Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Solid Heavenly Dome of Israelite Cosmology: A Response to Younker and Davidson

Most Semitists believe ancient Israelite religion believed the sky was a solid dome which retained a celestial ocean above it from flooding the earth--in parallel with the Mesopotamians and Egyptians. However, Younker and Davison's popular 2011 journal article, "The Myth of the Solid Heavenly Dome" challenges this consensus. In the following presentation, I present several disagreements I have with their work and lay out a brief case in favor of ancient belief in the solid heavenly dome.



Footnotes:
1] This illustration draws on the attempts of previous scholars, including Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis: the Heritage of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken Books, 1966), 5. Incorporating the iconography of Leviathan and the Seraphim is an idea I owe to Othmar Keel’s illustration in Altorientalische Miniaturkunst (Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1990), 15. Foremost of all, I have benefited from a graphic entitled, “Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe” produced by Karbel Multimedia for Logos Bible Software (2012), which has been recently published in the excellent NIV Faithlife Study Bible: Intriguing Insights to Inform your Faith, ed. Barry, Mangum, Brown and Heiser (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017). I have also fruitfully consulted an excellent survey of Hebrew cosmology by John R. Roberts, “Biblical Cosmology: The Implications for Bible Translation,” Journal of Translation 9.2 (2013), 1-53.

2] Randall W. Younker and Richard M. Davidson, “The Myth of the Solid Heavenly Dome: Another Look at the Hebrew רָקִיעַ RĀQIA,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 1 (Andrews University Press, 2011).

3] Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, Mesopotamian Civilizations 8 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1998), 262.

4] Andrew Steinmann, Proverbs: A Theological Exposition of Scripture, Concordia Commentary (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing, 2009), 211.

5] Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1-9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 284.

6] Greenwood (Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science [Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press], 153) draws our attention to this passage in Luther’s Works, Volume 1: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5, trans. George V. Schick, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1958), 26.

7] Ibid., Luther’s Works, 42-43.

8] James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigripha: Volume One Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1983), 665.

9] Younker and Davidson, “Myth of the Heavenly Dome,” 129

10] Sanhedrin 109a. Epstein, Hertz, and Simon, trans., The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nezikin. Sanhedrin II (London: Soncino, 1935), 748.

11] Wilfred Shuchat reproduces this and other similar passages in The Creation According to the Midrash Rabbah, ed. Raphael Posner (Jerusalem: Devora, 2002), 159.

12] My translation

13] J. Edward Wright, The Early History of Heaven (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 175.

14] R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudoepigrapha of the Old Testament, Volume Two, Biblical Apocrypha Series (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2004), 304.

15] Trans. Moshe Simon-Shoshan, “‘The Heavens Proclaim the Glory of God…’: A Study in Rabbinic Cosmology,” Bekhol Derakheka Daehu 20 (2008), 83.

16] Ibid.

17] Ibid., 72-3.

18] H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, eds., Midrash Rabbah: Complete in Ten Volumes. Translated into English with Notes (New York: Soncino Press, 1983), 105.

19] Simon-Shoshan “Heavens Proclaim,” 88.

20] Hymn to Aton from the period of Amenhotep IV. Quoted in Wright, Early History of Heaven, 11.

21] Ibid., 12. Originally from a hymn to Ra prefixed to the Book of the Dead.

22] Ibid., 12-13. Coffin Text §74 and 761.

23] James P. Allen, “The Celestial Realm,” in Ancient Egypt, ed. David P. Silverman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 114-15.

24] On the iconography of the Egyptian firmament see James K. Hoffmeier, “Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2,” 45. See Wright, The History of Heaven, 10. Also, James Atwell’s mention of it in “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” Journal of Theological Studies 51 (2000), 456.

25] Othmar Keel and Silvia Schroer, Creation: Biblical Theologies in the Context of the Ancient Near East, trans. Peter T. Daniels (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2015), 81-82.

26] According to Batto, “The temple is not just the earthly building in Sippar but also Shamash’s rests on ‘the heavenly ocean,’ symbolized by the wavy lines underneath (‘Apsu’).” Bernard F. Batto, In the Beginning: Essays on Creation Motifs in the Ancient Near East and the Bible, Siphrut 9 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013), 9. Slanski translates the epigraph as Sin, Shamas and Ishtar, “sit upon the face of the apsu.” Kathryn E. Slanski, “Classification, Historiography and Monumental Authority: the Babylonian Entitlement ‘narus (kudurrus)’” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 52 (2000), 110. I have elected to render her transliteration “apsu” as “heavenly ocean” in accordance with the translation given by the British Museum holding the artifact. Registration number 91000, www.britishmuseum.org/collection. British Museum, 2017. Accessed Jun 5, 2017.


27] “The world in the map is portrayed as a disc, and we can therefore assume that the world itself was generally visualised in the same way at the time the map originated.” Irving Finkel, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood (New York: Double Day, 2014), 263.

28] Jason Lisle, Taking Back Astronomy: The Heavens Declare Creation and Science Confirms It (Green Forest: Master Books, 2006), 28.

29] I’m indebted to the linguist Charles Loder for showing me the entry for the verb in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary 17.1. ed. Martha T. Roth et al. (Illinois: Oriental Institute, 1989), 20.
30] Younker and Davidson, “Myth of the Solid Heavenly Dome,” 146.

31] Wright, Early History of Heaven, 99. See also Ulla Koch-Westenholz’s comment in, Mesopotamian Astrology: An Introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination, The Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies 19, (Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press), 21.

32] Kevin Van Bladel, “Heavenly Cords and Prophetic Authority in the Quran and Its Late Antique Context,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 70.2 (2007), 225-46. www.jstor.org/stable/40379198.

33] Ibid., 225.

34] Efthymios Nicolaidis, Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of Globalization, trans. Susan Emanuel, (John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 2011), 27.

35] Edward Hamilton Gifford, trans., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, Volume VII Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wallace (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007), 52.

36] Younker and Davidson, “Myth of the Heavenly Dome,” 127.

37] Edward Adams, “Graeco-Roman and Ancient Jewish Cosmology,” in Cosmology and New Testament Theology ed. Johnathan T. Pennington (New York: T&T Clark, 2008), 7.

38] Paul Seely, “The Geographical Meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997), 235.

39] Simon-Shoshan, “the Heavens Proclaim,” 71

40] Michael S. Heiser, “Genesis and Creation: Old Testament Cosmology” YouTube video, 1:13:21, church lecture, posted by “HaibaneXIII” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSG2s17VooQ&t=2435s.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

10 Ways the Creation Museum Misinterprets the Bible

I've got a new video up:



Footnotes:

1] Ken Ham, “What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs,” in The New Answers Book 1: Over 25 Questions on Creation/Evolution and the Bible, ed. Ken Ham (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006), 159.

2] See Philippe Provençal, “Regarding the Noun שרף in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 29.3 (2005), 372.

3] David Bernat, “Biblical Wafs Beyond Song of Songs” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 28 (2008), 335.

4] John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 103; Nili Wazana, “Anzu and Ziz: Great Mythical Birds in the Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Rabbinic Traditions,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 31.1 (2009), 112.

5] B. F. Batto, “Behemoth” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD) ed. K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 165.

6] Robert D. Holmstedt, “The Relative Clause in Biblical Hebrew: A Linguistic Analysis,” (PhD diss, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2002), 124. These conclusions were later reported in Robert D. Holmstedt, “The Restrictive Syntax of Genesis i 1,” Vetus Testamentum 58 (2008), 56-67.

7] John Hobbins, Trans., “Genesis 1:1-3: How it all Began,” Ancient Hebrew Poetry, Apr, 2008. Accessed May 8, 2017, www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2008/04/genesis-11-3-ho.html.

8] W. G. Lambert, A. R. Millard, and Miguel Civil, eds., Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999), 43.

9] For example, see Hermann Gunkel, Genesis, trans. Mark E. Biddle. Mercer Library of Biblical Studies (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997), 1. Claus Westermann writes, “’When this and this was not yet…then…’, and its formula is found in Gen 2:4bff., it forms the introduction of the Enuma elish epic, and occurs often in Sumerian and Egyptian.” Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion S.J. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1984), 93. In a more recent doctoral thesis, Vail writes of the relative clause: “Genesis 1:1-2 shows parallels to Enuma elish. The two texts have similar introductory statements…Second, both texts contain uncreated waters.” Eric M. Vail, “Using ‘Chaos’ in Articulating the Relationship of God and Creation in God’s Creative Activity” (PhD diss., Marquette University, 2009), 104. Jack M. Sasson at Vanderbilt Divinity School also cites the similarity of Genesis 1’s syntax with Mesopotamian texts as part of the reason he believed the superiority of the dependent clause translation was “beyond dispute.” Sasson, “Time…to Begin,” 187-88. In regards to the Genesis parallels. Arnold affirms, “The syntax of 2:4b-7 is not unlike that of 1:1-3.” Bill T. Arnold, Genesis, New Cambridge Bible Commentary, ed. Ben Witherington III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 56.

10] The primary study here is Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, Mesopotamian Civilizations 8 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1998).

11] According to Batto, “The temple is not just the earthly building in Sippar but also Shamash’s rests on ‘the heavenly ocean,’ symbolized by the wavy lines underneath (‘Apsu’).” Bernard F. Batto, In the Beginning: Essays on Creation Motifs in the Ancient Near East and the Bible, Siphrut 9 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013), 9. Slanski translates the epigraph as Sin, Shamas and Ishtar, “sit upon the face of the apsu.” Kathryn E. Slanski, “Classification, Historiography and Monumental Authority: the Babylonian Entitlement ‘narus (kudurrus)’” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 52 (2000), 110. I have elected to render her transliteration “apsu” as “heavenly ocean” in accordance with the translation given by the British Museum holding the artifact. Registration number 91000, www.britishmuseum.org/collection. British Museum, 2017. Accessed Jun 5, 2017.

12] The translation “skies” here is supported by the use of the metallurgical and common cosmological verb tar-qia from which the noun raqia derives. See Nissim Amzallag, “Copper Metallurgy: A Hidden Fundament of the Theology of Ancient Israel?” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 27.2 (2013), 162, and John R. Roberts, “Biblical Cosmology: The Implications for Bible Translation” Journal of Translation 9.2 (2013), 41.

13] This interpretation is virtually universal. E.g.: Jeff Morrow, “Creation as Temple-Building and Work as Liturgy in Genesis 1-3” Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies 2.1 (2009); L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus (Leuven: Peeters, 2012), 84; Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 85; Moshe Weinfeld, “Sabbath, Temple and the Enthronement of the Lord - The Problem of the Sitz im Leben of Genesis 1:1-2:3,” in Mélanges bibliques et orientaux en l’honneur de M. Henri Cazelles, ed. Andre Caquot and Mathias Declor (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, 1981), 502. Smith likewise affirms this interpretation and refers to seven additional scholars, like Fishbane and Levenson, who have developed upon it. The Priestly Vision, 179. See also John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 78-85.

14] Variations of this chart can be found advocated among commentators like Bruce Waltke, Genesis, 57; Smith, The Priestly Vision, 89; Bernard W. Anderson, “A Stylistic Study of the Priestly Creation Story,” in Canon and Authority: Essays in Old Testament Religion and Theology, ed. George W. Coats and Burke Long (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 157; Clare Amos, The Book of Genesis, Epworth Commentaries (Peterborough: Epworth Press, 2004), 9; William P. Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 38; David Toshio Tsumura, Creation and Destruction: A Reappraisal of the Chaoskampf Theory in the Old Testament (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns), 34, or Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, 7.

15] Jeff Morrow, “Creation as Temple Building,” 1-13.

16] Kenton Sparks lays out this math in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters, ed. Charles Halton and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 120.

17] L. R. Bailey, “Biblical Math as Heilsgeschichte?,” in A Gift of God in Due Season: Essays on Scripture and Community in Honor of James A. Sanders, ed. R. D. Weis and D. M. Carr, JSOTSup 225 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996). http://drmsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Bailey-Biblical-Math-As-Heilsgeschichte.pdf.

18] Joshua John Van Ee, “Death and the Garden: An Examination of Original Immortality, Vegetarianism, and Animal Peace in the Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamia” (PhD diss., University of California, 2013).     
19] Daniel J. Stulac, “Hierarchy and Violence in Genesis 1:26-28: An Agrarian Solution,” Submission for Ecological Hermeneutics Open Section at SBL Annual Meeting 2013, 4, 6, www.academia.edu/5186990/Hierarchy_and_Violence_in_Genesis_1_26-28_An_Agrarian_Solution.

20] Robert Alter, The Five Books, 19.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Why the villain of Eden was a snake

I've got a new video on the youtube channel:



Footnotes:
[1] Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015), 87. See also, Michael S. Heiser, The Nachash (הנחש) and His Seed: Some Explanatory Notes on Why the “Serpent” in Genesis 3 Wasn’t a Serpent,” 1-7. Available at: http://www.pidradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/nachashnotes.pdf

[2] See T. N. D. Mettinger entry “Seraph” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD) ed. K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 743.

[3] Othmar Keel, Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst: Eine neue Deutung der Majestatsschilderungen in Jes, Ez 1 und 10 und Sach 4 (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1984), 102; 104; 109. See also William A. Ward, "The Four-Winged Serpent on Hebrew Seals," Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 43.2 (1968), 135-43.

[4] Benjamin Sommer, “Seraphs,” Bible Odyssey presented by The Society of Biblical Literature, Accessed May 8, 2017, www.Bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/seraphs.

[5] Ibid.

[6] As Mettinger, “Seraph” in DDD, 743. See also Lowell Handy, Among the Host of Heaven: The Syro-Palestinian Pantheon as Bureaucracy (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 155.

[7] Though contested, Joines notes that in the Adapa legend Ningishzida, the serpent-god, offers Adapa the food of immortality. The common Semitic root for serpent (hawwa) has also been linked with the same root for ‘life,’ and Eusebius reports that the Phoenicians and Egyptians associated the serpent with indefinite renewal (see K. R. Joines, “The Serpent in Gen 3,” in Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 87 [1975], 2). Lurker agrees that, “the snake, because it sloughs its skin, became a symbol of survival after death, as in Chapter 87 of the Book of the Dead” (Manfred Lurker, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt [Britain: Thames and Hudson,1980], 108). Even in modern times, we still use the caduceus, two serpents intertwined on a pole, as a symbol for healing (i.e. rejuvenation). The caduceus can be found in Semitic antecedents on Mesopotamian amulets and seals and was later inherited by the Greeks—a sympathetic magic tradition that Moses’ bronze seraph serpent seems to be participating in in Num 21 (see Leslie S. Wilson’s discussion of the origin and history of the caduceus in The Serpent Symbol in the Ancient Near East: Nahash and Asherah: Death Life and Healing [Lanham: University Press of America, 2001], 183-194).

[8] A. R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 723.

[9] Matthew Black and James C. VanderKam, trans., The Book of Enoch or I Enoch: A New English Edition with Commentary and Textual Notes (Leiden: Brill, 1985), 37. Note: The translators of this passage insert a parenthetical suggestion in the text that the serpents are seraphim. I have omitted this to avoid redundancy.

[10] See Testament of Amram, manuscript B, frag 1, line 14 in Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, trans., Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents Withheld for over 35 Years, (USA: Penguin Books, 1992).

[11] As Ronning agrees, “In both passages [Gen 3 and Isa 6], the serpents speak, and by their speech show knowledge of both human and divine affairs, as would be expected from those who are privy to the divine council.” John L. Ronning, “The Curse of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15) in Biblical theology and Hermeneutics,” (PhD diss. Westminster Seminary, 1997), 134.

[12] See the wealth of images collected in Keel’s appendix: Keel, Jahwe-Visionen, 102; 104; 109.

[13] This notion that seraphim were circumscribed by the term cherub is further supported by the fact that both the cherubim in Ezekiel and the seraphim in Isaiah possess a multiplicity of wings. Whereas Egyptian art attributes only two wings to serpent guardians, Judean art seems to have appropriated the copious number of wings common to cherubs and attributed them to seraphim. For iconographic examples, see Ward, “The Four-Winged Serpent.”

However, the degree of overlap between the cherubim and seraphim is contested, though I have been unable to find any detractors who sufficiently interact with the types of objections Heiser makes in order to fairly compare and contrast the arguments in this presentation. Heiser presents a brief summation of his reasons for dissenting starting at 36 mins into this lecture: youtube.com/watch?v=-W19X6TtgQ8. For an example of a scholar who argues against overlap between cherubim and seraphim, see Anna Rozonoer, “The Invariable Variability of the Cherubim” (PhD diss. Boston University, School of Theology, 2014). Available at: https://open.bu.edu/bitstream/handle/2144/15153/Rozonoer_bu_0017E_10667.pdf?sequence=1

[14] H. J. van Dijk, Ezekiel’s Prophecy on Tyre (Ez. 26,1-28,19): A New Approach, Biblica et orientalia 20 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1968), 113-115.

[15] Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 78.

[16] Ibid. See Heiser’s extended discussion in chapter ten of the Unseen Realm.

[17] Ronning, “The Curse of the Serpent,” 132.

[18] Ibid., 135.


[19] Bernard F. Batto, In the Beginning: Essays on creation Motifs in the Ancient Near East and the Bible, Siphrut 9 (Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, 2013), 47.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Old Testament Cosmology

I've been working on a project on ancient Near Eastern cosmic geography (which I can't say much about right now) and thought I'd share a diagram I've been working on. Of course, all of the features in ancient Israelite cosmology also have their counterparts in the texts and drawings of surrounding civilizations so the cited passages are just a small representation of our source material for reconstructing the ancient conception.


The geek stuff:
This illustration draws on the attempts of previous scholars, including Nahum Sarna, Understanding Genesis: the Heritage of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken Books, 1966), 5. Incorporating the iconography of Leviathan and the seraphim is an idea I owe to Othmar Keel’s illustration in Altorientalische Miniaturkunst (Mainz am Rhein: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1990), 15. Foremost of all, I have benefited from a graphic entitled “Ancient Hebrew Conception of the Universe” produced by Karbel Multimedia for Logos Bible Software (2012), which has been recently published in the excellent NIV Faithlife Study Bible: Intriguing Insights to Inform your Faith, ed. Barry, Mangum, Brown and Heiser (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017). An excellent survey orientation of Israelite cosmology among biblical linguists has been written by John R. Roberts, “Biblical Cosmology: The Implications for Bible Translation” Journal of Translation 9.2 (2013), 1-53.

On the heavenly serpents of ancient Israelite religion shown in the upper register of this illustration (the seraphim), s
ee Philippe Provençal, “Regarding the Noun שרף in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 29.3 (2005), 372; Othmar Keel, Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst: Eine neue Deutung der Majestatsschilderungen in Jes, Ez 1 und 10 und Sach 4 (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1984), 102, 104, 109; William A. Ward, "The Four-Winged Serpent on Hebrew Seals." Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 43.2 (1968), 135-43, and the T. N. D. Mettinger entry “Seraph” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible ed. K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 743.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Response to atheist Jaclyn Glenn on Jesus being a copy of pagan gods

I created this machine-gun-style refutation of some mythicist claims a while back. If anyone throws these ideas at you, the video may be a good source to link to them.



Original video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2kO7...

Citations:
1] Yamauchi sent me his article “Easter—Myth Hallucination, or History” elaborating on this. It can be accessed in digital format here: http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/e.... The portions in this video are quoted from him in a more recent interview by Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 168-169.
2] Leonard Patterson, Mithraism and Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921), 94, cited by Yamauchi in Strobel, 170. I was embarrassed after making this video, when I realized Patterson was writing in the 1920s. More recently, Bart Ehrman was asked about Freke and Gandy’s book which emphasizes Mithras worship and he responded: “This is an old argument, even though it shows up every 10 years or so. This current craze that Christianity was a mystery religion like these other mystery religions-the people who are saying this are almost always people who know nothing about the mystery religions; they've read a few popular books, but they're not scholars of mystery religions. The reality is, we know very little about mystery religions-the whole point of mystery religions is that they're secret! So I think it's crazy to build on ignorance in order to make a claim like this.” Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, "The Gospel According to Bart," Fortean Times (2007), 221.
3] Gary Lease, “Mithraism and Christianity: Borrowings and Transformations,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, vol. 2, ed. Wolfgang Haase (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 1316. Cited by Yamauchi in Strobel, 170. “After almost one hundred 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.”
4] Strobel, The Case for Jesus, 169.
5] “Mithras” in Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd Edition, vol. 9, Ed. Lindsay Jones (2005 Thompson Gale), 6091.
6] Manfred Clauss, Richard Gordon, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and his Mysteries, (New York: Routledge, 2000) 62-3. Quoted by Strobel 168.
7] Andrew McGowan, “How December 25th Became Christmas,” BiblicalArcheology.org (Feb 12th, 2015). Accessed, May 26th, 2016. Available at: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/da...
8] Quoted in Strobel, The Case for Jesus, 172.
9] Richard Gordon, Image and Value in the Greco-Roman World (Aldershot: Variorum, 1996), 96.
10] Godfrey Higgins, Anacalypsis: An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis; or, an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions, vol. 1, (London: Longman, 1836), 1836, 781.
11] “Salon’s Ridiculously Stupid Historical Jesus Article,” Remythologized, (March 2, 2015), http://benstanhope.blogspot.com/2015/....
12] Günter Wagner, Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1967), 260ff. I should add that Jaclyn is at least correct that Mithraists had communal meals. Most religions do.
13] Benjamin Walker, The Hindu World: An Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism, vol. 1 (New York: Praeger, 1983), 240-1. Cited by Michael Licona, “A Refutation of Acharya S’s book, The Christ Conspiracy,” (TruthQuest Publishers, 2001). Available at: http://www.risenjesus.com/a-refutatio....
14] Thompson relates this in his critique of the Zeitgeist film “Zeitgeist Debunked Part 3,” (Uploaded 2008), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh8cm....
15] Personal correspondence reported by Michael Licona, “A Refutation of Acharya S’s book, The Christ Conspiracy,” (TruthQuest Publishers, 2001). Available at: http://www.risenjesus.com/a-refutatio....
16] Link from Heiser’s website opens lecture PowerPoint: http://drmsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2.... Cf. Slide 19.
17] Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987),101. The Burkert quote is referring to the water receptacles in temples of Isis.
18] Carrier, in a Tapee3i interview which has been preserved here: http://godsnotwheregodsnot.blogspot.c....
19] Quoted by Daniel Moynihan, “’Zeigeist’ Online Movie: Part One Refuted,” (Preventing Truth Decay, 2007). http://www.preventingtruthdecay.org/c....

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Golden Sayings of Epictetus: A New Illustrated Translation

I recently published a new edition of The Golden Sayings of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. It's by far the best edition of the Golden Sayings in existence. (Hey, the only competition is over a century old!)

Epictetus is likely the most blunt of the Roman Stoics, and The Golden Sayings have had a major impact on my life. For a long time I wanted to be able to share the book with others. I looked around everywhere for a good edition I could give to friends, but there was a huge problem: Virtually all the editions of the text being circulated right now are so old they are major pain to read due to the archaisms. Also, I couldn’t find a single existing version of the book which includes the contextual footnotes which are necessary to understand much of the text.

Thanks to thinkers like Tim Ferris and Ryan Holiday, the internet has seen a revival of Stoicism, and especially Epictetus, so this new edition is sorely needed and ideal for someone wishing to engage with Epictetus for the first time. It includes:

  •          12 of my ink illustrations
  •          A fresh translation designed for accessibility
  •          An introductory essay on Stoicism and Epictetus
  •          Explanatory footnotes interfacing with leading Epictetus scholars
  •         18 selected fragments attributed to Epictetus


The book can be found here on Amazon.
















Some Sample Illustrations:















Thursday, July 21, 2016

No, Jeremiah 10 isn’t a Christmas Tree

I’ve been asked before to comment on the popular claim made by the Hebrew roots movement that Jeremiah 10:1-5 is about a Christmas tree.

I’ve translated the passage here:
1. Heed the word that the Lord speaks to you, house of Israel
2. The Lord says this about the way of the nations: Don’t learn them, and do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them.
3. For the religion of the people is a crock! Since one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman חרש with chisel.
4. They (lit.) beautify it in silver and in gold, with nails and hammers they fasten it so it will not move.
5. They are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak. They have to be carried, because they cannot walk. Don’t be afraid of them, for they cannot harm, nor is it in them to help you.
Why this passage isn’t about a Christmas tree: 

First off, does it really make any sense to criticize a Christmas tree for not being able to speak, walk, harm you or bring good on you? Those are all criticisms which would make sense if what Jeremiah is describing here were an ancient Near Eastern idol. In the ancient Near East, idols were created by craftsmen and given certain rituals which would invite a deity to incarnate them so worshipers could barter with the god on earth. In short, the reason this passage can’t be referring to a Christmas tree is the word translated “craftsman” חרש in the third verse. We have 35 occurrences of this word in the Bible. Don’t take my word for it, read them all here. The word invokes a sense of skilled artistry, specifically things like jewelers, carpenters and blacksmiths. The real nail in the coffin is that this exact same word is used in other passages like Isaiah 40:19, 20 and Deut. 27:15 to also describe skilled idol makers. Compare:

Isaiah (ESV):
An idol! A craftsman חרש casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman חרש to set up an idol that will not move.

Deuteronomy (ESV):
“Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman חרש, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.”

Jeremiah:
For the religion of the people is a crock! Since one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman חרש with chisel.

A rant I’ve ranted many times before:

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

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

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

Saturday, May 7, 2016

How to Learn the Ugaritic Alphabet Ludicrously Fast

Learning memory techniques before starting a language is bound to save you hundreds of hours and buckets of needless sweat. I'm going to illustrate this by showing how you can learn the Ugaritic alphabet. Cuneiform is such a homogeneous script that remembering it feels like doing differential equations while watching c-span, but the key here is to jettison all that nonsense your 3rd grade schoolmarm told you about "focusing" and start daydreaming like an idiot. Light speed is too slow. You want to go ludicrous speed. The following mnemonics can be printed and added to flashcards, but the best way to get them in useful resolution is to login to the free flashcard website Memrise where I've uploaded them to this course.
After an hour or so playing around with the app, you should be reading the basic words in the course. You'd be surprised how much of the vocabulary you'll remember from Hebrew.
-B

Monday, April 4, 2016

Geronimo’s Dragon: Dinosaur Fossils behind the Apache Creation Myth

Forget Chuck Norris. His ancestors
killed 20 foot dragons with bows.
It doesn’t look like anyone has written anything on this online or in any of the published material. One of my favorite audiobooks is the biography of the American Apache Indian Geronimo. The entire thing can be downloaded free on LibriVox.

After the Chiricahua finally conceded to the US government, Geronimo agreed to meet with a translator to publish his life biography. The biography opens with the Apache origins myth. He then tells stories of growing up as a Native American, fighting bears, mountain lions, and his countless battles with Mexican troops and the US Army.

The Dragon Legend

Relating the Apache origins myth, Geronimo tells about an evil dragon that would eat all the children of the first woman. For this reason, humanity could never flourish. The woman becomes so distraught that she hides one of her boys and has him raised in secret. When the boy became old enough to hunt he challenged the great dragon to a duel:
Then the dragon took his bow, which was made of a large pine tree. He took four arrows from his quiver; they were made of young pine tree saplings, and each arrow was twenty feet in length. He took deliberate aim, but just as the arrow left the bow the boy made a peculiar sound and leaped into the air. Immediately the arrow was shivered into a thousand splinters, and the boy was seen standing on the top of a bright rainbow over the spot where the dragon’s aim had been directed. Soon the rainbow was gone and the boy was standing on the ground again. Four times this was repeated, then the boy said, “Dragon, stand here; it is my time to shoot.” The dragon said, “All right; your little arrows cannot pierce my first coat of horn, and I have three other coats—shoot away.” The boy shot an arrow, striking the dragon just over the heart, and one coat of the great horny scales fell to the ground. The next shot another coat, and then another, and the dragon’s heart was exposed. Then the dragon trembled, but could not move…[The boy] sped the fourth arrow with true aim, and it pierced the dragon’s heart. With a tremendous roar the dragon rolled down the mountain side—down four precipices into a canyon below…[F]ar down in the canyon below, they could see fragments of the huge body of the dragon lying among the rocks, and the bones of this dragon may still be found there. This boy’s name was Apache.
There it is, more evidence that dragon and giant legends around the world are actually based in ancient people interpreting fossilized remains. This is a subject Adrienne Mayor (Stanford University) has written a really cool book on.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

No, 666 doesn’t spell out Allah

Have you seen this video which has been shared over 80,000 times on Facebook?  It features the starbucks cup guy yelling at us like an unfair caricature of an evangelical pastor in an NCIS episode about an apocalyptic cult. I have some formal schooling in Biblical languages, and it’s obvious to me that Josh can’t read a word of Arabic or Greek.  He’s repeating Walid Shoebat’s old spiel.

Why this theory stinks (scroll down beneath the explosion picture if you want the short version):

1) Josh’s symbols were made up and monkeyed with to make them appear similar:
In the video, Josh tells us the upper image says, “in the name of Allah” and that this "matches up--parallels perfectly" with the Greek for 666.
The first line of the Quran begins with the phrase “in the name of Allah.”  This is what it actually looks like in Arabic, as taken from Quran.com's digital text of Al Fatiha:

Creepy how much it "matches up" and "parallels perfectly," huh? As you can see, the preposition (that long line on the right) has been fudged around with and retained parallel. (Or is it a whip tied to a levitating sword cutting an apple, I'm not sure.)  The name Allah Josh shows has been flipped sideways and then inverted to look like the Greek letter Xi.  When I showed the image to my missionary friend who is fluent in Arabic he responded that it was “completely moronic.”

the insect anti-Christ
Josh seems to think Arabic is logographic like ancient Chinese or ancient Egyptian—that the sword icon actually says something.  Nein!  Arabic is a consonantal alphabet like Hebrew.  In other words, those crossed swords were just thrown in randomly to make this look sexy. But Ben, that middle character looks SOOOO similar.  Really? Since Arabic is stylistic cursive, you could turn all sorts of words sideways and invert them to make them look like the Greek letter Xi. That's just how Arabic do. I spent three minutes randomly typing words into google translate and here's the word for 'bug' to the right. It probably looks closer to a Greek Xi in some of the other manuscripts I'm about to show you...ooooohhhh spooky.

2) Did anyone bother to read Revelation?

The second problem for Josh’s theory is the text of Revelation itself. Revelation is concerned with the actual number here, not the shapes of the letters. The author tells us point-blank that the meaning of the symbol is to be "calculated" ψηφισάτω within gematria, not the shape of the handwriting.

The final nail in the coffin

3) Josh's manuscript is from the 15th century, and the original Greek script of Revelation looked different than the script Josh shows us:

Let’s flog this dead horse further. The Greek letters he shows are taken from Codex Vaticanus, a book composed in 350 AD. Its venerable ancientness is meant to impress you, as if Shoebat was led by Gandalf into the Minis Tirith library by flickering candle light and decoded the symbols on the back of a dollar bill to open a secret room. From the dust of forgotten centuries he exhumed this esoteric volume of early Christianity. Peering over his glasses he sagely eyes the symbols which whisper of a forgotten prophecy which is about to plunge him and Nicholas Cage in a high-speed car chase. Truth is Vaticanus didn’t originally contain Revelation. This text Josh is showing us was tacked on by a scribe in the 15th century. It is written in miniscule. A font that didn’t exist in the first century. It’s in a different paleographic style than the original autograph of Revelation could have contained or any other early manuscript does. That squiggly letter Xi would have been more angular.

Here it in the same verse in Codex Sinaiticus (Sinaiticus writes out the number rather than abbreviating it). Sinaiticus was composed around the same time as Vaticanus. Notice the Greek letter Xi doesn’t look much like what Josh needs it to.

The third letter sigma especially took a different form that looks identical to a ‘C’ (you can see it in the manuscript above); it looks nothing like what Josh needs it to. (If one of you suggest that maybe this is a crescent moon, I’m gunna bean you.)  Here is the same abbreviation in Papyrus 47:

Here is our oldest text of Revelation 13:18 (Papyrus 115). It actually says the number of the beast is 616, but I don’t want to get into all that right now. The point is that last letter sigma in this older manuscript also does not look like the idiomatic Vaticanus sigma but takes the form of a 'C.' (That straight line above the number is a marker of abbreviation in Greek, by the way.)

If you want a bird’s eye view, here’s a paleography chart to show Josh’s entire theory is dependent on a single idiomatic manuscript he pulled out of the 15th century for no reason:

I’m sorry my ranting about crusty things like manuscripts and first century paleography makes me sound like old man Wilson yelling at the kids to get off his lawn and probably isn’t as thrilling as Josh’s youtube video with a graphic of flaming 6’s. Please love me. I can make textual criticism cool. I can be cool. Here’s a picture of an explosion if it will hold over your attention span for one more paragraph, America:


For the TLDR crowd:

The author of Revelation tells us point-blank that the number “calculates” the meaning, not one shape in the middle of the number. 2) The Arabic image Feuerstein found on the internet was totally made up, flipped and inverted arbitrarily with some random swords thrown in for the express purpose of looking good—it could qualify for a circus contortionist act. 3) It’s easy to make things in Arabic look like a sideways Greek letter Xi because it’s a cursive script. And 4) the Greek only looks sorta like this made-up Arabic image if you are using a 15th century text written in a different style than the autograph of Revelation.

-B