Joe Atwill Takes on Covert Culture Shapers |354|

Alex

Administrator
#22
Well, first of all, let me reiterate that "the Bible" is not "pro-Roman."
from the Wikipedia entry referenced in the show:

- The mythicist Biblical scholar Robert M. Price ...said that Atwill "gives himself license to indulge in the most outrageous display of parallelomania ever seen." Price acknowledges that the New Testament has "persistent pro-Roman tendencies"

- The atheist mythicist Richard Carrier similarly stated that all of Atwill's alleged parallels can be explained as either coincidences, mistranslations, or references to Old Testament sources or tropes. However, Carrier also agreed that the New Testament has pro-Roman aspects.

- In a review of Atwill's thesis at The Village Voice, Eisenman explained to reporter Edmund Newton that he has long believed that the Gospel texts were "over-written" to give them a pro-Roman slant.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar's_Messiah
 
#23
I randomly picked Richard Carrier from Alex's reference list to google. Didn't know him from Adam (no pun intended) prior and obviously after spending 15 minutes on the web... I still don't know him at all. I was looking for any possible bias he may have toward the conclusion he's come to as a scholar. (My own existing bias in conducting this small bit of research.)

First things first, he appears to be immensely educated/credentialed. BA, MA x2, and PhD from colleges such as UC Berkley and Columbia. Looks to be a leading thinker/researcher on the topic. He is an atheist. He's also revealed to be polyamorous after coming out regarding the end of his 20 year marriage. I found that of interest considering he wrote a blog on the topic. My own reaction to this lifestyle aside, I found the following exchange in the comments of his blog post to be of interest:

From an anonymous commenter:
Freethoughtblogs seems to have become a place for sexual deviants and those who like to rant about oppression and privilege as well as any moral imposition that is not an instance of thin morality.

I liked you better when you posted on infidels.org, Richard.

When I hear you talk about not being “happy” within your marriage, that you need to sleep with more people, all I hear is the voice of a middle-aged man who is a slave to his passions, one who rationalizes his moral failures to be circumstances out of his control, and hence not really a failure at all.

Best of luck in your crisis
As I was scrolling through the comments section this was the first "negative" comment I found after a number of sympathetic or neutral posts. I fully expected to come across one as I imagine most of you would have expected as well. Here was his response:
Funny how weirdos who say sexist reactionary Christianized 19th century stuff like this won’t even admit who they are or use a real email account.

The rest of us are putting our names to it, and moving into the 21st century. We are abandoning the last vestiges of the damage Christianity did to our society. It’s time to stop clinging to the dysfunctional things Christianity saddled our culture with, and to negotiate and reason out what to replace them with.

Old fashioned sexist bullshit like yours is just one more example of what we need to put in the bin of the history of bad ideas.
I found this of interest as to my read it discloses a non-scientific (or at least no reference to a scientific source) bias against Christianity. I also find much of what he said to be, well, anti-intellectual. Its reads as a "Christian values are absolutely wrong" type of tag. I'll grant him some emotional leeway as the anonymous poster was equally narrow and biting.

For example, the trolling comment did not reference Christianity at all. Perhaps the poster was Jewish, or Islamic, or even an atheist. Carrier plays the Christianity card in his response. Interesting.

My rather long-winded point here is only to say that I see the same type of thing in many conspiracy theories. All too often there is a pre existing bias or contra-agenda to disprove and actually discredit. Does this make his academic research on the topic in this thread invalid? Of course not. What it does do for me is cast some level of doubt on the purity of his work and the associated conclusions. I'd need to see others' works and a high level of shared conviction for what he's asserting.

On this topic, to the best of my limited knowledge, that doesn't exist. The question of Jesus Christ's actual, mortal existence seems to be neither a historical fact nor historical fiction. I'm not sure there is going to be any solid, actual science to confirm/refute his mortal existence barring our ultimate ability to time travel (backwards or course) or some other such yet unknown scientific/technological capability of men.

So, finally, why all the angst on this question? It seems all too often connected with folks who come at it with a pre existing, anti-Christian (or Muslim I guess) bias. As Mr. Carrier showed to me in his response to the troll, I believe he likely fits this description. What's the point? To discredit Christianity broadly? To discredit the notion of God? To discredit the negative impacts only of Christianity? To prove atheism/materialism?

I simply do not get the fixation on this topic. I don't see any actual 'evidence to follow', so why are we wasting our time here?
 
#24
from the Wikipedia entry referenced in the show:
Alex,

You above all people should recognize the fallaciousness and the futility of a bare argument from authority. Let's put the shoe on the other foot. If some materialist decides he's going to prove his point to you by merely quoting a few neuroscientists who say that the mind is an emergent phenomenon of the brain, exactly how much is that going to shift your opinion?

I thought so.

So you note that a few biblical scholars accept that there are rather positive assessments of the Roman imperium in the New Testament. Fine. I've conceded as much in this thread. Twice. My point is that this silly phrase "the Bible is pro-Roman" is terribly simplistic and inaccurate. First of all, arguing from the data and with the help of an extensive range of scholarship, I can make the case that there are multiple anti-Roman strands in the New Testament. Moreover, it is indeed quite possible to rebut the pillars of the "pro-Roman" case by demonstrating that some of these texts have more of an interpretive range than was believed in prior scholarship - e.g., Miller's use of the "hidden transcripts" model quite plausibly to my mind resolves the discrepancies in Luke-Acts between more conciliatory and more subversive passages (thinking in particular of the status-reversal theme and statements like, "We must serve God rather than men!").

Of course, there is a larger and more significant point here with regard to the subject of this thread. The very existence and widespread distribution of anti-Roman, counter-imperial, divine-hegemonic themes in the New Testament puts to rest, alongside all the other important lines of evidence, any supposition that these texts are the product of Roman mythmaking. The mainstream is right on the money - these texts are diverse expressions of a diverse, marginal new movement in the midst of an oppressive power structure that demands absolute fealty. The early Christians were navigating a world in which there was no "separation of church and state" or understanding that religion and politics could ever be independent. In such a world, it is an absolutely absurd notion that Romans would concoct a "religious" figure who is proclaimed with the same titles as "divine" Roman emperors (lord and savior), who promises to establish a kingdom that will judge the nations of this world, and whose arrival is proclaimed as "good news" (euangelio), the same semi-technical description for the announcements heralds gave concerning Caesar. No self-respecting Roman who saw imperial power as dependent upon piety toward the gods and channeled through the office of the emperor would encourage worship of a single God who blessed a very different earthly vicar. As biblical scholar N.T. Wright succinctly put it, "If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not."

And that is why the New Testament can never be called "pro-Roman."
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#25
I can't help but feel that we're moving into the arena of shows that might require academic historians who'd be interested in debating these issues. Even the audio format seems less useful to questions of historical reality than, say, a debate done through responses via letters.

A debate between Atwill and Chotki, for example, would be very illuminating if there were footnotes to be easily followed.
 
#27
Alex,

You above all people should recognize the fallaciousness and the futility of a bare argument from authority. Let's put the shoe on the other foot. If some materialist decides he's going to prove his point to you by merely quoting a few neuroscientists who say that the mind is an emergent phenomenon of the brain, exactly how much is that going to shift your opinion?

I thought so.

So you note that a few biblical scholars accept that there are rather positive assessments of the Roman imperium in the New Testament. Fine. I've conceded as much in this thread. Twice. My point is that this silly phrase "the Bible is pro-Roman" is terribly simplistic and inaccurate. First of all, arguing from the data and with the help of an extensive range of scholarship, I can make the case that there are multiple anti-Roman strands in the New Testament. Moreover, it is indeed quite possible to rebut the pillars of the "pro-Roman" case by demonstrating that some of these texts have more of an interpretive range than was believed in prior scholarship - e.g., Miller's use of the "hidden transcripts" model quite plausibly to my mind resolves the discrepancies in Luke-Acts between more conciliatory and more subversive passages (thinking in particular of the status-reversal theme and statements like, "We must serve God rather than men!").

Of course, there is a larger and more significant point here with regard to the subject of this thread. The very existence and widespread distribution of anti-Roman, counter-imperial, divine-hegemonic themes in the New Testament puts to rest, alongside all the other important lines of evidence, any supposition that these texts are the product of Roman mythmaking. The mainstream is right on the money - these texts are diverse expressions of a diverse, marginal new movement in the midst of an oppressive power structure that demands absolute fealty. The early Christians were navigating a world in which there was no "separation of church and state" or understanding that religion and politics could ever be independent. In such a world, it is an absolutely absurd notion that Romans would concoct a "religious" figure who is proclaimed with the same titles as "divine" Roman emperors (lord and savior), who promises to establish a kingdom that will judge the nations of this world, and whose arrival is proclaimed as "good news" (euangelio), the same semi-technical description for the announcements heralds gave concerning Caesar. No self-respecting Roman who saw imperial power as dependent upon piety toward the gods and channeled through the office of the emperor would encourage worship of a single God who blessed a very different earthly vicar. As biblical scholar N.T. Wright succinctly put it, "If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not."

And that is why the New Testament can never be called "pro-Roman."
I love the part where the Romans crucify him. You go Pilate.

Not sure how we can have productive discussion where quotes from Wikipedia are brought forward...

Any response about Revelations and "pro-roman"?
from the Wikipedia entry referenced in the show:

- The mythicist Biblical scholar Robert M. Price ...said that Atwill "gives himself license to indulge in the most outrageous display of parallelomania ever seen." Price acknowledges that the New Testament has "persistent pro-Roman tendencies"

- The atheist mythicist Richard Carrier similarly stated that all of Atwill's alleged parallels can be explained as either coincidences, mistranslations, or references to Old Testament sources or tropes. However, Carrier also agreed that the New Testament has pro-Roman aspects.

- In a review of Atwill's thesis at The Village Voice, Eisenman explained to reporter Edmund Newton that he has long believed that the Gospel texts were "over-written" to give them a pro-Roman slant.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar's_Messiah
Bible is exactly as much "pro-Roman" as anarcho-pacifism is "pro-state". Anarcho-pacifists are constantly criticised by militant, insurrectionary anarchists for their refusal to take arms in their hands and participate in armed struggle against the state. So, Jesus and his followers had been probably much disliked by militant Judaic sects fighting against Roman Empire for their refusal to take the swords in their hands and engage in insurrection to libeate Judaea from the rule of Roman invaders.

Being myself for the "diversity of tactics" in liberatory struggles, I can say that both pacifist and militant options should be present and accessible. Sometimes armed stuggle may be justified and even neccessary, yet Jesus had refused to fight for a valid reason: he brought to people a new teaching that was truly revolutionary.

Since, the radical innovations and grandiose impact of Christianity is habitually undervalued nowadays, while a large part of Western heritage - the traits that made the West unique - are, in fact, Christian. For it was that Christianity brought us the notions which many of us nowadays take for granted, sometimes even as something self-evident, such as:

- human and humankind (as well as humanity and humaneness),
- universality and catholicity,
- freedom and volition;
- selfhood and personhood;
- equality and dignity;
- historicity and progress.

Yes, all of the above are Christian inventions, being non-existent (or, at least, undeveloped and unrefined) before Jesus. Nowadays, of course, we developed them even further, changed and modified a lot about them - yet we should remember that it was Christianity - and Jesus - who first vocalised them.
 
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#28
A thousand times, yes.

It's not that Christianity appeared completely de novo and sui generis. Indeed, it built upon and yes, revolutionized strands of thought in both Israelite and Greco-Roman tradition. What before was limited according to ethnic obligations, in the former, or within the circulation of ideas among some of the philosophical elite (e.g., the Stoics), in the latter, Christianity turned into a mass movement that instilled a new morality and built Western civilization.

Not bad for a bunch of scheming Flavians. ;)

To get a solid sense of how much Christianity has shifted cultural norms, one may check out David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, or the new work by biblical scholar Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods.
 
#29
Atwill adopts a Proppian position to folklore. Proppian analysis attributes basic functions to events and ascribes equivalence to similarities. So a man being born to a God is a condensation of all such tales, and ultimately reduced to a referent. It's a reductionist Marxist reading of myth that has been largely discredited in academic folklore circles.
Welcome back, gabriel.
 
#32
What about the factual, provable documentation that asserts they did, indeed, exist?
Show me some original documentation written prior to the 12th century which proves those figures existed.

Your Appeals to Authority only work as long as you don't investigate those Authorities. If you wish to remain a happy Believer, that's fine.
 
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#34
I must disagree. Josephus might be pro-Roman, but not the Bible. I can't find anywhere in this interview, his interview with Gnostic Warrior (
) or in Caesar's Messiah where the bible is really discussed when promoting this idea. I can't deconstruct the whole thing, but I want to point out a few things which seem to be at the heart of the claims that the Romans invented Christianity. I will build on the claim made in the documentary that the dead sea scrolls are untainted by Roman rulers. This causes a lot of problems for the documentary.

However, the dead sea scrolls also contain Jewish writers who used the prophecy of Daniel to date the coming of Messiah (or Christ in Greek, meaning the anointed one) to somewhere around the time Jesus came (http://harvardhouse.com/Gabriel-to-Daniel_Einstein_Method.htm). If the Romans dated Jesus to 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, it just so happened to agree with the date the book of Daniel contained in the dead sea scrolls. The same prophecy in Daniel states that after the anointed one dies, the Temple will be destroyed by the enemies of the Jewish people. If the Flavians designed this, then they got REALLY lucky on the date, and painted themselves as the bad guys based on the same prophecy. :D

The idea of a second coming wasn't new to Judaism either. There was a long standing Jewish tradition (also in the dead sea scrolls) that there would be two Messiahs, because some prophecies about the Messiah portrayed him as a military leader, and others as a suffering servant (http://www.techofheart.co/2006/01/2-messiah-prophesized-in-dead-sea.html). Jesus claimed to be the "Son of Man" and to be coming back. He did not point to the coming of a different Messiah as reported in the documentary. In either case, this would have to be at best, an adaptation on the part of the Romans, and not a crafting of the story.

The lack of archeological evidence for Jesus is a non-issue. Alexander the Great died about 323 BCE, but the first writing about him don't show up until the first century AD. What little archeology supports the story of Alexander the Great isn't specific to such a man existing. If a man who concurred most of the known world is hard to prove with archeology, why would you demand such evidence of a poor Jewish rabbi who was executed with no possessions? I believe it has to do with the claims being made. The claims about Alexander aren't challenged b/c they don't make claims about what your life should look like, while the stories of Jesus do.

The claim is made that Atheist and Christian scholars admit that the Bible is pro-Roman. I can't find that anywhere, so I'm not if that's true or a mis-representation. In the previous episode with Jay Dyer, John Dawkins is mis-represented too. The claim was made that he used junk DNA as the greatest evidence for evolution. I encourage anyone to look up his videos or the video making fun of him that Jay Dyer mentions. He consistently uses the phylogenetic tree as the greatest evidence for evolution, not junk DNA. I'm not fan of Dawkins, but let's not invent accusations against people!

If you listen to the interviews and the documentary, pay attention to how many times they reach certain conclusions and state them as obvious. They are not obvious conclusions to me. I find it interesting that the claim is made that Jesus was invented b/c you see similar stories from other traditions. Even the mention of the Golden Rule came up. Well, last time I checked, the Golden Rule is being taught by NDE survivors too, and I believe them! Does that mean they copied it? Obviously not! I see confirmation bias all over the place in these discussions and in the documentary while at the same time recognizing my own.

My Biases:
I'm also not one to believe the Bible as it stands today is identical to when it was first written, nor do I see it as being perfect in every way possible. I'm skeptical of Matthew's report that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt or of John's report that many people came out of their graves when Jesus died. Having an exhaustive list of the teachings about hell from the Bible, I don't hold to the exclusivity of Christianity in the Bible either. I'm a bit of a rogue Christian. I don't know about the teachings of miracles mentioned in the various works, but I also know I was healed in the name of Jesus when I expected not to be. I also know similar miracles happen in other traditions.
 
#35
Not so absurd when you understand that early Catholic Popes were Roman Emperors and vice versa.
Ummm....

1. Even if what you said were true, the absurdity is not overturned because the later development of any society, culture, or institution should, of course, not be anachronistically read back into its history. That's like someone denying slavery existed in America 160 years ago because a black president was elected in 2008.

Moreover...

2. There was no monarchical episcopate, let alone anything like a papacy, during the time the New Testament texts were written. There doesn't appear to have been a singular bishop of Rome until the mid-2nd century CE.

3. Finally, no Catholic pope also ruled as a Roman emperor. Ever. Even at the height of the church-state alliance in the West, the two entities were always understood as distinct.
 
#36
...the later development of any society, culture, or institution should, of course, not be anachronistically read back into its history.
LOL Wut? History matters my friend.

The Roman Emperors slowly integrated paganism with Christianity, but I seem to recall that Emperor Gratian was the first to officially confer the title of Pontifex Maximus upon Pope Damascus.

Perhaps you use Constantine as a demarcation line, but societies don't evolve with hard lines. Evolution is a process, for example, like how British Settlers slowly transformed into Americanus Hamburgerus over the course of 200 years.

Happy 4th of July, by the way. :)

Ammosexuals:

 
#37
Part of the argument here is that Jesus predicts the coming of the Son of Man which is the Roman Caesar. There's a big problem with this, because Jesus claims to be the Son of Man, and speaks of the Son of Man coming in the past tense. For example, look at Mark 10:45, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Joe Atwill's theory shows a fundamental lack of understanding of even the Gospels, let alone the whole New Testament.

And what about the story of Jesus mirroring Vespasian? Atwill's interpretation of the data is that the story of Jesus was then fabricated. Why not the other way around? Let's say that Jesus was a real person and had the impact that he did. Perhaps Josephus is colluding with the Romans to ride the wave of Jesus' success. Which is more reasonable? Possibly both are equally likely, but on what grounds does Atwill say his is more likely? Well, it's just obvious to him. That's approximately the language used in the documentary and the interviews with him. In other words, no evidence. He's got an interesting theory, but it's being over celebrated by Alex who seems to want it to be true.
 
#38
A thousand times, yes.

It's not that Christianity appeared completely de novo and sui generis. Indeed, it built upon and yes, revolutionized strands of thought in both Israelite and Greco-Roman tradition. What before was limited according to ethnic obligations, in the former, or within the circulation of ideas among some of the philosophical elite (e.g., the Stoics), in the latter, Christianity turned into a mass movement that instilled a new morality and built Western civilization.

Not bad for a bunch of scheming Flavians. ;)

To get a solid sense of how much Christianity has shifted cultural norms, one may check out David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, or the new work by biblical scholar Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods.
Not so absurd when you understand that early Catholic Popes were Roman Emperors and vice versa.
Ummm....

1. Even if what you said were true, the absurdity is not overturned because the later development of any society, culture, or institution should, of course, not be anachronistically read back into its history. That's like someone denying slavery existed in America 160 years ago because a black president was elected in 2008.

Moreover...

2. There was no monarchical episcopate, let alone anything like a papacy, during the time the New Testament texts were written. There doesn't appear to have been a singular bishop of Rome until the mid-2nd century CE.

3. Finally, no Catholic pope also ruled as a Roman emperor. Ever. Even at the height of the church-state alliance in the West, the two entities were always understood as distinct.
LOL Wut? History matters my friend.

The Roman Emperors slowly integrated paganism with Christianity, but I seem to recall that Emperor Gratian was the first to officially confer the title of Pontifex Maximus upon Pope Damascus.

Perhaps you use Constantine as a demarcation line, but societies don't evolve with hard lines. Evolution is a process, for example, like how British Settlers slowly transformed into Americanus Hamburgerus over the course of 200 years.

Happy 4th of July, by the way. :)

Ammosexuals:

In the list of the revolutionary Christian notions that I posted above, I forgot to add one: secularity, the separation between religious / spiritual realm and state / political power. Before Christianity, it was hardly thinkable: classic, old-style shamanic spirituality and pagan religion was tied and intervined with, respectively, tribal and ethnic political systems of ruleship and authority. The idea that the realm of spirit can and should be separate from the (particular) political structure was a true innovation.

It is this innovation that make a rebellion against the (unjust) state power so pervasive in the West and lead to the sequence of revolutions and radical restructurisations of society which created the (post)modern world that we encounter nowadays.
 
#39
LOL Wut? History matters my friend.
Indeed, it does. Which makes your incredulity utterly baffling to me. History matters because it demonstrates that groups can and do undergo radical changes in policy, values, orienting myths, etc.

My point, to which you responded, was that it was absurd for Romans to invent the claims early Christians made for Jesus. Your response was to identify a later (but false!) convergence of imperial power and church hierarchy. Bracketing that specific claim, any later conciliation between the emerging catholic church and the imperial state has absolutely no bearing on whether the New Testament was markedly supportive or critical of Roman power. Just as:

  • The "special relationship" between America and Britain that emerged after World War II doesn't take away from the fact that, just one century earlier, Americans still viewed Britain as a potential enemy.
  • The "southern strategy" by which the Nixon campaigned converted Southern democrats into Republicans using racist dog-whistle tactics doesn't take away from the fact that the "party of Lincoln" abolished slavery.
And those were both radical inversions that occurred within the span of one century.

Now, that being said, you made a very specific claim in your reply:

...early Catholic Popes were Roman Emperors...

Of course, that claim is completely false, and since there is no evidence to support such a false statement, you haven't defended it. Instead, you moved the goal posts to make another, completely independent claim:

...I seem to recall that Emperor Gratian was the first to officially confer the title of Pontifex Maximus upon Pope Damascus.
Which is also false. Emperor Gratian relinquished the title of pontifex maximus in 382, but that phrase - which really just means "high priest" and isn't intrinsically "pagan" - did not become a regular honorific for popes until the 15th century, and has never formally been adopted as an official title.

Perhaps you use Constantine as a demarcation line, but societies don't evolve with hard lines.
Perhaps you can show me where I made such a claim.
 

Alex

Administrator
#40
I must disagree. Josephus might be pro-Roman, but not the Bible...
if Josephus was pro-Roman (he was), and his writings keep showing up in the Bible (they do), then the Romans probably had a hand in trying to shape the Bible.

if Gloria Steinem was a CIA agent for 40 years (she was), it makes sense to look beyond her personality and conclude the CIA probably used feminism to shape our culture.
 
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