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 are bring science to a Hebrew syntax fight. (Is it Christian of me to describe their response here as "fantastically lazy"?) They aren’t trained to interact with the Semitic 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 this and has given a response here.] Let me emphasize Holmstedt’s analysis has a long history 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 one of the most influential living Semitist in North America), Ellan van Wolde from Radboud University and Michael Heiser, the academic editor of Logos.

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?) 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 likely 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 pointy headed 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, but rather, that anytime he does he must, like me, be depending on 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’s symptomatic of why we’ve ended up with such wacky interpretations and the evangelical desire to demythologize the Bible in a science polemic.


Conclusion

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 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).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why it (Sort of) Takes a PhD to Understand the Bible: The Holy Spirit and Interpretation

[8/19/2013: Due to scads of people misunderstanding this post I have made several modifications and added definitions throughout for clarity.]

Does the Holy Spirit give believers an understanding of what a Biblical author is saying or are we at the groveling mercy of elite academicians to understand God’s word? Do I really need access to the original languages, ancient history, textual-criticism and all that other stuff to understand my Bible?

You’d think the answer would be obvious, right?

In the first hermeneutics course I took in seminary, Daniel P. Fuller’s article “The Holy Spirit’s Role in Biblical Interpretation” was required reading.  Fuller, exegeting 1 Corinthians 2:14, demonstrates beyond doubt a Biblical conclusion which offends most of us.  The implication of his article: Unless you are going to interpret the Bible like the church father Origen, rejecting a historical-grammatical hermeneutic and throwing all caution to the wind, it does take a PhD to understand your Bible.  You are at the mercy of academicians.  The Bible does not claim the Spirit aids the interpreter in the meaning (defined as, “that pattern of meaning the author willed to convey by the words [shareable symbols] he used”).[1] Rather it teaches the Holy Spirit aids us in the significance (defined as “how a reader responds to the meaning of a text”) of the text.[2]  That last sentence was a directly taken from my old class notes so I’m not left field on this one.

When I say it takes a PhD to understand the Bible, I’m not implying you yourself must have one.  I don't have one, nor am I a scholar. I am saying that you must at least have access to individuals that do have a PhD and can explain the text to you before you go running around looking for apache helicopters and brachiosauruses in your King James. What this means is that linguists, historians and textual-critics serve critical roles in the body of Christ, and we are hopelessly dependent on their PhDs to understand Scripture. God has chosen to entrust the ground-level understanding and explanatory dissemination of His scripture to a bunch of ivory-tower nerds. (Having an introverted, or introspective personality doesn't automatically disqualify you from serving in the body of Christ! Crazy, right?)

The reality of all this isn't as controversial as you might think, as James McGrath has retorted to Ken Ham (no, that doesn't mean I endorse everything McGrath has ever written), our utter dependence on scholars to understand the Bible is demonstrated anytime we pick up an English translation. If you really believe all you need is the aid of the Holy Spirit to understand your Bible then you better be able to pick up a Koine Greek text and manipulate God's Spirit like a Mormon seer stone without the aid of scholars. In fact, the meaning of many Bible passages cannot be understood (even when translated) without a surprisingly esoteric knowledge of subjects like Ugaritic, Egyptian, the Dead Sea Scrolls or textual-criticism.

For example, in a text like Ezekiel 1 (and especially in apocalyptic material) knowledge of Babylonian iconography and other symbolism is critical to understanding the passage.  Frankly, some texts in the Bible read like a description of an LSD trip at an ancient Babylonian X-files convention. You need more than your personal penchants to anchor you as you exegete texts like Revelation and Ezekiel.

I once attended a church study group in which we all sat around a room and asked each other with open Bibles what we thought Ezekiel 1 meant.  None of us had commentaries or any other resources, just our Bibles and groping, sanctified opinions.  The Bible study leader had rosy intentions, but frankly, no one learned squat about the meaning of the text that night. We were all radically wrong in our proposed understandings of Ezekiel—and we would have never come to a correct understanding of that text if we had sat and pontificated in that room for a hundred years together with the most holy affections.  We never could have imagined on our own that eyes in ancient iconography and other parts of the Hebrew of Ezekiel were used to refer to stars.  We would never had imagined the carnal points of the Babylonian zodiac are synonymous with the four faces of Ezekiel’s’ cherubim or that the throne depictions are common ANE allusions implying a polemic against Israel’s pagan captors.  Without the aid of scholars with PhDs we were unable to access an understanding of the text that would have been evident to any ancient Israelite in Ezekiel’s Babylonian exiled audience. In fact, any Christian without access to that information will not understand the symbols and other elements of the text as Ezekiel’s original audience would have.  That means every Christian in church history before archaeology in the Middle East became a mature discipline has been doomed to a failure to grasp the fullness of that passage's meaning and its symbols in the same sense as Ezekiel’s original audience did.

That said, we all got glimpses of the significance of the text that night.  We understood the text was at least about God’s glory and kingship, and as Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 2, it is in that realm that the Holy Spirit does His work and we didn't need degrees to understand.  We were able to embrace, love and submit to the significance of the text because we had Him to aid us.  In that sense we knew the text in a way an unbelieving Semitic expert never could understand apart from God—even though that unbelieving Semitic expert could have outclassed any of us in understanding and explaining the details of what Ezekiel meant.

Our privileged modern access to sources like the Ugaritic texts and Dead Sea Scrolls ensures us that we will come to deeper and in many cases different understandings of certain passages than the Reformers or most anyone else in church history who didn’t have access to those resources.  It’s not John Calvin’s fault or a deficiency of his fidelity to the Holy Spirit that he failed to grasp the meaning of Psalm 74.  He had little way of knowing the Psalm is a parallel with the chaoskampf of Israel’s pagan neighbors, that Genesis was written in a context of cosmic mountain theology, or the full theological gravity of Jesus' claim to one day 'come with the clouds.' We are better able to read the text through the eyes of an ancient Israelite than Augustine, Luther, Calvin or the council of Trent.

Our ability to deeper understand the word of God will either offend or delight us.  When we let Bible study with academic resources take back seat to hermeneutical mysticism and homiletical Lifeway literature, we are setting ourselves over the text, and not honoring God’s decision to reveal his word to a particular people in a particular culture at a particular point in history.  The sad result is that much of the beauty and intensity of scripture is lost due to our historical imperialism and modernistic narcissism.  To be sure, homiletics and mysticism are vital, but they are the result of, and not the source, by which we understand the Bible.

That task, God has primarily entrusted to a bunch of nerds in the body of Christ with PhDs.   

[1] Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994], 38.
[2] Ibid., 43.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ray Hagins Refuted: Arius and the Council of Nicaea

In my first post on Ray Hagins I covered how the assertions he makes about gods like Horus, Mithras and Krishna have no basis in reality.  In fact, a number of people offered Hagins cash rewards for any primary texts supporting many of his claims, and he refused to supply any such source.  The truth is Hagins is powerless to supply those sources because they do not exist.  The texts explicitly contradict his claims.


For example, he asserts those three gods were all virgin born: Horus was not born of a virgin.  Plutarch relates the necessity for Isis to fashion Osiris a phallus before she descends on his body and receives 'the seed of Osiris in her womb.'[1] (Who needs Fifty Shades of Grey or pre-teen vampire franchises when you could just read all that saucy Egyptian stuff.) As Yamauchi, Clauss and others show, Mithras is depicted explicitly emerging fully grown from a rock in ancient Roman depictions (curiously reminiscent of 60’s British rock album artwork), and we even have a Latin inscription which spells out the rock birth for us.[2]  As for Krishna, before he was born his parents were imprisoned by his evil uncle Kamsa in an attempt by Kamsa to circumvent a prophecy about Krishna being born and killing him. As a tyrant of decorum, instead of killing his sister Devaki, he murders her first seven children in front of her and her husband as they are born in the prison.  Krishna only survives his birth due to divine assistance.  He was her eighth child as the prophecy itself stated.[3] You can examine a refutation of the rest of Ray’s claims about these gods here.

Perhaps Hagin’s most famous claim is that a letter correspondence attributed to Emperor Hadrian links the early Christians with Egyptian Serapis worship. In  my second post on Hagins, I pointed out the “Serapis letter” is a late forgery. The forged nature of the document is taken as axiomatic among scholars of the Historia Augusta from which it derives.

In this third post we will be examining Hagins’ wacko claims about Arius at the council of Nicaea, and I will propose a challenge to Hagins.  He’s billed himself as an authority to the public so I will address him publicly and email this page to him.

Take a deep breath dear Remythologized reader. Cover your baby's ears; for I am about to present you the holy grail of Nicaea myths.  All the hundreds before that made you laugh and cry were but mere omens of this crowning achievement of historical negligence.  Blood will shoot out of your eyeballs.  Catatonic visions of Dan Brown rotating his head 360 degrees will seize you. You will wake up in the fetal position in a puddle of drool with your fingernails embedded in a J. N. D. Kelly textbook.  Brace yourself:

Hagins claims Arius’ contention at Nicaea was over Jesus’ historical existence.  That’s right.  He says Jesus was unknown prior to the centuries leading up to Nicaea.

At 30:28 into this “lecture” Hagins says, “Nobody, Origen…none of the historians of the first, second or third century said anything about somebody called Jesus.”

Yes, I’m actually about to type a paragraph refuting this.  I’ll do it for those who follow Hagins and have no footing in Christian history:

Origen wrote extant commentaries on the gospels of John and Matthew and the letter to the Romans; he wrote an apologetic work entitled Against Celsus which cleared up Roman slanders against the historical Jesus; he wrote two books on the resurrection of Jesus. All one needs to do is pull up a text database of his writings like this one and search “Jesus.”  The man “Jesus” appears near 400 times in Origen’s Against Celsus alone.  Heracleon, in 170 wrote a commentary on the Gospel of John.  You can read it here.  That’s to say nothing of all the pre-Nicaean writings like Hermas, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, or the Didache, all of which refer to Jesus by name as a historical individual and none of which hint at a Serapis connection.  Besides that, Romans like Pliny the Younger, Celsus, Lucian, the Jewish historian Josephus and Tacitus mention Jesus, all within 150 years of his life.[4]  The Chester Beatty Papyri and Bodmer papyri contain most of the New Testament dating long before Nicaea.  I’ll stop there.  Claims this inane don’t warrant extended rebuttal.

To top this off Hagins teaches the Christians of the first three centuries were actually worshiping Serapis—that Serapis was made into Jesus at Nicaea and Arius was privy to the reality that Jesus didn’t exist historically. This is obviously based on Hagins’ flub with assuming the Historia Augusta is genuine, as previously covered. Beyond that, If you’re still incredulous of Hagin’s thesis, you clearly don’t posses the erudition to consider the irrefutable iconographic juxtaposition of Serapis and Jim Caviezel. Let’s pretend to forget Hagins actually makes the equivalent of that argument and proceed to ask some fun questions like good Aristotelians:

Why does Arius in his own writings and arguments at Nicaea appeal to Hebrews and other New Testament texts as authoritative standards if he didn’t believe their claims about the historical Jesus?  You can read all of Arius’ extant writings here. Ray, why did Arius write to Constantine affirming the existence of the historical Jesus?
 We believe in one God the Father Almighty, and in the Lord Jesus Christ his Son, who was begotten of him before all ages, God the Word through whom all things were made, both things in heaven and on earth; who descended, and became human, and suffered, and rose again, ascended into heaven, and will again come to judge the living and the dead.
At 34:25 Hagins says, “There was one God.  ‘He ain’t got no son’: That was Arius’ argument.”

Virtually every letter we have from Arius affirms God “begat a son.” For example, five years before Nicaea in a letter to the bishop of Alexandria he wrote:
We acknowledge One God, alone unbegotten…who begat an only-begotten Son before time and the ages, through whom he made both the ages [Heb 1:2] and all that was made.
Pointing to texts in which Arius claims Jesus did not exist as a member of the Trinity in eternity past (the Arian heresy) won’t do, Ray. Why does Arius never once bring up Serapis in any of his writings?

I’m sure all that stuff was covered up by the international Catholic conspiracy, right?

****A public challenge to Ray Hagins*****

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 the council of Nicaea involved suppressing a contention by Arius that Jesus was in anyway associated with Serapis.

Name a single one.
_______________________________________________________________________

Suggested lay-level reading for Rays’ followers interested in what really happened with Arius at Nicaea:  Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999).

[1] You can see this with the text reference on page 47 using this online translation of Plutarch’s Moralia.  

In regards to Horus being the “seed of Osiris” see R. O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts (Chippenham: Aris & Phillips, 2004), 125.  Spell 148 reads: “How do you know? He is the god, lord and heir of the Ennead, who made you within the egg. I am Isis, one more spirit-like and august than the gods; the god is within this womb of mine and he is the seed of Osiris.”

[2] This material is provided by Edwin Yamauchi.  See my post on Kersey Graves here.

[3] The birth story of Krishna is related in the Srimad Bhagavatam, canto 10.  You can read it online here.

v. 66-7 of chapter 1 reads, “He [Kamsa] thus in fear of his own death arrested Vasudeva and Devakî, confined them at home in shackles and killed one after the other each of their newborn sons not knowing whether it would be the 'Never-born' Lord or not.” Chapter 2 relates the god’s prayers for Krishna in the womb then 3 describes his birth and escape from the prison guards.

[4] For those interested, the Roman sources are pursued by Habermas in The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the life of Christ (Joplin: College Press, 1996).  There's also R. T. France's The Evidence for Jesus (London: Regent College,1986) and an excellent book explaining why New Testament scholars are universally convinced of Jesus' historical existence is Bart D. Ehrmans' Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, (USA: HarperCollins, 2012).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Great Podcast Resource for Studying Ancient Mediterranean Religion

Philip Harland from York University has a blog of extensive podcasts on Ancient Mediterranean religion. (Disclaimer: I don't take many of his presuppositions.)  Readers of this blog will find many of his lectures and audio studies a useful resource.

Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean blog

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The gods of Deut. 32:8: An Israelite Pantheon?

An artistic iconographic harmonization of my own.
The divine beings of Israel's religion share many
of the titles, iconography and functions employed
by their surrounding neighbors
At the end of my last post (which should be read before this one), I complained that the majority of critical scholarship since the late 19th century has seen in the scriptures a chronological evolution of Israel’s religion from polytheism to monotheism.  Critics attempt to demonstrate this evolution by pointing to early Biblical texts which speak of the existence of multiple gods.[1] These “polytheistic” texts are then contrasted with the standard monotheistic declarations in later post–exilic texts those sweet old ladies in hats had you recite since Sunday school. There you have it. Israelite monotheism must have evolved under Hezekiah.

For example, a “polytheistic” text like Psalm 138:1 might be contrasted with a “contradictory” later-developed “monotheistic” text like Deut 4:39:
“I will praise you with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise to you.” 
“…Yahweh, he is the God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other
Traditionally evangelicals counter the reconstruction described above by doing their best to demythologize the texts in the Bible which affirm the existence of multiple gods.  They assure us:  “Those aren’t gods. Those are human rulers that the OT calls gods!”

Evangelicals are losing the debate and we deserve to. Exegetically, the evangelical response has been as elegant as a shaved gorilla.  In short, I believe it’s driven by 17th century terminology which is detached from the ANE material. At the same time, critical scholarship is wrong because it misinterprets post-exilic texts to contrive a strict post-exilic monotheism. Since both the critical scylla and evangelical charybdis are deficient, a third way between them has been entertained by several fed-up scholars.  As I stated in my last post, I don’t believe that third way implies contradiction in the Bible or in anyway effaces our fidelity to monotheism. More importantly, it was the worldview of the Biblical authors and Jesus.  Understanding this is a healthy invitation for Christians to re-embrace the highly supernatural worldview of scripture.

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is one of the key texts in the discussion. The text reads:
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.  9But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. (ESV)
Martin Shields over at his Shields Up blog is representative of the conservative sentiment.  My interaction with his post is motivated out of lighthearted comradery more than polemics since I enjoy much of his other work.  I also agree with Shields that the “elyon” in this passage refers to Yahweh. All I care about in this post is the identification of the “sons of God” of that passage.

As an aside on the textual variant in this passage, Shields recognizes with most scholars the Masoretic textual variant of verse 8 which reads “according to the number of the sons of Israel” is inferior to the DSS/LXX reading “sons of God” preserved in the ESV translation quoted above.  There are plenty of long, boring reasons the DSS/LXX reading is superior. Long story short, the Masoretic reading implies a gross anachronism since Deuteronomy 32:8-9 describes the tower of Babble episode.  It would be impossible for God to divide the nations according to the sons of Israel at Babble because Israel didn’t exist yet; Jacob had yet to be born.

Deut. 32:8 then does indeed claim that God divided the nations, “according to the number of the sons of God.

So, why do I believe these “sons of God” [Hebrew: bny ha-elohim] are gods and not men as Shields argues?  First, it is significant that if one counts the number of divisions of the table of nations at Babble the number totals to 70—the exact number of the cognate sons of God in the Ugaritic texts.[2]  The Ancient Near Eastern context therefore demands these 70 sons of God in the Bible ought to be defined with relation to the non-human 70 bny ilm at Ugarit.  This identification is unmistakable because other cognate titles in the Ugaritic for these beings (titles like “the assembly of El,” “assembly of the stars” or “holy ones”) are shared with the Bible.

Second, the parallel of this event in Deuteronomy 4 shows us these beings are gods and not human:
19And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you will be drawn away and bow down and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (ESV)  
8When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.  9But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. (ESV)
The other text Shields quotes to supply the doctrine that the sons of God are mere humans is Psalm 82:
 1God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.5…all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (ESV)
Again, the plural elohim of this passage demands a supernatural translation.  There is simply no way to get away with making these gods human as Heiser's doctoral dissertation demonstrated.  In Psalm 89 these same beings are said to be "in the clouds."

So, did Israel have a pantheon?  Were they polytheists?  As I lamented in my last post, these are oily, shock-factor terms which lead to confusion more than clarification since they imply things which were not the case for the ancient Israelite.  It's best to simply describe the role and functions of these beings.  The psalms have them being created by God.  God, in this text, is seen exercising authority over them, distributing them among the nations to rule and later judging them--stripping them of their immortality at the eschaton in Psalm 82.  Although these beings are in a category distinct from what we usually envision when we use the term "angel." The sons of God are similar to angels in the sense that they are the mere created beings of Yahweh, and they are not presented as beings worthy of worship.

Michael S. Heiser, “Should the Plural אלהים of Psalm 82 Be understood as Men or Divine Beings?” (delivered at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society).

[1] Karen Armstrong’s popular History of God used in many college level religion courses is representative. A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), 40-78.
[2] E.g. KTU 1.4:VI.46.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Do We Mean by "Monotheism"?

[Addendum] The ensuing is adapted from a recent paper of mine.  It scolds the categorical monkeying around we evangelicals are used to committing to make sense of the term ‘monotheism.’  The end proposes clarification for how evangelicals should understand the term. (For those new to the blog, yes I am a Biblical monotheist.)  The issue is primarily important for its apologetic value in responding to consensus modern source-critical reconstructions of Israelite religion which propose an evolution from polytheism to monotheism throughout the Biblical text.  I reject the notion that the Biblical texts reflect a chronological evolution from polytheism to monotheism.  If the concept of non-angelic deities existing within Israelite religion is new to you, you can read an introduction by a specialist in the source material here.

A modern term applied to ancient religion

Over the past 35 years Old Testament scholars have wrestled with the value of applying the term “monotheism” to the religion of the Bible. The problem, as Nathan McDonald’s doctoral thesis relates, is due to the original coining of the term “monotheism” in the 17th century by the Cambridge neo-Platonist Henry More as an antonym of atheism, not polytheism. The Cambridge Platonists were deposed by Locke and deist rationalists who would “ensure the term’s survival and led to its established place in philosophical and theological discourse.”[1]  This Enlightenment climate eventually injected the term with its modern connotations, especially with regard to Israelite religion.[2]  I’d agree with the dissertations of Michael S. Heiser and McDonald: The term “monotheism” is useful in expressing the uniqueness of the ancient Israelite God.  It does this in a way in which other terms like henotheism and monolatrism don’t.  At the same time “a yawning gap exists between ‘monotheism’ and the Old Testament.”[3]  That yawning gap is represented in how we moderns use the term as an antonym for polytheism. (i.e. defining “monotheism” as what “polytheism” is not and “polytheism” as what “monotheism” is not.)

Categorically inconsistent and tautological

Frankly, it’s incoherent and tautological when we moderns use “monotheism” as an antonym for “polytheism.” The reason is that when we use these two terms in this mutually defining apposition of each other we must equivocate on what we mean by (G/g)od in order to render the two categories mutually exclusive.  When we use the term “mono-theism” the theos in that phrase designates a being who is eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, self-sufficient, etc. When we use the term “poly-theism” the meaning of the term theos becomes something much different.  In this case the term comes to refer to a sort of super-person, usually with a limited realm of preternatural powers (such as the Egyptian deities, gods of ancient Greece or the superhumans of Celtic mythology).  The term theos in this case cannot have the same definition as the one we were assuming in the term monotheism because the notion of many gods all possessing an attribute like omnipotence would itself be absurd and inconceivable. It follows also the term “monotheism” is tautological then because it reiterates the mono-ness of a Being, the definition of which, necessarily includes singularity.

What is a god?: defining deity

The other option for the defender of the common definition of monotheism (as an antonym for divine plurality) to circumvent the above charges of equivocation and tautology is to object that the term theos in both cases merely refers to any being who is at the level of a preternatural super-being or greater.  The problem with this type of response is that it fails to account for the inconsistencies in the way in which we categorize the divine beings in the monotheistic religions.  Before the founding of Islam jinni were considered tutelary gods.[4]‘ifrits have been considered particularly powerful and marids also share many of the natural associations we would expect of an Ancient Middle Eastern deity.  They are powerful, vatic creatures with freewill; they have shape shifting abilities, their ire is often feared, and the beings were considered deities before being appropriated by Islam.[5]   If we are going to identify the Qur’an or texts like The Arabian Nights as monotheistic documents we have conceded our equivocation of theos in our use of the terms monotheism and polytheism and so, have forfeited the notion that those two terms describe mutually exclusive categories.  David Penchansky (who believes in a source-critical evolving Israelite monotheism which he parallels with Islam’s evolution of the jinn) has pounded on this here.   It is intractable to attempt to define the theos of polytheism in a way which circumscribes all the minor deities of ancient Egypt, Canaan, or Central American religions and yet extrudes those pesky jinni of folk Islam and the Quran.

Gods other than Yahweh in the Bible?

Again, what in our modern thinking qualifies the super-humans of Celtic mythology, or Aken, the mere ferryman of the Egyptian underworld, as gods yet makes an exception in the “divine” category for jinni?  A clear answer isn’t obvious. Why do Deber and Resheph, both fierce soldiers in Yahweh’s military retinue not make the cut when they are considered gods when they appear in the Ugaritic and other West-Semitic texts?[6] Why are the beings assuming the divine council thrones of Daniel 7 excluded from the category of deity, yet the beings of the Ugaritic divine council are considered gods?  Certainly the Qumran community was monotheistic and revered those texts like Isaiah and Deuteronomy which are usually upheld as the paragons of matured monotheism.  Why then do they identify the singular elohim of Ps. 82 as Melchizedek?  Why are there 185 occurrences in the extra-biblical DSS texts where a variation of elohim or elim appears in the plural?  What about the elohim of Duet. 32.8 who are geographically portioned and hold all the same functions as gods? Why do scholars refer to a Ugaritic ml’k as a “messenger deity” yet a מלאך of the Bible gets excluded?  Why are the seventy sons of god in the Ugaritic texts divine but not their 70 cognates in the Bible in texts like Ps. 82 and Duet. 32.8?  What standard happens to qualify a lowly artisan god of Canaanite religion in the divine category yet happens to extrude a powerful angel like Michael or the Sons of God of Gen. 6?

What a flurry of questions like these illustrates is that our modern, application of 17th century terminology (pre-dating all notions of modern archaeology and most comparative materials in the Near East) to ancient Israelite religion confounds clear thinking when evangelicals approach the topic of divine plurality in the Hebrew Bible. Consider how we usually perceive monotheism and polytheism as mutually exclusive opposites.  In the parlance of possible world theory it is recognized two mutually exclusive realities cannot both exist as conjuncts of any possible world. For example, there is no conceivable reality in which there could exist married bachelors or square circles.  These categories are genuinely mutually exclusive and are therefore not even conceivable.  “Monotheism” and “polytheism” cannot be mutually exclusive.  It is easy to conceive of a reality in which there might actually exist an eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, self-sufficient being unlike any other who created any number of supernatural beings which administer affairs of the cosmos in many ways analogous to other Mesopotamian deities. 

What then do we mean by monotheism?

The term monotheism is here to stay.  When we use it, we should therefore take it to mean that one, incomparable, unique God exists who holds attributes such as omniscience, omnipotence and eternality and that this God created a host of lower subordinate others who administer the affairs of His cosmos.  The term monotheism should remain one of incomparability.  We should not use it as a declaration of singularity among an ambiguous category of beings we call gods. Evangelicals must embrace the highly supernatural worldview of scripture. It isn’t enough to depose of the existence of Yahweh’s divine council of gods by simply appealing to God’s “denial” statements in Isaiah in Deuteronomy since those same authors embrace the divine council in other places and Heiser and McDonald have demonstrated these statements must be understood as declarations of incomparability.  An example of this is readily found in the way Isaiah uses these same denial statements in reference to the incomparability of Babylon and Moab:
Is. 45.5
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me 
Is. 47.8, 10
8Now therefore hear this, you [Babylon and Moab] lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me [אני ואפסי עוד לא]10…you said in your heart, “I am and there is no one besides me [אני ואפסי עוד].”
Those who offer a text like Isaiah 45.5 as an ontological statement of the non-existence of the divine council beings cannot maintain a consistent hermeneutic when approaching parallel denial texts like Isaiah 47, since it is obvious a text like Isaiah 47 is making a statement of incomparability (and not a statement of the ontological non-existence of any other city).  This reality applies not only to evangelicals but to source-critics who would wish to uphold texts like Isaiah as theological innovations of monotheism that are in contradiction with the divine plurality of earlier Biblical religion.





[1] Deuteronomy and the Meaning of ‘Monotheism’, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 17.

[2] Ibid., 1-21.

[3] Ibid., 52.

[4] Inscriptions and reliefs at Palmyra depict the deities in warrior regalia protecting the city. An inscription near Palmyra reads, “the ginnaye of the village of Beth Fasi’el, the good and rewarding gods.” Robert G. Hoyland, Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam (Routledge: New York 2002), 145.

[5] Though very dated, Thomas Patrick Huges provides a detailed explanation of Islamic jinni tradition. A Dictionary of Islam: Being Encyclopedia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, Together with the Technical and Theological Terms, of the Muhammadan Religion (London: H. Allen & Co. 1895), 133.  Diane Morgan offers a modern introduction in Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice (USA: Praeger, 2010), 15-6. In regards to jinni serving the function of tutelary deities in modern times, it is interesting that during the Rwandan genocide, Rwandan Muslim neighborhoods were avoided because of circulated fear that jinni protected Muslims and mosques.

[6] Cf. P. Xella., “Resheph in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. (hereafter DDD) (Brill: Grand Rapids 1999), 700-3. Resheph is a very popular West-Semitic chthonic god with Deber also present in the Akkadian and Ugaritic texts (cf. Duet 32.24 and Ps 78.48).  Hab. 3.5 has both serving at the heels of Yahweh.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Seminary Student Visits the Creation Museum: 27 Million Dollars of Bad Exegesis


Ken Ham here and Georgia Purdom here have made a response to this blog on the AiG website.  You can read my rebuttal to their response here.

I just recently got back from Ken Ham's Creation Museum with a couple of other seminary friends.  In this post I won’t be clamoring about the “abuse of science” or thundering party lines for either an old or young earth position like other reviews online. I also won't be discussing the length of the days of Genesis. (If you're wondering, I largely side with John Walton's discussion of the seven days in the context of ancient Mesopotamian temple cosmology.) Here we will be doing something much more radical—looking at a couple of Answers in Genesis’ (AiG)  claims and examining what sorts of interpretations the original language texts can and cannot sustain. There I go again insisting on all that boring exegetical stuff.

The goal here is to simply ask what range of readings the plain text of the Bible allows in a few cases and whether or not AiG has abused that range of legitimate interpretations.

Walking through the museum, I was appalled by the colossal fortune expended on ideas that are obviously deficient in erudition within Ancient Near Eastern history and modern Biblical studies.  Does it not bother anyone that Ken Ham has NO formal Biblical or language training?  (All he has earned academically is a bachelor in science.) [I'm informed he also has a diploma in teaching--an Aussie requirement for being a teacher.] That’s a scary testament to the modern evangelical mind.    Take a gander at this exhibit of Moses holding the Ten Commandments next to Saruman.














Since this is a history museum, why are the Commandments written in the ashuri block script—a script that wasn't adopted until the 5th century?  Why do the Ten Commandments contain diacritical vowel points which weren't invented until the Masoretes operating in the Middle Ages?  Why did the creators of this exhibit go through the labors to add such anachronistic elements which are explained in the introductory pages of any Hebrew 101 textbook?  Either they didn't care (but why then is so much pain dedicated to detail?), or this is indicative they have never had the requisite Biblical training.  But if they have never had requisite Biblical training why should we care what they have to say about other elements of Biblical interpretation?  Surely I’m over exaggerating.  I know what you’re thinking: “Ben, it’s not like historical issues like vowel points and scribes like the Masorites has significant impact on our theology, right?” I’m sure the suspense from that rhetorical question is killing you. 

Is Ken Ham’s entire museum based on a mistranslation of the first word of the Bible?

Much fuss has been made over James Ussher's attempt at dating the age of the earth by counting through the Bible's genealogies. Don’t worry, the subject is so hackneyed I’ll spare commenting.  A much more interesting (and very rarely asked question) is whether or not we can presume to date the universe with Genesis.

Considering all the spankings the museum delves out to anything smacking of Big Bangs and the planetarium presentation scorning modern astrophysics, one would imagine AiG has a strong biblical basis for believing the universe was born subsequently to Larry King.


AiG believes the universe ought to be dated at 6,000 years as the side exhibit paralleling Creationism with Big Bang cosmology illustrates.  Walking through the exhibits, you are ejected from a Nietzschian void--navigate a concrete room of looping grey film of atom bomb explosions, dying children and goring wolves, through a hall depicting a porn addict, adulterer and a liberal pastor with a Sith (is it proper grammar to capitalize the word Sith?) lord voice (past the demolition ball engraved “millions of years”). You are then taken into a room of looping TV screens and ubiquitous signs emphasizing the first clause of Genesis to justify a six thousand year old universe: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

AiG assumes on the basis of traditional translations which understand Genesis 1.1 as an absolute temporal prepositional phrase (*yawn,* I know) that the words "the beginning" circumscribe the creation of the universe itself.  They take “the beginning” to be the absolute beginning of our universe—of space-time.

So what’s the big deal, and why am I boring you with Hebrew grammar?  As a subsection of Robert Holmstedt’s Wisconsin-Madison doctoral dissertation demonstrates, the translation of Genesis 1.1 as an absolute temporal prepositional phrase is “grammatically indefensible. Period. End of story.” (See Holmstedt’s blog post here.)  Modern Semitic grammarians have known this for a long time.  You can find it held in the work of scholars like Robert Alter at the University of California, Martin Baasten at the University of Leiden, Mark Smith from NYU, Ellan van Wolde from Radbound and Michael Heiser from Logos.  As for most modern translations like the ESV, they don’t monkey around with highly traditional readings.  It’s too controversial—the demise of Bible sales (the Jewish Publication Society is a commendable exception in this case).  If you are going to argue Genesis 1:1 should be translated “In the beginning” you must supply a segol vowel point within the first word of the Bible which exists in NO Masoretic manuscript on earth and is contradicted by every Masoretic text on earth which includes vowels. (There I go, throwing another tantrum over scribes and their vowel points again!) You must also explain the parallel operation of this same syntactical pattern in other relative clause texts. The following quote from Holmstedt spells out the implications of the Hebrew grammar: 
“A young-earth person can say, ‘this is the only and first  ראשׁית,’ but such a claim does not proceed directly from the grammar; it interprets the meaning of the text in light of a view brought to the text from some other place. And an old-earth person can say, ‘this relativizes the claims Genesis 1.1-3 makes so that the old-earth and the big-bangity-bang are not disallowed by the text’. Take your pick, but you must do it based on texts or issues outside Gen 1.1-3; the decision cannot be tied directly to the grammar of the passage since the grammar allows for both.”
Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Athanaius of Alexandria, Augustine and Hilary of Poitier:
Not exactly "philosophers and scientists of the Enlightenment."
Did you catch that AiG?  You cannot cite Genesis 1:1 as a description of the absolute beginning of the universe. (Notice, this critique circumvents and is prior to any discussion of the length of the seven days.)  The grammar of the text allows for a pre-existing universe (or even pre-earth conditions), and we cannot know how long that universe may have been around before the proceeding creation events in the chapter.  You can’t date the universe with Genesis 1:1. That’s not a claim dictated by someone’s scientific agenda, but by the laws of the Hebrew grammar God’s words are inspired in.

So, how should the first verse of the Bible be translated?  You can pursue those additional details with this lecture by Michael S. Heiser (PhD Semitic languages) here. Any lecture by Heiser is like the nerd version of six flags.

There be dragons:

Ken Ham is famous for claiming Leviathan and Behemoth are dinosaurs [Ham protests to me here that he does not claim Leviathan is a "dinosaur" since dinosaurs are technically terrestrial.  From now on I will instead be using the term plesiosaur]. This doctrine was taught by all my church youth-ministers and imparted to me through my parents. (As a youngster, I actually wrote a public school report arguing in favor of AiG’s dragon theories).  As you first enter the museum you will be introduced to a dozen exhibits supporting the teaching that dinosaurs and man co-habited; Beowulf, the Lockness monster, Saint John of the Cross, virtually any account of a dragon--modern or ancient--is chalked up and paraded as evidence for cohabitation of dinosaurs and man.


I’ve discussed Leviathan and Behemoth here. In summary, if you are going to say Leviathan is a dinosaur plesiosaur you must be willing to live with the fact that the Bible’s historical-literary context outright tells us he is a mythological representation of chaos. You must also ignore texts in God’s word like Psalm 74 which explicitly says he has multiple heads (tellingly, Ham mysteriously DLs on the full text of Psalm 74) and Isaiah’s reference to the creature which also only makes sense as a metaphor for chaos in a polemic against Babylonian cosmogony. We know exactly what Leviathan is because the ancient sources name him and tell us. (The additional interpretation of Behemoth as a chaos deity follows from the Leviathan passage.)

I also happen to find it richly comical AiG’s linchpin verse for proving behemoth is a dinosaur, and not a hippo or Elephant ('his tail is like a cedar'), might very easily be translated 'his phallus is like a cedar.'[1] (Sometimes God’s word gets a little graphic kids.) I’m no paleontologist, but unless AiG can produce a species of dinosaur with a phallus literally the size of a cedar tree, they are forced to entertain some degree of literary exaggeration here by their own standards—that gives their interpretation little more explanatory scope than the traditional “elephant” or “hippo” platitudes they rightfully excoriate.

Isaiah’s Fiery Flying Serpent

One example Ham raises that I’ve currently yet to address on this blog is Isaiah’s “fiery flying serpent.” Ham actually thinks this creature is also a possible dinosaur.  Following is the quote from the AiG website:
The museum has one of these "flying
serpents sitting over the gift shop 
“There is also mention of a flying serpent in the Bible: the ‘fiery flying serpent’ (Isaiah 30:6). This could be a reference to one of the pterodactyls, which are popularly thought of as flying dinosaurs, such as the Pteranodon, Rhamphorhynchus, or Ornithocheirus.”
 Isaiah 30:6 isn’t the only place where Isaiah refers to the “’fiery’ flying serpent.” Read the below “Seraph” entry in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons (written by the famous scholar T. N. D. Mettinger):

If you were reading closely you probably noticed that the Hebrew term used for “serpent” in these Isaiah passages is similar to the term Isaiah uses in the throne room scene of chapter 6 to describe a category of divine beings called seraphim. (Interpreting scripture with scripture, crazy idea, right!)  If you’re catching my drift, and you think it’s weird I’m suggesting the “fiery flying serpent” of Ham’s passage is actually a divine being, hold tight. I’ll let you in on a secret:

The seraph divine beings of the Bible are best understood as serpentine beings.

As a noun, the term means “serpent.” Numbers 21:8, which depicts Moses raising up the bronze serpent, is a more explicit example of seraph referring to a snake.  Mettinger belabors that as a double meaning the term is generally taken as derivative of the verb meaning “to burn” (notice certain translations of Ham’s Isaiah passage supply the adjective “fiery”). If the suggestion that seraphim are winged serpentine beings (and not the voluptuous, blonds of hallmark) still seems crazy to you, consider this other portion of Mettinger’s entry:

No Answers in Genesis.  The fiery flying serpent Isaiah associates with Egypt is not a dinosaur.  It’s a symbolic divine being represented by voluminous iconographic examples from Egypt and is well attested in Israel. That attribution by the Egyptians is entirely explicable within their own standards of symbolism and mythology.  No dinosaurs needed.  Those who wish for further reading on this will enjoy Karen Joines' article (Samford university) published here in the Journal of Biblical Literature .
Jasper seal: Jerusalem (notice
the four wings).
Notice the creature was associated
with (and represented) the pharaoh's
throne as is obvious in this image of
Tutankhamun's throne.

Joines emphasizes the wealth of these
representations in the tombs of Rameses IV
and Tutankhamun.
  











Frankly, it’s rather silly to claim Jewish Babylonian exiles (who feared their scriptures were refuted and that God had finally abandoned them for good when Jerusalem fell) should have any reason to care about velociraptors, even if that alluring man in Song of Solomon mysteriously seems to be a description of Jeff Goldblum (been trying to work that Godblum reference in since the first paragraph).



Dragon Legends

What about all those worldwide dragon legends, Ben?  Surely those are evidence of human-dinosaur co-habitation and that Noah loaded T-Rexes on the Ark, right?


This is a bone I have with AiG.  It shows they are uninvested in anthropology.  Adrienne Mayor from Stanford wrote a famous dissertation in which she pinpointed the geographic origins of dragons and other popular myths and found that those locations overlapped heavily with known ancient fossil beds.  Her books trace ancient fossil hunting history and mythology in regions like Native North America, Greece and Rome.  It’s not just dragons. People in the ancient world are known to have offered fossil remains of griffins, centaurs, cyclopes, and giants too.  If you are an ancient Roman at a construction site and your team exhumes a T-Rex, you are going to believe in a past age of dragons; if you are an ancient Scythian nomad and you encounter protoceratops remains in the desert you are going to interpret them as a griffin; if you are an ancient Sioux who finds himself upon pteranodon remains you are going to invent the thunderbird legend.  In many cases it is certain that ancient people were offering extinct animal fossils as the origin of mythological creatures.  We are able to go to the fossil beds and check for ourselves because, in a few cases, the ancients told us exactly where they were. (They named some of them!)  This is the mainstream view of modern anthropology.  If you were to visit the Mythic Creatures exhibit at the Fraizer History Museum here in Louisville, you would find Mayor cited ubiquitously on these issues. It’s an extremely powerful and convincing thesis.

If Creationists want to parade dragon legends as if they are moly herb--reducing conventional scientists to crying hissy fits, it would be comforting to at least know that Ham and his posse are even aware of Mayor’s dissertation.  A Google search reveals they are not.  Why hasn’t Answers in Genesis responded to or even acknowledged the existence of Mayor’s dissertation?



I also got a kick out of the realization the museum perpetuates the myth that Voltaire’s mansion was turned into a printing house.  You can read a refutation of the myth here.  The kicker, the Answers in Genesis website, in an article entitled, “Arguments Creationists Should Avoid” warns against Christians making this claim.

Note: A general editing overhaul was made of this post on 8/1/14.


[1] B. F. Batto, “Behemoth,” in the DDD (Netherlands: Brill, 1999), 166.