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Ask a Theologian III

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 7, 2009.

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  1. beingofone

    beingofone Warlord

    Jan 29, 2003

    It starts in the Bible, King Herod had James “put to death with the sword.” Tacitus, in his work Annals, tells us of the fate common to Christ's faithful, under Nero, who refused to recant their beliefs.

    "Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired."
    -- Tacitus

    "Those who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, and who repeated after me an invocation to the gods,... and who finally cursed Christ - none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing - these I thought it proper to discharge."
    -- Pliny

    Foxes Book of Martyres:
    # Matthew - killed by stabbing as ordered by King Hircanus
    # James, son of Alphaeous - crucified
    # James, brother of Jesus - thrown down from a height, stoned and then beaten to death at the hands of Ananias (circa AD 66)
    # John - tortured by boiling oil, exiled to Patmos in AD 95
    # Mark - burned during Roman emperor Trajan's reign
    # Peter - crucified upside-down by the gardens of Nero on the Vatican hill circa AD 64
    # Andrew - crucified on an "X" shaped cross by Aegeas, governor of the Edessenes, around AD 80
    # Philip - stoned and crucified in Hierapolis, Phrygia
    # Simon - crucified in Egypt under Trajan's reign
    # Thomas - death by spear thrust in Calamina, India
    # Thaddaeous - killed by arrows
    # James, son of Zebedee - killed by sword in AD 44 by order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea
    # Bartholomew - beaten, flayed alive, crucified upside down, then beheaded

  2. beingofone

    beingofone Warlord

    Jan 29, 2003
    With all due respect, you missed the point.

    If you knew you had never seen Jesus after the resurrection (it was all made up) and all you had to do was agree, why would you lie and die?
  3. beingofone

    beingofone Warlord

    Jan 29, 2003

    Thank you for agreeing with what is true, I truly mean that. My experience on the internet is that most will not agree with the stunningly obvious because it would give 'points' to the opponent.

    I thought you would see this.

    There was more to the council of Nicea than just authentic verification. Constantine played a catylistic role and the Roman government demanded a religion that would unite the empire. So; you had two elements at work while forming the cannon. The first was the churches desire to preserve the truth and integrity of the facts (this assembly was not without manuever itself). Second; you had political agenda that desired a usefull tool to unify consent.

    The result was mixed in that a verfied cannon was formed but excluded many texts (because of perceived heresy or political consideration) that were also authentic. It all boiled down to the representatives vote and so, many Nag Hammadi texts that were usefull were excluded.

    And the Eastern Orthodox have the Syriac Aramaic texts dated from the 5-7th centuries(originals dated 1st to 2nd century). The four gospels are still the underpinning and validating sources.

    I thought you were questioning the veracity of the New Testament? In fact, I am positive you were.

    It makes sense to you that hundreds, if not thousands of people were delusional?

    Explain please.

    The gospels must have been written (according to Luke) while the apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the eyewitnesses were still alive. We have the first texts of Paul dated to 50 AD and the nebulous Q document (which I doubt) dated the same.

    The date of the crucifixion was not listed as 'hard and fast' evidence.

    He was evasive during his entire trial. He did not say a word to Herod and talked kinda funny to Pilate. In fact, Jesus talked kinda funny all the time and Son of Man is Messianic in its implications.

    You are taking what is not clear and building a case on this while he was on trial? You are twisting the context. He did not deny he was the messiah, not one time, and so - you are interjecting a supposition.

    Can you not find crystal clear evidence?

    Not a legit move? You will list John directly below - claiming there is more than one John of the apsotles - and in this portion claim there is no one by that name in the book of John as an apostle all at the same time?

    You have taken two diametrically opposed positions.

    We have several books written by John. He is listed as one of the twelve and was found in the Nag Hammadi in many more books so, I do not get your reasoning here at all.

    Do you know the irony in all this? The critics of the scripture claim the three synoptic gospels were all copied from each other or another source (Q). All at the same time, pointing out how they are different and have conflict. It seems you can hold any position at all - even contradictory - as long as the scripture is undermined.

    You listed John twice - and you having a degree in theology should know surnames were very common because they did not have last names. The scripture lists multiple surnames for different people.Simon the Zealot was also known as Simon the Canaanite (Mark 3:18)

    That leaves one discrepency: Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, and Luke 6:13-16 shows only one difficulty; Thaddaeus and Judas, son of James. A comparison of the three passages shows a couple of minor differences in the names. It seems that Thaddaeus was also known as “Judas, son of James” (Luke 6:16) and Lebbaeus (Matthew 10:3). If this is such a difficulty, why didn`t you list the surnames? The disciple in question had multiple surnames, it says so - right in the scripture.

    If we take a look at Acts 1:20-26, we see another surname for a possible apostle and how important it was to maintain the twelve. After Judas Iscariot hanged himself they appointed another apostle to take his place (Matthias) who is found in the Nag Hammadi - what a stunner.

    Then you should know that Levi (another surname - funny that) was the the son of Alphaeus Mark 2:14. The authors of the gospels are trying to be as accurate as possible as to the identity of the eyewitnesses and the critics see this as a 'problem', truly unbelieveable.

    No evidence they had surnames?

    Only in every single listing are surnames mentioned of the apostles and this is not a 'problem' - it is the authenticity of the names and addresses of the eyewitnesses. You are trying to pick fly droppings out of pepper here. You are claiming an attempt by the authors at accuracy - specific identities - is a 'problem'. It is actually evidence at forthright testimony.
    Nope - not when you read Acts 1:20-26, Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, and Luke 6:13-16.

    I would say, your life (and your relatives and friends) is more important to you than me, would you agree?

    Mystery solved.
  4. beingofone

    beingofone Warlord

    Jan 29, 2003
    Only one discrepency and that - is simply earth shattering. This is cleared up through the handy dandy tool of logic; ie. they used surnames.

    John was talking about himself maybe; John 13:23? When you read 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, it should become clear to the casual observer as the obvious.

    It makes more sense to you that the early church fathers and tradition were wrong on the identity of John?

    John 21:24, 1st John 1:1, 2nd John 1:1, 3rd John 1:12.

    Yup - every person who is mentioned in all four gospels, has her own gospel, was the first to see Jesus after the resurrection and is mentioned throughout the Nag Hammadi books (including the gospel of Thomas)is a nonentity or obscure to you?

    How many references is enough to become a clear entity of import?

    All four gospels mention Mary Magdalene at the resurrection. John does not say Mary was alone - you are interjecting into the passage.He mentions Mary specifically because she was 'known' as a person of importance in the gospel story.

    Above you say she was small and insignifigant and mentioned only in passing - and now - you switch gears and say she was the only eyewitness in John at the tomb and this is paramount.

    Which is it? Was she important or not?

    There is nothing new in that the apostles constantly disagreed with each other. This is explicit in the entire New Testament and the Nag Hammadi.This does not mean the events did not take place, it just means they disagreed on the meaning of the events.

    None at all.

    The part you are talking about(at least I think this is your ref) was a vision Mary had after the resurrection and is discussed in Coptic Christian terms. There were many cultures and ways of saying the same thing to communicate the truth of the events that transpired.

    If you see a real problem, please point it out and I will address it.

    I must have missed it, could you point it out again?

    Here they are again:
    1) Jesus lived on earth as a man from the beginning of the first century to AD 33.

    2) That his mother was supposed to be a Virgin named "Mary"

    3) Same principle players, Peter, Andrew, Philip, John, Mary Magdeline.

    4) That Jesus was known as a miracle worker.

    5) He claimed to be the son of God and Messiah.

    6) He was crucified under Pilate.

    7) Around the time of the Passover.

    8) Rose from the dead leaving an empty tomb.

    9) Several women discovered the empty tomb.

    10) That this was in Jerusalem.

    -- Aristotle`s Dictum

    Why should we assume they are not?

    If a person signs their name to a document, it is good enough in a court of law but not good enough for 'higher criticism' it would seem.

    Pseudonymity was not used anywhere in the New Testament or the Nag Hammadi. There is not one shred of evidence for this at all.

    Do you have any historical evidence?

    I would appreciate a citing of some source so that we have more than just your opinion.

    Let me say it again - I do not use ambiguous texts because we cannot verify its source as authentic.

    We can, and you agreed, verify the source of the New Testament and I would add the Nag Hammadi.
  5. beingofone

    beingofone Warlord

    Jan 29, 2003
    In your opinion of course. To me it sounds like a master of truth who holds the keys to the universe itself as well as the simple - public - Sermon on the Mount.

    Paul`s writings differ from John`s and Luke. That does not mean the authors are lying as to authorship.

    Someone risking their life by writing the book itself is not impressive evidence?

    In my world it is.

    I did not say they were an "independent tradition." I said they were external to the scripture that has not been seen for almost two thousand years.

    In addition - if they are not written by the apostles (as you claim) then we have hundreds more of confirming eyewitnesses.

    Unless you conclude they are all, all of the hundreds and possibly thousands of eyewitnesses all lying.

    Paul quotes Jesus and the apostles use the same sayings showing a uniform and cohesive rendering of the common sayings amongst early Christians. These are smattered throughout the New Testament and the Nag Hammadi.

    More evidence that the apostles testified throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.

    You do not know that and in fact, the authors say otherwise, you are guessing.

    Apples and oranges. You are talking about a single author writing a single series of books.

    Here we have a set of two libraries of books written by multiple authors and all cohesive.

    Why? Because I believe the authors according to the rule of thumb of the historical method?

    It would seem the historical method is handy and dandy unless applied to scripture - then - all bets are off? How does that make sense?

    You are right of course, I had a brain fart.

    I meant the Lost Books of the Bible and other sources that cannot be verified. I include the NT and Nag Hammadi as solid histoically and verifiable.

    Was it a fundy conspiracy that saw two thousand years was the ripe time to spring their clever trap?

    No it does not - unless you assume hundreds and thousands are liars.

    I wonder, it makes more sense to you that they were all deluded, hundreds and thousands?

    You are contradicting yourself again.

    First you say they are Gnostic and use completley differing language and word images and do not sound anything at all like Jesus and are therefore moot.

    Now;if they are different and describe the same historical events they would provide value to authentic recounting.

    Couild you choose a position please?

    Again; could hundreds of people conspire to do that?

    You missed the point; It cannot be dated to 2-3 centuries after Jesus, it was clearly composed centuries before.

    It proves that not all of the books in the Nag Hammadi were composed centuries after Jesus. Therefore; we must go by the authors and historical crosschecks.

    -- Aristotle

    Fiction and nonfiction are assigned different numbers in the Dewey Decimal System.

    That is all you see?

    You are familiar with the words of Jesus are you not? "Having eyes, they see not."

    The early Christians had a secret decoding and transmitting device beyond time and space?

    They knew that two thousand years was the time they needed to bring out their vast conspiracy?
    There is only one - and one only - contradiction in the resurrection story. That is what the women saw at the tomb.

    The real question is, if they truly saw angels and a pulse of radiant energy that opened a gateway, like a wormhole, what would you expect them to see?

    It is not reasonable to assume thousands of people are deluded and conspired to fabricate at risk of life and limb; especially considering the mountain of literal evidence.
  6. dwaxe

    dwaxe is not a fanatic

    Aug 11, 2007
    The Internet
    What arguments, evidence, or proofs, are there for the existence of a soul?
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    This doesn't really answer the question, which was about the apostles. Tacitus does not tell us that any apostles died during this persecution (although we may reasonably guess that Peter and Paul, at least, did so).

    Pliny wrote that in the second century, after the apostolic era. There's no reason to think that he executed any apostles.

    These are legends, taken from a sixteenth-century source. There are no reliable ancient witnesses to any of these tales, other than the fate of James the brother of Jesus, for which there are contradictory accounts (from your summary it appears that Foxe has combined them into a single, rather complex cause of death). Josephus tells us that James was stoned to death. Eusebius, however, says that he was thrown off a tower of the Temple and then clubbed to death when the fall didn't kill him. One would guess that Josephus' version seems more plausible as well as being written much closer to the actual event, but the details don't really matter - it seems clear that James was lynched by a group of Jewish religious leaders, whatever the mechanism of the killing.

    As I said before, there is good reason to suppose that Peter and Paul were martyred, probably in the mid-60s, perhaps in Nero's persecution which Tacitus described. There are early witnesses to Peter's death, notably 1 Clement. After being imprisoned, Paul came to expect to die in this way, as indicated in Philippians, and although there is some ancient evidence that in fact he did not and he survived to carry out his plan of preaching in Iberia, the absence of any real evidence of this suggests that he probably did die in Rome. You also mentioned the death of James (son of Zebedee), in Acts, and I also mentioned the death of James (brother of Jesus), who was lynched by other Jewish leaders.

    However, one problem with these is that not only do we not really know the circumstances of their deaths, we don't really even know to what degree they had any control over their fates. What I mean is, it's all very well to talk about them being steadfast and refusing to deny that they had seen the risen Jesus even though they faced death. But the sources don't say that that happened. Consider the account of James' death in Acts:

    For all we know, the moment James was arrested he denied he'd ever believed in Jesus, but Agrippa (whom Acts inaccurately calls "Herod" here) wasn't interested and had him killed anyway. Indeed, for all we know James, Peter, and the others weren't arrested for being Christians per se, but for being leaders of an upstart sect that the other Jewish leaders felt threatened their position. Whether they believed in Jesus' resurrection or not might have been neither here nor there - as far as we know. We can only speculate about the motives of Agrippa and the others, even on the assumption that it really happened as Acts describes (there are well known difficulties with the chronology of events as given in Acts, but I won't go into those here, since I assume that it wouldn't get important things like the deaths of major church leaders wrong). To take these very brief accounts of people's deaths and assume that these were cases of people refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus' resurrection, in the face of certain death, is to assume too much. We certainly know that later Christians refused to renounce their faith when given the opportunity, because we have accounts of their deaths and even trial transcripts. (We also know that many Christians were not only perfectly willing to renounce their faith but even bothered the authorities by turning up en masse in the middle of the night to do so - but that's beside the point here.) But to assume that the same thing happened with the apostles is to go beyond the evidence and commit anachronism.

    I'm afraid you seem to have got rather the wrong end of the stick here. The canon of the New Testament was not formed by the council of Nicaea. In fact the council of Nicaea had nothing whatsoever to do with the formation of the canon. In fact, the council didn't even mention the issue. You can see this for yourself since the decrees and canons of the council are given in their entirety here.

    The myth that the canon of the Bible was decided by the council of Nicaea, and was therefore politically motivated, is quite an old myth - I think it goes back to early modern times, which is surprising as people were quite well educated about such things back then - but it seems to be remarkably hard to shift. Thanks, Dan Brown!

    Now in fact, the formation of the canon had nothing to do with political considerations, at least as far as I can tell. No emperor had anything to do with it. The earliest list of the New Testament canon which actually matches our canon is given in the festal letter of Athanasius of Alexandria in 367 CE (over forty years after the council of Nicaea). Even that does not mark the formation of the canon, though, since Athanasius was only listing what he considered to be the authoritative books for those over whom he had authority, namely the Egyptian church. The same canon was more definitively authorised at a number of African synods held in the 390s (Hippo 393, Carthage 393, and Carthage 397), which were the first church councils to pronounce on the matter. In 405, Pope Innocent I issued the same list of the canon to the Gaulish bishops, so we can consider the canon of the New Testament fixed by the beginning of the fifth century, at least as far as the western church was concerned.

    I do not know of any evidence for a political agenda in any of this. In fact, as far as I can tell, the church fathers were quite honest and straightforward in their approach to the canon. They seem to have applied the principle of apostolic authorship quite consistently. If they thought a book had apostolic authorship or authority, they counted it as canonical; and if they didn't, they didn't. This is why the books of Hebrews and Revelation were not used by many (the westerners rarely used Hebrews, while the easterners rarely used Revelation) - people had doubts that these books were written by apostles. Dionysius the Great of Alexandria, for example, applied fairly modern critical techniques to Revelation and argued that it could not have been written by the same person who wrote the Fourth Gospel. He concluded that it was therefore not apostolic, and he rejected its canonicity. Ultimately, the church disagreed, but they agreed with the basic principle.

    Also as far as I can tell, the church fathers didn't argue over many books. The notion that there were all these texts floating about which might have made it into the canon, and that at some point a bunch of bishops sat down and made a final list which definitely included some and definitely excluded others has no basis in the evidence. On the contrary, most people accepted pretty much the same books from a very early date: the four canonical Gospels; the thirteen letters bearing Paul's name; Acts; plus 1 Peter and 1 John. The books which some people considered authoritative and others didn't in the second and third century (when Origen helpfully made a list for us) included Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, James, Jude, Revelation, Barnabas, Hermas, and the Didache. Other deuterocanonical books listed by other authors of the time include the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Paul. All of these books are rarely quoted by Christian writers of the period, as they all seem to have regarded them as at least questionable even if they used them themselves.

    You will notice that none of these contested books were Gospels or purport to give information about the life of Jesus.

    Now there certainly were rival Gospels and other books purporting to give information about Jesus, including those you have listed. Almost all of these books were gnostic and were written no earlier than the second century; many seem to date from later than that. The church fathers unanimously reject these books. Irenaeus, for example, goes on at considerable length about how there could be only four Gospels, and that the extra Gospels written by the gnostics are illegitimate. In fact, the festal letter of Athanasius mentioned above was written, in part, to outlaw the gnostic books which were being used by gnostic monks in the Egyptian desert. The Nag Hammadi library itself was a collection of precisely these books that Athanasius wished to proscribe! In fact, it may well be that the Nag Hammadi library was buried in response to that very festal letter from Athanasius, to keep the books safe from the new crackdown.

    The church fathers rejected these books partly because their theology did not match that of the mainstream church - which taught that the physical world is good and created by God - and partly because they were spurious, having no apostolic authority behind them. As far as I can tell, the church fathers were entirely correct in this judgement.

    So don't make out that the gnostic Gospels were excluded from the New Testament simply because of some kind of power play at some council that led to their being outvoted. That's just conspiracy theorising and, like all such thinking, is unsupported by any evidence.

    So my point still stands: if you really think that the gnostic Gospels have apostolic authority and stand alongside the canonical Gospels as historical sources for Jesus, you need to explain why the entire Christian church other than the gnostics thought otherwise.

    Right. But I'm not clear on where this gets us.

    I was questioning whether all the events described in the New Testament really happened, or whether the interpretation of these events by the New Testament authors was correct. I was not questioning the text of the New Testament. That is a completely different matter. I'm more than happy to accept that the text of the New Testament has been faithfully transmitted and that what we have now is the original text (at least, as far as one can have an "original" text, especially with documents such as John's Gospel which went through a number of editions). That is not the issue. The issue is whether what the original authors actually wrote is true. Citing the evidence for accurate transmission of what they wrote obviously won't decide that.

    It makes perfect sense to me that hundreds or thousands of people could be mistaken. The fact that you choose to use more pejorative and emotional language such as "delusional" indicates that you're weighting the dice and trying to make it seem like it's implausible and even rather insulting to say this. But it's not at all.

    Let me remind you that people from all different religions have very profound experiences of what appears to them to be supernatural reality, and that these experiences are often such that they are pretty much psychologically impossible not to believe (even though such belief might not seem rational). Since it can't be the case that all religions are true, then, it's a bald fact that many thousands of people have been and continue to be what you call "deluded" when they believe these experiences to be veridical. I myself know people who believe very sincerely that they are in contact with the spirits of the dead, because they constantly have experiences of these spirits. I don't believe in post-mortem communication. In your terms, I think that these people are "deluded". I would not put it like that. I think they are having experiences that are very real to them, and which may well be of something supernatural, but not of spirits of the dead. That doesn't mean that they're stupid or even irrational for interpreting their experiences in the way that they do, it just means I think that they're mistaken, though in an entirely understandable way.

    Similarly, there can be no serious doubt that the first Christians had very striking experiences which they interpreted as experiences of the risen Christ, and that on the basis of these experiences they believed with absolute certainty that Christ had been risen. But that doesn't mean that he was, any more than the fact that someone has an experience of her dead father means that her dead father has actually been trying to communicate with her. This is so even before we consider the difficulty of knowing even what the experiences that the first Christians were like. We have (indisputably) the writings of only one person who actually had this experience, namely Paul, and he doesn't tell us anything about it - even in the passage where he talks about it. The only fact that we have to go on is the firm and unshakeable belief which he and the others had, that they had seen the risen Jesus. But you cannot argue from the firmness of a belief alone to the truth of that belief.

    Luke doesn't say anything of the kind. In the introduction to his Gospel (which is a standard sort of introduction), he writes:

    So we have:

    (1) "Those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" "handed on to us" what they saw.
    (2) Many people have written down what those eyewitnesses and servants said.
    (3) The author has investigated these matters in depth.
    (4) He's going to write about them too.

    There is no claim there that the author himself has spoken to the eyewitnesses or even that they are still alive. The claim is only that these eyewitnesses spoke about what they had seen, and that in response to this, people started writing about it. This agrees exactly with how modern scholars believe the material in the Gospels came to be written down.

    There's no mention of Mary in there either.

    Trying to date Q is absurdly difficult given that we don't have Q and have to guess at what it contained, even assuming that it did exist (although it probably did). As for Paul, yes, his earliest letters date from around that time, but I'm not sure what you think they prove. After all, 1 Corinthians, which is where he talks about the resurrection, is normally dated to 54 or 55 CE.

    I wonder why you listed it at all, then, but at any rate I think we can set this issue aside.

    He did indeed talk "kinda funny", but it was different kinds of funny in the different Gospels; remember that in Mark's Gospel he is not evasive at all and explicitly claims to be the Messiah.

    Don't assume that "Son of Man" is messianic. In fact there is enormous disagreement and confusion over its meaning. Don't forget that the term appears frequently throughout the book of Ezekiel, where it bears its ordinary meaning of "human being" (in Hebrew, "son of X" is a common circumlocution for "X"). In the Gospels, it seems to be used in many different senses - sometimes apparently in this sense, and sometimes apparently in reference to Daniel 7, where it refers to an eschatological figure (not necessarily a Messiah, though). The problem of understanding what it's supposed to mean is rather like the problem of understanding the theology of the "kingdom of God", which is also used in very different ways in the Gospels - you have to decide which meaning, if any, is paramount and then interpret the rest in its light.

    I'm not "interjecting a supposition" - I'm just saying what I think that verse means. You may disagree. However, that is really neither here nor there. We only started arguing about the meaning of this verse because you claimed that all the Gospels agreed that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Now you admit yourself that the Gospels present him as evasive on the subject. Whether Jesus is presented in this passage as denying that he's the Messiah, or merely dodging the question, he is certainly not presented as stating that he is the Messiah. We agree on that, at least. But that undermines your claim that all of the Gospels agree on consistently portraying him as claiming to be the Messiah.

    Of course, the Gospels agree that he was the Messiah. But that's not the same thing.

    You originally stated that the Gospels agree about who the disciples were. I pointed out that John, the brother of James and the son of Zebedee, is not mentioned by name in the Fourth Gospel. You replied to that by listing three verses in the Fourth Gospel which refer to the Twelve. I answered that you can't cite those as references to John the brother of James unless you know that the author of the Fourth Gospel thought that John the brother of James was one of the Twelve.

    Now I agree that the Fourth Gospel mentions the sons of Zebedee. So from that point of view, yes, it does mention John, although not be name and only obliquely. So I was perhaps a bit misleading when I said that John doesn't appear in that Gospel. However, he is not named and he never actually does anything. He is not the major figure that he is in the Synoptic Gospels - where, remember, James and John are mentioned often and are second only to Peter in prominence among the apostles.

    The claim that we have "several books written by John" is of course tendentious to say the least. Even within the New Testament, the only book that claims to have been written by a person called John is the book of Revelation, and its author does not identify himself as John the apostle.

    The people whom you call "critics of the scripture" don't have some ulterior motive to "undermine" the Bible. That's just a conspiracy theory spread by conservative evangelicals. On the contrary, biblical scholars are interested in understanding the Bible as carefully and accurately as possible - something that you'd think conservative evangelicals would approve of. If scholars think that the Synoptic Gospels exist in a close literary relationship with each other, and yet that they disagree with each other in certain respects, then they think that because the evidence points that way.

    In this case there is overwhelming evidence that these Gospels do exist in close literary relationship with each other, meaning that they were copied from each other or from common written sources. We needn't go into that now. And they do disagree about the names of the apostles. That's a simple fact which anyone can see for themselves by reading the texts in question and noting down the names.

    And there's nothing weird or contradictory about this. People often disagree with their sources. I see nothing odd about the notion that, say, Matthew might have copied extensively from Mark but disagreed about the names of the apostles (perhaps he had some other source that he considered more authoritative) and so he corrected what he considered to be Mark's mistake. I've got Jenkins' biography of Gladstone on my shelves here, which uses Morley as a major source, but which disagrees with Morley on many matters where other sources are more reliable. What's so odd about that?
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    These aren't surnames - they're nicknames or cognomens (not to be confused with the cognomens of classical Romans). But you're right, people could have different ones. Simon is an example. But you can't just assume that because one Gospel mentions disciple X, and another Gospel mentions disciple Y, that these are different names for the same person. I said before that the only motive for thinking that is a desire to make everything add up neatly and agree. But if there isn't any evidence that there was a person who really was called both X and Y, then it's an unwarranted assumption.

    No, it doesn't. Mark lists someone called Thaddaeus - no more details. Luke doesn't mention Thaddaeus and he lists someone called Judas son of James - again, no details. Matthew doesn't mention Judas son of James, and lists Thaddaeus, possibly adding that he was also called Lebbaeus. This addition appears in only some manuscripts.

    Let's assume that this version of Matthew is the right one; let's assume further that what it tells us is true and that there really was someone who was called both Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus. That's not a case of one person having two surnames - it's a case of someone having two completely different names - perhaps like (say) John Mark. Or perhaps one was his real name and one was a nickname, like Simon Peter. But this doesn't give us any warrant whatsoever for assuming that this person was also called Judas son of James! We've got Matthew and Mark telling us about Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus and not mentioning Judas son of James. We've got Luke telling us about Judas son of James and not mentioning Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus. Note that Judas son of James does not even appear at the same point in the list, in Luke, as Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus does in Matthew and Mark. The only reason to think that Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus is the same person as Judas son of James is the desire to force an agreement between the different Gospels.

    This is an example of biblical scholars taking the Bible more seriously than conservative evangelicals, to be honest. Conservative evangelicals assume that the Gospels must agree, and so they say something that the Gospels don't say, namely that the names "Thaddaeus", "Lebbaeus", and "Judas son of James" all refer to the same person. Biblical scholars - at least if they are good biblical scholars - note merely that the Gospels do not agree about the names of the disciples. Perhaps there were indeed precisely twelve of them, and perhaps some of these different names refer to the same individual, but we don't know. Even if that's true, we certainly don't know which individuals had more than one name.

    Besides which, you cited these tedious apostles in the first place as evidence for the agreement of the Gospels. You said that the apostles were one of the "facts" which the different Gospels agreed on, and you listed these "facts" as evidence that the Gospels are all in agreement and therefore reliable. But now it turns out that in fact the Gospels don't agree - at least, they don't on the surface. As I said, perhaps there is no serious disagreement here. Perhaps they really are listing precisely the same individuals, but with different names. But there's no reason to suppose this unless you already think that the Gospels agree with each other. Since it's their agreement that you're trying to establish, you can't use that agreement as a premise in your argument, or it's viciously circular.

    I don't see how this is evidence for multiple names - Matthias is given no alternative name here. As for his appearing in the Nag Hammadi texts - again, hardly surprising given that at least some of those texts were written hundreds of years later by people who had read the book of Acts.

    If someone was the son of Alphaeus, then according to Jewish naming conventions his surname would be Baralphaeus (or similar), not Levi. Levi was presumably his name. What this is supposed to prove, I don't know - unless you're claiming that Levi the son of Alphaeus was the same person as James the son of Alphaeus, purely on the basis that both of them had a father named Alphaeus. Where's the evidence for this?

    No, no evidence that these particular names refer to the same individual. As above, there is no evidence whatsoever that Thaddaeus is the same person as Judas the son of James except that one is mentioned in one Gospel and the other is mentioned in another Gospel. But that's not particularly good evidence.

    I agree that where the authors show special effort to identify people by giving patronymics or alternative names then we may take that as evidence of accuracy, or at least of an attempt at accuracy. But when the different authors give different names, then that is a problem - you can't pretend otherwise. It is a problem that may be resolved either by the simplest and most obvious method (saying that one of the authors is just mistaken) or by a less simple method (saying that they're both right but they have given different names for the same individual). What I'm saying is that you can't assume the second of these solutions when there is no other evidence for it. You especially cannot assume this solution when the only real reason to prefer it to the other is if you think that the Gospels are in perfect agreement, and when the only reason we're talking about these disciples at all is because we're arguing about whether the Gospels are in perfect agreement or not. As I said before, if you're trying to argue that the Gospels agree with each other, then you cannot use the claim that they agree with each other as a premise in that argument.

    I don't see anything in there to contradict what I said.

    I don't know what this is supposed to mean.

    That isn't logic, that's an assertion which is made to reconcile apparently contradictory claims. As I have said repeatedly, however, the most you're entitled to say is that it is a possible explanation for the apparent discrepancy. You are not entitled to use this as an illustration of the agreement of the Gospels, because it has not been demonstrated that they do agree on this matter - it has, at most, been demonstrated that they may agree.

    Maybe? Maybe? What good is that? Again, you were using the references to the apostles in the different texts as evidence of agreement between the texts. The assertion that "maybe" a person mentioned in one text is identical with a person mentioned in another text is not evidence of anything, even if it happens to be true.

    I can't think what you suppose is obvious. First, the Johannine letters are not written by the same person who wrote the Fourth Gospel. Or at least, if you won't accept such a strong statement, let's say that there's no reason to suppose that they were written by the same person. The epistles make no claim to authorship at all, other than that they were written by "the elder". How you can get from this to the assertion that the "beloved disciple" in the Fourth Gospel is actually the author of that Gospel, let alone identify who he is, I can't imagine.

    You're hardly in a position to appeal to their authority on the authorship of the canonical texts when you're also arguing that they were completely wrong about the authorship of the non-canonical ones!

    But to answer the question, yes, it does make more sense to me. I don't think that the reasons that the church fathers had for identifying the author of those texts as John the apostle stand up to scrutiny.

    What do they prove? The first is that the beloved disciple has testified to what happened, and the author knows that he's correct (implying, incidentally, that the author is not the beloved disciple); the second says that the author has seen and touched what he's talking about; the third and the fourth say they're written by "the elder". Not a mention of John the apostle, or even an indication that any of these were written by apostles. Certainly no indication that they were all written by the same person.

    It's not a matter of references, it's a matter of actually doing or saying things. In the canonical Gospels, the only thing Mary does is be one of the women at the tomb. John's Gospel is the only one that has her actually do or say anything (when she speaks to Jesus outside the tomb). You can talk about the Nag Hammadi books as much as you like, but these late, gnostic, and wholly legendary texts are not reliable sources for the time of Jesus himself.

    This is true. But it is hard to read John 20:11-18 and make sense of it unless Mary was alone. If there was someone else with her, why didn't the angels or Jesus speak to them? Why are we told only that Mary went to the disciples and told them what she'd seen?

    The world doesn't consist of dichotomies, especially not with vague terms such as "important", which operate on a sliding scale. I'd say that she is important in John's Gospel in that she is presented as the first person to see the risen Jesus (not the only person at the tomb, of course - the text says that Peter and the beloved disciple also saw it). But she is not otherwise prominent in that Gospel or in the others. You can call that "important" or not - it's entirely up to you, but I don't see that it makes any difference what label we choose to use.

    I agree. However, it does rather weaken your argument from their agreement, don't you think?

    Well, I cited the Gospel of Mary 4:30, which you can read here:

    This is gnostic cosmology. Irenaeus describes this mythology, which he attributes to the Valentinians, here. The relevant bits:

    So this Valentinian myth holds that in the beginning there was the Pleroma (or Fullness) of divinity, which contained many divine Aeons. One of these Sophia, developed passion; this passion was cast out of the Pleroma, being renamed Achamoth, and became a sort of entity in its own right. This angry entity - pure passion, effectively - is what both the Demiurge or creator of the physical universe and the matter out of which the physical universe is made emerged from. On this theology, both the physical universe itself and the creator god responsible for it are evil, or at least severely deficient - exiles from the Pleroma who do not even realise what they are.

    You can see the parallels to the text from the Gospel of Mary, which also associates matter with passion, disturbance, and wrongness. One of the reasons why Irenaeus and most Christians rejected all of this was that they believed that the physical world was good, and that matter was not a product of passion or disturbance but actually created by God (Adversus haereses I 22.1; II 10.4; IV 20.1). It is also contrary to the teaching of Jesus, who is portrayed in the canonical Gospels as accepting the goodness of the world as created by God (Mark 10:6) and certainly not as distinguishing between the lower Demiurge and the true, higher God.

    We find the same gnostic teaching - quite contrary to anything in the Bible, let alone the Gospels - in another of the texts you listed:

    Note how this text teaches that the world came about as a result of the actions of "the Arrogant One", who also placed "powers" and "authorities" over it, and how the powers of this world were "strangers" to the Father.

    Compare that to the following passage, which you might have encountered before, from a canonical Gospel, which teaches that the world came about as a result of God's creative action through Christ himself:

    That is impossible to reconcile with the gnostic claim, clearly taught in the Letter of Peter to Philip, that the physical world came about as a result of a mistake or is the work of a malignant or ignorant creator.

    Here's another contradiction between a canonical Gospel and one of the ones you cited as being in agreement with them:

    Here's another:

    Here again we have gnostic theology: many gnostics denied that Christ really died, because they held that he was a divine Saviour, that is, an Aeon from the Pleroma, distinct from any human being. (Some thought that Jesus was one person, being a human Messiah sent by the ignorant Demiurge, and Christ was another, being the divine Aeon Saviour sent by the Pleroma.) This is what we find in the Gospel of Philip. Incidentally, it is another indication that the Gospel of Mary is gnostic, since it consistently refers to Jesus as "the Saviour" - a good indication of a gnostic origin.

    Some gnostics accepted that Jesus had died, but denied that he had really suffered, because he was not really human. As in this other text which you cited, which attributes these words to the risen Jesus:

    That's in clear contradiction to the above-quoted text from Mark and all other references in the Gospels or elsewhere in the New Testament to Jesus' suffering.

    We also find the same thing here:

    So on this reading, Jesus was really crucified and died, but he did not suffer. His disciples suffer for him.

    As for whether Jesus was really human, compare these claims:

    These two gnostic texts clearly deny the true humanity of Jesus - according to them, he seemed to be human, but this was just an illusion, a sort of disguise he put on to enable his disciples to interact with him at all. We find a splendid elaboration on this theme in the Acts of John, which I mentioned before, which states quite clearly that Jesus' humanity was an illusion to such an extent that it wasn't even stable or very convincing (apologies for the dreadful archaic translation):

    This phantom Jesus has nothing to do with the real, flesh-and-blood Jesus of the Gospels - even of the Fourth Gospel. He's a creation of gnostic theology which could not stomach the notion of a truly divine entity becoming truly human, or even truly physical at all. This is because one of the most fundamental elements of gnostic theology was the evilness of matter.

    These heterodox passages I have quoted are all from texts that you listed earlier in this discussion as having apostolic authority and as being in perfect agreement with the canonical Gospels.

    So in sum, I don't see how anyone can really think that these gnostic texts are in agreement with the canonical Gospels or the New Testament in general. They teach quite different understandings of who Jesus was, who God is, and what the world is. That is why they are classified as "gnostic" (itself a pretty vague and unhelpful category, but it's the best we've got). That is also why the church fathers rejected them, Athanasius sought to ban them, and there was never any question of their making it into the canon of the New Testament.
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    I said that the date of AD 33 (your fact no. 1) was not found in any Gospel, and the identification of the principal characters (your fact no. 3) was not the same even in the canonical Gospels.

    I don't know of this "dictum" or where it appears in Aristotle. I didn't realise that you thought Aristotle was an infallible authority as well. If I were in a lighter mood I might ask you if there are any ancient authors who you don't think were infallible, since we've already got the New Testament, everything in the Nag Hammadi library, and now Aristotle. Fortunately, though, I'm not.

    Because the ideas and language in them are inconsistent with the ideas and language in known authentic works or from the relevant period, mainly. Also the absence of earlier manuscripts doesn't help either.

    Scholars don't "assume" that texts are inauthentic. Indeed it might surprise you and others who think that scholars are all godless bundles of cackling inconsistency, determined only to destroy everything they can lay their hands on, to find that scholars often follow the reverse principle of assuming that what the text says is true unless there is any reason not to. Thus, many scholars are prepared to suppose that the letter of James is authentic simply because there's no particular reason not to.

    As I said, I don't know the provenance of what you call Aristotle's "dictum", but even if we take it as a good guide, you seem to have overlooked what the "benefit of the doubt" means. It doesn't mean we assume that what the text is saying is true. It means that we don't just assume that what it's saying is false. If there's reason to suppose that it's false, then there's nothing in the "dictum" to say we can't think that.

    Your methodology appears to follow the wholly un-Aristotelian method of assuming that everything in the text is definitely true. In fact I'd say that much of your reasoning here seems to follow another of Aristotle's "dicta", from Poetics 1460b:

    Well, show me a copy of (say) The Gospel of Philip that's got Philip's signature in it, and another manuscript bearing what we know for certain is Philip's autograph, and show that they're in the same handwriting, and then your analogy might make some sense.

    In neither historical scholarship nor in a court of law does the fact that a piece of paper says on it "this is by Philip" prove that it's by Philip, unless there's some means of verifying the attribution - such as by handwriting. And in both historical scholarship and a court of law, if there are good reasons to suppose that the piece of paper was not in fact written by Philip, then no-one is under any obligation to suppose that it is.

    I'd like to know how you can prove that there is no pseudonymity in either the New Testament or the non-canonical texts.

    There is masses of evidence for pseudonymity in many of these texts. The evidence usually boils down to three main kinds:

    (1) The ideas do not match those found in authentic texts.
    (2) The language does not match that found in authentic texts.
    (3) There is evidence that it was written at a later date.

    The more evidence of this kind there is, and the more striking it is, the stronger the case for saying that there is pseudonymity.

    Well, first let me restate my question to you, which you ignored. Then perhaps we'll know exactly what we're dealing with here.

    Do you believe in any ancient pseudonymous texts? I mentioned the letters of Paul and Seneca. Do you believe that these are really the work of the apostle and the philosopher - that they really corresponded with each other? I also mentioned the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. Do you believe that these are genuinely the work of a first-century Christian, a convert of St Paul?

    Or again: do you think that the treatise De mundo, which bears the name of Aristotle but which is an eclectic work containing ideas current in the first or second centuries CE - hundreds of years after Aristotle was alive, and including Stoic ideas which didn't exist in his lifetime - is really the work of Aristotle? Or how about the Epinomis, written as a sort of appendix to Plato's Laws and explicitly contradicting them? Do you think that that was really written by Plato?

    If you think that any of these texts were not really written by the people whose names they bear, then we can have a discussion about why you're prepared to accept that they are pseudonymous but not any of the gnostic or New Testament texts. If, on the other hand, you think that they must all be by the people they claim to be by, then we'll need to work out in a bit more detail why.

    I agreed to no such thing. I said only that the text of the New Testament has been reliably transmitted. I didn't say that we know who wrote it.

    You can't use the word "verified" with such loose abandon in this kind of context. It could mean all kinds of different things, as this illustrates here. If you want to use the word "verified" to mean "the text hasn't been irretrievably altered by later copyists", then I'm more than happy to say that both the New Testament and the Nag Hammadi texts are "verified". If you want to use it to mean that we know who wrote them or that what they claim is true, then I am not.

    That is interesting: do you, then, think that all the teaching attributed to Jesus in the Nag Hammadi texts is not only stuff that Jesus really said, but actually true?

    Do you also believe that Jesus really didn't leave footprints, or blink, or have genitalia, as the author of the Acts of John says in the passage I quoted above?

    Paul doesn't contradict John or Luke. John or Luke certainly offer very different portraits of Jesus, and this is one of the reasons why most scholars think that John's Gospel does not give a very authentic picture of the real Jesus (on the grounds that Luke is probably closer to the real Jesus, for various reasons). As for authorship, neither the Third nor the Fourth Gospel makes any claim to authorship.

    How on earth can you know that the author of the Gospel of Mary was risking his or her life by writing said book? Where do you get this from?

    I'd remind you that our text of that Gospel comes from the fourth century, a time when no-one was risking their life by writing Christian books, even heretical ones.

    You're arguing in circles again, taking your conclusion as one of your premises. You're making "This author was risking his/her life to write this book" as a premise, which supports "This author was telling the truth". And that in turn supports "This author was really who he claims he/she was", which in turn supports "This author was risking his/her life to write this book." You can surely see why this is a poor argument.

    Well, what is it you're trying to argue then? This isn't making any sense. If they're not independent of the canonical Gospels, but take information from them, then what use are they as evidence? You can't point to the incredible agreements between them and the canonical Gospels, because these are explained by the fact that they copied the canonical Gospels! What good is it that they're "external to the scripture" or that they haven't been seen for sixteen centuries? How does that make them better historical sources?

    No, because if they're not written by apostles, but by people only claiming to be apostles, then what reason is there to suppose that they're written by eyewitnesses at all?

    I would say that in the case of the texts, they're not eyewitness, and that they're writing pseudonymously.

    In the case of the first Christians who actually had the resurrection experiences, I would certainly not say that they were lying; I would say that they were obviously sincere, but in my opinion they were probably mistaken.

    I wish people wouldn't think in such dichotomies all the time. Some people have such a black-and-white view of the world that the only possibilities they can countenance are (1) someone telling the perfect truth, and (2) someone telling an outright lie. These are not the only possibilities.

    Yes, Paul apparently quotes Jesus a fair few times, mainly on ethical and eschatological matters. The fact that he is apparently independent of the Gospels (and vice versa) is a strong argument that these traditions are very ancient and very probably authentic.

    The fact that the Nag Hammadi texts quote the same things proves nothing other than that their authors had read the New Testament.

    It's a pretty good guess, though. How do you know it's not true?

    It's all about the weight of probability. Which is more likely as an explanation for the appearance of material from the Gospels in the Nag Hammadi texts:

    (1) The Nag Hammadi texts were written by apostles, somehow using the technical vocabulary of gnostic myths of the second and third centuries CE, and expressing key gnostic beliefs such as the multitude of Aeons in the Pleroma, the non-humanity or non-suffering of Jesus, and the evil and disorder of the physical world and its creator; and they do not appear in the New Testament, even though the early Christians held apostolic authority to be one of the key tests for canonicity, because the Christian church other than the gnostic sects uniformly rejected these texts on the grounds of being heretical and non-apostolic, two judgements in which they were mistaken.

    (2) The Nag Hammadi texts were written by gnostics in the second, third, and fourth centuries.

    I say that (2) is much more probable than (1). The only argument you've given to the effect that (1) is more probable than (2) is, basically, that we should believe an author when he identifies himself. I can't say anything more to that until you've answered the question about whether you believe that any texts are pseudepigraphal at all.

    That's not relevant to the argument at all. You're arguing that if a later text agrees with an earlier one, this is evidence that the events they described really happens. Fleming and Faulks are certainly a counter-example to that principle. If this isn't the principle you're appealing to, then please explain what principle you are appealing to. The more explicit you make your argument the easier it is for everyone.

    Two libraries, yes; many authors, yes. All cohesive? I say not, given the examples I've already provided of the very different viewpoints of the different books. Even if they were cohesive, that would still prove nothing if the later authors had read the works of the earlier ones. It would show only that they agreed with those earlier authors (at least on those elements that they quote with approval). It wouldn't show that any of this material is actually true.

    What rule of thumb? To believe everything a text says? When did that become the rule of thumb of the historical method?

    To say "we know that this text is written by an apostle because he says so right there in the text itself" is so breathtakingly naive it's hard to take it seriously. If you really do mean it seriously then I must return to the same question I asked before - whether you believe all such self-identifications.

    It doesn't make sense, but then it's not actually the case.

    Biblical scholars study the biblical text in precisely the same way as all textual historians study their texts. There's no difference. If you can give me an example where mainstream biblical scholarship operates in a different and more biased way from mainstream non-biblical scholarship, then we can have a meaningful discussion about your complaint here - but until you do that it's nothing more than a baseless complaint.

    I don't know what you mean by "Lost Books of the Bible" - everything that was ever in the Bible is still in there (at least, in the Catholic Bible), and anything that had even a remote chance of being in the Bible but wasn't has never been lost. If you're talking about the Nag Hammadi books, they never had any chance of being in the Bible and have nothing to do with the Bible as far as date and composition go.

    As for "solid historically and verifiable", as I said before, those are very vague terms.

    I don't know what you're trying to say here.

    If you're implying that the Nag Hammadi books would, if true, confirm fundamentalist Christianity, I suggest you try the experiment of showing the passages from them that I quoted above to a fundamentalist Christian and seeing what he says.

    Where are you getting this "hundreds and thousands" from? I thought we were talking about the extra-canonical texts such as the Nag Hammadi literature. There aren't hundreds and thousands of those.

    Does it make sense to me that the authors of these books lied about their identity? Absolutely. People did that all the time in antiquity. If you doubt me, just have a look in the Bible:

    Here, the author warns his readers away from other letters that are spuriously attributed to him. This is especially interesting because a majority of scholars (not all) believe that 2 Thessalonians itself is spurious: if this is so, then we have someone pretending to be Paul, warning people not to be taken in by other people pretending to be Paul! It's especially interesting if the letter he has in mind is 1 Thessalonians, which is universally accepted as genuine - in that case, the fake Paul is trying to warn people away from the real Paul.

    Let's set that aside, though, and assume that the author here really is Paul. It doesn't really matter. The point is that, whoever he is, he warns people against letters written by imposters. This indicates that such letters existed. So there's nothing at all odd about thinking that the Nag Hammadi books or others were spurious in this way. We know that such things existed.

    Also, you continue to use prejudiciously emotive and pejorative language. It's not necessarily the case that pseudonymity is "lying". As I said before, it was a common practice in antiquity and did not necessarily involve an attempt to deceive. People then did not think as we do now. When someone wrote in the name of another author, they may well have been simply trying to say what they thought that author would have said if he'd addressed this topic. This may be the case with some of the writings attributed to Plato. Alternatively, they may have been trying to summarise the teachings of a particular author, and so write under his name to express the idea that it's his teachings they are expressing. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (which most scholars believe is not by Paul) may well come under this category. Or they may have been writing as a sort of rhetorical exercise: imagining a situation in which a certain author wrote about something and writing it themselves, just to practise that kind of writing. Remember that ancient education revolved to a large extent around rhetoric and mastering different styles of writing; being able to ape another author was an important element of this. The correspondence of Paul and Seneca probably falls into this kind of category - certainly it's hard to believe anyone ever thought it was genuine, although Jerome apparently did.

    Does this kind of thing count as "lying"? Perhaps you think it does, if the only possible categories you acknowledge are "truth" on the one hand and "lies" on the other. But that is not a very historically sensitive way of looking at it.

    Certainly. The gnostic texts take their basic setting, including characters and so on, from the Gospels. They also use teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels as the basis for some of the teachings they attribute to him. We can see this from the fact that they sometimes quote the Gospels word for word. Here's an example from the Gospel of Philip:

    The text clearly quotes 1 Corinthians and John's Gospel. (There are other quotes from the New Testament in this text.) This indicates that the author had read the New Testament, or at least the books that he quotes. So he was not writing independently of them; if he says things that corroborate them (such as these sayings), we cannot take him as an independent witness, because he's just copying what he's read.

    However, in the other material that these texts present, where they give teaching that is not found in the New Testament, which uses technical terminology and ideas that did not exist in the time of the New Testament, and which directly contradicts key New Testament teachings such as the goodness of the world, the creative powers of God, and the true humanity and suffering of Jesus, we can see that they date from a later time and a very different context from the world of the New Testament. They come from the world of late ancient gnosticism. That is a world which had incorporated some teachings of the New Testament and of early Christianity but which had developed these ideas or introduced new ones that the first Christians, including the authors of the New Testament, would not have agreed with.

    Even if you disagree with this assessment, I hope you don't think it's self-contradictory.

    Probably not, but who said they did? First, we're not talking about hundreds of people. In the case of the Nag Hammadi library, we're talking about a couple of dozen texts from more or less the same community. I can certainly believe that their authors "conspired", as you put it. Even better, I can believe that the later authors consciously wrote in the same tradition, and developing the same ideas, as the earlier ones, creating a consistent body of writing for that community. That's no "conspiracy", that's just the normal process of writing in a particular tradition that many religious communities do. (Compare, for example, the writings of the medieval Victorines - different authors and different ideas, but common themes that were obviously important to that community.) If you think this is a wildly unlikely hypothesis I'd be interested to know why.

    Plato's Republic was written before the time of Jesus. The redaction of Plato's Republic found at Nag Hammadi, however, was not. But why does it matter?

    Certainly - no-one would dispute that. I'm not saying that these books cannot be apostolic simply because they came from a library that was somehow incapable of containing books from the apostolic era. I'm saying that study of the contents of the books show that they do not come from the apostolic era. This is what the vast majority of scholars say. Why should I disagree with them? Until now, the only people I have ever heard saying otherwise, either online or anywhere else, are conspiracy theorists of the "blood and grail" variety who think that these books tell the "real" story of Jesus and early Christianity and prove that the "official" New Testament and the "official" story of Christianity is all a lie, probably made up by Constantine, and which is undermined by the "real" story of the gnostic Gospels. I've never encountered anyone before trying to argue that they're real and authentic and yet actually corroborate the canonical Gospels.

    The days of citing Aristotle as an infallible authority against a contrary opinion ended some time in the seventeenth century, you know. Give me reasons, evidence, and argument, not unreferenced quotations without any explanation.

    That is certainly true, but it doesn't address what I said. If there's an argument lurking behind that cryptic comment, please make it explicit. I'm not going to waste time engaging with arguments that I'm supposed to guess. I've taken the considerable time and effort to try to state as clearly as I can why I think the things I think; you might show the same courtesy towards me.

    This is not an argument.

    I don't see an argument here either.

    I don't know what they'd see if Captain Kirk were standing there either, although I suppose it's possible they'd mistake him for the gardener. Again, I detect no argument or presentation of evidence in what you've said here.

    I don't know what you mean by "literal evidence". I have also indicated that you're jumping the gun by assuming that the authors of all those texts, authentic or spurious, were risking their lives to write them. And finally, I've also indicated that your dichotomy between "truth" and "deliberate fabrication" is a false one on two levels. Regarding the original religious experiences that underlay belief in Christ's resurrection, it is a false dichotomy because people might have been sincere but mistaken, as many people demonstrably are about many things, religious and otherwise. Regarding the claims to authorship by texts such as the Nag Hammadi texts, it is a false dichotomy because in antiquity writing under someone else's name was not necessarily regarded as fabrication in the way that we would think of it today.
  10. Ajidica

    Ajidica High Quality Person

    Nov 29, 2006
    (Referring to the Council of Nicaea)
    I'm not contesting this, but it was my understanding the Council was called by Constantine and he presided over the (IIRC) the first and last sessions. Is my understanding wrong?
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Yes indeed, but that council did not address the issue of the canon of scripture, as I said.

    (n.b. It would be more accurate to say that Orosius of Braga called the council and persuaded Constantine to give it his patronage, rather than that Constantine himself called it; also, Constantine's presidency over the opening and closing sessions may have been symbolically important but didn't reflect the fact that he was absent during all the intervening sessions when the actual work was done; so personally I think that although we shouldn't underestimate Constantine's theological ability or understanding, he probably didn't have very much to do with what the council actually decided; this supposition is also supported by the fact that he seems to have overridden its decisions within just a few years anyway.)
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    I take it that by "soul" you mean an immaterial, immortal part of a person which survives their death. (That's what people usually seem to mean by it these days, but the word can mean many other things too.)

    Belief in the soul (under that definition) is often associated with dualism in philosophy of mind, which is the belief that there is more to the mind than the merely physical. In particular, belief in the soul is often associated with substance dualism, which is the claim that the mind is a distinct entity from the body, capable (at least in theory) of surviving without it. If you combine substance dualism with belief in the soul, then the mind and the soul are just different words for the same thing. In fact in early modern French philosophy (which is where modern substance dualism comes from) the word for both is esprit, which could be translated as either "mind" or "spirit".

    So when you ask for arguments for the existence of the soul, there exist arguments for both the survival of the soul and for dualism, either of which you might take as arguments for the existence of the soul.

    Here are some of the arguments:

    The argument from pre-knowledge

    This is from Plato's Meno. The argument is basically that we never really learn anything. Anything that we seem to learn, we actually already know - we had just forgotten it. In the dialogue, Socrates demonstrates this with the help of a slave boy who has never learned geometry. Socrates gets the slave boy to work out some geometrical truths for himself by asking him questions and getting him to think, but never actually telling him anything. This is supposed to demonstrate that the slave boy already knew these truths, but he didn't realise it. But if we already have all our knowledge, we must have acquired it in previous lives. So we have an immortal soul which existed before we were born.

    This argument hasn't convinced many people. The demonstration with the slave boy is unconvincing, because the fact that no-one is telling the slave boy things doesn't mean he's not learning them. Moreover, if we never learn anything in this life, how could we have learned things in previous lives?

    The argument from the soul's nature

    This argument comes in Plato's Phaedo, in which Socrates, about to die, explains that he's not afraid to die because he knows that his soul will survive. The arguments, however, are pretty poor. The main one is that the soul is, by definition, the principle of life in the body. But if it's the principle of life, death - which is the opposite of life - must be foreign to it. So the soul cannot die.

    The argument from the microcosm

    This is a cute argument in Gregory of Nyssa's On the soul and the resurrection. The idea is that the human being is a microcosm of the universe, and things that are true of the universe are true of human beings, at a smaller level. The universe is maintained and governed by God, a distinct spiritual being, so the human body is maintained and governed by the soul, also a distinct spiritual being.

    The argument from mediums

    Mediums report experiences of the dead. That is, they have experiences which appear to be of communication with dead people. These dead people are experienced as spiritual beings, not physical, which suggests that they are the souls of people who have died.

    Most philosophers of religion give this kind of argument very short shrift and simply dismiss mediums as obvious frauds. I think that this is unfair and that, while there are certainly fraudulent mediums, there are many mediums who are not fraudulent at all and who certainly believe quite sincerely that they are perceiving human souls that have died. Any genuinely objective investigation into modern mediumship would draw this conclusion. So I'm happy to accept that the experiences are real. However, it obviously doesn't follow from this that the experiences in question really are of dead souls. The mediums might be deluded. It is claimed that their experiences give them knowledge that they couldn't otherwise know. However, this hasn't been demonstrated. Even if it is true, it doesn't follow that they are really communicating with the dead. Perhaps they have some kind of psychic ability, and without realising it, they are drawing information from the minds of the people they are reading for. (Obviously that would be a remarkable thing in its own right.) More plausibly, they might be getting that information from "cold reading", i.e. picking up on subtle bodily gestures of the other person. Again, they might not realise that they are doing this.

    So I'd say that the argument from mediums is, at best, inconclusive.

    Near-death experiences

    This is similar to the argument from mediums, except that the experience is of the person's own survival of death. Some people who have been critically ill or injured report experiences of floating out of their body, going towards a bright light, being in heaven with their loved ones, and so on. If we take these experiences to be veridical, they seem to confirm that there is a soul which survives death; in these cases, the soul may have left the body but returned to it.

    Again, the main problem here is that these experiences could be explained in other ways - as the result of chemicals that flood the brain at times of near-terminal crisis, for example, and which may cause euphoria or hallucinations. Moreover, another problem is that in these cases the people in question obviously don't die, since they survive to report their experiences. So they cannot really be taken as experiences of what happens at death. At most, they can tell us only what happens at the point of death, and not what happens afterwards.

    The argument from conceivability

    This is Descartes' main argument for substance dualism. He says that I can conceive of myself as having no body. That is, it is possible that the physical world, including my body, is an illusion (perhaps I'm in the Matrix or being tricked by an evil demon). However, I cannot conceive of myself as not existing. The very fact that I'm thinking about this stuff shows that I must exist. So I can conceive that my body doesn't exist but I can't conceive that I don't exist.

    Now, if two things are actually one and the same, then anything that's true of one is true of the other. For example, if the Morning Star is a planet, and if the Morning Star is identical with the Evening Star, then the Evening Star is a planet. Conversely, if two things differ in their properties, then they cannot be identical - they must be really distinct things. (This is Leibniz's Law.) But in the case of me and my body, they do have different properties. My body has the property that I am capable of conceiving that it doesn't exist. But my mind does not have this property. Therefore, my mind and my body are not the same thing. So my mind is a different thing from my body.

    The main problem with this is that Leibniz's Law doesn't apply in cases of intentionality, that is, where the properties in question are those that people think the things have. For example, Lois Lane thinks that Superman is a hero, but she doesn't think that Clark Kent is a hero. So Superman has a property that Clark Kent doesn't have. And yet Superman and Clark Kent are the same person. The reason, of course, is that Lois Lane doesn't realise they are the same person. Similarly, it may be that I can imagine that my body doesn't exist but I can't imagine that I don't exist; but this doesn't prove that I am not my body. Perhaps I am, but I don't realise it.

    The argument from zombies

    This is really the complement of the previous argument and was proposed by David Chalmers. In philosophy, a "zombie" is a creature which exactly resembles a human being, but has no mind. So it acts like a human being in every respect, and it speaks like a human being, but it doesn't actually think or feel anything. There is nothing going on inside. It acts like there is - it may say "I feel terrible today - I think I drank too much last night," but it doesn't really feel terrible or have any opinions or memories about last night. It just acts like it does, like an automaton.

    If it is possible to conceive of zombies, then we can conceive of what is effectively a normal living body without a mind. But if this is so, then the mind is something distinct from the body. If we are not zombies (and surely we are not), then there must be something to us that makes us not zombies - namely the mind. But if a zombie is a functioning body without a mind, then the thing we have that makes us not zombies must be something other than the body, namely the mind, which is non-physical.

    Most of the rebuffs to this argument take the form of denying that zombies are conceivable or possible at all.

    The argument from knowledge

    This was famously formulated by Frank Jackson, although one can find precedents in other authors. It is an argument for dualism - not necessarily substance dualism. It runs like this. Imagine a scientist, named Mary, who is an expert on colour and how we perceive it. She knows everything that there is to know about the eye, the brain, and all the physical aspects of colour vision. In fact, she literally knows every physical fact about it (obviously this goes way beyond the state of science as it exists now). However, Mary herself is colour blind and has never actually experienced colour for herself.

    So one day Mary is miraculously cured of her colour blindness and sees colour for the first time. For the first time she knows what it is actually like to perceive red, and what it is like to perceive green, and how different it feels. So she has learned something new, namely, what these things are actually like. However, by hypothesis, she already knew all the physical facts that there were to know about colour. So if she has learned something new, she must have learned some non-physical facts. Therefore, there are non-physical facts about mental experience. Therefore, there are non-physical facts about the mind.

    That's the most famous form of the argument, but one can reformulate it in other ways. The basic point is that experience gives us knowledge which is not physical, because one could not acquire it except through experience.

    Even if we accept this argument - and plenty of people don't - it doesn't give us substance dualism or the soul, of course. It gives us only dualism of some kind. This could be property dualism, which holds that the human body (in particular the brain) has mental properties which are not reducible to physical properties. So it's the properties that are non-physical; there isn't an entity called the mind which could survive without the body.

    I think these are the main arguments for the existence of the soul and for mental dualism. There are others which aren't so prominent. There are also other arguments for the possibility or even probability of life after death which don't specifically rely on the idea of the soul.
  13. dwaxe

    dwaxe is not a fanatic

    Aug 11, 2007
    The Internet
    What do you think of Aristotle's arguments in favor of the existence of the soul in his short book, De Anima?
  14. Elrohir


    Nov 22, 2004
    That's very interesting, I'd never heard that it was a Greek phrase with that sort of meaning. Nevertheless, (And you probably won't be surprised by this ;)) I don't think it's terribly convincing to view this as a denial of Messiahhood, seeing as how the supposed "contrast" Jesus put forward is himself sitting at the right hand of God. It seems really rather odd to think that Jesus said, in effect, "You said I'm the anointed leader of God, but really, I'm just the guy who you're going to see coming out of Heaven at the Right Hand of God. But not the Messiah, no, not really." Don't you think that sounds at the very least very peculiar?
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    It's probably too late for your report, but today I'm in the library for the first time in a while, so I can have a stab at answering this question.

    Interestingly, I cannot find any book-length scholarly treatment of the history of Christian pacifism, so there's a topic still waiting for someone to cover it properly. Perhaps there are articles providing overviews of this kind.

    The best I could find was a couple of encyclopaedia entries. I may as well just quote the relevant sections (but I'll leave out the citations for the sake of readability).

    I'll put the citations in this one since they're more relevant to this question:

    Aristotle doesn't really give any such arguments. In De anima, Aristotle basically assumes that the soul exists, and aims to understand what sort of thing it is, not establish whether it exists or not. This is legitimate because by "soul" he basically means whatever the principle of life is in living things. He certainly does not mean "soul" in the later religious sense of a spiritual substance that survives the death of the body and carries with it the personal identity of the person. For Aristotle, animals and plants have souls, because they are alive; their souls are whatever cause them to live. So he sets out his definition of "soul" like this:

    So here, Aristotle argues that the soul is the form of the body. That means simply that it is what makes the body operate in the way that it does; it is, if you like, the way that the body is organised. When he calls the soul a "substance", it is in this sense. (NB Aristotle's use of "substance" is famously inconsistent; in the Categories he uses it to mean things like living organisms, that is, composites of matter and form, whereas in the Metaphysics he uses it to mean forms; it is in the latter sense that Aristotle says the soul is a substance.) This is not to say that the soul is literally the shape of the body. Rather, the soul has the same relation to the body that (say) the shape of a statue has to the bronze from which the statue is cast.

    Aristotle thus thinks that the soul explains why the body has the properties it does, most particularly why (say) this body has the property of being a human body, and why it is this human rather than another. The soul is the formal cause of the body, and that means it explains things about the body. It is also the actuality of the body, meaning that without it, you wouldn't have a body at all, at least not that kind of body. This is because, for Aristotle, a substance is defined by its functions. Aristotle draws from this his famous conclusion that a dead human body is not actually a human body at all, and a severed finger is not actually a finger; we call the one a "human body" and the other a "finger" only through a looseness of language. But because neither is subject to the organising principle of a human soul, which is what gives a living human body its form and function, they are not really a human body or part of a human body; they are different things, made of matter which used to form a human body but no longer does.

    So while Aristotle is not exactly a materialist - he thinks that the soul is something distinct from the body in the same way that the shape of a statue is (conceptually) distinct from the statue itself - there is nothing in his account to suggest that the soul could survive without the body. In fact he explicitly denies that it could in De anima. And I think most commentators regard Aristotle's whole account of the soul as basically committing him to the view that it could not, just as the shape of a statue could not survive the destruction of the statue. In the last book of the Nicomachean ethics, Aristotle does hint at some kind of immortality and even deification of human beings through the exercise of reason, which might seem to contradict this, but it is not clear what to make of this in the context of his hylomorphism about the soul.

    If you put it like that, then yes, it does. But is that its meaning? For one thing, in this passage Jesus doesn't say that he is the Son of Man. He just predicts that they will see the Son of Man coming in glory. In fact scholars aren't entirely sure whether Jesus called himself the Son of Man at all, or whether he merely used the title to refer to a future, distinct figure, and the authors of the Gospels or their sources have applied the title to Jesus himself in a way that he did not. (He certainly did use the title in some way, at least.) Most scholars, however, do think that Jesus meant it to refer to himself. But this passage in Matthew is still pretty cryptic.

    Remember that "Messiah" and indeed "Son of Man" seem not to have had fixed meanings in Jesus' day. Also, remember that "Messiah" was not a very significant title in Judaism of the time, or indeed today. You won't find many references to the "Messiah" in the Old Testament or in intertestamental literature, and in Judaism since then it's not been a very important idea. When it did occur, it seems to have meant a normal human being whose appearance in some way acted as a catalyst for the coming of the Kingdom of God, but who was usually conceived in some way as a general or priest or something like that. It seems to me that if we take at face value the saying that Matthew attributes to Jesus here, he is inviting his hearers to stop thinking in worldly terms (i.e. messiahs turning up and leading armies or whatever) and to start thinking in heavenly terms instead (i.e. eschatological figures riding the clouds at God's right hand). In other words, stop thinking about human beings and think about God instead.

    That's just a possible interpretation, though. One might equally well draw attention not to the differences between "Messiah" and "Son of Man", but to their associations, and see the saying as linking them together rather than contrasting them: in other words, Jesus affirms that he is the Messiah and goes on to make further claims about himself in terms of the Son of Man. But part of the problem is that we don't really know precisely what connotations these titles had for people at the time. Moreover, this whole passage is dreadfully difficult to pick one's way through, especially if you compare it with the parallel passages in Mark and Luke and consider the differences between them. Why would Matthew make the changes to Mark's account that he has done? What was the origin of Mark's account in the first place? When Jesus refers to the vision of the Son of Man at God's right hand, is he referring to the Son of Man ascending to God (i.e. a vindication of Jesus) or to the Son of Man coming from God (i.e. an eschatological prophecy)? Does any of this have anything to do with what the real Jesus really said to the high priest (assuming, as is reasonable, that he really was questioned by the high priest in circumstances like these)? No-one knows the answers to questions such as these, and that's before we even get into the question of what these words exactly mean just from a linguistic point of view. I'm looking at a commentary right now which argues that the "su eipas" formulation is an affirmation, since it also appears at 27:11, and that Matthew has changed Mark's more explicit affirmation basically because he wants to draw out the parallels between the high priest's interrogation of Jesus and Pilate's interrogation of Jesus. That's perfectly possible too. It also reminds us that throughout the Gospels, we are never hearing simply one voice - we are hearing several at the same time:

    (1) Jesus himself, the original saying.
    (2) The Christians who repeated this saying to each other and perhaps added their own interpretations or additions.
    (3) The author of the Gospel, who may make his own changes for his own literary or didactic purposes.

    These different voices may not be in perfect harmony, and the result is that the text that we actually have may not reflect perfectly what any one of the voices would have said if left to his own devices. The meaning of any text may therefore be very complex and may not make perfect sense if we expect it to have a single, straightforward meaning like most single-authored texts would. In the case of the Passion narrative, the most complex part of all the Gospels, and also the part which seems to have been written down as an integrated narrative before any other Gospel material, this is especially true. We're probably dealing with different layers of literary sources underlying the Gospel accounts in addition to the oral tradition, the original events, and the final author. Trying to pick out which person in that long chain said what and why is pretty much impossible.
  16. dwaxe

    dwaxe is not a fanatic

    Aug 11, 2007
    The Internet
    Are there arguments against the existence of the soul?
  17. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Deity

    Aug 13, 2006
    Do all Christian Theologians see this linking between the mind and the soul? Because it has always seemed to me that the mind must be distinct from the soul, because the mind can be changed by strictly physical means.
  18. PeteAtoms

    PeteAtoms FormulaRandom

    Aug 13, 2002
    Land of Ooo
    Do Lucifer and Prometheus represent similar archetypes?

    - Both wanted to bring wisdom/knowledge to mankind, while the supreme God(s) wished otherwise.
    - Both were punished with eternal torment and suffering
    - Lucifer means 'light bringer' (or something like that?) and that's what Prometheus did with fire
    - Both were among the first beings created by God(s) [angels/titans]

    Or am I being too shallow in the comparison, and need to do more reading? Why is one seen as the greatest enemy to mankind, while the other is regarded as a kind of hero? Didn't they both do the same thing?
  19. dwaxe

    dwaxe is not a fanatic

    Aug 11, 2007
    The Internet
    Where does he deny that? My philosophy professor says that Aristotle thinks the mind continues to exist after the body dies.

    Edit: This is what he offers as proof of that (the last 2 paragraphs):
    By the way, can I cite your internet posts as a secondary source in my paper? You are an awesome independent expert.
  20. _random_

    _random_ Jewel Runner

    Feb 18, 2008
    Behind the man behind the throne
    What's your general opinion of Richard Swinburne?
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