Friday, February 21, 2014

The Bodies of God and the Jewish Trinity

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

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

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

Phil Valentine Debunked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excuse me while I go stab myself with a fork.

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

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

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

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

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

What Johann Lorenz Mosheim actually said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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