Category Archives: Early Christian Rhetoric

Happy holidays

It’s a pretty lazy holidays for me so far. I’m sitting here with the dogs at my feet, doing some ancillary reading for a spring project. Tomorrow we go see my mother and stepfather and grandmother, which is good.

Some other good news recently – another accepted article, this time at Rhetorica (see the About page) – though I don’t know when it will appear. This one is particularly important as it’s the first time a chapter from my dissertation has made it to print. Previously I had a big idea from a chapter appear (the article on Origen) but not a whole rewritten chapter. So I’m pleased.

Specious reasoning

There’s an interesting piece on William Lane Craig here at the Chronicle: it reminds me strongly of a piece that the NYT did on Rush Limbaugh years ago.

Both men are of interest to me as a rhetorician because of the power of their speciousness.  Craig is a master of the Gish Gallop and other debating maneuvers, which I first noted after listening to a debate between him and Richard Carrier. His modus operandi is both predictable and devastating. I have to wonder why anyone accepts a debate with him when the odds are so heavily weighted in his favor; Craig is an apex predator of sorts, almost perfectly adapted to his statement/rebuttal/rejoinder environment.

The only effective defense against his tactics would seem to be either disengagement or incredulity (either of which he can dispatch as intellectual bluster!)

Another person Craig reminds me of other than Limbaugh is Ayn Rand, who still has followers. Both are dangerous entities to encounter as an undergraduate, who may lack (although some have) the philosophical depth to recognize what is specious reasoning and how what is specious reasoning can be persuasive despite its nature.

Frustration

Having this website is frustrating sometimes, because I can’t really write in detail about most of the things that I’m currently engaged in or find interesting. I’m working on an article on Luke-Acts, but posting unfinished work seems unwise. Ditto for another article on workplace documentation. I’m not concerned about ideas being pilfered, but my personal quest for perfection gets in the way.

I just finished Bioshock: Infinite, but that game is so easily spoiled that I dare not say a word about it lest some virgin wander by. Ever since I, purely by accident, told H that a certain someone killed a certain someone in a certain book, I have been trying to be careful about such sensitive information. I will simply say that it is very, very good.

In the end, I suppose, I have absolutely nothing to say at the moment, but that beats 90% of the web most days.

Historical Jesus

There’s an interesting debate between Richard Carrier and Mark Goodacre here, two of my favorite scholars, and some post-analysis here (by Carrier) and here (by Vridar). They’re debating the historical nature of Jesus, as in whether or not he was a real person, or a myth.

As for my current thinking on this question, I’ll say what I’ve said for awhile – historical information in the NT is very difficult to come by. If you’re looking for some, you have to do three things. One, look at the probably authentic Paul’s letters – 1 Thess, Galatians, 1 Cor and 2 Cor, and Romans. Two, look at the gospel of Mark. Three, do these things while forgetting about the rest of the New Testament as if it didn’t exist, chiefly because the rest is of later composition and thus suspect.

It’s not critical or important to me whether or not there was a historical Jesus. I sit on the fence on that one. Either way, it doesn’t affect my research that much, since the gospels, which I’m interested in, were written decades after the supposed fact under debate. It’s important to note that at some point Jesus was ‘historicized’ by the gospels, regardless of his earlier status, but the original status pales in comparison to the influence of what came after.

It is nearly impossible to strip the gospel accounts off of Jesus. They aim to, and succeed, in reaching backward in time and confusing us as to what is fact, what is tradition, and what is fiction. The tide is turning, in a scholarly sense, toward tradition and fiction and away from fact and tradition, but there is still a long way to go.

Talk on Luke-Acts – the ascension problem

I gave a talk at the Willow Pump Station at UHD last Thursday, delineating my theory on the authorship of Luke-Acts. In short, I no longer think Luke and Acts were written by the same person. In this wild and crazy idea, I join Patrica Walters (2009) and A.C. Clark (1933) as well as, I suppose, F.C. Baur and a few others. I think an imitator of the Gospel of Luke’s style wrote Acts, making it a very long piece of false writing, as well as a fine piece of Paulinist apology – someone wearing a ‘Luke hat’, in other words (a metaphor gifted to me by a commenter), wrote it.

Why do I hold this position? Two reasons.

First, as Walters has ably demonstrated, the stylistic studies ‘proving’ common authorship are similarity hunts. They fail a very basic methodology test.  Studying both similarities and differences, like Clark, ends on a far more cautious note of agnosticism.

Two,  there’s that pesky ascension, depicted at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, which I spent most of my talk on. In short, if we are to take the author of Luke’s introduction to heart, the two ascensions should square up on very basic things like 1) when the ascension occurred, 2) what Jesus said, and 3) the presence of angels. They do not. The typical  counterarguments to  multiple problems with the ascension amount to special pleading. What we have points to something far more shady.

I should note that I am aware of the various arguments for multiple authors/redactors working on Luke/Acts, the influence of sources and Aramaic, and the possibility of Marcion’s gospel predating Luke. I’m just saying that none of them explain the ascension problem satisfactorily, enough that if you look at the major commentaries on Luke and Acts – Conzelmann, Pervo, Parsons, Fitzmyer, etc – they avoid or sidestep the issue.

So what’s the ‘so what’? Why care if Luke and Acts had separate authors? It mostly changes how Acts should be interpreted; its contents, already historically suspicious, become even more suspicious. It also introduces the idea of not just a Pauline ‘school’ of writing, but a Lucan one as well!

My talk was designed for a lay audience, so it will take me some time to work it into an article that will likely position itself as an extension of Walters’s arguments.

Luke/Acts

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the author of the gospel of Luke and the author of Acts are not the same person. Patrica Walters’s The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts: A Reassessment of the Evidence has figured heavily in this mental movement of mine, but I’ve been wanting to write about the problems between the two texts, namely in regard to the ascension, for some time, at least since 2007 when I noticed some odd discrepancies. In short, the stylistic studies that “proved” common authorship a century ago seem flawed now, and I cannot accommodate the person who wrote Lk 1:1-4 with the one who supposedly wrote two versions of the ascension. I’m not prepared to give a full accounting of my thoughts here yet – still on vacation – but as I have a presentation on this to give in September, I will post what I have then here.

Carrier on Erhman

Richard Carrier takes on Bart Ehrman, who recently wrote a rather unfriendly HuffPo article on mythicists. I saw a talk by Ehrman years ago where he also dismissed mythicism out of hand; it struck me as his blind spot in an otherwise reasonable take on early Christianity. Unfortunately, it’s an oversight shared by many scholars. All scholars have a blind spot or two where their theories break down; I couldn’t tell you what mine are, as by definition I can’t see them, but I’m sure I have several.

Haven’t read his (Ehrman’s) new book yet, but I hope he makes a distinction between principled mythicists (yes, you can teach early Christianity and doubt a historical Jesus – wow, what a overstatement he makes) and the fringe that operates without method/evidence.

There are, certainly, “mythicists” that wouldn’t accept a historical Jesus without a birth certificate, and even then would claim it was forged. On the other hand, there are “mythicists” that are deeply concerned with the methodological issues associated with making a claim with scanty evidence.

Right now as I see it, there are two current ways to argue for a historical Jesus, and both are questionable. One is the Gospel of Mark. The other gospels are dependent on it to some degree, so they can’t be certain independent witnesses, and we don’t have a copy of the supposed Q, either. The real problem with Mark, though, is that it contains a plethora of details that seem unavailable to Paul. This opens the question of whether they are later inventions, in which case we must fall back to the second argument, by way of Paul – and Paul offers very little evidence beyond the creed of 1 Cor 15, which is secondhand.  The ‘brother of the lord’ line in Galatians is suggestive, but Carrier does a good job of cutting it to pieces. There is a third route, through Josephus, but that’s been debunked to death.

Pre-Turkey

I’m sitting in my office, staring at my unfinished article on Origen and Augustine. It’s made great strides, many in the last hour, but there’s still a lot to do and that can be simultaneously inspiring and depressing. So much of my writing takes place in very short intense bursts after long periods of thought – I just finished one of those, and now I feel slightly cheered, but also mentally drained. I have enough in me to reread an old dissertation for ideas, then I think it’s time for the break.