Friday, December 30, 2011

Interesting Post

Stumbled upon this blog post: Why I am Not a Christian over at dia pente blog that has some good information. My favorite line: “The Holiday Season is schizophrenic. Hanukkah celebrates the defeat of a guy who got rid of the laws of Moses, but Christmas celebrates the birth of a guy who got rid of the laws of Moses “

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Four

Before I continue on with Paul’s interaction in Acts of the Apostles—a brief interlude to remind us of two obvious concepts. In fact, so obvious, you will immediately read it, and only one word will come to mind. “Obvious.” Yet for some reason we enter biblical studies and become muddled, foggy and eventually ignored.

1) Just because it is historically accurate, does not make it historical. Just because an event is historical, does not mean we have a historically accurate account.

I enjoy reading the background on movies at Internet Movie Database. All sorts of information—actors, budget, gross revenues, quotes, trivia—including a section on “goofs.” One goof often listed is anachronisms—items, quotes or events in movies out of place.

For example, the action/adventure Where Eagles Dare is a World War II drama. Yet imdb notes, “If you look really carefully you can make out that the timer used on the bombs (in particular the one on the cable car) is a Heuer Sebring, a model that wasn't made until around 1958.”

Obviously they were not using 1958 timers in 1944. It is a mistake. Now, the movie has 1000’s of details correct—uniforms, salutes, trucks, cars, motorcycles, parachutes, radio rooms, etc.—yet all those correct details do not make the story factual. It does not become historical if the movie maker used correctly dated times.

We understand it is these anachronisms cluing us in as to errors in the story.

Secondly, even though we know something happened, we may not have historically accurate information. We have differing copies of the Gettysburg Address, and are not certain what Lincoln’s precise words were. Does that mean he did not give the Gettysburg Address? Of course not. And we can be reasonably certain of being extremely close to what he said. Just not 100% accurate.

Because a story has correct details does not make it history. Because a story has incorrect details does not make it completely fiction.

I point this out, because at times it seems we battle two extremes within biblical studies. On the one hand, there are those who insist every detail MUST be true, or the whole thing should be thrown out as a shame. “Jesus couldn’t be born when King Herod the Great was alive and Quirinius was governor, therefore Jesus was never born.” On the other, there are those who claim some details are accurate, so the whole thing must be true. “Since there really was Pontius Pilate, heaven has golden streets.”

This “all-or-nothing” would seem to be part of what Sherwin-White is battling. Scholars who indicate not knowing what Paul was precisely charged with on certain occasions so it never happened. However, Sherwin-White then pendulums too far (in my opinion) to excusing anachronisms calling into question the account’s historicity.

It seems to me we approach these stories just like any other historical account. Provisionally, understanding errors do not eliminate the necessity of it being historical, but give us pause as to why the errors occurred.

Christians would be far better served if they avoided Herculean twists to align Jesus’ birthdate, accept Luke modified the date to conform to Luke’s intended point, and move on. Jesus could still exist. Jesus could still be the Son of God. Jesus could still have been crucified, buried and rose again. Just Luke got it wrong when it came to Jesus’ birth. (Coincidentally, this is exactly what evangelical Christians do with the Second Century gospels on Jesus. Still claim he was a child at one point, and could do extraordinary things, and was the son of God, etc. Just that the author of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was wrong. Alas, they avoid making the same claim about Luke, because it is within the covers of their leather-bound, family heirloom.)

2) Is it remarkable Luke got details correct?

Imagine I told you to write a Batman comic including a storyline about Bruce Wayne being on trial. I suspect you would include things like a prosecutor, attorneys, a judge, possibly a jury. It would be in a courtroom, there would be counsel tables, perhaps a court reporter and bailiff. You would include words like “Objection!” and “Sustained!” Phrases like “Call your next witness” and “Please be seated.”

Thanks to books, television, plays and movies, most people have general knowledge how a trial runs. 2000 years from now, I would review it and could point out dozens, if not 100’s of details you got precisely correct. The correct general charge, the correct order, the correct language, the correct players, the correct system.

Yet we know it is a story about Batman—a completely fictional account.

The question I have is this—given a person who could read/write Greek, was generally knowledgeable regarding governorships, travel, and geography of the First Century Mediterranean, would we equally expect such a person to have general knowledge regarding legal actions sufficient to provide the broad details we have?

Simply put, could Luke have the knowledge to completely make-up the legal inter-workings with Paul, the same as you could make up a trial about Batman? If so, how remarkable is it he gets these broad concepts correct?

Keeping this in mind, the next two (2) lectures Sherwin-White deals with Paul’s trial before Felix and Festus in Judea.

Sherwin-White addresses “moderns” (pg. 49) regarding question as to what the specific charges would be. “In the scene before the Sanhedrin, Paul defends himself sophistically from charges of what one may call heresy….” (pg. 49) or stirring up civil disturbances.

This accusation—“stirring up civil disturbances”—is supported by letter from Claudius against Alexandrians, “stirring up a plague and disturbances for the Jews throughout the world..” (pg. 51)

Paul’s accusers (Asian Greeks) disappear, thus putting the case on “cold storage” for two years. Also interesting the inquiry into Paul’s province, as this could well be forum domicilii but Felix keeps the case. Perhaps because Cilicia did not have Roman authority at the time (it was under client-kings.) By the 4th year of Nero it did. (Did Luke place this event too early? If so, Sherwin-White excuses it: “If Acts has made a slip in implying that Cilicia was already a separate province, the slip is venial, because within two or three years that was the situation.” (pg 57) This is what I mean by Sherwin-White excusing what could be an anachronism revealing lack of historicity.)

Sherwin-White makes only brief mention of Paul’s citizenship; he will deal with Roman Citizenship in a later lecture.

The next lecture regards Paul’s interactions at the cities. The pattern is roughly the same: Paul enters the city, starts to preach in the synagogue. Jews bring complaints to the city leaders, Paul skips town. Repeat at the next stop.

Sherwin-White makes the point the accounts, including the punishments, the persons involved, etc. conform to what would probably happen in the latter 1st century. There is nothing reflecting late Second Century here. I do think this is a stronger point to support Acts was not a late 2nd Century work. In other words, Luke did not put a 190 CE timer in a 60 CE event.

Basically, Sherwin-White notes the stories contain broad general knowledge, conforming to the broad general knowledge we have of the period. With an occasional anachronism that Sherwin-White excuses, and I question what direction it would point us in.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Three

Trial of Jesus

There were two (2) trials: one before the Jewish authorities—the Sanhedrin, the other before the Roman Authority—Prefect Pontius Pilate.


Sherwin-White responds to two (2) claims:

1) Whether the Sanhedrin could take place at night; and
2) Whether the Sanhedrin had the power of capital punishment.

Some quick background, if the reader is not familiar. (Again, Sherwin-White presumes the reader is, and provides little insight.) I will use our traditional day/night, not the Jewish system of sundown to sundown.

Jesus has the last supper, Passover sedar, which lasts until midnight on Thursday night. Extremely early Friday morning (traditional “Good Friday) Jesus is praying. The famous “take this cup from me” and “sweat like blood” scene. Still wee hours of morning, Jesus is arrested, and taken before the Sanhedrin. He is then tried before the Sanhedrin, allegedly for blasphemy. Friday morning (sunrise) the Sanhedrin takes Jesus to Pilate for sentencing.

Both Matthew (Matt. 27:1) and Mark (Mark 15:1) indicate Jesus’ appearance before the council occurred in the Thursday night-Friday early morning period. Luke, however, has Jesus held by the guards until the morning and then commences the council. (Luke 22:66)

Sherwin-White states Matthew-Mark’s timing is more accurate, and Luke’s is “less probable.” (Sherwin-White’s words.) He bases this on two things:

1) He cites numerous anecdotes where Roman officials got up early in the morning to perform their work. If the Jewish authorities wanted to get Jesus to Pilate in time, they would have to complete their trial process before Pilate was “done for the day” if you will.

2) The fire. Luke 22:55 states a fire was kindled to keep warm. (Where Peter commences his three-part betrayal of Jesus.) If the trial was to not take place until the morning, reasons Sherwin-White, why have a fire?

Unfortunately, I found this analysis unsubstantial for a number of reasons:

a) Sherwin-White never addresses the issue about Luke copying Matthew and/or Mark. If Luke deliberately changed the timing of the council—where did he get his information from? If it is “less probable,” doesn’t this impact Luke’s credibility? Where else did Luke take more certain data and make it less likely?

b) Sherwin-White never addresses the fact this took place during Passover. Jerusalem would have been busting at the seams with people. This is a large Jewish holiday, involving preparation, (removing the leaven from the house) and a family ritualistic feast ending at midnight. Frankly, the timing (prayer, arrest, council and conviction from midnight to 6 a.m.) would be inconceivable within such a short time frame during this period.

Arguably the reason Pilate was in Jerusalem, rather than the capital of Caesarea, was heightened security concern. Pilate was not “working a regular day” and then finishing up for an early round of golf on Friday—Pilate was there to handle concerns like this, anticipated to occur.

c) The fire could easily be fatigue by Luke, or Luke copying Mark with little thought as to why it would be noteworthy to start a fire.

d) Sherwin-White never refers to the Tracate Sanhedrin that lays out explicit rules for trials, and condemning an individual. The Tracate Sanhedrin was violated numerous times and ways in the Gospel accounts, yet Sherwin-White never responds to it. More on this in a minute.

The second issue regarding the Sanhedrin was whether they had the power to commit capital punishment. Specifically John 18:31 indicates the Jews did not have the authority to kill as punishment.

Sherwin-White notes other provinces where only the Roman governor could execute the accused. He indicates this power was jealously guarded by Rome.

Now, Sherwin-White does recognize the story of Stephen (Acts 7) and James, the brother of Christ in Josephus. Both accounts regarding the council ordering death. Sherwin-White excuses both as anomalies for differing reasons. Stephen because it was more a lynching than an execution, and James because it was done explicitly when no governor was present—Judea was between Procurators.

Although I think those are reasonable explanations, one does wonder which it was—were Stephen and James exceptions or anecdotes? Was John wrong and Acts correct or Acts correct and John wrong? Further, what happens in one province does not necessarily prevail in another. The story indicates Jews had the ability to determine who would die or live within the Barabbas story. If Rome was willing to allow this “custom” (dealing with capital punishment) how can we be so certain it did not allow the Sanhedrin to have the right to capital punishment in violation of its religious laws, albeit not in Roman civil laws?

But most importantly, I was disappointed and would like to have questioned Sherwin-White about the Tracate Sanhedrin. This document gives specific outline regarding how to try different types of cases—specifically crimes involving death as a punishment. How to execute (hanging or stoning) and specifics about how to perform the execution.

It very clearly anticipates the Sanhedrin had the power to inflict capital punishment. Now, the document is dated to the later part of the Second Century. BUT, as I stated earlier, if Sherwin-White utilizes Second Century documents, to claim a basis in the first Century, couldn’t we do that as well with the Tracate Sanhedrin? Claim it was utilized earlier, but not codified until the Second Century?

Trial before Pilate

Sherwin-White was better here. The ground was more familiar for him.

Accusers were the priests, Pilate “investigated” the charges of Jesus being an instigator, as “King of the Judeans,” and without a response from Jesus, was forced to convict. Sherwin-White (as I stated in the earlier blog entry) notes accused where asked thrice as to their innocence and guilt. Sherwin-White relies upon Pliny the Younger (early Second Century) and presumes this was a continued practice from the First Century. However, Sherwin-White notes question put twice to Jesus in Matt. and Mark, once in Luke and thrice to accusers in Luke.

He makes no notation as to whether this is an exception to the “3 times” rule or a development of the “3 times” rule, so we are left puzzling to the significance.

Sherwin-White indicates there were three graduated levels of beating - fustes, flagella, verbera where fustes would mean a warning or threat, and Sherwin-White praises Luke for being historically accurate when Luke records Pilate offering fustes. (Luke 23:14-16)

Sherwin-White also discusses the curious side trip of Pilate sending Jesus to Herod, only recorded in Luke.

Under Roman law (as well as our own), “venue” is the determination where the legal proceedings must occur, given the parameters of the action. In America, this is more important in civil matters than criminal matters—we are all familiar with criminal actions taking place where the crime occurred. If you rob a bank in Florida, the trial will be in Florida, regardless if you are from Kansas, or Virginia or Iowa.

The Roman law recognized two (2) possible venues: forum delecti (where crime occurred) as compared to forum domicilii (where one lived). This charge—causing insurrection by claiming to be King of the Judeans, would be forum delecti --where the crime occurred.

Thus it is curious why Pilate would ever involve Herod Antipas. According to the accusers, Jesus claimed to be King of the Judeans, and was stirring up trouble throughout “all of Judea, beginning with Galilee.” (Luke 23:5). Luke then states, “And as soon as Pilate knew that Jesus belonged to Herod Antipas’ jurisdiction, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” (Luke 23:7)

But wait a minute…according to Sherwin-White, this crime would be forum delecti--where the crime occurred. According to the accusers, Jesus claimed to be “King of the Judeans” and while Jesus may have started in Galilee, this insurrectionist action was taking place in Judea. The very obvious venue would be…Judea.

Herod Antipas was tetrarch over Galilee—a completely separate country. Why would Herod Antipas have jurisdiction over Jesus? The crime was in Judea, the venue for the crime is where it was committed…finding out Jesus was from a different country would make no difference.

Sherwin-White fails to adequately deal with this conflict. Why would Pilate not follow forum delecti? (Sherwin-White does mention Herod the Great had the unusual right to extradite [bring back] offenders who fled Herod’s jurisdiction, but here Herod Antipas was not requesting for extradition. Further, Herod the Great could ONLY extradite for crimes committed within Herod’s jurisdiction. Again, this was a crime alleged to occur in Judea. Even Sherwin-White recognizes Pilate’s authority over Galileans for such crimes. [Luke 13:2])

The reason I bring all this up, is that Sherwin-White concludes: “But Luke is remarkable in that his additional materials—the full formation of the charges before Pilate, the reference to Herod, and the proposed acquittal with admonition—are all technically correct.” (pg. 32)

I did not see how that followed, given the blatant violation of venue by even sending Jesus to Herod in the first place.

While interesting from a very broad aspect regarding legal actions within Jesus’ trial account, there were too many anomalies left unanswered for me to be satisfied with Sherwin-White’s account.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Matthean Priority v Markan Priority

Over at Tough Questions Answered, I was discussing various topics with Walter Tucker, and this subject came up. I have always wanted to a person who held to Matthean priority respond to some questions I had, Walter Tucker is a pleasant person, so I am posting this up for him to respond. When he has an opportunity—no rush.

In brief, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels (because they present the same “view” or “synoptic” of Jesus’ ministry) and it has long been noted there is literary dependence amongst them. They copied each other in some way, Dr. Wallace has written a good introductory article on the subject.

Of course, the question immediately followed—who copied whom? Various solutions have been presented. Although a few die-hard adherents hold Luke was the first, the others copied from his Gospel, and even fewer hold to John being first (although not copied by the Synoptic Gospels), the real fight is whether Matthew was first—Matthew Priority—copied by Mark, or Mark was first—Markan Priority—copied by Matthew.

Two primary reasons I cannot be convinced by Matthean Priority, are: 1) harder readings and 2) fatigue.

Harder Readings

There is a premise in higher criticism (what this study is generally called) that the Harder reading is the primary reading. The thought behind it being subsequent editors or copiers would modify the reading to make it less difficult. I cannot improve on Dr. Wallace’s statements:
There are several passages in Mark which paint a portrait of Jesus (or the disciples, etc.) that could be misunderstood. These passages have been altered in either Matthew or Luke or both on every occasion. It is the conviction of many NT scholars that this category is a very strong blow to the Griesbach hypothesis—and one which has not been handled adequately by Matthean prioritists.29 Among the several possible passages which scholars have noticed, the following are particularly impressive to me. Still, the cumulative effect is what makes the biggest impression.
(1) Mark 6:5-6/Matt 13:58—“he could not do any mighty work there except . . . ”/“he did not do many works there . . . because of their unbelief.” On this text Farmer comments: “the passage offers no clear indication that . . . Matthew has ‘toned down’ a phrase in Mark which ‘might cause offense or suggest difficulties’.”30 But this ignores the verbs used, for Mark suggests inability on Jesus’ part, while Matthew simply indicates unwillingness (oujk ejduvnato vs. oujk ejpoivhsen). Cf. also Mark 1:32-34/Matt 8:16/Luke 4:40 for a similar text.
(2) Mark 10:18/Matt 19:17/Luke 18:19—“Good teacher . . . Why do you call me good?” (in Mark and Luke) vs. “Teacher . . . Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matthew). The text, as Mark has it, might imply that Jesus denies his own deity. It is apparent that Luke did not read it that way, but Matthew probably did. Indeed, in the Holtzmann/Streeter view, Matthew and Luke copied Mark independently of one another. Thus what might offend one would not necessarily offend the other.31
(3) Mark 3:5/Luke 6:10—“he looked around at them with anger/he looked around on them all.” Matthew omits the verse entirely, though he includes material both before and after it (12:12-13). That Luke would omit a statement regarding Jesus’ anger is perfectly understandable.
(4) Mark 1:12/Matt 4:1/Luke 4:1—“the Spirit drove him into the desert” (Mark)/ “Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit” (Matthew and Luke). Mark uses the very harsh ejkbavllw, while Matthew and Luke use (ajn)avgw, a much gentler term, to describe the Spirit’s role in bringing Jesus to the desert for temptation.
(5) Mark 8:24-26—the different stages of a particular healing story, omitted in Matthew and Luke. The blind man is partially healed the first time by Jesus, then fully the second time. This is the only healing story in the synoptic gospels which required two stages. Perhaps this was the reason for its omission in Matthew/Luke, or perhaps it was the fact that saliva was used as the means of healing.32
(6) Mark 3:20-21—The statement that Jesus’ mother and brothers tried to seize him because they said that he was insane (ejxevsth). Neither Matthew nor Luke have this verse, apparently because it would cast aspersions on Jesus’ mother and brothers.
My First question to Walter Tucker: Why would Mark make the readings harder?

Here I cannot improve on Mark Goodacre’s article regarding fatigue:

Editorial fatigue is a phenomenon that will inevitably occur when a writer is heavily dependent on another's work. In telling the same story as his predecessor, a writer makes changes in the early stages which he is unable to sustain throughout. Like continuity errors in film and television, examples of fatigue will be unconscious mistakes, small errors of detail which naturally arise in the course of constructing a narrative. They are interesting because they can betray an author's hand, most particularly in revealing to us the identity of his sources.

The clearest way to explain the phenomenon is to illustrate it. Though he did not use the term 'fatigue', G. M. Styler, in his famous article on Marcan priority, draws attention to a strong example, the Death of John the Baptist (Mark 6.14-29 // Matt 14.1-12). (5). For Mark, Herod is always 'king', four times in the passage (vv. 22, 25, 26 and 27). Matthew apparently corrects this to 'tetrarch'. This is a good move: Herod Antipas was not a king but a petty dependent prince and he is called 'tetrarch' by Josephus (Ant. 17. 188; 18. 102, 109, 122) (6). More is the shame, then, that Matthew lapses into calling Herod 'the king' halfway through the story (Matt 14.9), in agreement with Mark (6.26).

Styler points further to a more serious inconsistency in the same verse. The story in Mark is that Herodias wanted to kill John because she had a grudge against him,

'But she could not because Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.' (Mark 6.19f).

In Matthew's version of the story, this element has dropped out: now it is Herod and not Herodias who wants him killed (Matt [47] 14.5). When Mark, then, speaks of Herod's 'grief' (perilupoV) at the request for John's head, it is coherent and understandable: Herodias demanded something that Herod did not want. But when Matthew in parallel speaks of the king's grief (kai luphqeiV o basileuV, Matt 14.9), it makes no sense at all. Matthew had told us, after all, that 'Herod wanted to put him to death' (14.5).

The obvious explanation for the inconsistencies of Matthew's account is that he is working from a source. He has made changes in the early stages which he fails to sustain throughout, thus betraying his knowledge of Mark. (7) This is particularly plausible when one notes that Matthew's account is considerably shorter than Mark's: Matthew has overlooked important details in the act of abbreviating. (8) It would be difficult, one would imagine, to forge a convincing argument against this from the perspective of Matthean priority. (9)

Of course the evidence of one pericope alone will not do to establish Marcan priority. It will be helpful, therefore, to turn to Michael Goulder who, in two inspired but brief surveys, draws attention to this 'widespread' phenomenon and lists several examples. (10) One of the most striking is the story of The Cleansing of the Leper (Matt 8.1-4 // Mark 1.40-45 // Luke 5.12-16). (11) Here, just after the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), Matthew is returning to triple tradition material. He resets the scene by introducing, as often, 'many crowds' (8.1). This soon leads Matthew into difficulties since, like Mark, he has Jesus' injunction to the leper, 'Tell no-one, but go, show yourself to the priest . . . ' (Matt [48] 8.4 // Mark 1.44). As it stands in Matthew this is inexplicable: a miracle that has been witnessed by many crowds is to be kept secret. The parallel in Mark makes it clear how Matthew has become involved in the contradiction: Mark does not have crowds; the leper meets Jesus privately and the command to silence is coherent. That Matthew is involved in docile reproduction here is all the more plausible given the little stress in his Gospel on the secrecy theme that is so prominent a feature of Mark.

We might add a third example that equally points to Matthew's use of Mark, the story of Jesus' Mother and Brothers (Matt 12.46-50 // Mark 3.31-35 // Luke 8.19-21). Here Matthew has returned, once more, to triple tradition material after a section of double tradition material (Matt 12.33-45). The transition between the different kinds of material is smooth, with Matthew's characteristic, 'While he was still speaking to the crowds, behold . . . ' (Matt 12.46). However, the apparent ease of progression from one pericope to the next masks an incongruity, a genuine continuity error in Matthew's account. As in Mark, the mother and the brothers of Jesus are 'standing outside' (eisthkeisan exw, Matt 12.46; Mark 3.31: exw sthkonteV). This makes perfect sense in Mark where Jesus and his disciples are in a house (3.20: kai ercetai eiV oikon) (12) but it makes no sense in Matthew in which no house has been entered and the most recent scene change was a departure from the synagogue, with many following Jesus, in 12.15.

So my second question to Walter Tucker: Fatigue makes sense when looking at Mark --> Matthew. But not Matthew --> Mark. Why would Mark incorrectly refer to Herod as King, if copying from Matthew and he saw “tetrarch”? Doesn’t this infer Matthew (and Luke if one reads the entire article) were copying and demonstrating fatigue?

Thanks, look forward to your responses.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part Two

The first chapter. (They are titled “Lecture” and presumably align with the Lectures Sherwin-White gave in 1960-61) For obvious reasons, the first thing Sherwin-White presents is the Roman legal system.

He notes the Proconsul (or principal Roman authority—in the Trial of Jesus, the Prefect Pontius Pilate) had imperium--ability to wield power. Specifically capital punishment. The legal proceedings had three phases:

1) Formulation of charges and penalties.
2) Proper formal accusation by interested party.
3) Case heard by person holding imperium in tribunal, assisted by advisory committee and friends (consilium) (pr. 17)

Sherwin-White indicates, of the three legal systems listed in Wikipedia, the one he will utilize in comparing the New Testament accounts is cognitio extraordinarem. (If you are interested, you can review a rough Outline of Roman Legal Systems)

If you read the Wikipedia article, you may note the cognitio system, within the article, is dated to the late Second Century CE. Which is a problem as the events in the New Testament are in the mid-First Century CE.

Sherwin-White, however, dates the system back to the relevant time frame, by first relying upon Pliny the Younger to indicate Pliny used cognitio when interrogating Christians, and therefore—according to Sherwin-White—the system was in place as early as 111-112 CE. Ah…but this doesn’t quite move it back to mid-First Century, does it?

To do that, Sherwin –White refers to an incident with the Proconsul of Sardinia in 69CE where the proconsul appeared to use the three (3) elements of cognitio. He also uses a document that he refers to “a mixture of party journalism and historical novelette” (pg. 22) to claim there remains a historical core within that document to believe cognitio was used as early as Claudius. (41-54 CE)

However, I found inconsistency within this approach. First, how do we know what was practiced in the Second Century necessarily correlates with the First Century? We will deal more with this in the future, but to give an example, Pliny the Younger gives the accused three (3) opportunities to recant. Shewin-White notes Jesus was questioned twice in Matthew and Mark, and only once in Luke. Was there a triple attestation required, but incorrectly recorded in the Gospels? Had the triple attestation not developed yet? Although Sherwin-White refers to Pliny the Younger, and the repeated questions, he fails to address the difference between Christ’s trial and Pliny.

Or another example, when (later) discussing the Sanhedrin not having the ability to perform capital punishment, the two examples of Stephen and James the Just are excused by Sherwin-White as anomalies. Exceptions to the rule.

Notice the convenience in this method. If I want to relate something back from the Second to the First Century, I claim it was long tradition, only recorded in the Second with barest elusive references in the first. If I do NOT want to relate it back, I call the previous counter-examples as exceptions. It is a win-win; either way I can claim historicity. Why isn’t the “historical novelette” and Sardinia examples equally anomalies? Why aren’t Stephen and James’ death elusive references to the Sanhedrin’s ability to doll out capital punishment?

Notice how one can take either position. Sherwin-White wants his cake and eat it, too.

There are two (2) problems needing discussion. I will touch more on this in my next blog entry, to give some background before hitting the next chapter—Trial of Jesus.

(1) We don’t have a great deal of information about the legal proceedings within this period. We are piecing together what procedures are required from stories, accounts, some legal documents. But even this is sporadic. Worse, the events in outlying countries could vary, depending on the country, its own legal systems, its status with Rome, etc.

(2) These accounts are not trying to give us rigorous legal scenarios. They mention legal interactions only within the scope of a much larger picture. Jesus’ story is about his ministry—not “The Trial of Jesus.” Acts is about continuity between Christian generations, including Paul’s trials and tribulations. While this involves legal wrangling, the author is not attempting a full legal analysis of what happened to Paul.

Sherwin-White attempts to pull too much out of too little.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Book Review – Sherwin-White. Part One.

As I’ve discussed the Gospel accounts with Christian, I keep running into a certain book--A.N. Sherwin-White’s Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.

Dr. William Craig refers to Sherwin-White. Norm Geisler refers to him. Dr. Gary Habermas cites Sherwin-White. Dr. Mike Licona does as well.

Vinny, over at Do You Ever Think About the Things You Do Think About? has written
a number of blog entries regarding apologists’ abuse of Sherwin-White.

Primarily, Sherwin-White is cited for two reasons:

1) To support the historicity of the New Testament documents when he says, “So it is astonishing that while Graeco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospels narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form-criticism that the more advanced exponents of it apparently maintain—as far as an amateur can understand the matter—that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written.” Pg. 187.

2) The accounts were written too close to the events to be entirely mythical. “Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.” Pg. 190.

As the book is 192 pages, and these oft-quoted sections are at the very end, I thought it would be enlightening to go through the book and report my findings. See what led Sherwin-White to this conclusion.

Unfortunately, this was not the easiest book to follow, and it became difficult for me to cohesively present what was precisely being stated, and any thoughts on the subject. Therefore, I will start somewhere in the middle and work my way around, hopefully covering most of the issues presented.

What makes this book difficult to follow?

1) Because Sherwin-White was replying to various scholars’ positions. (the book was originally published in 1962.) He would often respond to “Mommsen” (wrote in 1897-1907) or “Juster” (1914) or “Lake” (1920). It was like hearing one side of a telephone conversation. One could pick out the claims of these authors, but only by the response. Sherwin-White was not laying out his own case for a proposition—he was explaining why other’s propositions were not accurate. He was reacting.

He presumed the reader was familiar with these authors, and their positions, and therefore only provided their stance by reference.

2) He presumed the reader had ready access to other material. For example, on page 79, he states, “This is not the place for yet another discussion of the rather hackneyed theme of the relation between the Roman State and foreign cults.” With a footnote, “JTS, n.s. iii (1952), 194 ff. contains my own views, to which I have nothing to add.”

3) He presumed the reader knows Latin. One can expect to read:

“The law itself belonged to the period of the Principate of Augustus. The text runs in Ulpian: “lege Iulia de vi publica tenetur qui cum imperium potestatemve habetet civem Romanum adversus provocationem nacaverit verberaverit iusseritve quid fieri aut quid in collum iniecerit ut torqueretur.” This text is a summary of something much longer, but uses the terminology of Republican legislation. A citation from Marican adds: “lege Iulia de vi davetur ne quis reum vinciate impediatve quominus Romae intra certum tempus adsit.” The text in the Sententia Pauli substitutes the terminology of a later age in some places, but adds in somewhat convincing early phraseology: “qui…condemnaverit inve publica vincula duci iusserit” among the forbidden acts. It also adds a list of exceptions, beginning: “qui artem ludicram faciunt, iudicati etiam et confessi.” These are unlikely to belong to the original law, but the first item, the exclusion of actors should belong to early Principate.” Pg 57-58.

I’ll confess--my Latin is beyond rusty. It is non-existent, except for pro bono (free legal work.)

4. Finally, Sherwin-White was not precise in his conclusions. He left open-ended statements, and I was often scratching my head thinking, “What are you saying here? Is it correct? Not correct? More likely, less likely?” I will provide examples throughout this review.

Sherwin-White indicates his purpose in his Preface, “It may be useful if someone from the Roman side looks again at the old evidence, even where there is no new material and appraises the New Testament setting in terms of modern Romanist developments. No doubt I in turn will be quickly found to suffer from just that same lack of focus in dealing with Judaic and Christian material which is outside my sphere.

“Scholars attempting to deal with two worlds of this magnitude need two lives. We must appear as amateurs in each other’s fields. A Roman public law and administration man such as myself cannot be fully acquainted with New Testament scholarship and bibliography over so great an area I must venture to trespass on. But one may learn what are the questions requiring answers, and one may show how the various historical and legal and social problems raised by the Gospels and Acts now look to a Roman historian. That, and only that, is the intention of these lectures.” Pg. v-vi.

What surprised me after reading this book was how little he talked about generational requirements in myth development (not at all until the very end) and how qualified he made his statements regarding the historicity of the Gospels and Acts. In other words, the very things he is cited for, are not the primary focus of his book.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God vs. Us: A Divorce

“I love you.”

Do you remember the first time you ever hear that sentence? Probably not—most likely it was first spoken by a parent or loved one when you were just a baby. It is doubtful you would remember the first 100 times you heard those words. And even if you recall, you didn’t know what it meant at the time.

As you grew, you heard it over and over. Books, plays, movies, real life. Sometimes directed at you—often overheard throughout living. And with the re-telling, the phrase’s significance grew—we understood it meant something. We learned in the second-grade it was a weapon: “Johnnie loves Sally! Johnnie loves Sally!” We learned as teenagers it had consequence, avoiding the “L” word until one’s relationship reached a certain commitment level. We learned it had impact.

Eventually learning it can be a hard word to implement.

Growing up, we understood (even when we didn’t like it) our parents loved us when they punished us. They explained it. They didn’t give us everything we wanted when we wanted it, but there was love. Once we had children of our own, we understood (and hopefully attempted to communicate) we love them when distributing punishment or withholding their demands.

We learned it loving others romantically. It is the reason we cry (or some of us) when the climatic scene finally arrives in the movie: “Because……….I love you!”

Certain phrases are jarring contrasted with “love;” when the wife claims her husband loves her, even though he beats her, we think, “That is wrong!” The boyfriend who stays with a girl after she sleeps around with other guys, claiming he knows she loves him. We shake our head.

All of us, in observing relationships, understand there is a point where we categorize the action as “loving” and where we would claim it is not.

Growing up Christian, we are told, “God Loves you.” We had buttons and bumper stickers; signs and bookmarks. Our No. 1 Hit starts off, “For God so Loved the World…” “Jesus Loves you.” “Jesus Loves the little Children; all the Children of the world.” [Funny, I don’t remember the Holy Spirit doing much loving.] It was the first verse we learned; it was the first song we sung.

It should therefore come with no surprise we reached a point where we thought….well….God loved us. With all that entails within the resounding reverberation and pitch of the word.

Does that mean we thought God would give us whatever we wanted? Of course not—we understood our parents did not, yet still loved. Does that mean we expected to always be happy? Don’t be silly, we understand the commitment of love within a marriage, even though we aren’t always giddy and giggling.
We truly, truly get it—when it comes to love, there would be times God would have to make hard decisions, causing us to not like the results, but we would still be loved. When we were told, “God Loves You”—we didn’t expect an ATM Machine; we expected the word “love” to mean what it means in other similar contexts.

However there is one significant difference. In all our other relationships, we can communicate, with those involved, or with others, to learn, grow and differentiate as to what is love. With God there was only silence. We are left in continual speculation—guessing how this or that conforms to what we understand is love. Sure, others provide their own (conflicting) guesses, but that is all it is—conjecture on the human’s part.

“God, why did my 16 year old son have to die?”

“Is it because he had lived long enough, and you wanted him home?”

“Was it a testimony to others, giving them a chance to get right with you?”

So we grapple and postulate; others giving their own theories, and arrive at some queasy solution. An uneasy restlessness, often wondering if we got it quite right. Always willing to re-evaluate and guess again.

For many deconverts this silence grew into a disconnect; it become more and more difficult to use a word so well understood—“love”—that when applied to God held little-to-no relation to everything we understood the word to mean. A “loving” God would allow ten-year-old boys to be raped by football coaches? And allow it to continue for years because the person involved were people of privilege? That is the BEST a “loving” God could do?

And already I hear some Christian say, “We can’t explain it….but maybe _________” and then provide some poor excuse for God’s absence. If you can’t explain it—shut up. Shut up with your easy explanation of “Why God allows kids to starve in Africa” when your car is strewn with McDonald’s wrappers. Shut up with your theologically overbearing rationalization as to why a “loving God” allows this atrocity or that tragedy because we are too insignificant to understand such a infinite creature.

If that is your excuse, stop saying “God loves you.” Because even you aren’t buying the product.

Over at Black, White and Gray, ,Bradley Wright is doing a series of posts regarding deconversion. (The first is here.) In this recent installment, he discusses an observed reason for deconversion—namely a “God who Failed Deconverts” by not answering prayer.

He states:
I am struck by how much these accounts resonate with sociological theories of human relationships, especially those coming from social exchange theory. This theory describes humans as judging the value of relationships in terms of costs and benefits. One variation of social exchange theory, termed equity theory, holds that people are satisfied with their relationships when they get the rewards that they feel are proportional to the costs that they bear. An inequitable is unstable, and it usually occurs because a person thinks they receive too little for how much they give.

Many of the testimonies given by former Christians described a broken relationship with God as one might talk about a marital divorce. They are emotional, even bitter at times. They contain the language of inequality. The writers did so much for God – praying, attending church, following God – but God did not do enough in return.

As usual with Christians attempting to understand deconversion, (and with genuine respect) Bradley Wright doesn’t get it.

We didn’t gauge God as, “I didn’t get enough for what I put into it.” We realized it made no sense to call God “loving” when the results we saw were nothing but. It is the abused spouse coming to terms that one doesn’t beat one’s wife, and receive approval for being “loving.” They must stop making excuses for the spouse.

In the same way, we came to terms with the fact we were making excuses for God. We, too, were trying to explain away these actions as loving—actions we would never accept the label of “love” in any other relationship. We, too, tried to apologize for God, using weighty meaningless terms, but our own words were now ringing as hollow.

We didn’t abandoned belief in God, because we weren’t getting what we wanted; we came to realize the patent ridiculousness of fitting the word “love” (and a whole host of other words) to a creature we immediately and in complete contradiction, claimed we did not understand. One who was silent when asked. One who allows any human, anywhere to make excuses for it, without support, disapproval or response of any kind.

We realized the true difference between the Christian’s “loving God” without plausible explanation and a God who doesn’t exist. None. No difference at all, except the growing recognition “no God” makes a whole lot more sense than “a loving God who doesn’t act loving, but we assume he IS loving, because any other possibility is too scary to even contemplate.”

It was not a divorce. In a divorce, the other person is still alive. There is still a relationship, an understanding of past love, and the possibility of future love with another.

This is a death. We see now God was never there.

God is gone, not an ex-spouse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When Doubting, avoid Thinking

I remain on Credo House’s mailing list, receiving notification of C. Michael Patton’s recent blog entry concerning doubt.

What struck me was how the response proposed was one-sided when doubts arise regarding Christianity. The first point, recommended focusing on the Resurrection, rather than minor issues such as inerrancy or evolution vs. creationism. (Curiously, this came across as a concession minor issues were a lost cause.) He states:

Therefore, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I would set down all other studies, including conversations with those who are representing another religion, books about atheism, or the destiny of the unevangelized. Just to focus on this central issue of Christianity. There is so much good stuff out there on this subject, but I would start here and graduate tohere and here . Listen or watch to the debates with William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection.

(I was secretly pleased I guessed the books before clicking on the link. Habermas & Licona’s “Case for the Resurrection” then Licona’s “Historiography of Resurrection” and finally N.T. Wright’s “Resurrection of Jesus.”)

Notice what is missing from the list? Yeah…any skeptical books. Now I will grant you, there are not many non-theists writing on the Resurrection, but even a mention of “The Empty Tomb” or possible Loftus’ work, or Erhman’s concerns would have been interesting. What was more interesting was the suggestion to “set down” conversations “with those who are representing another religion.”

Why? Why, when doubting, must one only look to one side of the issue?

The third point Patton makes solidifies his intentions—he recommended “fellowshipping” (that’s Christianize for “socializing” or “relationshiping.”) He notes:

One normally becomes emotionally predisposed to those of their immediate fellowship. “Following the crowed” is a very effective means of being persuaded of the most unlikely beliefs. In fact, I have often said that if I hung around the flat-earth society members too long (and there is a flat earth society!), I may begin to doubt that the world is round. This is not because the arguments or evidence is persuasive, but simply because of implicit emotional control of belief that such constant fellowship affords.

I believe his concern is for Christians to begin assuming the beliefs of non-Christians because of emotional attachment. Ironically, the very action he fears is the very action he suggests the Christian engage—only hang around flat earth society….er….Christians…and one will become emotionally attached to the arguments one assumes.

I find it very telling skeptics not only encourage fellow skeptics to read non-theist literature, but ALSO theistic literature. I, too, would recommend Licona if one wants to study the Resurrection. I, too, would recommend non-believers engage with Christians, or “fellowship” with them. But I go farther and recommend one also engages and reads people holding to alternate views.

What would you think if I told you to ONLY read what non-theists write, or ONLY associate with non-theists? Does that sound like a person who is confident regarding the strength of their position or one who fears weaknesses would be exposed if someone dares inform themselves?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bad Law Makes Bad Cases

How are lawyers like nuclear weapons? Because if the other side has one, you have to get your own; once launched they can never be recalled and when they hit the ground, they screw everything up forever.

Michigan, being on the forefront of nothing, has no anti-bullying law. The State Board of Education does provide for a Michigan Anti-Bullying Policy, however, no legislation mandates even a single school district adopt the policy. There have been previous attempts to pass such legislation, all having quietly dropped from sight.

“…that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression; or a mental, physical, or sensory disability or impairment; or by any other distinguishing characteristic.”

However, this year the State Senate has decided to correct this oversight, and yesterday passed Senate Bill 137 mandating each school district implement and enforce a policy on bullying.

Good for us, right? Well…as the saying goes, the two things you should never see getting made are sausages and laws.

I suspect (with no confirmation of any sort, mind you), someone in committee worried that a statement such as “I think being gay is immoral” may be interpreted as bullying, and feared a Student stating a religious conviction would be considered a “bully” for having done so.
Stories such as this: Student expressing their opinion regarding homosexuality being immoral could generate such concern.

Therefore, SB 137 added a clause never seen in any previous submissions of the bill, providing the following exception:

“This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.”

The (Democrat) minority leader expressed her frustration with the exception. Her statement on video is recorded at the Huffington Post article.

On the one hand, I understand the reason behind the exception. We do not want to temper or quash a student’s freedom of expression. However, the minority leader is precisely correct, by creating this exception, the law opens a HUGE loophole that every single lawyer, even the ones fresh from law school, understand can allow for bullying.

This exception does not protect a person from striking, kicking or beating, but so what? Those actions are criminal anyway, without the necessity of a new law. The concern is (since everyone has experienced it, either by being a bully, by being bullied or observation of bullying) how to prohibit this action. And verbal bullying is what this law is designed to prohibit. (There are provisions regarding using telecommunication devices. You can’t hit someone across Facebook.)

Yet now, if the bully continues to berate the student, “Hey, gaywad. You’re so gay. What’s up, faggot?” They can cite their religious belief and this is merely freedom of expression.

The law literally gives them to provision (and arguably the endorsement) to do so.

This is a bad law. We shall see how the Michigan House addresses it.

UPDATE: Looks like the language will not stay in the bill. Shows what a different world we live in, with the internet causing such an outcry the Michigan Senate Republicans agree to back down on this.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Your Argument is Invalid, Sir

So you ask me to write a contract. After considerable time (and even more considerable cost) I present a 54 page, bound document with embossed paper. It includes every clause imaginable, taking into consideration every contingency; it even includes a section on the Rule Against Perpetuities, Dower, Curtsey and Nuclear War. There are headings and definitions and an index, and, notarized signature lines with triple attestation.

The notice requirements are detailed as to means, time, place, with intricate specificity. Everything anyone could ever hope to be in a contract is included. You are suitably impressed.

However, you see a small section at the very end stating the other party can modify any provision in the contract at any time for any reason--it doesn’t have to be in writing--without any notice to you.

Now how impressed are you? What good are all those sections, clauses and words, if the person can take it all away with a mere thought? Why bother with specific notice requirements as to time, date, means, etc. when the other person can say tomorrow, “Meh. I can change that” or even “I don’t have to send any notice at all.”

Makes the other 53 ¾ pages pretty worthless, doesn’t it? Somehow, I don’t think I will be paid for preparing such a contract!

I noticed a similar approach recently where the Christian apologist makes this long argument, but at the end says, “Unless God convinces you, this argument won’t be persuasive.” So why bother with the argument in the first place?

If your argument won’t convince absent Divine Intervention; what good the argument? If a God decides to get involved, why waste time with the puny humans’ words?

Dr. Clay Jones wrote a blog entry entitled Let’s Connect the Moral Dots for “Good” non-Christians where his stated goal was:

We need to connect these dots for the non-Christians who are adulterous murderers in their hearts but still believe they are good people. If we do, they might recognize their sinful condition and cry out for the grace available through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Boz correctly pointed out using Bible verses to convince a non-Christian they are really a murderer is probably not the most effective means. Dr. Jones replied “The Holy Spirit does the convicting. We just speak the truth.”

I see. So all that quoting of verses, and words and framing of thoughts was 53 ¾ pages of detail. All of which is irrelevant if the last sentence is, “but none of this matters if the Holy Spirit isn’t interested in giving you the secret handshake.”

This was later reiterated when Vinny questioned the splitting of hairs between the difference of a person refraining from an immoral action for selfish reasons (which according to Dr. Jones was bad) as compared to a person repenting of an immoral action for selfish reasons (which according to Dr. Jones was good.)

And what is the difference between those two persons? Simple—God picked one over the other according to Dr. Jones.

There you have it. All the words, argument, theories, discussions and interactions in the world won’t make a bit of difference.

If God wants you—you get it. If He doesn’t—you are screwed.

This creates an incredible exclusion for the apologist. They never have to fear regarding the quality of their arguments. No matter how bad the claims are made, if we aren’t convinced, it is God’s doing.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Bad Advertising

Humans believe what motivates themselves would motivate others. Therefore, they often advertise a product with what they think is compelling. A man who likes fast cars will advertise the speed a car accelerates. A soccer mother, however, would advertise convenience in carrying multiple children and their paraphernalia. A cost-conscious person focuses on gas mileage; another may point out luxury.

If, however, the person buying is not motivated the same as the seller, no matter how much the seller emphasizes what the seller thinks important…it won’t work.

This point was brought home to me recently when a distant in-law wrote the following on their Facebook:

A teenage girl about 17 had gone to visit some friends one nite & time passed quickly as each shared stories of the past year . She ended up staying longer than planned & had to walk home alone. She wasn't afraid because it was a small town & she lived only a few blocks away . As she walked along under the elm trees Diane asked God to keep her safe from harm or danger . When she reached the alley ............which ... was a short cut to her house she decided to take it. However halfway down the alley she noticed a man standing at the end as though he was waiting for her . She became uneasy & began to pray asking for God's protection . Instantly a comforting feeling of quietness & security wrapped around her . When she reached the end of the alley she walked right passed the man & arrived home safely . The following day she read in the newspaper that a young girl had been raped in the same alley just 20 mins . after she had been there . Feeling overwhelmed by this tragedy & the fact that it could have been her she began to weep . Thanking the Lord for her safety & to help this young woman she decided to go to the police station . She felt she could recognize the man so she told them her story. The police asked her if she would be willing to look at a line up to see if she could identify him . She agreed & immediately pointed out the man she had seen in the alley the night before . When the man was told that he had been identified he immediately broke down & confessed. The officer thanked Diane for her bravery & asked her if there was anything they could do for her . She asked if they would ask the man 1 question . Diane was curious as to why he did not attack her . When the police asked him he answered " Because she wasn't alone , she had two tall men walking on either side of her ." Amazingly whether you believe or not , you're never alone. Did u know that 98% of teenagers will not stand up for God ? God is always there in your heart & loves you no matter what & if you stand up for him he will stand up for you !! I bet 93% of the ppl who read this wont re post

Or course ferrets out how unverifiable this story is.

Normally, I would shrug and think it another Christian meme being spread, but he added an interesting comment. “Why we share our faith.”


I can understand why another Christian would be self-righteously pleased with how God protects one of their own—but do they realize what this comes across to a non-Christian?

This is a story about a young girl being raped. There is nothing “wonderful” to share here, nothing uplifting, nothing compelling us non-Christians to cry out, “What a benevolent God!” This story might be half-way interesting if it had Diane call the police, who picked up the guy admitting he was going to rape someone but didn’t. How God intervened to prevent a terrible crime. (Although even that is problematic.)

Instead what this says, if you pray the right prayer and God is happy with it, you won’t get raped. Too bad for the women whose heart isn’t right with Jesus. Or (because Christian females are raped too) doesn’t pray the right prayer.

This doesn’t make non-Christians pause and think, “Hey, there’s a God I want to know more about.” Rather, it poignantly raises the Problem of Evil—a perennial thorn in the Christian’s side.

The story, of course, is fake. Why a Christian thinks it is remotely compelling to a non-Christian is beyond me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Electing Judges

Most people will only appear before a Judge one or two times in their life. A traffic ticket, minor issue with the landlord. Unsurprisingly, absent those few instances, the judges within the judicial system are completely unknown to the public.

How many times have you entered the voting booth and not have a clue about any person running for judicial office? Of course…why would you? It will never make a difference to you whether “Smith” or “Jones” becomes the local magistrate…until you are in front of them…

You will then discover Judges have a broad power termed “discretion.” It means, within certain parameters, they can do what they want and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. For example, in Michigan we have sentencing guidelines to standardize punishment. Theoretically, one should receive the same sentence whether the crime was committed in Wayne County, Kent County or Ontonagon County. The probation department prepares a report, assigning values depending on actions within the crime (how many victims, was a weapon involved, etc.) and the defendant’s past criminal history.

Once that number is determined, it is plugged into a “grid,” providing the minimum sentence the defendant will serve. The number could be “0 – 12” for example, meaning the minimum sentence imposed by the court will be 0 months to 12 months. (The maximum sentence is always determined by the crime. E.g. “Mayhem” will always result in a maximum sentence of 10 years. MCL 750.397.)

It is possible to have a minimum range as broad as “0 – 36”—meaning the judge has the full discretion to allow the defendant to walk out the courtroom OR put them in prison for 3 years. And no appellate court will set aside either sentence. How would you like one person to have that much control over what you will be doing for the next 3 years?

Or take a monetary case. Even a simple case involving $10,000, the judge can decide to award $0; $5,000; or $10,000 dollars. Think the Plaintiff was probably a little in the wrong? Shave the amount down to $7,500. Think the Defendant should pay something, even if the Plaintiff has no case? Give ‘em $1,000.

Time and again, we walk out of courthouses, and client says, “Where did the Judge come up with THAT number?” I shrug—it is within Judge’s discretion. They wanted a particular result and managed to mangle a way to it.

Now think about a small business in a community. Hospitals getting sued for malpractice and suing to collect bills. A Management company taking numerous tenants to court. These are businesses appearing before the courts dozens, even thousands of times. Not just once.

When the judge is running for re-election, it behooves the business to provide monetary and political support, knowing how many times they will be appearing in the Judge’s court over the next six years.

More important than the business, we lawyers understand how many times we will be appearing in that courtroom. And it is to our benefit to provide monetary and political support to the winning judge. Will we get a murderer off because we put the Judge’s banner in our yard and contributed to her campaign? No. Will we get an extra adjournment if we want it? Very likely.

Needless to say, Judgeships become political creatures. They prevail on three factors: 1) gender (females have a slightly better chance), 2) Name recognition and 3) Advertisement. To get one’s name out (for the recognition) costs money. Often the judge voted in is the one who spends the most. Plain and simple.

What if you felt wronged by a local business and take them to court, only to face a business (who contributed to the judge’s campaign), represented by a lawyer (who contributed to the judge’s campaign)? Would you be concerned? Understand, most judges do not like being reversed on appeal, so they will not deviate too far from the law…but within their discretion, they have a wide variety of options. What are the chances that discretion will bend in your favor?

One can start to see the concern in electing judges. First, we are back to high school; voting the most popular to become Class President, not necessarily the most qualified. Second, the mechanics of election (and re-election) invite political favoritism. Whether we admit it or not.

All this was going through my mind as I read this article on the Iowa Justices who ruled gay marriage was constitutionally protected in Iowa. See, in Iowa, they apparently attempted to reduce the political impact by interviewing and appointing Supreme Court Justices on merit, rather than popularity. To get input from the State Bar as to who was qualified, and question them before even allowing them on the ballot. (In Michigan, any lawyer who as been licensed for 5 years could potentially run and sit on the Michigan Supreme Court. They wouldn’t have to ever be a judge—indeed they wouldn’t have to practice law a single day! Just be licensed.)

Alas, after ruling in favor of gay marriage, the Tea Party targeted these three judges (labeling them….can you guess? Starts with “act” and ends with “ivist.”) and for the first time in their career, they had to respond in a political campaign to defend their positions. Of course, they bungled it, and lost.

The Tea Party declared it a victory—“We showed ‘em!” I see it as a loss to the judicial system. Iowa—you are better served by having qualified persons interviewed and recommended than having John Q. Public picking “Francis O’Brien” because they saw his sign more than his competitors.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Round and Round We Go

Matthew’s Gospel uniquely records a relatively well-known instance regarding resurrection of other persons at the time of Jesus’ resurrection:

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Matt. 27:51-53 (NKJV)

Dr. Licona, in his recent word, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach deals with these two verses on pp. 548 – 553. (Alas, only p. 553 is available on google books.)

Dr. Licona notes other contemporary authors (Cassius Dio, Josephus, etc.) included miraculous events at the times of great king’s deaths. That it was a common literary device of the time to denote significance. He then concludes Matthew is using a similar literary poetic device when referring to the resurrection of the saints.

The difficulty though, is how to determine what historicity the author(s) were assigning to these claims. If the Roman historians really did think earthquakes happened, stars aligned, swords appeared in the sky, miraculous births occurred—all as signs something important was happening—would Matthew likewise be claiming these signs really did occur?

If the Roman historians were, in essence, making this events up (or at the least doing very little confirmation regarding the claims), is Matthew likewise doing so?

Personally, I see this as a difficulty in consistent methodology when comparing contemporary Roman historians to the Gospel accounts; but what do I know?

This is not the reason I write. Other Christian authors have become disenchanted with Dr. Licona’s position; concerned he has committed apostasy by abandoning inerrancy when claiming these events did not actually, historically happen.

At the beginning of August, 2011 Dr. Geisler wrote an open letter to Dr. Licona concluding, “Indeed, if the principles of your historical approach (of using extra-biblical material as determinative of the meaning of a biblical text) were used consistently on the Bible, then it would undermine orthodoxy by dehistoricizing many crucial passages of the Bible.”

[This presents a huge problem for Dr. Geisler. The Protestant Bible does not include a Hebrew or Greek Lexicon. How does Dr. Geisler propose to determine the meaning of the Greek text, without knowledge as to what the Greek meant? The Bible does not include a history of the Roman world. How does Dr. Geisler propose to date a verse like Luke 3:1 referring to Emperor Tiberius’ reign without outside knowledge as to when Tiberius reigned? No--everyone utilizes extra-biblical material as a determinative of the meaning of a biblical text. We have to, as the Bible is not (nor does it claim to be) a complete authority on every item discussed.

Indeed, Dr. Geisler utilizes extra-biblical material. Here he just doesn’t like the fact the extra-biblical material is uncomfortable with his position.)

Dr. Licona failed to respond. So on August 21, 2011 Dr. Geisler wrote his second open letter to Dr. Licona. He expresses his adamant concern Mike Licona is no longer subscribing to the standards required by ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) and its “standard view of inerrancy” as proclaimed by ICBI (International Council of Biblical Inerrancy.)

Dr. Geisler reiterates, “There is something more important than having a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship; it is putting Lordship over scholarship when necessary.” (emphasis added.)

Dr. Geisler puts his methodology in plain sight: if scholarship disagrees with his interpretation of the Bible--no matter how solid the facts, evidence, argument and proof--he will ignore scholarship to maintain his belief.

On September 8, 2011 Dr. Licona responded with a note on his Facebook page. (As not every one is on Facebook, I linked to Wintery Knight’s blog.)

Of course, Dr. Geisler almost immediately countered with his third installment within this saga, all but calling for Dr. Licona’s removal from the ETS: “The ETS and ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand, and Licona has clearly stepped over it. Only a clear recantation will reverse the matter and, unfortunately, Licona has not done this. Let's pray that he does.“ (emphasis in original)

JP Holding weighed in on the issue and (I think) accurately summarized the problem:

Geisler's view of Matthew 27: Matthew is reporting history as history.

Licona's view of Matthew 27: Matthew is reporting a poetic device as a poetic device.

Geisler's view of Licona's view of Matthew 27: Matthew is reporting a poetic device as history.

As we have noted, one cannot "dehistoricize" a text that was never intended to be taken as historical. Geisler continues to miss this point and thus continues to misapprehend Licona's views with respect to inerrancy.

“Dr” James White sides with Dr. Geisler (curiously indicating he hasn’t read Dr. Licona’s book) but then takes a pot shot at Dr. Geisler for not responding to one of James White’s problems.

Other Christians are taking one side or the other (in the particular comments within that blog, “Nick” (Dr. Licona’s son-in-law) engages with Christians adhering to Dr. Geisler.)

I found two (2) things interesting about these exchanges:

1) If like-minded Christians cannot agree over a few clauses, whether they are historical or not, whether they are inerrant or not, whether to trust scholarship, even what method to utilize to determine these questions—what chance do we non-Christians have of debating “true” Christianity?

We so often hear how skeptics debate straw people, or only take on the fringes, but never battle the core, correct Christianity. Yet here is a simple matter where Christians engage in tremendous battle, and no progress appears as to which (if any) is the “correct” interpretation.

2) I am bemused that Dr. Geisler is as concerned (if not more) Dr. Licona is included in a group—ETS (Evangelical Theological Society)—when Dr. Geisler feels Dr. Licona should be excluded. Geisler wants it clear to the world that Dr. Licona is a heretic.

And wants fellow ETS members to join him in dishonorably discharging Dr. Licona.

Christians are unhappy with atheists; they abhor apostates.

(Edited to Add:

Now Albert Mohler has also joined the fray, on the side of….drum roll, please…..Dr. Geisler.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When Politeness Fails

Over at Gullible’s Travels D’Ma wrote of a recent conversation with a Sunday School teacher, asking the question almost every deconvert hears in one form or another—“Why don’t you go to Church anymore?”

Eventually, your friends, family and colleagues notice a change. You don’t scream out “Praise Jesus!” when your friends declare good news. You don’t post, “I’ll pray for you” on Facebook in response to bad news. You restrict your involvement in Church….drop out of leadership positions…stop singing in the choir….skip more and more Sunday night services………then more and more Sunday morning services…..

Either they seek you out, or (more likely) bump into you at a local establishment. After the few awkward exchanges—“How’s your spouse?”—the inevitable occurs; “We don’t see you at Church anymore…what’s up?” Like D’Ma, I demurred. “Oh, we were looking for a different direction.” “We started attending a different church.” “Our friends invited us to attend elsewhere.”

All true, mind you. Well…half true. O.K….maybe 1/8th true. The real reason was that I deconverted, and am no longer interested in worshipping a non-existent creature. I am no longer interested wasting my time singing songs with no meaning, reading verses out of context, and hearing sermons pandering to the least common denominator of emotional need.

There is no place for an atheist like me in a church.

At the time, I thought my justification for the half-truths was valid. My wife (understandably) was aghast at the turmoil created, and dreaded any confrontation on the subject. D’Ma mentioned it, but unless you have been imbedded in a church, you may not understand it—there is a gossip train like no other within the Christian community.

Yes, one attended church to worship God. Yes, we attended church to socialize with like-minded people. But we also attended to learn news. Who was divorcing whom? Whose kid was in trouble? Who got sick, lost a job, entered a cult? Alas—most times the news was lackluster at best. Christians generally shared only innocuous difficulties—“hard week at work,” “brother-in-law in car accident,” that sort of thing. Some times we had to look for the news—an ugly hat, a bratty child, a poor disposition.

And in the car, on the way home, spouses would share the news. Oh, the conversations that take place in cars between church parking lots and homes! As children we knew (and certainly as my children know) when the parents talked in very quiet voices on the way home from church—THAT was a conversation worth listening to!

It was rare one got big news—and a deconvert would be big news. Almost on par with an affair. (Sexual sins are more titillating.). Certainly equal with divorce. Better than a kid going to jail. This is news one is busting to share. Of course, it will be done in the politely worded, correct form of a prayer request—to be sure! To just blurt it out would be crass, crude and dangerously close to gossip. To blurt it out, and finish with “…we need to pray for him/her” is not only socially acceptable—it is doing God’s Work!

And (if it even lasted until Sunday), the news would spread quickly. The No. 1 conversation (and this would definitely be one of those “quiet conversations”) would be me. Us. And the question on everyone’s lips would be “Why?” Immediately followed by speculation. All gilded under “Christian concern” you understand.

Our marriage would be dissected. Our past Christian work evaluated. Smug self-praise assumed—“I always thought there was something wrong.” Because Christians presume one only deconverts for immoral purposes, they would find themselves free to fantasize about what my purpose was; indulge in both reckless character assassination AND thoughts normally forbidden.

My wife loathed the thought of this. I have slightly thicker skin, but this still would not be very pleasant. She dreaded it; I demurred. I shrank away with small excuses and polite put-offs.

And it didn’t make a damned bit of difference. We still managed to creep into prayer lists. The few I shared with, shared with others. I was a sermon example; those “in the know” immediately knew who the pastor was talking about. We still lost the friends we thought would stick by us; (hardy har har. Who were we to think our situation would be different?) we still became the outsiders.

And—like all such gossip—newer and juicer tidbits came along, relegating my deconversion to the dustbins of gossip history. With nothing more to feed the story—alas for them, I didn’t divorce my wife or declare my self a Satanist, or do anything exciting at all—it dropped and disappeared.

Leaving behind one musty uneasiness—because I didn’t address my deconversion, they don’t have to. Now when we meet, there is a slight cumbersome undertone where they know I am an atheist, they know I know they know, and yet no one addresses it. It is not so much an elephant remaining in the room, as an elephant that just leaves as we enter. A moment we see it, and then the elephant passes. Leaving us with inane, surface conversation for fear the elephant will thunder back in at any moment.

I continue to do this from politeness. I dislike confrontational Christians; likewise I presume most Christians do not appreciate a confrontational atheist. Like asking the proverbial “How are you doing?”—this isn’t a request to hear the person’s every mental and physical well-being. It is a form of greeting in our culture. In the same way, if a Christian acquaintance sees me in the fruit department at the local grocery store—they aren’t looking for a conversation comparing Matthean priority over Markan priority!

Yet I tire of it. I tire of the polite dance performed, forcing the conversation to the barest depth of relationship. With former acquaintances I welcome the shallow words as means to escape; but with my own family I find it bordering on insane—I am an atheist, time to face up to the fact! Either learn to laugh with it, learn to cry with it, or learn to ignore it—but learn to live with it!

I cannot help but wonder what it would have been like to confront deconversion head-on at the time. (Of course, not having a time machine, my wife could have become furious and I would be writing this as a divorcee right now. We never know.) I wish I could have stated, “I deconverted.” Let them know Sunday School teachers deconvert. Pastors deconvert. People you thought were the greatest spiritual leader you ever personally knew…deconvert.*

*Not that I am remotely claiming I was—I am thinking of other deconverts whose paths I’ve crossed.

Let them know life is NOT polite. It is messy. It is hard. It sometimes involves more than surface greetings and polite non-committals. Things are happening they can either choose to address or choose to ignore—but they ARE happening.

Please understand this is not a primer for what to do when deconverting. Although I mentioned D’Ma, I am absolutely not saying she should announce by billboard any change in beliefs—far from it. I empathize completely with the situation she is in. I would do the same; I DID do the same.

These are the words of a person seven years post-deconversion. A person who has found other friends and other relationships, with a few lingering family interactions and occasional acquaintance encounter. A person who avoided confrontation out of politeness and gained by it………nothing.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Michigan Warrior Dash 2011

Each Warrior Dash is different, with varying obstacles. This description will only fit for my experience.

Our friends have a membership in a camping community, so we reserved a couple cabins for the crew, planning on spending the night before and after. Friday went up and enjoyed a good evening of fishing, fires and general friendship.

Woke up to Eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes. Saturday proved to be hot (91 degrees) without a cloud for any relief. The Dash sends off runners every 30 minutes—our time was 2:00 p.m. Had two (2) couples, plus me and my son, who just turned 14; the minimum age to run was 14 and his birthday was in June so he was either the youngest or the next to the youngest. Had about 10,000 runners on Saturday, and 9,750 on Sunday.

There were tents to buy merchandise, tents to get food (primarily huge turkey legs) and tents to get beer. The whole thing was extremely well-organized. Got our numbers, timing chips (which also turned out to be the token for free beer), and walked around for a bit, enjoying the other people in costumes.

Considering a band, beer and some testosterone—you might think this was only one step removed from a Hollywood depiction of a biker bar. It was not. Nothing seemed crazy or out of sorts.

The race itself.

It is a 5k (3.1 miles) that normally, with these types of numbers, one would expect the winners to be in the 16:30 range. Our overall winner was 22:30—giving an idea how much time the obstacles added.

We run for about ½ a mile before the first obstacle. This is good because it stretches out the runners. The first is a series of tires/junk cars. I told my son to be careful, either step within the tires or you might trip by trying to walk on the tires.

I, of course, walked on the tires (faster) and tripped on the very last one. My son found this funny. Another ½ mile run (this is really stretching out the crowd nicely) and our second obstacle. Go though a stretch of water with logs at about waist level. (Chest level for my son.) Now we will run the rest of the race soaked. Makes the shoes heavy.

Had a cargo net stretched horizontally. (Fastest way to do it is roll.) A series of over/unders where you go over a wall, and then under barbed wire. Climb a wall with ropes. This is a video tour of our course, if you interested.

They stretched a series of bungee cords in a number of criss-cross patterns. I found the fastest way was to lift up the bungees, and stoop under all of them. Some of the people stepping over the bungees I was lifting up gave out shouts of “Hey! I’m stepping over that!” I can’t help it if you are doing it the slow way. It is a race…

There were rumors of a “mystery obstacle.” As we run through the woods we hear laughs and shouts ahead. Not sounding good.

Imagine a steep ditch (normally you would go up it, using your hands) Now fill the bottom with about 3 feet of sludge/mud. It was like walking through sewage. Or so I would imagine. Alongside the ditch, there were two mud-covered logs. One would be tempted to go over the logs, to avoid the mud. I watched a number make it about ½ way and then fall in anyway. I told my son to just run through the mud.

(Even though his pace is slower than mine, I ran with him to make sure he could do the obstacles. If I had to do it again, I might not—he was fine.)

Unfortunately, the mud had a number of logs in it, which is why my shins took the beating they did.

The best bit was that at one point the mud dropped to 4 feet deep. My son went in right to his chin.

But now, crawling out, we found the real difficulty. The hill was mud covered and steep. Every step you took forward, you slid back two! There were ropes to use, but too many people, and you still had to crawl up to the rope. This was, by far, the hardest obstacle.

There was a blackout where you crawled for 30 feet in darkness. (HOT!) An up-and-down narrow wooden bridge. Wall climb with rope climb down, and then vertical cargo nets.

Two leaps over fire (small fires, nothing much to worry about.) and the mud pit. The pictures tell the story better than I.

The crowd hung around the mud pit and cheered people on. Generally they liked anything dramatic or unusual. My son came up with a great plan. We went back-to-back, took two steps, did a quick-draw and then fell in as if we shot each other. Hence the way we went in.

Our friends did a leap frog.

Sadly, on Sunday one fellow dove in too deep and became paralyzed from the chest down.

I can’t really tell you how well I did, since I did not run my normal pace. I figured I would normally have run it in about 29:00. (I run 5k in 21:30)

As DoOrDoNot’s husband is doing this, I thought I would give a few suggestions. Take a change of clothes. You will get everything dirty. They had a shoe contribution, we all contributed our shoes. You may not want to keep yours.

Bring flip-flops or sliders for after. Bring a garbage bag to put the clothes you were running in…in. You do not want these to touch anything.

Bring some wipes for your face. They have a rinsing off station, but it is not sufficient. Bring a Q-tip or two. I got dirt out of my ears for the next three days.

Have a blast. You will be addicted. I am already signed up for next year. July 28, 2012 at 1 p.m.