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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    I think the answer right now is that nobody knows. Early Hebrew texts are full of references to Canaanite/Phoenician, Aramaean & Eqyptian religions, but make no reference at all to far-off Zoroastrianism. The archaeology shows the same-Jews living in close proximity to pagans, but no evidence of Zoroastrianism in Canaan/Palestine (temples, statues, etc.).

    The two originated independently of one another-Zoroastrinism in Persia & Judaism in either Canaan, Egypt or Arabia depending on whose opinion wins. By the time Jews & Zoroastrians were living side by side (after the Babylonian conquest), both were well into their ideological development.

    No. Phoenician, Aramaean & Eqytian paganism had a far, far greater influence on Judaism. The Hebrew alphabet is derived directly from Phoenician. An early Hebrew name for G-d is derived from the name of an Aramaic god. The Egyptians had a failed experiment with monotheism. I can't think of a single word in Hebrew that is derived from a Persian dialect. Not one Jewish ritual is derived from a Zoroastrian practice.

    Personally, I don't understand why this subject comes up so much. There are mountains of historical & archaeological evidence that early Judaism was influenced by paganism in the Levant, Egypt, Arabia & Mesopotamia, but none at all regarding Zoroastrianism. Judiasm is monotheistic & Zoroastrianism is dualistic & they arose in different places & from different cultures.

    The answer could & has filled volumes. Please be more specific.

    I think so, but that depends on the definition of "henotheistic." The Hebrew Bible has plenty of references to G-d having angelic servants. If these are regarded as deities, although lesser ones, then Judaism was definitely henotheistic.

    If the angels don't count as deities, then the answer is maybe. Archaeology shows a mixed result. In some places in Canaan, Jewish & pagan temples coexisted. In most places there, the pagan temples vanish when Judaism comes along.

    One theory that has allot of weight is that the 1st Jews were Canaanites who became monotheistic. If that holds true, then early Judiasm must have had henotheistic attributes.

    The Hebrew Bible is full of warnings about what happens when Jews leave monotheism & return to paganism. This could be seen as evidence of henotheism in those days.

    All of that being said, monotheism (& tribalism) is what seperated early Judaism from it's neighbors. Without monotheism, they were just Canaanites, Moabites, Edomites or whatever.

    :scan:I detect no idiocy.:scan: (Finally, a reason to use that smiley!:lol:)

    Sanity is insane.;)

    Plotinus, still a great thread! Hats off to your patience with JEELEEN.:goodjob:

    JEELEEN, no offense intended. It's just that I can see you're making Plotinus' teeth grind.:)
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Yes, people have pondered about puzzles like this throughout history. The most well-known example is the medieval notion of the "happy sin": if Adam hadn't sinned, Christ would not have come, so it's a good thing that Adam sinned.

    I'm not sure what solutions people have proposed to the puzzle you raise, but there are several routes one could take. One is to deny that Jesus' purpose was to get crucified; perhaps he could have saved everyone without it. As I've said before, the Orthodox Church generally holds that it was the incarnation that saves people rather than the crucifixion. Alternatively, one could say that it was a good thing that Christ died, but still hold that it would have been sinful for anyone knowingly to bring it about, if one held that the morality or immorality of an act has nothing to do with its consequences. A deontologist might say, for example, that lying is always wrong, and you shouldn't do it even if telling a certain lie would save many lives. So they could plausibly hold that executing an innocent man is wrong even if by doing so you would bring about the salvation of the world.

    I don't think that the "forgive them" saying suggests that Jesus is merely human, only that it is wrong to crucify him. The "forsaken" saying is of course a quote from Psalm 22, and so one could interpret it as Jesus drawing attention to the supposed prophecies about him in that psalm. Another interpretation I've heard conservative evangelicals give is that because Jesus was taking upon himself the sin of the world at that point, the Father really did forsake him, because Jesus had literally become sin. I don't think that's a very theological robust view for a variety of reasons.

    But a more general explanation which many Christians would give is that Jesus' human mind didn't know that he was divine, or at least doubted it, and that in his human mind he really did feel despair or unwillingness to die. But this is compatible with his actually being divine, because his divine mind did not feel these things.

    Any question is worth consideration! Well, most of them anyway.


    This is something I don't know an enormous amount about, but I might be able to manage some general remarks... I suppose there are two kinds of doctrines of divine simplicity, looking at it historically - one ancient and basically Platonic, and one medieval and basically Aristotelian.

    A fundamental principle of Platonic metaphysics in late antiquity was that unity was more fundamental than plurality. This is why many Platonists worried about the relations between the "monad" and the "dyad", meaning the ultimate explanations of unity and plurality: unity must be prior, but in that case, where does the dyad come from? You could interpret the whole of Plotinus' metaphysics as an attempt to answer that question. Remember that he called his ultimate principle "the One". In Platonic terms, a true unity must be perfectly simple in the sense of containing no diversity. That means it cannot have parts, for example. Because if you have something made of different parts, the parts are prior to the whole, and the whole is explicable in terms of its parts, but not vice versa.

    Why must unity be prior to plurality? I think much of this is because of the assumption that unity and existence are very closely connected. To be a substance is to be one thing. This is a very ingrained principle not just in Platonism but in medieval and early modern philosophy too. If a supposed substance turns out, on closer inspection, to be made up of a load of smaller substances, then it wasn't really a substance at all but a mere aggregate. And an aggregate is not really a thing, just a collection of things. So there was a sense that the ultimate cause of everything else, which must exist and be real in the most fundamental way possible, simply must be the most perfect unity that there could be, and that means it must be perfectly simple.

    The medieval doctrine of divine simplicity is perhaps motivated by similar ideas, but more explicitly by Aristotelian metaphysics. The idea here is not simply that God is simple in the sense of not being made up of other things, but that he is metaphysically simple in the sense that we cannot distinguish between form and matter, or substance and accident, in him. In other words, the different elements of normal substances - even the simplest ones - cannot be discerned in God. URL=http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1003.htm]Aquinas argued[/URL] that God must be pure actuality, because he is the prime mover. But something that is pure actuality cannot have any potentiality in it. But matter is potentiality, brought into actuality by form; so in God there is no distinction between form and matter. He cannot have accidents because something that has an accident could potentially not have that accident, but in God there is no potentiality. And so on. The result of all this is that God is not a thing at all like other things. His essence is existence, and in the hands of twentieth-century existentialist theologians such as Paul Tillich that became the claim that "God" is simply another word for "existence", which I don't think it something that Aquinas would have approved of, but his theology does seem somewhat to tend that way.

    So in short, I think that this doctrine was definitely motivated by philosphical considerations rather than historical or biblical ones.

    I'd be surprised if this were true. Speaking without the benefit of any facts or statistics, I should think it would be far more common in a country like the US for people to give up religion altogether than for them to change from one denomination to another. I don't think changing denominations happens all that often, with the exception of marriages. Certainly someone may (for example) convert from Methodism to Catholicism, and they may have good reasons for doing so. But I think that people tend to remain in the churches where they start off. They would probably be more likely just to give up being religious altogether than switch from one church to another. And, yes, I suspect that (again, in a country such as the US) changing from one religion to another altogether would probably be pretty rare. I should think it would be far more common for people to convert to a religion if they're not religious at all to start with.

    I didn't watch that when it was on TV as I really don't need to see more stuff about Darwin and religion. You'd think, from the endless media coverage of Darwin at the moment, that he was primarily interested in religion and not a scientist at all; such is the way that people such as Dawkins have managed to set the terms of the public dialogue on the subject. Anyway, I'm glad to see that this documentary was basically saying something pretty similar. I was only going to watch the first section or two but I ended up watching the whole thing. My main impression was that it must have been a very difficult documentary to make from the production and direction point of view: all that narration about issues. What images could they possibly show? Lots of scenes from nature documentaries, of course, and less obviously relevant shots of busy streets and railway stations. It's interesting to note that this sort of approach does actually work, visually, proving the old editors' adage that it doesn't really matter what you show on the screen as long as it's moving.

    The basic argument is absolutely correct, especially on the theoretical side, although the documentary focused much more on the historical issues rather than the theoretical ones. I think it's entirely right that evolution and theism don't have much to do with each other, positively or negatively, and moreover his criticism of the mimetic theory at the end is just obviously right.

    On the historical side he did over-simplify things, though. First, not all ancient Christians interpreted the Bible allegorically, and some actively thought it wrong to do so (Theodore of Mopsuestia wrote a whole book attacking the practice). So it's not as simple as saying that an allegorical interpretation of Genesis was always the teaching of the church until James Ussher turned up. It's more complex than that. For example, poor old Ussher gets this endless stick for his claim that the world began in 4004 BC, but lots of people at that time were making similar claims. What they were all doing was applying Enlightenment principles of rational inquiry to chronology and the study of the Bible. Also, I'm not entirely convinced the presentation of Augustine as a sort of proto-evolutionist, although I do agree with the claim that were Augustine to reappear now and have evolution explained to him, he probably wouldn't have a problem with it.

    It's also not exactly true that Darwinism became controversial in a religious context only in the twentieth century; there were debates about it in Darwin's day. But it is true that these debates weren't really anything like the more familiar twentieth-century ones. It's also true that Christians hadn't had any particular problems with the notion of a very ancient world or indeed with evolution itself, both of which had become scientific commonplaces by the end of the first third of the nineteenth century among Christians and scientists alike. And it was good to point out that the scientists who came up with all this stuff were scientists, and even clerics (although obviously you had to be an Anglican cleric to teach at Oxford at that time, so the mere fact that someone was in holy orders doesn't necessarily mean that they were particularly religiously committed, but that's by the by). What the documentary didn't really make clear was (a) that Darwin didn't propose a theory of evolution - he proposed a theory of what makes evolution happen, and (b) this was the more worrying element of his work from a Christian viewpoint. The documentary only focuses on the question of the accuracy of the opening chapters of Genesis. But of course someone could say that those chapters are allegorical or even not true at all, believe in evolution, and think that God just created everything in an evolutionary way (ie, spread out over a long time). What Darwin did was explain how evolution can work using purely natural laws, without any divine intervention required. So that's quite a different issue from the one about biblical accuracy or literalness.

    The documentary did a good job in arguing that the "battle" over Darwinism today is really going on between extremists on both sides: Christian fundamentalists on the one hand and Dawkins-types on the other, and this is quite true. In fact it's a funny thing that really these two groups have, in some ways, a lot in common: they both agree that evolution and theism are incompatible. Dawkins himself says he has more respect for someone who thinks this and who rejects evolution than he does for a theist who believes in evolution. And of course some American fundamentalists have been very grateful to Dawkins for his argument that the theory of evolution leads to atheism, because they can cite it in court cases to show that the theory of evolution is a religious doctrine and shouldn't be taught in schools. What the documentary didn't do is explain where these two extremist groups came from. After all, American fundamentalist didn't really emerge just as a reaction to the permissivism of the 1960s - its main tenets were already set out in "The fundamentals" of the 1910s (hence the name). And the idea that science and religion are fundamentally opposed, and that religion has always tried to smother science and science has always ultimately won, goes back to the late nineteenth century and certain popular historical writers who basically created this understanding of history on the basis of what was happening at the time.

    So the documentary did an OK job on the history side of it, but did simplify things. I suppose you could say the same on the theoretical side of it - that is, whether evolution and theism really are incompatible or not. But there's only so much you can do with a series of soundbites, which is what all the interviews basically came down to. I think it might have been interesting to get some of these people with opposing views together and see how they responded to each other, and this could have been done without just turning it into a televised debate; but then that would not have meshed well with the "personal quest" style of narrative that these documentaries invariably take (and which is silly really - as if you have to go to Palestine to read a book on Philo).

    So it was about as good as a documentary of that kind could have been, really, despite its simplifications and the fact that really the documentary format, especially this kind of format, isn't really suitable for tackling a subject of this kind. It's good that the BBC saw fit to make a film arguing for a more measured and sensible approach to these matters than you find in most of the media. That still doesn't excuse remaking Reggie Perrin though.

    There's nothing idiotic or insane about that. But unfortunately I don't know much about this sort of thing, which is well outside my area of expertise. As I understand it, little is known of early Zoroastrianism, and there is no particular evidence that it particularly influenced Judaism, although people may speculate that it did. And yes, as I understand it, Judaism probably was henotheistic at one time. The Jews originally thought that Yahweh was the god of their particular tribe; then they progressed to thinking that he was the best of all the gods; then they progressed to thinking that he was the only god. Moreover, before the Captivity, Judaism was a more prophetic sort of religion than it later became. Traditionally we think that Moses and the Law came first, and later the prophets turned up to remind people to follow the Law. That's the story that the Bible itself tells. But the books of the Law as we know them only took shape during the Captivity and shortly afterwards. They reflect the views of people at that time, projected back to the legendary past. So it would be more accurate to say that the prophets came first (or some of them at least), then the Law was codified. This is why, if you read the prophetic books, you won't find many mentions of Moses and the Law - which is odd if you think that they came later and were trying to get people to stick to them.

    [EDIT] Maimonides simulposted me. Thanks!
     
  3. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    OK, this may be a bit of a lengthy post, so bear with me. (I start off with a reply to Plotinus from the Proofs that God is imaginary thread.)

    And why Zionism = racism is nonsense. (Plus that both Jews and Arabs are Semitic.)

    Always good to demystify. (Although, ofcourse, as regards individual vs. collective, societies do not think; this would presuppose a collective mind - in itself an interesting thought, though...)

    Alright, agnostic is an intellectual way of saying "I don't know", is it not? In this particular instance, "I do not know whether God exists" (which, by the way, for a theologian seems both paradoxical and ironic at the same time, but lets leave that as being beside the point). Taking into account that, again, we are rather off-topic with this examination of a remark entre parenthèses (interesting though that the mind works in an associative way rather than a logical way, which might explain why discussions tend to veer off course), what I meant was that if one is not certain about such a category as God, one should be careful when addressing a category like morality.

    I think the following would be rather accurate: An observation that has been confirmed repeatedly and is accepted as true (although its truth is never final). Obviously history can't be experimented upon (although people have tried), but as a science history works quite well with hypotheses and research. That apart, I wasn't really talking about theism, but rather about God (ergo monotheism) and religious experiences. The latter have a funny way of not being repeatable or verifiable in any way - which goes towards my point that religion has little regard for facts (as have believers; an example of which I just stumbled upon: http://darwinconspiracy.com/). For instance, three world religions rely on 1) God's creation of the universe; 2) Moses deliverance of God's Ten Commandments. The former is so omnipresent as a creation myth that. scientifically speaking, it cannot be taken seriously, the latter relies entirely upon a) Moses reliability as regards his transmission of the words of God; and b) the veracity of Moses experience (which can be typified as a religious experience of the category vision - with sound, obviously). With regards to visions it is striking that the possibility of an encounter or communication with God is much more likely to happen when in isolation (i.e. God does not speak to or in crowds would be a quite valid hypothesis here).

    I realized that when writing, but assumed - correctly, apparently - you would recognize what you've just mentioned. (But bear in mind, I'm not writing a scientific article here, just jotting down my thoughts without much in the way of editing.)

    (NOTE: I've edited out the bits where we seem to be in agreement. And here I'm following up on remarks from this thread: )

    A happy sin... only a Christian can come up with something like that; so if Adam hadn't sinned the advent of Christ would have been completely unnecessary... O lucky us, that we are a race of sinners!

    It seems to me that there are two problems associated with Jesus:
    1) the time period between the emergence of man and the seemingly random timing of the appearance of Jesus;
    2) the exact nature of Jesus.

    I thought it rather clear that Jesus on the cross is addressing his heavenly Father; who else would need to forgive "them". Also, the formulation suggests a prayer. While it may seem odd someone about to die reciting a psalm, Jesus seems to have been well versed in the Torah, and in this way express both anxiety and piety. (As with the prenightly wake with the words - miraculously transmitted via sleeping disciples? - with which he asked to let pass this chalice, but nay, not mine will but Thine.)

    As to the schizoid feature of Jesus' human and divine mind: if Jesus human nature could experience everything human, but his divine nature remains unhindered by experience, what is the relevance of this sacrifice of God's only Son really? He is to be revived and redeified in three days' time anyway, making it a purely symbolic act at best.

    Most enlightening.

    Theological data? I'm unfamiliar with that phrase. so what's considered datum theologically?

    Indeed. So what you're saying is: he was God before being Jesus - that makes sense at least. Come to think of it: Is Jesus then less eternal than God? And the H. Spirit seems to make its appearance about the same time. So God suddenly had the urge to divide his persona into three?

    I thought human knowledge is inherently limited; hence my conclusion that Jesus couln't have known if he was divine or not. Obviously I'm handicapped by the human knowledge that most people become divine after death, not before. Also, I'd say Christians believe Jesus to be God. So religiously speaking they claim knowledge both implicitly and explicitly unverifiable, but are convinced their belief is knowledge - a very ancient conviction, one might add.

    I doubt there is much doubt whether Jesus was human (and I fail to see the relevance of cats when talking about humanity unless one would want to discuss mammals or Darwin or something to that effect). Also, why would being human be incompatible with being divine? There are plenty of examples of a combination of the two in world literature.
     
  4. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

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    Question that a discussion in another place brought up:

    Many people believe that God is outside of time. If God is outside of our construct of time, do you think that he needs to have a beginning? One of Richard Dawkins main arguments from the God Delusion (or at least one of his arguments) is that starting with an incredibly complex creature like God seems much more difficult to create than the simple cell that evolves into what we see today. But is that a false choice? If God is outside of time, does God even have to be created by something?

    Sorry if you've already discussed, but I looked through the index and didn't see anything relating to this.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    One should be careful when addressing any categories of this kind, of course. But that doesn't mean that one can't carefully conclude that one doesn't know about God, while at the same time carefully concluding otherwise about morality. They're different subjects. Now I don't think I said anything careless about morality - I just used moral language in a more committed way than I would use theistic language. There's nothing contradictory about that.

    And of course you know that there's nothing remotely paradoxical or ironic about a theologian saying he doesn't know whether God exists, given that a theologian just studies doctrine, and the truth of that doctrine is neither here nor there. It's no more ironic than a scholar of Homer saying he doesn't know whether Odysseus existed.

    But all historical events have "a funny way of not being repeatable or verifiable in any way". Now you say that historical claims are open to (something like) the scientific process because we can at least form hypotheses about what happened and conduct research to find out more about it and confirm or reject our hypotheses. Well, why can't the same thing be true of religious experiences, considered as historical events? One could form hypotheses about them (eg, "All religious experiences have feature X") and then conduct research to see if those hypotheses are supported (eg, read descriptions of many religious experiences to see if they all mention feature X). What do you think is special about religious experiences compared to other historical events?

    I don't really see why this follows. Even if we say that there is something special about religious experiences which makes claims about them unverifiable in a way that is not true of normal historical events (perhaps their private nature), it doesn't follow that those who base their beliefs upon such experiences have little regard for facts. It would follow only that other people might not be justified in basing similar beliefs upon those experiences. What I mean is, if I have an experience of God, then I might be perfectly justified in regarding God's existence as a fact and believing in him on that bases. However, since my experience of God is intrinsically private, it is hard for another person to verify it, and so another person might not be justified in believing in the same way on the basis of my experience. That might be a plausible view, but I can't see that the view that religious belief has never got anything to do with "facts" interpreted in whatever sense you like is plausible at all.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "rely on". Do you mean that these religions exist only because God actually created the universe and Moses actually received revelation from God? Do you mean that, historically, these religions developed from the belief that those things happened? Do you mean that, doctrinally, one cannot be an adherent of these religions without believing that those things happened? Because I would agree with the second claim but disagree with the first and third (with the possible exception of the claim that, to be an adherent of these religions, one must believe that God created the universe).

    I don't understand why the omnipresence of the creation myth makes it less likely to be true; one would have thought quite the opposite. And I certainly don't know of any scientific reason to rule out the notion of God creating the universe.

    Well, quite, and that's a common criticism of that kind of christology.

    I mean some prior theological claim or commitment or religious experience. In this case, the claim that Jesus was divine is based (I would say) on the experience of the believer, who feels Jesus to be acting in his own life and who feels a divine power or love in that action. It might also be based upon an existential sense of being saved through Jesus, combined with the belief that only God could or would save people in such a way. The point is that whatever one makes of such reasons for belief, they have got nothing whatsoever to do with the historical study of the Gospels or other historical sources.

    No, God was always three persons. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all existed eternally. All that happened in the incarnation was that the Son became human, thereby making the distinctions between the persons rather more apparent.

    I don't know why human knowledge has to be inherently limited. Obviously no human being has ever known everything, but it doesn't follow from this that someone who does know everything cannot be human. As Thomas Morris put it, no human being has ever been born in space, but it doesn't follow from that that if someone were born in space they couldn't be human.

    Even if human knowledge were inherently limited, it wouldn't follow that Jesus couldn't have known if he was divine or not - it would follow only that Jesus couldn't know everything. Obviously there would be some things Jesus could know, just as there are some things we can all know. Why would the proposition "Jesus is divine" fall into the category of things Jesus couldn't know and not into the category of things that Jesus could know?

    I can't think how you could possibly know something like that!

    The relevance is that you suggested that if Jesus could die, he must be human. That doesn't follow, because there are plenty of things that can die but which aren't human, such as cats.

    Anyway, plenty of people have thought that Jesus wasn't human - in fact this was arguably the earliest Christian heresy, the heresy of docetism.

    The mere fact that many people have imagined such a thing doesn't mean it could really happen. You gave a reason yourself why humanity and divinity might be incompatible: you said you think that human knowledge is intrinsically limited. But divine knowledge is intrinsically unlimited. But a single person cannot be omniscient and fail to know some things at the same time. Again, God is incorporeal, but human beings are bodily; God is all-powerful, but human beings are limited in power; God is perfectly good, but human beings are fallible; and so on and so forth. There are plenty of such pairs of properties which appear to be impossible for a single person to instantiate, but which are thought to be essential to God and human beings respectively.

    Thanks for looking through the index at least, which I think most people don't, judging by how often the same questions come up.

    You're quite right though, obviously an atemporal being couldn't have a beginning at all (or an end, or a middle). So if Dawkins thinks that it's a problem with God that he couldn't have come into existence, then this is really a red herring (quite apart from his insistence that God is incredibly complex, which is a quite different claim and one that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me). However, there is a difference between saying that something comes into existence (temporally) and saying that something needs an explanation (temporally or not). One could admit that God is atemporal, and thus has no beginning, but still say that the existence of such a God requires an explanation. That would be a reasonable way of arguing. The usual theistic response is of course to say that God is the one thing whose existence does not require any explanation, because God is the one thing whose existence is necessary. Whether that is a defensible or even meaningful claim is another matter.
     
  6. Imperialmajesty

    Imperialmajesty Chieftain

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    Great response :)

    Answered all my questions. However, I have another, and this is directed at Plotinus and Maimonides. What influence, if any, did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity? There seem to be some incredible similarities.

    Moving on, does anyone here think that St. Augustine's beliefs were heavily influenced by Manichaeism?
     
  7. Masada

    Masada Koi-san!

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    Plotinus covered some of this in detail some time ago. [via his index].

    What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity?

    Were the Christian rites copied from Mithraist ones?

    What was Mithraism like, and was it similar to Christianity?
     
  8. flyingchicken

    flyingchicken 99 117 110 116 115

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    After asking Dachs and checking the index, I would like to ask about the details of the substances, wills, and energies of Jesus. What were they? Secondarily, why were they such a big deal back in the olden times?
     
  9. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    I have to pass on this one. I have no clue. I'm just a layman who hops in whenever Judaism comes up since Christianity is Plot's specialty.
     
  10. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    I remember hearing something about a non-canonical gospel read mostly in Arabia that tries to show that Jesus is the Messiah using only Zoroastrian prophecies instead of Jewish ones. This may have only been on the level of claims that Sibylline books predicted his birth. It was probably just an attempt to proselytize Zoroastrians. Of course it was never widely accepted.

    I'm no expert, but I tend to think that Zoroastrianism had some effect on Christianity but larger effect on Islam.
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    As far as I know there is no evidence for any influence, at least not any direct influence. Some have argued that Zoroastrianism was an influence on gnosticism, but that too is really just a matter of conjecture. It's possible too that there might be Zoroastrian influence on some early syncretic forms of Christianity, such as that associated with Bardaisan of Edessa, but we know so little about these forms anyway that any such influence is again going to be just a matter of speculation. I would guess that if there were any influence from Zoroastrianism it would mainly be found in Persian Christianity - but once again we don't really know much about that church before the fourth century, which is when the earliest texts from it date from.

    That's often been said, but I can't say I see much reason to think it. The supposed influence is on his views of sin and evil: the Manichaeans believed evil to be something substantial, eternally opposed to good. And Augustine believed evil to be pervasive throughout humanity, with his conception of original guilt and all that. But I don't really see any more profound connection here. Augustine vehemently rejected the substantial theory of evil and argued for a neoplatonic conception of evil as a lack of good, which is precisely the reverse theory. I would say that it seems to me far more reasonable to suppose that Augustine was predisposed to an outlook which emphasised the prevalence of sin and evil, and that this was what initially attracted him to Manichaeism - not that he picked this up from Manichaenism. Orthodox Christianity, at least as he understood it, proved to speak to that predisposition in a more satisfying way than Manichaeism did.

    That's rather a big question. Here is an answer as brief as I can make it.

    In the mid-fifth century, the council of Chalcedon stated that Jesus had one hypostasis and two natures. "Hypostasis" means something like "concrete individual". "Nature" is what is made concrete in a hypostasis. For example, think of human nature. I have human nature and so do you (ie, we both have all the properties that make something human). Each of us is a hypostasis of human nature. In Jesus' case, he was only one hypostasis (ie, a single individual) but he had two natures (ie, he was two sorts of things, both made concrete in that one hypostasis). This was an extremely unusual situation.

    The reason this formula was arrived at was because people believed it absolutely essential to salvation that divinity and humanity be united in genuine unity. They believed that salvation is a matter of human beings becoming united to God and ultimately becoming divine themselves. This was the central idea in Christian spirituality and theology. Jesus was the original, as it were: he was the original point at which divinity and humanity met, and so this was the basis upon which believers could hope to become united to divinity themselves. So this was really important. By asserting that Jesus had a divine nature and a human nature, the fathers of Chalcedon hoped to safeguard his genuine divinity and genuine humanity. And by asserting that he nevertheless was only a single hypostasis, they hoped to safeguard the genuine unity of these natures in a single person.

    Now many people disagreed with this. In particular, many people thought it absurd to say that you could have two natures in one hypostasis, on the grounds that a hypostasis can individualise only a single nature. So some people said that because Jesus had two natures, he must have been two hypostases. These people were known as Nestorians (rather unfairly) and would later become what is now known as the Church of the East, the main Christian body in the Iraq area. On the opposite side, some people said that because Jesus was a single hypostasis, he must have had only a single nature. These people were known as Monophysites (one-nature people) and were widespread in Egypt and much of the Middle East.

    The Chalcedonians were the official church of the Byzantine empire. They regarded the Nestorians on the one side and the Monophysites on the other as heretics. They argued that the Nestorians, by saying Jesus had two hypostases, made him into two people. That meant that Jesus was not a true union of divinity and humanity - he was just a divine person and a human person cooperating. And they argued that the Monophysites, by saying that Jesus had only one nature, denied that Jesus was really divine and really human at all. They made him into a sort of crossbreed, half of one and half of the other. Both groups (said the Chalcedonians) failed to safeguard the true union of divinity and humanity in Jesus, and therefore effectively denied the central message and spiritual goal of Christianity, the union of all of humanity to divinity.

    Most of the Nestorians lived in the Sassanid empire and therefore beyond Byzantine influence, so there were few arguments between Chalcedonians and Nestorians. However, many Monophysites lived within the Byzantine borders, and there were fierce debates between Chalcedonians and Monophysites (there were also fierce debates between different kinds of Monophysites, but that needn't detain us now). This was particularly so in the early seventh century, when the emperor Heraclius conquered large areas of the Middle East which were inhabited by Monophysites. This brought many more Monophysites within the Byzantine borders, and the need to reconcile them with the Chalcedonians was a pressing problem.

    Heraclius delegated this task to his good friend Sergius, bishop of Constantinople. Sergius believed that the reason the Monophysites rejected the Chalcedonian definition was that they thought that the Chalcedonians were Nestorians in disguise. They thought (on his interpretation) that the Chalcedonian claim that Jesus had two natures meant that he was really two people. In particular, Sergius thought that the Monophysites were especially worried about his energeia. This was a term going back to Aristotle that originally meant something like "activity" or "actuality". Since then it had acquired the sense of "energy", in the sense of something that is emitted from a thing. There was a distinction between ousia (substance, or essence), what a thing is in itself, and its energeia, the manifestation of that thing. It could also mean "work" or "impulse of action". Basically, for every thing that acts, there is its action itself, and that is the energeia. Now some theologians had, in the past, argued that Jesus had a single energeia, because he was a single person or agent. Sergius thought that if he could develop this notion and make it official Chalcedonian theology, then the Monophysites might be more willing to accept Chalcedon. Because he would have shown that accepting Chalcedon and its formula of two natures was compatible with recognising a single energeia in Christ, and a single energeia definitely meant a single person.

    Sergius had some success with this and secured the agreement of some leading Monophysites, including the Monophysite bishop of Alexandria and the Armenian catholicos. Unfortunately for him, the plan was scuppered by many Chalcedonians, principally Sophronius of Jerusalem, who argued that if Christ had only a single energeia then it must have been a divine one. But in that case his divinity would have been overruling his humanity, and in that case he did not really act as a human being. Moreover, part of what it is to be human is to have a human energeia, that is, a human activity or action. If Christ lacked this, then he lacked something essential to humanity, so he was not really human. So these theologians developed the notion that the energeia makes manifest the nature. Jesus had two natures, so he had two energeiae. The pope, Honorius, was persuaded by their arguments and convinced Sergius to give up the idea of one energeia.

    Sergius therefore came up instead with the idea of one will in Christ. This is "will" in the sense of faculty of willing, or ability to choose. Once again, Sergius thought that this doctrine would appeal to the Monophysites and persuade them to accept the Chalcedonian doctrine of two natures. It was made official doctrine by the emperor Heraclius in his Ekthesis of 638. Sergius himself died shortly afterwards. But once again the doctrine came under bitter attack from many Chalcedonians, above all Maximus the Confessor. They argued, once again, that if Christ had only a single will then it must have been divine, in which case his divinity would have been overruling his humanity. Moreover, to have a human will is part of what it is to be human. If he had no human will, Jesus was not really human. So on their view, Jesus had a divine will and a human will, although these two wills were always in agreement with each other.

    The arguments got so bad over all this that in 647 the emperor Constans II issued his Typus, banning all mention of energies and wills in Christ, which everyone ignored. In 649, indeed, Pope Martin I held a council which not only affirmed the doctrine of two wills but condemned the Typus. That didn't help Maximus, who in 662 was arrested and had his right hand cut off and his tongue cut out, to stop him spreading his heresy; he died shortly afterwards. He had the final word, though, because in 680 the third council of Constantinople finally ended the rows by teaching that Christ was a single hypostasis with two natures, two energeiae, and two wills. Only this formula, it was believed, could capture the fundamental doctrine that Christ was truly human and truly divine, a perfect union of the two, God made man, which would allow man to become God.
     
  12. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    How correct is Bill3000 with his recent statements (bunch more available) which sum up to "biblical literalism is a modern heresy"? (And "American Evangelicals are heretics", for that matter.)
    I checked the index for " here*", and all I found was the entry about the historical victory of Catholicism over other groups.
     
  13. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    He is right (I am pretty sure) that fundamental Biblical literalism is a fairly recent phenomenon, although calling it "heresy" doesn't mean all that much.
     
  14. Cutlass

    Cutlass The Man Who Wasn't There.

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    What does the Mormon doctrine think of Biblical literalism? I don't know much about "continuing revelation", but it would seem to be inconstant with the view that everything is known in the Bible.
     
  15. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Our 9th Article of Faith (based on a letter written by Joseph Smith to a Chicago newspaper editor in 1842) says that we believe "the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly." Of course, "as far as it is translated correctly" can mean an awful lot. We do say that the Bible is definitely incomplete, and since it only covers certain groups and time periods there is a lot more. There is no official stance on things like how much is literal, how much is figurative, how much is not at all correct, except insofar as our other scripture confirms or disagrees with other parts. We have very little doctrine or practice that is based only on what is found in the Bible, however.
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    He's sort of half-right, but being a bit disingenuous. Biblical literalism in itself is certainly not a heresy in any formal sense of the word and it has certainly been a common Christian view for a very long time (and certainly since before Islam turned up). However, the notion that the Bible is the sole or even primary source of Christian doctrine and revelation is a relatively modern view and arguably a heretical one, at least from some points of view.

    In antiquity, some people interpreted the Bible literally and others did not. There was no accepted method of treating it. What all Christians agreed on was that everything in the Bible was true, but of course it is possible to believe that and also believe that something can be true in a non-literal sense. I think pretty much all Christians agreed that most of the Bible was literally true. Where they diverged was that some thought that parts of it were not literally true, while others thought that the whole of it was literally true. Origen is an obvious example of the former group while Theodore of Mopsuestia is an obvious example of the latter. I would say that this range of approaches has remained mainstream in most churches ever since.

    However, in antiquity and the Middle Ages Christians did pretty much agree that the Bible was authoritative only within the context of the church - that is, that the Bible must be interpreted by the church and receives its meaning from the church. 2 Peter 1:20-21 supports this view. At the Reformation, of course, the Protestants abandoned this view and argued that the Bible alone was the sole authority.

    Nevertheless, even they weren't really biblical fundamentalists in the modern sense. Modern fundamentalism combines the Reformation emphasis on the sole authority of the Bible with a particular emphasis on how that authority overrides alternative, non-ecclesiastical sources of information. That is, the Reformers said that the Bible overrides the church as a source for Christian doctrine and practice. Modern fundamentalism says that the Bible overrides everything else as a source for everything. Thus, for example, if science disagrees with the Bible, then science is wrong. This is a view that really emerged in the nineteenth century, although no doubt one could find elements of it before that. I don't know whether there is any truth to the charge one sometimes hears that this view of the Bible owes something to Muslims' view of the Koran. I suspect that there isn't and that this is a not unnatural form for any religion with a holy book to take, especially when there are conflicts with other elements of the culture it is in.

    And many fundamentalists of course also combine this view of the Bible with literalism. Whether one has to be a literalist to count as a "fundamentalist" is a matter of debate, but then of course "fundamentalist" is a very vague term at the best of times.

    So I would say that one might certainly say that modern American conservative evangelicalism is heretical in its view of the Bible (not to mention other things). However, that is not because of a literalist approach to the Bible, which while certainly not universal from a traditionalist point of view is also not notably problematic, but because of its complete downgrading of all sources of knowledge compared to the Bible. Ultimately, this is bibliolatry, which is obviously going to be heretical one way or another.
     
  17. Imperialmajesty

    Imperialmajesty Chieftain

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    I'm not entirely sure I get the last sentence, can you clarify the bolded?
     
  18. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Is that really a question for a theologian?

    Edit: where did the post to which I was responding go?
     
  19. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Theologians strike me (perhaps unfairly) as a serious bunch, were there any theologians that could be called, "fun"?
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    What I meant was: Augustine had an outlook on life and his own experience, as it seemed to him, of sin and evil. Initially, Manichaeism attracted him because it seemed to speak to that outlook and experience, to explain it and to offer a way out of it. But he became dissatisfied with it. Subsequently, he found that Orthodox Christianity spoke to that outlook and offered a way out of it in a more satisfying and effective way. That seems to me a more plausible account than suggesting that it was Manichaeism that gave him that outlook in the first place, and that this subsequently influenced his understanding of Christianity.

    Peter Abelard - at least, until the "incident". I think Schleiermacher was a fun character to be around, and so was Kant, surprisingly. Jerome is quite fun to read but you wouldn't have wanted to be stuck in a lift with him. And Luther would have been fun, in a very teutonic sort of way, when he wasn't on the depressive swing of his cycle.
     
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