Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Best way to Learn Aramaic Free Online

Link to the free Aramaic course

This article by a best-selling memory researcher I found several months ago is the most beneficial I've ever read on language study, and less than two months after applying it my Hebrew vocabulary has increased by over 1,000 words.  (You can watch a video of my progress speaking modern Hebrew here.)

Joshua Foer, the author of Moonwalking with Einstein, found he would be spending the summer in the Congo with a tribe of pygmies and endeavored to learn their native language in a couple of months before his trip.  To accomplish this he consulted the world memory Grandmaster Ed Cooke.  Cooke, who himself has an MA in cognitive science from Paris Descartes University, shared with Foer his new free online learning company called Memrise that he co-founded with a Princeton neuroscientist.

Using the app for two and a half months Foer locked 1,100 African words into his long term memory. On average, he only spent four minutes at a time on the app during down time at his job. The total combined time it took him to memorize his 1,100 word dictionary was 22 hours. I’ve experienced very similar results with Hebrew.

By using weird (in this case a little creepy) and comical
visualizations, I've created the Aramaic memory course to help lock
vocabulary into your mind.  Here the 
the word for strength, 'Chaiyl'
is associated with high heels.  Users can
 contribute their own
memory tricks.
Users create memory courses in any subject, especially languages.  Everything on the website undergoes aggressive empirical testing to optimize memory.  Small variables on the site are changed and honed regularly to discover what variations contribute to learning.  For example, Foer mentions that it was discovered people learn 0.5% better when flash cards are in one font as opposed to another and that Memrise’s servers discovered averages for how well people tend to learn given the hour of the day.

The website also takes advantage of well-known studies on spaced repetition.  When you want to memorize something, there are well-documented optimal time intervals for reviewing it just before the memory slips from your mind.  Memrise's algorithms keep track of how well you are doing on each word and informs you of the optimal time for reinforcing each memory.

The most valuable feature of the site is its community database of memory devices.  When you take a course you can flip through a pile of memory tricks that other users have created for each word.  The memory devices that get the most votes ascend to the top of the pile.  The ones I've created for this course are informed by the mnemonic methods advocated by leading memory experts in international competitions and by the majority of polyglots.

I’m currently studying Aramaic with Mike Heiser’s online institute (can't more highly recommend it, by the way) so I rummaged around in Memrises' Aramaic courses and found none of them satisfying. (Apparently, Aramaic isn’t hot with the kids.)  I created this course over several months for my personal benefit and in the hopes that it may help some educators and students.
Some more examples of mnemonics from the course

The primary aim of the course is to give you the vocabulary fundamentals to access 90% of the texts in the Aramaic portions of the Hebrew Bible.  Every word has a pronunciation audio and phrase translations are utilized to help get you reading. You can log into Memrise immediately if you already have a facebook.  The course is titled "Aramaic Frequent Vocab w/Audio and Mems (Van Pelt)."

There's also a free Memrise smartphone app that I tend to do most of my studying on.  The app is great because it will give you non-invasive notifications whenever it is the optimal time to refresh your memories.  It also has replaced my meaningless impulse to constantly waste time on social media.  Below is a screen shot of what the app environment looks like.  The course covers 17 chapters.

Happy studying!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Seven Headed Plesiosaurs and Hebrew Grammar

I’ve shown in several posts like this why Leviathan is a supernatural west-Semitic chaos deity and can’t be a plesiosaur. Recent conversation with my Hebrew professor on some of the Semitic sources has got the subject in the back of my mind again. One issue I still get challenged on is my assertion the Hebrew grammar of Psalm 74 says that Leviathan has multiple heads like the Hydra of Greek myth.  (In Ancient Near Eastern drawings and texts Leviathan is characteristically depicted with seven.)  Exhibit A is a screen shot of some misinformed comments made on Ken Ham’s Facebook in response to some of my old writings:

Psalm 74:14 reads:

אַתָּ֣ה רִ֭צַּצְתָּ רָאשֵׁ֣י לִוְיָתָ֑ן תִּתְּנֶ֥נּוּ מַ֝אֲכָ֗ל לְעָ֣ם לְצִיִּֽים

“You crushed the heads of Leviathan.  You gave him for food to the people of the coast.”

In the construct package ראשי לויתן the term ראש appears in the plural state in conjunction with the singular noun לויתן.  This type of sere-yod plural noun construction to a following singular noun is extremely common in the Bible.  If you have taken a semester of Hebrew, you hardly need to be told this.*  If not, a very close grammatical phenomenon is visually apparent in a text like Micah 3.9: שִׁמְעוּ-נָא זֹאת, רָאשֵׁי בֵּית יַעֲקֹב.  Notice, the plural “heads” is joined by the same construct ending to the singular “house of Jacob.”   The laws of the grammar God’s words were inspired in demand that Leviathan has multiple heads in Psalm 74. 

Can we stop throwing millions of dollars into museums and speakers based on bad Hebrew grammar?

And stop speculating the physiological logistics of dinosaurs fire-breathing?

And stop singing songs like this:

Glad I got that out of my system one last time.

* For example, Russell T. Fuller, Invitation to Biblical Hebrew: A Beginning Grammar, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 61-7.

Critique of Valerie Tarico's Jesus: A Historical Wreck

A Muslim friend showed me this viral article by Valerie Tarico entitled, “9 Things You Think You Know about Jesus that are Probably Wrong.”  In this post, I’m not interested in convincing anyone to be a conservative evangelical.  I’ll simply provide you with an accurate view of the state of modern historical Jesus scholarship by illustrating why Tarico’s article is filled with errors.  I write this as a public service because the article has permeated far like an oil spill on social media, and I'm also tired of these Da Vinci code myths eternally being slayed only to reincarnate for sequels like a mummy in a Brandon Fraser franchise. Following are screenshots of some of Tarico's claims followed by responses:

It would be so unusual if Jesus was celibate he must have married:

Tarico’s source is a psychologist who wrote a Huffington news article.  He gives no sources in the article for these claims.  Bart D. Ehrman, the most famous American New Testament historian alive, isn’t amused with this position:

Bart Ehrman: "Yes, my house does contain
many leather bound books and
smells of rich mahogany."
Sometimes it is argued—for example, in The Da Vinci Code—that Jesus must have been married... [T]his claim, as plausible as it sounds, is in fact wrong. We do know of Jewish men in the first century who were single and celibate. Strikingly, they are men who shared a religious perspective similar to that of the historical Jesus… The like-minded Essenes before Jesus and the like-minded Paul after him—all of them apocalyptic Jewish men—lived life as single and celibate. It is not at all implausible that Jesus did as well.  [1]

Ehrman also points out that Jesus taught there would be no marriage in the kingdom of heaven and regularly implied that we should seek to model the kingdom on earth: “On these grounds, my best guess as a historian is that Jesus was single and celibate.”[2]

I’m not just picking the views of one idiomatic scholar.  Anthony Le Donne has recently written the most significant study on the possibility of a Mrs. Jesus in the English language and concluded the same thing as Ehrman:  Jesus probably wasn’t married...Sorry if that's boring.

The gay Jesus tease:

No Salon article containing the word "Jesus" could exist without also containing the word "gay" at least once.  It's just one of those laws of nature. Since I’ve said Jesus likely wasn’t married, I’ll provide two reasons why it is utterly unlikely Jesus was gay:

1) Every source we have has him declaring the Hebrew Bible authoritative and it was the Hebrew Bible that every second-Temple Jewish text that makes a judgment on homosexuality was informed by when they monolithically pronounce homosexuality sinful. (That was a long sentence.) Second-Temple Jewish writings take a “univocal stance against homosexual conduct.”[3] Jesus never brings the specific subject up in the gospels likely for the same reason I rarely go around teaching people pedophilia is wrong in my 21st century American context.  It wasn’t a matter of moral controversy for the Jewish context of his ministry.

2) Considering Galatians is an undisputed Pauline and Paul swears in the first chapter he stayed with Peter fifteen days in Jerusalem and hung out with Jesus’ brother James, later meeting again with Peter, James and John and bust'n chops at the Jerusalem council.  It would have saved Paul a lot of ink writing his condemnations of homosexuality if his friends had just remembered to forward him the memo about Jesus being the only member of Judea’s rainbow initiative.

The Gospel of Philip *sigh*:

Consider what Tarico is promoting here:  The four Gospels dated to the first century which refer to earlier independent sources and contain Aramaisms are pronounced by Tarico to be a hopeless historical mess.  She says they leave us “only with a set of hunches and traditions.”  Yet, the 3rd century, spiritually abstruse, Gnostic Gospel of Phillip written by someone with no historical contact with Jesus or his followers is considered an authoritative historical confirmation that Jesus was an item with Mary? Craig Blomberg writes, “Philip is dependent primarily on Matthew’s Gospel for his information about Jesus...he reveals next to nothing about the pre-Synoptic stages of the Gospel tradition.” [4]

I should point out, the Philip manuscript doesn’t read Jesus used to kiss Mary "on her mouth."  That reading must be supplied by the imagination because there is a physical hole in the manuscript.[5] We can’t be certain the original read “kiss her on her mouth” unless we discover more textual-critical evidence.  Tarico is aware of this complicating factor but has omitted the detail in this article.  We as modern readers immediately associate the kissing in this text with sex but there are good reasons to believe Philip’s ancient audience wouldn’t.  Christian kissing has a long history in the early church and Philip has an entire mystical interpretation of it that is applied to all the disciples.[6]

In Ehrman's opinion, “When Jesus kisses Mary, then, it is not a prelude to sex. It is a symbolic statement that she received the revelation of truth that he conveyed to his disciples.”

A wedding? 

Tarico's evidence from the canonical gospels that Jesus and Mary were hitched is exegetical voodoo.  These are literally “clues” we must “decode.”  She takes cues from the Da Vinci code, speculating John 2’s report of a wedding is actually Jesus’ wedding to Mary.  If this is true can someone please explain to me why Jesus had to be “invited” (ἐκλήθη) to his own wedding (2:2)?  Also, who goes immediately to stay with momma after their wedding ceremony (2:12)? And why is Mary always distinguished from the other Marys in the gospels by the fact that she was from Magdala?  Why didn’t the gospel writers just say Jesus’ wife?  I’m sure it’s all just part of the international Catholic misogynistic conspiracy.

Jesus' Posse:

Odd Tarico thinks it’s an open case whether Jesus had 12 disciples.  I specifically recall the specialist in Christian origins John Dickson at Macquarie University listing the 12 disciples as a point most historians agree on during an interview.  Professor of New Testament Scott McKnight confirms, “that Jesus associated himself especially with twelve of his followers is a datum firmly established by good arguments across a broad spectrum of modern Jesus studies.”[8] In 1994 J. P. Meier concluded in the Journal of Biblical literature: “When one draws together the position emerges as clearly the more probable: the circle of the Twelve did exist during Jesus’ public ministry.[9]

Tarico's anachronistic astrological claims:

The gospels imply Jesus was making a theological statement about renewing the twelve tribes of Israel.  Why does Tarico think this is astrology and not history? If you follow her link for this source it takes you to an interview on her blog by a Dr. Tony Nugent.  In that interview Nugent includes the twelve tribes of Israel and 12 disciples in a list of things that “have their roots in [the]…twelve signs of the zodiac…”

This thesis is impossible because the zodiac wasn’t reduced into the twelve constellations until the 5th century BC by the Babylonians.[10]  The twelve tribes of Israel are reported far earlier.  Secular dating of the Genesis sources have the twelve tribes mentioned earlier than the ninth century BC.[11]  It is tremendously anachronistic to say allusions to the number twelve in the Hebrew Bible are taken from the zodiac.

 Off topic, but believe it or not, it’s actually true that the origin of eggs being sold by the dozen goes back to astrology.

Actually, no. It’s not.  I lied.

Hunches shrouded in the fog of history?

Tarico’s attitude is that our historical grasp of Jesus is the epistemological equivalent of chasing a greased, ghost pig naked in a skating rink. (I'm bad with metaphors lately.)  Every time we extend our noetic clutches, the greasy, ectoplasmal sow of history flits through our grapples leaving us with little more than a haze of hunches. (That was an elegant sentence.  I think I'll make it into one of those cursive, sidebar-quote things.)  In reality, it is extremely popular for scholars to date the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 to the mid-to-late 30’s.  We have a crucified, risen, messianic figure who was believed to have appeared to great numbers after his death within a decade after his execution.  Ehrman’s book on Jesus’ Existence illustrates how the synoptic sources can be grounded in sufficiently early Aramaic culture.  The celebrated scholar Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses argues the gospel sources link us with eyewitness testimony.  There are huge doubts about certain elements and logions of Jesus’ career, and I’m not interested in regurgitating banal apologetics party lines here.

Nevertheless, Tarico’s attitude I don’t sense is reflective of modern Historical Jesus studies. Michael Bird, who has written a survey of the state and direction of the current situation, writes: “The dominant view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.”[12]  Craig Evan’s assessment of our current place in historical Jesus studies concludes the same, “the persistent trend in recent years is to see the Gospels as essentially reliable.” 

Jesus...If He Even Existed:

You know that hopeless frustration you get when a creationist tells you there isn’t a shred of evidence for evolution?  Now you know how New Testament scholars feel when your friends parrot the idea that Jesus might not have even existed.  This is not something the field considers itself uncertain of.  Thanks to the ubiquity of this internet myth I happen to have several dozen quotes by New Testament scholars on hand refuting it.  I’ve narrowed them down to seven for brevity:

William Lane Craig who did his dissertation in historical Jesus studies under the important German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg states:“[The position that Jesus never existed ]…this is a position which is so extreme that to call it marginal would be an understatement.  It doesn’t even appear on the map of contemporary New Testament scholarship.”[13]

Before he went on to write his book explaining why we know Jesus existed, Bart Ehrman once said in interview, “I don’t think there is any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus...we have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.”[14]

Paul Maier professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan states in interview: “Anyone who uses that argument [that Jesus never existed] is simply flaunting his ignorance. I hate to say it but it’s about that bad.”[15]

Gary Habermas who I reference because his dissertation surveyed the positions of critical historical Jesus scholars among a variety of topics states, “With very, very, few exceptions virtually no scholar doubts or denies that Jesus existed.”[16]

Graeme Clarke Senior Lecturer at the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Western Australia has been quoted stating, “Frankly, I know of no ancient historian who would ever twinge with doubt about the existence of Jesus Christ. The documentary evidence is simply overwhelming.”[17]

John Dickson Senior Research Fellow with the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University has become so annoyed with this claim that he wrote:
[It] is simply wrong to refer to "many professional historians" who doubt the existence of Jesus… To repeat a challenge I've put out on social media several times before, I will eat a page of my Bible if someone can find me just one full Professor of Ancient History, Classics, or New Testament in an accredited university somewhere in the world (there are thousands of names to choose from) who thinks Jesus never lived. I don't deny that there are substantial questions that could be raised about the Christian faith, but the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth isn't one of them.[18]

Head of New Testament Studies at the University of Gothenburg Gunnar Samuelsson writes:
I see no reason to doubt that Jesus existed. In comparison to other ancient individuals he is well represented by the ancient sources.[19]
(Someone is going to get mad after reading the above quotes and ask why I haven't even mentioned Carrier and Price.  So there, I mentioned them.)

I'm tempted to carry on at length decrying the link in the article here that leads to Tarico’s website.  It claims most scholars hold certain positions that most scholars in fact reject. For example, Tarico says the gospel story about the women at the tomb is believed by most scholars to be a mythological fiction based in earlier myths.  In reality, this element of the gospel sources is considered one of our most reliable according to Gary Habermas who surveyed more than 1,400 scholarly publications on the historical Jesus in German, French and English. (The testimony of women was so repudiated in the first century that this embarrassing element in the sources wouldn't have been contrived by Christians.) [20]  Modern scholars do not interpret the mystery religions into the gospels because there was little footing for them in 1st century Judea unlike Alexandrian Judaism.


 Some of Tarico’s points are generally accurate.[21]  Despite these, the article contains so much historical puerility and so many allusions idiomatic to sensationalist conspiracy writers that I would rather it not be read at all. I'm aware my words have been harsh, but I deem them appropriate considering Tarico's ideas have been spotlighted by Salon, Huffington and Alternet.  I'd like to think Salon and Alternet would update corrections to this article they are "proud to feature."  Salon promises on its corrections page it "strives to publish accurate information at all times."  I have not found a corrections page for Alternet.  This is a good chance to test their integrity, but I'm not holding my breath.

[1] Ehrman, Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend (USA: Oxford University Press, 2006), 249-50.
[2] Ibid., 250-1.
[3] See chapter two and three of Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Text and Hermeneutics Nashville: Abington Press, 2001).
[4] Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2 ed. (USA: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 270.
[5] Paul, Foster, The Apocryphal Gospels: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009),47.
[6]  For example, Ehrman (Peter, Paul & Mary, 216.) cites this earlier passage from Philip for contextual consideration:
It is from being promised to the heavenly place that man receives nourishment.
[Gap in the manuscript] him from the mouth. And had the word gone out from
that place it would be nourished from the mouth and it would become perfect.
For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also
kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace that is in one another.
[7] Ehrman 215.
[8] McKnight, "Jesus and the Twelve,"
[9] Meier, J. P. "The Circle of the Twelve : Did It Exist during Jesus' Public Ministry?." Journal Of Biblical Literature 116, no. 4 (1997): 635-672. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed March 1, 2015).
[10] Ulla Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology: An Introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination (Museum Tusculanum Press: Coppenhagen, 1995), 163.

The most significant innovation was perhaps the zodiac, the division of
the ecliptic into twelve equal parts or signs. It replaced the earlier series
of 17 constellations on the "Path of the Moon." The zodiac
was first used in Babylonian astronomy in the fifth century B.C.

[11]  Ronald Hendel, The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception and Interpretation, ed. Evans et. al. (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 80.
[12] Bird, “Shouldn’t Evangelicals Participate in the ‘Third Quest for the Historical Jesus’?”
Themelios 29.2 (Spring 2004): 5-14.
[13] The following quotes are taken from a video and audio compilation “Do Historians Believe Jesus Existed.” YouTube video, 6:05. Dec 27, 2010.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] John Dickson, “I’ll Eat a Page from my Bible if Jesus didn’t Exist,” The Drum (blog).
[19] Samuelsson. "Questions and Answers."
[20] Habermas, “Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?” Gary
[21] Eg. We know from osteological reconstructions what early Judeans looked like; textual data on crucifixion is complex and ambiguous; the gospel writers sought typological parallels between Jesus and other Hebrew figures; the passage about the woman caught in adultery is in fact the late conflation of two traditions.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Unseen Realm is Easily the Coolest Christian Book that will be Published this Year

I keep a journal of interesting things I encounter in my studies.  Sometimes these lead to drawings.  In this post, I've included a few of these over the years that were inspired by Heiser’s books, especially the draft of The Unseen Realm.

An attempt to render Lucifer using
Biblical period iconography and texts.
Heiser believes the Biblical authors
 considered Satan a serpentine seraph.  
As a full-time Baptist Bible college student, I’m assigned to read evangelical books and theologies constantly.  Most of them are extremely hackneyed.  It seems the evangelical “genre” is marked by the assumption that just because a book 1) is about God, and 2) says true things, that it should be slopped into a market already way over-glutted with mediocrity.  I’m probably overreacting because I’ve been compelled to wade through the mire for four years, but I’d describe the situation as holding God hostage in order to justify the endless publishing of unoriginal repetitions of Sunday school level theology and all-round poor writing.

I promised myself I wouldn’t name any particular authors as examples in that last paragraph.  It was hard.

Michael Heiser’s upcoming book The Unseen Realm: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible is important.  Extremely important.  It's a shame it is being released into an ocean of "felt-needs" mediocrity, but it's my hope Seminary professors and church leaders will realize the explosive potential it contains for an evangelical renaissance in how we approach the Bible. I'm not exaggerating with this article's title. Heiser’s work has had more theological impact on my life than any other Biblical scholar, and when I read the draft to the Unseen Realm back in 2012 I couldn’t help but share its ideas with everyone who would listen and still haven’t ceased.  He’s largely responsible for my interests in Biblical languages (and incidentally, now my online Aramaic professor).

Heiser has argued Ezekiel 1's symbolism
probably refers to Babylonian astrology.
Unfortunately, Heiser isn’t a mega church pastor, self-help shaman or “‘merica prophecies” eisegete like most of the authors topping Lifeway’s listed sales last year.  He is an ancient linguist.  When you pick up The Unseen Realm you will be reading the culmination of the career of a man who has poured decades into studying and teaching Egyptian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew and other crusty languages.  He has engaged in the heights of secular Biblical scholarship (usually to give it a needed spanking) and has come out on the other side remaining faithful to Christ and the inspiration of scripture.  Much of the books’ content is his doctoral dissertation explained in laymen’s terms and everything you encounter within it has weathered the rigors of academic peer-review.

As regards the content of the book (and I emphasize I only read the draft Heiser shared years ago), if you've heard of Historical theology, Systematic theology and Biblical theology, in a way The Unseen Realm can be considered a Biblical theology of the weird (or perhaps, creepy).  Heiser makes a point to go to the strange stuff your pastor avoids in the Bible to show how wonderful and paradigm shifting those texts are, and his engaging writing style is designed for the average person in the pew.

The book traces an obfuscated cosmic battle through the centuries of Biblical history and ancient literature that involves a unique class of divine beings.  Behind the purpose of Eden as a meeting place for the gods, the uncanny serpent in the garden, Babble, Joshua’s extermination of Canaanite bloodlines, giant clans, Christ’s transfiguration and Armageddon, there is a titanic cord of theology that has been lost to modern believers that would have been obvious to the Biblical authors.  Because of our failure to grasp Israel's monotheistic pantheon and relationship with the supernatural, colossal meanings behind these texts have been lost to us.  Heiser’s interpretations are not new, but a regression into the minds of the ancients, and although the journey takes you down strange roads, you will come out on the other side even stronger established in orthodox faith.

Heiser's book shows Eden was considered the mountain meeting place
of Israel's monotheistic pantheon.  Ancient ziggurat temples like
Babble represented the attempt to artificially create a meeting place
with the gods.
The book was originally entitled The Myth that is True after a Tolkien quote. Much to my lament, I presume Heiser’s publishers are smart enough to know having the word “Myth” in the title of a Christian book under any circumstance is publishing suicide. I’ve always felt a sort of paradoxical contempt for mythical authors like Tolkien, Homer or Hearn.  I found their ancient worlds of myth aroused in me the deepest yearning a human being can feel and, in effect, contempt for this mundane world--the tangle of emotions the German language terms Sehnsucht.

Heiser peers beyond the numinous veil. You will ascend ancient desert temple steps and read forgotten histories in stone that will transport you back to Eden, exploring it as if for the first time; You will sojourn among the residents of Sheol; You will stand in the eclectic celestial assembly of those who witnessed the earth’s creation; You will meet Jews before Christ who believed in a Trinity, and open neglected 2,000 year old scrolls hidden in desert caves that speak of an ancient battle between the divine Watchers and God’s people—tracing its giant bloodlines through Biblical history.

Ancient Near Eastern iconographic elements relevant to Ezekiel 1.  
This is the stuff of myth.  It is no less grand than anything to come from the pen of a Homer or Tolkien, and yet, it is the reality Heiser's book offers.  It connects the yearning Sehnsucht we all have to something in reality.  Along the way, assumptions you have about the degree of relevance for extra-biblical texts in interpreting the Bible will likely be shattered and even familiar texts will become exhilaratingly new as you read them through ancient eyes.  The church will also receive from it a well-needed dose of what genuine scholarship actually looks like.  I'm reminded of a friend who also read the draft and commented that it renovated his fascination for the Bible and deepened his worship of God.  I'm excited to see the waves this book is going to make in the church.

You can check out the table of contents here.

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.  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 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.