An Easter Reflection

I read this post on Dr. Bart Ehrman’s blog yesterday — twice as a matter of fact — and there is just no way I can skip it and not let it follow-up my own post April 1, 2018:  April Fool’s Everyone! Dr. Ehrman essentially echoes most everything I’ve posted and commented about Christendom, its very distorted and amputated history throughout its two millenia of existence, and how Christianity became the misguided monstrosity it is today. This is just too good to pass up. Therefore, I am simply going to repost what the acclaimed scholar wrote himself about Easter, or the modern myth that is the resurrection missing body of a Jewish reformer. Here is Dr. Bart Ehrman’s post:

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“It is highly ironic, but relatively easy, for a historian to argue that Jesus himself did not start Christianity.   Christianity, at its heart, is the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought about salvation, and that believing in his death and resurrection will make a person right with God, both now and in the afterlife.  Historical scholarship since the nineteenth century has marshalled massive evidence that this is not at all what Jesus himself preached.

Yes, it is true that in the Gospels themselves Jesus talks about his coming death and resurrection.  And in the last of the Gospels written, John, his message is all about how faith in him can bring eternal life (a message oddly missing in the three earlier Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

These canonical accounts of Jesus’ words were written four, five, or six decades after his death by people who did not know him who were living in different countries, and who were not even speaking his own language.  They themselves acquired their accounts of Jesus’ words from earlier Christian storytellers, who had been passing along his sayings by word of mouth, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.   The task of scholarship is to determine, if possible, what Jesus really said given the nature of our sources.

Fundamentalist scholars have no trouble with the question.  Since they are convinced that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God, then anything Jesus is said to have said in the Gospels is something that he really said.  Viola!  Jesus preached the Christian faith that his death and resurrection brought salvation.

Critical scholars, on the other hand, whether they are Christian or not, realize that it is not that simple.   As Christian story tellers over the decades reported Jesus’ teachings, they naturally modified them in light of the contexts within which they were telling them (to convert others for example) and in light of their own beliefs and views.   The task is to figure out which of the sayings (or even which parts of which sayings) may have been what Jesus really said.

Different scholars have different views of that matter, but one thing virtually all critical scholars agree on is that the doctrines of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection were not topics Jesus addressed.  These words of Jesus were placed on his lips by later Christian story-tellers who *themselves* believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead to bring about the salvation of the world, and who wanted to convince others that this had been Jesus’ plan and intention all along.

My own view is one I’ve sketched on the blog many a time before.  Jesus himself – the historical figure in his own place and time – preached an apocalyptic message that God was soon to intervene in history to overthrow the powers of evil and destroy all who sided with them; he would then bring a perfect utopian kingdom to earth in which Israel would be established as a sovereign state ruling the nations and there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering.  Jesus expected this end to come soon, within his own generation.  His disciples would see it happen – and in fact would be rulers of this coming earthly kingdom, with him himself at their head as the ruling monarch.

It didn’t happen of course.  Instead, Jesus was arrested for being a trouble maker, charged with crimes against the state (proclaiming himself to be the king, when only Rome could rule), publicly humiliated, and ignominiously tortured to death.

This was not at all what the disciples expected.  It was the opposite of what they expected.  It was a radical disconfirmation of everything they had heard from Jesus during all their time with him.  They were in shock and disbelief, their world shattered.  They had left everything to follow him, creating hardship not only for themselves but for the families near and dear to them – leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves and doubtless to suffer want and hunger with the only bread-winner away from home to accompany an itinerant preacher who thought the end of history was to arrive any day now.

This reversal of the disciples’ hopes and dreams then unexpectedly experienced its own reversal.  Some of them started saying that they had seen Jesus alive again.   In the Gospels themselves, of course, all the disciples see Jesus alive and are convinced that he has been raised from the dead.   It is not at all clear it actually happened that way.  The accounts of the Gospels are hopelessly at odds with each other about what happened, to whom, when, and where.  So what can we say historically?

One thing we can say with relative certainty (even though most people – including lots of scholars!) have never thought about this or realized it, is that no one came to think Jesus was raised from the dead because three days later they went to the tomb and found it was empty.   It is striking that Paul, our first author who talks about Jesus’ resurrection, never mentions the discovery of the empty tomb and does not use an empty tomb as some kind of “proof” that the body of Jesus had been raised.

Moreover, whenever the Gospels tell their later stories about the tomb, it never, ever leads anyone came to believe in the resurrection.  The reason is pretty obvious.  If you buried a friend who had recently died, and three days later you went back and found the body was no longer there, would your reaction be “Oh, he’s been exalted to heaven to sit at the right hand of God”?  Of course not.  Your reaction would be: “Grave robbers!”   Or, “Hey, I’m at the wrong tomb!”

Body of jesus the man

The empty tomb only creates doubts and consternation in the stories in the Gospels, never faith.   Faith is generated by stories that Jesus has been seen alive again.   Some of Jesus’ followers said they saw him.  Others believed them.   They told others — who believed them.  More stories began to be told.  Pretty soon there were stories that all of them had seen him alive again.  The followers of Jesus who heard these stories became convinced he had been raised from the dead.

Jesus himself did not start Christianity.  His preaching is not what Christianity is about, in the end.  If his followers had not come to believe he had been raised from the dead, they would have seen him as a great Jewish prophet who had a specific Jewish message and a particular way of interpreting the Jewish scripture and tradition.  Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism.  It would have had the historical significance of the Sadducees or Essenes – highly significant for scholars of ancient religion, but not a religion that would take over the world.

It is also not the death of Jesus that started Christianity.  If he had died and no one believed in his resurrection, his followers would have talked about his crucifixion as a gross miscarriage of justice; he would have been another Jewish prophet killed by God’s enemies.

Even the resurrection did not start Christianity.  If Jesus had been raised but no one found out about it or came to believe in it, there would not have been a new religion founded on God’s great act of salvation.

What started Christianity was the Belief in the Resurrection.  It was nothing else.  Followers of Jesus came to believe he had been raised.  They did not believe it because of “proof” such as the empty tomb.  They believed it because some of them said they saw Jesus alive afterward.  Others who believed these stories told others who also came to believe them.  These others told others who told others – for days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and now millennia.  Christianity is all about believing what others have said.  It has always been that way and always will be.

Easter is the celebration of the first proclamation that Jesus did not remain dead.  It is not that his body was resuscitated after a Near Death Experience.   God had exalted Jesus to heaven never to die again; he will (soon) return from heaven to rule the earth.  This is a statement of faith, not a matter of empirical proof.  Christians themselves believe it.  Non-Christians recognize it as the very heart of the Christian message.  It is a message based on faith in what other people claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified based on what others claimed and testified – all the way back to the first followers of Jesus who said they saw Jesus alive afterward.”

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Here was my comment and question for Dr. Ehrman. He usually gets back to me within a quick, reasonable timeframe:

Dr. Ehrman, a wonderful summary of today’s meaning of Easter in modern Christian churches. Well done. Thank you.

As your colleague, Dr. James Tabor has studied, written and published, Paul/Saul and his Christology is a major force in spreading and growing the Gentile/pagan side of the “faith.” When I super-impose the full context of the Hellenistic Roman Empire and geopolitical and socioreligious infrastructure over and onto Second Temple Judaism and the Messianic Era, to me personally the gradual and eventual overshadowing (and eventual success) of Paul’s “Neo-Religion” opened up to all Gentiles, with several Greco-Roman ideals of Apotheosis, throughout the Empire (endearing the social classes struggling to survive — blossoming welfare system) takes on an entirely DIFFERENT form than Jesus the Reformer had ever intended! Notwithstanding Jesus’ true pure teachings/reforms, the new Gentile religion was too far gone, popular, and honestly distorted — particularly when the Jewish-Roman War wiped out so many of the outlying sects and those in Jerusalem by 70 CE! Which might have been some of Jesus’ very Jewish 2nd generation followers? Perhaps?

And I am utterly challenged to find out WHY did Paul go to Arabia for 3-years and WHAT was it that he learned there (about Jesus)? Because when Paul returned from Arabia he obviously had a different version of “the Way” and the Kingdom of God than the disciples and the Jerusalem Council had, yes? Any thoughts?

We’ll see what his response will be. Personally, I find Paul’s/Saul’s business in Arabia for 3-years to be very significant in better understanding why and how a floundering Jewish reform movement led by Yeshua/Jesus, suddenly took off 200-300 years later to become the Western Hemisphere’s primary religion. Who better to ask about that than one of the renown experts in biblical history and that era, right?

4-4-2018 Addendum — Here was Dr. Ehrman’s reply to my question:

“I don’t think he went into the deserts of Arabia to meditate, reflect, and develop his views. I think he went to the cities of the Nabatean Kingdom (then called Arabia) to begin his missionary work. He claims that he realized the significance of Jesus for Gentiles as soon as he had his vision.”

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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April Fool’s Everyone!

confused Xian manIs magic real? Is it deception or slight-of-hand? Not since 1956 has this happened. It won’t happen again until April 1st, 2029. One thing is also certain; it has happened in the past many times and will keep happening in the future. But why will it not happen again until 2029 when (since 1900) it has only happened four times:  1923, 1934, 1945, and as mentioned 1956? Every 11-years for four cycles, then a 62-year cycle followed by the return to an 11-year cycle for four times. Why this peculiar pattern?

Questions Are Good!

Questions are good in order to better understand. What is so special about today? It is indeed April Fool’s Day (April 1st), but it is also Easter Sunday. However, April Fool’s and Easter together won’t happen again until 2029. Finding answers or at least finding compelling or plausible answers are very good for better understanding our world, even understanding human nature (the observer) much better. Are we astute observers and astute inquisitors? Do we astutely reason and infer to formulate astute maps, astute blueprints, or astute subsequent questions?

I want you to try your best to answer these following questions about Easter and see how many you get correct:

  • When, where, and how did Easter originate?
  • How many women came to the tomb Easter morning?
  • What were the last words of Jesus?
    confused Xian woman
  • How many days did Jesus teach after his resurrection?
  • Who buried Jesus?
  • Did an angel cause a great earthquake that rolled back the stone in front of the tomb?
  • Who did the women see at the tomb?
  • Was the tomb already open when they got there?
  • Did the women tell the disciples?
  • Did Mary Magdalene cry at the tomb?
  • Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus?
  • Could Jesus’s followers touch him?
  • Where did Jesus tell the disciples to meet him?
  • Who saw Jesus resurrected?
  • Should the gospel be preached to everyone?
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Please feel free to leave your answers in the comments below to determine whether you are a fool on Easter-April Fool’s Day or an informed fool or neither. 😁

Footnote — read what acclaimed scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman has to say about the folklore of Easter, resurrection, and what Jesus did or did not teach in my follow-up blog-post:  An Easter Reflection.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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The Bastard Muses

Democracy. What does it mean? The Oxford-English dictionary defines democracy this way:

1.0 — A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. (1.3) The practice or principles of social equality.

Yet, it is more than that. In fact, it is a LOT MORE than that. Stanford University in a 2004 lecture for humanistic studies breaks down democracy with four pivotal elements.

  1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
  2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
  3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
  4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

It is #3 that is the focus of my post here. But it is not the advocacy of “protection” that I’m going to address. I like a process I sometimes call Reciprocal Comprehension, or examining the positive and negative aspects of an image, in this case principles. Here is Stanford’s breakdown of #3…

  • In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them.
  • These rights are guaranteed under international law.
  • You have the right to have your own beliefs, and to say and write what you think.
  • No one can tell you what you must think, believe, and say or not say.
  • There is freedom of religion. Everyone is free to choose their own religion and to worship and practice their religion as they see fit.
  • Every individual has the right to enjoy their own culture, along with other members of their group, even if their group is a minority.
  • There is freedom and pluralism in the mass media.
  • You can choose between different sources of news and opinion to read in the newspapers, to hear on the radio, and to watch on television.
  • You have the right to associate with other people, and to form and join organizations of your own choice, including trade unions.
  • You are free to move about the country, and if you wish, to leave the country.
  • You have the right to assemble freely, and to protest government actions.
  • However, everyone has an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others.

[emphasis mine]

There is also an inferred responsibility to all law-understanding and law-abiding citizens to be informed about and keen enough to understand the difference between rhetoric/propaganda and facts/truths regarding a subject. Just because someone has the right to say whatever they want, however they want, doesn’t make it right or true. Each of us, me included, are responsible to discern what the real facts are or what the probable or highly probable facts and truths are so as to properly identify bastard muses.

nine muses

Cleanth Brooks is often referred to as one of the Fathers of New Criticism. He also is credited for composing formalist criticism of literature and poetry. While being the keynote speaker at the 2011 convention of History Makers in New York City, Bill Moyers spoke these words about literature, journalism, Cleanth Brooks, and to modern social-media:

…while “most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence,” the research found that actually “we often base our opinions on our beliefs … and rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

These studies help to explain why America seems more and more unable to deal with reality. So many people inhabit a closed belief system on whose door they have hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign, that they pick and choose only those facts that will serve as building blocks for walling them off from uncomfortable truths.

[…]

George Orwell had warned six decades ago that the corrosion of language goes hand in hand with the corruption of democracy. If he were around today, he would remind us that “like the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket,” this kind of propaganda engenders a “protective stupidity” almost impossible for facts to penetrate.

[…]

The late scholar Cleanth Brooks of Yale thought there were three great enemies of democracy. He called them “The Bastard Muses”: Propaganda, which pleads sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth; sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality. The poet Czeslaw Milosz identified another enemy of democracy when, upon accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, he said “Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember.” Memory is crucial to democracy; historical amnesia, its nemesis.

Against these tendencies it is an uphill fight to stay the course of factual broadcasting.

I would like to personally clarify Brooks’ three bastard muses of broadcasting, or social-media, and Milosz’s amnesia muse on democracy, and modernize, more specifically distinguish, those bastard muses as opposed to the nine inspirational Greek muses.

Propagat Bastard

Propagat, or propaganda, is as most of you know a selling, marketing, or diffusion technique of hype and/or disinformation of an ideology, cause, product, or service that may not necessarily be factual or truthful. Who or what can you name, past or present, that was a masterful or sinister propaganda machinist? Here are six rules-of-thumb from one of history’s most successful propaganda campaigns by one of the world’s most elite, most notorious propagandist:

  • Propaganda must be carefully timed, reaching its audience ahead of competing propaganda.
  • Propaganda must have a theme that must be repeated over and over.
  • It must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.
  • It must evoke the interest of the audience.
  • It must diminish anxiety.
  • It must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.

Who was this elite propagandist? He was Nazi Germany’s and Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He was also primarily responsible for much harsher discrimination policies across continental Europe including the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. This is the power of unchallenged, unscrutinized propaganda.

Addendum — The Pink Agendist below in comments offered an exceptional article that further reveals the spine-chilling, remarkable power of propaganda. I highly recommend reading it. Thank you Pink.

Nostalgia Bastard

Sentimentality, or as I’m calling her nostalgia, in my opinion is the most covert, the most misunderstood bastard muse. Brooks correctly describes above that it is unwarranted emotion and in excess of the occasion; it panders to a gullible human sentiment to “rewrite history” as this Vox video informs us:

Sadly, much of modern racism, discrimination, and segregation in America can be attributed to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They’ve kept much of the old Confederate prejudices alive today.

Pornographos Bastard

Pornographos, or pornography, perhaps the antithesis of Erato, but only from a conservative, pious, or puritan viewpoint. She is derived from the Greek word Eros that in ancient Greece is historically just one of six forms of “love.” Modern-day conservatism rarely understands the full experiences of endearing Greek relationships of Antiquity.

Despite the fact that Brooks does indeed give in very few words the correct, yet truncated definition of pornography, I feel the fuller understanding of the muse Pornographos should be understood in her expansive form. Bill Moyers may have described her more fully at some other place and time, I’m not sure. But he did not elaborate or hint in this opening speech what he means by “total human personality.” That is what I wish to do.

Pornography, or Eros, belongs with another 5 or 6 siblings:  Ludus, Agape, Philia, Pragma, and Philautia. The sixth sibling, in my opinion is the antithesis of jealousy:  Compersion. It is unfair for societies and religious ideologies to separate out or orphan Eros (pornography). Though she can be the center of attention for a period of time and degrees of sublime endeavor, she will always be one of six sister muses. When her other six sisters are neglected, that is when habitual problems and implosion creeps in. When sexual organs and associated body parts are exploited and/or abused for the gains or pleasures of another, while at the expense or humiliation of the entire person/victim, then CLEARLY that is wrong, illegal, and detrimental to everyone involved. All become less human.

Based on what I know about Bill Moyers and what I’ve briefly read about Cleanth Brooks, this latter specified condition of an orphaned Pornography is more their “bastard” muse. It is still incomplete. Their description is the modern connotation of pornography within conservative-puritan society, but it does not represent her family of six sister muses.

Amnesia Bastard

Amnesia, or historical amnesia, is indeed an infection to democracy. On the distinctions of history, national or individual, known or unknown, there is probably no better an expert, a firsthand expert, than Czeslaw Milosz. While becoming an acclaimed poet, he survived ethnic cleansing, exiles, and two world wars in Europe and the constant annexations and occupations of his homeland by Russia/USSR twice and the Nazis occupation 1939 – 1945 during World War II. Plain and simple, the man knew much about history and truth. Milosz writes:

“The creative act is associated with a feeling of freedom that is, in its turn, born in the struggle against an apparently invisible resistance. Whoever truly creates is alone… The creative man has no choice but to trust his inner command and place everything at stake in order to express what seems to him to be true”

The 20th century culture surrounding him worshipped victorious power-versions of history, but Milosz is the artist who through his poetry worships truth. His craft allows him to save his and the reader’s soul. Perhaps the trick (or struggle) for all free citizens of democracy — the type of democracy Stanford describes above — should be which muse you fall in love with, which muse beguiles you and why, yes?

nine muses

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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