Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Race of the Ancient Egyptians

Michael S. Heiser (who I quote regularly in many of my posts) has compiled some academic material over at his PaleoBabble blog here debunking the notion that the ancient Egyptians were black. My foot is getting numb from all the dead horse kicking.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Many Historical Blunders of Lew White’s Fossilized Customs



I was recently given a book entitled Fossilized Customs: The Pagan Origins of Popular Customs (Seventh Edition) by a friend who asked my opinion of it. I certainly don't intend an exhaustive criticism of Mr. White's book here, but I have labored to refute those portions of his research which intersect with my own. The following should be enough to reveal the poor credibility of his claims (which characterizes the messianic movement) for readers. Most of Mr. White's research is composed of pernicious internet staples, and if you are looking for sources you will find next to none in his book (what rare sources he does give are themselves mostly worthless)—unfortunate considering the gravitas of his claims. It would be nice to see him at least correct these mentioned indictments in future editions, but I'm not holding my breath. White's many typographical mistakes have been preserved in this response.

Mithraism:
Lew flaunts an incessant
barrage of claims with respect to Mithraism throughout his entire book. They are all based on an anachronistic assumption that the mystery religion existed in the West before the rise of Christianity: a position which is universally rejected by modern Mithraic and Hellenistic scholarship. Giving no sources, he states, "Mithraism was the primary religion of the Roman Empire from BCE 222 through the 4th century CE." (55, bold emphasis his) On the same page, Lew then goes on to claim that Christianity heavily borrowed pagan ideas from the religion.
Edwin M. Yamauchi, author of Persia and the Bible, is a primary authority in this field and is professor emeritus in ancient history at Miami
University. In 1975 he was invited by the empress of Iran to deliver a paper at the Second International Congress of Mithraic Studies in Tehran. Yamauchi rejects the notion that Mithraism had expanded to Rome before the start of the first century, much less that it was "the primary religion of the Roman Empire" before Christ (as R.W. Glenn and others have noted, in the second-half of the second Temple period Ceaser veneration was actually the main religion, with most Roman citizens viewing the gods as antiquated myths). Yamauchi states:

The first public recognition of the Mithras in Rome was the state visit of Tiridates, the king of Armenia, in AD 66...The earliest Mithraic inscription in the West is a statue of a prefect under the emperor Trajan in AD 101...The earliest mithraea are dated to the early second century...That's basically what's wrong with the theories about Mithraism influencing the beginnings of Christianity.(1)


Richard Gordon, senior fellow at the University of East Anglia, states in his work that the religion did not exist in a developed sense until the mid-second century and places the establishment of the mysteries approximately between 117-161 AD.(2) As quoted by Yamauchi, Dr. Ronald Nash states, "The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late to have influenced the development of first century Christianity."(3)

So then, we have no evidence for Mithraism in Rome until decades after the establishment of Christianity, in fact, as Yamauchi notes, it is not until the middle of the second and third and fourth centuries that the religion became meaningfully established in the West (it's at this period that most mithraium and inscriptions appear with the earliest mithraium dating to the second century) much less was the religion "the primary religion" of the empire in 222 BC as White claims. As a mystery religion Mithraism was quite diminutive even at its height. Leif E. Vaage (B.A., M.Div., PhD) notes, "Unlike Isism or the cult of the Magna Mater, Mithraism had no public presence or persona, and appears rigorously to have denied itself all opportunities for self-promotion and display which might win it adherents or at least the acquaintance and passive admiration of the masses."(4)

As mentioned already, Lew goes on to state and highly emphasize in his book the following claim, "Other historians have put it this way: 'Christianity didn't conquer Mithraic Paganism. Mithraism blended in, and changed names.'" (55)

The only place I can find this quote is on internet sources leading back to White and he gives no source. In his book The Roman Cult of Mithras, Manfred Clauss, professor of ancient history at Free University in Berlin rejects Mithraism as a Christian "fore-runner."(5) Leonard Patterson in his book Mithraism and Christianity published by Cambridge states that there is "no direct connection between the two religions either in origin or development."(6) Yamauchi also lists Adolf von Harnak (University of Geissen), Arthur Darby Nock (University of Frothingham), S. G. F Bradon (University of Manchester), William R. Halliday and Ernst Benz (University of Marburg) as having come to the agreement that there is "little evidence to support claims of such influence and mutual borrowing" between the two religions.(7)

He also cites renowned Munich professor Gary Lease, who states:


After almost 100 years of unremitting labor, the conclusion appears inescapable that neither Mithraism nor Christianity proved to be an obvious and direct influence upon the other in the development and demise or survival of either religion. Their beliefs and practices are well accounted for by their most obvious origins and there is no need to explain one in terms of the other.(8)


On the same page White quotes another conveniently unnamed "historian" in another conveniently unnamed work: "The entire European continent and New World would be Mithraic today, if Christianity hadn't come along."(55)

He appears to be quoting a translation of Vie de Jesus by the anti-Catholic Frenchman Ernest Renan (or perhaps someone borrowing from Renan): "If Christianity had been checked...the world would have become Mithraic." Renan words are hot off the press—in 1863. Yamauchi calls him a "sensationalist" and notes that Albert Schweitzer criticized him in his famous work. He states, "Renan's work, published nearly 150 years ago, has no value as a source. He knew very little about Mithraism, and besides, we know a lot more about it today. Yet this is a quote that's commonly used by people who don't understand the context. It's simply far-fetched."(9)

It's common to find these types of inane claims in works related to the mystery religions dating before the Second World War, but this is only because our understanding of the mystery religions at the time was extremely deficient. White's reoccurring claim that Mithraism was a large competing religion is unfounded speculation as we have previously charged via Leif E. Vaage.

In point ten of his list on the same page White claims an ancient pagan ritual called the taurobolium, in which a live bull is slaughtered above a grate-drenching an initiate in the pit bellow with the bull's blood--influenced the Christian practice of "Easter-time baptisms."

I'm not sure what White's views on baptism are or why he would feel the need to connect a practice commanded by Jesus in the earliest synoptic with paganism. The taurobolium itself is only reported in the second century and is only found in Mithraism in exceptional cases as it almost always associated with the separate cult of Attis. Quoting the Swiss scholar G√ľnter Wagner (whose works are still a prized foundation in this area), Yamauchi again rebukes this claim as an obdurate anachronism. "Again, the dating of practices like this are the Achilles' heel of these comparative studies...there's no way this rite could have influenced Christianity's theology about redemption.(10) We are also told by White that "the center of the Mithraic sun-cult was at Rome." But, Mithraism is a Persian religion...which is why the name of the god is itself a Persian word.

Constintine:

White wants us to believe that Constantine was responsible for forcing Christianity on pagans through political means:


"Constantine made Christianity the Roman State religion, but its form was far from anything known to the first Nazarenes. Constantine had to MERGE the multitudes of Pagans—who were mostly his own soldiers—with the Nazarene faith, in order to control his vast empire. This…produced what we see today as "Christianity". The main issue at his Nicene Council in 325 CE centered on the date of "EASTER", again the most important point in the Pagan mind when the sun 'crossed' the Zodiac at Taurus."(11)





Let's take this one step at a time. Did Constantine "make Christianity" the "Roman state religion"? No. All the edict of Milan did was make Christianity legal. Did Constantine force Christianity on the pagan masses for political control? No. Dr. Chris Forbes from Macquarie University is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History, and Deputy Chairman of the Society for the Study of Early Christianity. When he was presented with this idea in an interview he responded:





Constantine didn't use [Christianity] for social control. Constantine didn't make Christianity compulsory. All he did was make it legal whereas beforehand being a Christian had been an offense punishable by death. All Constantine had done was make it legal to be a Christian. He certainly never made it compulsory...Most people were [pagans]. Christians were still a minority under Constantine.(12)


As for the claim that "[t]he main issue at his Nicene Council in 325 CE centered on the date of 'EASTER'" and his other claim that this was all some conspiracy to introduce pagan astrology into Christianity: Nicaea was convened to deal foremost with the Arian heresy. That's church history 101. As for the pagan conspiracy, many of the members of Nicaea still bore the scars from the last Roman persecutions. Does White seriously want us to believe they would just hand over the religion they were recently being murdered for to be transmogrified into pagan sun worship? Diocletian had just issued an Empire-wide persecution attempting to wipe out Christianity for good. Why did Nicaea set the date of Easter on the Sunday following the paschal full moon? Because that was the date of Passover in the Jewish calendar. No pagan conspiracy needed.

Miracle Cancer Cure?
On pages 69-70 White has a commercial for a natural miracle cure for cancer he wants you to buy composed of Flore-Essence Tea, Cansema and black salve. "For some reason, the mutant cells respond to it, and the 'message' to self-destruct begins to work. Canerous tentacles recede, and the 'tumors' shrink away. Skin cancers fade away to nothing."

The above quote appears under the entry "Backpfeifengesicht" in the German dictionary.

Jesus means "hail Zuess"?

On pages 17-8 White has much to say about the "real pronunciation" of the name of Jesus. He says it is proper to pronounce it "Yahushua" and that the "esus" at the end of the name Jesus derives from the same root as that in the word Zeus. On page 145 he writes:


The fake name of the Mashiach, "JESUS", is a Greco-Romanism, and means absolutely nothing in Hebrew. If it were a "translation", then it could be "re-translated" back into Hebrew. When taken back into the Greek it means "hey-Zues", or "hail Zues". The closest word to sus in Hebrew is "soos", and means "horse." So "he-soos" means "the horse". Zeus is depicted as a Centaur…Sus in Latin means PIG.





The etymology of the word Jesus is quite innocent. In Aramaic his name was Yeshua (Yahusua is the longer form of the same name). The New Testament writers themselves amended Yeshua to Iesous as any of the 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament will relate then a "J" was exchanged for the "I" as it went through modern English. It was not a pagan act. By implication, White has therefore succeeded in accusing the New Testament writers of calling Jesus Zeus and a pig because they were the ones who changed his name to Iesous. Why didn't the New Testament authors use the same Aramaic term Yeshua when they were composing their books of the Bible? Because there are no letters yod and shin in Greek and as a proper name the Greek grammar exchanges the ending of the word. This is an innocent process called transliteration; you take the alphabets of two different languages and try the best you can to make a word speakable in the other.

White commonly says that it is through the Hebrew name "Yahushua" alone that we are saved (hmmm…that's strange. White is quoting Acts 4:12 where Luke always uses the Greek Iesous and never the Aramaic Yeshua or Yahushua or anything like it.)(13) We have no issue pronouncing Yeshua in English; but imagine if you were Roman and I demanded you start making sounds that don't exist in your language and that you neglect the necessity of your own grammar. White's teachings smack of ridiculous, superstition. As if "Yahusua" is some magical conglomeration of sounds that saves or sanctifies you rather than the meaning or person behind the word. It's hardly worth even having to point this out, but Acts isn't talking about a series of vocalizations that saves you (or else Luke wouldn't have transliterated Yeshua to Iesous). He is talking about the authority represented by the name.


What of all this Zeus business?

The Jewish-Christian scholar Dr. Michael Brown (who actually holds a PhD in Semitic languages) describes this popular internet claim as "bizarre," "amazing" "psuedo-scholarship" in the "fringe" and charitably describes it as harboring, "as much evidence as the latest Elvis sighting." He explains why Semitic linguist don't give it the light of day in his article in the Q and A on his website.(14)

Jack-o-Lanterns of Human Fat?

White repeats the whole "Druids used human fat to fuel Jack-o-lanterns" spiel that has been popularized by sensationalists like Scott A. Johnson and Jack Chick's popular Gospel tracks. His Halloween track entitled "The Trick" is a comedic spectacle:

It states, "They would leave a jack-o'-lantern with a lighted candle made of human fat to prevent those inside from being killed by demons in the night."


Lew, in his book states:


"The Pre-Christian Druids had the barbarians doing ghastly things…[They] chose certain children to be burned alive on "bone-fires", as offerings to the sun…The fat left over from the child was fashioned into a candle, and placed into a carved-out pumpkin, or a hollowed out vegetable with a "round" (sun-shaped) design. The victim was called Jack-of-the-lantern."(15)


The reasons why this is completely impossible pile up immediately, and for that reason Lew gives no source, and there exists no academic source which supports his claim. Consider as an example that pumpkins were only introduced to Europe 500 years ago. This is a big deal. Explorers to the New World like Jacques Cartier were the first to describe them and later led to their introduction to the Old World.(16) Besides those World of War Craft nerds that still like to flaunt their desperate insipidness at Stonehenge annually, the Druids ceased to enjoy any substantial existence nearly one thousand five hundred years prior due to persecution under such Roman emperors as Tiberius and Claudius. This renders Johnson, Chick, and Lew's claim--that in the Old World they were carving out pumpkins native only to the New World in the first century—-anachronistic. The practice of carving Jack-o'-Lanterns originates from the Middle Ages with the ancient Druids and their religion having little to do with the matter (besides on the sensationalist websites Lew is taking his information from). The tradition derives from an overtly Christian themed myth called Stingy Jack and the medieval practice of commemorating souls in purgatory with candles cradled in turnips.(17) 18th century Irish-American immigrants switched to pumpkins because they were far more practical.(18)


White's animadversion against the Trinity:
On page 104 it's claimed that the Christian Trinity is pagan (how original!). Some of his evidence being two images of the Egyptian gods Horus, Isis and Osiris (White misidentifies Horus as Ra. I have a copy of the same image and can verify that it is not Ra).

The doctrine of the Trinity is so inextricable with the gospel that the church has always historically recognized that a denial of the doctrine necessarily compromises the gospel (thus the Athenasian, Nicene, and Constantinopolitan creeds). White is unable to offer any exegesis in his denial of who the Bible teaches God is (for those looking for an exegetical defense of the doctrine I highly recommend James White's book The Forgotten Trinity). He simply repeats pitiful Jehovah's Witness party lines and speculatively asserts that the Trinity is a later pagan idea introduced by those naughty Romans and other exotic and absurdly geographically unrelated pagan cultures. (Those stupid early Christians--couldn't define or defend any of their own doctrines without their Arian nanny Constantine.....Errrr, never mind Tertullian).

He may get away with fooling many of his impressionable readers that the Trinity is not Jewish in its roots, but that sort of unfounded fantasizing doesn't fly in inter-testamental studies and is immediately dispelled by any brief study of the New Testament. The notion of a divine plurality in the Godhead is well documented in post-Christian second temple Judaism and served as the historical backdrop for the Christian doctrine; it was a mainstream Jewish view in the time period during and leading up to Jesus' ministry. The Jewish scholar Alan Segal and specialist Michael S. Heiser as two leading authorities demonstrate as much in their work.(19)

Like I said, White uses bad Jehovah's Witness arguments rather than giving any exegesis. Does he discuss the New Testament's emphatic claims to the unity and deity of Christ with the Father as in John 1:1, John 10, John 8:58, 2 Peter 1:1 or Titus 2:13?(20) Does he even try to explain why the Son in His high priestly prayer differentiates His own will from the Father? Does he deal with passages like John 14:26 which refers to the Holy Spirit in personal pronouns and distinguishes Him from the Son and Father or passages like the opening of Acts 5 which affirm Him to be God? What are we to make of the earliest synoptic material which records Jesus commanding to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Warfield has so brilliantly detailed in his classic treatment? White has set to flight the Holy Spirit, indicted the Son as a maniacal schizophrenic and crucified the Father. He is, by all indications, a Sabellian heretic--confounding the Persons of God into one Person--a single person of God who obnoxiously enjoys dressing up as the Father, the Spirit and Jesus then confusing all of his doxa followers by praying to Himself with different wills and functions, referring to Himself in triads of personhood incessantly in personal and distinguished pronouns and while dressed up in His Jesus mask demands that men baptize in the name of the other two masks of Himself. Theeeeennnnn White's Sabellian version of god tells us whoppers like those found in John 16:7ff:



But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I
do not go away, the Helper [the Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I
will send Him to you. "And He, when He comes, will convict the world
concerning sin and righteousness and judgment...because I go to the Father
and you no longer see Me.



According to White we should understand this passage to mean:


But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do
not go away, I will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Myself to you.
And when Myself, comes, He [that is, Myself] will convict the world
concerning sin and righteousness and judgment...because I go to Myself and
you no longer see Me.

Or how about Jesus' dying words on the cross:

Myself, Myself, why have I forsaken Me? Myself, into you I commend
the spirit of Myself.

Then there's that perspicacious theological gem in John 5:30:

I can do nothing on my own…because I seek not my own will but the will of myself
who sent me.

Yep. The Jesus of Sabellianism is a babbling idiot...or He just enjoys deceiving all His followers with intractable anfractuosities that look an awful lot like historical Trinitarianism. 
None were, but even if it be the case that every ancient pagan religion was Trinitarian, Christians would still be bound by scripture to believe the doctrine whether they like it or not.

In attempting to attribute the Jewish doctrine with paganism White demonstrates that he either has 1) no idea what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches or 2) what pagan religions teach. On page 104 for example, he shows us two images of the Egyptian gods Horus, Isis and Osiris. The following abuse of Egyptian religion is indicative of his anachronistic and hysterical misuse of other religions like Zoroastrianism and Hinduism:
Did the Egyptians believe in a god, three in eternal, persons yet one in substance as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches?

The Egyptians were, of course, polytheists. They believed the gods Nut and Geb sexually begat the twins Isis and Osiris as two separate, corporeal individuals who individually taught the Egyptian people various disciplines such as agriculture and art. Osiris has a brother named Seth who kills him and chops his body into fourteen pieces and scatters them across Egypt. Isis finds the pieces, reassembles them then has sex with his corpse in the form of a bird whereby she becomes pregnant with Horus. (Don't judge you Necrophobes! After all no one gets hurt right…) Horus then avenges Osiris by defeating Seth and taking back the throne. The three are often paired together as an archetypal representation of the family. They are not "one substance" as the Trinity teaches. Not one of them is eternal as the Bible teaches of the Trinity. Unlike the Trinity they represent a literal, corporal family (when Jesus uses the terms "Son" and "Father" in relation to the Christian Trinity He means them only in the Jewish sense for function and likeness of beingness. Not that He was begotten by the Father in His existence as such passages as John 1:1 deny.) All the aforementioned about the Osirian cycle is related in Plutarch.


Nephilim:On pages 131 and 203, a common internet image of a "nephilim" from an "archeological dig" is shown. White also has a lot to say about the Nephilim on page 126.
First and foremost, for the doubters, I ran White's image through a program called JEPGsnoop(21) which identifies doctored photos and retrieves a wealth of information about a given image. The original was taken on a Sony Cybershot U camera. It is classified as a class one photograph-meaning it has been edited--parts of the image contain completely different compression signatures than the original image itself. Not only that, but the program reveals that the image has been run through and saved as a photoshop 7.0 file—the professional program we should expect to see if the image is a hoax. There are no reports of archeology digging up nine foot tall skeletons. It is for this reason that White wants to claim there is a massive conspiracy for archeologist to hide them when they "dig them up regularly." This is a case of White failing to do his homework.

For example, on pages 126 he claims that Josephus attests to the existence of "3-4m tall humans." First of all, Josephus was writing in the first-century. There were no remaining Nephilim for him to attest to at that time on his own witness. Second, Josephus did not even place Goliath's height at 3-4 meters tall (9 to 13 feet). He tells us that Goliath was 6 ft 6 inch just like the Septuagint does and closer to the Qumran material (22). White gets his notion that the Nephilim were nine feet tall on the basis nothing more than tradition since most Bibles are based on the later Masoretic reading of Samuel which has long been recognized to be nearly intractably corrupt at this point (that text family even leaves off an entire paragraph in chapter 10 of the first division of the book).

The average height in the ancient world was under five and a half feet. Anyone of Goliath's 6 and a half foot height would have been a giant in the most literal sense. The only other argument for giants the size White wants them refers to King Og of Bashan whose iron sarcophagus (and not him) is reported at thirteen feet long. As Michael Heiser has told me, this is a poor argument if one is familiar with the nesting style of Near Eastern royal coffins.
In connecting the Nephilim with alien appearances White elsewhere supports the idea that the Hebrew word Nephilim strictly means "fallen ones" rather than "giants" (it appears he wants to take the whole Sitchin route of relating them with aliens in this way.(23)

Heiser has proven by the necesity of the morphology of the term that it must mean "giants" and not "fallen ones." (There's a yod vocalization marker in the word that makes White's etymology impossible.)(24)

This current post is incomplete and will be added to then overhauled as a PDF as time continues.

1) Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ 2007. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 169.
2) Edwin Yamauchi quotes this in Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baer, 1996), 510.
3) Ibid. 169.
4) Vaage, Leif E. (Editor). Religious Rivalries in the Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity. Waterloo, ON, CAN: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006. 175.
5) (trans. Richard Gordon), New York: Routledge, 2000), 7.
6) Mithraism and Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921), 94.
7) Ibid. Strobel, 170
8) Ibid.
9) Ibid.
10) Ibid. 174
11) Ibid. White, 56-7
12)
Dr. Chris Forbes, Brief Historical Critique of Zeitgeist. 2009.

13) Ibid. White, 145.

14)
Here.
15) Ibid. White, 47-8
16) See footnotes on page: James Phinney Baxter et tal. A Memoir of Jacques Cartier, Sieur De Limoilou (New York: Dodd Mead & Company, 1906), 178.
17) Nicholas Rogers, Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. (USA: Oxford University Press, 2002),57.
18) Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, Holloween: An American History (Luisiana: Pelican Publishing company, 1990), x.

19) See Heiser's website and more recent posting on the
subject.

20) See
my paper The Deity of Christ in John 1:1, Titus 2:13 and John 20:28.

21) Using
this original of the image as it is the first and only occurrence which displays on Google search using the keyword "nephilim". If White has another one he is free to offer it.

22) Quoted by
Heiser.

23)
Here.

24) Nephilim morphology
PDF.