Friday, March 25, 2016

Cruz on domestic jihadism

Translation Greek

I'd like to revisit one of Bart Ehrman's objections to the historicity of the NT. He says the disciples were illiterate, Aramaic-speaking peasants. He says 1 Peter and the four Gospels were written in literary Greek. Hence, that disqualifies the disciples as their authors. 

1. To begin with, it's a straw man argument. Of the four Gospels, only Luke has any literary panache. And that's traditionally attributed to a well-educated, Greek-speaking Gentile author, not an illiterate, Aramaic speaking peasant. 

Only one of the four Gospels is even directly attributed to one of the Galilean disciples. And John's Gospel is written in simple Greek. 

Moreover, Galilee wasn't the backwoods place that Ehrman depicts. It had urban centers like Sepphoris, within easy walking distance of Nazareth, and Tiberias, a coastal town on the shore of Lake Kineret, a few miles from Capernaum. Moreover, Galilee had a road system. And the region is still dotted with Greek inscriptions. And these are just the inscriptions that happen to survive. Cf. C. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (IVP, 2006 133ff; "Galilee" 391-98; "Tiberias" 1235-1238, Dictionary of New Testament Background (IVP 2000).

Mark was an urbanite in highly literate, multi-lingual Jerusalem. As a tax-collector, Matthew hardly matches the profile of an illiterate, Aramaic speaking peasant. We'd expect him to be able to read commercial and administrative documents. We'd expect him to be a polyglot to some degree.

Of course, there's a lot we don't know about the authors, but that cuts both ways. That means Ehrman's dogmatism is unjustified. 

2. But I'd also like to discuss the issue of translation Greek. Take the cryptic statement of Papias that "Matthew set in order the logia in a Hebrew dialect" (i.e. Aramaic). A stock objection is that Matthew's Gospel doesn't read like translation Greek. The same objection might be raised to the possibility that Peter dictated his letter Aramaic, which his bilingual scribe rendered into literary Greek. I'm not saying I agree with that. I think it highly likely that Peter knew conversational Greek. I'm just responding to Ehrman on his own terms.

3. I find the common claim that something couldn't originally be in a different language because our text doesn't read like a translation is grossly simplistic. 

i) To begin with, that's an issue of translation philosophy. Translators are typically confronted with a choice: should they produce a more literal translation, or a more literary translation? A word-for-word translation, that preserves the original sentence structure (as much as possible), or a smooth idiomatic translation? 

It depends, in part, on the nature of the document. Is this a literary document? A legal document? Is accuracy more important than elegance, or vice versa? We don't want a translator to indulge in literary license with a legal contract. 

ii) In can also depend on whether the receptor language is cognate with the donor language. Suppose a translator renders a German author into English. English is a mongrel language. Because it has many words and forms of Germanic derivation, a translator could preserve more of the Germanic flavor of the original by using Germanic English words and forms where possible. But if he were to use more words and forms of Romance derivation, that would obscure the Germanic original. 

Or suppose he's translating a German author into Italian. The diction and syntax will be so different that the original language might be undetectable. Not to mention rendering a Chinese or Japanese text into a European language. Take the difference between fusional languages and agglutinative languages. 

iii) Or take the KJV. That's a pretty literal translation of the Greek and Hebrew. By that token, you might say it's translation Greek or translation Hebrew. Typically, literal translations are stilted. 

Yet the KJV is extolled as a model of English style. That's in part because it benefits from the luxuriant wealth of Germanic and Latinate vocabulary available to the translators. It was a vibrant period for the English language. And the range of synonyms gives the translators an opportunity to render the Greek and Hebrew into euphonious sentences that read aloud so well. 

iv) In many cases, the primary qualification for a good translator is to be proficient in the donor language and receptor language. However, some translators are notable stylists in their own right. Take Alexander Pope's celebrated translation of the Iliad, or Dryden's classic translations of Virgil. That transmutes the style of Homer into the style of Pope, or the style of Virgil into the style of Dryden. 

That raises an issue: when rendering a stylish work of literature, a translator may consciously adopt a more neutral translation to avoid imposing his own style on the original. Dryden and open were open to criticism for effacing the style of the original by substituting their own. Do you read Homer for Homer, or Homer for Pope? Do you read Virgil for Virgil, or Vigil for Dryden? 

But in their defense, they might say it's preferable to render the best Greek and Latin into the best English. To render the best Greek and Latin into inferior English is a demotion, misrepresenting the quality of the original. They should be at the same level. Moreover, they might say that they are cross-contextualizing the original. Making it accessible to readers in their own time and place.

My immediate point isn't to debate the merits of competing translation philosophies, but to demonstrate how simplistic and unreliable it is to claim that something can't be a translation because it doesn't read like a translation. But there are many factors that feed into that assessmnt. The translator's skill. The translator's aim. How much the two languages have in common. The range of available synonyms. 

Clinton Can Still Easily Be Beaten

But a lot depends on what happens the rest of this primary season and what happens at the open convention the Republican party is likely to have. Something I wrote in another thread:

Clinton's negatives are high. Trump's are higher. It's not that Clinton is hard to defeat. It wouldn't be hard. Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz, for example, have frequently beaten her in the polls. Some Republicans are still ahead of her in RealClearPolitics' poll average, even though the Republican primary season has been so unusually negative, and that negativity has received so much more media attention than the negativity in the Democratic primaries. If multiple Republican candidates can beat Clinton so often in the polls, even in such a negative primary season in which Trump is making the Republicans look so bad, it would probably be even easier to beat Clinton once the primaries are over and Trump is receiving less attention.

I'd still only give Cruz a 45% chance of winning against Clinton, but that's far better than Trump's chances. I'd expect Rubio or Kasich to win easily. So would other Republicans, if they were to be the nominee.

The muddled Muslim-Catholic dialogue

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The historicity of John

NT scholar Craig Evans thinks that John's Gospel belongs to the genre of wisdom literature. It depicts Jesus as wisdom personified. Hence, Jesus didn't actually express the "I am" sayings attributed to him in that Gospel. That would make the same mistake as taking the narrative in Prov 8 literally. 

This revisits issues regarding the historicity of John, so I'll venture a few observations:

i) The idea that John contains a wisdom Christology is not unusual in Johannine scholarship. Ben Witherington is a prominent example. I myself think that's forcing John's Gospel into a paradigm with precious little supporting evidence. And Evans seems to be taking that approach to a logical extreme. Of course, we could say that discredits the whole approach. 

ii) In fairness, Evans also notes that John is loaded with historical details. 

iii) A common question is why John has a more explicitly high Christology than the Synoptics. Liberals say that's because it's unmoored from reality. It represents a more developed Christology. An evolving Christology–at the expense of the historical Jesus. 

I'd propose a different explanation. Because the Synoptics have a more Jewish milieu, a Jewish reader would pick up on the high Christology of the Synoptic Jesus. In the Synoptics, Jesus is presented against the backdrop of OT monotheism. The Synoptics are chockfull of clues to Christ's identity, given the parallels between Jesus and Yahweh. Given how Jesus says and does things that would be blasphemous if he was merely human.

In fact, we might turn this around. If, say, Matthew was as explicit as John, he'd never get a hearing from Jewish readers. 

Because John arguably has a more gentile audience in mind, he must accentuate the more explicit statements of Jesus, or make more explicit statements about Jesus inasmuch as Gentile readers aren't tuned into the Jewish code language. 

I'd hasten to add that this is a matter of emphasis. John is a Jewish writer, and his Gospel reflects a Jewish outlook. But it is, in a way, a Jewish missionary to Gentiles. He was probably ministering in Asia Minor at the time. 

It might be objected that we'd expect the same explanation to apply to Luke. But Luke amplifies Mark. Because Luke operates within the narrative contours of Mark, that constrains his ambit, whereas John strikes out on his own with an independent plot line. As for Mark, I think he probably has a mixed audience. If it was penned with the church of Rome in mind, I believe that was, at the time of writing, a collection of Gentile and Messianic Jewish house-churches.

iv) The lengthy speeches in John, such as the farewell discourse and prayer (Jn 13:31-17:26) seem artificial. Is that how people normally talk?

But there's a reason it's called the "farewell" discourse. Jesus is wrapping things up. It has a testamentary character to it. 

In addition, although it's one-sided, this is not an uninterrupted monologue, but interspersed with questions that, in turn, give rise to answers. 

Finally, this wasn't just for a handful of people in the Upper Room, but with an eye to posterity. Jesus is like a broadcaster whose statements aren't merely directed to a studio audience, but primarily to the unseen audience behind the camera. He's speaking for the benefit of Christian readers, when the record of this discourse is published. 

v) A problem with treating the "I am" sayings as fictional is that these are tightly woven into the setting. For instance, "I am the resurrection and the life" is entirely appropriate as a prelude to raising Lazarus from the dead. Why wouldn't Jesus say that on this occasion? By the same token, "I am the light of the world" piggybacks on Hanukkah, on the one hand, and healing the blind man, on the other hand.  

Likewise, "I am the bread of life" and "Before Abraham was, I am" are responsive to the immediate context. Embedded in rambling, sometimes acrimonious exchanges with his enemies. They have the meandering quality of real conversations. The give and take of real conservations. Indeed, the cut and thrust of live, impromptu, public debate with hostile opponents. 

Furthermore, we'd expect an extraordinary person to make extraordinary claims about himself. It's only unrealistic if you presume Jesus wasn't God Incarnate. 

"I am the way, the truth, and the life" is responsive to Philip's question. Moreover, it makes sense in the context of a farewell discourse. And it combines a number of scattered motifs in the Fourth Gospel. 

"I am the gate," "I am the good shepherd," and "I am the true vine" occur in parables. Surely Jesus taught in parables. 

Culpably Ignorant Voters

One way to tell just how ignorant most voters are, even voters who are so interested in politics that they participate in the primaries, is to look at how wrongly they judge electability. Trump's electability is horrible, far worse than that of his Republican rivals. He often trails Clinton by a double-digit percentage in the polls, and his unfavorability rating is the worst Gallup has found in nearly a quarter of a century of tracking those numbers. Yet, voters repeatedly say that they think Trump is the most electable of the Republican candidates. Most likely, that's largely because of a simplistic assumption that whoever is leading in the primaries must have the best electability in the general election. What does it tell us about voters when they can go through several months of a highly controversial and highly important primary season without doing even the most basic research on electability? Dan McLaughlin writes:

Respondents in the Bloomberg poll picked Trump over Cruz by a whopping 66-26 margin on the question of “Has the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton?” Even as poll after poll after poll confirms what any moderately sentient observer of American politics knows – that Trump would be a catastrophe in November – ordinary voters seem regularly to be under the impression that other voters like Trump a lot, so he must be a strong general election candidate. Trump is running on electability, while not having it, and not having principles, either. It seems at times as if the voters need to see Trump destroyed by Hillary before they will believe it. It is the job of Cruz, and of everyone who opposes Hillary’s election to the Presidency, to spread the word that this is nonsense, before it’s too late for us to turn back from the brink. A vote for Donald Trump in the primary is a vote for Hillary Clinton.

Helms and Cruz

I notice some Cruz opponents are trying to tar him on civil rights by equating his position with the position of Jesse Helms, who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This is classic guilt by association. A few observations:

i) There were segregationist dinosaurs like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Fritz Hollings, and Robert Byrd who reinvented themselves. I doubt their change of heart was sincere. I think they were ambitious politicians who adapted to a new situation. It's a pity voters didn't clean house by sweeping them out of office and making a fresh start. 

ii) In all likelihood, I think Jesse Helms was of the same ilk. Given when and where he came of age, it would be surprising if he didn't support Jim Crow. So I figure he opposed the Civil Rights Act because he was a conventional racist. And I assume he softened his views later on due to political expediency. 

iii) But by the same token, Cruz's social conditioning, is completely different from Helms. He's a man of a different time and place. He didn't have the same formative experiences Helms did. There's no comparison. 

iv) Regarding the Civil Rights Act, there are critics like Milton Friedman who give it mixed reviews. They oppose laws that mandate discrimination as well as laws that forbid discrimination. They think Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law. But they think the private sector should be free to discriminate. For that reason, they oppose Title II of the Civil Rights Acts, which forbad discrimination in public accommodations, although they supported provisions of the same act that nullified racially discriminatory laws by state and local government. 

Keep in mind that the "public accommodations" provision has become the template for LGBT rights. So there is a principled reason to be critical of Title II. 

I'm not suggesting Jesse Helm had that high-minded objection. My point, though, is that there's nothing inherently racist about refusing to give a blanket endorsement to the Civil Rights Act. 

Cruz on counterterrorism

In the wake of the jihadist attack in Brussels, Ted Cruz said:

For years, the west has tried to deny this enemy exists out of a combination of political correctness and fear. We can no longer afford either.
Our European allies are now seeing what comes of a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods.
We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here.
We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence.
We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.
We need to secure the southern border to prevent terrorist infiltration.
And we need to execute a coherent campaign to utterly destroy ISIS.
The days of the United States voluntarily surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we can be are at an end. Our country is at stake.

I agree with most of this. That said:

i) What does he mean about "empowering" law enforcement. Is that just a synonym for giving them permission to do stuff they already have the legal authority to do, which might offend against political correctness, or does he mean expanding police power? If the latter, I disagree. 

ii) What does it mean to "secure" Muslim neighborhoods? Sounds like checkpoints, but that can't be what he means, so does it mean anything at all, or does it just sound impressive?

iii) However, my underlying problem is with the notion that we should take for granted the existence of jihadist hotbeds in our country, and respond by heightened policing of Muslim neighborhoods. That's a recipe for a surveillance state. Moreover, it means we knowingly harbor communities that nurture terrorism, then try to counteract that. But that's treating symptoms. If Muslims are a major source of domestic terrorism, why should they be allowed to live here in the first place? 

Likewise, saying we need to "utterly destroy ISIS" sounds great, but as someone who lived through the Viet Nam war, Iraq war, and Afghanistan war, I'm less than sanguine about those triumphalistic pronouncements. 

Problem is, the entire Mideast is booby-trapped. If you defuse one bomb, you set off another bomb (figuratively speaking).

In terms of bombing, does ISIS present compact targets? How well can we pick out ISIS fighters from the general population? Or is it basically carpet bombing?

And then, according to military analysts like Fred Kagan and David French, you need boots on the ground to go block by block, door-to-door, and floor by floor in a mopping up operation. That will get a lot of American G.I.'s killed or maimed. Is it worth it? 

Then there's the power vacuum. Do we leave Assad in place? Prop him up? Try to topple him and replace him with a puppet gov't or "coalition" gov't? If so, we will need to prop that up, too. 

To what extent will we need an occupation force? What about the Russians? 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Inspiration and textual transmission

An objection to Scripture, popularized by Bart Ehrman, is the question: why would God inspire the authors but not inspire every subsequent scribe? Or as Ehrman puts it in one debate, If God inspired the Bible without error, why hasn't he preserved the Bible without error? It's an infinite regress argument. I've discussed this before, but I'd like to make some additional observations:

1. This is an armchair objection to duck the need to address the actual evidence for the Christian faith. An a priori diversionary tactic.

2. Suppose we had only one surviving Greek MS of the NT. That would simplify textual criticism in the sense of eliminating the problem of textual variants at one stroke. You can only have textual variants if you have at least two different MSS. 

But we're obviously better off having many MSS. If we only had one, we wouldn't tell how representative that was. By having a large sampling, we have a much broader base of evidence. And even though that multiplies variants, it multiples the number of witnesses to the original readings. Presumably, the original reading is contained in multiple sources.

3. The regress argument assumes a continuum where any cut-off will be arbitrary. An all-or-nothing approach. But that's very dubious.

Suppose a doctor writes a prescription. That includes the correct dosage. How much you should take how often. 

Suppose the original prescription is lost. But that's a tradition regarding the correct dosage, based on that prescription. Collective memory.

Even though the original prescription is lost, it's certainly better to have a tradition based on the correct dosage than to rediscover the correct dosage through trial and error. If you have to figure it out by scratch, you may kill several test subjects before you hit on the right dosage. Some will die of overdose, some will die of underdose. 

So it's useful to have the right standard as the starting-point, even if all we now have are copies. 

4. It's fun for an unbeliever to taunt Christians with the question, "Why doesn't God inspire every scribe?", but there's no real thought that goes into that challenge. No consideration of what that would entail.

To simplify, suppose there are exactly 5000 ancient Greek MSS of the NT. Suppose the earliest dates to AD 150. And suppose all 5000 MSS are identical. But that postulate generates many conundra:

5. How would we verify that all 5000 MSS are identical? Can one scholar read 5000 Greek MSS and certify that they are identical? How would that work, exactly? How long would it take him to read through 5000 MSS? He begins with the first, reads it from start to finish, then puts that down and picks up the second, and so on and so forth. And as he reads each MS, he must mentally compare that with the others to check if there are any variations. Do we really think that after he finishes the 5000th MS, he's going to remember everything in the first, or second, or third? It's humanly impossible for him to remember and mentally compare the contents of 5000 MSS. 

6. Suppose we create a division of labor. We divvy it up so that 50 scholars read 100 Greek MSS, then certify that these are identical. But that raises both similar and dissimilar problems.

i) Even if every set of 100 MSS is identical, that doesn't show that every set is identical with every other set. In every set of 100 MSS, each MS is identical with the other 99 MSS. But that doesn't establish that they are identical with the 100 MSS in a different set. 

After all, there's no common frame of reference. Each scholar only read his set. He can't directly compare that to another set. He doesn't know what is in a different set. 

ii) In addition (and this applies to 4-5 alike), the very act of reading and comparing MSS can introduce errors into the analysis. What are the odds that all the MSS are identical compared to the odds that a reader misread them, misremembered them, or misrecorded his findings? 

7. Perhaps this would be more feasible in the computer age, but I'm not sure.

i) A computerized comparison requires each MSS to be digitized. If that involves someone manually inputting a MS into the computer, then he can accidentally introduce mistakes and variations in the process of transcription. 

ii) Or if he scans a MS into the computer, I assume that requires sophisticated image recognition software. These are handwritten MSS. There's no spacing between words. The letters are irregularly formed. No two thetas or zetas are uniform. So the computer might misinterpret the data that's fed into it.

8. Suppose an unbeliever pushes the envelop by postulating that God inspires the readers. Hence, readers can verify that the 5000 MSS are identical. Or can they? You think they all look alike, but how do you know that?

This is like SF scenarios about alien telepaths. How do you know if what you see is real? What if the alien makes you think you see something that isn't there? 

By the same token, how could you tell the difference between continuous inspiration and no inspiration? What if a reader is inspired to subconsciously correct a mistake, so that he never registers the mistake? He has no basis of comparison. 

9. Conversely, suppose the 5000 MSS are demonstrably identical. But the fact (ex hypothesis) that they are identical with each other affords no evidence that they are identical with the lost originals. They might be identically erroneous. Identical with a defective exemplar. 

10. Supposing the 500 MSS are identical, that would be highly suspicious. Evidence of massive collusion. The MSS had to be doctored to produce that artificial uniformity. 

11. By contrast, when we have thousands of MSS with accidental mistakes, where each MSS has different mistakes or variants in different places, that paradoxically gives us confidence that this is a trustworthy historical witness to the originals, precisely because these amount to multiple lines of independent evidence. They weren't doctored to induce artificial conformity. 

Does experience count against miracles?

Christian refugees

Where is God?

I recently did two posts explaining how special providence is consistent with the apparent randomness of the distribution pattern. Here's one that links to the other post:

i) However, an unbeliever might raise the following objection: even if special providence is consistent with apparent randomness, that's no reason to believe in special providence. Their abstract mutual consistency isn't evidence for special providence. Indeed, that's is just a face-saving distinction, for even if God did not exist, that would be consistent with apparent randomness. That's equally consonant with God's existence or nonexistence alike. 

Put another way, to say it's consistent fails to give a reason for apparent randomness. Why would God make the pattern so elusive? What would motivate God to be so inevident? For every apparent answer to prayer, there are so many unanswered prayers. For every divine judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, there's countless cases of divine inaction. For every Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead, you have every so many wrongdoers who prosper. 

To use my own example, given the gambler, he has a reason to conceal his telepathy, but what makes that a given? How is that analogous to God? 

ii) To that I'd say two things: suppose God routinely answered prayer. Suppose immediate retribution was the norm.

Crooks don't ordinarily commit a crime in full view of the police. They wait until the coast is clear. Likewise, smart crooks evade security cameras. They may wear a mask to disguise their identity.

By the same token, you have people who'd commit atrocities if they thought they could get away with it. They have no conscience. They only thing that deters them is fear of reprisal. 

Suppose you have a scrawny high school student who's bullied by a larger boy. A football player sees that, and takes the scrawny kid under his wing. He warns the bully to leave the kid alone. The kid is now under his protection. The football player is bigger, tougher, stronger than the bully, so the bully fears the football player. Not somebody he wants to tangle with.

Problem is, that only deters him from picking on the scrawny student when he's in the company of the football player. But when he's by himself, he once again becomes an easy target. And the bully threatens him (or his relatives) with dire bodily harm if he reports him to the football player.

If special providence was more consistent, many people would be more God-fearing, but for the wrong reason. They'd behave better, but they wouldn't be better. Outer conformity absent inner conviction. The moment they thought they could do wrong with impunity, they'd instantly revert. 

iii) In addition, the question of why God doesn't make himself more evident views the issue through the wrong end of the telescope. For the real issue is qualitative, not quantitative. Atheism is a universal negative. If atheism is true, then there can be no clear instances of evidence for God's existence whatsoever. 

We can wonder why God doesn't intervene with greater frequency, but that's irrelevant to the case for God's existence so long as there is some unambiguous evidence for his existence. Even if there was scant evidence for his existence, so long as that was unmistakable, a modicum of evidence is sufficient to disprove a universal negative. 

My argument takes for granted that there's at least some clear evidence for his existence. And that's a very low threshold to meet. Indeed, that's a very easy threshold to meet. 

Bergoglio’s Gig: Being a Heretic Without Being Blamed For It

Apparently “Good Pope Francis” has signed but not released a document that will now permit divorced and remarried Roman Catholics to take communion. The traditionalist Rorate Caeli has published an article today that cites “insiders”:

Indeed, Cardinal Kasper, Joseph Ratzinger’s great opponent, has announced a genuine “revolution”.

Bergoglio used Kasper in February 2014 at the consistory to launch the sensational news of communion for the divorced and remarried. It’s not that Bergoglio cares about the divorced who want to receive communion but they have been used as a battering ram to shake Catholic doctrine on the sacraments.

Last Monday in a meeting in Lucca and on the eve of the Pope’s signature of the exhortation, Kasper couldn’t contain himself. “It will be the first step in a reform that will turn the page in Church history after 1700 years.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Luck of the draw

This is a sequel to my previous post:

I often use poker as a theological analogy. That's in part because poker is an iconic game in American culture. In addition, it's a flexible analogy that can illustrate different doctrines, viz. prayer, predestination, miracles. Here's another example:

I'm going to continue with my original analogy, but develop it in another direction. The question is whether something that's not random can seem to be random. 

Suppose, as a teenager, I discover that I have telepathic abilities. BTW, this isn't purely hypothetical. There is evidence for telepathy. For instance, philosopher Stephen Braude has documented this phenomenon. Likewise, Classicist Gilbert Murray had quite the reputation as a mindreader. My illustration doesn't depend on the reality of telepathy. I'm just using it to make a point of principle. But it could actually be realistic.

Back to the story. As an enterprising, but not overly scrupulous teenager, I realize that I could use my ability to make an easy and lucrative living for myself, if I play my cards right (pardon the pun). It dovetails perfectly with certain kinds of gambling. I'd be unbeatable at chess or poker.

However, I have to be very discreet about my ability. A casino would not be amused by the presence of a psychic poker player. Not to mention the players I cheat. 

Although I could be equally invincible at chess or poker, I dare not play both, as that would draw too much attention to myself. The trick is not to acquire a reputation as a great poker player (or chess player), since that would attract unwanted attention. I must figure out how to succeed without becoming too successful for my own good. Maintain a low profile.

I'm not a regular customer at the casino. I only go there when I'm low on money. And since the amount I win varies from one game to the next, I don't go back at regular intervals. From the casino's perspective, there's no pattern to when I show up. It seems to be random.

Of course, that's not the case. I go there at irregular times because the amount of the jackpot varies from one game to another. Sometimes I win more, sometimes I win less. When I win more, I can live on that for longer. When I win less, I need to replenish my bank account sooner.

Moreover, people don't spend money at the same rate every month or ever year. Maybe I buy a new car one year, or buy a boat one year. Or maybe the boat engine needs to be repaired, so I'm out a lot of money that month. 

So, from the casino's perspective, it's completely unpredictable when I will turn up, even though that's not really random, but determined by my finances, which are determined by my winnings and expenses. There's actually a connection, but the casino doesn't have enough information to piece it together.

In addition, if I always went to the same casino, that would arouse suspicion. Even if my visits were infrequent, my success would still raise red flags. So, to cover my tracks, I spread it out by visiting different casinos in Reno, Vegas, and Atlantic City, as well as Indian casinos. That creates a randomized appearance. Yet it's calculated randomness. There's actually a pattern to it. But each casino is unaware of my activities at other casinos.

Finally, although I can win every game, that would be a dead giveaway. I'm an unbeatable player who must pretend to be beatable to thrown them off the scent. I must lose more often than I win. A tactical loss. Once again, that's to feign the appearance of happenstance. 

The point is not whether it's ethical for a mindreader to be a professional poker player or chess player. It's just a handy way of demonstrating how, in principle, one agent's actions can purposeful and methodical even though they seem to be aimless or coincidental to observers. 

Praising our killers

Truly this was God's son

Bart Ehrman constantly plays up alleged discrepancies in the Gospels to disprove their historical reliability. This involves a "horizontal" reading of the Gospels. In honor of Holy Week, I will cite a striking example to illustrate how I approach the same issue:

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God's son” (Mk 15:39). 
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was God's son!” (Mt 27:54). 
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Surely this man was innocent!” (Lk 23:47).

i) In Matthew and Mark, the centurion calls Jesus "God's son". But in Luke, the centurion says Jesus was "innocent". How do we account for the difference? There are different possibilities. You could propose additive harmonization. Maybe the centurion made both statements. I think additive harmonization is sometimes the correct explanation, but I think that's clunky in this particular context. 

Or you might say Luke relies on a different tradition of the crucifixion at this point. That's somewhat problematic for the detailed accuracy of the accounts. 

Finally, you might say Luke's version reflects an editorial change. He redacted Mark at this juncture. I'm going to pursue that explanation. 

ii) One objection some people might raise to that harmonization is that it makes Luke put words in the mouth of the centurion that he never said. But doesn't that involve taking unacceptable liberties with historical events? 

Sometimes that's a valid criticism. If a writer puts a statement on the lips of a character who didn't actually say it, we usually think that detracts from the accuracy of the account. However, it depends. 

Suppose a guy says he was "shooting the bull" with some friends. Suppose I repeat that conversation to an immigrant who lacks a command of idiomatic English. "Shooting the bull" would conjure up a completely misleading image in his mind. Does that mean the guy was on a hunting range? In that context, it would be perfectly appropriate for me, in recounting that conversation, to reword it. To use a different phrase. Although I'm quoting someone, yet in that situation I substitute a different phrase because the original idiom would be misleading to the foreign listener. It wouldn't mean to him what it meant to the original speaker. 

iii) What does "son of God" mean in the Gospels? Occasionally it's used as a Davidic title (e.g. 2 Sam 7:14). But that's contextual. And you have many passages where it functions as a divine title rather than a Davidic title. 

iv) A striking example is where demons recognize Christ's true identity (Mk 3:11, 5:7; Mt 8:29 & Lk 8:28). This is a bit hair-raising because human observers are overhearing a conversation between two inhuman agents. The demon is inhuman. And it senses something inhuman about Jesus.

That's not to deny the humanity of Christ. But what the demons detect has nothing to do with his human aspect or Davidic sonship. They discern something that's not empirical. That Jesus is, in a sense, God in disguise. The demons are naturally privy to something about Jesus that's inevident to human observers. Something that transcends the five senses. Demons were in a unique position to immediately apprehend his underlying identity. 

v) Then we need to consider the connotation of that designation for a pagan. If Ares is the son of Zeus and Hera, that means he is the same kind of being as Zeus and Hera. If Zeus is a god, Hera is a goddess, and Ares is their son, then Ares is a god.

vi) Now, the Gospel writers don't think Jesus is "God's son" in a pagan sense. However, the Gospels were written in the lingua franca (Greek) of the Roman Empire. The Gentile mission was a major focus of evangelization in the NT church. Therefore, I think they trade on an overlapping sense. By that I mean, they are using "son of God" in an ontological sense. They use it to indicate that Jesus is the same kind of being as the Father. The phrase intentionally plays on that like father/like son implicature. 

The main difference is a different conceptualization of God. Yahweh is a very different kind of divinity than Zeus. Hence, his son has no point of origin. 

Unless the Gospel writers are using "God's son" ontologicaly, it would be extraordinarily misleading to make this a standard designation for Jesus, given so many Gentile readers–considering the default connotations of that title for Gentiles/pagans. Put another way, the Synoptics would need to take great precautions to guard against otherwise inevitable misunderstanding, given the associations that title would automatically have for non-Jewish readers. Yet they don't generally do that. 

vii) There are, however, some further gradations. I think Mark's audience is fairly indiscriminate. Notable scholars (e.g. R. T. France, Martin Hengel, Robert Stein) think his immediate audience was the church of Rome. And that, of itself, was a federation of Gentile and Messianic Jewish house-churches.

By contrast, Matthew targets Jewish readers. That's a control on how the implied reader would assess the centurion's statement. A Jewish read would make allowance for the centurion's heathen background. And he'd distinguish that from Jewish theism.

However, Luke has a Gentile target audience. On the lips of a Roman soldier, that would have a pagan connotation, and Luke can't assume that his audience has the same standard of comparison as Matthew's. There is, moreover, evidence that Matthew and Luke occasionally redact Mark to forestall misimpressions. 

So I suspect that Luke substituted a dynamic equivalent. Although "innocent" is not synonymous with "God's son," the centurion was vindicating Jesus by his exclamation ("Surely, this is God's son!"), so Luke's alternative faithfully conveys the speaker's intent.  

Bart Ehrman v. Craig Evans

I was watching this debate between Bart Ehrman and Craig Evans:

If you go to cross-examination section (1:18-1:42), there's an interesting, extended exchange. I disagree with Craig's overall position. I certainly disagree with his position on John. However, Craig also scores a number of valid points against Bart.

But what's most striking is how presuppositional the debate ultimately is. Craig has Bart completely rattled. His approach throws Bart off balance, and Bart never regains his balance. It's a classic illustration of Kuhn's thesis of incommensurable paradigms. Craig is more sophisticated than Bart. His position is far more qualified. Craig's position just isn't vulnerable to the kinds of objections that Bart is used to raising. It doesn't give Bart any openings. 

Bart finds Craig confusing and frustrating because Craig seems to simultaneously agree and disagree with Bart . What Bart fails to grasp is that Craig can agree with some of Bart's characterizations of the phenomena, but disagree with the implications of the characterization. He doesn't think they have the skeptical consequences that Bart imputes to them. 

What's ironic is that both men view themselves as historians. Both men think they are approaching the text as historians. But Craig thinks Bart has hopelessly idealistic and artificial standards for ancient historical sources. 

Bart thinks that to be accurate accounts, the Gospels ought to be like tape recorders and video recorders. Craig rejects that paradigm. 

Moreover, as he points out, even if the Gospels were akin to tape recorders and video recorders, that record would still be inscrutable in some respects without a larger context. You need supplementary information. 

Another difference is they disagree one how much historical information you can extract from the Gospels.

One ambiguity is that Craig says he's opposed to inerrancy (in his opening statement), yet when he distinguishes his position from inerrantists, he does so by denying that historical reliability requires verbatim quotation and strict chronology. Yet inerrantists like Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, Robert Stein, and Vern Poythress agree with him in that regard.  

Ehrman's apostasy was nearly inevitable given his preconception of historical accuracy. His "horizontal" reading of the Gospels was always on a collision course with his preconceived notion of historical accuracy. Something had to give. He never questions his paradigm of historical accuracy, so what had to give was his faith in the Gospels. 

In a sense he's right. If the Gospels are true, then we should be able to receive them as is, rather than filtering them through a sieve to see what remains. 

Mind you, Ehrman doesn't approach the Gospels as is. He has his own filter in place–methodological atheism. 

It may sometimes be impossible to harmonize the Gospels as is. But, then, harmonization typically tries to go behind the text to the underlying event. A presupposition of harmonization is that two (or more) accounts don't already mesh as they stand. 

That, however, is only a damaging admission if you have an unrealistic preconception of what historical writing is supposed to do. To begin with, Ehrman fails to make allowance for the difference between one medium and another; the difference between seeing an event and verbalizing an event. What we see, and how we talk about what we saw, are necessarily different. Any verbal description is likely to omit many background details. Many extraneous details. Words aren't images, or vice versa. 

Conversely, the significance of an event may not be self-explanatory. For instance, the crucifixion of Jesus looks pretty much like any other crucifixion. You couldn't tell just by seeing the crucifixion of Jesus that there's anything special about this particular example. A theological interpretation is essential to supply the critical context. 

Ehrman says we need to assess the Gospels, not by the conventions and standards of ancient historiography, but our own. What ultimately matters is what really happened. 

Yet that's simplistic. Sure, what ultimately matters is what really happened. But for one thing, he collapses the distinction between interpretation and truth. You can't even get to the truth if you refuse to interpret historical narratives on their own terms. For you need to ascertain what the narrator meant. And in that respect, you need to identify his operating standards and assumptions. 

Furthermore, you need to make allowance for his aims. When, for example, John says the disciples rowed about 25-30 stadia (Jn 6:19), that's a round number–an approximation. It would be ridiculous to say that's wrong because John didn't use a laser distance measure. 

“Pope Francis” is on the verge of creating “error and confusion” in one direction or another

Decision of “Pope Francis” on communion for divorced and remarried is expected soon.

The Roman Catholic Church is facing the practical consequences of its “both/and” theology, as the recent synods on the family have shown. And now the contradictions of “both/and” are coming home to roost, as “Pope Francis” takes his time in making a decision about the way to move forward.

“His decision could exacerbate the church’s divisions by disappointing one side or the other—or both if he leaves the question unresolved.”

… nothing the pope has done has raised more hopes or fears within the Catholic Church than his decision to open a debate about divorce and remarriage that his predecessors had declared settled.

It is especially raising the fears of theological conservatives precisely because of the prospect that a doctrinal issue (not a “disciplinary” or “pastoral” issue) that “Pope John Paul the Great” had considered “settled”, is not so settled now.

Modern and ancient historiography

A problem I've noticed is that some Christians defend the Bible by emphasizing the difference between ancient historiography and modern historiography. We mustn't hold the Bible to modern standards of historical accuracy. 

Now, I think that's half right. When we read ancient historians, we need to adjust to the conventions and expectations of the time. But my problem is with the invidious contrast. With the assumption that modern historiography has higher standards. But what, exactly, is the standard of comparison? 

Take a critical biography by an academic historian. That will have copious footnotes, verbatim quotes, quotation marks or indented block quotes, dates, places, a rigorous chronology, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. 

But compare that to an encyclopedia article on the same figure. That, too, will reflect modern academic standards. The editor will pick a scholar who's an acknowledged expert on that figure. Nevertheless, the encyclopedia entry will be far simpler than a critical, book-length biography. 

Some historians are popularizers, viz. Stephen Ambrose, Barbara Tuchman, Doris Kerns Goodwin. 

What about TV news reports. These will be a brief summaries of the event in question. 

These are all examples of modern historiography, yet they are hardly equivalent. They don't necessarily set a higher standard of historical accuracy. For instance, news reports can be notoriously biased. 

Conversely, take historical accounts of the WWII by Churchill and Eisenhower. Are they inferior to the work of academic historians? Their value lies, not in the accoutrements of an academic historian, but in their high-level, insider perspective of the topic. Indeed, academic historians mine these accounts as primary source material for their own writings. 

The upshot is that we should resist overgeneralizing about modern standards of historical accuracy in contrast to ancient historiography. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bock v. Ehrman

Recently I listened to Darrell Bock debate Bart Ehrman:

Bock did well given the constraints of the medium. Unfortunately, the exchanges were often inconclusive because Justin Brierley rushes the discussion along from one topic to another to fit within the allotted timeframe. I'd like to follow-up on some issues raised in the debate:

1. Ehrman thinks many of the NT documents must be pseudonymous because the disciples were illiterate, uneducated Aramaic-speaking peasants. That, however, raises a host of issues:

i) He mentioned the well-worn claim that the Greek in 1 Peter is too good to be written by someone with Peter's rustic background. But as Karen Jobes has demonstrated, that fails to distinguish between syntax and diction. Although the diction is sophisticated, the syntax is unsophisticated, and syntax is harder to master than vocabulary. 

ii) Presumably, Paul was quite capable of writing his own letters, yet he found it convenient to dictate his letters. If even a well-educated man like Paul used scribes, why not less educated Christian leaders?

iii) Moreover, Paul's use of scribes implies the availability of competent Christian scribes in NT times. 

iv) Ehrman says dictating a text requires the same level of education as writing it yourself. But that's clearly false. Take oral histories of emancipated slaves. These were uneducated speakers, but that hardly hindered them from giving interviews. Consider the WPA slave narratives. Their interviews were transcribed. 

v) Apropos (iv), take Frederick Douglass. He had no formal education. Yet he taught himself to read and write. 

vi) But let us grant, for the sake of argument, that Matthew, Peter, James, John, and Jude only knew Aramaic. In that event, suppose they had bilingual scribes. They spoke in Aramaic, while a scribe translated their statements into Greek. 

Consider simultaneous translation. Take immigrant families where parents and grandparents barely know the language of the host country. At best, they speak broken English (or whatever). But their young kids quickly become fluent in the new language, and function as simultaneous translators for their parents. This also happens in more formal settings like the UN, or diplomatic meetings and press conferences between heads of state. 

Moreover, in writing down what the speaker said, a scribe would have greater opportunity to consider the choice of words. Ask the speaker for clarification. The final product would be more accurate than simultaneous translation. 

vii) In his book (Forged, 76), Ehrman objects to this in part because 1 Peter quotes the OT from the LXX. But it's hard to see the force of that objection.

Suppose a scholar translates a book by Martin Hengel or Adolf Schlatter into English. When Schlatter or Hengel quote the Bible in German, will the scholar directly translate their German rendering of Scripture into English, or will he substitute a familiar English version (e.g. NIV, ESV)? For an English-speaking audience, it would make more sense to use a familiar English version of the Bible. 

In addition, Ehrman says that can't account for the "Greek rhetorical flourishes" in 1 Peter. But even if his objection held against 1 Peter, that can't be extrapolated to works like John's Gospel or 1 John. Do those exhibit the same "Greek rhetorical flourishes"? 

viii) A potential objection to this theory is whether that's consistent with the verbal inspiration of Scripture. But since Ehrman rejects the inspiration of Scripture–there's no reason he'd object, in principle, to Peter or John speaking in Aramaic while a scribe turns that into Greek. In fact, Ehrman's own position invites that alternative explanation.

For Christians, this would require inspiration to extend to the scribe. But on the face of it, there doesn't seem to be any antecedent reason to preclude that possibility. It's no more effort for God to inspire two people than one person. To inspire the scribe as well as the speaker. 

That's not ad hoc. Since dictation is a collaborative effort, having inspiration cover both parties to the transaction is reasonable. 

Of course, an atheist will reject inspiration. But given a theological framework, that's not outlandish by any means. Indeed, it might even be necessary. Traditional formulations of inspiration overlook the role of scribes, but there's no a priori reason why scribes can't be included in the process. 

ix) Another problem with Erhman's objection is that even if the Greek in 1 Peter is too classy to be written by Peter bar Jonah, the Gospel of John is written in very simple Greek, Mark is syntactically primitive, while Revelation has never been upheld as a model of Greek composition. In addition, Mark was an urbanite, not a peasant. Likewise, Luke was not a Jewish, Aramaic-speaking peasant. So Ehrman has to stretch his thesis to cover documents that are hardly analogous to 1 Peter. 

x) Ehrman's appeal to Josephus is counterproductive. For Josephus only learned Greek later in life. If he can do it, why not one or more of the disciples or stepbrothers of Jesus? 

2. Ehrman thinks writers resorted to pseudonymity to get their material accepted under false auspices. And he cite examples of 2C apocrypha. 

i) That, however, courts anachronism. For instance, Ehrman thinks Matthew is pseudonymous. But that appeal may well be circular. Was a Gospel named after Matthew because he was famous, or was he famous because a Gospel was named after him? 

Ehrman is viewing the reputation of the Apostles through the rear window of church history. They became famous. But can we use their posthumous reputation to explain pseudonymity? Put another way, how long would it take for them to become sufficiently famous and sufficiently revered that their name would facilitate acceptance of a document? For Ehrman's theory to work, we first need to abstract away the contribution which the NT had on their status. For you and me, it's the NT that makes them famous. But how well-known would Matthew be apart from the Gospel of Matthew? 

ii) Presumably, early Christians were interested in documents by people who knew Jesus. To that extent, there'd be a a built-in constituency for writings by the disciples or the stepbrothers of Jesus. Mind you, even that isn't straightforward. How did they know who his disciples or stepbrothers were? In 1C Palestine, some people would have firsthand knowledge of their identity. But outside that ambit, it would depend on the Gospels and Acts. So we're back to circularity. 

iii) Furthermore, Paul didn't have that advantage. He had to work very hard to become established in the nascent church. In addition, he was a controversial figure with well-connected opponents (e.g. the Judaizers). How widely was his apostolic authority acknowledged in his lifetime? 

So why would an author write under Paul's name? In hindsight, that might be an obvious choice. After all, Paul became the most influential theologian in church history. But, of course, we can't expect a forger to enjoy that opportunistic foresight. How late would Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus need to be before Paul's reputation was sufficiently prestigious to name letters after him? Consider how Paul was challenged even in churches he personally founded and oversaw. You can't assume that his standing in the 2C is equivalent to his position a century earlier.  

3. Ehrman says he operates with a "show me the evidence" condition. Sounds reasonable. Who can argue with that? But it depends on how we define evidence. Does he mean direct documentary evidence?

i) For instance, Ehrman is certain that stories about Jesus underwent extensive creative reformulation before they were finally committed to writing. But in the nature of the case, how can there be direct documentary evidence for a theory of creative oral tradition? 

ii) Sometimes the lack of evidence can be evidentiary. For instance, archeologists may determine whether or not a site was populated by Jews based on the presence or absence of pig bones. That's not documentary evidence. And that's not positive evidence. The assumption, rather, is that a kosher diet explains the absence (or paucity) of pig bones. 

iii) Likewise, there's the role of inference in historical reconstructions. It "stands to reason" that certain things will be the case, even if there's no direct surviving evidence. If, say, 1C Palestine was under Gentile rule and occupation, with Greek as the lingua franca, we'd expect many Jews to know conversational Greek, and some to be able to read and write in Greek. That would be necessary for commercial and political transactions. Even if you have no specific evidence, the circumstances may demand it. 

4. Ehrman says he applies the same criteria (e.g. theology, style, situation) to NT pseudepigrapha that Bock applies to NT apocrypha (e.g. 3 Corinthians). But that's disanalogous. One reason for excluding NT apocrypha is dating. If 3 Corinthians was clearly written sometime in the 2C, then it cannot be authored by Paul. 

5. Ehrman says Josephus is the only 1C Palestinian Jewish author we know of writing literary Greek. But, of course, he can only use that claim to exclude NT evidence on pain of vicious circularity. For the NT is prima facie evidence to the contrary. 

Moreover, it's not coincidental that Josephus and the NT survived. As sacred Scripture, the NT was preserved. Likewise, Christians to an interest in Josephus. Other material didn't survive, not because there were no other 1C Palestinian Jews who might be literate in Greek, but because there was not the same incentive to copy their works for posterity. 

Showing People Just How Bad Trump Is

If you know people in upcoming primary states who are planning to vote for Trump or are open to doing so, send them a link to this post. Here's a collection of several brief videos about Trump that I've cited in previous threads:

Trump's mishandling of race issues, derogatory comments on women, abuse of eminent domain, etc.

Trump advocating liberalism

Trump claiming that judges sign bills

Trump's ignorance of the nuclear triad

Trump mocking a handicapped man for his handicap

Trump repeatedly acting as if he doesn't know who David Duke is and failing to condemn Duke and the KKK when asked to do so

Trump's ignorance of religious issues and how dubious his claim to be a Christian is