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Monday, July 29, 2013

A new low in religious hypocrisy

Slate has published a story about the brouhaha surrounding a book I've not yet read: Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

I caught Aslan on The Daily Show and disagreed with his take on Jesus. Aslan obviously thinks that Jesus sympathized with the anti-Roman revolutionary movement; I think otherwise.

As noted in an earlier post, my interpretation of the "Jerusalem is doomed" passages in the Gospels differs from the views held by most academics. I think that those passages constitute nothing more -- and nothing less -- than a wise reading of the political situation: Jesus could smell rebellion in the air, and he could guess how that rebellion would end. His "foreknowledge" had nothing to do with ESP and everything to do with common sense. (Josephus seems to have had the same "foreknowledge," although he briefly joined the rebellion anyways.) If Alsan's theory is right, why would Jesus sympathize with a revolution that he knew could only end badly for Israel?

Aslan probably considers the "Jerusalem is doomed" passages to be material added by later writers. And that's the problem with most modern New Testament scholarship: It's possible to create any Jesus you want. The trick is simple: You read the Gospels, you pick out a few bits that you like, you say "These parts are true" -- and then you dismiss everything else as spurious.

This approach has some validity, or at least inevitability, since the Gospels do, in fact, present true (or true-ish) material encrusted with barnacles of fiction. Most modern scholars would, for example, agree with my presumption that the crucifixion accounts have a strong historical basis, while the nativity stories are far more questionable.

But how do you distinguish the rock from the barnacles? Alas, too many scholars pick and choose their "truths" based on their pet theories -- and that's where the problems set in. Thus, James Tabor, in The Jesus Dynasty, takes very seriously the (conflicting) "ancestry of Jesus" lists in Luke and Matthew -- even though Luke's list goes all the way back to Adam! Most other scholars consider those lists dubious; personally, I think they're downright ridiculous. Yet they fit Tabor's pet theory, so he treats the silly things as...well, as Gospel.

As noted above, I haven't read Aslan's book yet, but I fully expect him to play a game similar to Tabor's. That said, such books can be very interesting. You don't have to agree with a work to get something out of it.

Although guys like Ehrman, Crossan and Tabor tend to annoy the religious right, the reaction against Aslan has been very different. Aslan is despised in a way those three are not. Why? Because he is a Muslim. At least, he comes from a Muslim background; I don't know if he is devout.

Right now, the Islamophobes are doubling down on their bigotry. And they are using Aslan as their whipping boy.

Here's how Slate tells the story:
It’s got plenty of competition but this may just be the single most cringe-worthy, embarrassing interview broadcast on Fox News. At least in recent memory. Fox News anchor Lauren Green had religious scholar Reza Aslan on her show Friday to talk about Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, his book that has been stirring up some online controversy recently. And right off the bat, Green gets to what is important: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Aslan seemed a little flabbergasted: “Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim.”

But Green just wouldn’t let it go: “It still begs the question though, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” Aslan then starts talking to Green slowly, as if she were a child: “Because it’s my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually.” But Green insisted, accusing him of failing to “disclose” that he’s a Muslim and at one point asking him about a stupefying claim on whether a Muslim writing a book on Jesus isn’t sort of like a Democrat writing a book on former president Ronald Reagan.

Aslan has become the target of anti-muslim rhetoric this past week as he’s made numerous media appearances to publicize his book. Author and pastor John Dickerson harshly criticized media outlets on, saying reporters “have failed to mention [Aslan] is a devout Muslim.” In a piece for WorldNetDaily, Pamela Geller writes that “jihadist operatives like the vicious Reza Aslan are carried on the shoulders of the media and intelligentsia like a football hero at the end of an impossibly fought game.” Many who share these views have taken to Amazon to give the book one-star reviews. Aslan “is a Muslim and not a historian,” reads one of the one-star reviews.
As if Muslims cannot be historians...!

Tellingly, these bigots never dare to address the question of whether Jews may write about Jesus. Many Jews have done so, and they have often had some important and interesting things to say. Maimonides wrote about Jesus in the 12th century. Some of you may know the famous story of Nahmanides and the great dispute in Barcelona. Here's a modern Jew who writes about Jesus -- and in the process, he praises Aslan's book.

Moreover, if the risible Pamela Geller really thinks that no Muslim scholar should write about Jesus, then shouldn't the restrictions also work the other way? Do scholars who hail from a Jewish or Christian heritage have the right to write about Muhammed?

Of course they do. Anyone from any background may write on any topic that he or she considers intriguing. Granted, what you write won't be of much value to others if you refuse to do your homework, or if you lack the talent for original thought.

A year ago, I read a book called Did Muhammed Exist? by Robert Spencer. At the time, I didn't know who Spencer is. I later discovered that he's a Greek Melkite Christian and an anti-jihadist firebrand who often works with Pamela Geller. As you know, I don't like Geller, and thus I'm not likely to admire anyone who pals around with her.

Nevertheless, his book is a fascinating read. Perhaps perversely, I came away from it convinced of Muhammed's historicity -- even though, as with Jesus, barnacles of fiction formed around the facts. Spencer deserves credit for arguing fairly: He gives the reader enough evidence to walk away with a conclusion differing from the one he intends.

For a while now, I've toyed with the notion of writing a Sunday post comparing Spencer's work with that of popular dimwits like "Archaya X" who argue for the nonexistence of Jesus. We've discussed the "mythicist" issue in a previous post. As Bart Ehrman notes in his excellent recent book on the topic, virtually all New Testament scholars (most of whom are agnostics or atheists or not-conventionally-religious) concede the existence of Jesus. Yet "evangelical atheists" of the Richard Dawkins school seem to be under the impression that the "myth" theory represents the scholarly consensus, even though the opposite is true.

Most of the people who think this way are young, arrogant ninnies who would rather poke out their own eyes than read a book with footnotes.

So why do these young, arrogant ninnies want to believe that Jesus was a completely mythical personage? Because -- to put it bluntly -- they've got a bug up their asses about Christianity, and because these smirky twerps like to think that they're smarter than other people. For most of these kids, fundamentalist Protestant Christianity is the only variant they know, and I can certainly understand why they've learned to dislike it. For them, the "myth" theory fulfills a psychological need. It's their way of exacting revenge.

Spencer, I think, has similar motives. He hates Islam passionately, so he has a psychological need to strike it at the core. But unlike the smirky young twerps who dote on Archaya X and the Zeitgeist pseudodocumentary, Spencer is willing to do actual research. Thus, his work is far easier to recommend.

As noted above, I wasn't persuaded by his argument, well-mounted as it is. We know from the history of recently-born religions -- and by "recently," I mean the past two centuries, for which we have good records -- that religions do not make themselves. Religions have founders. Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard were demonstrably real people. Even though their followers have tried to affix "barnacles of fiction" to their histories, those barnacles cannot erase the fact that a new faith always has a father. (Can you name an exception? Even the cargo cults trace back to an historical figure named Tuka.) Such has been the pattern during the past two centuries; such, I believe, was the pattern in antiquity.

Now, I told you all of the above mainly to introduce you to Spencer and his book. My purpose is to ask an obvious question: If Spencer can write about Muhammed, why can't Aslan write about Jesus? Fair is fair.

Believe it or not, instead of avoiding the comparison to Spencer, Geller -- who positively luxuriates in hypocrisy -- is very quick to mention the guy, even as she trashes Aslan:
Robert Spencer is a writer without peer and a nonpareil scholar, the author of 12 books on Islam, jihad and related topics, including two New York Times bestsellers. Yet “Did Muhammad Exist?” was ignored and dismissed by the intelligentsia, the media elite and subversive academia.

Juxtapose that to the recent adulation heaped upon the Islamic supremacist Reza Aslan for his new book. Aslan is an advisory board member of the National Iranian American Council, which has been recently exposed in court as a lobbying group for the Iranian regime. He has smeared and lied about Spencer and me on national television, and responded to Spencer’s reasoned rebuttals with homophobic abuse worthy of a seventh-grader...
Of course, nothing Aslan said resembles homophobia.
You should ask yourself, how did we get here? How can a reasonable, educated and pre-eminent scholar like Robert Spencer be relegated to the very fringe (if that) of the literary world, while jihadist operatives like the vicious Reza Aslan are carried on the shoulders of the media and intelligentsia like a football hero at the end of an impossibly fought game.
See if you can catch the big problem in this next bit:
Clearly, Robert could have entitled his book “Pedophile,” because we know that Muhammad’s favorite wife was taken at the age of 6 and that their “marriage” was consummated when the Muslim prophet was 54 and she was 9. Spencer could also have called his book “Annihilator,” because we know that Muhammad slaughtered an entire Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza, by beheading. Surely Spencer exercised restraint in not entitling his book “Bloody Warmonger.” Any of these would have been the equivalent of Aslan’s title “Zealot.”
In other words, Pam Geller is stipulating the existence of Muhammed -- thereby contradicting Spencer's thesis. A nonexistent person cannot also be a real-world annihilator. Geller is so caught up in the throes of rage-gasm that she cannot see her contradiction!

By the way: In the first century, the word zealot meant "rebel," not "fanatic." The title of Aslan's book is not an insult; it refers to a theory of Jesus' political motive. Even though I consider that theory wrongheaded, we should note that the same idea has been voiced by many others; it may be considered one of the standard "theories of Jesus." 

If you have seen Aslan's teevee appearances, you're probably asking the same question I'm asking: Geller wants us to think that guy is a jihadi? She must be kidding!

Aslan is a scholar, not an Islamic polemicist. The view of Jesus he has presented (at least on television) conflicts with the view of Jesus one finds in the Koran.

Islam's holy book does not present Jesus as a zealot. Muslims have traditionally regarded Jesus as a great religious prophet, not as a political figure. If Aslan sees Jesus as an insurrectionist, he contradicts the standard Islamic view.

I very strongly doubt that Aslan accepts the beloved (by Muslims) tale of the Virgin Mary and the palm tree. The Koran also says that Jesus started talking shortly after birth; I suspect that Aslan would say that this tale contains, at best, only a poetic truth.

Most importantly: The Daily Show interview gave me the clear impression that Aslan thinks Jesus was, in fact, crucified. The reality of the crucifixion seems to be the crux of this scholar's argument. He thus contradicts the Koran's strange teaching that Jesus was not crucified (a view probably inspired by certain Gnostic sects). 

One should study one's enemies. How can Geller hate Islam so deeply if she doesn't even know the Islamic view of Jesus? How can she argue that Aslan is a Muslim propagandist -- or even a "jihadi" -- when he presents a "theory of Jesus" which (as far as I can tell) has no relation to anything in the Koran? Either Geller is ignorant of these matters, or she is captiously exploiting the ignorance of her readers.
Remember also: Spencer’s book was accurately and forthrightly entitled, “Did Muhammad Exist?” It’s a legitimate question, even though on the BBC recently an interviewer tried to badger Spencer into admitting that there was something wrong, and offensive to Muslims, with even investigating this historical question.
I haven't seen the interview (and would appreciate a link to it, if it's on the net), but I doubt that any BBC interviewer would argue for limiting scholarship. I understand that the BBC itself has, at least glancingly, addressed the historicity question in a documentary about Mohammed.

By the way: One cannot fairly argue that Spencer's book was ignored if the BBC interviewed him.

Geller's outrageous double standard should be obvious: If Spencer has every right to argue that Muhammed is mythical -- and indeed he does -- then Aslan has every right to argue that Jesus was an anti-Roman rebel. Although I don't agree with either proposition, I think that there's a bit more evidence for Aslan's view than for Spencer's.

Some people mainline heroin. Some people mainline hate. Pam Geller has injected a lot of the latter into her veins -- but lately, her drug of choice seems to be hypocrisy.
There are fanatics of every stripe, including atheist. They are tedious.

Josephus was fantastic. Such a cad. I believe there's a story in the Jewish War about his being trapped in a cave with some Zealots who long to die for the cause rather than be captured by the Romans besieging them. Failing to talk them out of it, Josephus takes the lead and claims he's afraid some of the others might not be so anxious for death, and devises a system of lots, so they pair up and pick lots to decide who dies first, so they can keep an eye on each other. Josephus, purely through coincidence of course, is (with his partner) the last survivor. He talks his partner into surrendering instead, so they can tell the story of their comrades' heroic sacrifice.

I'm curious why Aslan is dealing with the Bible-Jesus. Jesus is in the Qu'ran too, after all and as said. Surely a muslim should take the Koranicalist version at least seriously. Admittedly, the Qu'ran is probably less historically accurate, but that wouldn't matter if he was a Jihadi rather than a scholar.

Well, obviously he's NOT a jihadi. That was my point, Stephen. Geller calls him that for no reason other than she uses that term to describe anything she doesn't like. If the dog soils the rug, the dog is a jihadi.

Geller is canny. She misportrays the Islamic attitude toward Jesus because she knows what her fundamentalist readers want to hear. Aslan's view is consonant with -- well, I don't want to say "the academic view," because scholars have espoused so many "theories of Jesus." What he's saying seems to be a reiteraton of a view long held by one segment of the scholarly community.

I like Jospehus. I used to keep a copy of The Jewish War in the bathroom. The guy always has a good story.

One thing's for sure: If you enter into a suicide pact, always be wary of the fellow who bravely volunteers to go last.
I vote for exploiting the ignorance of her readers (and Fox news, of its viewers). Tho I think an argument can be made for a book having been ignored (in America) if it's BBC doing the interview. How many times do we have to turn to the Guardian and other overseas publications for stories being ignored here?

What struck me most was that Geller's rant centered on the titles or alternate titles, probably because she knew no one was going to read either book. Just as inflammatory headlines sell newspapers, the entire focus is on the titles instead of the books' contents.

It's a shame that both news outlets didn't simply ask "Why 'Zealot' for your title?" and enlighten instead of inflame. In the same way scholars have credentials and standards to maintain, so should journalists. And if they don't rise to those standards they ought to be labeled "Outrage Factories" or anything except news outlets.

Your depiction of the young atheists is hilarious, Joseph. Except they do also pick and choose from the Bible in order to quote choice bits back to Christians and brag that unlike them, they've actually read the bible.

My favorite book on Jesus was Robert Graves' historical novel "King Jesus." He also co-wrote Nazarene Gospel Restored. That book was attacked but Graves defended his Greek scholarship and the Times had to apologize.

I think you're giving Geller too much credit. I don't think she's canny, I think she's just mas in the same way as her audience.

Obviously he's not a jihadi, Aslan (appropriate name for a Jesusologist), but I think if I was a Muslim I'd have a view of Jesus a bit more Qu'ran based.

Josephus' Jewish War is my favourite piece of classical literature, possibly barring the Golden Ass.

"An atheist, he defended love as an instrument to improve the human condition. In 1992, the Government of Portugal under Prime Minister Aníbal Cavaco Silva ordered the removal of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from the Aristeion Prize's shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive. Disheartened by this political censorship of his work, Saramago went into exile on the Spanish island of Lanzarote, upon which he resided until his death in 2010"
check out this link. It actually kick started my rant(on the previous post).

Um... having a well-grounded feeling that there will be a revolution and that Rome would crush it doesn't equate to the specific prediction that the Temple would be destroyed.
Aslan said in the interviw with FOX that he disagrees with Quran's view of Jesus.
Again, Aslan is of Iranian decent which makes him a shia'h Muslim. Shia'h sect of Islam was invented by Iranians as a passive aggressive tool to decent from tradition (ie, Sunni Islam).
Sunni literally means tradition.
Anon 4:54 -- there's some truth in what you say. On the other hand, the prediction did not play out with complete accuracy. Jesus reportedly said that not one stone would remain in place, yet we still have one wall (and some other stuff, scattered about). That fact indicates that the prediction was not composed after the fact.

Of course, the big indicator is obvious: The Gospel writers never say "And it all came true, just as he predicted...!" There are no clear-cut references to the destruction of the temple anywhere in the NT. I therefore presume that most of the NT material was written before 70.

That view is at odds with the view held by most academics, of course. But's me. I've always gotta find a way to be a renegade.
It seems to me that the historical Jesus is a Rorschach test. People see what they want to see. That said, there are some interesting considerations:
1. Whether Jesus actually existed is less relevant that what he represents. Nevertheless, the question of whether Jesus existed simply cannot be answered. While there is no evidence that Jesus existed, the absence of proof is not proof of absence. Josephus probably doesn’t mention him. I understand the argument about the Testimony of Jesus and John Meier in Jesus, a Marginal Jew, discusses the various views of that reference, I agree with those who view it as a later interpolation. By the way, Father Meier’s book is one of the best discussions of the historical Jesus. Also, Geza Vermes, who was Jewish, then Catholic and then...whatever, wrote a significant history of Jesus. Even more significantly, Philo, an exact contemporary and prolific writer, whose philosophy may provide some of the underpinnings of Christianity, doesn’t mention him. The important point, however, is that real faith doesn’t require proof. If you believe, then you believe and you don’t need evidence. Certainly there is no real proof of the existence of God, but many people have faith that God does exist.
2. Mohammed was a trader who heard stories from traveling caravans who passed his tent. I believe that he tried to synthesize Judaism and Christianity into a new religion, but found the Christian notions of a Man-God to close to paganism, so he rejected the notion of a divine Jesus and really adopted most of Jewish theologic though with new shibboleths. Once he rejected the notion of a divine Jesus, he really had to reject the resurrection story.
3. The debate between Nachmanides and Pablo Christiani was not about existence of Jesus, but rather whether he was the Jewish messiah. We know that the Ramban won a crushing victory in the debate but was then exiled for his trouble. Of course, the debate was the equivalent of Einstein debating physics with a local high school teacher. More importantly, the debate centered on the Jewish view of what the messiah should do, hence Nachmanides had the home field advantage.
4. I believe the orthodox Christian view is that because of the original sin of Adam, the nexus between man and God was broken and was only repaired when God became man and then died for the original sin, thus reestablishing the connection for mankind. Thus when Christians pray, it is to God through Jesus. My belief is that while some of the Bible is history, some parts are simply stories designed to teach a moral. I believe that the Garden of Eden story falls into that latter category. There is a book entitled, “God was in that place and I, I did not know it,” by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner which discusses the Garden of Eden story and comes to a conclusion that I agree with, that the story is flawed. In any event, the idea that there is a break between God and man does not exist in Judaism. People can have any religious outlook they want, but it seems odd to get mad at anyone for having a different view. It’s like getting mad at someone for liking different flavors of ice cream. In any event, the first century Jews who were looking for a messiah were looking for a military leader who would throw out the Romans. In fact there were a number of them culminating with Bar Kochba in the second century.
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1. I suggest you read Ehrman's book "Did Jesus Exist?"

You may be technically right that the historicity question cannot be answered -- at least not with the rigor of a geometrical proof. But virtually everyone teaching NT studies agrees that Jesus exists. (And let me repeat, most of those guys aren't church-goers.) The problem is one of "moving the goalposts" when it comes to standards of evidence. If I want to assert that (say) Plautus never existed, you will come up with various pieces of evidence. But if I am allowed to set the standard of proof, none of your evidence will ever be good enough. Even if you got into Dr. Who's time machine and came back with a photo of Plautus writing "Pseudolus," I could simply mutter something about Photoshop.

Until recently, I thought that the Testimonium Flavianum was a fake, but I've grudgingly been converted to the idea that Josephus himself wrote the text -- mostly because the it exists in every MS. It all comes down to J's character. He was always sucking up to anyone with power or money. I theorize that he was currying favor with a well-off Christian convert and included the paragraph just to please The Money. Of course, such a cynical production would not really add much to the evidence.

I also think modern scholars are far too dismissive of the so-called Slavonic Josephus, which is a genuine mystery.

2. Well, at least you are stipulating the existence of Mohammed. That's the irony of Spencer's project: He is working against the interests of the Islamophobes who want to argue that Mohammed was a vile rapist and murderer. You can't villify the man's character then argue that the man never existed.

3. I didn't say that they argued about the existence of Jesus. I was speaking to the idea of whether or not a Jew has any right to speak or write about Jesus in the first place. Pam Geller had said that someone born a Muslim has no business writing about ANYTHING about Jesus, even if the author in question is writing from a scholarly -- not Koranic -- standpoint. Well, if one stipulates that Muslims shouldn't address that question, then, logically, neither should Jews...or Buddhists or Hindus...

Obviously, that's an absurd restriction.

I've read a lot of stuff by Jewish writers on Jesus. They have an important perspective to offer. Why, then, shouldn't a Muslim work this territory as well?

4. I don't really disagree with what you've written here, except to state that, contra Alsan (whose book I had a chance to skim in the bookstore earlier today), I do not think that Jesus ever presented himself as a potential military leader, and I do not think that his listeners or followers ever took him as such. I think he was, quite simply, a religious teacher with some radical notions.

A failed insurrectionist (i.e., a zealot) simply would not have given rise to a new faith -- one that so many people were willing to die for. The "zealot" theory does not explain why Christianity took the shape it did, and why the Gospels read the way they do. This is where Aslan's book goes wrong. He recycles the old, familiar arguments -- you know, "Christianity was REALLY invented by Paul" and all of that crap. And I just don't buy it.

We can go into that at another time. My purpose here is not to disparage Alsan but to defend his right to write a book like "Zealot."
I understand the Josephus controversy. Meier discusses the alternative views in his book and comes to a middle ground. I think the problem is that it doesn't appear in earlier manuscripts, early Christians, Justin Martyr for example, wonder why Josephus didn't mention Jesus. Eusubius, famous for saying that lying to get converts is acceptable, "finds" the reference in the 4th century. The other thing is that Christianity didn't really become a major religion until Constantine adopted it. The book on that is "Constantine's Sword." In fact, it wasn't until the Council of Nicea that Christian theology was formalized (and if John of Arias had shown up, that theology may have been very different).
Maier's only real argument against the "full authenticity" position vis-a-vis the Testimonium is that J was a Jew and a Jew wouldn't have written that Jesus was the Messiah. But if, as I posit, J had found a Christian patron, or was trying to impress a potential patron, then the question of motive is resolved.

And let's face it -- Jo-Jo was, like, the original brown-noser. That sort of thing was very like him.

As I understand it, it was J's habit to write first in Aramaic and then create a Greek translation. Maybe the Aramaic version would be the parent of the version uncovered by Shlomo Pines (the one that says Jesus MAYBE was the Messiah) while the Greek was rewritten a bit for the reason stated above.

Mind you, even if I'm right, the TF cannot be used to prove historicity, since I'm arguing that J wrote to please a potential patron.

Origen said that Josephus was not a Christian; he did not say that "Antiquities" makes no reference to Jesus. One can argue that Origen's disappointment with Josephus' refusal to convert makes no sense if Josephus demonstrated complete unfamiliarity with Jesus. Besides, Origen does reference the James passage and the John the Baptist stuff. The James passage is certainly authentic and thus provides at least one secular reference to Jesus.

I've come to the belief that if a Christian forger had written the passage, it would have been a lot more "on the nose" and unsubtle.

That's pretty much the same reason why I think the Slavonic Josephus deserves greater attention. Modern scholars tend to denounce the "Christian" material in the text as interpolations by Christian writers. But the great interest of the Slavonic text is that the treatment of Jesus is both longer and far more nuanced than the TF. It's been a long time since I read it (in Mead's book), but as I recall, the SJ has a whole bunch of extra material about John the Baptist that contains serious conflicts with the NT material. I cannot imagine why a Christian author would write that kind of thing.

So at least THAT stuff is mysterious.

But I'm going on decade-old memories here, so, as they say, "don't quote me."
little-j joseph, Islam was obviously heavily influenced by the Arian heresy in Christianity, being very popular at that time in the East. I've always found his supposed vehemence on the anti-paganism to be suspect. The Satanic Verses thing, the fondness for the Ka'aba, suchlike, obviously he wasn't a pagan but there's plenty of counterbalance for the rejection of the trinity and the iconoclasm. Which is quite lucky, as there's a butchered version of various ancient myths in the Qu'ran, found very useful for example by Geoffrey Bibby when writing "Looking for Dilmun".

I want to know why Biblical literalists don't take the Bible seriously. Specifically, the bit in the book of Acts where the early Christians become communists, choose their leaders through sortition and where God strikes down tax avoiders. Biblical literalists should only be so much as acknowledged if they are ardent socialists. Jesus don't like no hypocrites.

Reasonable people can certainly come to different conclusions based on the same evidence. I understand your position on Josephus Testimony. I just happen to disagree. The James quote, however, seems to me to present a real problem for Christianity. Josephus most assuredly would not have meant "messiah" in the same way that normative Christianity means the term. Josephus would have meant, by messiah, the guy who threw the Romans out. If he meant to suggest a divine Jesus he surely would have redefined the term so his readers would understand what he meant. That he didn't would suggest that Jesus was not understood, at the time, to be divine. I have thought about this and I think I could come up with a paradigm for a non-divine Christianity, but then, what would be the point? I believe that John of Arias didn't believe Jesus to be divine, but he didn't show up, so we don't know what would have happened had his view prevailed at Nicea. One other point, I believe the Gospels say that the difference between the Saducees and Pharisees was that Sadducees didn't believe in the immortality of the soul. However, the real dispute was as to the authority of the Mishna Torah. The Mishna is the oral tradition which Orthodox Jews believe has the same source as the Torah. The Pharisees accepted the Mishna while the Sadducees did not The Gospels seem not to have noticed. By the way, since all Jews after the destruction of the Temple accept the Mishna, we are all Pharisees. That is why it is objectionable to use Pharisee as a pejorative term.
Mr. Cannon,

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you have ever used the term "Pharisee" in a pejorative way. The comment was for general information.
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