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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    You seem to have forgotten the reason why we were talking about this in the first place. It's got nothing to do with what Jesus actually claimed. We were talking about Lewis' "trilemma" argument, which runs like this:

    (1) Anyone claiming to be God must be mad, bad, or actually God.
    (2) Jesus claimed to be God.
    (3) Jesus was neither mad nor bad.
    (4) Therefore, Jesus was God.

    As Bill3000 pointed out, (2) is highly questionable, and this is the premise that most critics attack. I was trying to show that (1) is pretty dubious too, the reason being that we don't know what sort of claims a first-century Galilean might have made about himself without being mad or bad. I do not think that Jesus actually claimed to be God. The point I was trying to make was that if he had claimed to be God, that would not prove that he was God. There is a strong case for thinking that Judaism did have the conceptual resources, in Jesus' day, for the ascription of effective divinity to a human being. And that is enough to destroy (1) irrespective of what Jesus himself actually claimed.

    The patriarchy was not established until (roughly) the early fourth century, long after the time you're talking about. And I don't see why it's relevant at all. How does having a patriarchy stop them from being Jewish? How, even, does having a church stop them from being Jewish? What do you think "Jewish" even means?

    In every assertion you make about the relations of ancient Christians and Jews you overlook the fact that ancient Judaism was extremely diverse. Maybe today, with the way we think of "Christian" and "Jew", one could not be both at once. But how do you know this was the case in antiquity? Judaism didn't have anything like a unified structure or hierarchy until the end of the first century CE, when the rabbis at Jamnia set one up and founded rabbinic Judaism. If the Christians had a church and a hierarchy, all that means is that they were not rabbinic Jews. But even after the founding of rabbinic Judaism, Judaism was still very varied - it took a long time for rabbinic Judaism to become the definitive form.

    Now if you think that Christianity and Judaism were completely distinct from a very early stage, it is up to you to provide an argument to that effect. Just saying that one lot were Christians and the other lot were Jews is not going to cut it. Neither is pointing to the existence of the church. You have to show why having a church was incompatible with being Jews.

    I'm afraid it hasn't. You said that John knew Matthew and Luke. I take it you mean that the author of the Fourth Gospel had read the First and Third Gospels, rather than that the apostle John knew the apostle Matthew and Luke the physician, since you said first:

    And then you elaborated on that with:

    But I can't see any explanation of why you think this is so.

    How do you know that the author didn't mean for it to be taken literally?

    A symbol is not the same thing as an allegory. For something to count as an allegory, each element of it must represent (rather transparently) an element in the thing represented. That isn't the case with a simple and visceral symbol such as the Grim Reaper. It seem to me you're taking the term "allegory" too widely.

    Also, an allegory is overtly fictional. It is not meant to explain anything, merely represent. That is why myth and allegory are mutually exclusive. A myth is supposed to explain, at some level. It explains why the world is the way it is or the way human beings are the way they are. The events in a myth are, in some sense, supposed to have really happened, or to be continually really happening. This is not the case with allegory. This is also why allegory is distinct from typology. In typology, the story describes real events, and the real events themselves are symbolic or otherwise teach a higher truth. In allegory, the story itself is what teaches the higher truth, and the actual events it purports to describe are neither here nor there.
     
  2. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Actually, I hadn't 'forgotten', I simply hadn't commented on it. And I notice you agree with my conclusion.

    Not really: for instance, the Catholic church claims Petrus as the first pope - which would make him the founder of Christianity Catholic-style, Now, I don't agree with that claim, simply because it is on very shaky ground (as we discussed earlier). Also, the fact that an effective Christian patriarchy only came about after the 3rd century doesn't alter the fact that it was a Christian church being founded , not a Jewish one. As I mentioned earlier, I consider Paul's decision to preach among the gentiles a breaking point; the Jerusalem-based disciples didn't agree and Paul went on to become the true father of Christianity as we know it - more accurately the Orthodox variety (later revived by Protestantism, which seemed particularly pleased with Paul's interpretation of the teachings of Christ). You yourself have extensively explained the different varieties of early Christianity which eventually were declared heretic by the dominant varieties (i.e. the Ortodox and Catholic churches). This is perfectly consistent with the diversity of religious starnds found in Judaism around Jesus' times; the defining difference, however, is that Christianity claims Jesus as the Messiah. That, obviously, is in retrospect, as at the time there were even those that thought John the Baptist was the Messiah - until he died. The difference between a Judaic and an Christian interpretation would then lie in the fact that while Jesus died he is still regarded as the Messiah by Christians, while for Jews that means he cannot be the Messiah - as he will bring the world to an end and therefore must be alive to do so. finally, whether Judaism around Jesus' time - or thereafter - did not have a central or (decentral) hierarchical organization is quite beside the point. Early Christianity did have some sort of organization, but it wasn't predominantly patriarchal. (There were female 'priests' and prophets, which in due time was deemed improper for females - a remarkable coincidence with Islam, by the way.)

    Hm, obviously John couldn't have read Mark and Luke, since their gospels hadn't been canonized yet; but some early versions of these gospels certainly were around - either in oral or literal form. (That the apostles knew eachother seems rather redundant, I see no ned to comment on that.)

    The author used the snake (an allegoric form, not to be taken literally) from an earlier - probably Sumerian - example, in order to show that the cult associated with it wasn't the true religion, but that of the Jewish God was. Also, ofcurse, the snake speaks - something which snakes rarely - if ever - do. Which, by the way, points to a mythical element in the story: in myths it is perfectly normal for snakes to speak.

    I wouldn't say an allegory is overtly fictional: it may combine perfectly normal elements with more symbolic ones. In fact, the use of symbols is elementary in an allegory. But if the symbols are no longer known for their original meaning, the true meaning of it may be lost on the reader. The 'real' event in the Eden story is ofcourse the becoming sentient of humankind; the myth tries to explain this by the eating of forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge and equates this with sin. The Greek counterpart to this is the Prometheus myth, which is about the invention of fire - although, in actuality it relates how fire was stolen by the here Prometheus from the gods and given to humans; so the core of the story here is different - but it is equally symbolic in nature, as fire stands for knowledge (cf. 'the flame of knowledge'). Interestingly, in your definition, the garden of Eden story is a perfect allegory: the actual events it purports to describe are neither here nor there.
     
  3. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    One thing to keep in mind is that Christianity did not "spring fully formed" like Athena from the head of Zeus. It was 350 years from the crucifixion to the adoption of the final cannon. While conversion experiences may have happened "overnight", believers did not not stop being who they had been. New Christians did not suddenly lose their Jewishness. Changes are incremental and often take a generational die-off to fully manifest.

    The gospels were written down half a century after Jesus died and the debate over how close the writings reflect the actual events is going to be tough to resolve without new evidence in the form of texts from the years closer to his actual life. I think the authors of the NT wrote down their best recollections as tempered by the intervening years and the needs of the church add new followers.

    What happens to a religious group when its “prophet” dies? How do the leaders respond? Would people in 30 AD respond differently than people in the 19th or 20th centuries?

    When “prophets” die, followers turn within to sort out how to proceed and what face to present to the outside world. "What do we do now?" Some cults do not make it through this change and die out. Those cults that do survive the initial trauma eventually emerge and have a story to tell to keep the faithful within the fold and convert new people. I think that they believe that their story is accurate.

    Mementos, writings, stories etc. are all collected by members and memorialized in some fashion depending upon the technology available at the time. “Disciples” tell their first person-stories and try to bring in new people. Because they do not have their charismatic “founder”, they must develop new ways to attract people. Usually such tactics involve promoting the sayings, wisdom, life, deeds, prophecies, miracles, etc. of the now dead “messiah”. In a small group of people who all knew the “founder” their experiences and mementos would be sufficient to entice new people into the group.

    The core group of disciples and followers who actually knew Jesus would be sufficient to keep things going for a while. Their personal stories and excitement (or the Holy Spirit) would be a key element of the cult’s growth. As those people grew old and died (maybe 20 to 40 years later) the second crisis hit: Who will pass on the stories and traditions of those who actually knew Jesus to new converts? Second generation followers are not the same as those who had first-hand experience with Jesus.

    At that point the need for permanent records becomes important. People take notes, write down what they remember, talk to others and try to compile everything they can, before the last of the original followers die off. Organizational issues come to the front as important. Leadership/succession crises can appear. Traditions become doctrine and ritual to insure accurate transmission of the story. The informal church becomes more formal and the loose relations between churches becomes tighter. "The Church" is born.

    I think Christianity followed this general path and that that stories of Jesus’ birth and early life are part of the “advertising” the early followers needed to entice people into conversations about how Jesus would change their lives if given the chance.

    300 years (15 generations) is a long time and you have to keep that in mind when you think about the development of Christianity and its consolidation as a distinct religion. Jesus died about 30 AD, Around 70 the gospels begin to take shape and the formalization process begins. Then over the next few hundred years the church survives the Roman persecution to emerge supreme in Europe.


    The United States is not yet 300 years old.
     
  4. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    That's a quite insightful post.

    Having studied (and occasionally still studying) history, I'm not inclined to compare prophets from antiquity with those of modern times, unless discussing the history of prohets, which wasn't the case; rather would I compare the situation after Jesus' death with that after Gautama Siddharta died (to name but one example), where his followers ultimately declared him divine (i.e. Buddha, as compared to Jesus being declared both Christ and God) as well. The only modern time 'prophets' I can think of to compare are the founders of the 7th Day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses; obviously they haven't become deified - not yet anyway, but not 15 generations have passed since their demise (not too mention that deification has become a somewhat archaic process in post-medieval times). One might ofcourse also think of such early modern 'prophets' as the founders of Protestantism. More appropriate as concerns the Christian aspect of the problem might be a comparison with early Christian variants, some of which have been mentioned here.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    JELEEN, I have to say I'm increasingly wondering whether you deliberately overlook the point of everything that's said in favour of just sniping at comments that are made along the way, whether such sniping is relevant to the point or not. Also it seems that no matter how often I argue against something you've said, you counter not by addressing the argument but by repeating your original assertion. Thus:

    Then I wonder what the purpose of your comment was. The question was whether Jesus could, as a first-century Jew, have plausibly claimed to be divine (in some sense). I argued that he could, and this undermines the trilemma. You responded to that like this:

    - which is entirely about whether or not Jesus did claim to be divine. But that's completely irrelevant to the discussion about whether or not he could have. So why confuse matters in such a way?

    But this is just repeating the same point. You assert that they were "Christian" and therefore not "Jewish". But what's your evidence for the claim that "Christian" and "Jewish" were exclusive categories? Why does founding, or being a member of, a Christian church prevent someone from being Jewish?

    I find this very implausible. First, the Jerusalem-based disciples didn't have a problem with Paul preaching to the gentiles in the slightest. If they did, this fact is not recorded. The arguments between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles, recorded in Galatians and hinted at in Acts, concerned the circumcision of gentiles and the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, not the preaching to gentiles. Second, I cannot see why you'd think Paul the "true father" of Christianity. Certainly he was the most important theologian of his generation. However, he is not responsible for the bulk of the New Testament; the Gospels were very probably written independently of his teaching (which is why Matthew's Gospel, for example, seems to contradict him on the crucial issue of faith and works). And I don't see what makes his decision to preach to gentiles a "breaking point". It was certainly important but not some great break with the past.

    Remember, Paul agonised at length over the fact that most Jews had not converted to Christianity. So most Jews were not Christians. It does not follow from that, however, that most Christians were not Jews.

    Right - that is what makes Christians distinct from (other) Jews.

    Now I don't understand at all. Christians believed that Jesus had died and risen again, and that he would return at the end of time. Why couldn't a Jew believe that? What makes you think that all Jews, by definition, were unable to believe that Jesus could have died, while Christians were able to believe this? Weren't Peter, Paul, and the other apostles Jews? And didn't they believe this? So why couldn't other Jews do so? And why would accepting such a belief stop them from being Jews?

    The leadership of the early church was certainly predominantly male, although there were indeed female deacons and prophets, as you mention. And whether first-century Judaism had a hierarchical organisation is entirely to the point, because you said that the existence of the hierarchy of the Christian church is what made it non-Jewish, as if its hierarchy could not co-exist within the same organisation as the Jewish hierarchy. But the absence of any such Jewish hierarchy means that such a conflict wouldn't have occurred. So why couldn't the Christian church, with its own system of leaders, emerge and develop within the wider world of Judaism - just as the religion that we now call rabbinic Judaism did? What makes one "Jewish" and the other "not Jewish"? These are the crucial questions which you need to answer to support your insistence that Christianity was intrinsically non-Jewish.

    I don't see why they would have to be canonised before anyone could read them. Matthew and Luke both read Mark and Mark hadn't been canonised. Nothing was officially canonised until the end of the fourth century. Since Mark and Luke were very probably both written before John was, there is no reason, on the face of it, why the author of John couldn't have read Mark and Luke or indeed Matthew.

    So what are you saying now? That the author of John had read the Synoptics, or some of them, or hypothetical early versions of them? Or that he didn't? Or that he could have but you don't know? You said before, first that John depended upon Mark, and then that John depended upon Matthew and Luke (and thus depended upon Mark only indirectly). You still haven't said anything to support that unusual claim.

    I still don't see how any of this makes it allegorical. How do you know that the author didn't think that all this actually happened at some primeval, mythic time of the past when snakes could speak? Or that, at least, this is what he wanted his readers to believe? You can't defend the claim that the story is allegorical simply by re-describing it and sticking the word "allegoric" in there. How do you know that the snake is not meant to be taken literally?

    I still think this is a misuse of the word "allegory". That is not how it is normally used - it has a relatively narrow meaning, and certainly doesn't cover all symbolism. It seems that we're just arguing about the meaning of a word at this point.
     
  6. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Yo, Plotinus, came across a reference to "casuistry" in Catholic thought in the 17th century. Apparently it's some specific Catholic doctrine, which is weird to me, because I always got the impression that casuistry (used in the not-a-Catholic-doctrine sense) was kinda like moral relativism. So what does "casuistry" mean in the sense of Catholic theology?
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Well, "casuistry" simply means considering things on a case-by-case basis. It is usually applied to the legal or moral sphere. So instead of flat-out saying "all actions of such-and-such a kind are immoral/illegal", you consider each case individually and judge it on its individual merits. But "casuistry" has certain overtones that go beyond that. One is excessive, pedantic, over-categorisation. The more relevant one, however, is a reference to probabilism. Which I do know something about, as it happens.

    Probabilism was a moral/pastoral position that developed in Catholicism in the late sixteenth century - 1577, to be precise. That is when a Dominican named Bartholomew de Medina published a commentary on Aquinas which introduced the idea. It all concerned what you should do when you're not sure what the right thing to do is. Suppose you have several choices of things to do, and you want to do the right thing, but it isn't clear which one is the right thing. Before de Medina, Catholic theologians had developed the idea that your various options could have different degrees of "probability". A better word would perhaps be "plausibility" (the confusing terminology really goes back to Cicero, via Augustine, and their discussions of the Academics, but that's by the by). A "probable" option is one that both tradition and reason suggest is likely to be the right thing to do. And the consensus was that, in a situation where you don't know which option is the right thing to do, you should do the one that is most probable, that is, which has the greatest weight of tradition and reason. This view was later known as "probabiliorism".

    De Medina, however, argued that in fact this isn't the case, and it's all right to do any action that is "probable" (i.e. meets certain minimum standards of being plausibly the right thing to do) - even if it isn't the most probable one. This is "probabilism". Although the idea was pioneered by a Dominican it quickly became associated with the Jesuits, who thought this was brilliant. They were especially pleased with its pastoral usefulness. The early probabilists typically argued for this position not in the context of moral dilemmas as such but in the context of the confessional or spiritual direction. What happens when a perplexed person asks his priest what course of action he should take, and it isn't clear to either of them what the right course is? Probabiliorism states that the priest must advise him to do the thing that seems most likely to be the right thing. That can be harsh and even lead to people giving up on trying to do what's right altogether. Probabilism, by contrast, states that the priest may advise him to do any of the things that seem to have a reasonable chance of being the right thing. That is easier and more helpful for someone who is perplexed and asking their priest for advice.

    It is important to recognise that all of this is concerned with what one may do, not with what the right thing to do is. By saying that, in these situations, there is a range of different actions which one may do (i.e. all the probable ones), a probabilist is not committed to the notion that all of these different actions are right. One could still hold a standard Thomist account of right and wrong and be a probabilist, and the early probabilists such as de Medina did.

    Later, however, some probabilists became more extreme. Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz, for example, was a Jesuit who argued that doing what's right doesn't really matter at all. One's aim, in moral behaviour, is not to do the best thing - it is merely to avoid sin. And one avoids sin as long as one performs (only those) actions that one has good reason to think may be right. Furthermore, Caramuel argued that when presented with a range of different, "probable" actions, one should always go not for the one that is most probable but for the one that is easiest or most pleasant to do, because there is less chance of failure. That isn't moral relativism - Caramuel, I think, would still have said that there always is an objective right and wrong in any situation, it's just not our place to try to do it - but you can see how it is coming pretty close to moral relativism. It is, perhaps, a practical moral relativism even if not a theoretical one. Certainly many opponents of probabilism regarded it all as sheer laxity. Pope Alexander VII condemned probabilism in 1665 and Innocent XI did in 1679, and in 1700 the French clergy forbade it to be taught.

    In response to this, some theologians worked out more subtle versions of probabilism. The most important was equiprobabilism, which was the brainchild of the eighteenth-century moral theologian Alphonsus de Liguori. According to equiprobabilism, one should always do the most probable action (so far, it is the same as probabiliorism), but if more than one action is equally most probable, you can do any of those. After his death, de Liguori became regarded as a doctor of the church and so his version of probabilism became very widespread within Catholicism.

    Throughout all of this, however, opponents of Catholicism regarded probabilism as one of the church's worst features. They thought that it was basically about making fine excuses to let people off sinning. You must remember that in many quarters Jesuits had a reputation anyway for extreme cleverness and slipperiness, for being able to argue for anything, and their association with probabilism was seen as just one more example of this. I found lots of great quotes about probabilism (usually referred to as "casuistry", hence the relevance of all this) when I was researching it but which I didn't get to use, so now I can. Here, for example, is a comment from a book entitled St. Alphonsus Liguori and the Redemptorists: their immoral and false teachings exposed by quotations from their writings, published in 1859:

    Here's one from an article published in the journal Philosophy, of all places, in 1914:

    This whole thing was also the context for the famous row between Charles Kingsley and John Henry Newman in the 1860s. As you'll no doubt recall, this revolved around whether or not Newman had claimed that it is acceptable for Catholic priests to lie; Kingsley insisted that he had while Newman retorted that he had not. The argument led to Newman's writing of Apologia pro vita sua. But it makes sense when one remembers the wider context of the controversies over "casuistry": as a Catholic, Newman was intrinsically likely to come under suspicion of teaching that sinning was perfectly OK - which is how probabilism was popularly understood. So when you see references to "Jesuit casuistry" or anything along those lines, it's a reference to the probabilist controversy.
     
  8. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Wow, thanks! That's what I was looking for. Very helpful. :goodjob: Was there ever any sort of papal or conciliar ruling on de Liguori's equiprobabilist formula?

    Also, funny seeing a Lobkowitz involved in this. Was he related to the famous Bohemian family of nobility, including that chancellor who missed the meeting that turned into the Defenestration in 1618?
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Not as far as I know, but it seems that in 1831 there was a decree stating that confessors were free to follow de Liguori's views on this matter. This was a few years before de Liguori was canonised. So I think that equiprobabilism has never been made official Catholic policy, but it is officially at least condoned.

    I don't know, but it seems unlikely given that he was Spanish - although he did spend some time in Prague, I believe (where he led a bunch of armed clerics against the invading Swedes in 1648).
     
  10. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    How do/did Christians reconcile the fact that Adam End eve's sons and daughters necessarily had to marry and mate with each other with the immorality and prohibition of incest?
     
  11. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Some groups say that Adam was not the progenitor of all humans but of the Jewish and related races, so Adam's sons married women who were not related to them. The multiple origins theory tends to be closely associated with racism though, and I don't think there is much basis for it.


    More commonly though the prohibition against incest is thought to only be there to prevent genetic problems. Adam and Chawa (I prefer a more literal transliteration than the traditional Eve) are considered to have been created perfect, without any risk factors for any genetic disease. Harmful mutations would only develop slowly, so siblings marrying in the first few generations would be less incestuous than strangers of different races marrying today. If I recall Sarah was Abraham's half-sister and that was no reason to condemn the relationship. (Note: I read somewhere that in Mesopotamia it was customary for a grooms father to legally adopt the bride, so they may have been legally siblings without being related.) Marrying cousins was also encouraged back in Genesis.
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Plus, of course, plenty of Christians suppose that Adam, Eve, and their offspring never existed anyway.
     
  13. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    That doesn't really work for the time before genetics was known, and besides, incest was tended to be considered immoral because it was against the divine law, not merely because of preventing genetic problems.
     
  14. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    As I already stated that I did not comment on that issue, I fail to see how you might interpret me as - even wanting - to 'confuse matters', as you say. As for me 'sniping', I'll leave that for what it is: interpretation without substantial comment.

    The Holy Trinity, for one. (I'm sure there are other Christian doctrines you can think of that would be unacceptable to people of the Judaic persuasion.)

    On the first, so-called apostolic Council:


    The purpose of the meeting, according to Acts, was to resolve the disagreement in Antioch, which had wider implications than circumcision. Some of the Pharisees who had become believers insisted that it was "needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5

    ). The primary issue which was addressed related to the requirement of ritual circumcision, as the author of Acts relates, but other matters arose as well, as the Apostolic Decree indicates. The dispute was between those, such as the followers of the "Pillars of the Church," led by James, who believed, following his interpretation of the Great Commission, that the church must observe the rules of traditional Judaism,[4] and Paul of Tarsus, who believed there was no such necessity.

    That sounds like a diagreement between the Jerusalem-based disciples (led by James) and Paul to me.

    As to your conclusion: that is contradictory. First you argued (correctly) that Christian conversion among non-Jews were succesful, then you claim that that does not imply that most Christians were not Jews.

    Again you twist my words here: the Jewish belief in the Messiah imples precisely that he hasn't appeared yet; I never claimed that Jews cannot believe that Jesus is dead - that would be absurd. One has to make a distinction between Jews who believed Jesus is (or was) the Messiah - which makes them Jewish Christians (although the term did not yet exist at the time) and Jews that did not. Over time the latter became Jews, the former Christians. It seems to me then that the belief whether Jesus is/was the Messiah is quite essential to the issue, whether people at the time realized or not.

    Obviously the establishment of a Christian hierarchy - as opposed to a Jewish one - is another essential part of the establisment of a Christian church. Whether the two could or could not co-exist is aother matter, which I think has little bearing on the matter. (For instance the first official Council was clearly all-Christian, while Judaism and Christianity co-existed - they always did, but not always harmoniously, to say the least.) As to the question why Christianity was intrinsically non-Jewish, I think I already answered that: the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah seems to have developed into an obvious breaking point since its acceptance by early Judeo-Christians.

    One must discern betweens the gospels as we now them know (that is in their current-day prined version) and the original stories, as I think I already mentioned. We do not know whether Matthew and Luke both read Mark, as you say - we do know that they knew some version of the gospels now known as Mark's.

    How is that an unusual claim? Only Paul's letters have little reference to any of the gospel texts. If Mark's was the earliest recorded gospel, and it is established that there are references to or variations on Mark in Mathew and Luke (meaning they are depended - at least in part - on Mark), while John is the latest of the gospels, would he not have known the others at all? That seems like an unusual claim to me.

    Indeed:

    the allegorical sense, which includes typology. An example would be the parting of the Red Sea being understood as a "type" (sign) of baptism.

    Just as the story of the parting of the Red Sea should then not be take literally, nor should the original sin story. "The snake said..." : snakes do not speak; the snake here might then be called a type of seduction - and it is generally interpreted in that way, even by unscholarly readers. I don't really see what's strange or unusal about that.
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    But the doctrine of the Trinity, as we know it, hadn't developed at that time. Besides, why couldn't Jews accept that doctrine?

    The problem here is that, no matter what I say to the contrary, you are still working with the assumption that "Jew" means somebody who accepts all and only those doctrines associated with orthodox (with a small O) Judaism, and "Christian" means somebody who accepts all and only those doctrines associated with orthodox (with a small O) Christianity. Since these two sets of doctrines are inconsistent, no-one could be both a "Jew" and a "Christian" at the same time. But obviously the assumption is tendentious. Both Judaism and Christianity were more varied and flexible than that in the first century and indeed afterwards. Why couldn't somebody in antiquity have accepted the doctrine of the Trinity and yet still counted as a Jew? How can you be so certain? What do you think "Jewish" means anyway?

    If this is going to progress any further you really need to say what you think "Jewish" means, and what made somebody a Jew in an ancient context. You just keep asserting "Jews didn't believe this" or "Jews didn't believe that", but you have never said why.

    Certainly it was a disagreement. And I said in my post that they did indeed disagree over the question whether gentile converts should be circumcised. But it was not a disagreement over whether to preach to the gentiles. Just to remind you, this is what you said:

    I don't see anything in the passage you quote that supports this claim.

    There's nothing contradictory about it. It would only be contradictory if the majority of the Christian missions were to gentiles. But why should we suppose that they were? Why couldn't it have been the case that the vast majority of Christian evangelising was done to other Jews, and only a few people, such as Paul, went off preaching to gentiles? Then, even if the missions to the gentiles were more successful than those to the Jews, there could still have been far more Jewish converts than gentile ones. And there is good reason to suppose that this is how things actually happened, given that minority religions invariably spread primarily through pre-existing personal contacts, and since the first Christians were Jewish, their contacts would have been almost exclusively with other Jews, and so on.

    To say that most Jews were not Christians does not at all entail that most Christians were not Jews, since Christians could be a small subset of the larger set of Jews. Just as most animals are not cats, but still, most cats (in fact all of them) are animals. And in fact it is quite plausible to suppose that, while the vast majority of Jews in the first century did not become Christians, nevertheless most of the success that Christians did have in spreading their message was among fellow Jews. That would lead to a situation where the Christian church was composed mainly of Jews, with perhaps a few gentiles, but still most Jews rejected their message.

    Well, again, why would believing that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Messiah had therefore come (and was going to come again), be incompatible with being Jewish? Once again you are assuming that some doctrine (in this case, "The Messiah is yet to come") was essential to first-century Judaism, and that anyone who did not believe that could not count as a Jew. Where are you getting these hard-and-fast definitions from? Are you really saying that when Peter told Jesus that he thought he was the Messiah, at that moment he suddenly ceased to be Jewish? Why would you think such a thing? Apart from anything else, Messianic expectations are rare in Jewish literature of the time - it was not an important element of Judaism - and they are not consistent (some of the Dead Sea Scrolls talk about two Messiahs, for example). So how can anyone possibly say that any given doctrine of the Messiah was essential to first-century Judaism? Where do you get these claims from?

    Not at all: the Gospels were written for particular communities and needn't necessarily have circulated beyond those communities for quite a while. The same goes for all early Christian writings. For example, the authors of the Gospels seem not to have read Paul's letters - or if they had they show no signs of it whatsoever, even where those letters contradict their own views - despite the fact that all of Paul's letters were written before the Gospels were. It took time for Paul's letters to be collected and generally circulated.

    In any case, whether you think the claim that John knew Matthew and Luke (which is what you said) is unusual or not, it is unusual as a matter of fact. It is not a claim I have ever seen in any literature on the New Testament. As far as I know, the speculation about John's relation to the Synoptics normally focuses on whether he knew Mark or not, not the others, and scholars are divided on the matter. So I think it's not unreasonable to expect some kind of support for your claim that John knew Matthew and Luke beyond the mere fact that he wrote later.

    No! Allegory is completely different from typology. That is one of the most fundamental points of ancient textual criticism! Whatever Wikipedia may say on the matter, they are not the same, for precisely the reason I gave: allegory places the higher meaning in the text (and thus doesn't care whether the events actually took place as described), while typology places the higher meaning in the events (and thus cares very much whether the events took place, but doesn't much care how they are described). Now in practice there may not be much difference: both kinds of exegetes would extract similar sorts of "higher meaning" from the stories no matter what their justification for doing so - and in fact I think that the great division that is often seen between the two schools of exegesis is somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless, that is a matter of practice. The theory behind them is quite distinct, and this why in antiquity there was quite explicit disagreement between their adherents. Theodore of Mopsuestia - a master of the typological approach - wrote a whole book (unfortunately lost) attacking the allegorical interpretation of scripture.

    So to say that the snake in the Adam and Eve story is a "type" and then blithely to conclude that the whole thing is an allegory and there is nothing odd or controversial about that is not even coherent, let alone plausible. It can't be a type and an allegory - they are mutually exclusive.

    Again, I think you are simply using the term "allegory" to mean anything that involves seeing deeper significance than the bare facts. But that is not what the word means. It means a certain way of seeing deeper significance than the bare facts.
     
  16. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Interesting: we mentioned this before. It seems pretty clear to me that to establish what Christian and Jewish means, one has to reason backwards, as that wasn't even clear at the time. (Not surprising, as Christianity started out as a Jewish sect.) But to remain on the case: the doctrine of the Holy Trinity - an important aspect of which was the deification of Jesus, which started rather early - developed into a key aspect of Christianity, whereas it is absent in Judaism. You mentioned Enoch, but he is not identical to God. (One might also mention the archangels, which are close to God in both religions.)

    What makes you say that? First, Paul was one of those converts and (possibly, as their spokesperson) argued against such observances of Jewish law. Second, he got permission to preach his variety of Christianity among the gentiles for the simple fee of paying for the Jerusalem-based disciples - and, as it turned out, his way won out, becoming the predominant variety of Christianity in the world today.

    I'm sorry, but this is just flawed reasoning: as mentioned above, there were two main streams in early Christianity; the one willing to observe Jewish law and the other, more lenient one. Obviously, the latter won out. So, while in the early communities it may be unclear whether there were more Jews or more Christians - and may I remind you of saying that these terms were pretty interchangeable at the time -, it wasn't long before there were more (gentile) Christians than Jews. While your hypothesizing is interesting in itself, it doesn't confirm to historical development: by the early 4th century Christianity had become the dominant religion of the Roman empire, while Judaism remained the minority it always had been.

    Why indeed? I did not say that. What I meant (and it seemed clear to me) is that since Jesus Christianity has accepted him as the Messiah, whereas Judaism has not - just as Islam does not, but does accept Jesus as a prophet. I am sorry if I've led you to believe otherwise.

    Indeed. But it seems rather consistent with the separation testified at the 'Apostolic council' that Paul's letters circulated among his own followers (as his interpretation of Christianity varied in more significant ways from Judeo-Christianity than simple circumcision questions, as I'm sure you are aware) and the disciple-based gospels in others. I don't see how that relates to what we were discussing. And I note again that now you seem to have acknowledged that my claim isn't so unusual at all.

    If "in practice there may not be much difference" - which is what I presumed, that it is a matter of nuance - why make such a big issue of it? If you feel allegory and typology are mutually exclusive, so be it; I don't agree. Let's just leave it at that, shall we ?
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    The doctrine of the Trinity is certainly important in Christianity and absent in Judaism today. But what has that got to do with anything? I asked why, in antiquity, someone couldn't believe in the Trinity and yet count as Jewish, and you haven't answered that.

    Also, I've told you repeatedly that the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus - although historically linked, in that they developed roughly at the same time - are quite distinct. People can and do believe in the Trinity without believing in the divinity of Jesus (e.g. the more extreme Nestorians) and people can and do believe in the divinity of Jesus without believing in the Trinity (e.g. unitarians).

    Now certainly the orthodox doctrine of Jesus' divinity differs from the earlier Jewish beliefs about figures such as Enoch, Metatron, and other angelic figures. But I think you will find it hard to find that orthodox doctrine of Jesus' divinity in the first century or indeed for most of the second. So you can't make it some kind of shibboleth to distinguish between Christianity and Judaism during that period.

    Er, the fact that it's true. Nothing you said there supports the claim that Paul and the Jerusalem apostles disagreed over whether to preach to gentiles. It only supports the claim that they disagreed over what to do with the gentiles once they'd been preached to!

    Erm. You think Paul was a gentile? Have you read the New Testament, including those parts of it written by Paul?

    Not only was Paul Jewish, he was an extremely zealous Pharisee; and not only that, he remained obviously proud of the fact for the rest of his life. He was certainly no gentile! You are right to say that Paul argued that the law, including circumcision, should not be binding upon gentile converts to Christianity. But he did not argue that out of some kind of anti-Jewish sentiment or view that the law was unimportant, as the last-quoted passage should make clear. It was because he believed that, if salvation comes through Christ, it cannot come through anything else - even the law. Paul's struggle to understand, given this, what purpose God could have had in giving the law is one of the most convoluted and disputed areas of his thought, and he comes to different conclusions in Galatians and Romans. But he consistently holds that if someone follows the law thinking that this is essential to salvation, they are not only wrong but damning themselves, because salvation comes through Christ alone:

    That is why Paul opposed those who thought circumcision necessary for gentile converts: such an action would amount to the claim that Christ was not sufficient for salvation. It wasn't anything to do with opposition to Jewish practices per se. In fact it is generally thought that Paul probably continued to observe the Jewish law himself for his entire life. He had no problem with people observing the law, just as he had no problem, in principle, with people either eating or refusing to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. What he objected to was people thinking that you had to observe the law (or had to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols). So he didn't "argue against such observances" at all - it was more subtle than that.

    Do you think early Christianity was like Starbucks, a sort of franchise where missionaries paid a fee in order to be allowed to use the brand name? No! The collection for Jerusalem was not a "fee"! It represented the unity and solidarity of the church. It was collected for poverty-stricken Christians, not to line the pockets of Peter and James (Rom. 15:26). Paul describes it as a collection for "the poor" (Gal. 2:10) and indeed it seems that considerable sections of the Jerusalem church at this time were extremely poverty-stricken, for reasons that are not well understood. Once again, Paul's understanding of the collection has been interpreted in many different ways; I found an interesting article on this here. But to call it a "fee" that he paid for the right to preach to gentiles is a gross caricature.

    If you think my reasoning is flawed you should point out where the flaw is. In fact it's your own reasoning that's flawed. You say that there were two streams in Christianity - those who observed the law and those who didn't. Well, that's an over-simplification for a start. What about those who observed the law but didn't think it necessary - like Paul himself? So perhaps we should say instead that the streams were those who required that people observe the law and those who did not. You then point out, rightly, that the latter became dominant and won out. You conclude that this meant that gentiles outnumbered Jews.

    But that supposes that the Christians who required observance of the law were Jewish, and those who did not require it were gentiles. But why think that? Remember, Paul was Jewish, but he did not require people to observe the law. Moreover, it is quite likely that many of the "Judaisers", who required law observance, were not Jewish at all. They were gentile converts to Christianity who learned about Judaism and the law, and who thought that it was necessary to follow the law. We can attribute their desire to get circumcised to the zeal of the convert, not to the inflexibility of the conservative. If you read Galatians you will see that Paul informs his readers about how the law works:

    Wouldn't a Jew know that already? It seems that Paul is here speaking to gentiles who have become enthusiastic about Jewish customs and who want to become circumcised - not to Jews who are insisting that gentiles must become circumcised. He is telling them that if they think circumcision is necessary, then they must think the entire law is necessary; but that view would be inconsistent with the Christian faith:

    Obviously Paul's arguments (or at least, the arguments of people like Paul - I don't know any good reason to suppose that Paul changed things single-handedly) won the day, and most Christians came to think that the law was not obligatory for Christians. But why that should be regarded as a triumph of gentile Christianity over Jewish Christianity, I can't imagine. To reach that conclusion you would need to show that the "law is obligatory" party were all Jews and the "law is optional" party were all gentiles. But we know that that is false right from the start, since Paul represented the latter party, but he was Jewish.

    Again, no. First, that argument presupposes that Christians weren't Jewish. Someone who thought that all Christians were Jewish would simply retort that Judaism did not remain such a minority, since there were so many Christians, who were all Jewish. You need to show that Jews and Christians were distinct.

    And I would remind you that even as late as the sixth century there were people who regarded Christianity as intrinsically Jewish. Take the sixth-century Syriac life of Mar Abba, one of the leaders of the Persian church in that period. One passage recounts a meeting between Mar Abba (at that time a pagan) and a man who claimed to be both Jewish and Christian. Mar Abba asked him how this was possible, and the man replied:

    So even as late as the sixth century, in the border regions between the Roman and Persian empires, there were people who regarded Christianity and Judaism as basically the same religion; who worshipped Jesus but identified themselves as Jews because the very word "Christian" was, for them, usually restricted to Marcionites.

    Also, I'm afraid that your premise about the numbers of Christians in the empire is quite wrong too. We do not know the numbers of Christians at any given time, but a probable estimate is that by the time of the conversion of Constantine in the early fourth century, roughly 10% of the inhabitants of the Roman empire were Christian. By the end of the fourth century, perhaps half were Christian. So Christianity remained the preserve of a small minority in the empire until the time of imperial patronage - only then did the church's numbers swell significantly. That again is quite consistent with the supposition that Christianity remained largely Jewish until that time.

    That still doesn't address the basic point: how do you know that Judaism has not? How do you know that in the first century, or the second, or even the third or fourth, someone could not believe that Jesus was the Messiah while still counting as Jewish? As I keep on repeatedly asking you, how do you know? Where are you getting these definitions from?

    Did Paul's understanding of Christianity differ significantly from that of "Judeo-Christianity" (whatever that means, and how Paul doesn't count as "Judeo-Christian" himself I don't know)? You've done this before: refer to some highly controversial claim of nineteenth-century theologians as if it's some established fact and assume that I must agree with it. Well, I'm afraid that that is a very controversial claim nowadays. I've said here before that I think that the differences between Paul's theology and that of other early Christian theologians and even Jesus himself are probably overblown. There are certainly differences of emphases, and even a few contradictions, but I see no really fundamental differences between Paul and other early Christian sources.

    I'm also not sure what you mean by "the disciple-based gospels", given that, as you've said yourself, the Gospels weren't written by any disciples (or at least we have no good reason for supposing that they were, and pretty good reasons for supposing that at least some of them were not).

    It is relevant because your sole argument for the claim that the author of the Fourth Gospel had read (some of) the Synoptics was that the Synoptics were written earlier, and so he must have read them. I pointed out that this does not follow, because Paul's letters were written earlier than all of the Gospels, yet none of the authors of the Gospels shows any signs of having read them. So that indicates that just because a text was written earlier - even decades earlier - that doesn't mean that all Christians would be familiar with it. And that means that you can't assume that the author of one Gospel would have read any of the others just because they were written earlier.

    I said no such thing. You made two claims. The first was that the author of the Fourth Gospel based it on Mark's Gospel. The second was that the author of the Fourth Gospel had read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In response to the first claim, I said that that is disputed. In response to the second claim, I said that that is a very unusual claim and one that I have never seen before. Both claims therefore require some kind of evidence to back them up (especially the second). Nothing I have said since contradicts that. I continue to maintain that the supposition of Johannine reliance upon Mark is controversial, and that the supposition of Johannine reliance upon Matthew and Luke is very unusual. And you continue to give no reason to suppose that either supposition is true.

    It's not a matter of "nuance" - it's a matter of genre and of theoretical underpinning. To the pious reader, it may make no difference whether the text is to be interpreted allegorically or typologically, given that the practical or spiritual message will remain the same; but that doesn't mean that allegory and typology are the same thing. However, it seems we will indeed have to leave it at that. If you choose to apply your own meanings to words, then that is your prerogative, but you will have to be aware that people will disagree with you as a result.
     
  18. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    Hi Plotinus,

    What do you think of writers such as Richard Dawkins? My, albeit poorly informed, impression of him is that he is a bit dogmatic himself in his attacks on religion. I haven't read any of his books but have heard about some of his rants and such. I remember one intance in an interview on TV where he accused a biologist of laziness for simply bringing up an objection to evolution without trying to formulate an answer to his own objection. Dawkins seems to have a lot of animosity toward religion which sometimes seems to cloud his judgment IMO. In any case I don't find him a very competent philosopher.
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, Dawkins is not a competent philosopher at all. I don't have a very high opinion of him. I haven't read The God delusion but I've read a fair few articles and extracts from his other works on religion. It seems to me that there are three main problems with them. The first is that, like most of the extreme anti-religion atheists who are currently fashionable, Dawkins doesn't know much about religious history and thinks that religion has done more harm than good. The second is that he doesn't know much about the diversity of religious views even within Christianity. He takes the most absurdly extreme view he can find, rips it apart, and thinks that this is a sufficient refutation of all the other views as well. Funnily enough, a lot of Dawkins' ire against fundamentalists or other crackpot religious types is pretty much identical to the polemic of religious moderates against them as well. I came across a quote from a seventeenth-century Jesuit in Bayle's Dictionary the other day, to the effect that he would rather believe in no God than in a God who directs and controls his creatures in the way that the Calvinists believed. It struck me as almost identical in wording to similar sentiments I have seen in Dawkins and similar writers.

    The third main problem with Dawkins' arguments is that a lot of them are just bad. For example, he makes a great fuss about simplicity and complexity. He argues that any God that created the universe must be incredibly complex, because the universe is very complex, and the cause must be at least as complex as the effect. That doesn't seem clear to me at all. Then he argues that such a God would be very unlikely, because complex things are less probable than simple ones. That too doesn't seem clear to me. In fact Dawkins seems to be unaware of recent work in the philosophy of science, such as that of Elliott Sober, who has argued very convincingly that the principle of parsimony doesn't even hold in science in general. So to try to apply that principle to non-scientific claims such as the cause of the universe is quite unwarranted.

    Or again, Dawkins seems to think that evolution disproves God, because evolution is not purposeful, and this shows that there is no purpose to the universe. Obviously this argument is flawed. Something can lack intrinsic purpose and yet still be used for a purpose; a stone has no purpose in and of itself, yet I can use it to hammer a nail if I want. Indeed, I could bring such a stone into being myself if I cause an explosion in a quarry. The stones that result from that also lack any intrinsic purpose, yet I brought them into being and perhaps did so with a purpose in mind (perhaps I really want to hammer a nail). Similarly, I don't see how the non-purposive nature of evolution proves anything about whether the universe was created for a purpose at all. Why couldn't God have decided to bring about a universe with laws such that non-purposive processes, such as biological evolution, would occur within it - and perhaps made this decision for some purpose of his own?

    Dawkins' use of these poor arguments does a great deal of harm. It widens the gap between the loonies of each side of the chasm and undermines the sensible people in the middle who have the power of intellectual empathy. There are fundamentalists in America who like Dawkins because he agrees with them that the theory of evolution is fundamentally atheistic, and who cite him in court cases to try to ban the teaching of evolution in schools on the grounds that it is a fundamentally religious doctrine. The sad fact is that Dawkins has a lot more in common with these people than he does with moderates, whether religious or not. Indeed he's even said that he prefers fundamentalists to religious liberals as he thinks they're more straightforward and honest. He has no time for nuance. I suppose this is another symptom of the fact that Dawkins doesn't know very much about the subject. His success in spouting off about it almost incessantly is a reflection of how the modern media, including publishing, work: celebrity seems to be a greater qualification than expertise. Also, of course, religion is one of those subjects that, in public discourse, it seems everyone is qualified to rant on about no matter how much or how little they know about it. No-one would be very interested in a book about the philosophy of science by a theologian - why the interest in books on the philosophy of religion by a scientist? Could it just be that scientists are more familiar figures, trendy dispensers of wisdom in the modern age, and the general public isn't even aware of the existence of the field of philosophy of religion?

    Apart from all this, I also dislike Dawkins' sheer obsession with religion. I once watched a programme which featured a short video featuring Dawkins talking about Mendel and his achievements. At the end of it, tedious broken-record Dawkins just couldn't resist sticking in a little homily about how strange it was that a brilliant scientist like Mendel should have been so stupid as to have been a monk, and how much more brilliant he might have been if he'd managed to liberate himself from the intellect-crushing influence of the church and turn his brain on all the time. Or something like that. Come on, Dawkins, give it a rest.
     
  20. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Reminds me of Bill Maher, can't give it a rest either. I have seen him and others argue that a lack of understanding of the actual religious doctrines that he criticizes is irrelevant, by making pointless analogies.

    As you say, unfortunate for a number of reasons. Not the least of which that I find him an interesting and illuminating author, when he is discussing his actual area of expertise.
     
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