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Q – It’s okay to be uncertain

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve – Wikipedia

The Catholic Monk Thomas Merton once said that the Bible is a difficult, perplexing work. It doesn’t make sense. It has contradictions. And its Old Testament often portrays God as an immature, violent ogre. But with his hallmark Christian optimism, Merton says that’s exactly why he likes the Bible. It’s not fake or flaky. It portrays life as it really is.

Warts Exposed

I admit that some New Age websites telling us that “love is all around” give me the feeling that something not too loving is brewing underneath the surface of all that sugary sweetness. So I tend to agree with Merton. The Bible doesn’t cover up but exposes warts. Its compilers didn’t edit out apparent inconsistencies but left them in. Note the two different accounts of Creation in Genesis, for instance. Or Jesus saying we need to hate our parents, spouse, kids and siblings to follow him (Luke 14:26).

In the New Testament you’d think these difficulties and contentious scenarios would have disappeared. After all, many years had passed since Old Testament times and the relatively modern people around Jesus’ day could have edited everything into a nice, neat package. A package without contradictions.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

What about Q?

Most scholars agree that the New Testament was formed from an oral tradition. Christ lived his life, sometimes solitary, other times with his followers. People told stories about Christ and the Gospel writers collected those tales, probably according to their political and pastoral needs.

Some Gospel writers likely borrowed from existing texts. The words didn’t enter directly into their minds as some fundamentalists would say. At least, that is how it seems from the textual evidence.

10th century CE Byzantine illustration of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia

No one can say for sure. It is possible that the Gospel writers were divinely inspired to say the same things the same way. I considered that perspective soon after my conversion to Christianity. But years of study have tempered my thinking… for better or for worse.

One obvious feature of the Gospels is the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent in Mark.

Different theories try to explain this.

A prevailing idea is Q theory. Q sounds hip and cool but I doubt that’s why religious scholars chose it. The theory cropped up in the early 1900s and, as far I know, marketing wasn’t a burning academic issue at that time.

Johannes Weiss was a German Protestant scholar who first coined the name “Q.” He used Q to refer to some of that shared material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. For decades most scholars assumed that Q alluded to the German word quelle, meaning “source.” But recent studies indicate that “Q” might have been chosen on a whim.

So maybe Weiss and his followers were trying to be trendy. Who knows. Before the word Q caught fire, researchers called this material the logia, calling to mind images of stony faced scholars sifting through weighty volumes in dusty old libraries.

What is most important to remember about Q is that it is a purely hypothetical document. Archaeologists have never discovered evidence that it actually exists. Not even a scrap or fragment. Despite this, some scholars carry on as if it were fact.

For and Against

Elaine Pagels is a religion writer who rose to prominence with her 1979 bestseller, The Gnostic Gospels. Pagels believes in Q because, as she points out, Jesus spoke in Aramaic. He, himself, wrote nothing. So Jesus’ actual sayings come to us through translated sources. But not only that. Our earliest existing sources are in Greek

New Testament apocrypha – Wikipedia

Whatever Jesus did say, our version has been translated at least once by somebody else. The fact that Jesus’ sayings are so strikingly similar in Matthew and Luke points to the existence of a textual source from which they were copied—namely, Q.²

Opponents of Q theory say the early Christians would have revered such an immediate record of their savior’s sayings, not allowing it to be misplaced or destroyed.

So where is Q? If Q did exist, how could the early Church have lost a document so important and essential to its formation?

Detractors have a simple answer. The early Christians would not have lost it. Q never existed.

For me it doesn’t really matter if Q existed or not. It is a compelling idea but as Pagels suggests, quite a few links were forged over the centuries from the era of Jesus and the occupying Romans to current, 21st century versions of the Bible. With much uncertainty accrued over two millennia, it would be unwise to fixate on any particular explanation without hard proof. Proof we may never discover.

It’s okay to not know everything

In a way, uncertainty is good. It can help to deflect the kind of fundamentalism that fuses zealous patriotism with a specific, dogmatic take on religion.³

Normally, I wouldn’t care about fundamentalists too much. But the visibility of some sectarians and their facile claims can make it more difficult for the rest of us thoughtful Christians, especially when trying to convey the beauty of Christ. Most caring, sensible people react adversely to fundamentalism. And if they haven’t really explored Christian religious differences, some otherwise good people lump all Christians together into one narrow-minded, authoritarian group.

Trying to explain the difference between the goodness of Christ and religious zealotry isn’t always easy. One has to get the listener past the image of aggressive, finger-wagging individuals.4

Worldly people, on the other hand, sometimes say that Christian religious experience is generated by body chemistry. For them, the Christian cannot discern the difference between an endorphin rush, sugar high or caffeine hit as opposed to the indwelling of spiritual graces.

To me, that only serves to tell me something about the mindset of the spiritually ignorant. Hard-boiled skeptics often don’t realize that while they’re looking at us, we’re looking at them.

At the other end of the spectrum, some fundamentalists say mysticism is nothing more than a devilish deception. There’s no talking to these people. They love to cherry pick Bible verses to support – while ignoring anything that challenges – their particular outlook.5

When folks, be they worldly or religious, are so entrenched in a limiting worldview my proverbial b.s. detector often goes from yellow to red. It may be a pastor. A blogger. A doctor. It doesn’t matter who. At those times I find the best thing is to politely withdraw and later on, when the time is right, redirect my thoughts into action.

¹ Some even believe in an original Aramaic New Testament that has been lost in the sands of time.

² See From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion. Most agree that we have no original New Testament documents. So this would make our present version of Jesus’ sayings third-hand, at best. » 1 » Original Aramaic »  2 »  First but now lost transcriptions into Greek »  3 »  Surviving copies.

³ To me this is like the old Roman Empire championing its state gods.

4 We’ve probably all lived through or heard a story about offensive, overbearing Christians.

5 See Religious people have a brain so why don’t some use it?

For more on Q, see my highlights at LINER.

 Who Is Jesus? (3) (vanguardngr.com)

 Ghetts announces Ghetto Gospel: New Testament album, listen to new single “Slumdog Millionaire” (thefader.com)

 The Reformation Rolls On: (brothersjuddblog.com)

 Just listen (takeaminute.net)

 Sean Carvajal Steps in for Victor Rasuk in JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN at Signature Theatre (broadwayworld.com)

Hug(thedistinctdot.com)

 Is this blasphemous? (quinersdiner.com)

 

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Revelation and revealed knowledge – Can we separate the wheat from the chaff?

Divine Revelation (album)

Divine Revelation (album) via Wikipedia

That was a revelation!

When we hear someone say this in daily life, we usually take it to mean that they are inspired, see an issue in a new light or learn something that deepens their understanding.

Revelation has become a secular term but the idea of ‘revealed knowledge’ is found in most spiritual traditions. In the religious sense, revelation has several different meanings.

One meaning points to knowledge disclosed or uncovered about God’s plan of Salvation or the Divine essence. This knowledge could influence the interpretation of observed events. And general revelation is differentiated from special revelation.

  • General revelation means that God’s existence and attributes can be partly understood through observation of God’s creation
  • Specific revelation points to the belief that individuals receive divine communications

In Catholicism revelation is a truth communicated to a person by God. Revealed knowledge initially bypasses but does not contradict the intellect and differs from inspiration. But after a revelation, a person may think about and be inspired by their otherworldly experience.

From a comparative study of mysticism it seems that revealed knowledge is usually misunderstood by mystics, themselves—at least, at the outset. Over time the true meaning may become more clear.

Mystics make mistakes because they tend to interpret revelation according to their limited, human perspectives. Again, revelations from God should eventually make more sense. But those not from God would eventually prove to be a sham, provided the persons assessing a revelation are mentally healthy.

This idea is linked to the notion of true and false prophets, as found in the New Testament:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them

That’s a lovely story and great for laying guilt trips on people if we don’t like what they’re doing or simply because we don’t like them in the first place! But in reality, it’s a bit problematic for us mere mortals.

Why?

Photo - Tim Evanson via Flickr

Photo – Tim Evanson via Flickr

Well, because some genuine prophets could appear ‘false’ if not enough time had passed to test a true revelation.² By the same token, some false prophets could be seen as ‘true’ by fanatics claiming that more time is needed to verify a false revelation.

One thing seems clear: This is not an easy area and many mistakes could be made by overly zealous, wish fulfilling individuals and groups. For those preferring to think for themselves, it’s sometimes hard to determine who’s misguided and who’s in tune with God.

¹ Matthew 15-20, New International Version, emphasis added.

² An example Christians often give here is http://biblehub.com/john/2-19.htm.


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The Old Testament – Timeless wisdom or old, outdated operating system?

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps from Tunisia, found in Iraq: part of the Schøyen Collection. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Old Testament is a Christian name for the books of the Hebrew Bible. This is a problematic term because Jewish people could easily find it disrespectful of their holy scripture.

The designation comes from a Christian perspective with the unabashed implication that the New Testament fulfils the Old Testament, rendering the latter imperfect and somewhat lacking. This way of viewing the so-called Old Testament is found within Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Fundamentalist forms of Christianity.

In Christianity, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments seems confusing. I had one professor who argued that Christianity’s biggest mistake was to try to incorporate the Old Testament into the new religion. They should have just started afresh, he felt. I think this perspective lacks appreciation of the Jesus story. The “new” religion gains a certain depth and continuity by including the Old Testament. However, problems do arise, which theologians and preachers try to resolve in various ways.

The most notable difference between the Old and New Testaments is God’s apparent encouragement of violence and animal sacrifice in the OT but not in the NT. Sometimes, that is. The OT God doesn’t approve of all sacrifices, as we see with Cain and Abel. And sometimes he punishes doers of violence, if that particular violence is not in keeping with his Holy Agenda.¹

Also, the NT says we should live by the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.² Living by the letter of the law “kills” it. The OT, by way of contrast, lays out strict and fairly detailed laws as to how the righteous should behave. This difference in rules and regulations also applies to what and when we eat. Somehow the Catholic Church forgot this, and started making new rules of regulations about eating. But many modern Catholics see this as unimportant.

As for adultery and sexual lust, Jesus of the NT raises the bar here. You can’t even think about it without being sinner; whereas in the OT actually doing it is the sin.²

A representation of Saint John the Evangelist in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue on July 31, 2010 in New York City.

Some Christians make no apology for calling the Old Testament the Old Testament. For them, it’s just another instance of unwarranted political correctness to pretend that all religions are of equal value. The New Testament, again for them, is better. So why, they argue, water things down by pretending otherwise? But again, their Holy Bibles contain the Old Testament. So there’s a lot of room for debate here.

¹ Both the OT and NT, however, are sexist and often simplistic—especially in the NT with regard to nutritional needs.

² These are just some of the differences that came to mind while revising this entry; this is not an exhaustive list. The NT also emphasizes forgiveness while the OT prescribes the famous, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind of reactive punishment for wrongdoings. Follow this link for more perspectives.

Related » Adam, Bible, Book of Isaiah, Book of Job, Burning Bush, Daniel, Dead Sea Scrolls, Divination, Elohim, Eve, God, the Father, Heaven, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Jonah, Just War, Kabbala, Koran, Lilith, Lot, Lot’s Wife, Miracles, Moses, Pollution, Torah, Yahweh


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Original Sin – A powerful Western myth?

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and ...

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and Eve. Beech wood, 1533. Bode-Museum, Berlin (Erworben 1830, Königliche Schlösser, Gemäldegalerie Kat. 567) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Christian doctrine, original sin is a state of alienation from God. It is present at birth and collectively inherited from the first sin of the biblical Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:4-3:24).

In the Genesis account, Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit growing on the tree of knowledge at the garden center.¹ Their eyes are opened, they become ashamed of their nakedness and cover themselves. So they hide from God who is “walking” in the garden. When God discovers them he basically flips out. God curses the serpent and tells the woman that he will make childbirth much more painful. Moreover, the serpent and human beings will forever be in violent conflict.

God then casts Adam and Eve out of the garden into the world beyond. The garden’s entrance is barred by a cherubim with a revolving, fiery sword. Adam and Eve’s offspring are cursed for generations. No longer is everything easy and good. They must not merely work, as they did in the garden, but rather, toil for their food (Genesis 3).

To the modern mind, this story seems to be rooted in primitive myth and beliefs. God is supremely anthropomorphic. The tale also seems sexist because Eve is blamed for the Fall. She is also condemned to be subservient to her husband, whom she desires all the same.

Adam and Eve - Albrecht Dürer

Adam and Eve – Albrecht Dürer (Wikipedia)

The Church Fathers mention the idea of original sin as early as the 2nd century. They believed, as do many subsequent Christians, that their views were justified by Biblical scripture. The practice of harkening back to Biblical scripture to try to legitimize the idea of original sin involves both the Old and New Testaments.

Christians generally say that the New Testament “fulfills” the Old Testament, so the NT has to sort of patch up and surpass a good deal of the gobbledygook, primitive hate and sexism found in the OT.²

In the New Testament, for example, the apostle Paul says sin came into the world because of one man—that is, Adam (Romans 5:12). For all his apparent visionary experience of the risen Christ, Paul still believes in the ancient OT story as if it were literal fact.³

The story of Adam and Eve is also mentioned in 1 Timothy 2 and upheld by many contemporary Christians who, perhaps inadvertently or unconsciously, legitimize sexism with scripture:

A woman must learn in quietness and full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who was deceived and fell into transgression. Women, however, will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control (1 Timothy 2 [11-15])

For Catholics, there are two exceptional people in human history who do not inherit the taint of original sin: Jesus and his mother the Virgin Mary. Protestants and Anglicans generally do not accept that Mary was born without sin. And the Orthodox position has its own complications.

The idea of original sin has been debated for centuries but the leading Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, along with the Protestant Reformers, have upheld it.

Recently, theologians like Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) have attempted to separate the mythic and cultural aspects of the Bible, on the one hand, from its spiritual essence, on the other hand. For Bultmann, the terms “authentic existence” and “inauthentic existence” are more meaningful to modern minds than are their traditional antecedents, “salvation” and “sin.” Other contemporary theologians challenge the notion of inheriting sin from a mythic past. And present-day thinkers like astronomer David Darling suggest that time is holistic instead of linear, which complicates the idea of original sin.

Surely there had to have been some special point of origin? But no. What was needed was a more panoramic view in which the universe, past, present, and future, was seen as having always been there–a permanent, all-encompassing, space-time eternity. Of course, it was natural for man, whose left-brain consciousness produced the illusion of “passing” time to think of past and future as somehow different in status. To dwell, moreover, on that elusive moment called now which transformed the potentiality of future events into the actuality of the past. But “now” was, in truth, only a chimera. Every point in space and time coexisted with equal importance. The future was there from the beginning as surely as was the past.4

If viewed this way, the idea of an evil force that runs through all-time and which compels humanity to sin might make more sense than stories primarily based on linear time.5

¹ Eve was tempted first by the serpent. After eating the fruit, she hands it to Adam, who also eats. The fruit is usually depicted as an apple, especially in Western culture. However, the actual fruit is unknown.

² Not to say that the NT is devoid of cultural bias. It may have done away with violence. But it still arguably discriminates on the basis of ethno-religion and sex in places.

³ Possibly many people today have genuine mystical experiences and yet unconsciously assume that this proves a particular set of theological stories and traditions. If a church gives them all the answers, they don’t have to bother reflect any further. And people like me who simply want to use the mind God gave them, are under the sway of “Satan.”

4 David Darling, Deep Time, New York: Delacorte Press, 1989, pp. 187-188).

The Catholic position is summed up here: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution This Catholic position is at least partially rooted in a traditional understanding of linear time, and probably won’t be reconsidered by the Church until sufficient political pressure acts upon the Catholic hierarchy–that is, until the idea of holistic time becomes more commonplace. And that, ironically, will likely take centuries. Even the apparently “smart” Catholics, the Jesuits, are still largely rooted in traditional ways of looking at and analyzing problems. At least, they are compelled to uphold Catholic teachings during the Mass. The suppression of free thinking among the clergy and the faithful runs deep into Catholic history. Not as obvious now, as say, the house arrest of Galileo, it seems the Vatican still keeps a pretty firm grip on its shepherds; even if, perhaps, losing its grip on many of its sheep. However, Catholic conservatism isn’t entirely bad because it defends the Church against nutty extremists. But it can also hinder true theological progress and fair theological practice.

5 Many Christians and Catholics say that Jesus exists in or simply is “all-time,” so the Catholic view is not so linear. But the Bible tells us that Satan fell some time after the initial creation (see http://www.gotquestions.org/Satan-fall.html). Wikipedia lists some parallel stories to the Garden of Eden. Not exactly the same but with similarities: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_of_Eden#Parallel_concepts

Related » Brahman, Calvinism, Donatism, Felix Culpa, Jesus Christ, John Milton, Mortal Sin, Sin, Venial Sin, Virgin Mary


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The Synoptic Gospels

Jesus Christ baptism site (2007-05-811): Vyacheslav Argenberg

Jesus Christ baptism site (2007-05-811) In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist… Image and text by Vyacheslav Argenberg via Flickr

Most of us interested in religion have probably heard the term synoptic gospels at church or while watching a religion doc on TV. But many of us might not know what that means.

Religion scholars and officials love to use special terms. It makes things easier for them and, in some instances, gives an appearance of professionalism. Only the better ones, however, actually take time to explain what they’re saying.

Bible studies can get really complicated. So to make it simple, the synoptic gospels are first three gospels appearing in the New Testament. These are the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Although they differ in some details, there’s significant overlap in content and style among the synoptic gospels.

Most scholars believe that Mark is the oldest gospel, possibly written around 30 CE. Its content and style is simpler than that found in Matthew and Luke. So many scholars hypothesize an undiscovered document called Q (from German: Quelle, meaning “source”) to account for the material common to Matthew and Luke but not present in Mark.

Comparison of Matt 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9. Comm...

Comparison of Matt 3:7-10 and Luke 3:7-9. Common text highlighted in red. 1894 Scrivener New Testament (Photo: Wikipedia).

According to the Q hypothesis, the writers of Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark and Q to further advance ideas found in Mark. As of yet, however, no actual Q document has been discovered so it remains a convenient scholarly fable. It might sound cynical using the word “fable,” but I think it’s fair. Some academics use the term Q as if they held the (undiscovered) document in their hands.

Wikipedia does a great job of summing up some of the issues concerning the synoptic gospels:¹

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar wording. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is comparatively distinct. The term synoptic (Latin: synopticus; Greek: συνοπτικός synoptikos) comes via Latin from the Greek σύνοψις synopsis, i.e. “(a) seeing all together, synopsis”;[n 1] the sense of the word in English, the one specifically applied to these three Gospels, of “giving an account of the events from the same point of view or under the same general aspect” is a modern one.[1]

This strong parallelism among the three gospels in content, arrangement, and specific language is widely attributed to literary interdependence.[2] The question of the precise nature of their literary relationship — the “synoptic problem” — has been a topic of lively debate for centuries and has been described as “the most fascinating literary enigma of all time”.[3] The longstanding majority view favors Marcan priority, in which both Matthew and Luke have made direct use of the Gospel of Mark as a source, and further holds that Matthew and Luke also drew from an additional hypothetical document, called Q.[4]

The relationships between the three synoptic g...

The relationships between the three synoptic gospels. Source: A Statistical Study of the Synoptic Problem by A.M. Horore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thesis often overlooked by bible scholars is the remote possibility that God reveals similar content to different gospel writers. This is difficult for some to consider in our modern world. We tend to keep our noses pressed to the ground, sniffing for obvious clues that can be seen and verified. So to think that God reveals similar content to different writers in different places is too much of a stretch for many. The fact that the mode of expression is similar makes it even more challenging to consider. But it is possible. And considering we are discussing works about God and spirituality, it is a valid hypothesis—even if, perhaps, one not possible to support or reject until the afterlife.²

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synoptic_Gospels

² A similar problem arises in the arts and, in my particular area of interest, music. Did composer B knowingly copy material from composer A or did composer B’s song just come out that way? It is possible that composer B never heard composer A’s work but, instead, drew from the same inspirational source as did A. Musicians often say they have no idea where a lot of their musical inspiration comes from. Many suggest that the source is spiritual. Could not the same be true with regard to the word of God?

Related Posts » Bible, Gospel of Luke, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Matthew, Q Document

 

 


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Russell Targ

Russell Targ @ Naropa by ~C4Chaos

~C4Chaos ~C4無秩序 Russell Targ @ Naropa

Russell Targ (1934 – ) is an American physicist and former laser engineer who became a parapsychologist. Targ now advocates the ideas of non-local consciousness, remote viewing (RV) and unifying mystical love.

The transpersonal and cosmological implications of Targ’s notion of living in peace and love are reminiscent of the Catholic notion of the communion of saints.

His views on Jesus’ teachings as presented in the New Testament, however, are highly selective. And Targ seems to present an overly homogenized view of different world religions.

Targ also says that a belief in God is an unnecessary remnant of antiquated modes of reasoning, implying that anyone can know about God from direct experience. By way of contrast, the New Testament says that those who believe but have not seen are blessed.

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Targ gives little, if any, mention to St. Anselm’s ideas of

  • fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding)
  • credo ut intelligam (I believe to understand).¹
Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt ...

Anselm of Canterbury was the first to attempt an ontological argument for God’s existence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, Targ believes that the writings of mystics around the world should be taken as a kind of scientific data.

With regard to RV, Targ’s approach differs from those psychics who remain convinced that their distance visions are accurate without attempting any kind of verification. Also, Targ says his RV team got better scientific results when they kept the research environment “fun” and relaxed. Targ admits to making money from RVing future probabilities, but he says that human greed came to interfere with the success of his experiments.²

Targ later used the term Remote Sensing because RV apparently also involves an inner sense of hearing, smell and touch.³

Psychologists David Marks and Richard Kammann criticized Targ’s published support of parapsychology in The Psychology of the Psychic . Some see Targ’s work as pseudoscience, others enthusiastically support his agenda.

¹ Targ is not alone here. Many want to experience first and then have knowledge, or what they believe is knowledge. But in a way, this can be seen as a kind of narrow-mindedness. Some don’t even consider the idea that belief, alone, can be valid; and in some instances, that belief could lead to higher forms of experience and knowledge.

² Thinking Allowed with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, “ESP, Clairvoyance and Remote Perception with Russell Targ.“ According to Anthony C. LoBaido at WorldNetDaily.com and Steve Hammons at JointReconStudyGroup, the CIA has experimented with RV for intelligence gathering. LoBaido also claims that the FBI has adopted RV for the same purposes.

³ The paranormal writer Rosemary Ellen Guiley says that Remote Sensing is a well-documented phenomenon, both in ancient and contemporary times.

Related Posts » Atheism

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Russell Targ at Twitter


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Barbara Thiering

Dea sea scroll display is

Dea sea scroll display is (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barbara Thiering (1930 – ) is an Australian author of several works, including the best-selling Jesus and The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Thiering takes a naturalist approach and believes that the miraculous aspects of the New Testament are just codified political statements. She studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, which mention a “teacher of righteousness” and writes that this teacher existed in the Qumran community, somewhere between 200 BCE and the time of Jesus.

For Thiering, the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal the social conditions and practices of the Qumran community. And she believes the New Testament writings about the nearby Early Christian community can be assessed from the perspective of the Qumran community. For instance, in Qumran all newcomers were apparently initiated, regardless of social standing, with a baptism of water. Members of the inner circle were also given “The Drink of the Community,” which Thiering says was wine.

Thiering argues that Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding ceremony at Canaan reveals the Gospel writer’s ingenious attempt to symbolically convey Christ’s true message—that group membership is not just for a select few, but for all types of people (John 2: 1-11).

Ad for DSS in WSJ

Ad for DSS in WSJ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thiering likewise says that the miracles of the virgin birth (Matthew 1-18-25; Luke 1:26-38; Isaiah 7:14), walking on water (Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48-51), the multiplication of loaves (Matthew 14:15-21; 15:32-38), the eating of miraculously obtained fish (John 21:1-11) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) represent the Gospel writers’ use of symbolism to depict natural events and Jesus’ political motives.

Jesus, she claims, didn’t walk on water but walked on a “jetty” (a wharf or a dock). She also sees as metaphorical the Gospel account of Peter getting “out of the boat” to “walk on the water” toward Jesus. Peter’s becoming afraid and beginning to “sink” when the wind picked up is said to be purely allegorical, as was Christ’s “outstretched hand” that rescued him (Matthew 14: 25-32).

Common sense says we cannot “sink” while standing on a jetty. But for Thiering Peter’s symbolic sinking represents his fear of being “number two” to Christ. His sympathy with the rite of circumcision, which Paul abrogated, would make him “sink” in stature.

Citing another New Testament passage that claims it’s better to drown with a millstone around your neck in the sea than suffer the consequences of placing a “stumbling block” before one of God’s children (Matthew 18:6), Thiering says this passage relates to supports her interpretation of Peter’s sinking (Matthew 14:30) because “the same verb” is used.¹

But from a broader perspective, her argument seems questionable. Some scholars insist that portions of the Qumran scrolls were, in fact, imported from outside Qumran. Others say that the scrolls might be commentaries on Old Testament scripture.

Near Qumran, where the original Dead Sea Scrol...

Near Qumran, where the original Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Randall Price says that Thiering’s logic sometimes contradicts itself. Price points out that Thiering’s use of the so-called “pesher technique,” that apparently gets at the true meaning of the scrolls, is a false attempt to legitimize what is nothing more than her own individual interpretation, weakly supported (as sometimes happens with overzealous researchers) by a vast amount of illogically applied data.

According to Price, “pesher” simply means commentary.

Florentino Garcia Martinez rather bluntly says:

Thiering’s work is a wholly artificial construction that not only disregards logic and distorts the meaning of events, but trespasses all reasonable boundaries of sound historical reconstruction.²

Poststructural and semiotic approaches suggest that the motif of sinking and being rescued connotes not just one, but a plethora of possible meanings (for instance, losing and regaining faith).

English: Remains of living quarters at Qumran.

Remains of living quarters at Qumran. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, many Christian writers say that the symbolic import of miraculous events need not conflict with their historicity. Instead of reducing the miraculous to the natural and political, the events and teachings in the life of Christ arguably serve a dual function: First, they are actual, for the benefit of those around Christ at the time. Second, they are symbolic for the pastoral benefit of subsequent generations.

If Gospel stories have been exaggerated, we must remember that this was a common technique used in Bible times. Stories were exaggerated for emphasis.  So the details of a big emotional and spiritual event would normally have been exaggerated in its retelling to try to convey the supernatural awe and wonder experienced by actual witnesses.

Another view from depth psychology differs from Thiering’s as well as from orthodox Christian perspectives.

English: Joseph Campbell, late 1970

Joseph Campbell, late 1970 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Depth psychology makes use of the mythic instead of the historical dimension of Christ. Contemporary individuals don’t undergo physical crucifixion, death and visible resurrection. Instead, thinkers like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and James Hillman say the Christ story depicts an archetypal truth about psychological transformation.

Individuals sometimes undergo a symbolic death of outmoded, inappropriate ego-attitudes. In the best case scenario, these are replaced by newer, more comprehensive realizations—a symbolic type of resurrection.

¹ Jesus and The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Toronto: Doubleday, 1992: 329.

² Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996: 361-369.

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