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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Kant was an enormously popular dining companion, because he was good company and very witty. He invariably had guests for lunch, whom he would invite that morning because he didn't want them to agree to come some time in advance and then have to turn down subsequent invitations. He provided large quantities of claret for everyone and always aimed to finish the meal with laughter (admittedly, this last was because he thought it was good for the digestion). Unfortunately none of this is apparent in his writing.
     
  3. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    I'm going to relate at length an anonymized and somewhat edited discussion I ended up having with a person elsewhere on the Internet, which I'm not supposed to link to here, but I suppose I can quote it...

    It began, as such things do, with an argument of Creationism v. Evolution, and derailed. One of the Creationists posted a long tirade, irrelevant to this discussion, about the book of Genesis, to which another posted replied that the story of Genesis was "really" taken from various other sources, including one about a dragon god. This was stridently contradicted by the Creationist and questioned by a few others, and we ended up with this, which is where the local discussion starts.
    I thought this was a very strange, so I passed the quote on to Plotinus for comment, who said that it wasn't his main field and advised me to be skeptical.

    I wrote the following reply to D: (obviously not his real name)
    Meanwhile I sent the first quote on to Maimonides, who replied with this:

    During that, D wrote this reply to me:

    Here's the relevant Michael S. Heiser article without horrible formatting mangling caused by ASCII and Unicode:
    http://zxc.se/arkiv/index.php?dir=&file=MICHAEL S HEISER - Serpentine Beings In The Hebrew Bible.pdf

    There is also this related assertion:
    And another possibly helpful relevant link referenced above: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=488&letter=S&search=Seraphim



    This entire exchange has left me staring in incredulity, so I'm not sure what to ask for other than some form of comment on the debacle as a whole.
     
  4. aelf

    aelf Ashen One

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    I remember he wrote something that was supposed to be funny, about a primitive man who was bewildered by a foaming bottle, wondering how all the content of the bottle was kept inside if it then bubbled out.

    Yeah, 18th century humour.
     
  5. Masada

    Masada Koi-san!

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    ... ask him what he thinks about Reptilians.
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Erik, the source that D has quoted there is an article which is quite explicitly proposing a new theory. I'm not competent to judge whether that article is right or not, but whether it is or not, D can hardly cite it as evidence that the theory it proposes is established fact. Moreover, that article is arguing only that seraphim are, or are based upon, serpents. It's not saying that Yahweh himself is a serpent god! The author is studying the story of the Watchers, not traditions about Yahweh - these are different things.

    D's other comments indicate that he's not quite got a complete grip on this thing. There is no such thing as "the book of Enoch" - there are several books of Enoch. 1 Enoch is quoted in Jude 14-15, but not relevantly. I don't know the passage in 1 Enoch to which D refers but even he admits that it's only about seraphim and Gabriel. Parts of the book of Baruch were used in early Christian liturgy and one or two bits were quoted by one or two early theologians, but again, not very relevantly. As for the dragons in early Christian art, I don't know of any.

    It seems that the claim that Yahweh himself was a dragon god is based solely upon two things - first, the supposed derivation of Yahweh from Yam. All that D does to back this up is to quote a passage from Wikipedia which says that some scholars think there's a connection. Wikipedia goes on to say that other scholars think this is nonsense. Either way, a second-hand opinion in Wikipedia doesn't count for much.

    And second, we have this:

    This is a classic example of running passages together to create an interpretation found in none of them. Just because one author says that Yahweh has fiery breath, and another says he has smoking nostrils, and another says he has wings, and another says he collects treasure (where does this come?), and another says he devours animals, doesn't mean that "the Bible" says he does all of these things. There's no such thing as "the Bible" with a single viewpoint. You can run passages from different books of the Bible together to make up any image you want but can't attribute that image to the actual authors, any more than a ransom note made of cut-and-pasted newspaper headlines can be attributed to the authors of the newspaper articles. Besides which, this fire-breathing, winged, treasure-hoarding, beast-devouring dragon sounds to me more like something from Beowulf than anything from ancient Middle Eastern mythology.

    I'd also like to know who these early Christians are who "acknowledged" all of this (it's interesting that when conspiracy theorists talk about the early church, any Christians who say anything that might be taken to support their theories are cited enthusiastically and uncritically, while any who say anything that opposes the theory are dismissed purely on the basis that they disagree). I can't think of any examples. And even if there were, what would it prove?

    D also makes the standard conspiracy theorist mistake of confusing derivation with meaning. Suppose that belief in Yahweh really did go back to the worship of some kind of Middle Eastern dragon god. What would that prove? It certainly wouldn't mean that "Yahweh is a lamb, calve and virgin eating dragon, with a flock of lesser ones (his offspring?) to do his bidding". It would mean only that belief in Yahweh was descended from belief in such a thing, not that Yahweh, as worshipped by Jews and Christians, literally is such a thing. It's like confusing the meaning of a word with its etymological derivation. But it's a largely uncontroversial belief of scholars that Yahweh was originally a sort of tribal god, who was only later believed to be the sole God of universal jurisdiction; it doesn't mean that scholars think that that is all that Yahweh was in Jewish worship! And of course, D's implication that the Christian church is actively suppressing all of this because it doesn't want people to know it is obviously taking us into tinfoil hat territory.

    Finally, D doesn't mention the fact that dragons normally have negative connotations in the Bible, above all the famous use of the imagery in Revelation to refer to the bloated, bloodthirsty power of Rome. Revelation is drenched in traditional Jewish imagery. If these people really thought that God was a dragon then they were very confused.
     
  7. Naskra

    Naskra Chieftain

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    This is not true. Isaiah's famous seraphim are translated as "seraphin" in the Septuagint. The less well known seraphs of chap xiv become "ophis", the familiar serpent of Genesis.
     
  8. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    That's odd: I thought Kant and Schleiermacher were philosophers. How are they theologians also? (Perhaps you can cite some of their theological treatises?)
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Kant was a philosopher, but he's counted as a theologian as well because he made important contributions to theology. In particular, he pioneered the idea that religion (and particular Christianity) is basically about ethics, and not metaphysics at all. This idea was enormously influential throughout the nineteenth century and is still widespread today. More indirectly, Kant was also a huge influence on Hegel, who was more explicitly theological in his work. I believe that his Critique of practical reason contains most of Kant's views on theology and religion (among many other things, of course) but I haven't read it so I can't be sure.

    Schleiermacher was certainly primarily a theologian though, and arguably the most original and influential one for two centuries. His On religion: speeches to its cultured despisers made his name. And The Christian faith was probably the most important work of theology of the nineteenth century. In fact it's still of more than purely historical interest even now - many of the ideas in it didn't catch on in their day but anticipate significant theological trends of the twentieth century.
     
  10. Imperialmajesty

    Imperialmajesty Chieftain

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    Oh... I wasn't confused about that, but I figured it out on my own. Every time I see orthodox, I think the Eastern Church. Its a bad habit of mine.
     
  11. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Plotinus, what's the usual assessment of Constantius II? Was he Arian, crypto-Arian, unsure, unclear, or was he all cool with the result of Nicaea?
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    In Augustine's day, of course, there was only one church (well, apart from the Donatists, the Valentinians, the Novatianists, etc), so it could equally well be called "Orthodox" and "Catholic". Of course we think of Augustine as Catholic rather than Orthodox because (a) he spoke Latin, and (b) he was hugely influential on the later Catholic Church but had virtually no influence on the later Orthodox Church. But he still counts equally as both and indeed some Orthodox writers have sought to "reclaim" him for Orthodoxy. A translation of some of Augustine's works was made into Greek in the fourteenth century which enjoyed a brief period of popularity; there is evidence that Gregory Palamas was influenced by it on some points. Other than that, of course, Augustine has generally had a pretty bad reputation in the Orthodox Church, for his views on original sin and the Trinity.

    Traditionally, Constantius II is dismissed as basically an Arian. But not only is that a bit simplistic but even the label "Arian" itself is unsatisfactory. Not only did the "Arians" themselves never use it, and some of them explicitly repudiated any link to Arius, but there were many different groups who often hated each other even more than they did the non-Arians. Constantius II himself seems to have oscillated to some extent between these groups, such as the Homoians and the Homoiousians, depending on who his advisers were. Overall, however, his sympathies seem to have been pretty much with the Homoians, as represented by Acacius of Caesarea. As with any ruler, though, it's hard to assess whether this was because he was personally committed to Homoian Christianity or whether he merely thought it the best way of uniting the church. Given the efforts he went to to impose it upon the church, I would have thought the former the more reasonable explanation. Nevertheless, of all the councils he called throughout the 350s, most of them did not issue unambiguously Homoian creeds. They were generally more Homoian in tendency, and more clearly anti-Nicene than anything else. So either Constantius was not a completely committed Homoian or there was still an element of compromise going on at these councils, for all the emperor's bluster.
     
  13. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    An astute obervation, worthy of an incisive mind like Kant's.

    I'm sorry, I must have confused him with Feuerbach.
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Astute, but obviously completely wrong. Much of the history of twentieth-century theology consisted of the process of everyone realising this.
     
  15. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    How so, obviously?
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Because religions quite obviously feature many elements that have nothing to do with ethics, such as liturgy. Someone who believes that religion is entirely about ethics is committed to the view that elements such as these are not really religious at all, which is absurd and ignores the ways in which people actually act and use the word "religious" or its cognates. Kant, for example, contrived to be always "indisposed" whenever his duties as rector of his university called for him to attend a service, because he thought doing so was a complete waste of time. Maybe he was right, but that was a matter of rejecting an element of religion, not of being true to what religion is really all about.
     
  17. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    Plotinus, can you answer a simple question? I think I recall reading somewhere in the New Testament that Jesus had at least one brother. If this is the case, what can the basis be for the traditional Catholic teaching that Mary remained a virgin all her life? Surely there was only one virgin birth?
     
  18. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    Off the top of my head, Catholic theology teaches that James & Co were the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage.
     
  19. _random_

    _random_ Jewel Runner

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    On another thread in the History forum a while back , I tried playing a little Lewis, and you said that most scholars don't believe that Jesus ever claimed to be God. What do they believe was the motive for the Gospel writers to insert claims to divinity into their writings?
     
  20. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    The Bible mentions 4 brother by name, and says he had sisters too. One of these is often thought to be the author of the book of James.


    The Catholic Church did not like the idea of Mary loosing her virginity, and so they decided that Adelphoi should be translated as "cousins" or "close relatives" (Plotinus has stated that there is no real linguistic basis for this and that the Catholic Church isn't being very reasonable).

    The Orthodox Church (whose clergy probably understood Greek a whole lot better, as it was their first language) didn't like the idea either, but they instead decided that it should be taken to mean step-brothers, i.e., sons that Joseph had by a previous marriage. They teach that Joseph was an older widower when he married Mary, and that he was marrying her not because he wanted more children but because he wanted help raising those he already had.
     
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