Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.
I believe he has stated he is agnostic.
How come the Bible doesn´t contain any unique "Godly" knowledge? It only has the basic knowledge and religious/philosophical beliefs you would expect from the ancient people who wrote it. Why didn´t God explain the wonders of astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and medicine? Does he wants us to be ignorant of the universe, our solar system and our planet? Why didn´t God teach us the basic laws of physics and mathematics, enabling ancient people to make wondrous improvements to the benefit of mankind? Why didn´t he teach us the best agricultural methods and how to cure diseases? Does he wants us starve, suffer and die prematurely?
It seems suspicious that the book of God only includes the knowledge that you could expect the ancient people of the region to know and imagine...
Maybe he wants us to find it all ourselves?
Any future knowledge would have to find words first to describe; the language needed to describe such knowledge did not yet exist. (Also, the book of God is not about knowledge sic, rather about the knowledge of right and wrong - a knowledge intrinsic to any human being - and how to live right; so it's more about ethics than knowledge sic.)
This is going to be a little difficult to sort out since I don't know much at all about modern Judaism and (correct me if I'm wrong or unintentionally offensive) you don't know much about ancient Judaism. Either way your knowledge of Judaism overall is surely much greater than mine so if there's material disagreement you're probably in the right. However, I think that ancient Judaism was more diverse than you suggest. First, although the Temple was (at least in theory) the ritual centre of Judaism, it had no practical effect on the religious practices of most Jews. Obviously only those actually living in Jerusalem or nearby would visit the Temple on a regular basis. For those living elsewhere in Palestine, there would have been Temple priests living nearby, because all priests worked actually at the Temple part-time and spent the rest of the time back in their communities, so there was contact with the Temple that way. But this didn't apply to Jews living outside Palestine, and they outnumbered the ones living in Palestine, by the first century AD. For them, religious life centred around the synagogue. There were synagogues in Palestine too, but they weren't so central there. So already there's a big difference between different Jewish groups based just on location - the closer they were to the Temple, the more important it was.
Second, there were certainly big differences in doctrine. Just look at the well-known disagreement between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over whether the dead would be raised. Remember that in the first century there was no agreement on the identity of the Jewish scriptures - no sense that this set of books was scriptural and that set was not. Obviously everyone used the Torah and the key prophets but beyond that it was all very much up in the air. Remember too that there was no Mishnah or anything like that. That was produced later, by rabbinic Judaism, and really its formation was a response to the variety in practice and belief that had previously existed.
So the point here is that there was less of a generally accepted "rule of faith", to use a Christian term, to act as a constraint upon Jewish belief and practice before the rise of rabbinical Judaism. No agreed scriptures, no agreed halakah or Mishnah or anything like that, and so on. These things were developed by rabbinical Judaism, which also made the study of the scriptures central to religious faith in a way which it had not been before. That too tended to result in greater uniformity.
Perhaps modern Judaism is still more diverse than ancient Judaism was. Really, given how much further the religion has expanded, it would be odd if it were not. So I'm probably wrong on that score. But I do think we shouldn't underestimate its ancient diversity. It's tempting to assume that ancient Judaism was basically like modern Judaism, just as it's tempting to assume that ancient Christianity was basically like modern Christianity or indeed that ancient paganism was basically like modern paganism, but it's not the case.
Certainly Christianity developed in a way that made it very different from (say) the Judaism of Jesus' time. But then so did Judaism. As I said, Judaism changed enormously during the first few centuries CE, not merely because it had to deal with the destruction of the Temple and the rise of Christianity but also because of the changes involved in the development of rabbinical Judaism (which was also closely related to those other developments, just to make things complicated). Obviously Christianity diverged from first-century Judaism more than rabbinical Judaism did. The point I'm trying to make, though, is that when we say that Christianity in mid- to late-antiquity and Judaism in the same period were, or may have been, very closely linked, we're not talking about two religions that were like modern Judaism and modern Christianity. Ancient Judaism, even late ancient Judaism, is a very different thing from modern Judaism, just as ancient Christianity, even late ancient Christianity, is a very different thing from modern Christianity.
I wouldn't want to give the impression of aiding or abetting that sort of thing. But as I say, when we're talking about antiquity, we're talking about the ancestors of the modern religions, not the modern religions. Whatever ancient Christians and ancient Jews did isn't, or at least shouldn't be, relevant to how modern Christians and modern Jews do or should behave. And, conversely, whatever modern Christians and modern Jews get up to shouldn't affect our examination of history. If we think that ancient Christianity and ancient Judaism were in fact quite distinct, surely we should conclude that on the basis of the examination of the evidence, not because we want it to be true for reasons drawn from a modern context.
Pretty much, yes. I don't see any particularly good reason for believing in God and I do see what seem to me to be fairly good reasons for not believing in him. I must say that I'm quite willing to suspect that there is a lot more to reality than the sort of things we can perceive; perhaps the physical world really is just one aspect of reality and there's a whole "spiritual" world that we perceive only dimly. Some kind of monism, perhaps. Or there might even be spiritual beings existing on some weird plane of reality. I'd say that either of these seem more plausible to me than classical theism. But still I would largely suspend judgement on the matter.
Biblical scholars don't just assess the evidence on the basis of whether it’s miraculous or not, but also on the basis of criteria of historical criticism. Remember that when we read the Gospels we are reading very complex texts. They are not the work of single authors who just decided to sit down and write a Gospel, whether as authentic memoirs or as works of fiction. There was a long process of oral transmission of the material before it ever got written, and also at least some of the Gospel authors used earlier, written texts as sources. So when you read any Gospel you are hearing a number of different voices at once:
Jesus himself, and whatever it was that he originally said or did.
The people who originally witnessed it and told it to other people.
The subsequent generations of Christians who told and re-told the story.
The authors who first wrote down the story (perhaps).
The author of the Gospel itself.
Subsequent editors or redactors of that Gospel (perhaps).
In such a complex situation, you can’t assume that any given passage is authentic (i.e. is precisely what Jesus said or did) until proven otherwise. On the contrary, what you have to do is consider which of those various voices it is most likely to represent, and how it might have been shaped by the subsequent voices down the line, as it were. The most important tools of biblical criticism – form criticism and redaction criticism – evolved to perform precisely that task.
Now in the case of “claims” to divinity, there’s plenty of reason to suppose that these either originate with the later stages of composition (and do not go back to Jesus) or that Jesus’ original saying was not a claim to divinity, and has been interpreted as such at a later stage. Take the controversy stories of Mark 2:1-12 that you mention. For one thing, many scholars think that this section of Mark’s Gospel is taken from an earlier text containing controversy stories, so already there’s an extra editorial layer in between the text as we have it and Jesus himself. More importantly, the narrative as it stands is wildly implausible, mainly because the actions and sayings attributed to Jesus would not have aroused the heated opposition that the text describes. Saying “Your sins are forgiven” was actually a perfectly normal circumlocution for “God forgives your sins”. It wasn’t a claim to divinity at all. Healing somebody simply by speaking was not a violation of Sabbath law at all; what mattered was not whether one healed or not, but how one did it. And most crucially, Pharisees and other scholars argued with each other constantly about the law, its interpretation, and its application, but they didn’t try to murder each other over it. There are stories of Pharisees with far more radical or dismissive attitudes to the law than Jesus who didn’t get either lynched or crucified. So surely the most reasonable explanation of these stories is that they have been re-interpreted by later Christian generations: they inherited stories of Jesus debating with other teachers about the law and similar matters, and they re-interpreted them as stories of Jesus claiming to be superior to the law, perhaps even claiming to be divine, and of the Pharisees and others hating him for it and plotting to put him to death. This reflected not the actual situation of Jesus himself but the situation of those later Christian communities, especially in their relations with non-Christian Jews. So the supposed “evidence” of Jesus’ claims to divinity is really only evidence that later Christians thought him divine, and re-interpreted traditional material to reflect this belief.
It is also worth pointing out, however, that they were surprisingly conservative with the material. They seem mainly to have re-interpreted existing material rather than just made up new material. For example, the authors of the Gospels were certainly convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, but you will find hardly any passages where they portray Jesus as claiming to be the Messiah. You’d think they would have just invented a few, but they did not. Similarly, the Synoptics do not, for the most part, present Jesus as literally God or divine, or at least not explicitly so. Of course there is much doubt over whether the Synoptic authors believed Jesus to be divine at all or what they would have understood this to mean, but that’s another matter.
No, the doctrine of the immaculate conception states that Mary was conceived without sin, not that she was conceived virginally. Either way, I don’t see any contradiction in stating that a person is divine and that that person has ancestors – divinity and descent aren’t mutually exclusive categories, or at least no more mutually exclusive than divinity and humanity in general.
Surely I’ve answered this plenty of times – I would call myself agnostic.
Because God didn’t write it, of course. What else do you expect me to say?
Thanks for that correction, but how can the child born from the Virgin Mary have any father - let alone one descending from David? It's also not a matter of Jesus being divine, but, as I stated, Jesus being God. Put like this there can be no relation to David whatsoever. Either Jesus is descended from David or Jesus is God; you can't have both. (Unless David is God as well, but that'd be a doctrine I haven't heard of.)
Yes, obviously Jesus could be descended from David provided he has at least one human parent.
However, you're also confusing the doctrine of the virgin birth with the doctrine of Jesus' divinity. They are not the same thing. I see no contradiction in believing that Jesus was God while also denying that he had two human parents in the normal way. So even if you thought that Jesus had to be descended from David via his father, you could still believe that Jesus was God and that he was descended from David. The problem, if there is one, is with the doctrine of the virgin birth, not the doctrine of Jesus' divinity, and the latter does not require the former.
Yeah, silly question, perhaps. But I thought the Bible are the "inspired words" of God. So I think he should have inspired us with more brilliant insights and unknown knowledge than he did. The site www.godisimaginary.com asked a similar thing:
"Ask yourself this simple question: Why, when you read the Bible, are you not left in awe? Why doesn't a book written by an omniscient being leave you with a sense of wonder and amazement? If you are reading a book written by the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe, wouldn't you expect to be stunned by the brilliance, the clarity and the wisdom of the author? Would you not expect each new page to intoxicate you with its incredible prose and its spectacular insight? Wouldn't you expect the author to tell us things that scientists have not been able to discover yet?"
Well, even most believers in the Bible don't believe it was actually God who wrote it, but humans.
Don't a lot of people believe that it was the holy ghost writing, while 'channeled' through the 'authors' ?
I'm pretty sure I've seen that said somewhere.
Some people believe that, to one degree or another.
Why would you think that? I would say that the fact that the Bible doesn't strike us in the way that we would expect something written by God - as the quote you give says, quite rightly in my view - gives us good reason to think that it wasn't.
Obviously, Christians who believe the Bible to have been inspired typically think not that God just used its human authors as instruments (although some ancient Christians did think that, and no doubt many modern fundamentalists do too), but that they wrote the words, inspired by their experiences of God (or something like that). Personally I don't see much reason to believe that either, even from a Christian viewpoint, but it's obviously more reasonable than thinking that God is literally the author of the text.
Fair enough, but what about Jesus then? I know his primary purpose where to teach theology, moral and philosophy, but couldn´t he at least given humanity some scientific insights? It was a man who was able to perform miracles and resurrect people, yet he still didn´t seem particularly interested in teaching humanity any advanced medicine. But I guess, since the mortal life is a pretty dull waiting for the brilliant eternal life in heaven, that might have been expected.
What makes you think that Jesus knew any scientific insights?
We've had the discussion about Jesus' knowledge some pages back. In the Middle Ages, most theologians agreed that Jesus knew everything that any human being could know (on the grounds that if he didn't, he wouldn't have been perfect). This is, as far as I can tell, still official Catholic teaching today, although it is obviously very implausible. I think many Christians and certainly most theologians would reject it today as not only implausible but also heretical, since it detracts from Jesus' true humanity. Most theologians today would argue that even if Jesus were truly divine that would not necessitate that he consciously knew everything. It might not even necessitate that he consciously knew himself to be divine.
Also, of course, Christians believe that Jesus' primary purpose was not to teach anything, but to save humanity. I assume from your oh-so-subtle eye-rolling that when you speak about Jesus here, you're speaking about what Christians believe about Jesus, not what you believe.
Interesting. Are there other instances in the literature of the day where teachers, who don't claim to be the Messiah or anything, pronounce that others sins are forgiven? (Aside from forgiving sins committed against each other, of course) I can't find any, but I'm genuinely curious if you know of some.
You say that there were Pharisees who had far more radical or dismissive attitudes towards the Law than Jesus did, and got away with it. But how then do you explain Jesus' crucifixion? (Or do you believe that didn't happen? That sounds like rather an odd thing to make up, though) Was there anything claimed by individual Pharisees that was anything as radical as Jesus claiming to be God? You say that the Pharisees had diverging views and arguments without killing each other over them; fair enough. But doesn't that make the argument that Jesus claimed to be God all the stronger? Because if it wasn't his talk about the Law that offended them, and he didn't preach violent rebellion, what's left? Gruesomely killing a man for healing crippled people? That doesn't seem to fit. I'm curious as to what you think it was that Jesus did, that prompted his execution. (Or if you don't believe that happened, I guess I'm curious as to where you think that story came from)
But isn't the Gospel of Mark typically dated to around ~70AD? How much distortion could really take place during such a relatively short period of time? And I'm also curious about why Mark is dated at this period, as far as I can tell, it's because of Jesus' prediction that the Temple will be destroyed is read as a later insertion. But that seems to me like it starts with the assumption that he simply could not have made that prediction at the time in which he lived.
I'm also curious, if you have time, as to why most modern scholar seem so skeptical of the validity of the Gospel of John, as compared to the Synoptic Gospels. Why is it seen as so markedly different, or significantly less reliable than the others?
Theortically you can believe anything you want; however, there's no sound basis for any theory that Jesus - in whatever way - descended from David. The only reason for this unfounded theory is that the Judaic messiah is supposed to be from the house of David; given the early judeochristian belief that Jesus was the messiah, i.e. Christ(-os/-us), there had to be a connection here. It seems however, there isn't really, despite efforts to prove the contrary. (Other than that, I don't feel nor purport to transfer any confusion.)
It has been asserted that that genealogy given in Matthew 1 is that of Joseph, and the genealogy given in Luke 3 is that of Mary, with verse 16 more properly reading "the father-in law" of Joseph. (This also explains why they are so utterly different genealogies. I mean, I don't expect you to believe that this is the complete genealogy all the way back to Adam, but that there were no records, no living people who remembered his grandfather's name correctly?)
Now, I don't really expect you to believe that. But I think it counts as a reasonable theory, even if it's not 100% historically proven. But then, I'm not sure what evidence of Jesus' lineage could be - they didn't exactly issue birth certificates in those days.
Use Tolkien's arguement for this. According to Christianity, Jesus wasn't sent to 'scare' or 'lure' people into heaven by doing 'magic'. Some will argue that he did just that by curing the sick, or raising the dead, but according to the Bible, stuff like that had happened before (Moses, the serpents, and the Staff), and happened after (The Acts of the Apostles, etc.). According to Christians, he was sent to tell people the truth, show them a fraction of the real truth, and get them to choose for themselves (Free will... ehh?). If he had told his neighbors how to cure cancer, or even, HIV/AIDS (2000 years before it came around too!) he would either A) Be wrongly 'abusing' his power as the Christ B) Seen as a fool by his followers or C) Killed for being a demon...
The reason I mention Tolkien, is the fact he uses this arguement for the Istari in the Lord of the Rings. They were sent by the Valar to convert the peoples of Middle-earth to the good side through words and small acts of 'magic' alone, not by force, knowledge, or fear.
Sorry to butt in, but I thought that might be helpful... maybe.
You can find examples in the Old Testament - 2 Samuel 12:13, for example. Note that in Mark 2:5 Jesus says only "Your sins are forgiven", not "I forgive your sins". Such a passive form was a common way of referring obliquely to God, with the meaning "God forgives your sins". You can see the same thing in James 5:15. There are also examples where the forgiveness is attributed to the person doing the pronouncing, but still as a circumlocution for God's forgiveness. There is an example in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Aramaic Prayer of Nabonidus, where a Jewish exorcist is said to have forgiven Nabonidus' sins - obviously meaning that God forgave them through the exorcist's intervention. So in this context, the saying attributed to Jesus is really quite unobjectionable. The reaction of the scribes can either be attributed to the fact that they were a bunch of not-very-well-educated village copyists or, more plausibly, be regarded as a fiction, added by later Christians to "explain" the hostility of Jews to Christians by projecting it back to the time of Jesus himself.
Certainly Pharisees didn't go around claiming to be God, but then, as I say, there's no good reason to think that Jesus did either. His crucifixion can be explained easily without having to account for violent hatred on the part of the Pharisees against him. It occurred at the time of Passover, when Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims and tensions were invariably high. The Roman prefect was temporarily in residence in Jerusalem, complete with not only his small standing force but more troops loaned to him by the legate of Syria, to keep the peace. Any disruption during this time would typically be met with quick action. According to the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem in some kind of triumphal procession on a donkey. He then caused a disturbance in the Temple, knocking over tables. He also predicted that the Temple would be destroyed (in fact, the table-turning may have been simply a way of making this prediction, and not a fit of anger against the money-changers as the Gospel authors represent it). Predicting the Temple's destruction was of course code for predicting the end of the world and the overthrow of the Romans, since people thought these events would come together. All of this would have been easily enough for the high priest to arrest Jesus and get him out of harm's way quickly before anything kicked off. Note also that such action was sometimes taken against individuals who looked like they might cause trouble, even if no trouble had yet begun. For example, there was someone called Jesus son of Ananias, who was arrested in 62 CE for claiming to be a prophet and prophesying woe on Jerusalem. The high priest had him beaten and released; he was then arrested again and handed to the Roman governor, who scourged him and released him again on grounds of insanity. This case seems very similar to that of Jesus of Nazareth, except that Jesus of Nazareth was executed whereas the other Jesus was eventually released. Perhaps he wasn't considered such a viable threat - Jesus of Nazareth, after all, had followers, wasn't obviously insane, and (perhaps crucially) was causing bother at Passover.
So Jesus' execution seems perfectly easy to explain in terms of short-term factors associated with his presence in Jerusalem, especially his eschatological preaching and specifically his actions in the Temple. There's no need to appeal to long-term factors building up throughout his ministry in Galilee. The writers of the Gospels have kept the key fact that Jesus was executed by the Romans, but re-interpreted it to make it seem like the Romans only did this because the wicked Jewish leaders hated Jesus so much that they forced them to. And that's easily explicable in terms of the situation of Christians later in the first century, and their relations to both the Jewish leadership and the Roman authorities. As you can see yourself by comparing the differences between the Gospels. In Mark, some Pharisees and scribes dislike Jesus and some get on well with him. Pilate executes Jesus with a bit of reluctance because the high priest tells him to. In Matthew, all the sympathetic scribes and Pharisees have disappeared, and Jesus is now subjected to a constant barrage of attacks from them. He retaliates in the vituperative chapter 13. The Jewish mob says that Jesus' blood will be on them and their children. In Luke, Pilate is even more reluctant to crucify Jesus and does his best to avoid having to do so. In John, Jesus' enemies are no longer the Pharisees and scribes, but merely "the Jews", as if (a) they were all the same, and (b) Jesus and his disciples weren't Jews at all. And Pilate is a high-minded, rather poetic character, who engages Jesus in philosophical discussion and repeatedly tries to release him.
It seems pretty clear that all of this can be explained in terms of what was going on at the times when the Gospels were written. In particular, Matthew's Gospel was written during a time of great strain between his community and those he regarded as the heirs of the Pharisees; there is much debate over whether his community was "intra-mural" (i.e. still within the Jewish community) or "extra-mural" (i.e. had recently been kicked out). John, by contrast, was writing at a time when that period had passed, and when his opponents were simply "Jews" in general.
I think there could be quite a bit of development of the material in forty years. After all, there's no reason, in principle, why a few unscrupulous characters couldn't have just made up a whole bunch of stuff in far less time than that. I don't think that that's what happened here, and as I said, I think that much of the material was preserved more conservatively than one might think, but still it will inevitably have been shaped by the transmission process itself. This applies to any orally transmitted material. Think of folk songs, for example, which can take many forms over quite a small period of time while still remaining recognisable. Jokes are another example. When a joke is told and retold, it is never the same twice, but the "point" of joke (the situation it describes and the punchline) remains roughly the same. You don't need a long time for this to happen.
I think Mark is usually dated to either the late 60s or the early 70s not because of the prediction about the Temple (as I say, it seems very likely that Jesus did make such a prediction - note, for example, that his claim in Mark 13:2 that not one stone would be left on another did not come true, so it seems unlikely that a later Christian would have invented this as a "prediction" of the events of 70 CE) but because the "little apocalypse" of chapter 13 matches the actual conditions of that time. I'm sure there are other reasons as well but this is a key one. It's certainly not to do with assumptions about what predictions Jesus could or could not have made.
It just is markedly different, as you can see if you sit down and read the whole of Mark (say) and then the whole of John. John's Jesus is nothing like the Jesus of the Synoptics. He delivers long speeches about the Father and the Son and makes cryptic "I am" statements. He hardly mentions the kingdom of God or the Son of man, which dominate the Synoptics. He performs no exorcisms (which are prominent in the Synoptics) and shows few emotions. He performs miracles as "signs" to show off his glory, whereas in the Synoptics he disapproves of signs, refuses to give them, and when asked for evidence of his power, refers to quite different things (Mark 8:11; Matthew 12:39, 11:4-5).
He moves from place to place in a dazzlingly weird way (just read the Gospel and try to plot the action on a map), skipping around throughout Palestine over a period of at least two years, in contrast to the apparently very short ministry in Galilee followed by a single journey to Jerusalem which the Synoptics portray. There are other problems as well, such as the fact that John thinks that Jesus died the day before Passover, not on Passover itself, meaning that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal, and Jesus did not utter the eucharistic words of institution at it. Compare that to the Synoptics, who think the Last Supper was a Passover meal and make a big deal of the words of institution (especially Luke, who thinks Jesus blessed the wine twice). Plus John places the incident in the Temple right at the start of Jesus' ministry. This means that he thinks that the tipping point incident which directly led to Jesus' death was the raising of Lazarus.
Now none of this is, in itself, impossible to believe. Perhaps Jesus really was like that, and some of the eccentricities of the narrative could be attributed to the author or to subsequent editing (the textual history of this Gospel is very complex, showing clear signs of having gone through a number of editions). The problem is that it is so different from the picture given by the Synoptics. Barring the impossible situation that Jesus spoke and behaved in two completely different ways, and one tradition recorded one way and another tradition recorded another, it seems that one has to choose whom to believe - the Synoptics or John. The vast majority of scholars have gone for the Synoptics. It makes far more sense to see the Synoptics as preserving authentic material about Jesus and John as offering a theological meditation upon his person than the other way around. That's not to say that John has no historical material at all. In fact many people have thought that his chronology of Jesus' last 24 hours makes much more sense than the Synoptic one. But his portrait of Jesus himself seems very unhistorical.
Quite right, but we weren't talking about whether belief in Jesus' descent from David is or can be justified - we were only talking about whether it's consistent with belief in either (a) his divinity or (b) his virgin birth. I don't know why you've brought in this further issue.
I don't think it's proven any per cent. I'd say that a far more reasonable explanation would simply be that neither Matthew nor Luke actually knew any of the genealogy at all, and that they or their sources basically made it up. Either that or one or (more probably) both of them were just wrong. I don't see any reason at all to suppose that they were giving two different sorts of accounts, both of which were true. After all, I can't imagine that illiterate peasants would have had any records of such things in the first place, and it doesn't seem very likely that in the 80s of the first century, or thereabouts, anyone would have any reliable idea of who Jesus' grandparents had been.
Of course all the Gospels would be a lot more interesting if they had Jesus fight a Balrog.
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