Stark is missing Bock’s argument out of ignorance, and misrepresents Bock as saying merely that “being at the right hand of God makes one equal to God” when there is a missing step: Being at God’s right hand means one shares God’s glory and honor, but since God does not share his glory and honor with another person, the only person suitable for such a position must have some sort of ontological equality with God.

Finally we turn to where Stark tried to find some other referent for Caiaphas’ blasphemy charge. I said:

He supposes that there are “a number of things could be considered blasphemous by the high priest,” but comes up with only two. One is that, “Jesus has threatened [the Temple's] destruction and has now threatened the dynasty of the current high priesthood.” But this won’t qualify in the least, since the same sort of threats were made by Old Testament prophets. Jesus could have been charged with being a false prophet, but not “blasphemy.”

Stark’s second alternative is that “Jesus is falsely attributing to himself the prerogatives that only God’s authentic messianic agent has,” and because he has been shown to be a failure, he is not that agent. But this is yet again not “blasphemy” -- it is being a false prophet, or agent. Claiming to be a false prophet or agent does not insult the majesty of God, as blasphemy requires. Stark is vastly extending the definition of “blasphemy” to accomplish his purpose, and so is left without basis for his argument that there “is nothing like a claim to divinity here.”

Stark further asks: “If the charge against [Jesus] was a blasphemous claim to divinity, why would they tell him to prophesy? Clearly this indicates that his blasphemy was falsely claiming to speak for God: in other words, they executed him as a false prophet.” Not at all; Stark is again failing basic category logic: While not all false prophets might blaspheme by claiming divinity, one who claims divinity ought to be able to competently prophesy. The challenge is entirely apt to a divine Jesus.

Stark insists that “the same sort of claims were not made by the prophets” because “none claimed to be the eschatological agent responsible for the temple’s destruction.” Even so there is still nothing “blasphemous” in such a claim for the majesty of God remains uninsulted by such a claim. Nor is such insult made in doing something without God’s “permission”. Moreover, what Stark is referring to here is the false charge made by accusers, not anything Jesus himself said which caused Caiaphas to react.

Regarding prophesying, Stark makes a tortuous statement that cries out for an expert in interpreting gibberish:

If one is claiming to be God, then one doesn’t need a prophet. When God speaks for himself, he isn’t his own prophet. If they understood Jesus to be claiming to be God, then the charge of false prophethood would not apply. It is patently obvious that they understood Jesus to be claiming the divine prerogatives as eschatological agent; that is why they taunted him to prophesy.

This is a patent evasion. The issue is whether a divine Jesus would be capable of prophesying and whether this was an appropriate challenge to be issued to him as one who claimed divinity. There was no charge of “false prophethood” – there was a challenge to do something that Jesus ought to be able to do, if indeed he were a divine being (or a prophet). The point again is that the “prophesy challenge” does not negate the notion that Jesus was claiming divinity, which was Stark’s argument.

So it is that Stark is again shown to be an incompetent well out of his ability to answer us. His feet are not the only thing in the fire – if anything, his whole body has now been turned to a crisp!

*Stark has commented now that he will "let Holding have the last word" and that he plans to "get on with life in the real world." I can only hope he has enough "E" tickets left to do that. However, we might keep in mind that he made this same pledge some weeks ago, and broke it rather quickly; so much so that I have designated him on TheologyWeb "The Man Who Wouldn't Leave 2" (the first being John Loftus).

On the other hand, one can see why he might not want to respond, given his many blatant errors, especially on nitpicks like "Ernst/Ernest," and that he would be forced to deliver an assessment of Loftus' latest behavior and admit that he was wrong to appeal to him for endorsement.

By way of secondary conclusion, one must be suspicious of one like Stark who, having rather dismal credentials -- not even having yet completed his masters' degree -- seems to have such a slick marketing machine behind his efforts. I think we may rightly suspect that Stark is being "managed" by some sort of patron (perhaps Frank Schaffer). If that is so, they had best get a refund while they can.


  1. Mr. Holding: Clearly you are very knowledgeable. I would like to know more about these matters, but I am not sure where to turn. Perhaps you can help me. You've pointed out Stark's lack of credentials and I agree this is an important issue. I would not want to study under just any self-styled, self-published internet phenomenon.

    What is your own master's degree in? Do you teach at a college or university somewhere that I might enroll and study under you? Perhaps you've taught courses, which would have been subject to academic review? Perhaps you can point me to works of yours in peer-reviewed journals that might be of assistance in my quest for knowledge? Conferences at which you've presented? Anthologies to which you've contributed?

    Sadly, I am not able to be at AAR this weekend; perhaps if I had gone I might have found you there?

    Thank you for attending to my curiosity.


    You should probably work on your skills at irony, though. They're not very good, and are also a poor substitute for actually answering arguments as well.

  3. Perhaps you could give me pointers on irony, then?

    I'm afraid, looking over your CV, I wouldn't trust you with anything else.

    Thank you for (somewhat) answering my question and insulting me in the process. Always a pleasure.

  4. I'm afraid you'll need to advance past a few other elements of literature before you're ready. I'd suggest starting with picture books.

    I wouldn't trust you with much either: I note you're listed as a professor of humanities. In college, I found such professors to be best served with a delicate port wine sauce. Have you done anything to improve on the flavor?

    Should you ever wish to deliver anything more substantive than bombast, do see us at -- we do find such visitors as you amusing.

  5. Bombast? I was simply trafficking in what I took to be the primary mode of discourse on the site. Perhaps I should also insult your intelligence and make references to crayons and picture books?

    Given your dismal view of humanities professors, getting a B.A. in English must have been torture. It is a testimony to your intelligence and perseverance that you made it out without being hopelessly corrupted.

    Stark is not the first person whose credentials you've questioned. I'm sure he won't be the last. And unless you're challenging someone's qualifications to speak on issues of library science (or, perhaps, English literature at the Baccalaureate level), I will continue to find it ironic.

  6. So apparently, since the bombast has continued, you won't be putting your currency where your oral orifice is on the forum. Not surprising. I found that most profs (especially humanities profs) melt at the first sign of challenge. Obviously things haven't changed in that regard.

    English profs were much more in tune with reality and less likely to say something foolish, I did find. Perhaps you should change careers -- it might relieve you of certain present intellectual burdens.

    Fire away though with whatever you like...inevitably I will do far better at it than you will. However, you will have to do so on TheologyWeb rather than here as I will hereafter refuse to publish any more of your insubstantial blatherings, seeing as how you have yet to present any actual argument on any point in the post. Three strikes....back to the dugout. (That's a cultural reference to sports, in case you don't get out much.)

    Ta ta.

  7. The irate one did send a parting comment, which as promised, I will not publish. However, I will address the general point that was so badly made by him in irony, which is that he can't understand what right I have to critique credentials when (he thinks) mine are not so hot either.

    1) I'm an information broker. That gives me more than sufficient qualifications to address the validity and usefulness of data to address and/or prove a given point, and to know whether or not a question has been answered, once I achieve a certain level of familiarity with an data set. Thus it will be up to critics like the irate one to prove that I lack said level of familiarity in a given subject matter.

    Since it seems the irate one is himself not qualified to make such an assessment on the topic of this post, he's got no place to speak in terms of whether I have met my burden of familiarity.

    2) I made an issue not only of Stark's notable lack of credentials, but also his relative lack of experience. I have proved my value and expertise over the past decade or more. I have also chosen to use my abilities to broker information for everyday people, rather than academics. So anyone who wants to object that I have no record of publishing in academic journals ought to check themselves for arrogance -- and actually address my arguments, as I said.

    When I note someone's lack of credentials, it is not simply to dismiss their arguments. Rather, it is to indicate to the reader that this person has a significant burden to fulfill in order to argue their case, and should not merely have their word taken at face value. I have fulfilled my burden by experience and proof of worth. Stark has not. He is a nobody who is likely being propped up by a patron.

    By way of reiteration -- if you think I am wrong, try something other than trolling, as the irate one did. Stark himself says he disagrees with Collins on some points, and this in spite of the fact that he listed his (Collins') qualifications as a way of (rather hypocritically) implying that my own disagreements were of little worth; and Stark himself has felt free to criticize persons like Bock and Copan whose academic qualifications make him look like a relative kindergarten graduate. If he can't keep from being a hypocrite, he needs to take a time out to examine himself for consistency.

    In close, I'll just note that my SoM material will be updated in an upcoming Building Blocks publication.