If I Become a Catholic, What Happens to My Marriage?
Q1: Can I be received into the Catholic Church if I was not married by a Catholic priest? –Rachel Q2: I was divorced from a Catholic in 2012. Our marriage was not in a Catholic Church nor administered by the … Continue reading → The post If I Become a Catholic, What Happens to My Marriage? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
When Can Parish Buildings be Rented Out for Secular Use?
Q: Our parish church is located in a two-story building. The church where we have Mass is on the first floor and there is classroom space on the second floor. The bishop has decided to lease the classroom space to a public … Continue reading → The post When Can Parish Buildings be Rented Out for Secular Use? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
How Should Catholics View the Pope?
Attacks against the Pope and the Papacy have been something that the Catholic Church has lived with since Peter was first appointed to the position by our Lord Himself. Today we see attacks on the Pope and his authority from three very different sources. An initial Clarification Some attacks against the Pope and the Papacy […] The post How Should Catholics View the Pope? appeared first on About Catholics.
What’s the Difference Between a Cathedral Rector and a Parish Priest?
Q: Greetings, who is in charge of a Cathedral Parish? The Bishop or the Priest? Our priest (he is listed as the “Rector”) states it is his parish, but I feel obligated to obey what our Bishop states to be … Continue reading → The post What’s the Difference Between a Cathedral Rector and a Parish Priest? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
What’s the Difference Between a Nun and a Consecrated Virgin?
Q1: What’s the difference between a nun and a consecrated virgin?  I assumed the two terms were synonymous, until I read recently about a new Vatican document on the topic of consecrated virgins, and it sounds like they are something … Continue reading → The post What’s the Difference Between a Nun and a Consecrated Virgin? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures
When discussing the historicity of Jesus and debating the claims of Jesus Mythicists I often come across people who take the view that there may be at least some historical basis for Jesus, but there was no single historical person. They claim he was an amalgam of many different figures from the time, not one man. These people rarely back this idea up with evidence-based argument, but when they do, it does not stand up to critical scrutiny. The “Amalgam Jesus” idea is something of a half-way position between accepting that the Christian figure is based on later stories told about a historical man and the full Jesus Mythicism of fringe theorists like Doherty, Carrier and Price. It accepts, albeit grudgingly, that there is probably some historical point of origin for the later Jesus stories, but keeps this at a wary distance from any single figure. The following examples from various Reddit discussions are fairly typical: Actually… King Arthur, like Beowulf, is likely based on a real person. So, [Jesus is] more mythical than that. More like the myth of Lao Tzu: likely an amalgam of similar figures from the same period of time.“Strong Atheist” on “The Last Supper Never Happened” – /r/atheism He is most likely an amalgamation of various Jewish messianic figures from the period with various different stories and legends of different people attributed to him. Most of the stories are probably embellished in some form, while others are outright fabrications. “DarkAlman” on “Atheists, how do you perceive Jesus as a historical phenomenon?” – /r/AskReddit Some say he never existed, but I think it’s the opposite- there were several. I believe Jesus is probably a composite figure of multiple preachers around that time period, and the stories were blended together in the 1st and 2nd centuries. “BlueWhaleKing” on “So was Jesus real or not?” – /r/exmormon Curiously, when the people who make this claim that this is “most likely” or “more likely” than a single historical Jesus are asked what evidence they are basing this assessment on, they generally either just repeat their assertion or fall totally silent. Historical analysis is, after all, an assessment of what is most likely to have happened, based on a structured analysis of relevant evidence. But in almost 20 years of asking those making this “Amalgam Jesus” claim to detail their analysis I have almost always been given … nothing. This stance seems, in most cases, to not be a real position based on analysis of evidence at all, but little more than a comforting hunch. It does not require the effort and the baroque contortions of full scale Jesus Mythicism, but it also keeps any kind of close historical basis for anything claimed by Christianity at a safe distance. So it feels about right, even if its proponents cannot actually back it up with any kind of detail. Like most forms of Mythicism, semi-Mythicism and “Jesus agnosticism”, it is based more on emotion than reason. But recently I have encountered someone who does at least try to make a case for something like the “Amalgam Jesus” idea. It is not very coherent and is based on a crazed mix of accurate information, total misconceptions, unwarranted leaps of logic and totally wrongheaded conclusions, but at least this person tries. L. Aron Nelson a.k.a “Aron Ra” The Merry Meanderings of “Aron Ra” Atheist activist, podcaster and vodcaster L. Aron Nelson subscribes to the idea that “a real man chooses his own name”, and has decided to dub himself “Aron Ra“. His former podcast “The Ra Men Podcast” seems to be defunct, but his YouTube channel and “Reason Advocates”, a blog he writes with his wife Lilandra, are still highly active. A lot of the material on both are devoted to battling Creationism and the politics of the Christian Right in the US, which are certainly worthy endeavours and he does seem to know his stuff on scientific matters. But when it comes to history, his ideas are rather eclectic and bear all the hallmarks of someone who has educated himself on the subject, without much idea of what is scholarly and credible and what is not. In November 2015 he wrote a blog post on the historicity of Jesus called “Jesus Never Existed”. To anyone who has studied the subject or who has even studied history at all, it is a very odd piece. It begins by noting an article about the amateur “researcher” and aerospace engineer, Michael Paulkovich, who seems to think it significant that he can list 126 ancient writers who he thinks “should” have mentioned Jesus, despite this list being made almost completely of writers who made no mention of Jewish affairs at all, including a work on gynaecology and a letter about a stolen pig (see Jesus Mythicism 3: “No Contemporary References to Jesus” for the many problems with this line of argument). Aron Ra seems impressed with this and also declares that Josephus’ “only mention of Jesus is now known to have been a forgery or redaction inserted later by someone else”. This means that it seems, at least when he wrote this piece, he was unaware that there are two references to Jesus in Josephus – Antiquities XVIII.63-4 and XX.200 – and it is only the first of these that is has clearly been tampered with by later scribes. He also seems to be under the impression that this is something only realised “now”, when it has been recognised for a couple of centuries. Finally, he thinks the idea that the Antiquities XVIII.63-4 is a wholesale interpolation is “known”, when that is just one possible position on the passage, with the majority of Josephus scholars actually accepting that it is partially authentic, though with some later Christian additions. So from the first paragraph of this article we are clearly not dealing with someone who has a firm grasp of the material. Other details in his article give the same impression, such as an anachronistic reference to “1st century [AD] Israel” or to his former belief that a historical Jesus had lived in “Judea”, when Jesus is depicted as a Galilean, not a Judean. Things get worse when he provides some links to support the claim “Jesus never existed”. The first is to an eyesore of a 1990s-style website called which bolsters its claims with quotes from Edward Gibbon (1776), someone called Rev. Robert Taylor (1829) and one of the original Mythicist crackpots, Kersey Graves (1875). This cutting edge material largely makes the arguments that contemporaries “should” have mentioned a historical Jesus or that there were people who denied the existence of Jesus as historical even in early Christianity. The latter idea is based on a total misunderstanding of Docetism, misreading its references to Jesus not “coming in the flesh” as saying he did not have an earthly and historical existence at all. The fact that Aron Ra cannot see the flaws here, or detect that his source is referring to outdated ideas and amateur loons tells us something about his grasp of this subject. It does not get any better when he links to the notoriously bad 2014 Alternet article by psychologist Valerie Tarico “5 Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed”. This is the one that cites such “scholars” as the amateur nobody Dave Fitzgerald (who Aron Ra even calls a “historian”), the inevitable Bob Price and, of course, the ubiquitous unemployed PhD grad Richard Carrier, though it is mostly a reworking of the tired arguments used by Fitzgerald in his self-published booklets. Aron Ra dismisses Bart Ehrman’s critiques of Mythicism, claiming “[Ehrman] essentially argued that ‘everyone knows Jesus existed'”, which is not what Ehrman argues at all and indicates that Aron Ra has not read Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? (2012), let alone seen the 2016 debate on the subject where even Mythicists had to admit Ehrman wiped the floor with the hapless Mythicist, Bob Price. So it is not surprising that when Aron Ra tells us what made him change his mind on the historicity of Jesus, he cites Fitzgerald, Price and Carrier, as well as community college biology teacher and anti-theist activist Frank Zindler and incompetent New Age kook Dorothy “Acharya S” Murdock. In other words, the usual tired handful of amateurs, nobodies, contrarians and, in Murdock’s case, out and out loons. Yet Aron Ra finds them impressive and persuasive, apparently. But at the end of his article Aron Ra gives some hints that he does accept there may be some kernels of history or half-remembered history at the core of the Jesus stories and suggests that Jesus was an amalgam of several other figures and stories: Josephus mentioned three real people with strong similarities to Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, Jesus brother of James son of Damneus, and a third character on a cross. Josephus saw three people he knew being crucified, and he used his clout with the Romans to have them cut down. Two of them died; one lived.  Although none of these characters could be taken as the kernel of truth to that tale, they might have lent to the motivation to historicize that tale; to claim accounts that it had actually happened here in the real world and very recently. In an addendum to the article he goes on to argue “having a history of deeds that were adapted from multiple sources, or pertaining to multiple heroes … means not having one person anyone can identify as the source of those stories”. He argues: We’ve got two different birth dates in different centuries for a kid who grew up in multiple towns in two different countries. How much of this might have been gleaned from Jesus of Damneus [sic] who’s brother was James? How much of this came from some other actual figure? And how do we discern it from all the other sources, some of which weren’t based on any actual living person at all? And finally concludes: So we really have no idea how many borrowed legends Christianity was really based on. But all of the stories we still have were apparently adapted from tales originally told about someone else. So it seems his position is substantially an “Amalgam Jesus” version of Mythicism, though he at least gestures towards some evidence he thinks supports this idea. A coin of Magnus Maximus Actual Amalgam Figures Of course, there is nothing inherently incoherent or implausible about a legendary figure being an amalgam of other earlier legends and historical memories. After all, we have several examples where this seems to be precisely what happened. The earliest narrative account of King Arthur is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth century Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) and contains several episodes that were to feature in most later cycles of Arthurian legend. This includes the sequence where a Roman called Lucius demands Arthur’s fealty, sparking a war where Arthur invades Gaul, defeats Lucius and becomes emperor in Rome. This story of Arthur was to form the climax of the later medieval Arthurian cycles, with Mordred taking advantage of Arthur’s absence to marry Guinevere and seize the throne of Britain, bringing about Arthur’s final battle and death. Except the story of a ruler who leads a British army into Gaul to defeat an imperial rival can be found in an earlier source about another figure. The eleventh century collection of Welsh tales, the Mabinogion, or Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi include in some versions a tale called “Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig” (The Dream of Macsen Wledig). In it, Macsen Wledig, the emperor of Rome, has a dream of a beautiful maiden and on waking sends his followers to find her. They find her in Britain and Macsen travels there to marry her. While he is away, a usurper seizes the emperorship and so with an army raised in Britain, Macsen regains the throne and grants the Britons land in Gaul as a reward for their loyalty, thus founding Brittany. The Macsen Wledig story in turn is based on something that actually happened historically. In 383 AD the Roman commander in Britain, Magnus Maximus, declared himself emperor, usurping the throne against the emperor Gratian. He led his army over the English Channel into Gaul, defeated and killed Gratian in a battle at Lyon and was then made “Augustus” of parts of the Western Empire in the negotiations with Theodosius I that followed. Maximus’ ambitions did not end there and a second attempt at seizing the whole of the Western Empire in 387 failed and Maximus eventually surrendered to the armies of Valentinian II. The later Macsen and Arthur stories are clearly confused and romanticised versions of these historical events, but there seems to have been a folk memory of a hero who left Britain with a British-raised army and who defeated an emperor in battle and took the emperorship of Rome. This means that this element of the Arthur legends, at least, is based on earlier figures (Macsen and Maximus) and so “Arthur” is at least in part an amalgam of earlier figures. Mythicists often like to point to “John Frum” – the central figure of the cargo cult on Tanna in Vanuatu – as an example of a supposedly historical figure who was purely mythical; claiming this is analogous to the claims about Jesus. But “John Frum” actually seems to be an amalgam of mythic and historical figures. Exactly when this figure first emerged is unclear, but he seems to have been associated with the cult of the god Keraperamun; a local deity associated with Mount Tukosmera, the island’s highest mountain. In 1940 a man called Manehivi allegedly used the alias “John Frum”, dressed in a European-style coat and promised “cargo” or European goods and abundance to those who rejected the church missions and money, drank kava and engaged in traditional religious dances. Local administrators arrested Manehivi and tried to expose him as a fraud, but the stories of “John Frum” spread, taking on a mix of native traditional ideas, pseudo Christian apocalypticism and reactions to the arrival of American soldiers and their vast stores of materiel due to fighting against the Japanese in the area. Other people claiming to be “John Frum” or his sons appeared in later years and the cult continues on the island to this day. “John Frum” seems to be a clear amalgam of the god Keraperamun, various colonial and missionary Europeans called “John” (who had introduced themselves as “John from …”, thus perhaps the name “John Frum”), the several “John Frum” claimants like Manehivi and another man called Neloiag and the thousands of American “Johns” in the 300,000 troops stationed on the island in the Second World War with their abundance of “cargo” and seemingly magical technology. Leaving aside the question of how much we can interpret “John Frum” as a being understood as a historical figure at all, he does seem to have been an amalgam of various white people, traditional religious beings and rumours about the claimants and pretenders like Manehivi and Neloiag. But do we find similar indications that Jesus was just such an amalgam? More Confusion from Aron Ra Not long after the fairly brief post noting his belief in an Amalgam Jesus referred to earlier, Aron Ra decided to elaborate on this point in a video he uploaded to YouTube: In it he notes, correctly, that at least some figures are amalgams of historical and legendary persons and uses the example of King Arthur, as I have above. He then restates his belief that Jesus was just such a figure: If you found a guy named Jesus who had a brother named James who also met Paul – assuming that Paul was talking about a real person – then maybe that guy was either Jesus of Damneus [sic], someone who we think is different than the guy we’re looking for, or that guy was not even aware of the mountain of nonsense that has been heaped upon his name he wouldn’t even recognise himself as the Jesus we’re looking for because some of those stories had nothing to do with him (2:44-3:06) The last part of this statement assumes that “the guy we are looking for” is the Jesus of Christian belief and that if we are talking about a Jesus who was not and did not do the things claimed of him by Christians he is somehow not “really” Jesus. Of course, a historical Jesus can be considered the point of origin of that “mountain of nonsense” that was associated with him, so can be considered “really” Jesus to anyone but the most fundamentalist of literalists. But the claim that “maybe” Jesus was “Jesus of Damneus” is very odd. To begin with, there is no “Jesus of Damneus” anywhere in the historical record, but he seems to be referring to “Jesus son of Damneus” who is mentioned in Josephus Antiquities XX.200 – the man who succeeds Hanan ben Hanan as high priest. How this could be the brother of the James who Paul mentions meeting in Galatians 1 and 2 is not clear and makes no sense at all. Paul says that this James is “the brother of the Lord”, so how can this brother be the Jesus who, decades later, became high priest? The “Lord” here is clearly the person Paul calls “Jesus Christ” and who he regards as having been crucified before Paul joined the Jesus sect (see 1 Cor 1:23, 2:2, 2:8, 2 Cor 13:4), so the idea that this is a reference to someone who became high priest in 62 AD and so would have been very much alive when Paul was writing in the 50s AD and when Paul had met his brother James in the 30s AD is obviously total nonsense. Aron Ra’s incoherent argument here seems to be based on the equally muddled Mythicist argument that the “Jesus who was called Messiah” mentioned earlier in the Antiquities XX.200 passage and the “Jesus son of Damneus” mentioned later are the same person and so the former is not a reference to Jesus of Nazareth at all. But that argument does not work for multiple reasons, which I have detailed in a previous article in this series (see Jesus Mythicism 2: “James the Brother of the Lord”). Aron goes on to note, correctly, that elements attach themselves to figures in stories told about them in the ancient world, but concludes from this somehow that there was no original historical figure of Jesus for these later elements to accrue to. He justifies this by saying: No-one goes looking for the truth at the heart of the tales of Prometheus, Dionysus or Hercules because we’re all pretty sure that that’s just people making up stories based on nothing but imagination and that could be true of Jesus too but and that is what others have suggested but that’s not exactly what I’m suggesting I think Jesus was more in line with Noah, in that you’ve got all these fanciful exaggerations but they’re not all one guy and they’re not all real either.(5:29-5:50) The problem here is that there is a major difference between the Noah stories (or the Prometheus, Dionysus or Hercules stories for that matter) and the Jesus stories. The first mentions of Noah we have date to the fifth century BC and refer to a patriarch who lived in some remote and probably legendary prehistory. Whereas our first mentions of Jesus, in the Pauline letters, date to the 50s AD – just 20 years after he was supposed to have lived. These include references to people who Paul knew personally who had known Jesus, including Jesus’ brother James and other siblings and his friends Peter and John. We are clearly not dealing with a situation analogous to the Noah stories at all and the idea that this amalgam could arise so rapidly or that Paul could somehow think he had met friends and relatives of a person who never existed in the first place makes absolutely no sense. But then Aron gets even more wildly confused: In the very early years of Christianity you already have factions arguing over whether Jesus was a real person. The Ebionites or Nazarenes were a renunciant sect who held that Jesus was a purely human prophet but they did not accept Paul’s account of it which is important here, then you have the Docetics who say that Jesus was a fully divine being who merely appeared to be human as an illusion. so Jesus is not a physical person and therefore can’t really die unless it happens in the celestial realm which is what Richard carrier suggests. Then you have the Gnostics who are even older than Christianity and they cast Jesus as an emissary between man and God however they did not believe that Jesus died for our sins and that’s a significant difference – then you’ve got the Coptic version which again is early enough that it could be contemporary with the Gospel of John their account includes the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus said that if God wanted men to be circumcised then men wouldn’t be born with foreskins (6:07-7:03) There are so many errors of fact and confusions in these statements that is hard to know where to begin. But the key problem is that the existence of these various later forms of Christianity simply do not support his initial claim that any early Christian factions were “arguing over whether Jesus was a real person”. Whatever it was the Ebionites believed, they clearly believed in a human and historical Jesus. Those who we refer to by the theological term “Docetist”, which actually included many Gnostics, did not believe he was a human – they thought he only had the illusion of humanity – but they did believe he was recently historical. Despite the ubiquitous Richard Carrier’s convoluted fantasies, we do not have any texts that depict Jesus dying anywhere except on earth or any evidence that anyone thought he died “in the celestial realm”. And the other variants Aron mentions also all accepted a historical and earthly Jesus, even if they could not agree on how human and/or divine he was. So none of this helps Aron on his key point at all – no-one denied that Jesus had had an earthly and historical existence and all seemed to agree it had been recent and agreed on most of the key elements and players in his story, with a few small variations. Turning to the canonical gospels, Aron emphasises the differences between them and concludes, correctly, that at least some of the stories they tell had to have arisen later, otherwise we would not have variants in the parallel stories they tell. But he then leaps from this to the conclusion that this means it is likely none of them are historical at all and that there is no way to determine if any of them are. He uses the well-known conflicts in the infancy narratives in gMatt and gLuke as his main example: We’ve got two different birth dates in different centuries for a kid who grew up in multiple towns in two different countries. Christopher Hitchens says that this indicates a historic origin where someone was trying to fudge the data to make their actual person fit all the myths and fulfil their prophecies. But at the same time it implies two different realities at least and that fact refutes the first assumption how much of this came from some other actual figure and how do we discern it from the other sources, some of which weren’t based on any living person at all? I mean, come on. We know that certain elements of Jesus life were adapted from earlier tales like the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ …. how much if any of this story actually pertain to any confused and delusional first century faith healer and cult leader who really lived?(9:39-10:33) Here Aron is referring to an argument Hitchens made that the contradictions in the infancy narratives indicate a historical person who is being shoehorned into the idea that he was the Messiah, despite the fact that he does not really fit. But it seems Aron has not understood Hitchens’ argument, which he articulated in a speech July 2008 (see video here, with the relevant portion beginning at 2:46). Hitchens clearly tells us how we can “discern” that these fabricated elements and borrowed stories are being pressed into service to get around an awkward problem with a historical Jesus. We can do so by looking at the one element in the two gospel stories of his birth which does not fit the narrative of Jesus as Messiah: his origin in Nazareth. The whole point of Hitchens’ argument is that this element sticks out because it does not support what the gospels are trying to claim. The Messiah is meant to be from Bethlehem, but Jesus is from Nazareth. So both gospel writers create elaborate stories that “explain” how someone from Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem after all. The problem is that both stories are riddled with historical problems and they also contradict each other. So the only key point on which they do not contradict each other is the only point that does not fit their argument – the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth. This means the convoluted, fanciful and contradictory stories have been constructed precisely to deal with this problematic element. Which in turn means this element is most likely historical and so could not simply be brushed aside. It had to be contained and “explained”, because it was an awkward fact that would not go away. Hitchens got a lot of history wrong, but he got this argument dead right. Aron Ra’s Other Jesuses I appears that Aron Ra has not adjusted his position much since his 2015 blog and video. In a recent interaction I had with him on Twitter, he continued to push the “Amalgam Jesus” idea: I think Jesus is a composite of multiple real and multiple mythical characters that were both accidentally and deliberately confused into one story. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) January 17, 2019 When asked what evidence he had to support this idea he replied: Part of the evidence that Jesus is a composite character is that Christians often point to different historical Jesusi , that we know were really someone else, yet they say that’s their guy. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) January 17, 2019 When questioned on how “we know they were really someone else” he responded: Josephas talked about 19 Jesuses, including Jesus ben Ananias and Jesus of Damneus, who has been claimed by some Christians; 20 if you include his unnamed friend who died on the cross. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) February 7, 2019 This is all pretty abbreviated, but such is the nature of Twitter. It does seem to line up with some of the references in his original 2015 blog, which claimed: Josephus mentioned three real people with strong similarities to Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, Jesus brother of James son of Damneus, and a third character on a cross. Josephus saw three people he knew being crucified, and he used his clout with the Romans to have them cut down. The claim that a “Jesus brother of James son of Damneus” is part of the alleged amalgam is based on a misinterpretation of Antiquities XX.200 and does not make sense for the reasons already outlined earlier. The second “other Jesus”, Jesus ben Ananias or ben Ananus, is a person mentioned in Josephus, Jewish War, VI.300-310, which is worth quoting in full: But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city.However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him.Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!” And just as he added at the last, “Woe, woe to myself also!” there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost. Here at least we have someone called Jesus who is obviously not Jesus of Nazareth and his story has at least some parallels with elements in the Jesus stories. The argument that these parallels indicate derivation and that the story of Jesus was in part based on that of ben Ananus is articulated in detail by the inevitable Richard Carrier (PhD), whose discussion of this includes a helpful table: 1Both are named Jesus2Both come to Jerusalem during a major religious festival.Mk 14.2= JW 6.3013Both entered the temple area to rant against the temple.Mk 11.15-17= JW 6.3014During which both quote the same chapter of Jeremiah.Jer. 7-11 in Mk;Jer. 7.34 in JW5Both then preach daily in the temple.Mk 14.49= JW 6.3066Both declared ‘woe’ unto Judea or the Jews.Mk 13.17 = JW6.304, 306, 3097Both predict the temple will be destroyed.Mk 13.2= JW 6.300, 3098Both are for this reason arrested by the Jews.Mk 14.43= 6.3029Both are accused of speaking against the temple.Mk 14.58= JW 6.30210Neither makes any defense of himself against the chargesMk 14.60= JW 6.30211Both are beaten by the JewsMk 14.65= JW 6.30212Then both are taken to the Roman governor.Pilate inMk 15.1= Albinus inJW 6.30213Both are interrogated by the Roman governor.Mk 15.2-4= JW 6.30514During which both are asked to identify themselves.Mk 15. 2= JW 6.30515And yet again neither says anything in his defense.Mk 15 3-5= JW 6.30516Both are then beaten by the Romans.Mk 15.15= JW 6.30417In both cases the Roman governor decides he should release him.18….but doesn’t (Mark)….but does (JW)Mk 15 6-15 vs.JW 6.30519Both are finally killed by the Romans (in Mark, by execution; in the JW, by artillery).Mk 15.34= JW 6.308-30920Both utter a lament for themselves immediately before they die.Mk 15.34= JW 6.30921Both die with a loud cry.Mk 15.37= JW 6.309(From Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, 2014, pp. 429-430) As with most of Carrier’s arguments, this looks impressive until it is subjected to critical scrutiny and then the whole thing can be shown to be hopelessly flimsy. Once we eliminate several of these supposed parallels as not being very parallel at all and then rule out the elements which are easily explained by these being two similar episodes occurring in the same historical context, the list actually becomes rather unimpressive. To begin with, both figures being named Jesus (1) is not much of a parallel given how common that name was. Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Palestine 330 BCE – 200 CE (2002) details and analyses the names of Jews we know of in this period, from Josephus, Philo, Roman sources, the NT, the DSS, ossuaries and inscriptions. He finds that “Jesus” or “Yeshua” was the sixth most common name for Jewish men, after “Simon”/”Simeon”, “Joseph”/”Joses”, “Lazarus”/”Eleazar”, “Judas” and “John”. So Aron is right about Josephus mentioning about 20 people called “Jesus”, but this is about as significant as noting a modern writer mentioning a number of people called “Dave”. Both coming to Jerusalem for a festival and “ranting” against the Temple in the Temple compound (2 and 3) also make sense given the context. The major festivals attracted many pilgrims from outside Jerusalem, particularly the three major festivals of Passover (the one we find in the Jesus story) and Tabernacles (as in the ben Ananus story). Preaching against the corruption of the Temple was a common theme among religious critics and eschatological prophets alike and, given that it had been destroyed once as a supposed sign of God’s wrath against sin and corruption, predicting its fall also seems to have been a common theme. Carrier does not bother to highlight that the two Jesuses are depicted as coming to two different festivals, because that would weaken the parallel. Nor does he bother to note that ben Ananus is not depicted entering or preaching in the Temple at all (3 and 5), but rather preaches “in all the lanes of the city”. And he does this for years on end, where Jesus’ preaching against the Temple is depicted as one episode on one day. The claim that “[b]oth quote the same chapter of Jeremiah” (4), however, is not strong at all. Carrier says ben Ananus refers to Jeremiah 7:34: “I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.” This does seem to be an oblique source of the part of the reported sermon of ben Ananus that refers to “a voice against the bridegroom and the bride”, but this theme of an end coming to the happiness of the (proverbially happy) bridegroom and bride is a topos found in several places in Jeremiah – see also Jeremiah 16.9, 25.10 and 33.11 for example. So to select just one of these – Jeremiah 7:34 – and then find some link to the Marcan reference to a different part of that chapter of Jeremiah (7:11, quoted directly by Jesus in Mark 11:17) while ignoring the other three uses of the topos is a typical example of Carrier shaping the evidence to fit his thesis. That both Jesus and ben Ananus would refer to Jeremiah (or at least be depicted as doing so) makes sense simply because Jeremiah was the model for Jewish prophets preaching about reform of or corruption in the Temple. Jeremiah himself is depicted as doing so and being beaten for it (Jeremiah 20:1-2). Elements 5,6,7,8 and 9 above are, therefore, all highly likely actions by and consequences for any first century prophet taking up this Jeremiah-inspired role. Element 10 is a minor point of agreement, though also not unlikely for a defiant preacher confronted by the very officials he has been condemning for corruption (similarly Element 15, when confronted by the foreign power they see as the source of the corruption). Likewise for Elements 11-15, given that we are looking at two similar incidents in a similar context and the reactions by the same two sets of authorities. Element 11 is dubious, given that it is only in Luke 22:63-4 that Jesus is beaten by Jews. Element 17 and 18 – “in both cases the Roman governor decides he should release [them]” and “….but doesn’t (Mark)….but does (JW)” – is a little tricksy, given that Albinus does release ben Ananus but Pilate actually does not. So why Element 18 is listed as a point of parallel when it is exactly the opposite is not clear. The same can be said for 19 – “both are finally killed by the Romans” – given that Jesus is executed while ben Ananus is collateral damage from an artillery stone, which is hardly the same. Finally 20 and 21 refer to the same thing and reporting someone’s last words when recounting their death is a fairly standard dramatic element in any such narrative. This means that out of the rather padded list of supposed parallels, just perhaps one – Element 10, repeated in Element 15 – can be said to be close, and even that is understandable from the circumstances in both cases. These two cases do not give a strong indication that Jesus was somehow based on ben Ananus. On the contrary, they give a solid basis for the idea that both Jesuses were men of their time who did similar things for similar reasons in the same social and cultural context and and so met with a similar, though hardly identical, reaction. Even if we were to accept that the parallels here are stronger and more numerous than they are, parallels do not mean derivation. A far stronger set of parallels can be found in the notorious urban legend of the supposedly eerie parallels between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, but any future fringe theorist who concluded that, therefore, JFK’s story was derived from that of Lincoln would be laughably wrong. This is why professional scholars are always highly wary of arguments of derivation based on parallels. The danger is that if you go looking for parallels, you will find them. It is always more likely that any parallels that are not artefacts of the process can be better explained as consequences of similar people doing things in similar contexts rather than derivation of one story from the other. But if Aron Ra’s argument based on Jesus ben Ananus is weak, his third and final one is far weaker. His tweet above refers to Josephus’ “unnamed friend who died on the cross”, which seems to be a garbled reference to an anecdote in Josephus’ Life (420-21). Having surrendered to the Romans after his role in the failed Jewish defence of Galilee. Josephus spent some time as a captive but won the good graces of the Roman commander Titus and his father, the new emperor Vespasian, and so was freed. In the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem Josephus tells us he had the opportunity to plead for the freedom of a number of Jewish captives. He then relates this story: [W]hen I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cerealis, and a thousand horsemen, to a certain village called Thecoa, in order to know whether it were a place fit for a camp, as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered. When I questioned Aron about how this is somehow evidence that any of the story of Jesus was based on this brief snippet, he replied: Compare Luke’s account of Joseph of Arimathea with Joseph bar Matthias’ account of the crucifixion of his three friends. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) February 7, 2019 This comparison is easily done, as there is not much to compare: ElementJosephusLukeJewish petioner named JosephYesYesRoman rulerYes (Titus)Yes (Pilate)Three people crucifiedNo (“many captives”)Yes (Jesus and two “lestai”)The three are friends of the petitionerYesNo (just Jesus)The three are dead alreadyNoYesThey are taken down to be savedYesNo (they are dead)All three are taken down by the petitionerYesNo (just Jesus)Two die and one survivesYesNo (Jesus rises miraculously)So of the nine elements that make up these two short anecdotes, only the first two can be said to be parallel. This is definitely not enough on which to hang any credible claim of derivation. For the first, I have already noted that forms of “Joseph”/’Yosep” was another very common Jewish name in this period – in fact, it is the second most common name after “Simon” and so is even more common than “Jesus”. So that parallel is real, but insignificant. Which leaves us with just one element – a Jew petitioning for someone/some people to be removed from a cross/crosses – that is significantly parallel at all. But given that everything else in the two stories is different, the claim the Jesus story is somehow derived from this one is fanciful in the extreme. The fact that the “Amalgam Jesus” idea is based on this kind of weak reasoning shows that it is a weak claim. Of course the Jesus stories accrued elements and details in the period between the historical Jesus’ time and the writing of the various gospels – we would be surprised if they did not do this, given the cultural context and the claims being made about him. This does not mean these stories arose wholesale out of an amalgamation of such elements and nothing in them indicates that this is what happened. On the contrary, awkward elements in them – e.g. his origin in the wrong town, his baptism and forgiveness by his supposed subordinate John the Baptist and his humiliating execution – all indicate that at least some of the stories were historical. And it is very hard to reconcile other elements in the accounts with the idea that Jesus is some misty, legendary amalgam figure like Noah, Moses or King Arthur. Mark 15:21, for example, tells how Simon of Cyrene helped carry Jesus’ cross and identifies him for the gospel’s audience as “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. Unless this Alexander and Rufus are meant to be highly famous people, it seems they are people specifically known to the intended audience of the gospel and so probably members of the Jesus sect. It is hard to square that with Jesus being some distant, legendary cipher. It is even harder to reconcile this with Paul meeting his brother (Galatians 1:19), interacting with his friends Peter and John (Galatians 2:9) knowing his other siblings at least by repute (1Corinthians 9:3-6 ). The “Amalgam Jesus” idea boils down to little more than hand waving. It is a vague and grudging admission that there may be some historical kernels in the story, but a rather muddle-headed attempt to keep this from becoming an acceptance that there was most likely a historical Jesus. As such, it is not so much a coherent argument and more of an emotional defence mechanism. Much like most Jesus Mythicism. The post Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures appeared first on History for Atheists.
Does a Convert Become a Latin or an Eastern Catholic?
Q: I have a question about the church membership of an adult convert to Catholicism. My grandparents were Greek Melchite Catholics. Their son, my father, drifted away from Catholicism, married a protestant woman, and began attending protestant services. I was … Continue reading → The post Does a Convert Become a Latin or an Eastern Catholic? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Catholics and Graven Images
It is no secret that Catholics make use of statues in their worship. Many churches have statues of Mary and other saints, and every church should have a crucifix somewhere near the altar. However, doesn’t this violate the Second Commandment? This commandment states: You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of […] The post Catholics and Graven Images appeared first on About Catholics.
What Makes a Baptism Catholic?
Q1: What makes a Catholic baptism Catholic? I’m a lay Roman Catholic who just started working as a hospital chaplain, which means I may be called upon to administer emergency baptisms in some cases.  If I baptize, for example, an … Continue reading → The post What Makes a Baptism Catholic? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Medieval Maps and Monsters
If Bob Seidensticker, New Atheist author of the Cross Examined blog, knows anything about the Middle Ages, he knows they were bad. According to Seidensticker, this was a period in which “Christianity was in charge” and learning and reason suffered as a result. So when Seidensticker looked at the medieval Hereford Map, he did not like what he saw. In a blog post entitled “When Christianity Was in Charge, This Is What We Got”, Seidensticker made it very clear how disgusted he was with those stupid medieval Christians who created the Hereford Map. For people like Seidensticker, history is divided into “good” and “bad” periods. The “good” ones are where we seem to find elements that we moderns like or approve of, like science, reason, developing technology, exploration, intellectual curiosity, increasing knowledge etc. The “bad” ones are where, apparently, we find less of these elements, but more things like religion, superstition, ignorance, insularity, dogma and things taken on faith. Therefore the Middle Ages have to, by this simple Whiggish formulation, fall into the “bad” category. And the Hereford Map or, more correctly, mappa mundi, is thus a product of one of the “bad” periods and so also a bad thing. The Hereford mappa mundi is not strictly a map, in the modern sense of the world. It is more of a geographical diagram, encoding a range of information in visual and textual form. It is drawn mainly in black ink, with red and gold highlights and uses green or blue for seas and rivers. The entire work is on one large piece of vellum, 158 cms high and 133 cms wide, making it over five feet at its widest point and therefore made of a whole skin of a large calf. Unusually for any medieval map, it carries an inscription that mentions its maker: Let all who have this history, Or shall hear or read or see it, Pray to Jesus in His Divinity, To have pity on Richard of Haldingham and Lafford, Who has made and planned it, To whom joy in heaven be granted “Richard of Haldingham and Lafford” is most likely Richard de Bello, prebend of Lafford in Lincoln Cathedral in around the year 1283, who later became an official of the Bishop of Hereford, and in 1305 was appointed prebend of Norton in Hereford Cathedral. This means the mappa was most likely created in Lincoln by a team of scholars, scribes and illuminators under Richard’s direction, and then found its way to Hereford after his appointment there. It would then have been bequeathed to Hereford Cathedral on his death c. 1326. Note that on the mappa Lincoln is shown as large and important like London, but Hereford is much less prominent. Like most medieval maps, it places Jerusalem symbolically at its centre and is oriented with the east at the top and the north to the left side; meaning Britain is squeezed into the edge of its bottom left quadrant. Despite its diagrammatic style, even a modern viewer can find their way around the mappa once they work out its orientation. But this is a tool for instruction rather than a chart for navigation, so as well as listing 420 cities and towns and marking over 100 rivers, it depicts Biblical events and locations, various animals and plants, historical people and scenes from Classical mythology (a large-scale image of the mappa can be explored in detail here). For most people, even those without any great interest in medieval culture, the Hereford mappa is at least a fascinating artefact – unique in its size and remarkable for its wealth of detailed information and illustrations. But for Seidensticker it is “bizarre”, but also an occasion for a sermon on science and religion. A medieval illumination of a headless Blemmyes. Snarks and Grumpkins Seidensticker acknowledges that a medieval mappa mundi was often not like a modern map: This is not the kind of map we’re used to. There is little attempt at accurate geography. This map wouldn’t serve an explorer or navigator, and its creators didn’t pretend that it would. Using the theme of a world map, medieval cartographers embellished maps like this one to make them into something of an encyclopedia.  He claims the problem here was that “science was in its infancy” and so the information this diagrammatic encyclopedia preserves is, to us, “bizarre”. This is entirely true, but because of his anti-religious biases, Seidensticker puts the blame for this on medieval Christianity. Firstly, he emphasises the silliness of many of the elements in the mappa by comparing it to the surrealism of Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, where Alice reads the nonsensical pseudo-heroic poem “Jabberwocky” and then has some of its terms explained to her by the pedantic but equally nonsensical Humpty Dumpty. Seidensticker sneers: Assuming our interest is the real world rather than Wonderland, the zoology we’re taught by the Mappa Mundi might as well have come from Humpty Dumpty. He then gives us some examples of the ridiculous races and beasts we find on the mappa: hopping Sciapods, with their single huge foot that they also use to shield themselves from the tropical sun, the warlike but headless Blemmyes with their faces in their chests, the dog-headed but otherwise human Cynocephali, and the cave-dwelling Troglodites. All about as “scientific” as the borogroves or mome raths of “Jabberwocky”, to be sure. Then there are mythic beasts like griffins and salamanders and the bonnacon, with its explosive diarrhea. But it gets worse: Even actual animals are misunderstood. The map reports, “The Lynx sees through walls and urinates a black stone.” Our poor benighted ancestors cannot get the most fundamental things straight. So Jerusalem is placed at the geographical centre of the world, the locations of Biblical events are portrayed and myth and history are hopelessly muddled: We see Jason’s Golden Fleece and the Labyrinth where Theseus killed the Minotaur, but we also see the camp of Alexander the Great. What on earth were these people thinking? Well, according to Seidensticker, the problem was that they were not thinking. And this was because of the stranglehold Christianity had on their poor befuddled minds: Christianity has been given a chance at understanding reality, and this is what it gave us. When Christianity was in charge, the world was populated by mystical creatures, we had little besides superstition to explain the caprices of nature, and natural disasters were signs of God’s anger. Of course, some of Seidensticker’s readers might pause there and ask exactly what the mystical creatures have to do with Christianity. The Biblical events and places found on the map clearly do derive from Christian holy writ, obviously, but where is the connection between Blemmyes and Christianity? If the Cynocephali and the salamander are not from the Bible, where did the makers of the mappa get their bizarre and unscientific information from? Medieval illumination of monstrous races. The Authority of Ancient Authorities The answer is that they got their information from the scientific works of the Greeks and Romans. All of the races and beasts on the Hereford mappa that Seidensticker finds so ludicrous can be found in the pages of the largest and most comprehensive scientific work available in the Middle Ages – the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder. Gaius Plinius Secundus (23–79 AD) had a military and then political career, before famously dying while trying to observe the eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. He wrote a number of books, ranging from one on the use of missile weapons by cavalry to a 20 book history of the Roman wars in Germania, which sadly does not survive. But he is best remembered for the Naturalis Historia: a massive 37 book encyclopaedia summarising a wide range of Greek and Roman authors on astronomy, mathematics, geography, ethnography, anthropology, human physiology, zoology, botany, agriculture, horticulture and much more. Pliny himself tells us that no-one before him had undertaken such a comprehensive catalogue of ancient knowledge of the physical world, and his work remains one of the most substantial surviving ancient texts and a remarkable source of information about ancient proto-science that draws on over 400 earliest sources, most of which are now lost. It was even more invaluable in the Middle Ages, given that it was one of the most extensive repositories of the wisdom of the ancients to survive the wreckage of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The evidence of surviving medieval manuscripts of the Naturalis shows what a vital source it was to a culture that was forced to scavenge in a few surviving works for lost information from the “authorities” of a bygone age. Pliny drew on other, earlier works and cited and quoted them extensively. A careful medieval scholar would also have found elements of the information he gives in other surviving ancient works – something that would have bolstered the authority of Pliny still further. And much of the other information in the Naturalis certainly seemed to be based on sound reasoning and observation. So Naturalis II.21 gives the reader a carefully reasoned calculation of the size of the observable cosmos, out to the sphere of fixed stars. Similarly, Naturalis II.10 gives a logical explanation for how and why eclipses of the sun and moon occur when they do, drawing on observations and citing “the sagacity of Hipparchus” as an authority on the matter. So, given both the great creedence given to all ancient writers by their medieval descendants and this extensive, rational and authoritative material making up the bulk of the book, a medieval scholar would have little reason to question Pliny when he turns to the issue of the various forms races take in far off lands to the east. Here is Pliny on the Sciapods, for example: He speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodæ, because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet. (Naturalis VII.2 ) Pliny is equally categorical about the Blemmyes: The Blemmyæ are said to have no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts.  (Naturalis, V.8) And the dog-headed Cynocepahli: On many of the mountains again, there is a tribe of men who have the heads of dogs, and clothe themselves with the skins of wild beasts. Instead of speaking, they bark; and, furnished with claws, they live by hunting and catching birds. According to the story, as given by Ctesias, the number of these people is more than a hundred and twenty thousand.(Naturalis VII.2 ) Pliny also mentions the Troglodites several times (e.g. Naturalis V.8 and, again, VII.2), though the Herefod mappa‘s details that they are “very swift; they live in caves, eat snakes and catch wild animals by jumping on them” comes from, another ancient authority: The Garamantes hunt the Ethiopian hole-men, or troglodytes, in four-horse chariots, for these troglodytes are exceedingly swift of foot—more so than any people of whom we have any information. They eat snakes and lizards and other reptiles and speak a language like no other, but squeak like bats.(Herodotus, Histories, IV.183) The mythic creatures that Seidensticker finds so silly can also be found in Pliny. Here is his bonnacon: In Pæonia, it is said, there is a wild animal known as the bonasus;4 it has the mane of the horse, but is, in other respects, like the bull, with horns, however, so much bent inwards upon each other, as to be of no use for the purposes of combat. It has therefore to depend upon its flight, and, while in the act of flying, it sends forth its excrements, sometimes to a distance of even three jugera; the contact of which burns those who pursue the animal, just like a kind of fire.(Naturalis VIII.16) And if our early fourteenth century medieval reader found that hard to believe, he could also have found the bonnacon described in Pliny’s source, Aristotle’s History of Animals (B. ix. c. 45), available in the Latin translation from its Arabic version by Michael Scot in the early thirteenth century. The remarkable quality of lynx urine also come from Pliny: The urine of the lynx, in the countries3 where that animal is produced, either becomes crystallized, or else hardens into a precious stone, resembling the carbuncle, and which shines like tire. This is called lyncurium; and hence it is, that many persons believe that this is the way in which amber is produced. The lynx, being well aware of this property, envies us the possession of its urine, and therefore buries it in the earth; by this, however, it becomes solid all the sooner.(Naturalis VIII.57) So our fourteenth century reader of Pliny, like the creator of the Hereford mappa, would actually have little reason to question what Pliny was telling him. Not only were these references to marvellous races and beasts in a book alongside highly rational and observation-based informaton about astronomy and natural phenomena, much of which our reader could check for themselves, but Pliny also liberally cited other, even more ancient authorities, including several in the passages in question. Further, if our reader was well-studied (note that the Hereford mappa‘s designer, Richard de Bello, would have had access to Lincoln Cathedral’s famously extensive medieval library), he could read much the same information in other ancient sources, including such esteemed authorities as Herodotus, Aristotle and Solinus. In other words, the things on the mappa that Seidensticker finds so ludicrous and unscientific and blames on the ignorance of the Church come directly from the best information available at the time – that of the enitirely non-Christian and supposedly rational Greeks and Romans. To a medieval scholar, these ancient authorities were to be held in high esteem and treated as almost as high an authority as the Bible. But they did not go unquestioned and, as the Middle Ages proceeded, some of what Pliny and others said came to be corrected by direct observation. Medieval travellers. Medieval Exploration The Greeks had contact with the far east in the Hellenic Era, thanks to the conquests of Alexander, and a Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in what is now northern Afghanistan survived into the early first century AD. On the whole, however, ancient Greek and Roman information about India and China was second or third hand – resulting in the rather garbled information we find in Pliny and other ancient sources, whereby Indian people carrying parasols become Sciapods shielding themselves from the sun with their giant single feet etc. The Romans were a market for luxury goods like silk from China but this came mostly via a series of intermediaries. The Romans did trade directly with India by sea once they had conquered Egypt and opened a maritime route via the Red Sea, and the Roman Empire was a good market for spices, exotic animals and luxury goods like coral. There are several references to Indian embassies to the Roman emperors, but none of embassies or exploration in the other direction. Overall, the ancients were not overly curious about the “barbarian” lands far to the east. This situation changed in the later medieval period, when the Mongol Empire united or at least connected large swathes of central Asia and China, opening up a much more direct route east from medieval European enclaves on the Black Sea all the way to Beijing and beyond. The result was a medieval age of overland exploration that was the precursor to the later maritime exploration that led to the Early Modern expansion of Europe into new lands. J.R.S Phillips’ The Medieval Expansion of Europe details the remarkable period between 1000 and 1500 which saw a far greater curiosity about the world beyond Europe by medieval explorers. Traders, missionaries and diplomats ventured to China, re-opened the sea routes to India and began to explore the coasts of Africa. Papal emissaries sent to the courts of the Mongol khans failed in their mission to convert the Mongol leaders, but they made enough converts that by 1305 – around the time the Hereford mappa was created – the Franciscan John of Montecorvino was able to write back to the Pope to report the conversion of 5000 people, the building of a church in Beijing with a bell tower and three bells and the translation of the New Testament and Psalms into Mongolian. In 1307 Pope Clement V recognised his achievements by making him the first Catholic Archbishop of Beijing and sending him six more Franciscans who had been consecrated as bishops (though only three survived the hazardous journey east). Religious zeal was one motivation for these perilous journeys, but riches were another. Medieval Europe had a huge appetite for eastern luxury goods and central European silver mines opened up in the medieval period meant the westerners had the cash to trade for them. Goods such as silk and, especially, spices were easily transportable and – despite the immense distances and dangers the journeys entailed – gave an extremely high return on investment. So medieval Europeans increasingly chose to cut out the middle men and trade directly with the Mongols, China and the Indies. The most famous of these medieval trading explorers was Marco Polo, but he was far from the first. He had been preceeded by his father and his uncle, the Venetian brothers Niccolo and Maffeo. Genoese merchants established themselves at Tabriz in what is now northern Iran and traded across the Caspian Sea and in 1291 the papal emissary John of Montecorvino was accompanied by an Italian merchant, Peter of Lucalongo, whose interests seem to have been less than religious. Trade with and travel to the far east appears to have been a family tradition for many of these merchants. In 1264 Pietro Vilioni made his will in Tabriz. Seventy-eight years later, in 1342, Catherine Vilioni – a likely relative of Pietro – was buried in Yangzhou alongside her father Domenico Vilioni and her brother Antonio was also buried nearby two years later. So here we seem to see perhaps three generations of Italians who had been trading in the far east for almost a century and evidence of a European community in eastern China well established enough to have unmarried women with them. Medieval Europeans went further afield still. Another Franciscan missionary, the Italian Ordoric of Pordenone, was accompanied by an Irish friar James of Hibernia on an epic journey in around 1320. They travelled first to Iran and then by sea to India and Sri Lanka and then via Sumatra, Java and Borneo before sailing on north to China. In 1292 Marco Polo and his father and uncle had made much the same journey in reverse, accompanying a Mongol princess to Iran via Java, Sumatra and Sri Lanka. Accounts of these journeys were both informed by and conflated with ancient information about these eastern lands found in writers like Solinus, Pliny and Herodotus. As a result, Marco Polo’s book on his journeys is as full of references to fabulous beasts and races as they are to direct observations of genuine eastern marvels like paper money and burning oil fields. But these medieval travellers were far from credulous and were happy to correct the ancients when they saw they were wrong. John of Marignolli was another Papal emissary to the Mongol khans who, in 1348, returned to Europe on the sea route via Java. Here he noted that he had clearly passed below the equator and concluded that the ancient Greek and Roman writers had been wrong when they had declared the equator too hot for habitation and said the tropical zone around it was therefore impassable. More relevantly, he was equally sceptical and dismissive about the monstrous races described by Pliny and other learned ancients: The truth is that no such people do exist as nations, though there may be an individual monster here and there. Nor is there any people at all such as has been invented, who have but one foot which they use to shade themselves withal. But as all the Indians commonly go naked, they are in the habit of carrying a thing like a little tent-roof on a cane handle, which they open out at will as a protection against sun or rain. This they call a chatyr; I brought one to Florence with me. And this it is which the poets have converted into a foot. So here we have a medieval churchman, a Papal emissary no less, contradicting Greek and Roman writers via direct observation and bringing home evidence that they had been wrong. So much for the wicked credulity of the medieval Church. No Greek or Roman writer that I can find expresses anything but unquestioning belief in the monstrous races, but John of Marignolli was not alone in doing so among the medieval explorers. Yet another Francisan missionary to the khans, William of Rubruck, was sent on a mission to the Great Khan by Kind Louis IX of France in 1248. He travelled via Constantinople and the Crimea first to the court of Batu Khan on the Volga and then on to the court of the Great Khan Möngke at Karakorum. Rubruck was a good observer and a sceptical inquirer and was careful to ask questions and to not take ancient lore or local folktales as fact. While in Karakorum he asked about the monstrous races found in Pliny and later ancient writers: [I] made inquiries about the monsters or human monstrosities of which Isidore and Solinus speak. They told me they had never seen such things, which makes me wonder very much if there is any truth in the story. The 1305 letter to the Pope by John of Montecorvino mentioned above also contains an account of his travels in India and includes a further expression of scepticism about the ancients’ claims of monsters and strange races: As regards men of a marvellous kind, to wit, men of a different make to the rest of us, and as regards animals of a like description, and as regards a Terrestial Paradise, much have I asked and sought, but nothing have I been able to discover. So while Seidensticker, in his wilful and self-imposed ignorance of the medieval period, portrays the monsters and beasts of the Hereford mappa as, somehow, the result of Christian stupidity and credulousness, we can see they actually derive from the non-Christian and supposedly far more rational Greeks and Romans. While those Greeks and Romans repeated their stories without much sign of scepticism, it was the travels of the rather more curious medieval explorers that began to call these creatures into question. And far from it being the Church that somehow restricted any questioning of belief in these creatures, it was medieval churchmen who fact-checked Pliny and the ancients as far as they could and, as a result, concluded the ancients were often wrong. So who were the credulous believers who lived unquestioning in a “world was populated by Sciapods, Blemmyes, and bonnacons” here? Not the medievals. Yet again, ideologically-driven ignorance by another New Atheist has resulted in pseudo historical garbage delivered with all the vast assurance of the smugly clueless. Portolan chart of Italy Medieval Maps and Charts Of course, it is not just the monsters and mythic beasts that attract Seidensticker’s modern scorn – there is also the matter of the mappa‘s silly cartography. He writes: As with all mappae mundi, this one puts Jerusalem in the center. It locates places of important biblical events such as the Tower of Babel, the Garden of Eden, the route of the Exodus, and Sodom and Gomorrah. And goes on to note, as already quoted, that on the mappa “mythology and history are mixed without distinction”. All this is more evidence, for him, that these ridiculous elements are also thanks, somehow, to Christianity being “in charge”. But this is a document that is serving more than one purpose. Close analysis of the mappa shows that the monstrous races and beasts depicted tend to be at the extremes or the more remote regions of the inhabited world. So the Sciapods are in the far east, the Blemmyes and Troglodites are in furthest Africa and the only strange race depicted in Europe are the dog-headed Cynocephali, depicted in the far off Arctic. Scott D. Westrem notes this is in keeping with ancient and medieval conceptions of how geography affects physiology: As one approached the edges of the earth’s landmass and encountered increasing cold and aridity or heat and moisture, one inevitably came across people who looked or behaved in extreme ways. The idea is discussed especially in geographies written during the 1200s, such as Thomas of Cantimpré’s Liber de natura rerum (1237/1240). (Scott D. Westram, “Making a Mappamundi: The Hereford Map”, Terrae Incognitae: The Journal of the Society for the History of Discoveries, 34, 2002,) The nearer parts of Asia and Africa, by contrast, are the ones that tend to depict Biblical and ancient historical themes in the mappa‘s scheme. And Europe is largely devoted to geographical detail, with far more cities, rivers and ports depicted and with much greater accuracy, for obvious reasons. That Jerusalem is depicted in the centre of the inhabited world is is obviously symbolic and theological, though not completely nonsensical. All maps are projections of a globe onto a plane (and Richard de Bello and his team definitely understood the world to be a globe – see The Great Myths 1: The Medieval Flat Earth). This means any map maker has to choose a point for the “centre” of their projection. Modern maps, of course, have the equator as their latitudinal axis, but which continent tends to be put in the centre of the longitudinal axis depends on where the map is made. Seidensticker, as an American, is probably used to maps centred on the Americas. British and European maps tend to have Europe and Africa at their centre. And as an Australian I have grown up with Australia at the centre of maps and as a child found that British and American maps looked slightly odd as a result. Then, as now, it was all a matter of perspective. The ancient and Biblical elements are clearly meant to be instructive, not purely geographical. Obviously the mappa‘s makers did not believe there still was a labyrinth on Crete or that the Tower of Babel still stood – these were depicted to illustrate history. Richard de Bello’s dedicatory inscription even refers to the mappa as “this history”; on at least one level the diagram is supposed to depict time as well as space. As for “mythology and history [being] mixed without distinction”, for the mappa‘s makers and for their various ancient and medieval sources, there was no such distinction. For Pliny and Solinus as well as Isiodore and Orosius, Jason was as historical as Alexander and Theseus as real as Augustus, all of whom can be found on the Hereford mappa. Seidensticker is imposing anachronistic ideas on pre-modern conceptions of time and history. But symbolism, history and bestiaries aside, what about the mappa‘s geography? Seidensticker says “this map wouldn’t serve an explorer or navigator”, but it was not designed to. After all, a wall map a metre and half tall and almost as wide would not be very practical for either. As a diagrammatic map, it was more schematic than truly cartographic. So someone looking at it on the wall in Hereford would not be able to plan a trip from London to Paris with it, at least not with much accuracy. But they would know what sequence of major ports and towns they would pass through and where the Seine was in relation to the Loire. This means that Seidensticker’s scorn for the mappa‘s cartography is something like someone in the future looking the famous schematic map of London’s tube system and concluding twenty-first century people did not know the real geography of London. As it happened, in the centuries before and after the creation of the Hereford mappa, medieval people had in fact learned how to create navigational charts of remarkable accuracy. Exactly when they began to do this is unclear, but from the thirteenth century onwards a new kind of map called a portolan chart began to appear. These were naviational charts for sailors, so their geography of inland areas ranges from sketchy to completely blank. But the remarkable thing about them is the detail and accuracy of their depictions of coastlines and ports. A portolan chart worked by depicting “windrose lines” radiating from compass roses at various points on the chart, representing “lines of bearing” according to the sixteen points of the Mariner’s compass. Used with the pilots’ notes in an accompanying periplus manuscript, listing ports and coastal fatures and the sailing distance between them, a navigator could use the chart and his compass to navigate with a high degree of accuracy. A mid-fourteenth century portolan chart. These charts seem to have evolved out of practical navigational lore in the Mediterranean and so only work across smaller stretches of water, given that their projection is flat and so does not take into account the curvature of the earth. But within those limits their accuracy is so startling that at least one researcher, Dutch geodetic scientist Roelof Nicolai, has come to the conclusion that they are simply “too accurate to be medieval” and posits that they are based on lost ancient projections similar to that of Gerardus Mercator in the sixteenth century. Actual historians of cartography, however, reject Nicolai’s hypothesis and can find plenty of evidence that the portolans did indeed develop in the Middle Ages. Mathematical analysis by John Hessler, curator at the Library of Congress, has shown how medieval navigators created these charts using the (to them) relatively new Mariner’s compass, demonstrating that small but consistent errors in portolan charts can be traced to the fact medieval chart makers did not correct for the difference between magnetic north and true north. Portolan charts proved so useful that, as medieval explorers began to venture beyond the Mediterranean, discovered the Azores and the Canaries and then explored the west coast of Africa and beyond, they created portolan charts of these new regions as well. It was only with the discovery of the Americas and the beginning of ocean voyaging that the limits of these charts forced cartographers to find new ways to project geographical information in a way that could be used by navigators and Mercator’s Projection solved this problem for open ocean travel. Even then, portolan charts and variants on them continued to be used for sailing in the Caribbean and East Indies for centuries. Because they worked. So while the Hereford mappa looks primitive and inaccurate when judged as a navigational map, this is because it is not one. It is something else. And far from representing the poverty of medieval cartography, it existed alongside navigational charts of remarkable sophistication. Medieval T-O maps like the Hereford example are projected onto a circle for symbolic reasons, but about 250 years before its time the Anglo-Saxon Cotton Map shows people were capable of a rectangular projection that did not distort the geography the way a T-O mappa does. A century later the Moroccan geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi worked with European scholars at the court of Roger II of Sicily to produce the Tabula Rogeriana, which is even more accurate. By the time the Catalan Atlas was produced in the mid fourteenth cenury, medieval cartographers were combining portolan charts with a depiction of the whole known world and the symbolic and historical details found on the mappae. Scott Westram notes that the guide book the makers of mappae like the Hereford example drew on, the twelfth century Expositio mappe mundi, was most likely written by Roger of Howden, a Yorkshire cleric who accompanied Richard I on the Third Crusade. Roger was also the author of two important medieval navigational guides, De viis maris and Liber nautarum, which means the mappae were not as divorced from navigation and practical geography as many scholars have presumed. Westram concludes wryly that “thus the only thing really monstrous about the Hereford Map, perhaps, is the way it and its making have been misunderstood and expected to conform to modern taste”. And Seidensticker is definitely guilty of trying to get the Hereford mappa to conform to his taste and finding it distasteful when it did not. Because of his ignorance of history generally and medieval history in particular, he has come to conclusions about the mappa driven almost entirely by his prejudices rather any detailed understanding. He assumes, wrongly, that its monsters and mythic beasts are somehow a product of the ignorance imposed by the medieval Church, when in fact they are drawn almost totally from ancient non-Christian sources like Pliny and Solinus. He thinks the Church stifled real scientific inquiry, when it was in fact the ancients who accepted these mythic details unquestioningly and, by contrast, it was far-travelling medieval churchmen who used reason, evidence and observation to question them. And he thinks the Hereford mappa shows medieval geography and cartography was hopelessly primitive, when in fact it existed alongside an increasingly sophisticated tradition that was eventually to lead to modern cartography. The main ignorance and irrationality on display here is not that of Richard de Bello and his fellow medieval clergy, but a profoundly and wilfully ignorant New Atheist bigot, who scorns things he simply does not understand out of irrational prejudice. We atheists need to stop doing that. Further Reading P.D.A. Harvey, Mappa Mundi: The Hereford World Map (British Library Studies in Medieval Culture) (Toronto, 1996) John Larner, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World (Yale, 1999) J.R.S Phillips, The Medieval Expansion of Europe (Oxford, 1988) Scott D. Westram, “Making a Mappamundi: The Hereford Map”, Terrae Incognitae: The Journal of the Society for the History of Discoveries, 34, 2002 Westram’s article and two other useful analyses of the Hereford mappa, its context and its production, can also be found online here. The post Medieval Maps and Monsters appeared first on History for Atheists.
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