Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Dissertation on Dawkins and Abiogenesis

I work a grave shift security job with cargo pilots.   A few weeks ago, one from my school shared with me that he had finally finished his doctoral dissertation.  It’s entitled The non-ending search for a pre-DNA replicator: Richard Dawkins and the problem of abiogenesis. Dr. Fryar surveys the history of how Dawkins has grappled with the initial emergence of life throughout his career.  In short, biologists have no explanation for how life initially arose.  There is an astronomical gap of complexity which must be crossed in that first step, and no naturalistic model to date can account for this mysterious organization.  The dissertation is a fascinating read and can be accessed online here

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why Ray Hagin’s PhD is Probably Bogus

I’ve written several critiques of Ray Hagins online that demonstrate he is not a competent researcher.  You can read these here, here and here.  Hagins has no CV online that I’ve ever been able to find.  The most exhaustive academic bio I can find on him is from this website which states:
Dr. Hagins has attended and completed studies in various academic institutions such as: Montclair State University, Northeastern Bible College, Lighthouse Christian College and Trinity Theological Seminary and holds a doctorate (C.C.D.) in counseling and a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Cognitive Psychology.
Let me state first that I have personally emailed Hagins in the past asking him where he obtained this doctorate and what his dissertation title was.  He has never responded.  Why would a person list every undergraduate institution they have attended (including unaccredited ones like Trinity) and fail to mention the most important data on where they obtained their PhD?  Also, isn't it mighty odd Hagins nitpicks every college he has attended here but mysteriously omits anything about where he received his M.A. or what the title was?  Given Hagin’s refusal to give the information and the abject quality of his research abilities I’m convinced at best he obtained a “PhD” from a diploma mill.  By paying enough money to a diploma mill a person’s cat or dog can become a PhD. This is why people who have actually endured the grueling terrors that are a real University doctorate program are certain and proud to list the institution they obtained it from in their academic bios.

But what about this ambiguous statement: “and holds a doctorate (C.C.D.) in counseling”?  Why does Hagins go from listing all these institution to identifying one by an abbreviation (if indeed it is an institution since I am aware of no academic title by that abbreviation) and what does he mean by “holds a doctorate” from this place or in this subject?  The only place I can find that might fit on Google is the Community College of Denver, but their website tells us “CCD does not offer master's or doctorate programs.”  We don’t know what Hagins is talking about when he says he has a doctorate from C.C.D.  That is probably intentional on his part.

A public challenge to Ray Hagins:

1)      What is the name of the institution(s) that awarded you your M.A. and PhD?
2)      Who was this program supervised by?
3)      What was the title of your dissertation?

If he can answer these questions and demonstrate that his doctorate isn’t bogus (and I’m sending this page to him on 7/5/14 so no answer is an answer), I will take this post down and replace it with a public apology.  Until then, we have every reason to doubt his legitimacy: His research is egregious; he refuses to state where he acquired his doctorate from (when he lists other institutions he attended), and he has refused to respond to my questions asking where he acquired it.  Ray claims publicly to be an authority, so I'm issuing him this public challenge.

Monday, May 19, 2014

On Enoch and Universalism

Some of the universal salvation arguments put forward by scholars like Thomas Talbott and “MacDonald” (Robin Parry) are quite clever at dodging opposing proof texts.  It's not hard to see how people find their arguments extremely winsome.  You’re probably thinking, “But what about all those passages that speak of hell as eternal?”  Talbott and Parry would simply retort that they believe hell is eternal in a sense.  They believe that given an eternity everyone in hell would eventually come to regret their rebellion and wish for reconciliation with God.  After all, who would choose eternal fire in hell over the bliss of heaven?  Also, since God is love, isn’t it safe to assume He will grant repentant believers in hell their reconciliation?  This intersects with another major problem Universalists often point out:  How will we be happy in heaven knowing that our loved ones are in eternal torment?  It seems like heaven can’t be heaven unless one day all of our loved ones are reconciled to God.

I, of course, don’t buy any of these arguments.  It’s my intention to address the first assumption.  Is it true that God would grant reconciliation to a repentant sinner in hell? We may have our emotionally satisfying answers to that question, but I’m not giddy to play the philosophical game.  The God of the Bible is too weird to indirectly approach these questions philosophically with confidence.  We need some footing in the text, not assumptions on how we think God would behave.

My attempt to produce the weirdest argument against Universalism in exegetical history:

An Egyptian deity with iconographic affinities with some the divinities
in Biblical apocalyptic texts
We need not speculate about how God might react in a situation in which a sinner in hell entreats God for forgiveness because the Bible itself records a case in which the ashamed enemies of God in hell entreat God’s forgiveness.  II Peter 2.1-10 and (Peter’s source) Jude 5-7 endorse the story from 1 Enoch about God’s imprisonment of angelic beings who slept with the daughters of men.  Jude quotes and mentions the book of Enoch by name in v.14.  I will not elaborate all the reasons these texts can only be faithfully interpreted as references to the Enoch event but will name two. [1]

Realizing that Peter has this worldview in mind explains one text that evangelicals are usually creeped out by and obfuscate: 1 Peter 3:14-22.  This passage pictures Jesus descending to the spirits in prison and preaching their defeat.  Peter is using a direct allusion to 1 Enoch in which the Watchers were imprisoned in ταρταρώσας.  The author of Enoch gives a first person account of a visit he paid to these beings and how they were crying out for forgiveness.[2] Enoch records their petition to be released from their anguish and brings it before God. God emphatically denies it. Starting in chapter 14, Enoch goes and preaches to the Watchers their eternal defeat and imprisonment.[3]

It doesn't matter that I am quoting a non-inspired text.  It's obvious from Peter’s other mentions of the Enoch event in conjunction with the flood, the destruction of Sodom, and the rescue of Lot that he considers this idea in Enoch to be historical (II Peter 2:4-9).  The assumed historicity of these events is demanded because Peter lists them in defense of his argument in 2:3 that God’s “condemnation of wickedness is not idle.” Peter relates the story of Enoch’s preaching to the spirits imprisoned with Jesus’ resurrection and how, by being raised, Jesus was declaring also the defeat and eternal imprisonment of God’s enemies. 

So there exist divine beings condemned to eternal torment for their sins. They have entreated God for forgiveness and God has denied their request.  When Jesus defeated death, He (figuratively or literally) was declaring to them their eternal imprisonment in a like manner.  It is unwarranted to assume that God will simply free people from hell if they come to desire forgiveness.  In the only Biblical case in which we can observe God’s attitude in this exact situation, Peter implies He will not.  Notice Enoch’s absolute statements that their torment will be eternal and unending; that is the way ancient Jews parsed things.  Jude reflects his source Enoch when he speaks of their “eternal chains” (v.4).  Second-Temple Jews apparently didn’t have some mental allegiance blocking them from these types of affirmations about God.  The author is emphatic in his connection of this to the unsaved:  “Just as was true of those angels who did not keep their position…They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)


1) a) The Greek word translated “hell” in II Peter is not the expected Hades but the anomalous ταρταρώσας.  In almost every case this word appears it is in reference to the Greek myths about the fall of the Titians.  Jews used this special term which discussing the Watchers because they noticed its parallels with the Titan giants (for example, Josephus Ant. 1.73).  Peter has certainly borrowed his use of the word ταρταρώσας from Enoch.

b) In Jude 6-7 we know for grammatical reasons that Jude is ascribing sexual sin to the angels (note also, his mentioning of this in the context of Noah). The antecedent of τούτοις (masculine) should not be taken as “cites” πόλεις (feminine) in that passage because it would imply gender confusion.

2) 1 Enoch 13:3-6:
Then I went and spoke to them all together, and they were all afraid, and fear and trembling seized them. And they besought me to draw up a petition for them that they might find forgiveness, and to read their petition in the presence of the Lord of heaven. For from thenceforward they could not speak (with Him) nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned.

3)   (v. 4-5)

I wrote out your petition, and in my vision it appeared thus, that your petition will not be granted unto you throughout all the days of eternity, and that judgment has been finally passed upon you: yea (your petition) will not be granted unto you. And from henceforth you shall not ascend into heaven unto all eternity.

Ishtar ≠ Easter: Stop Getting your History from Internet Memes Richard Dawkins

The source of my annoyance today: The Richard Dawkins Foundation Facebook page.  Here’s a meme I wouldn’t mind if I never saw again.  (Thank’s Richard for exposing it to over 75,000 people and contributing to its being shared by 195,000.)

First, let’s review why this piece of puerility has zero correspondence with historical reality. Second, I have a brief sermon to those in the Hebrew Roots movement who most often spread this nonsense:

1)   Is the name Ishtar pronounced Easter?  No.  Here are the vocalizations of the goddess collected from the primary texts within the Brill Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible:

If Easter isn’t a Semitic word what is its etymology?  The answer is Proto-Germanic (if you buy Bede’s highly problematic explanation) or more likely Latin. (Sorry if that bores you.)

2) Are bunnies and eggs symbols of Ishtar?  Nope.  Her primary symbol in the iconography is Venus.  When I recently visited the Oriental Institute, I photographed this image of a lion representing the goddess from the Ishtar Gate.

The lion is one of her most commonly associated symbols from the third-millennium onwards.  The two objects in her hands in the meme are probably a symbol of a ruler and a rope—ANE icons of sovereignty.  There is also a famous Gilgamesh passage that associates her lovers with lions, steeds, a certain variegated bird, and shepherds.  I have never seen an image or text which associates her with bunnies or eggs.  Those symbols have different historical origins.  As a side note, I suppose one could argue the “grass of life” utilized to revive Ishtar’s corpse in the underworld by the fly-like kurgarru and kalaturru might be an etiological candidate for that plastic Easter grass that stops up your vacuum cleaner belt…Perhaps this could be a good thesis for Acharya S.’ next book. (Just make sure I get credit for first thinking of it.)

3) Was Easter a pagan holiday that was Christianized?  The reality is much more boring.  Easter was a development out of the Jewish Passover festival.  To be sure, pagan and secular elements were added, but these were prior additions to the existing holiday and not the origin of the holiday as Gene Vieth of Patrick Henry College mentions here.

The meme claims that Constantine (*groan* Why does Constantine always have to be the deus ex machina of every Christian conspiracy theory?) invented Easter as a Christian holiday.  This is idiotic considering the Roman bishop Victor was already riling up arguments over the two diverging dates of Easter in the late 2nd century (cf. Eusebius, Church History 5.23.3).  How exactly did Constantine invent Easter if Christians were already arguing about its proper celebration date over a century before he was born?

A word to the Hebrew roots movement:

Does it really make sense to argue that Christians should not make use of symbols with pagan origins or associations when Christians are either: a) totally unaware of a symbol’s history, or b) using the symbol with no pagan (or completely different) intentions?  My problem with the Hebrew roots movement is that the standard of purity it uses to beat up Christian holidays and symbols cannot even be applied to the Bible.  I’ll give you some examples:

John uses a snake as a symbol for Jesus (John 3:14); it is well known that many of the Biblical proverbs have Egyptian origins and influences (If you don’t believe this you simply haven’t ever picked up an academic commentary on Proverbs.); psalm 104 is very reminiscent of an earlier hymn to Aten; psalm 29 seems to be modeled after Baal texts (for example); both Jesus and YHWH are given the Baal’s deity title “cloud-rider” in both testaments. (Here’s an M.A. Thesis on this); or consider that the book of Revelation is crawling with Greco-Roman astrology. (Ever read Revelation 12?)

What examples like these show is that symbols are not magically evil.  John uses a snake to represent Jesus and it’s totally kosher in his mind.  We talk about Jesus “riding on the clouds” and it’s not an issue that this was a title that originally belonged to Baal.  The history of a symbol or its uses in pagan contexts doesn’t make it evil or unusable by Christians, it’s the intention behind the symbol that makes it good or bad.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Bodies of God and the Jewish Trinity

I’m excited to direct readers to a wonderful resource offered by the Foundation for Jewish Studies.  Benjamin D. Sommer, professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary, has delivered four lectures (each of which several hours long) teaching his book The Bodies of God in the World of Ancient Israel to a Jewish audience.  Having completed all the lectures over the last few days on my car commutes, I can say they are fascinating. (Sommer’s book was a favorite of mine having found it in the library several years ago.)  You can download all the lectures for free here.

Now, why should Christians care about Sommer’s book and these lectures on a subject as weird (or creepy, rather) sounding as “the bodies of God”?  I’ll provide you with this quote from Sommer starting at 35 minutes into the last lecture to give you an idea:
“When the New testament talks about Jesus as being some sort of small scale human manifestation of God, that really sounds to Jews so utterly pagan, but what I’m suggesting is perhaps the radical idea for us Jews--that in fact, it’s not so pagan…We Jews have always tended to sort of make fun of the Trinity…[that Christians] aren’t real monotheists like we Jews are or like the Muslims are, but I think what we have been seeing from what I’ve been saying for the past couple of days [is] the idea of the Trinity…[is] actually an old ancient Near Eastern idea…that can also function in a monotheistic context, as it does I think in the J and the E texts and some of the other texts we were looking at.  In fact, to say that three is one—hey! The Kabbalah is going to go even further than that! They say ten is one. The Zohar [and] Sefer Ha-Bahir, they say ten is one. Actually when you get to Lorena Kabbalah there’s the idea that within each of the ten sefirot has ten sefirot within it so that we’ve got a hundred…We [Jews] are taking this [divine fluidity] reasoning much, much farther than the Christians did.  One of the more radical conclusions that I came to, much to my own surprise when I was writing this book--and this is not at all what I had intended to do because in various ways that we could discuss if you’re interested--I’m actually rather uncomfortable with my own conclusion here, but as a scholar I gotta to call em as I see em—one of the conclusions that I came to…is that we Jews have no theological objection to the doctrine to the Trinity…The Trinity is an old Ancient Near Eastern idea that shows up in the Tanakh and in a different way shows up in Jewish mysticism as well”

As a disclaimer, I don’t accept some of his source critical presuppositions throughout the lectures.  (He thinks there is disagreement in the Biblical sources about God’s embodiment.) But the value of Sommer’s thesis for apologetic contexts and understanding ancient Israelite religion is tremendous.  I’ll also use this as an excuse to point readers to Michael Heiser’s work on pre-Christian divine plurality here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lexical Crimes: Tattoos and Leviticus 19:28

I recently came across two articles on Leviticus 19.28.  One from Gilad Gevaryahu in the Jewish Bible Quarterly and the other by John Huehnergard and Harold Liebowitz in Vetus Testamentum.  For those who aren’t familiar, there is a long standing translational difficulty in this passage:

 וְשֶׂ֣רֶט לָנֶ֗פֶשׁ לֹ֤א תִתְּנוּ֙ בִּבְשַׂרְכֶ֔ם וּכְתֹ֣בֶת קַֽעֲקַ֔ע לֹ֥א תִתְּנ֖וּ בָּכֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה 
You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks (ketovet ka’aka) on you; I am the Lord (JPS)

How should the words ketovet ka’aka be translated?  Most English translations opt for the rendering “tattoo” (e.x. NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NET).  The problem is the word ka’aka is a hapax legomena-- meaning this is the only place in the entire Bible in which it appears.  We can’t go anywhere else in the Bible to define it. What’s our warrant then for opting for the translation “tattoo” as opposed to other proposed readings such as “branding” (branding of slaves is commonly attested in the ancient context of the Bible).  Gevaryahu appeals to the strong attestation of the “tattoo” reading in Jewish post-Biblical interpretation. (i.e. the Mishnah, Rashi, Rambam, Onkelos, Neofiti, the Peshitta and Septuagint.)

It seems then the majority English translation “tattoo” is favorable from the available evidence.

What then is the context of the tattooing that’s going on in this prohibition?  Should Christian parents recite this passage to their teen who insists on having “YOLO” eternally etched into their wrist?  Is that backwards Yeshua tattoo your youth minister has on his leg Levitacally kosher?

The first part of this verse clearly implies a mortuary context.  That is, gashing one’s body in mourning for the dead.  It seems natural to therefore interpret the following “katovet ka’aka” in a mortuary context.  This is where things get difficult.  We have plenty of evidence from the ancient Near East of gashing oneself in mourning (as when El mourns over the death of Baal), but Huehnergard and Liebowitz could find no evidence from the surrounding cultures of Israel that tattooing was ever practiced in mourning. It appears the two laws in this verse don’t therefore link in context.  That wouldn’t be uncommon.  Often, passages like Lev. 19.3 will join two laws with no contextual relation between each other.

If the tattooing prohibition is not a reference to the dead what is its context?  It’s likely slavery.  It was common in ancient Mesopotamia to tattoo the name of a god or master on a slave.  It’s proposed the Israelite prohibition against tattooing was a declaration of the Exodus event.  It was a sign that Israel was free as a people (likely from the gods and associated government of Egypt).

What can we say then?  Tattooing in the Biblical period was highly associated with slavery (often to a foreign god).  Since that association doesn’t exist in our cultural environment (and the theological messaging in abstaining from tattooing is therefore lost) a Christian or Jew wanting a tattoo could appeal to our cultural disconnect in order to legitimize their decision.

For those of you with a penchant for foreign language tattoos, I’ll leave you with this admonition: Probably one of the most satisfying joys of learning the original languages of the Bible is being able to appreciate the majority of Hebrew tattoos which are spelled wrong, backwards or worse.  Please be careful you don’t end up the next victim on the bad Hebrew tattoo website.

Gevaryahu, Gilad J. 2010. "KETOVET KA'AKA (LEVITICUS 19:28): TATTOOING OR BRANDING?" Jewish Bible Quarterly. 38 (1).

Huehnergard J., and Liebowitz H. 2013. "The biblical prohibition against tattooing*". Vetus Testamentum. 63 (1): 59-77.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Phil Valentine Debunked

Due to my online critiques of Ray Hagins, Sara Suten Seti and Ashra Kwesi, I’ve been asked for years to write a critique of the highly popular speaker Phil Valentine.  Since Valentine’s online lectures average three-to-four hours, I’m not giddy to address every claim he has ever made, but I’m happy to refute a few high points for his followers. (Thanks to Sami for the push I needed.)

Here’s my thesis: Phil Valentine is a severely horrific source for history.  To substantiate that claim, following is a funny list of examples demonstrating the type of historical howlers one regularly encounters in his lectures. Valentine’s historical claims will be written in red.  My responses are written under them in black.

From his lecture “Vampires of Consciousness” available here on youtube:

“Here are some of the books that were deleted from the Bible…You are still using the texts that came out of the Roman church under Constantine and the council of Nicaea…They are,…the gospel of the Nativity of Mary, the history of Joseph the carpenter,…the Gospel of Judas Iscariot,…the Gospel of Barnabas, the gospel of the Essenes,…the Hymn of Jupiter of Clementius,…the book of Avodah Zarah...”

Ah, Niceae! The dues ex machina of all church history conspiracy theories!  Did Constantine form the Biblical canon at Nicaea?  No.  None of our primary texts regarding Nicaea (for example, we have all proceeding 20 canons) deals with the canon of scripture.  David Dungan (University of Tennessee) has written a standard survey on the political context of canonization.  In his book Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament he never mentions any notion that the canon was discussed at Nicaea. (Though, I will not have my readers thinking Constantine had no influence on the development of the canon since the 50 copies of the New Testament he commissioned had a standardizing effect among the wide populace.)

Quoting James R. White (Grand Canyon University):
 “The Council of Nicea did not take up the issue of the canon of Scripture. In fact, only regional councils touched on this issue (Hippo in 393, Carthage in 397) until much later. The New Testament canon developed in the consciousness of the church over time, just as the Old Testament canon did.”
Now, let’s look at the above seven books Valentine says were “deleted from the Bible”:

1)      The Nativity of Mary (De Nativitate Marae) dates to the 9th-10th centuries—the literary product of a long development of multiple tradition streams.[1]  How did the early church delete a book from the canon of scripture that wasn’t composed until the Middle Ages?
2)      The history of Joseph the Carpenter Wasn’t written until the 6th or 7th centuries.[2]
3)      The Gospel of Judas 1) Uses the canonical gospels as a source and is therefore derivative from them, not a competing source.  It dates to the second-half of the second century. 2) There is no way Judas wrote this book as it claims he did. 3) The book was written in a completely different context than the canonical gospels by Gnostics.  Irenaeus claims it was used by a group called the Cainites (named after Cain).  I’d suggest Valentine reads this discussion of Judas here written by the director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.
4)      The Gospel of Barnabas is a “hotch-potch of Christian Jewish, and Muslim materials” and originates in the 14th century.  It was first composed in Italian.[3]
5)      The Gospel of the Essenes (or Essene Gospel of Peace) was a 20th century hoax by Bordeaux Szekely.[4]  Heath food spiritualists have kept this twaddle alive on the internet in order to argue the Essenes (and Jesus) were vegetarian.  For any of you Szekelyites out there that have wandered to this page, read the following carefully:

1) Jesus was not an Essene. Gary Habermas lists 21 disconnects between Jesus’ and the Qumran communities’ beliefs.[5]

2) Repeat after me, “The Essenes were NOT vegetarians!”  Here’s an explanation from an archaeological survey of Qumran:
“The animal bones deposited in or under potsherds and pots outside the buildings at Qumran apparently represent the remains of communal meals at which meat was consumed.  Because the sectarians considered these meals to be a substitute for participation in the sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple, they disposed of the remains of the animals they consumed in a manner analogous to those sacrificed in the temple.”[6]
6)      The Avodah Zarah is a tractate in the Talmud.  It dates to the third century AD.   That’s too late for consideration in the New Testament canon.  Besides, why would Christians incorporate Christ denying rabbinic commentaries into their scriptures?  Why single out a single tractate of the Talmud instead of the whole corpus?  My guess is it just sounded really cool and mystical to talk about the secret, suppressed “book of Avodah ZAAARRAAHHH.”

7)      The Hymn of Jupiter was written by Cleanthes, the stoic disciple of Zeno.  Mr. Valentine, why ought a 3rd century BC hymn to Jupiter by a stoic philosopher be included in the canon of scripture?  I’d sure be interested in your answer.  Maybe it’s because Paul possibly is quoting this text in Acts 17:
…[God] is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
 Try to wrap your mind around Valentine’s logic here: Paul quotes to the Athenians one of their polytheistic philosophers as he attempts to discredit their worldview.  Therefore, that polytheistic philosopher ought to be canonized as Christian scripture.

Excuse me while I go stab myself with a fork.

8)      The Gospel of Thomas is certainly one of the most relevant on the list to Valentine’s argument.  So why didn’t the early church include it in the canon?  1) It doesn’t date to the first century like the four Gospels, but to the middle-second century. 2)  It wasn’t written by an apostle like it claims to have been. 3) It contains Gnostic-like teachings which contradict our earliest sources on Jesus.

Napoleon and his troops blew the nose off the sphinx for racial reasons.

Frederic Louis Norden in his book Voyage d’Egypte et de Nubie recorded this image of the noseless Sphinx in 1738.  It was published in 1755--sixteen years before Napoleon was born.

25:00 Valentine wishes to establish some quotes about the early church to show early Christianity was a conspiracy.  He provides us with this quote allegedly from Lactantius: "Among those who seek power and gain from religion there will never be wanting an inclination to forge and lie for it."

This statement was allegedly made by Lactantius, a 4th century apologist. However the quote is usually cited as coming from an 18th century second-hand source: "Quoted by C. Middleton, Misc. Works of Conyers Middleton, D.D., vol. 3, p. 51 (1752)" In other words, this hearsay quote is never cited from an original work of Lactantius nor could I find it when I looked for it.
Valentine then quotes Gregory of Nazanzius: “A little jargon is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire."
Gregory of Nazanzius, a 4th century church father and bishop of Caesarea, supposedly made this confession in a letter to Saint Jerome. Yet once again, this statement is not found in any work of Gregory but is cited from another second-hand 18th century source: "Quoted by C. Volney, The Ruins, p. 177 (1872)."[7] 
31:17 Valentine claims Johann Lorenz Mosheim in his work Church History volume 1 page 198 writes, “It was held by the church, that it was not only lawful, but even praiseworthy, to deceive, and even to use the expedient of a lie, in order to advance the cause of truth and piety.”

What Johann Lorenz Mosheim actually said:

Mosheim will go on to blame this idea of a “noble” lie as the moral justification some Christians took in writing apocryphal books.  This is why the early church’s long and acrimonious development of the canon is a good thing--as opposed to Valentine who would have any and everything included in the canon from the Gospel of Judas to modern forgeries.

Valentine is surely parroting the mystic Hilton Hotema (The Secret of Regeneration) published in 1963, (pg. 77).  All the quotations he gives, their sources, order and translations (including the term "pious fraud") comes from Hotema.  To give you an idea of the type of scholarship Valentine is investing in, here is how Amazon describes the book:

35:35: “There is no Jesus Christ, never was no Jesus Christ, and I say that with all knowledge…”

This internet claim is a personal pet-peeve of mine.  Here’s a challenge for readers and Valentine.  Name and cite a single living scholar on earth holding an academic position at any university in the fields of New Testament or Church History who believes Jesus didn’t exist.  Name a single one.  The closest I’ve ever found is the notorious Bob Price who (recently, unless I missed it when I checked a couple years ago) got a Religion and Philosophy position at Johnnie Coleman Seminary (don’t bother searching for information on it online.  Best I could find is that it’s somewhere in Florida and has a grand total of 7 likes on Facebook).

Bart D. Ehrman is perhaps the most famous American New Testament scholar for his popular books challenging the Christian faith.  He has his PhD from Princeton and is James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina University at Chapel Hill.  He has written a book explaining in layman’s terms the reasons virtually every scholar on earth invested in historical Jesus studies knows Jesus existed.  If you think I’m exaggerating on this point, you can view this collection of statements by historians and New Testament scholars I’ve compiled here on the issue.  Quoting Asbury New Testament professor Craig S. Keener:
“Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars' confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, "We're his followers"? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it.”
Here’s another quote Valentine produces in this section from our alien seeding, mystic friend Hilton (pg 77):
“It mightily affects me, to see how many there were in the earliest times of the church, who considered it as a capital exploit, to lend to heavenly truth the help of their own inventions, in order that the new doctrine (of Christianity) might be more readily allowed by the wise among the gentiles.  These officious lies, they were wont to say, were devised for a good end”

Hilton says he got this from Robert Taylor. Taylor’s Diegesis (pg. 44) says he got this from Nathaniel Lardner (vol. 4) who got this from a Latin translation of Isaac de Casaubon.  If you pull up a digital archive of Lardner’s works  and search the first four lines of this above quote you will find it doesn’t exist.  Likewise, there is no way to find any part of this quote connected with Casaubon (in English or the Latin Taylor gives).  For example. (Notice, not one of these hits is able to produce a primary source.)  Considering we don’t know the original context of this quote or who actually said it, we have no way of verifying its context (or, if the inserted key phrase “(of Christianity)” belongs).  This quote is worthless unless Valentine can supply the source. Good luck with that.

39:10 Valentine says, “Paul admits to lying and deceiving for the sake of Christ.  Let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 12:16, 'But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit.'”

Paul, of course, is being sarcastic in his contentions with the “super-apostles.” Calvin J. Roetzel (The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context[8]) states, “Here we see Pauline sarcasm at its best…”  That’s obvious in this verse to anyone who can merely pick up an English translation of 2 Corinthians and read the context.  Sarcasm is classic Paul (sorry if that steps on the toes of some illiterate Christians).

1:15:10 “The hindu Krishna mean ‘the anointed’…Mithras of Persia was also known as the Christ, Heru, or Horus was also known as the Christ, Bel Minor was known as the Christ, Iao was known as the Christ, Adoni was known as the Christ”

None of this is true.  It’s all taken from a 19th century esotericist Kersey Graves.  I’ve refuted all this here.  So far as I’m aware, my critique of Graves remains the most exhaustive on the web.  Though, the popular atheist historian Richard Carrier has also spanked the book.

1:18:42 “The life story of Jesus the Christ of the four gospels was not invented and written until four generations after the death of Paul. That is the only explanation that can be offered for the fact that Paul makes absolutely no references to the teaching and miracles of Jesus the Christ of the four gospels.”

Let’s take on the crazy one step at a time.  Were the gospels written four generations after Paul?  Assume Paul died in 67 as standard Pauline chronology suggests, and very generously assume for the sake of argument that 30 years amounts to “a generation.”  That would mean the four gospels weren’t written until AD 187.  I am aware of no New Testament scholar on the planet, no matter how antagonistic to faith, who wouldn’t laugh at Valentine for claiming this.  John was the last gospel written, about thirty-five to sixty-five years after Jesus’ death.  We have papyrus fragments of John dating before AD 187 (for example, P52). Heracleon wrote a commentary of John before that date.  Also, we could cite all the early church fathers who quote from the gospels in their writings.  Justin Martyr, for example, quotes especially from Matthew and from Mark and Luke, calling them the “Memoirs of the Apostles.”[9]  Josephus’ Testimonium Flavianum describing Jesus was written in the first century. (Modern textual-criticism has reconstructed the originals of that passage.)[10]  In addition, Roman references to Jesus like Tacitus’ Annals date well before 187.  It is not true Jesus’ life story “was not invented” until four generations after Paul.  That’s silly.

Second, it’s true Paul doesn’t give us a sizable amount of biographical information on Jesus (Paul is writing earlier than the gospels), but to say Paul is completely oblivious of the life of Jesus is unchecked exaggeration.  Paul tells us in Galatians 1.18-20 that he met personally with James the brother of Jesus and in 1 Corinthians 11.23-6 for example, he quotes Jesus’ words from the Lord’s Supper, mentioning His betrayal that night and Jesus’ actions at the table.

1:21:00 “There is no proof Paul himself actually lived.”

Here’s a challenge: Name and cite single living scholar on earth holding an academic position in New Testament, Classics or History who believes Paul didn’t exist.  No such position exists.  Not even among the most radical mythicists like Bob Price and Richard Carrier. Paul’s letters like Galatians and Corinthians contain personal intimations which reflect upon Paul’s personal ministry when he was with those churches.  We only have letters like Corinthians because the churches they are addressed to preserved and circulated the text.  If a Paul’s intimations (for example, Paul naming off his friends in the church or his references to past conflicts between him and the churches like the “evil eye” episode with the Galatians) are fabricated by a forger then the church receiving these letters would recognize they never met this guy Paul and letters like Galatians and Corinthians wouldn’t exist because they wouldn’t have been preserved and circulated.

1:30:00 “Mary Magdalene was [Jesus’] wife…the only role that Mary Magdalene could have been playing was one of Jesus’ wife.”

Here’s a 50 minute lecture by a Semitic professor explaining why this is not the case.   Here’s an article also touching on the topic by Birger A. Pearson from the University of California.

The Following is taken from his lecture "Metaphysics of the Bible" Available here.

1:10:00 "They took the name Moses from the Babylonian word misis or mises and they took it directly” from the Egyptian name Ramesses.

Moses results from a Greek transliteration of the Egyptian Mose.  I think I’ll go with the explanation of the etymology offered by the peer reviewed Journal of Near Eastern Studies rather than Valentine.[11]

1:11:50-1:14:00 While expounding Gnosticism, he claims Matthew was taken from the name Pro(metheus). “There was no such person as Mathew ever existed.” He claims Matthew comes from “ma” as in Marine” and “theus” as in God.

Matthew was a common name in first century Palestine.  I’ve read half-a-dozen first and second century ossuary inscriptions bearing the name.  Books XI through XX of Josephus’ antiquities (which are first century Jewish histories covering the first year of Cyrus to Florus) use the name 15 times.  It derives from the Hebrew mattath (gift) and yah (Yahweh).   Prometheus derives from the Greek pro (before) and methos (learn).  No international Catholic conspiracy needed.

In the same section he states Christians took the book of Matthew from Marcion.

Earlier, I quoted Valentine saying the “four gospels were not invented and written until four generations after the death of Paul.”  Marcion died around 160.  This is a contradiction unless we are taking “one generation” to be 23 years. (The average first-century Jewish lifespan by the way was 40.)  Funny thing about this claim is that Marcion held the gospel of Matthew in contempt.  He only accepted the Gospel of Luke and Paul’s writings—with all their Old Testament references excised. If we are to believe Marcion wrote Matthew why is Matthew full of quotations and theology from the Old Testament that Marcion hated?  Also, we have quotations by the early church fathers from Matthew that date before Marcion was born.  It’s textually impossible for Marcion to be Matthew’s source.

1:21:05. The name Abraham was taken from the name Brahma.  Just bring the 'A' at the end of the name and put it before 'B' and you get the name "Abrahm."

Abraham derives from the Hebrew abh (father) and raham (something close to multitude).  Brahma is Sanskrit.  I’m not aware its etymology is known.  Sanskrit is Indo-Aryan, Hebrew is West Semitic.

1:30:00. The Moses story was stolen from the Sargon exposure motif.

The following is a quote from the Semitist Michael S.Heiser:
“Note this comment from Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Anthology[12].‘The legend concerning the birth of Sargon of Agade is available in two incomplete Neo-Assyrian copies (A and B) and in a Neo-Babylonian fragment (C).’ 
The Neo-Assyrian period covers the 8th and part of the 7th centuries BC. The Neo-Babylonian period is later, encompassing the 7th and 6th centuries BC. This would mean that, even by higher critical standards, who would have the Moses birth account as written by J or E (or an amalgam of JE), the biblical story is EARLIER, at least with respect to the literary evidence that actually exists. J and E are dated to the 10th and 9th centuries BC, respectively, by most source critics.”
2:39:00 He challenges any pastors listening, “prove to me anybody in that Bible lived, and I’ll come work for you.” Clapping is then heard in the classroom.

Ok.  How about this list of 50 people in the Bible whose existence has been confirmed archaeologically produced by Lawrence Mykytiuk at Purdue University?

2:27:00 “Sol-om-on was three specific names for the sun.” He continues with long, silly systems of numerological equations based on the modern word Solomon in order to end up with a Jewish menorah symbol.  The claim is this was all originated by the Egyptians and stolen by the Jews.

I’ve heard this claim many times before in Masonic and other esoteric works (Manley P. Hall was fond of it).  It’s completely bogus.  Biggest problem is the word Solomon is a later Greek transliteration of the Hebrew original. The word is used in the Bible and would have been used by Hebrew speaker as Shlomoh (שְׁלֹמֹה).  The name Shlomoh derives from the same Hebrew root as Shalom and means “peace” .   It has nothing to do with the sun, nor does it in anyway correspond with the Hebrew word for sun.  The four consonants spelling Shlomoh (Shin, Lamed, Mem, Hey) cannot give you any form of the menorah Valentine has on the board (since they comprise an even number).   Additionally, the old esoteric doctrine that Sol-Om-On comprises three different words for sun can’t be true since no possible division of the original Shlomoh will even yield three individual syllables possessing vowels.


It will be obvious to those who have read this far that Phil Valentine is a terrible source for history.  His standard of scholarship is so egregious it ought to be ignored for actual academic sources.  I hope Valentine’s followers will be encouraged by this to start demanding credible scholarship from their leaders, and that they will reconsider thinking maturely about the historical Jesus and his claims.

Endnotes:1)      Elliott, J K. "Libri de nativitate Mariae, v 2: libellus de nativitate Sanctae Mariae: textus et commentarius." Novum Testamentum 42, no. 1 (January 1, 2000): 98. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 13, 2014). 
2)      Ehrman, Bart and Plese, Zlatko. The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations (Oxford: New York, 2011), 158. 
3)      Joosten, Jan. 2010. "The date and provenance of the Gospel of Barnabas."Journal Of Theological Studies 61, 200-215. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 13, 2014). 
4)      Ladd, John D., Commentary on the Book of Enoch: Commentary and Paraphrase. (Xulonpress, 2008), VIIff.  
5)      The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press: USA, 1996), 78-9. 
6)      “Archaeological Evidence for Communal Meals at Qumran” in Jodi Magness’ The Archeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls: (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and related Literature) (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2003), 121. 
7)      Ibid., 
8)      (Westminster: Louisville 1998), 93. 
9)      (Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, (USA: HarperCollins, 2012). 21-5. 
10)   See, Alice Whealey, “The Testimonium Falvianum in Syriac and Arabic” Cambridge University Press , 2008: 
11)   J. Gwyn Griffiths, “The Egyptian Derivation of the Name Moses,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies , Vol. 12, No. 4 (Oct., 1953), pp. 225-231. 
12) The Ancient Near East an Anthology of Texts and Pictures. ( ed. James Bennett Pritchard;Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 119.”

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lexical Crimes: America’s Three Favorite Bible Verses

It’s hard not to become dulled by an American church which seems to think Sunday school ought to be eternal and the Bible to be studied only with the hermeneutic one would bring to a self-help book.  Probably the only defense is to constantly attempt to view the text through fresh eyes.  And so, in a healthy spirit of iconoclasm, here undoubtedly are the three Bible passages most Americans have built the majority of their folk theology on—often chanted as if they are polyvalent mystic incantations from some forgotten, inscrutable origin.  The cliché ways in which they are pillaged and vaunted in public discourse may be enough to make you want to slam your head repeatedly against a Bruce Metzger textbook, but let’s attempt to reclaim their beauty by ignoring the traditions obscuring them.

Welcome to a systematic theology of the average American (Yes, I’m aware there are only three verses here.  What’s your point?):

Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:58-8:11)

We can start with the panacea of anyone writhing to be freed from condemnation (or, too cowardly to condemn evil—my usual personal vice).  Perhaps you have appealed to it--perhaps your pastor has preached from it.  The reality is this passage is not scripture.  Next to the “long ending of Mark,” this story is the largest textual variant in the New Testament (known as the pericope adulterae .) To put it bluntly, the author of John’s gospel never said it.  The earliest Greek manuscript in which it appears is Codex Bezae in the 5th century.  Look it up in your conservative modern Bible, and you will find it placed in brackets with a footnote stating this.  The passage is likely a later conflation of two extra-biblical floating traditions with speculative historical value.  Daniel B. Wallace (director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) has touched on its history here.

John 3:16

It’s unfortunate this verse has been frozen in a 17th century Anglican version.  To begin, the term “only begotten son” is an obsolete translation.  It was assumed by the authors of the KJV that the Greek term translated “only begotten” (Greek: monogenes) was derived from the two words mono (“one”) and gennao (“beget”).  Modern scholarship has now shown the second term actually derives from the root genos, meaning “kind.”  In other words, “God’s only begotten son” is a misleading translation.  It should be rendered something closer to “God’s one of a kind son” or God’s “unique son” as the ISV has it.  Piotr Blumczynski from the University of Wroclaw has a paper on this which can be accessed here.  This translational distinction is valuable primarily because it removes any needless connotation that Jesus was brought into existence at some point in the past.  (No surprise, the Jehovah’s Witness official church website has yet to get the memo on the Greek grammar.)  The Semitist Michael S. Heiser has mentioned how this understanding of monogenesis is vividly illustrated in other New Testament passages.  One example in Hebrews 11:17 calls Isaac Abraham’s monogenes even though Ishmael was fathered prior to Isaac making Isaac emphatically not his “only begotten” son.  The term refers then to uniqueness with no connotation to temporal begetting.

Second, as a corn-fed Bible-belt-a-nite according to the flesh, I get a laugh out of the mountains of theology we import upon the word “whooooooosoever” in this passage.  Since Calvinism is all anyone at my Seminary ever wants to talk about, I’m not terribly giddy to kick the horse.  But I would appreciate it if this passage would stop being pillaged for something the original language doesn’t address.  The King James translation “whosoever” is a harmonization of the Greek pas ho pisteuon. Literally, it means, “…every one believing…”  It is therefore silent in answering the question of whether or not every human being has the moral ability to believe.  It simply asserts that the ones that do will have life eternal.  Let’s stop clamoring on this sentimental passage to support a universal atonement.  There are plenty of better places one would argue that doctrine from.

“Judge not” (Matthew 7:1-3)

The favorite New Testament verse of every human being who has never picked up and read the New Testament--It’s too bad no one was around to set Paul straight with this verse when he commanded Timothy to expose sinners publicly (1 Timothy 5.20), or when he advised his Galatian opponents to go castrate themselves (5:12).

Also, isn’t it a little odd that Jesus commands us immediately afterwards to judge whether certain men are dogs or swine (7:6)? Also, does anyone care that Jesus, in John 7:24, commands judgment? “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

Surely Jesus was rendering judgment himself when he called the Pharisees all those nasty names,
“woe to you…hypocrites! Woe to you hypocrites!…child of hell…blind guides…blind fools…You blind men!...You blind Pharisees…whitewashed tombs…dead bones…and...lawless…You serpents, you brood of vipers… (Matt. 23).

Perhaps we haven’t been quoting “judge not” it its proper context.  Here’s the passage (ESV):

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Here’s a wild suggestion, considering Jesus tells us to remove the log from our eye in order that we may remove the speck from our brother’s, I submit Jesus in this passage is addressing hypocritical judgment.  Jesus’ command presupposes that we would help our brother remove the speck from his eye, but only after we have examined ourselves so that we may not be hypocrites.  Obviously, within Christian soteriology this is only fathomable through the Holy Spirit, but it is absurd to pretend this passage totally forbids us from judging or condemning the evil acts of others. (Sorry, Pope Francis.)  That doesn’t explain the command of verse 5, or comport with the rest of scripture…

...or Amos’ calling rich Samarian women cows, I’ll wager (4:1).

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Lexical Crimes: Does the Word “Abomination” only refer to ritual wrongs?

I was recently shown this below clip from a documentary entitled, For the Bible Tells Me So:

There’s a lake of ink that could be spilled in reviewing the specific arguments made in this clip, but in this series I’ve narrowed my focus to the specific claim made at 1:40-2:00 by Laurence C. Keene. I’m frankly astonished the reverend is able to gaze shamelessly into a camera and make the following statement in regards to Leviticus 18:22:
"When the term abomination is used in the Hebrew Bible, it is always used to address a ritual wrong. It never is used to refer to something innately immoral.”
 Is the Hebrew word “abomination” in Leviticus 18:22 “always used to address a ritual wrong,” and is it true that it is “never used to refer to something innately immoral”? The answer is no. Dr. Keene has apparently never looked the term up in a concordance. The term translated “abomination” in Leviticus 18:22 is towebah (תּוֹעֵבָה).  By way of example, consider how this same word is used in Proverbs 6:16-19 (NASB):
There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination (תֹּועֲבַ֥ת) to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers
None of the sins in this list smack of ritual associations. They are all innately immoral. The term towebah had the elasticity to circumscribe sins which are not ritually associated. To say it never does is incorrect.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Back from Hiatus with Groundbreaking Ancient Astronaut Discovery

I've been gone for months. Since last I posted, I’ve been married to a ridiculously attractive Irish goddess (Someone call John MacAuthor, miracles are for today!). I've moved, been studying, divining the problems with my home internet and rearticulating a raccoon skeleton.

But I know you guys don't want excuses. You want to read about significant contributions to the scholarship of ancient history. What I'm going to present to you today is a real game changer for the ancient astronaut crowd. This may finally be the final word in the debate. I present to you the Marduk relief from Nineveh:


In the lower line rendition you can clearly see what is a modern wrist watch on Marduk's left arm:

Come on History Channel, write me a contract.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Answers in Genesis Responds to my Critique of their Museum

I can't deny.  I dig the beard. 
[Edit 8/19/13: I've introduced some clarifications, stylistic changes and minor marked emendations into this post.] 

Answers in Genesis' Ken Ham and Georgia Purdom have posted these two responses to my blog post critiquing their museum.  I encourage everyone to go read their short token replies.

Let me point out nothing in my original blog post was condemnatory of young earth creationism.  In fact, you could still believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago contemporaneously with Larry King and adhere to all the points I outlined.  I haven’t declared my side in the debate. (I prefer to be obnoxious like that.)  In a glorious plot twist, I may very well rip off my mask at any moment and announce I’m actually a young earther. I understand AiG’s passionate response assumes this is a doctrinal throw down, but the reality is this entire discussion is irrelevant to major articles of doctrine, and young earthers can be assured that it's not my angle to disabuse them of their position on the age of the earth.  I find it much more fun to creep you out in the hermeneutics department.

Speaking of creeping my fellow evangelicals out, I've speculated before that young earthers may do better to search for warrant for their "no pre-fall death" position by juxtaposing texts like Enki and Ninhursag (particularly descriptions of the Eden parallel Dilmun) with Isaiah's descriptions of the eschaton. (See the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature.) There I go again, speculating about all that boring literary-historical context stuff.

Before we respond to this piece from them, let’s take a moment to recall all the things Ham and Purdom simply have not attempted to address that my blog brings up:

1) Anachronistic Moses They were silent about their display with Moses holding the Ten Commandments in a script which wasn’t adopted by the Jews until the 5th century and dotted with vowel points which were invented in the Middle Ages.  A museum should be interested in avoiding anachronisms in their exhibits like this.

2) Leviathan They have not defended or mentioned their identification of Leviathan as a dinosaur [A reader alerts me Ken Ham protests in a short facebook status here that "dinosaurs were technically not sea creatures." So I will instead be using the term plesiosaur]. This is a claim Ham is famed for.  I can’t emphasize enough how much I’ve seen expressions of this idea articulated in evangelical circles.  Leviathan can’t be a dinosaur plesiosaur because the Psalms tell us he has multiple heads (This portion in Psalm 74 sadly doesn't get much lov'n from them for obvious reasons).  Psalm 74 demands Leviathan is a west Semitic chaos deity because it inserts YHWH into the Babylonian account of creation as a literary polemic. Job tells us he breaths fire. Isaiah tells us he was killed in conjunction with the creation of the world but that he will be killed (i.e. “punished”) again at the eschaton. That notion is contradictory if Isaiah has a member of the animal kingdom in mind.

If that isn’t enough, the Ugaritic texts come right out and inform us he is a chaos deity.  This is the sockdolager and should stop being ignored. (See my Leviathan post for an example of the Ugaritic parallels.)  Answers in Genesis would have discovered this years ago if they more highly valued interpreting the Bible in its historical, particularly Babylonian-exilic, context rather than interpreting it to serve modern scientific polemics.  It’s easily accessible in modern commentaries. As an example, I refer readers to the note on Psalm 74 in the NET Bible.

3) Behemoth They did not touch the subject of Behemoth or the semantic range of the word for “tail” in that passage that I raised.  Again, their desire to interpret the Bible through a scientific lens has superseded their evangelical lip service to interpret the text in its historical context.

4) Isaiah’s Flying Serpents They said nothing defending their comical identification of Isaiah’s flying serpents as pterodactyls.  My post gained readership from professors Michael S. Heiser and James McGrath particularly due to this claim by AiG.  Their failure to respond to my exegesis and exhume their “scientific polemic” exegesis indicates to me the obvious.

5) The Voltaire Sign I noticed in the museum that a sign perpetuates the pulpit legend that Voltaire’s mansion was turned into a Bible printing house after his death.  AiG on their own website warns against believers using this very argument.  I don't care to vaunt this mistake in their faces anymore after this post since everyone makes flubs like this, but it would be nice for them to acknowledge the error, and I do hope they change the sign. While they are at it, it would also be nice on that same sign if they would remove the image of Socrates with the accompanying description implying he rejected the afterlife.  Plato (also an Athenian) in his Phaedo happily presents Socrates as convinced in the afterlife.  Again, not a hill to die on and totally ancillary to my hermeneutical focus, but I offer it as a courtesy to the museum.

That’s roughly half of what I wrote.  Now on to the main headings Purdom (a geneticist) raises in her response to me.

Presuppositions about Dragon Legends

I brought up Adrianne Mayor’s influential dissertation as an object lesson demonstrating why modern dinosaur legends should not be used as a weapon to bolster our exegesis.  You can be an old earther, young earther or secularist and still affirm Mayor’s general thesis that dragon myths are the result of ancient paleontology.  The museum parades these legends as scientific evidence of their exegesis when the reality is the data could comfortably be accommodated by an old earth or even secular perspective.  As I said, “In many cases it is certain that ancient people were offering extinct animal fossils as the origin of mythological creatures.”  Purdom takes umbrage with my tone of certainty:
Notice the phrases, “it is certain,” “mainstream view,” and “extremely powerful and convincing.” But Mayor’s views are based on her ideas about the past (she wasn’t there) and she does not presuppose the Bible as truth. She interprets the evidence of fossil beds and dragon legends in light of her presupposition that man’s ideas about the past—including evolution and millions of years—are true and God’s Word is not.
I wan't conjecturing.  There is high certainty this sort of thing was going on in the ancient world, and it’s no accident these legends sometimes correspond with known fossil beds.  Jason Colavito refers me to the case within Pallene, Crete [Colavito corrects himself: the [K]assandra peninsula], “where the giants lost the war against the gods.”  Colavito informs me, “The story is found in Solinus 9.6-7, with lesser references in Pausanias 1.25.2, Apollodorus 1.6.1, Ptolemy Hephaestion in Photius  Photius, Myriobiblon 190, and about a dozen other sources. In 1994, paleontologists decided to go looking for the site and discovered a giant bed of Pleistocene fossils, mostly mastodons.”  It’s likely these sorts of remains informed the Cyclops myths.

There is no reason this same principal of ancient paleontological interpretation should not be entertained in explaining Scythian griffins, early dragons or even North American legends of the thunderbird, and anyone can review Mayor’s arguments for these identifications in her books.  Dong Zhiming and other Chinese paleontologists have even documented the modern continuation of the practice in traditional Chinese medicine.  Don't tell me it never happened in ancient times because the practice is still going on and is inspiring dragon myths today. I’m illustrating an exegetical point. Dinosaur legends are not a sockdolager demonstrating the accuracy of any one particular interpretation of scripture.  This undermines the museum’s entire dragon argument theme.

The Absolute Beginning

I’m not inclined to care what Purdom or Terry Mortenson have to say in their retort against Holmstedt’s thesis because they, like me, aren’t Semitist. (Am I still a Christian if I describe their response as "fantastically lazy"?) They aren’t trained to interact with the Akkadian, Ge’ez or Old South Arabian parallels Holmstedt cites to illustrate the noun-bound-to-clause structure of that passage indicates an unmarked relative clause, and they have provided no grammatical reason to doubt him. (No, you don't need a PhD in languages to understand the basic outline of his argument. He does a great job explaining it in accessible terms.) They haven’t touched the specifics of the grammar with a ten foot pole.

I’m also not inclined to care what an astrophysicist like Jason Lisle says about the ancient Hebrew grammar, or whatever irrelevant list of scientists Mortenson may produce who believe this or that theory about the age of the universe.  I trust the infallible, inspired word of God (which comes with its own grammatical rules) over the changing, fallible sciences of Ken Ham.  (See what I did there?)

Mortenson pronounces Holmstedt “arrogant” and speculates that his interpretation is driven by the influence of secular institutions by reviewing his institutional history.  [Edit 8/20/13: Holmstedt was amused by Mortenson's personal indictments of him and his teachers and has given a response here.]  Again, not once in any of this quoted response does he attempt to interact with the grammatical particulars of Holmstedt's doctoral thesis which demonstrates Genesis 1.1 should not be taken as an absolute temporal clause.  The author of John didn’t even relate Genesis 1:1 with the definite article!  Neither does the Septuagint he is using.  Why Dr. Mortenson?  Let me emphasize Holmstedt’s analysis has a long history in Biblical grammar and is not an idiomatic or “arrogant” view among experts.  It is the position professed by grammarians like Martin Baasten at the University of Leiden, Mark Smith (possibly the one of the most influential living Semitist in America),  Ellan van Wolde from Radboud University and Michael Heiser, the academic editor of Logos' premier language database Software.  Don’t just throw me a list of people who agree with you.  We can both do that. Please explain exactly which portion of Holmstedt’s grammatical analysis is wrong and why. Anything else is merely a rehearsal of a traditionalist party line.

Mortenson’s quote concludes with an attempt to circumvent grammatical discussion of Gen. 1.1 with this amazing claim:
But, it should also be pointed out that neither Ken Ham nor any other creationist we know would ever say that we can “date the universe [only] with Genesis 1:1.” It is Genesis 1:1–2:3, Genesis 5 and 11, Exodus 20:8–11, and many other relevant verses that lead to the conclusion of a 6,000-year-old universe. But I guess this seminary student and his Hebrew authorities aren’t too interested in reading young-earth creationist literature carefully. (Bolding of verses mine)
NONE of those above texts Mortenson cites describes a creation of the universe or provides grounds for dating the universe.  His dependence on Gen. 1.1 is palpable.  Genesis 1:1-2:3 does not parse whether the earth and sky were made of pre-existent matter. (That’s the whole point of Holmstedt’s expatiation.) You need Gen. 1:1 to be an absolute temporal clause to assert that.  Genesis 5 is a genealogy.  Obviously the existence of the universe and the materials of creation predate Adam and so, it is irrelevant to the age of the universe.  Genesis 11 is the Babel event followed by a genealogy starting with Shem. (How on earth does this text allow us to date the universe, Dr. Mortenson?)  Exodus 20.8-11 states, “…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”  Again, this text does not tell us if that creation of the heavens and earth was accomplished using preexisting matter (read: preexisting universe).

It’s very possible the formless void of Genesis 1:1-2:3 was preexistent, and we have no way of knowing how long it was there before the creation days.  In fact, our evangelical lip service to interpret the Bible in its historical context would bid us to believe that’s what the author had in mind.  In Enuma Elish it’s obvious the creation of the heavens and earth is accomplished by Marduk using a parallel preexistent watery chaos. I'm not just some evil liberal making that connection because I believe the Bible is on par with Babylonian myth. That cosmological connection is overtly supplied by the exilic author of Psalm 74 himself.

Reconciling the Two Creation Accounts

Nothing Purdom says addresses Heiser’s blogpost. She only links a possible explanation of the “contradiction” between the two creation accounts in Genesis.  I’m fine with that as a competing explanation. Heiser’s point is that it is possible to explain that contradiction in such a way that allows for two creations of man (one outside Eden and the other within Eden).  This is a view neither Heiser or I am married to and which has its own history--being held for example by the Medieval Rabbi Rashi.  Since she doesn’t offer anything which might exegetically disqualify the possibility, I have nothing to give in response.

A Question of Credentials

I made a mistake when I stated in my original post that Ken has only earned a bachelor in science academically and have since corrected the statement. As an aside, Purdom tells us his Australian diploma in teaching "is roughly equivalent with a master’s."  A kind educator based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia with the same diploma has emailed me and informed me Purdom is incorrect about this "roughly equivalent with a master's" comment. Though, I don't care to belabor the issue since it's not my point. [1]

I hope the substance of my point is not lost.  Ken Ham is not a Biblical scholar.  He is not trained to interpret ancient Jewish literature.  *I'm not saying* he can't interpret the Bible since I make no claim to be a Bible scholar either.  I'm saying anytime he does he must, like me, be quoting Semitic and Ancient Near Eastern scholars or else he will err.  I find it odd and scary we Evangelicals wax eloquently about the need to interpret the Bible in its historical context then turn around and interpret it in our modern scientific context.  That has been my remonstration against the scientist dominated origination from the beginning--it devalues historical context.  It’s alarming such a giant influence in evangelicalism has no formal Bible training. It’s symptomatic of why we’ve ended up with such wacky interpretations and the evangelical desire to demythologize the Bible in a science polemic.


There are a lot of other methodological subjects I could clamor about like their assumption of comprehensive mosaic authorship of the Torah, their inability to accommodate prescientific divine condescension in their doctrine of inerrancy (see my post on evil eye magic) or their dangerous assumption that the Holy Spirit operates to supply believers with the meaning as well as the significance of the text. (See my post "The Holy Spirit and Interpretation" which based on the Daniel P. Fuller article)  However, my message here has been much more simple. Evangelicals must learn to recognize the Ancient Near East as the matrix for Bible interpretation and study.  Not modern science and scientists.

[1] The reader informs me the Australian Qualifications Framework, available here states Ham’s diploma it is a level 5 qualification (p.38).  A Master’s is a level 9 (p. 59). To be regarded as being equivalent to a Graduate Diploma it must level to an 8 qualification (p. 56).