Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review: D.M Murdock - Who Was Jesus Fingerprints of the Christ

I intend for this to be my final post on D.M. Murdock's books for at least a year to come. I like to end stuff on a positive note, so I decided to review Who Was Jesus - Fingerprints of the Christ, which departs from the other works of hers that I have looked into by virtue of being quite acceptable. 

I will still respond to criticism of my posts, if posted in the comment field of the blog - which Murdock's advocates have done very little of. I seriously welcome criticism, as that is how scholarly endeavours progress. 

1. Introduction

Who Was Jesus - Fingerprints of the Christ, published in 2007 by Stellar House Publishing, is more recent than either of The Christ Conspiracy and Suns of God. It is a great improvement on her previous books. A notable improvement is the scarcity of questionable sources. The amount of wildly speculative claims is reduced significantly and the linguistics is generally not bad (but there is not a lot of it), and the interpretation of biblical or patristic material seems more solid and less tendentious. Ultimately, the book offers little new compared to other works of counter-apologetics, and is more of a rehash of standard debunking of Christian claims than it is a thesis about the origins of Christianity. As such, it contains little new for the serious student of these topics.

Some problems did leap out at me, though. I figure I would be remiss not to point these out. Luckily, the problems are significantly fewer than in either of the previous books mentioned.

2. The Book

The book starts off with an overview of the narrative in the gospel of Matthew. On this follows a short chapter about Mark: she mainly points out differences between it and Matthew, and argues for Matthean priority. She argues somewhat unclearly here and I suspect this is so as not to be caught committing to the thesis that Matthew has priority. I have previously seen her advocates revert even fairly firm stances on the basis of technicalities of phrasing. A similar overview is offered for Luke, and finally a longer description of John.

The argument regarding Matthean priority is as follows:
In reality, there are a number of instances in Mark which indicate that in order to follow the tale the reader would need to have been familiar with details of the gospel story that are not presented in that text. For example, neither Mark nor John mention the virgin birth-- if Mark's gospel was the first, which means he may have thought it would stand alone, how could he leave out such a significant event? Another such instance. [...]
Indeed, it has even been suggested that Mark was written in response to criticisms of Matthew's gospel. One example used to craft the case that Mark was composed in order to answer commentary about Matthew occurs in the story of Jesus calling James and John from their boat, after which the two run off and leave their father alone. Perhaps this behavior caused Jesus to look like someone who led children away from their parents, directly contravening Jewish customs [...] [1, pp. 24-25]
The logical option that she omits mentioning is that it also is possible that some of these ideas - the virgin birth and other things - had not entered Christianity by the time or in the region where Mark was written, and thus were not included simply because they were not part of that author's belief system. On the other hand, you also have the possibility that in part, the gospel was not supposed to be read in isolation from a spoken tradition - c.f. how early rabbinic works can be well-nigh impossible to read without having access to an external tradition regarding their content. We too easily forget that writing is not the only way ideas get passed around.

Several times, Murdock seems to think that raising an objection and offering one possible solution is sufficient to show that the suggested alternative is the correct one - even when other possible solutions exist, and even when those are more parsimonious. This fallacy is known as false dichotomy.

However, the chapters on the gospels do serve their purpose well - they summarize the gospel contents, which probably are not entirely familiar to all readers, and point out certain problems with the manuscripts, such as certain known interpolations. Contradictions between the gospels also are pointed out.

A chapter on textual harmonization follows. The chapter is a bit unfocused, as it appears to deal both with attempts to evaluate the original among variant texts of individual gospels as well as reconcile contradictions between separate gospels. The main point of importance throughout the chapter is the sheer amount of variation in the available manuscripts, and the consequential lack of certainty regarding the contents of the originals. Considering the book is written mainly for Christians of various relatively conservative stripes, the inclusion of such a chapter is more than justified, as this probably will be entirely unknown to most readers. Again, though, in a sense it is more of the same as the previous chapters - inconsistencies, manuscript problems, etc. She justifiedly bashes - with some gusto - contortioned apologist explanations. Thoroughness is a virtue in this kind of literature, of course, but pretty much the same compendium of biblical problems can be found in earlier literature.

She spends quite an amount of ink on those who hold the KJV in special regard  - mentioning quite a number of the wildly crazy notions the KJV-only adherents blurt out. Mainly, her argument is aimed at genuine bible-believers of various kinds, and their arguments that indeed deserve debunking but also reveal the significant ignorance of these people.

There is a chapter on the dating of the gospels, with some good refutations of certain apologist claims. The dating seems to fall within the bounds of reason, although religiously conservative scholars probably would object to it. One piece of evidence that she does present is a quote mine, however:
Another similar anachronism in the gospels appears in the description of the "disciples of the Pharisees," as at Mark 2:18 and Luke 5:33. Since the Pharisees were technically not "priests" per se but pious, unlearned laymen, it would be unusual for them to have "disciples" in the clerical sense. 
This phrase may not have come into use until after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD/CE, which would mean that the writers were distanced from the events by a considerable amount of time.[1, p. 81]
The source given for this is Meier's  A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol 2. This is what Meier states:
As just noted, within the question voiced in v 18c, "the disciples of the Pharisees" is a curious phrase. It occurs in this precise form nowhere else in the NT. Since historically the Pharisees were for the most part a pious group of stringently observant Jewish laymen, most of whom were not learned teachers, one would not expect them as a group to have "disciples." The type of phrase one would expect is the one found in Mark 2:16: "the scribes of the Pharisees," i.e., those men within the Pharisaic movement who had formally studied the Torah, became teachers, and could thus act as guides for the other members of the movement. In v 18c, "the disciples of the Pharisees" must be taken in a somewhat looser sense to mean people who were attracted to and adopted the teachings and practices of the Pharisaic movement. This may be the meaning of the phrase when it occurs in Matt 22:15-16: "The Pharisees ... sent their disciples to him [i.e., Jesus]."
Such usage is not necessarily anachronistic or indicative of a poor knowledge of Judaism. Writing in the Jewish Antiquities (13.10.5 $288-89), Josephus refers to the Hasmonean ethnarch and high priest John Hyrcanus I (reigned 134-104 B.C.) as a disciple (mathẽtẽs) of the Pharisees before he switched his allegiance to the Sadducees. This probably does not mean that Hyrcanus, a worldly ruler involved in wars and international politics, carefully observed every detail of the Pharisaic way of life. Rather, the context suggests that he courted the support of the Pharisees, sought their advice and flattered them with protestations of how much he was influenced by them.
Another point should be kept in mind as well: both Matthew and Josephus use the designation "disciple(s) of the Pharisees" toward the end of the 1st century A.D., when the Pharisees (or the early rabbis in their wake) had gained the ascendancy as the leading group in post-A.D. 70 Judaism. Thus, while the phrase may not be dismissed simply as an anachronism, its use by Mark, Matthew and Josephus may have been fostered by developments after the First Jewish revolt.[2, p. 441-443, I have bolded some lines]
Murdock makes quite different implications than the source she is supporting her contention with.  Yes, I agree the gospels probably are written after 70CE. However, 'disciple' is not a word that proves this, nor is her representation of its significance in the context anything like what her source says.

As for the Gospel of Mark, Murdock makes the following statement:
... "Moreover, even though it also appears to have been built upon Matthew in order to answer questions raised by that gospel, the beginning of Mark seems to have been written to follow directly the last Old Testament book of Malachi, since, instead of the birth narrative, Mark begins his gospel with an account of John the Baptist, the "voice crying in the wilderness" and "the messenger" as prophesied "in the prophets," e.g., Malachi. [1, p. 25]
She seems to think the Old Testament was published in volumes with the same order of books as in modern Bibles already in the BCE years. This was not the case. A similar misconception is repeatedly cultivated in The Christ Conspiracy.

Melito's list - one of the earliest canons, has Daniel, Hezekiel and Esra after Malachi; the Canon of Trent includes Maccabees 1 and 2 after Malachi. The Augustinian canon has Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Esdras, 2 books of Maccabees following on Malachi.

Further, Jewish usage at the time was to have them in scrolls, rather than as single-volume books of modern type. Murdock seems to have been misled by the table of content in modern bibles into thinking that the idea people had of the biblical content was a linear narrative spanning from Genesis to Malachi, and that therefore, a "sequel" of sorts would try and maintain a thematic connection with the final chapter of the previous installment of the series. Clearly it would maintain a thematic connection with the entire thing, but trying to claim a "gotcha" regarding Mark-Malachi connections seems rather unwarranted - a "gotcha" that she has claimed in several books now.

She further makes the same mistake regarding Zacharia, regarding the cleansing of the temple:
On the contrary, when Old Testament scripture is studied, it becomes evident that this part about the temple being cleared of moneychangers is a reflection of the earlier scripture at Zecharia 14:21: "...And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day."  This book, Zecharia, is the penultimate before the New Testament, followed only by Malachi. It is evident that this pericope was included in the gospel story in order to make it seem that Jesus had "fulfilled prophecy," ...[1, pp. 164-165]
Following that, there is an overview of the other sources about Jesus from antiquity. Indeed, she provides reasons to reject most of these as worthwhile sources - and these reasons are all valid. Similar arguments have been voiced earlier, but a book such as this does require such an overview. A comparison of the Jesus narrative and the Elijah and Elisha narratives in 1 and 2 Kings is presented next. As far as I can tell, this list of parallels is due to Thomas Brodie, but I have been unable to obtain a copy of his book, and will edit this post once I have done so. Of these similarities, I only really would question one - viz. "Saves the lost sheep of Israel from foreign influences; is Israel's savior" [1, p 118]. Elisha indeed supposedly did that and the narrative bears out such a description (modulo "lost sheep"), but the Jesus narrative fails to have him save the Israelites from foreign influences - in fact, he seems rather to make them fall deeper into condemnation by foreign as well as their own influences.

As for whose saviour he is supposed to be - although the NT does assign that particular title to him - it seems the NT is more into foreign influences not being that terrible after all and him being a savior of the gentiles just as much or even more than of the Jews. The further use of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas to find similarities is a bit superfluous as sufficient evidence of early beliefs about an angry Jesus can be found in Mark. A similar list of parallels between Joseph (son of Jacob) and Jesus is also provided in the same chapter. The point is made that Jesus is an amalgamation of these characters, merged into one character by early Christians who had not witnessed any of the events described for the reason that none of these events took place.

After this, a sample of supposed prophecies Jesus fulfilled and discussion thereof ensues. However, even statements Jesus supposedly made that may have been based on OT texts are quoted as supposed prophecy fulfillment [1, pp. 126, 127, 128]. Some of the particular pericopes she mentions are similar to certain wildly common sayings of the talmudic rabbis as well, and this could suggest that they were just regular, common memes in the prevailing Jewish culture of the time, things preachers of different stripes did say.

On this, a series of questions regarding the gospels follow - the questions form an eclectic grouping, some being merely textual in nature, some regard the logic of the text, some regard the motivations leading up to certain textual changes. One inconsistency that she claims only is an inconsistency if extrabiblical assumptions are granted - viz. the trinity - [1, p.149]. Another supposed inconsistency is Jesus' apparent belief that Moses wrote the Torah - which Murdock interprets as evidence that the Jesus narrative was written by religious Jews wanting to manufacture a messiah [1, p. 161]. Jesus undeniably assumes Moses to be the author of the Pentateuch, e.g.
Mark 1:44: And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Matthew 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Indeed, as Murdock quite correctly asserts, scholars have provided quite strong arguments that the Pentateuch cannot have been written by Moses. Hence, Jesus is quite clearly wrong on that count, and thus cannot be omniscient, and thus cannot be God (which, of course, I fully agree with). However, even then Murdock manages to botch the argument:
Yet, at Luke 5:46 Jesus is depicted as asserting as fact this untenable and evidently erroneous idea of Mosaic authorship - if Christ was truly the omniscient Lord, would he not know that Moses could not possibly have written the Pentateuch? Prior to the creation of Christianity only pious Jews would believe in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Could this entire story largely represent the product of pious Jews attempting to create a messiah?
First of all, and this is probably just a typo on her part, the verse she is referring to is John 5:46, as no Luke 5:46 exists, and the verse in John correlates fairly well with what she claims. However,  why would Pious Jews attempt to create a messiah that is so antithetical to their religion? John is, after all, the most explicitly antijudaic of the gospels. However, the main question should be: how can Jesus agreeing with the beliefs prevalent in his culture be a mark of his having been made up? This entirely evades logic.

Further, Murdock's knowledge of the linguistics of antiquity is weak:
Moreover, if Jesus is the omniscient Lord, who knows all languages perfectly, why would he speak Aramaic and not Greek- did Christ only come for the relatively small and isolated population of Aramaic-speaking Jews? [1, p. 180]

Greek indeed was the lingua franca of the eastern mediterranean, but Aramaic was far from spoken by a 'small and isolated population' nor was it spoken exclusively by Jewish people. True, its modern descendants have fewer than half a million native speakers, almost all of whom are bilingual in some major language - mostly Arabic - but Murdock still misrepresents the importance of Aramaic in the relevant time. The same mistaken claim is made in The Christ Conspiracy as well. Aramaic was widely spoken in one of the most densely populated regions of the world at that time.

This chapter changes focus to manuscripts at one point - and herein a significant portion of the criticism against the KJV-only movement resides as well. That criticism is mainly well presented, although it feels a bit out of place. Many of the arguments that represent the KJV-only movement seem to suggest that it would even be superfluous to strawman them: they are good enough at genuinely being worthless. However, this mixes several issues - the issue of the terribly bad manuscripts the KJV relied on, the general problem of manuscript reliability and evaluation, and finally, the genuine stupidity of the KJV-only mindset.

As for textual criticism, she seems simply to use a comparison of the RSV and KJV as a basis on which to say whether some verses are spurious. It would probably be better to use actual research on biblical manuscripts carried out by scholars! That way some kind of actual knowledge would be possible and not just pointless pontification on English translations.

The chapter entitled "Apology Accepted" is somewhat good, but a more nuanced view on metaphor contra literal is called for [1, p. 210] | The chapter History or Propaganda provides some occasional insight into potentially politically based changes in the text. However, some such arguments are very weak, and downright dumb:
Another glaring example [of politically-motivated interpolation] stands out at Mark 3:32, where the crowd is telling Jesus that his mother and brothers are outside. Some ancient authorities include "and your sisters" after "brothers." Which is it? It is a shock enough to discover that Jesus had brothers- as we have seen, a whole debate in itself - but sisters as well? Why would the Holy Spirit have some authorities reveal that Christ had sisters, while causing other authorities not to mention them? It would seem that the omission of the "sisters of the Lord" may exist specifically to emphasize a bias against women, a prejudice present in other parts of the bible as well and quite common throughout much of history [1, p 224]
So, by not having Jesus explicitly reject his sisters - which happens just a moment after the crowd informs him of his relatives' arrival - they were being biased against women? Best would be to provide an overview of the manuscript evidence - in which manuscripts do we find these sisters mentioned? How old are they compared to manuscripts that do not mention them? How numerous? Murdock's approach to evidence is still sub-par.

A weakness of her presentation of her argument is that she nearly never analyses the function of any pericopes - she does not attempt to parse their meaning, she latches on to isolated words, and thinks those are sufficient to establish parallels.

4. Conclusion

In closing, Who Was Jesus is a great improvement on The Christ Conspiracy and Suns of God. Indeed, had I not read them first, I would be under the impression that Murdock was a completely regular scholar - and this book ensures me she has it in her to be one. I would probably not even have spotted the lesser mistakes in a cursory reading, but having read her previous works my eyes have been quite opened to how easy it is for an author to sneak bad reasoning into a seemingly reasonable text. I am convinced a similarly close investigation of very many highly respected scholarly works would turn up a comparable number of problematic arguments and claims.

This book does not contribute a lot - you would find similar conclusions from Thomas Brodie among others. However, if you have no such book in your bookcase and feel the need for one, you could do worse than Who Was Jesus. If you are capable of tempering your reading with some skepticism, it does offer some value.

[1] D.M. Murdock, Who Was Jesus - Fingerprints of the Christ, 2007, Stellar House Publishing
[2] John P. Meier -  A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol 2., 1994, Doubleday

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Conclusions: The Christ Conspiracy

I have after some deliberation decided that it is time to post a conclusion to the review of The Christ Conspiracy. There are a few chapters I will not review. Murdock has a second, improved edition of The Christ Conspiracy in the works. Once it is done, I may return to write a short review of it as contrasted with the first edition.

Conclusions: The Christ Conspiracy

The Christ Conspiracy describes and argues in favour of Murdock's version of the Christ Myth theory. Her argument can be divided into three parts. First, she demonstrates that early Christian writers were not very credible. This is accurate, but several of the examples she provides are pretty bad (see The Holy Forgery Mill, The Holy Forgery Mill and Biblical Sources, Addendum to The Holy Forgery MillFurther Evidence of Fraud). The conclusion that early Christian works are not to be taken at face value is one I agree with - but already accepted by the overwhelming majority of scholars. Murdock supports this conclusion by means of tendentious readings and other questionable practices.

A serious scholar should know the status of current research - current consensus, current methods and reasoning. Murdock shows no awareness whatsoever of modern research in relevant fields. Serious research in church history assumes the Church fathers, biblical texts and apocrypha not to be credible sources. Undeniably though, they are sources - but every quality scholar realizes what limitations that brings. Maybe Murdock misunderstands the role of sources: only once, through The Christ Conspiracy, does she not take a source's claim at face value. Mainstream scholars constantly grapple with their sources - academics critically evaluate data, something Murdock thoroughly avoids doing throughout The Christ Conspiracy.

Further, she seems to think statements can be taken at face value while ignoring their function in context - partially accepting, for instance, Eusebius' statements about the Therapeutans, just conveniently leaving out the bits of Eusebius' utterance that do not fit her idea - without ever indicating that she omitted anything. Ultimately, a serious scholar would conclude that Eusebius was distorting the picture to turn Philo into an admirer of Christianity.

The next type of of problem is the quality of the sources. Murdock could very well have used Godfrey Higgins, Karl Anderson, the brothers Churchward, etc, if she had been critical and used them responsibly - they are interesting evidence regarding the beliefs among non-mainstream thinkers of the 19th and early 20th century. They are not, however, very useful sources for knowledge regarding antiquity.

Further, many of her sources are far removed along a chain of references, each step introducing an increased risk of misunderstanding, misrepresentation or mistranslation, much as a written game of telephone. A good example thereof is the Higgins-Beausobre-Simon-Milo Crispin-chain, where each step along the chain has increased the certainty of the claim without presenting any evidence. Another good example is the Carpenter's misconstrual of von Martius' German statement. I am not saying these misunderstandings are intentional deceptions (although some may well be!), and especially not on Murdock's part (although some may be!),  I am saying that games of telephone distort meaning. Verifying the sources for important claims is therefore necessary. An idea that does not seem to occur to Murdock, ever.

Another problem with having such indirect references is that it makes a farce of the entire idea of references. Instead of assisting in evaluating the evidence, it forces critical readers to waste time looking up increasingly obscure intermediate works before finding anything. This increases the effort of verification unreasonably. References should assist scholars, not frustrate them. Murdock's use of references fails at this, as it generates an ever-growing maze of nested references. Oftentimes, these chains converge on a small handful of works - Higgins' and Jacolliot's in particular. Thus, the intermediate steps also inflate the apparent amount of original research that lends its support to a thesis. This is a deceptive use of references.

Regarding references, there's further quite a few mistaken references, where the book referred to does not provide the claim she says it made. To the extent these are a result of typos, it is an understandable problem, though.

A final comment regarding the sources is that many of them are genuinely worthless for the purpose to which Murdock uses them. Godfrey Higgins is an egregious example (see posts 1, 2, 3, with more coming), Barbara Walker is quite unreliable (a slowly growing index can be found here), and none out of Jacolliot, the Churchward brothers, astrologist Karl Andersson, Drummond, new age kook zine Atlantis Rising, the early influential theosophist kook Helena Blavatsky, the UFO kook David Hatcher Childress, Lloyd Graham, alternative history kook Graham Hancock, astrologist John Hazelrigg, the religious zine Hinduism Today, UFO kook John Keel, Gerald Massey, all-round kook and conman Maxwell Jordan, Nicholas Notovich of 'Jesus in India'-fame, UFO kook Zecharia Sitchin, Merlin Stone or Robert Taylor inspire any confidence. These are used as sources for a variety of quite incredible statements.

The reasoning, especially towards the end of the book, relies on shoddy evidence and shoddy logic.

A favourite type of argument is badly construed linguistics. Murdock calls herself a linguist, but when it comes to historical linguistics she knows next to nothing. She should learn about comparative historical linguistics in general, as that is where the most egregious examples appear. Finally, she needs to understand that random similarities do happen. In fact we'd expected lots of them for any two languages. 

What further renders Murdock's linguistic examples problematic is her silence on transliteration practices. Since we are never told what transcription manner is used, there may be multiple alternative possible words we have to check. Such an increase in effort is frustrating, and the end results from my survey conclusively prove that Murdock has not verified these claims at all. Examples include Old Irish budh and kris, which simply do not exist.

In addition, she sometimes does not even care to specify which language she is talking about, such as 'natives of British Columbia called the sun/sky-god “Sin,' or '"om" is Eastern'. Natives of British Columbia speak two dozen different languages. Finding native American dictionaries in order to verify her claim would have been an impossible feat. Fortunately, I I did find the source she had used for her claim, and in that source, the specific language was mentioned - however, the claim made in her source - which was not a linguistic source - was somewhat vague and Murdock had further used this claim in a rather tendentious manner. Such happens all too often throughout The Christ Conspiracy.

Finally, there is one considerable omission - Murdock never describes or discusses methodology. Nor does she present any particular objective. Most scholarly works of a similar size present a question or a claim, then a method used to answer that question or evaluate that claim. In a regular scholarly work, critical evaluation of the facts is important, but even if the facts pass a careful investigation, the conclusion can be mistaken if the methodology is flawed, thus permitting critical readers to evaluate whether the method is sound and whether it was adhered to.

Since Murdock never presents a method, she just goes on "reasoning" her way through an exponential field of possible explanations, picking without justification whichever explanation catches her fancy. This makes it difficult to evaluate her reasoning in any clear terms.

A Conclusion of the Conclusion:

Thus we may conclude that The Christ Conspiracy fails at its objectives and at living up to any academic standards. Even when demonstrating claims that the scholarly consensus already had agreed on for decades when Murdock wrote the book, the claims are expressed as innovative, trailblazing discoveries. And even then, she reaches those conclusions by tendentious readings and fabricated evidence. There is no awareness whatsoever about the scholarly consensus, nor of efforts or results that were current at the time the book was being written, nor any evaluation of the quality of her sources. Historical linguistics is used haphazardly. Reasoning that linguists would reject as amateurish is presented as though it were valid historical linguistics. Invalid, even fabricated evidence is given. Murdock shows little to no understanding of how historical linguistics works. Murdock neither explains nor presents any methodology, which makes a rational analysis of the approach she takes to her material difficult. 

The type of reasoning that The Christ Conspiracy is an example of is fallacious, flawed and deeply problematic. Alas, it seems it is fairly good at reinforcing flawed thinking in those readers who fail to see its flaws. 

Short summaries of chapters 1-19
Short summaries of chapters 20-24

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Christ Conspiracy: ... and their plots (Chapter 20, pt 5)

[Completing a triplet of of not entirely completed posts, this too will get its sources added later on]

When their efforts to raise up the messiah failed and no such promised inheritance was forthcoming, in order to save Judaism and achieve its goals of world domination, zealous “Jews,” i.e., “the Chosen,” worked to concoct a story to demonstrate that their new covenant had indeed been kept by “the Lord.”
Cleverly enough by constructing a story that also clearly implies that the Jews failed to keep their part of the bargain.  I like the scare quotes, as copious amounts of them are the mark of scholarly quality. The "Jews". Indeed.

We can look at other people of antiquity, and notice that similar ideas of ethnic superiority were not unique to the Jews, nor were the Jews the only ones to fabricate a glorious past with god(s) involved in it[2]. 

Just as a Moses was created to give divine authority to “his people” and to make them the elect of God, so Jesus was devised to prove that the Lord had indeed sent his long-awaited redeemer to his chosen as part of the new covenant. However, it could not be demonstrated that such a redeemer was a great warrior who physically usurped the enemies of Israel, because Israel had been destroyed; therefore, the messiah’s advent was made solely into a spiritual usurpation. [...] As Higgins says, “It has . . . always . . . been the object of Jesus to open the Jewish religion to the whole world.”cmxxiv For, as it says at John 4:22, “salvation is from the Jews.” Translated differently, that passage would read, “Jesus is from the Jews.”
It seems rather peculiar that it would be so badly designed an attempt to bring Judaism to the whole world, that in effect it brought almost nothing of the kind to the world. Yes - some weird take on Yahwist monotheism, coupled with a really weird tension of disdain for the Jews and respect for their God, pretty clear rejection of their religious customs with the belief that the Christians are the sole people to properly have understood the Jewish customs.

As for translations of John 4:22, Higgins' understanding of the idea of translation is so off it should not even require comment. Strictly translated, it can only mean "Salvation is from the Jews", unless we first back-translate it to Aramaic or Hebrew, and only then translate our conjectural reconstruction. Conjecture is not evidence, and the hypothesis we are dealing with already hinges on mindboggling heaps of assertions.
Of the creation of Christianity by the Therapeutan brotherhood, Taylor says:
The Therapeutae of Egypt, from whom are descended the vagrant hordes of Jews and Gypsies, had well found by what arts mankind were to be cajoled;
Taylor is clearly not a neutral source regarding Jews (and Gypsies), given his pretty negative utterances about them in general. He seems to have ascribed all manner of deception to both these groups. An important observation, by the way, is that neither Jews nor Gypsies descend from the Therapeutae of Egypt - and this we can state with almost complete and utter certainty. The quote from Taylor goes on to claim various things about the Therapeuts having knowledge of curative herbs and stories from all over the ancient world, and they mixed these stories and changed the location, all in order to deceive their adherents. As time went on, apparently, even the leaders among them were duped by this deception of their own devising. But of course, as Taylor insists, Jews and Gypsies are descendants of groups that had figured out how to deceive people. Does this not sound like antiromanyism and antisemitism? As for antiromanyism, given that Taylor was a 19th century pseudoscholar, it is understandable that he accepted the prejudices of his ill-informed times. In a world where antiromanyism still is widely socially tolerated, not using sources that accuse them of being cajolers by origin would maybe be a good idea.
The Therapeutae, we see, though not Jews, nor inhabitants of Palestine, were, says Eusebius, “it is likely descended from Hebrews, and therefore were wont to observe many of the customs of the ancients, after a more Jewish fashion.”cmxxx
Which goes to show that Murdock had read enough of Eusebius to see what he was actually saying (unless she skipped the bits between this passage and the previous one she used). This makes it even clearer that she engaged in quote-mining earlier in the chapter. In fact, Eusebius seems to have thought of them as Jewish Christians, and Philo clearly explicitly saw them as Jews. Murdock is ignoring the statements of the very sources she is referring to. In fact, Eusebius explicitly states this with regards to Jewish customs that the Christians of his time widely did not observe, and thus accounted for the difference by this explanation.
In creating their myth, the Hebrew/Israelite conspirators took one more Baal, Baal Jehoshua, the Savior, and carnalized him anew. Like his predecessor Joshua, Jesus was made to be an Israelite/Galilean/Samaritan, not a Judean, with his Bethlehem birthplace added later to “fulfill scripture.” The Samaritan influence on and origins of the gospel tale is evident, firstly because its early contributors, the Gnostics Apollonius and Marcion were considered “Samaritans,” as was Antioch. 
Jesus clearly is presented as a Judean as concerns his tribal affiliation, though, as he is quite clearly presented as the offspring of David and Solomon, both of the tribe of Judah. Here, we only have an assertion regarding the Samaritan influences being evident and a handful of examples that do not showcase any particularly Samaritan influences as such, except an awareness of the Judaeo-Samaritan conflict, and in the case of the gospel of John, a utilization of that in order to attract Samaritans and maybe to generally depict Judaism in negative terms.
Furthermore, although Jesus is also made to call Samaritans “dogs,” he himself is declared by the Jews a “demon-filled Samaritan,” to which he is made to respond that he does not have a demon, without denying he is a Samaritan. In reality, the gospels actually serve to elevate the Samaritans above the Jews. 
So not responding to an allegation is the same as agreeing with it?
For example, the most lasting memory of the Samaritans is the New Testament story of the “Good Samaritan,” in which the Jews are made to look bad. Also, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is made to go against the Jews by welcoming a Samaritan woman, who, although she claims to have no husband is told by Jesus that she has in fact five, and “he whom you now have is not your husband.” This “woman” with the “five husbands,” however, is not a person but the northern kingdom of Israel, and these “husbands” are “her” foreign occupiers, Assyria, Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome, who is nevertheless not Samaria’s “husband,” or “baal,” or “lord.”
Murdock nicely omits what the Samaritan woman responds to him: "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?" and Jesus does not deny the validity of her statement. Two can play the game of selective quoting. Clearly the line of reasoning Murdock is using here is invalid, since opposite conclusions can be reached by it.

It is true, though, that the Gospel of John clearly strives to present the Samaritans in better light than the Jews, this much is clear. It seems a more reasonable explanation is that the early Christian movement had managed to attract more Samaritans than Jews, and had decided to focus on Samaritans rather than on Jews in their attempts to gain converts, and therefore turned their attention to them. Meanwhile, anti-Judaic statements could serve to distance early Christianity from Judaism, a group that was disliked by many gentiles anyway.
In the Gospel of John, in fact, the Samaritans accept Jesus as the Messiah and “Savior of the world,” but the Jews plot to kill him. As noted, John is an anti-Jewish text, with aspersions being cast only against the Pharisees, “priests and Levites,” as well as “the Jews,” but with no mention by name of the Sadducees, who constituted in large part the Samaritan priesthood. In fact, in the NT the Sadducees are mentioned by name only about a dozen times, while the Pharisees are named 100 times and bear the brunt of the blame for Jesus’s death. In addition, the Pharisees disparaged the Samaritans for being “adherers to the Bible” and for interpreting it in a literal manner, just as Christians do to this day.
Other scholars have observed that John is probably the most recent of the four canonical gospels, and that it also is more anti-judaic than the three synoptic gospels. Murdock attributes the claims regarding the pharisees disparaging the Samaritans for being "adherers to the Bible" to one Rod Kinson's History of the Talmud, and I am sad to inform her that no scholar of the Talmud has gone by that name. Her source is one Michael L. Rodkinson, although I guess when reading sources second-hand one might get some names wrong. Rodkinson lived 1854-1904, and thus his knowledge of Jewish history of the circa-2nd temple era might be somewhat unreliable. Certainly even modern knowledge about it is unreliable, but it would seem he relied quite strongly on orthodox ideas about the history of the opponents of the Pharisees, which clearly are not worth taking at face value without input of modern scholarship. An adherent of Pharisaism conflating the Samaritans and the Sadducees is no surprise. A search in the Talmud for the word 'cuthean' does not provide any passages where the Pharisees expressed an opposition for the Samaritans on those grounds, so again I think mr. Rodkinson was airing his own idealized view of the history of Judaism in the introductory chapter to his History of the Talmud.

As for Sadducees constituting a large part of the Samaritan priesthood, sources would be interesting. I find no other sources that agree with this claim, then again, I have not searched particularly diligently. But as I have pointed out, it is not the reader who is obligated to find sources to back the author's claims up, it is the author who should well enough back his or her claims up. 
Thus, the gospel story serves to elevate not only “the Jews” as God’s chosen but also the northern kingdom over the southern kingdom, with the southern actually being castigated for its interpretation of the law. In this regard, the Samaritan Jesus’s character is patterned after a Pharisee so that he can debate “the Jews” and usurp their power. Orthodox, Pharisaic Jews, in fact, have rejected the fallacious tale for 2,000 years, acknowledging in their Talmud that it was the Zadokites/ Sadducees who created it and Judaized the books of the New Testament.
The Talmud says no such thing! The particular Talmudic quote that Murdock refers to says nothing but this about the Sadducees:
R. AKIBA SAID: ALSO HE WHO READS UNCANONICAL BOOKS etc. A Tanna taught: [This means], the books of the Sadducees. R. Joseph said: it is also forbidden to read the book of Ben Sira. [Sanhedrin, 100B]
To put this into context, Rabbi Akiba here adds 'also he who reads uncanonical books' to a list of people who have no share in the world to come. A controversial stance, obviously, but that was how the rabbis rolled. Some variants have minim - sectarians - rather than Sadducees. This may well originally have been a reference to Christians - the Talmud has often been censored by Christians in power, or by Jews not wanting to offend Christians in power, replacing explicit mentions of Christians by names of other groups (however, Christians have also forced the censorship of terms they have suspected might have been veiled references to Christians). The reference to 'a tanna' and Rabbi Akiva gives a timespan of the second half of the second century for this comment. The argument that since the Sadducees had ceased as a party in 73CE the rabbis would not have mentioned them any longer as argued by some scholars is somewhat relevant but not water-tight - clearly the memory of them would have remained, and it is possible some of their literature may still have existed or been in circulation for a while after 73CE (especially given that there may have been genuine vectors of transmission from the Sadducees to the Karaites several centuries later). 

However, we do know that the Talmud has been censored - both by Jews preemptively protecting themselves from Christian powers, and by Christian powers forcing them. We know 'Christian' sometimes was substituted with 'min(im)', but sometimes, minim was substituted with pagan, giving the rather wonderful phrase 'a pagan bean' in one spot, due to an excessively zealous Christian censor. (Min also means 'kind', so 'a kind of bean' was the original meaning.) In conclusion, the use of 'Sadducee' as a term there may only be a convenient way of masking the original term in use, not an act of identification. In that case, substituting Christian with Sadducee was a way of getting around censorship, not a way of telling students about the relation between Sadducees and Christians. The uncanonical books here may very well be Christian books; seeing this as the Talmud equating the authors of Christian literature with the Sadducees is far from justifiable. 'Acknowledging ... that it was the [...] Sadducees' is quite different from what this is - this is not a statement from which any hidden history of Christianity can be meaningfully derived.

The Talmud can be used as historical evidence for certain types of claims, but that requires some knowledge about the Talmud. Murdock seems to lack all requisite understanding for using the Talmud as a source.

[1] D.M. Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Christ Conspiracy: On the Jews ... (Chapter 20, pt 4)

[post in progress, will add references]

The other half of the chapter about Alexandria asks the question 'why was this mythical savior figure historicized as a Jewish man'. Therefore, part of the background information of the chapter directly relates to Judaism in antiquity. Misleading source usage is still very much with us throughout the chapter.
In the second century CE, after the destructions of both 70 and 135, increasing numbers of zealous Jews, Samaritans and other Israelites migrated to Alexandria and joined the mystery schools, jockeying for position not only with each other but also with the non-Judaizing Gnostics, becoming ever more influential on the Gnostic effort. At that time, the salvationist literature started to become Judaized and Hebraicized, with the infiltration of the Yahwists and Joshua cultists, including and especially the Zadokites or Sadducees. In fact, the Zadokite-Therapeut connection is apparently confirmed by the use of the specialized “pentecontad calendar” by both groups.

Geza Vermes, who is given as a source for the claim that Zadokite-Therapeuts and Sadducees both used a pentecontad calendar, confirms that the Dead Sea Scrolls community had a pentecontad calendar[2], but does not confirm anything about Sadducees or Therapeuts[2]. Indeed, Geza Vermes calls this a 'peculiarity' of that particular community[2]. Murdock is thus misleading us with regards to what her source says. More sources would be necessary.
The question is not whether or not Jesus and his religion were created but why: Why was the ubiquitous solar myth turned into a “Jewish” man? As reflected in the Bible, the Israelites, particularly the tribes of Judah and Levi, considered themselves the chosen people of God and the spiritual leaders of mankind (Deut. 7:6). They were a “priestly nation” who had determined that other nations should serve Israel or utterly perish (Is. 60:10-12). The Israelites claimed that they had the right to kill the males of the enemy nations “but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else . . . you shall take as booty for yourselves.” (Deut.
20:13-14) In fact, throughout the Old Testament the god of Israel repeatedly commanded “his people” to exterminate other cultures and to commit genocide. The Israelites also insisted that they had the right to lend money with interest to the “foreigners,” but were not to do so with their “brethren” (Deut. 23:19-20).

Of course, the foreigners - until Christianity and Islam were widely accepted - accepted lending with interest to anyone, including their own brethren [3][4]. Thus, Jewish lending practices were in fact not particularly more beneficial to the Jewish lender - the position Murdock here is trying to advocate in order to show that Jews were manipulative greedy bankers even in the early times of their interaction with other nations - but rather, the Jewish lending practices were beneficial for Jewish debtors to Jewish lenders (but since the criticism is pointed out in terms of lending and not in terms of borrowing, it's clearly about lending). This is part of a pattern with regard to how Murdock describes Judaism that I will write a post about at a later point.

Reading up a bit on laws regarding interest in antiquity, it seems the Jewish rules had some rather reasonable backgrounds - societies that did not have regular releases from debt tended to end up with most of their populations enslaved or highly indebted. This might be the background for the release of debts every seventh year - a rule that also is known to have been implemented elsewhere to prevent the situation described above[3][4]. It strikes me as weird that the Torah has two mechanisms for preventing that situation, but that might be attributed to the redactors not thinking that much about the effects of the law, but rather just compiling laws they for some reason liked into their system.

Murdock goes on to describe the Jewish expectation for the Messiah. She also describes the Jewish view of gentiles in a rather one-sided summary - taking the most negative expressions from the intertestamental literature and the DSS scrolls as representative of the Jewish doctrine on gentiles.

Given the description of the fervor with which the Jews expected the Messiah to arrive, she goes on to state:
This messianic frenzy increased throughout the Roman occupation and was high during and after the purported advent of Christ. It is impossible to believe that, in such a desperate and fanatical environment, if Christ had been real, had done the miracles ascribed to him and—most importantly—had satisfied all the scriptural requirements of the messiah, the Jews would not have jumped with joy at his supernatural advent but would actually reject and cause him to be killed. But the Jews did not accept him, as messiah after messiah rose up thereafter, as if Christ had never existed at all. . . . 
Indeed, but this is a strawman argument. Few atheist historians believe Jesus to have done any particularly miraculous deeds - they believe the mechanism behind how these claims developed to parallel the more general tendency in religious movements to ascribe miraculous deeds to their leaders. To most scholars in historical Jesus-research, the interesting question is not "did he do this or that miracle", it is "which of these pronouncements do go back to Jesus, which are later additions by the church, what can we learn about the early church as well as about the times just before the foundation of the church, by investigating these things".

Furthermore, orthodox Jews will of course tell you that even if the NT narratives were true, Jesus did not fulfill any messianic requirements, as nearly all those that he is claimed to have fulfilled are verses taken out of context. 
As Jacolliot remarks:
One fact has always astonished me. Through all the sacred books of primitive times of Egypt and the East, the old tradition of the Messiah had passed into the Hebrew
law. How is it . . . that the Jews refused to recognize this Redeemer whom they expected so impatiently—and whom, even today, they still expect?cmxviii
Again, the same fallacy as Murdock's - conveniently pretending euhemerism was never on the table. Jacolliot's argument here is a valid argument against the idea of a supernatural Jesus; it is not, however, a valid argument against the existence of a regular person who lead a religious movement and whose adherents later on deified him and ascribed miraculous powers to him.
The Jews were literally dying for a supernatural deliverer and—lo and behold— an astounding, divine incarnation came along, with all the scriptural requirements of the messiah and the requisite miracles to demonstrate that he had the full power of God behind him, yet the Jews (and all historians of the day) completely ignored
him—nay, they put him to death! In fact, the world that followed Christ’s alleged advent would have been impossible had he really existed at that time.
A simpler explanation, of course, appears when we compare and contrast Jesus to some of the other messianic claimants of the time - nearly all of them organized some military campaigns. A failure on a claimant's part to even attempt that might very well explain why the majority of Jews would not accept such a claimant, especially given the rather militaristic tone presented in the Old Testament regarding what the Messiah was supposed to accomplish.
Of course, in order to be saved by a deliverer, one has to have enemies, and the zealous Jews had created them everywhere by being extremely sectarian, arrogant and bigoted. The Jews as a whole were the only group exempt from a Roman law that compelled all subjects to conform to some degree to the state religion and political system, and their extreme sectarianism made them an annoyance to the empire. 
The question here should of course be on which part the intolerance was - were the Jews intolerant for refusing to participate, or was the Roman law intolerant by refusing to permit others from participation. Murdock prefers blaming the Jews, but an objective scholar should probably prefer blaming the Roman religion at this point! When Christians force non-Christians to participate in Christianity, Murdock is very negative. Why does she not reject the Roman practice as strenuously? Why is it wrong to oppose something that is wrong? Murdock complains about jizya on her blog and forum - yet the Jews were subject to the quite analogous fiscus judaicus, the only group subject to such a humiliation in the entire Roman empire. Murdock elsewhere admires the religious tolerance of the Roman empire, so one wonders if her admiration for religious tolerance does not extend to tolerating the Jews.
Yet, the Jews were losing badly in their battle to maintain their separation, as they were being swallowed up by the Greek and Roman cultures, with their numerous cults and religions. In addition, many Jews disdained the oppressive Mosaic Law. These factors forced the priesthood to resort to its time-honored method of financing Zealots to re-establish its centralized religion.
Yet the Zealots are not associated with the Sadduccean priesthood by any scholars I know of, but rather with the Pharisaic party. Murdock does not provide any sources that link the Zealots to the Sadducees either, so I am left to wonder why she thinks the Zealots had anything to do with the priesthood.
Larson describes the climate in Palestine during this time:
Palestine was filled with robbers, and no man’s life was secure. Any wild-eyed seditionists could procure a following through extravagant promises. The activities of the Zealots were supplemented by those of the Sicarii, a secret society of assassins who mingled with the multitude in the crowded streets especially during feast and holy days, and struck down their victims with daggers. . . . Roman indignation was aroused since the Jews alone were rebellious.
The Jews alone were rebellious? Three servile wars, the Batavian revolt, Gauls revolting under Ambiorix, Boudica's revolt, the Great Illyrian Revolt, Artaxias II's revolt against Rome, as well as the Alexandrian revolt against Jews in 38CE. All those took place in the 1st centuries BCE and AD, and together add up to about seven rebellions in two hundred years. In the same time, twelve regular "external" wars were fought - a difference, but not one of an order of magnitude or anything like that.

Further, the aftermath of the Cantabrian wars consisted of 70 years of guerilla warfare. The Lusitanians also had a prolonged conflict. Venutius led a revolt in Britain, and the Brigantes seem to have had at least one of their own as well.

The Jews alone indeed. . .

[1] D.M Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy
[2] Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls [warning: this was typed out of memory and may be wrong in this version - will check which author when fixing the last bits of the post]