Thursday, October 14, 2010

Myths and Illusions.

In Plato's 'Republic' there is this fascinating little section in which Plato (sorry, Socrates!) tells us a little 'myth' (μῦθος). The purpose of the myth is to give his ideal community an identity. Especially since he has just spent a decent amount of time correcting Homer and Hesiod's theology, because they tell lies about the gods. 

Now, the myth looks like this:

"You are, all of you in this community, brothers. but when god fashioned you, he added gold in the composition of those of you who are qualified to be rulers (which is why their prestige is greatest); he put silver in the Auxiliaries, and Iron and Bronze in the farmers and other workers. Now since you are all of the same stock, though your children will commonly resemble heir parents, occasionally a silver child will be born of gold parents, or a gold of silver and so on. Therefore the first and most important of the god's commandments to the Rulers is..." - Plato, Republic 415a - c (trans. Desmond Lee)
Anyway, you get the picture, he goes on to talk about how we must make sure everyone is doing what their identity demands. After telling this story he turns to his conversation partner and he says "That is the story (μῦθος). Do you know of any way of making them believe it?"

This is weird for Plato/Socrates to say this, he wants to replace the peoples theology with another one which is obviously contrived. It's kind of a civic myth, but how can this be allowed? Has Plato not just given us an illusion and asked us to accept it? How can this be acceptable, especially for Plato who believes in a reality which must be known (if you know the allegory of the cave, think that about that).

Furthermore, the word 'μῦθος' is actually quite layered. In Euripides play 'Medeia' the teacher talks about overhearing a conversation about Medeia's future in a bar and at the end he refers to that conversation by saying: "However if this tale (μῦθος) is true, I don't know."

So, a number of related questions to think about:
What is an accurate way to think about Plato's story, would it be permissible to do something similar today? and why or why not?

What is an adequate english word to translate the word 'μῦθος' one that does away with the connotations that are normally conjured up by our word 'myth'


And to give you some modern food for thought:
"And fact is only what you believe. And fact and fiction work as a team.

Its almost always fiction in the end.
The content begins to bend.
When context is never the same.
And its all relative
even if we don't understand.
And its all understood,
especially when we don't understand.
And its all just because,
even if we don't understand.
Then let's all just believe-I was reading a book." -Jack Johnson, It's all understood.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Introducing: The Daily Dale

Hello wonderful people.

Here is a new feature.

This feature is part of my own personal development and stuff. There are a number of rules.

The main one is that this will be my pre-coffee thoughts/feelings/words. So they will be funky. Maybe.

Another rule is that they will be short and will not use foreign languages. This is for the understandability of everyone.

I will probably make grammar errors. I will probably say stupid stuff. Don't hold it against me :(

But since I have already had 2 coffees today, this does not count. Instead I leave you with my rap.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Below is my first music video ever. Enjoy. Yes there is an understandable context for this video.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More on Greek and Medeia and Euripides and awesomeness

Previously I shared with you some observations on the word order that is available thanks to an inflected language. This time there will be an observation of how the word endings (morphemes remember) can add ambiguity to a text, which, in the context of Euripides 'Medeia' is awesome and so so clever.

So, here is the quote:

ἀλλ᾽ οἵδε παῖδες ἐκ τρόχων πεπαυμένοι
στείχουσι, μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἐννοούμενοι
κακῶν: νέα γὰρ φροντὶς οὐκ ἀλγεῖν φιλεῖ.

My translation: 
But these children, having stopped playing with hopes, are coming, not having in mind of the evils confronting their mother, for it is unexpected of the children to love to reflect sorrowfully. 

However there is an ambiguity in the Greek. This is the highlighted ending of μήτηρ. It is genitive, so a really natural translation is "the evils of Medeia", however we have no idea what are the evils of Medeia this early on in the play, so the sort of logical reading is a more objective (in the sense that Medeia is the 'object of evils') genitive, where it is more like the one above. But, not so fast, this is poetry after all. We should (and can) embrace the ambiguity, and perhaps try and allow for both. As we further read about these Medeia person, we begin to discover an unsavory character who goes on to kill her own children as a means to get back at her (ex)husband Jason. So, in some ways this ambiguity is foreshadowing the future evils, much like the earlier juxtapositioning of "νέον παλαιῷ" which got is to think about what are the older evils? Well, this ambiguity also invites us to ponder what could the 'evils of Medeia' be?

On another note, this ambiguity is annoying in other contexts, the bible for example (well particular Paul the apostle) uses this little phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ about eight times in his letters. What does it mean? Is it subjective or objective? (By the way, it is objective, people just like being contrarian). The difference is either 'Faith in Christ' (objective, i.e. Christ is the object of the faith) or 'Faith of Christ' (subjective, i.e. Christ is the subject of Faith and so its the faith of Christ). Your bible will translate it as 'in' most likely. Once again, they are right, and here are 100 reasons to think so. So there. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why inflected languages are the best thing ante-sliced bread.

Slightly different to normal, but here is a small ἀπολογία for inflected languages, and why reading something in it's original language is a fantastic thing. 

First, what is an inflected language? It is a language that relies on it's word endings to get across the person or tense of a verb, or number or gender of a noun (That is only an example, they do that and so much more in fact). We call these morphemes, they are the smallest parts of language with meaning, and basically all inflected languages use these on the end of words (sometimes the whole form of the word is changed, but for now we will stick with word endings) to tell you how to read them. The result is a flexible word order. I will give a small demonstration of this:

ἡ γυν πείθει τὸν ἄνθρωπον

This is in english word order and is translated 'the woman persuades the man'.

Now, lets mess it up a bit...

τὸν ἄνθρωπον πείθει ἡ γυνὴ


πείθει ἡ γυνὴ τὸν ἄνθρωπον

These all still mean the same thing grammatically. No change is made by the order of their place. Now see where I have highlighted the word endings? They are the key to unlocking a Greek sentence.

So, observe this small excerpt from Euripides 'Medeia

ἀπωλόμεσθ᾽ ἄρ᾽εἰ κακὸν προσοίσομεν

νέον παλαιῷ , πρὶν τόδ᾽ ἐξηντληκέναι.' (Medeia, lines 78-79)

Now the nurse (Τροφός) as just learnt that there is a rumour flying around that her mistress' kids and her mistress are to be exiled from Corinth. So she exclaims:

"We are destroyed, if this new evil is added to the older before this (older evil) has run its course" (My translation)

Now, that is all very well and good as a translation, and you have grasped the basic meaning of the nurse, and  her anguish. What you will miss though is some of Euripides juxtaposition of new and old. The word for new is νέος and is here put right up against the word for old which is παλαιός. They are in purple above in the Greek quote. Now, Euripides invites his readers to speculate about what is the former (we have been introduced to Medeia's current state of mind) and why it is so bad so as to be compared to being exiled. Euripides here uses simple word order to pack quite a fantastic amount of meaning.

There will be observations from the Medeia to come; some more fantastic linguistic observations which will further demonstrate the fantwhismicallness of the inflected language.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tragedy/comedy and the business of war.

Here is a link to a PDF of my latest effort in essay writing, give it a read! Anywho, thought it would be interesting, especially the last two paragraphs in which the role of gods are characterized in Aeschylus, then juxtaposed with Euripides. I found Euripides to be more realistic, but also quite challenging for various reasons, see what you think. Please have an opinion.

If you want eminently readable translations of the tragedies and the comedy involved then flick me an email and I can hook you up with some more pdf's.

(also, I have spent some time on the grammar and spelling, but if you notice anything then notify me; semi colons are still something I am trying to utilize properly.)

My professor called it "...a marvelously sympathetic and intelligent approach fostered by careful reading..." so it's good :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Primary Reality & Everyday Reality.

In this short series I am going to look at Ancient Philosophy in a quick and brief summary that is facilitated by a certain book. This is book is by Mark Strom and is called 'Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace & Community.'

A couple of preliminaries.

First, who us Mark Strom? Well he was the principle of Laidlaw college (formerly Bible College of New Zealand). He did his PhD in Sydney, and this book is a result of his studies there. He has also written two other books, one called the 'The Symphony of Scripture' and another one called 'Arts of the Wise Leader'. So, a well learned man who has cared enough to impart his wisdom to the next generation. Random students like me.

Another thing is that some of the conclusions that Strom reaches at the end of this book could cause some controversy. I hope it does. That way people will say something and then I don't feel like I am carrying on an extended conversation with my self in print. So, I may blog out some of his conclusions and the arguments he uses to reach those conclusions. But for now I am focused on just the first section of his book.

Also, this little series will be of value to those at Campus Church since we are finishing off our series on 1 Corinthians. This mini look at some of the ideas floating around that some of the Corinthians would have been flirting with or had been recently converted from will help you to see what Paul was writing against in his letter. 

Here is an Index for this:

Primary Reality & Everyday Reality.
1) From Homer to Plato
2) From Aristotle to Seneca
3) The Inadequacy of Ideals
4) Rank, Status and Convention

Let Anecdotes be Anathema.

The other day it was brought to my attention by someone that I don't write anecdotal stuff much. Although actually it was phrased quite differently and was not really an observation but simply a comment about something somewhat related. Still, it made me think about the fact that I do not write anecdotes here much. At all. Ever.

There are good reasons for this.
I don't enjoy it.
I don't have exciting stories that can be described in vivid detail, rather small episodes of life that happen in short bursts. If I were to write about them then there would be millions of one sentence blog posts, which is stupid and frustrating.
Anecdotes always have some exciting moral or some such thing that give them more memorability and also make the person who writes them look perceptive.

The last reason is one I can say more about. Because its the one that really stops me from doing them.

I never draw exciting morals or other things similar from my personal experiences. I would actually really hate to write an anecdote without one of those. It annoys me when I read them and they end with something like "isn't that funny?". It just makes it pointless. (Although in person those stories are actually hilarious. Maybe I just have my serious glasses on when I read stuff).

So, anyway, I thought about this for a while. I came to a conclusion. The conclusion is that the reason I don't ever draw such morals or whatever from my personal experiences is that I never think all the information is in. I would be hesitant to make any statements of value from an experience when another one could contradict it, or add more information. So, I never bother writing it down because there is no point.

huh, I guess that was kinda anecdotal.

Isn't that funny?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chapter Five: The Twelve

In Chapter Five Bauckham turns his attention to the twelve disciples of Jesus. Why should we care about the Disciples? Bauckham gives us two reasons. One is related to his contention about Oral history (see chapter two) and the other is also related to his general argument that the gospels are indeed eyewitness testimony.

His first contention is that the twelve were responsible for the general shape in which the oral history of the gospels was passed on from them and the other eyewitnesses too. They therefore get bestowed with the title of "An Authoritative Collegium" in Jerusalem during the formative years of the early church up till the writing of the gospels and the destruction of Jerusalem. Once again Bauckham engages the form critics who have proposed that the twelve are actually a later invention. This idea however has been discredited according to Bauckham, especially by the recent development (recent in historiography terms is usually floating in the 2 to 3 decades realm) of the attempts to place Jesus in a fairly Jewish context. In this Context it makes the most sense to have a following twelve disciples since that would be a part of how Jesus would communicate his idea that the Old Testament was coming to fulfillment in him. So the twelve would have been seen as the authoritative body of believers in charge of the traditions after Jesus' ascension.

Bauckham sees confirmation of this in the lists of the disciples that are contained with the gospels. In particular he looks to the book of Matthew and informs us of two different lists, one is of Jesus' descendants and the other is of the twelve. Here he quotes another scholar:

Unlike a genealogy in which the names outline a pre-history , a list of students indicates a post-history. In our gospel the genealogy in 1:2-17 shows Jesus' pre-history to lie in Israel, in Abraham's descendants, while the list of disciples in chapter 10 shows his post-history to be in the church which has Peter as its head.   -W.D. Davies & Dale C. Allison, A Critical and exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol.  2 p.150 

The point here is to show that the gospels themselves present the twelve as the authoritative group in the early church environment in which Matthew's Gospel was written.

However now Bauckham encounters a problem. What of the other gospels lists of the twelve? How do they remember them (especially Mark, since his is the earliest) and are they conflicting in their recollection of who the twelve were? Obviously these questions could put a large hole in Bauckhams overall thesis were he to not answer them satisfactorily.

Peter is always first and Judas Iscariot is always last, so the first part (regarding the ordering) seems to be fine. However, there is one interesting difference in the names. Mark and Matthew have a certain Thaddaeus and Luke and Acts have Judas son of James (note, not 'Iscariot'). How does he sort this out? Well thanks to the last two chapters in which he analyzed multiple different ways in which peoples names were remembered and recorded. Here he says that Thaddaeus is Judas' Greek name, in order to help distinguish him from the more well known Judas Iscariot. He then goes through all the other methods and talks about each of the disciples various names.

Finally he has a discussion of Levi and Matthew and whether or not they are the same disciple, he argues that they are not and has a small and interesting discussion of the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

C.S. Lewis provides a laugh, as always.

Here is C.S. Lewis on the historical critiques of some of the more liberal theologians of the last century (a la, Bultmann) You can find it in his essay"Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism".

 All theology of the liberal type involves at some point - and often involves throughout - the claim that the real behavior and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars. Now long before I became interested in theology I had met this kind of theory elsewhere. The tradition of Jowett still dominated the study of ancient philosophy when I was reading Greats. One was brought up to believer that the real meaning of Plato had been misunderstood by Aristotle and wildly travestied by the neo-Platonists, only to be recovered by the moderns. When recovered, it turned out (most fortunately) that Plato had really all along been an English Hegelian, rather like T.H. Green.

I will write more one day. When I am less busy analyzing Calvinism after Calvin.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Ontological argument.

The Ontological argument, the ultimate argument if you want to fry your friends noodle. A couple of disclaimers before we go any further... I do not think this argument *works* (whatever that means) I do however quite enjoy it and wish I could understand it even better. So, fly with me into this elaborate, wordy and complicated argument that relies entirely on logic.

So, without further ado lets see what this argument actually is.

Anslem discusses psalm 14:1: 'The fool says in his heart there is no God..." and then he proceeds to give a reason as to why the person who says there is no God is a fool...

Basically it goes like this: Anselm first defines God as 'the being than which no greater being can be conceived.' So the fool says 'yes'. Now Anselm says that he is a fool because Anselm seems to think that the very idea of God entails existence. Because, after all, it's better to exist than to not exist. Therefore if God exists in the fools mind than any God which exists in reality is greater than the being conceived in the fool's mind.  This is why the fool is a fool, because he is contradicting himself by saying God does not exist while at the same time affirming his existence by conceiving of him in order to make that sentence.

So, imagine talking to your friend at a party and doing this! It would be great to see their reaction, but most people think it is a word trick. And we will get to that some time in a future post.

For now, enjoy this cartoon:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chapter Four: Palestinian Jewish Names.

In Chapter Four we have a fairly quick chapter about the amount of times Palestinian Jewish names appear in the NT in comparison with their general frequency in 1st Century Palestine. Here there are many more tables (and at the bottom of this post is a photo of on of the many lists of names with frequencies etc. beside them in his book).

Why do we care about this? Well, if you recall the one reservation or potential argument I posed at the end of my last post, then you will understand. Here is the question: what if the names in Mark are later additions? then that would render the arguments in chapter 3 useless.

So, we have a massive analysis of ALL the Palestinian Jewish names that were around at this time as recorded on ossuaries, in Josephus etc. (some 2953 people with names). How does this defend the authenticity of the names in the gospel? Well, his argument is basically that the amount of times certain names appear in the area is about the same percentage as they turn up in the New Testament. Here they are:

In Palestine 15.6% of the people had the most popular names for men, those being Simon and Joseph. Compare this with the amount of times those names appear in the Gospels and Acts: 18.2% Then the top nine most popular names in Palestine have a percentage of 41.5% while in the Gospels and Acts its about 40.3%. Then the least popular names (only occurring once in our sources) have a percentage of 7.9% in Palestine, while in the Gospels and Acts it's 3.9%

Now for the Woman: 28.6% of woman in Palestine had the two most popular names: Mary and Salome, while in the Gospels and Acts its 38.9%. Then the nine most popular names have a percentage of 49.7% while in the Gospels and Acts its 61.1%, finally the least popular are 9.6% and 2.5 % respectively.

So, it is very unlikely that later 2nd Century AD scribes or even the original writers could have made up names that are so close to the frequencies we see throughout the area. The larger discrepancies in the woman's numbers are to be expected given the scarcity of there names mentioned in sources (they often can be referred to simply as 'the wife of...' without their name.)

He then has a bunch or random information that does not advance his argument much, I am guessing that he waxes lyrical here because it must have been so time consuming to process this much information, and he may as well have more to show for it then just one defensive argument. As an aside, one interesting thing I learned was that one way in which the Gospel's (and other sources) tell apart people's names is to give them a patronymic substitute. What does this odd phrase mean? well it has do with the persons father (Pater = father in Greek) and then it has to do with the hebrew way of saying 'son of' which is 'bar' so you may have hear 'Yeshua ben Yoseph' i.e. Jesus son of Joseph. Well a patronymic substitute takes away the first name and amalgamates 'ben' and the fathers name, which gets turned in greek into 'bar' so Bartimaeus means Bar = son of, Timaeus = father's name! So all those names like that are actually nicknames! crazy. Plus, on a personal note, if I ever do Post-grad work, I never want to have to go through this kind of information: (Click for a blown up image)

Logical Positivism and its ugly past.

Today I want to share with you something that is fairly interesting, fairly funny and also kinda sad (in an amusing way).

First, lets start off with this ripper from prominent Atheist author and spokesperson, Christopher Hitchens:
"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."
Thats from his article on Mother Theresa which can be found here.

Now, lets turn to the topic at hand. With the success of the scientific method and humanities new found ability to discover the truth apart from God, we decided, heck, lets just do away with God entirely. Enter: Logical Positivism. Logical Positivism was a movement in the first half of the 20th Century that was lead by philosophers such as A.J. Ayer. Basically it was the idea that no hypothesis can be treated seriously if it does not have some empirical evidence entered into the equation somewhere, and also, more importantly it has to be directly related to the object of the hypothesis. (I hope that makes sense).

The effect of this was to be devastating for theistic belief among philosophers. It was not that God had been disproved, but that the statement "God exists" became completely meaningless. It was unverifiable, therefore one could not say anything about it. It was a bit like making this statement "aglup mart unadapop". Thats basically what it amounts to.

However, by the 1960's it was undermined by the realization that the statement 'everything must be verified by empirical evidence' is itself a meaningless statement. So the whole world view became horribly self refuting. So, if we return to Christopher's aforementioned quote, well I would like to deny it because I have no evidence to suggest that its true, thank you very much.

But, I have noticed that among many of my peers this idea lives on... most frequently repackaged as the so-called 'law of falsification' the idea that if a hypothesis is non falsifiable then we can dismiss it. (In this case the falsifiability has to come in the form  of empirical evidence usually), and also, if one were to take this as an axiom of their world view, then they could hold no other axioms and technically their only axiom would be self refuting. (We cant falsify the 'law of falsifiability'). This leaves me in the humorous position of discovering an argument that was refuted 40 years before I was born being told to me by someone who considers me illogical and stupid, and himself to be the very paradigm of rationality and critical thinking!

So, before I go, I want to leave you with this little video of Bill Craig humiliating Peter Atkins.


So, next time you come across this argument, don't make a pithy argument based on the fact that we cannot see the wind, instead expose the foolishness of the unbelieving worldview!

(Gosh, that sounded a lot more cavalier than "So put that in your pipe and smoke it.")

Chapter Three: Names in the Gospel traditions. (Or, whats in a name?)

In chapter three Bauckham starts to make good on one of the explanations that his thesis requires... that is that there should be some evidence of eyewitness testimony within the Gospel's themselves. If we can find none, then it might possibly nail the coffin down on Bauckham's thesis, especially if we were instead to see evidence of oral tradition, and not oral history (for the difference see my review of chapter 2).

So, Bauckham starts of by remarking that there is a phenomenon in the Gospel's that he has not seen satisfactorily explained. This phenomenon is names. Why are names a phenomenon in the Gospels? Well, the main reason is that when we look at the names in the canonical gospel's (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) we see that there are both named and un-named people. Why is this the case?

Finally we see Bauckham tackle the form critics arguments head on. Here he takes on one of the preeminent form critics of the 20th Century. Rudolf Bultmann. Rudolf argued that the names were evidence of oral tradition, as people would like to give names to people that were previously unknown. So, as we read the gospels in the chronological order in which they were written, we would expect the number of named characters to increase across them.

However, we do not find this, and after a series of complicated arguments that would take forever to summarize here, he calls Bultmann's hypothesis 'Preposterous' (although he hides his own judgement behind the veil of a quote by one Joseph Fitzmyer). He then notes another theory which states the exact opposite tendency, that of names disappearing as time wears on, and more people becoming unknown. Then, upon looking at the gospels we see this very tendency, we do not see names appearing (in the synoptics there is not a single example of a previously un-named character becoming named in either Matthew or Luke), but we do see names disappearing.

Why is this an interesting phenomenon? Well, the most widely accepted theory regarding the compiling of Matthew and Luke is that they are copying Mark when they can. So when we see Mark, Luke & Matthew agreeing, that is evidence of them copying Mark (this theory is known as 'Markan priority'). But, if names are disappearing, when they in fact have the source of Mark there with the names written, then we have an an odd puzzle to solve.

At the end of this chapter Richard has a load of tables with all the names listed in them and where they appear. Here I will give you an example of this random disappearing of names:

First go to Mark 5:22 and note that there is a man named Jairus. Now, turn to Matthew 9:18 and note the same story but Jairus is now just a 'ruler'. Luke mentions Jairus in Luke 8:41.

Now for another even more thorough example:
Mark 10:46 and we have Blind Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus. Now turn to Matthew 20:30 where we have two blind men whilst Jesus is leaving Jericho. Neither are named. Now turn to Luke 18:35 where we meet this blind man at Jericho who is nameless.

So, how can we account for this interesting lack of names? Bauckham thinks this is evidence of eyewitness testimony. Why? well, in brief, his argument goes that, since Mark is the first gospel written, he was talking to these eyewitnesses. (I.e. Bartimaeus.) And he included their names since they were important members of the early Christian community, this is so that the Christian community who heard this story when hearing Mark's gospel read out, could go and check the facts or hear the story from Bartimaeus himself. However, by the time of Matthew and Luke they may have been dead or not a part of the community in which this gospels were written, so using their names would be irrelevant to them, since nobody that heard their gospel's could check with the people anyway.

Bauckham then gives a few more interesting case studies involving the woman at the cross and the empty tomb, which he examines in some detail (and it also gives me an idea for a future post series...) and he also looks at simon of Cyrene and his sons. Finally he looks at the rare case of 'recipients of miracles' and how they are treated across the gospels.

He then finishes off this very convincing chapter by adding a qualification about Mark's gospel as it were. Here he says that vivid detail in and of itself is not indicative of eye witness testimony, but could just be evidence of the author's artistic flair, and in fact if no flair is detected, then that is also not indicative of mere oral tradition, instead it has nothing whatsoever to do with the debate Bauckham claims, and he then mentions he will deal with this more fully in chapter 13.

Any objections?

This chapter to me was super convincing. I, with my limited knowledge, could not begin to form an argument against it. However, it would be interesting to see what date these manuscripts are found at exactly, and when are the earliest dates known of the names of say Jairus or Bartimaeus. Perhaps one could pull an argument that says, no, the names are going the other way, Marks gospel has been tampered with and the names are being added in later by some scribe. They could then back this up with an argument that Bauckham mentions on pg 44 (note: this is not an argument in use today, but it could be potentially used) where he states that it was common practice for Jews to add names to characters in their scriptures which were not previously named and he gives an example from pseudo-Philo's book Biblical antiquities in which Cain's wife is given a name and so is Jephthah's daughter. However, Richard assures us that the evidence suggests this did not happen. I would like to see more development in this area. So, if an early manuscript of mark was found which leaves say, Bartimaeus unnamed, then that would effectively sink this hypothesis.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Theodicy... FAIL!

In my earlier post I mentioned that I found none of the traditional theodicies very compelling, and in fact I called them 'weak', as in they had little persuasive power to non-Christians also. I figured, that as a result of making such a claim, I should tell people why I find them un-compelling and then maybe give someone a chance to defend them also. So, to that end I will examine the theodicies that are out there and give reasons as to why I find them unconvincing.

First up is one that often floats around on emails for some obscure reason. I think its the worst answer, and in some ways the most belittling of the whole problem.

The solution, according to this defense, is that evil does not 'exist'. Essentially, the claim is that evil is not actually 'something' its merely the absence of goodness. Much like darkness is merely the absence of light. It, by itself has no intrinsic properties and does not properly belong in a list of things that have 'existence'.

Therefore, this defense states, God has nothing to do with evil, he did not create it and so how can we blame him for that which he could create, since, after all it non-existent things cannot be 'created'. Evil, in this view is an 'illusion'.

Now, the first reason I find it to be severely lacking, is that it does not take evil very seriously, and seems to really be a play on words.  When we speak of 'Illusion' we usually mean fake and contrived. However, when the person who is proposing that evil is an 'illusion' he is meaning it does not have the properties of existence, not that it is contrived or a 'fake'. Then, on closer inspection, we discover that this 'illusion' of evil is actually fairly malicious, most magic tricks do not have such cosmic consequences or are so universally feared, as those things/people/events that we consider evil. Even if we decide that evil indeed is not something metaphysically classifiable, it is still an 'illusion' that causes great pain and anguish to people all the time, and as such I see no good reason to see this as an appropriate response to the problem. I see no good reason for why God should permit an 'illusion' to exist anyway so it does not even remotely respond to the problem.

Chapter Two: Papias on the eyewitnesses

Now that we understand where Richard Bauckham is coming from, we delve into his argument.

His first and most vital person (he comes up in most chapters of this book) to his argument is the early church priest of Hierapolis. Papias. He wrote a book, which we don't have in any full sense anymore. However, he is quoted by another church father named Eusebius (and by others too, we will get there a bit later).

Richard tells us that in the past Papias' testimony was heavily discussed but is now almost universally dismissed by biblical scholars. He sketches out two reasons why they have done this.
1) Eusebius treats Papias with scorn and disagrees with him on the writing of various gospels.
2) If scholars were to take him seriously he would challenge the form critics view of the formation of the gospels.
Now we can see Richard going against the grain. He argues we should not adopt Eusebius' attitude, and obviously point no. 2 is just prejudice as Richard sees it, and needs no argument put against it.

Why should we not adopt Eusebius' attitude? Because, he argues, Papias is in a better situation to know what is happening, this is because his city lies on the road between Ephesus and Antioch and he therefore hears a lot of the testimonies of people as they pass through.

Now he builds on this argument by showing us the opening quote to Papias' book that Eusebius quotes. Here it is:

"I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you [singular 'you'] everything I learned carefully in the past from elders and noted down well, for the truth of which i vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else's commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on (παρηκολουθηκως τισ) the elders should come my way, I enquired about the words of the elders - [that is,] what [according to the elders ] Andrew or Peter said (ειπεν), or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord's disciples, were saying (λεγουσιν). For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice. "
   -( Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4)

He then describes the four different groups of people who Papias is referring to.
1)Those who had 'been in attendance' to the elders. This group's placing in history hinges on the translation of the words 'παρηκολουθηκως τισ' which Richard thinks mean an active kind of following, and not 'to have followed while alive and now to be the followers'. This means, that when Papias heard these followers, they were telling him words that the elders, who were still alive, were saying.
2)The elders. These elders are the various Asiatic wise teachers who are leaders of the churches in their various Asiatic cities. (note: Asia in the ancient world refers to what would today be called Asia minor and the middle east). Papias, being in Heiropolis did not get the opportunity to learn from them, but being on the crossroads between two major Asian cities, he would often have met the followers in category (1)
3)the twelve disciples (he only lists 7, this is because 7 is 'completeness' and therefore stand in for the 12) we understand them to be dead at this exact point when Papias is writing. Why? 'ειπεν' is the strong aorist of λεγω meaning 'I say'. Strong aorist is a completed action that is no longer happening. So they are no longer speaking.
4)Aristion and John the elder. These are also the Lord's disciples but they are not part of the 12. They were also still alive when Papias was doing this info gathering work (note: not necessarily when he was writing it down). Why do we think they were alive at this time? 'λεγουσιν' this the 3rd person plural (i.e. 'they') form of 'λεγω' which is a present verb. So they are still speaking at this time, unlike the 12.

This is all very significant for how we view the way on which the gospels were compiled, if Richard's ideas are right, then they are the witness of disciples and their followers (the elders) who would have made sure that they were kept pure. (Insert here a complicated argument that the gospels are written by Jews with the exception of Luke's who is regarded as a 'God-fearer' like the Roman centurion in Acts chapter 10, and how they have a strong historic tradition, and would not feel the need to 'mythologize' their saviour).

Also, we start to see shadows of Richard's thesis that John is written by an eyewitness of Jesus. (this John the elder).

Richard then moves on to discuss another part of the above quote, in particular this part:

"For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice. "
Here he discusses what Papias actually meant by this phrase that seems so odd to us modern people who use library's and almost exclusively rely on books for reliable information.

First he reminds us of Samuel Byrskog's book that gave the thesis that all history in the ancient world was done under the presupposition that good history was only done within living memory. He then had applied this to the gospel's. However, a criticism of this was that Byrskog gave no reason to suppose that this could be the case in Palestine too. 

Here, however, Richard provides that argument in the form of Papias' testimony. He was obviously aware of what 'good' historical practice was, and here Richard gives a number or arguments that draw on many Roman authors who use the same Greek words to describe good historical practice.

He mentions in particular a certain man named 'Polybius'. Polybius was a Greek historian writing in the 1st C. BC, he wrote a scathing critique of a certain historian named Timaeus who had exclusively used written records to write his own book of history. He makes much mention of eyewitnesses (αυτοπτης) as the ideal standard for historical research, and not trusting written scripts because they are not eyewitnesses. I will now draw attention to the fact that this is also how Luke opens his gospel:
"...ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ' αὐτὸπται καὶ ὑπηέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου..."
-Luke 1:2b

So, one can see that it was taken seriously by whoever compiled Luke and also by Papias, which adds credibility to Luke's account, which was written prior to Papias' book. There are also many other arguments that Richard poses, which I will allow you to read for yourself... but some of them are amazingly persuasive. This therefore builds quite a successful case so far for the idea that this idea of good history was seen as the ideal in 1st Century Palestine, and that history was only to be written within living memory of eyewitnesses of these events.

Finally, Richard turns his guns once again on the form critics and charging them with grossly misunderstanding Papias. First he notes that many of the form critics take the above quote of Papias to mean that he preferred Oral tradition to writing... so therefore would not have been immediately keen on the gospels, but this misses the point. Bauckham quickly notes that the only reason we know this is because Papias wrote this information down also. Also, he points out that Papias is talking about collecting his own information at an earlier time than when this was written, so this could be as early as 90 AD, when the gospels were still starting to get out and the gospel of John was not yet written.

Then he draws a distinction between oral tradition and oral history.
1) Oral tradition:
A collective process that takes place within a community as they do traditions (like the last supper) and continually reenact them and tell the stories etc. Richard stresses that in Oral tradition nobody is the primary 'owner' of the information.
2) Oral history:
Where people pass on information in highly specified lines, where one person has 'ownership' (usually an eyewitness) of said information, and when he dies it probably will become Oral tradition fairly soon after.

Richard then makes the claim that the people compiling the gospels would have preferred to go to the eye witnesses (or the owners of the information) over the oral traditions (Which were definitely happening at the same time, but were being guided by specific eye witnesses). He then notes that this hypothesis has some strong explanatory power... this being the names mentioned in the gospels, therefore it makes a prediction that we can use to help test this hypothesis.

Finally he draws our attention to the fact that the greek word for tradition (παραδοσις) is used by various 1st century authors as identical to eyewitness accounts and first hand evidence. He sites Josephus' use of the word, who uses it when he describes his experience with the Roman generals during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Bauckham does this so that when we see the word 'tradition' in say Paul's letters, we will not jump to the conclusion that this is oral tradition, when it could very well be oral history.

Some criticisms:

I wish Richard would interact with other scholar's opinions more. Often he makes a quick statement and does not give much in the way of argument to back it up, nor tells us why other scholars disagree with him. For example he asserts, when discussing how the 2nd Century church fathers discuss methods of retaining history, that there is " reason simply to assume that second-century writers got it wrong." And then continues on to accuse the form critics of being to ideological (which may well be true, but as of yet he has not shown us why.) He does not give us any real reasons why people think Irenaeus got the method of Oral history confused with Oral tradition... and why they prefer to think of it as oral tradition. He does interact a little bit with J.D. Dunn in his footnotes, but it is not very substantial.

Now for some reverse criticisms. I have seen some reviews which have tried to pull the carpet out from underneath Richard's feet, so to speak. What they have done is say that we cannot trust Papias' testimony because Eusebius did not, and in fact accused him of making up things. However, I think they are missing the point of Bauckham's argument at this point, he is not arguing that Papias is reliable, but that he has captured the style of history writing that Byrskog showed was prominent in the Ancient world, and therefore lends credibility to the idea that the evangelists would have wanted to use eyewitnesses or 'Oral history' or else they would not have tried to write them.

Introducing: The Christ Files.

Here is an excellent resource for all those interested in understanding the study of the historical Jesus. There is both a book and a dvd, I recommend the dvd as it can be showed to a crowd and has other fantastic features on it too.

Anyway, this resource was created by ancient historian, Dr John P. Dickson, an Australian who is a senior research fellow at Macquarie University and the director of the 'Centre for Public Christianity' which is an Australian research and media organization that seeks to promote the public understanding of Christianity as defined in the Nicene Creed.

So, what is it exactly? Well, its an attempt to show the world how historians actually look at the figure of Jesus. There are two important qualifications to make about it first.
1)Its not strictly apologetic. No claims are made throughout the whole dvd (I have not read the book) that would be controversial as it where.
2)All the scholars who are interviewed are Christians of various breeds and a couple of Jews.

These are important for Christians to understand as this dvd is not meant to persuade anyone of anything, more they are just getting the normal, scholarly lowdown on Jesus. What it will do is disabuse people of the notion that Jesus never existed and that the gospels are hopelessly biased and written to late to be of any value.

So, how does it work? Well, Dr. Dickson takes the viewer through the various manuscript evidence for the existence of Jesus, starting way out with the gnostic gospels and slowly moving closer until you are dealing with the gospels and the hidden sources within them. It is structured as a series of interviews with brief summing up points along the way. The Interviewees are all professors in universities who have studied the areas in which they are interviewed, and they are conducted in a very free way so that the answers are long and deep (and sometimes hidden beneath thick Jewish accents).

As i said earlier, this is not really apologetic, Dr. Dickson is careful not to go beyond the evidence. The aim is much more to show the world that no, Jesus did not marry Mary, there is no evidence of that, and that no, he was not part of some secret order. Basically its a way to clearly explain to the world what is really happening in Jesus scholarship, as opposed to just fantastic stories one is likely to hear in public books (i.e. the Da Vinci code etc).

Also, with the dvd you also get extended interviews with the scholars that are interviewed (the ones in the documentary tend to be cut down just to get the main points) and these interviews are long. Up to an hour long. They are full of goodness and food for thought, I highly recommend the interview with German Scholar Martin Hengel. He died in July last year, which was incredibly sad, but he was old. He is often considered a pioneer of biblical studies and one of the leading lights of biblical studies of the last century. Also there is a good interview with Richard Bauckham on there too.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Lets do the groundwork first. What is the 'problem of evil'? Here is the form it is often put in:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

-Epicurus C. 300 BC

Now, is there a problem here? well generally the answer is no. There is no 'problem' here. Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga wrote a book called 'God, Freedom and Evil' here he proposed the 'free will defense'. Most philosophers have regarded this as a success (an unusual occurrence in philosophy) and since then nobody has thought that evil and God are two inconsistent things to exist.

However, that was not the end of Epicurus' old dilemma. We now have evidential problems of evil, these seek not to show that the existence of God and evil are inconsistent, but that they are unlikely to co-exist as it were.

This illustration helps me to understand the difference:

Imagine me and a friend are on a boat out on the water, and we are looking at a specific body of water. I make the claim that there are dolphins in there. My friend responds:
"No, that is impossible, since there is no dolphin food in this body or water, and in fact they dislike the plants that grow here."
I respond:
"well, actually its not impossible (insert here the 'shmee will defence' for dolphins)... so, you see there could very well be dolphins here."
My friend then responds"
"Fine, that seems to work out, however it is very unlikely that there are dolphins here, and further more, if there is indeed a dolphin or two in here, then they are idiots."

So you see the difference.

Traditionally Christians have here offered a theodicy. Theodicy comes from two greek words: Θεος meaning 'God' and δικη meaning 'justice'. Essentially it as an attempt to 'justify God' in the face of Evil.

I now want to differentiate what I will call a 'strong' theodicy and a 'weak' theodicy. A strong theodicy would be one which a non-Christian could understand and say "o yeah, I don't think evil in the world is a valid reason to not believe in God' while a weak theodicy would be one that is likely to only satisfy Christians, and a non-Christian is more likely to find unsatisfactory for whatever reason.

I cannot think of a single strong theodicy. The various ones out there, the free will theodicy (distinct from the free will defense) does not account well for natural evil, the soul-building theodicy seems to me to be less than satisfactory for the reason that I would rather be immature and not suffer some evil, and also seems to imply that God is unable to bring us to maturity without suffering, there are many others which all seem to me to only answer half the problem and do not really flow that well from the bible anyway.

The main part in which the issue with Evil comes up in the bible is in the book of Job. And Job does not get a theodicy either, here is God's answer: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? ... Have you commanded the morning since your days began? ... can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? ... Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it." -Job chapter 38-40:2 (ESV)

To which Job's answer is short: "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth." -Job 40:4 (ESV)

So yeah, its not a theodicy really.

I think that we as Christians have really failed to grasp this, I am not saying there is no place for a theodicy... but I am pointing out that God felt no need to justify himself in front of Job... however, what does this mean for us?

Should we exclaim to the skeptic who our God is? Should we proclaim his wonders? should we ask them if they can hold the Pleiades in their hand, and if they set the tides of the mighty ocean?

I humbly suggest we do not. This will get us precisely no where, and I think we as Christians have often turned this into an all too intellectual exercise (perhaps this blog post is evidence of this). We may have forgotten that the problem of evil is not out there somewhere, but more often than not its actually the problem of parents being bitterly divorced, its the problem of friends dying in car crashes, its the problem of a child born blind or with autism, its the problem with 150,000 dead in Haiti or the 6 million who did in camps like Auschwitz and then that some people even have the gall to suggest it never happened. All to often we like to think that we can answer this objection by invoking free will and waving our hand in the air as if it was never a problem.

That would not fly with me, and it definitely will not fly with a mother with a blind child or the person who lost his/her friend/spouse in a car accident when they were driving home from a movie.

Maybe we ought to realize that God's answer to Job did not finish there. The biblical narrative then continues through to this man Jesus. Perhaps God's answer is not one that explains problems clearly and offers answers that are really intelligent and insightful, but rather one that is to do with our actions... much like Jesus, to become poor in spirit, and to carry our cross.

Perhaps when we meet this objection we should be brutally honest and say that we have no answer, we do not have a wave of the hand that's going to make it better or an answer that will be obviously true when people hear it. Instead we have only the actions of a suffering servant in 1st century AD Palestine who chose to not avoid suffering but to deal with the worlds suffering by suffering as one of us.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bauckham interview.

Here is the man himself, Richard, doing some explaining.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chapter one: From the historical Jesus to the Jesus of testimony.

First. Who is Richard Bauckham? Why should we listen to him? and what does he do these days?

Richard Bauckham is a Cambridge University graduate who has spent the better part of his life teaching at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. There he held the position of Bishop Wardlaw professor and taught New Testament studies. He has published on the gospel of John and is also an expert in Jürgen Moltmann's theology.

Since then he has retired and is now the senior fellow at Ridley college, Cambridge University. There he is now focusing on publishing, focusing on the gospel of John and NT Christology.

So, obviously a fairly well educated and influential figure in NT studies. This book represents the pinnacle of his work on the gospels, and in the words of some random magazine (the 'Choice' magazine)

"It will be hard to take seriously future works on the origin of the Gospels that have not interacted with Bauckham..."

So what does he have to say to us in this first chapter?

Well first off he sets his book in the context of current work on who Jesus was. Here he draws two large distinctions, that of the Jesus of History and the Jesus of faith (or theology). He suggests that the mainstream work has polarized the two quite severely and that his book is meant to bridge this gap. To this end he invents a whole new category. The Jesus of Testimony. Testimony, he argues, demands to be trusted and taken as fact. He then argues, that using this method we can have a valuable tool with which we can discover the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith in the same method, without conflict.

Now he throws down the gauntlet. Modern Scholarship, he claims, has been dominated by what has come to be known as Form Criticism.

Form Critics have argued that the gospels were compiled by anonymous evangelists who were working within an oral tradition that had been passed down from the eyewitnesses anonymously. In the past this has been taken as the norm, and since then has had both conservative elements and more liberal elements. Oral tradition in and of itself says nothing of the reliability of the gospels. However I find that if we are to just leave Form Criticism unchallenged, then we do leave the status of the gospels as trust worthy documents about the life of Jesus in an interesting limbo between trustworthy and fabricated (note: I do not mean entirely fabricated, but less reliable than a Christian might want). For example, Form critics will look at the gospels and look for discrepancies between them (say, the number of woman at the empty tomb) and make any number of conclusions based on those dependent on various other presuppositions they may or may not have. Another important part to mention, is how reliable is the oral tradition through the lens of the Form critic?

Here is an example i conjured up in my head well playing tennis this evening:
Oral tradition will only be as reliable as the passer's on of said information allows, and if we accept the presupposition that the eyewitnesses are dead by this time, then there are few, if any, authoritative figures to correct wrong saying attributed to Jesus etc. So, a form critique might be looking for Greek influences on the oral tradition. We know that there were Greeks who called themselves believers quite early on (Paul's letters to the Corinthians/Ephesians etc.) Now, the Jews were quite historically grounded people who had a large amount of respect for concrete real history. However, the Greeks were not as picky as them, to the Greeks there was no Orthodoxy like the Jews had, they were quite okay with people fiddling with their traditions and changing them into tragedies etc. (the closes equivalent in Jewish culture I can think of is Midrash) So, maybe they felt a bit freer to play fast and loose with Jesus' words. An astute observer might, for example, notice that the last supper in Mark 14:22-24 sounds somewhat familiar to the traditions connected with Dionysius regarding Omophagia (Eating of raw flesh, done by Dionysius' initiates) He might then note Paul's quote in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 which may make him think its more likely to be authentic, but then he remembers that Paul quotes some Greek poets in Acts 17:16-21, and then he might remember that the lords supper is never explicitly mentioned in Acts (there is 'breaking of bread' in Acts 2:42, but for the sake of argument, lets say he comes up with a clever argument that washes that away) and using that argument from silence in the early church conclude that all mentions on the last supper are in fact interpolations from a Greek person in the oral tradition source. (possible even Paul himself).

However, if we have eyewitnesses still floating around, then we have authoritative figures to check up on gospels etc.

This is 'unfashionable' (very British term) in modern scholarship. Bauckham, takes his thesis to argue that even the last of the Gospels to have been compiled (John) is actually written by an eyewitness.

Finally, he introduces us to the forerunner to this book, a book by a Samuel Byrskog, a Swedish scholar who argued for the necessity of eyewitnesses to be around because in the ancient world, good history can only be written within living memory, for that one needs eyewitnesses. This is the beginning of Richard Bauckham's argument.

I have an idea.

I am going to post about books. Because thats what i am into, and am able to do with some degree of goodness. :)

I have a first book too!

Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

So, I will read it chapter by chapter, and comment on each one as I read it. Fantastic.

Here is an index of all the chapters that have been reviewed so far:
1) Chapter one: From the historical Jesus to the Jesus of testimony.
2)  Chapter two: Papias on the eyewitnesses.
3) Chapter three: Names in the Gospel Traditions.
R) Bauckham interview.
4) Chapter Four: Palestinian Jewish Names.
5) Chapter Five: The Twelve