How Can A Priest’s Ministry Be Illicit?
Q: I am a seminarian, and recently heard a priest tell a story of when he was a catechist, prior to seminary, and had to do a communion service. He had expected a priest to show up and start Mass … Continue reading → The post How Can A Priest’s Ministry Be Illicit? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Review – Tom Holland “Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind”
Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (Little, Brown, 2019) 624 pp. Tom Holland is the best kind of popular history writer. He is a good researcher who knows what can be stated with emphasis and what needs to be judiciously hedged. He is a fine story-teller, who can weave bare facts into a smooth and engaging narrative. He is provocative and startling enough to keep the reader on their toes and turning pages. And he is quietly and wryly funny. He displays all of these qualities in this fine new book, but it is his role as wily provocateur that will cause it to ruffle feathers in certain quarters. One of the things that often startles me about the way most anti-theist activists speak or write about Christianity is their almost visceral emotionalism. I happen to be a person raised a Christian who abandoned any faith pretty readily in my late teens and who lives in a highly secular country in a largely post-Christian society. On occasion certain Christians, particularly some prelates or politicians, will annoy me with a particularly stupid statement or action, but on the whole I can regard Christianity as I regard any faith – something that other people do that interests me largely as a historical phenomenon. Many of those who are the focus of this blog, however, cannot seem to get Christianity out of their systems. A large number of them are, like me, ex-Christians, but ones who seem still mentally entangled in their former faith. Never able to emerge from a kind of juvenile angry apostasy, they seem impelled to strike out at it at every turn. They have to constantly remind others – and, it seems, themselves – of its manifest stupidity and wickedness. This is why many of them cannot fathom how I can debunk myths about Christian history without also somehow being a kind of “Christian apologist” or “crypto-Christian”. It is why noting that the Church actually did not teach the earth was flat, that Christians did not burn down the Great Library of Alexandria or that the Galileo Affair was not some black-and-white moral parable of “science versus religion” elicits frantic efforts on the part of some to salvage something of these stories so that Christianity does not get off scot-free. It is also why the Jesus Myth thesis seems so convincing to many of these anti-Christian zealots while it appears clumsy and contrived to pretty much everyone else. Bias makes people do and think strange things. It also clouds and blinkers vision. A true unbeliever is someone who can look at their former faith and not just see the warts, but can see the all. A true post-Christian can see the oppression, murder, persecution and horror done as a result of Christianity, but can also see the other side of the historical ledger: the beneficial elements that Christianity has given to western culture and, through it, to the modern world generally. Tom Holland is an unbeliever and also someone who was raised a Christian. And he too is someone who abandoned that belief early in life: he blames a fascination with dinosaurs – a gateway drug for many a budding young historian and religious sceptic. But in his latest book he turns his attention to Christianity’s impact on western thinking and to what will be, to many, an uncomfortable thesis. He argues that most of the things that we consider to be intrinsic and instinctive human values are actually nothing of the sort; they are primarily and fundamentally the product of Christianity and would not exist without the last 2000 years of Christian dominance on our culture. He knows this claim will not sit well with some and so early in the book he invokes Richard Dawkins: “‘It is the case that since we are all 21st century people, we all subscribe to a pretty widespread consensus of what’s right and what’s wrong.’ So Richard Dawkins, the world’s most evangelical atheist, has declared. To argue that, in the West, the ‘pretty widespread consensus of what’s right and what’s wrong’ derives from Christian teachings and presumptions can risk seeming, in societies of many faiths and none, almost offensive.”(Holland, p. xxvi) There is probably no “almost” about it – some have already found Holland’s argument decidedly offensive and said so in no uncertain terms (see below). But Holland is a wide-ranging reader and, as a result, a well-rounded thinker. This is not light pop history, even though it is an entertaining read. This is a book to provoke thought and to change perspectives. Which is, of course, the best kind of book. Neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free Paul of Tarsus was not a man to do anything by half. He tells us that when he first encountered the Jesus sect he did not just disagree with its claims, he also went out of his way to shut it down through active persecution. Then, on having what he believed was a vision of the risen Jesus, he switched his zeal completely in the opposite direction and became the sect’s most vigorous promoter, founding communities of believers in the new message of a crucified Messiah across the eastern Mediterranean. He also drove his thinking about his new beliefs to their logical extremes, much to the discomfort of some of his fellow believers. The idea that the coming Messiah was not simply coming to redeem and restore Israel, but would rule and redeem the earth and so all nations already existed in some forms of Jewish thought at the time. But Paul took this idea and ran with it – hard. In his view, this meant Jesus had replaced the old covenant with a new one – one that applied equally to everyone, Jew and Gentile. It meant that practices of the old covenant that he, like his fellow devout Jews, had always considered so important, were now no longer necessary at all. And, to Paul, it had to mean that everyone was saved equally. And that meant everyone: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”(Gal 3:28) This idea of universal equality did have some precedent in Paul’s world. He was a Jew, but he spoke Greek and lived in an environment permeated by the influence of Hellenic culture and thinking; the Judaism of his time had, despite conservative suspicion of all things pagan, absorbed a great deal of Greek philosophy. So Holland notes that the Greeks developed the notion of “natural law” that applied to all people equally. The Stoics were insistent on this as a basis for their moral understanding of the universe: “Animating the entire universe, God was active reason: the Logos. …. To live in accordance with nature, therefore, was to live in accordance with God. Male or female, Greek or barbarian, free or slave, all were equally endowed with the ability to distinguish right from wrong.(Holland, p. 27) But while both the Stoics and Paul accepted this intrinsic equality in principle, and Paul derived it specifically from a crucified and risen Messiah, neither radically questioned their own deeply hierarchical society – a culture that accepted men as superior to women, saw “barbarians” as inferior to the “civilised” and was built on the backs of millions of slaves, who could be bought, sold, bred, tortured, raped and killed. Aristotle justified slavery as natural, claiming some humans were slaves by nature, lacking the moral reason to be regarded as the equals of free men. The Stoics, with their greater acknowledgement of the implications of natural law, had a more humane and egalitarian attitude toward slavery. But while they disagreed that nature made some people slaves, they accepted it as inevitable that fortune would result in some people being subjugated by others and so saw slavery as distasteful but inevitable: a necessary evil. Even the great Stoic writer, Epictetus – himself a former slave – never criticised the institution of slavery as unjust. He too saw it as an outworking of fate and a result of the great chain of cause and effect stretching back and forth in time. Slavery, for Epictetus and the Stoics, was in the category of things “not up to us”. Of course, a learned Stoic was far more likely to be a slave owner than a slave, and one like Seneca owned many thousands of human beings thanks to his immense wealth. His ethical advice and that of other Stoics did tend toward humane treatment of slaves, but this was primarily for the moral good of the master, not on account of the intrinsic worth of the slave. Seneca could write “‘They are slaves!’ some say. I say they are humans!” to urge slave owners to treat their slaves better, but he never condemned the whole institution as evil. No ancient philosopher did. Similarly, early Christians stopped short of the – to us, rather obvious – implications of “there is no longer slave or free …. you are one in Christ Jesus”. Paul himself seems to have held a very Stoic attitude to slavery in practice, advising Christian slaves in Corinth “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it.” (1Cor 7:21) Though he adds an enigmatic comment that has been variously interpreted as “although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (NIV) or perhaps “even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever” (NRSV). Epictetus would have approved of either version. Later texts attributed to Paul were more explicit in their endorsement of slavery as an institution, with Ephesians 6:5 ordering “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”, though Ephesians 6:9 advises “Masters …. stop threatening [your slaves], for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.” Colossians 3:22–25 assures slaves that they should obey their masters “in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly” because assigned work “is done for the Lord and not for your masters” – a text Christian slave masters in later centuries cherished, for obvious reasons. So Christians of the first three centuries of the faith had plenty of scriptural and cultural reasons to justify slavery as an institution. Some saw it as a regrettable but inevitably natural result of the Fall of Man and Original Sin: a position expressed by Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, “Ambrosiaster” and, most forcibly and most influentially by Augustine. Others saw slavery as beneficial for the slave as a remedy for their own sins, with shades of the Aristotelian idea that some people were just naturally servile: here we find Basil of Caesarea, but there are elements of this view in Ambrose and Augustine. Or it could be held that, ultimately, only the body of a man can be enslaved, not his mind nor his soul: so thought “Ambrosiaster” and, again, Ambrose, who had not entirely consistent thoughts on the matter. But the very first ancient thinker to question whether slavery was intrinsically evil as an institution was the younger brother of Basil of Caesarea and family friend of Gregory of Nazianzus – the “Cappadocian Father”, Gregory of Nyssa. “The Equivalent of the Likeness of God” Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395) was a remarkable member of a remarkable family. As already mentioned, he was younger brother of Basil but was one of nine children, five of whom are considered saints. The family was aristocratic, learned and fiercely Christian; Gregory’s paternal grandmother, Macrina the Elder, was also regarded as a saint and his maternal grandfather had been executed in the Persecution of Maximinus II. He later piously claimed that his only teachers were his brother Basil and “Paul, John and the rest of the Apostles and prophets”, but he clearly received a traditional education in the classics, philosophy and rhetoric and was heavily influenced by the neoplatonist school of Plotinus. Christian theologians today note his writings on the Trinity, but it was his conception the equal salvation of all that seems to have led to his radical condemnation of slavery. Here he was influenced by Origen. As Holland notes, it was Origen (c. 184 – c. 253) who had greatly developed the idea, formerly championed by Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, that far from rejecting “pagan” philosophy, it gave Christian theologians a superb toolkit: “Christianity, in Origen’s opinion, was not merely compatible with philosophy, but the ultimate expression of it. ‘No one can truly do duty to God,’ he declared, ‘who does not think like a philosopher’. …. ‘No subject was forbidden to us,’ one of his pupils would later recall, ….’Every doctrine – Greek or not – we were encouraged to study. All of the good things of the mind were ours to enjoy.'”(Holland, p. 104) Origen set about trying to apply a philosophical rigour to Christian beliefs, which was no easy task since there was a great deal in those beliefs that were strange, contradictory and paradoxical. Exactly how Jesus could be both God and Man was a question that would vex theology for centuries to come, but Origen – a fierce opponent of “heretics”, many of whom denied the genuine humanity of Jesus, seeing him as a mystical abstraction – was greatly struck by the power of the idea of God becoming a weak human: “‘For since we see in Christ some things so human that they appear to share every aspect in the common frailty of humanity, and some things so divine that they are manifestly the expression of the primal and ineffable nature of the Divine, the narrowness of human understanding is inadequate to cope.'”(Quoted in Holland, p. 106-7) Origen wondered at seeing man in God through Christ. Thinking in the opposite direction, Gregory of Nyssa wondered at seeing God in man; and by this he meant all men, including slaves. In his Fourth Homily on Ecclesiastes, Gregory does not mince words: “What price did you put on rationality? How many obols did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did you get for selling the being shaped by God? ‘God said, let us make man in our own image and likeness’ (Gen 1:26). If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller?” There is a great deal of Seneca in what Gregory says, but unlike the Stoics, Gregory of Nazianzus or his brother Basil, Gregory does not temper his condemnation by making excuses for the institution of slavery to justify its continuation. In defiance of all ancient thinkers before him, he declares it to be simply wrong – end of story. Unfortunately, it was not the end of the story. Gregory was not the great speaker or influential thinker his brother was and, as Holland notes “Gregory’s impassioned insistence that to own slaves was ‘to set one’s own power above God’s’ … fell like seed among thorns” (p. 124-5). It would be centuries before later Christians would come to the same conclusions and preach an equality of all men that would give rise to the modern Abolition Movement. Christianity, drawing on Basil, Ambrose and Augustine, continued to justify slavery more or less as Aristotle or the Stoics had done. While Gregory noted his brother Basil as his teacher, in his insistence on the equal worth of all humans he was more influenced by his older sister Macrina. The eldest child in the family, it was Macrina who had convinced Gregory to abandon an aristocratic civil career and take up an ecclesiastical post. She was also well educated and highly intelligent, but she took on an ascetic life and devoted herself to caring for the sick and the poor with the passionate intensity that marked all of the family’s endeavours. In a world where infanticide was widely practised, with infant girls being the most commonly abandoned to death, Macrina searched garbage dumps for babies left to die and brought them home to raise. When she died, Holland notes, “it was not his brother, the celebrated bishop …. whom Gregory thought to compare to Christ, but his sister” (p. 126). Today, the idea that we should care for others, help the weak, give to assist the needy and feel sorrow at the afflictions of the vulnerable and exploited is thought to be normal and obvious. TV ads for charities and aid organisations do not have to argue all humans have a right to dignity by merit of being human, they simply assume we all understand this. So it is difficult for us to imagine how radical it was for people like Gregory and Macrina or the others Holland highlights in this part of his book (Martin of Tours, Paulinus of Nola) to help the helpless purely because they recognised the paradox of a divine Christ as a suffering human being in these fellow humans. Rich people had done good works before. Ancient nobles were expected to endow great public buildings, hold games, races and gladiatorial shows, give free grain and bread to the populace of their city or support centres of learning or healing. But this was because that was seen as reflecting their dignitas and to their glory and esteem. It was not because they saw the people these acts assisted as their equals, equally reflecting the divine and so intrinsically worthy of equal dignity. That idea would have been alien, bizarre and even repellant. The fact that it is familiar, normal and attractive to us shows, as Holland argues, that we are like fish swimming in essentially Christian water. We barely even notice we are doing it. ‘Reformatio’, Revolutions and Enlightenment One of the things that makes Holland’s book thought provoking (and perhaps, for some, provocative) is the way he teases out ideas that we take for granted and shows them to have Christian origins. The division between “religion” and the “secular”, for example, is so fundamental to the western understanding that most people simply assume it and would never consider that it had an origin, let alone an one rooted in Christian theology. But before Christianity a saeculum was a length of time roughly equal to the likely length of a person’s life or the span of human recollection. The passing of a saeculum was a significant event for the Etruscans and its sacredness was marked by the Romans with spectacles and games. To the Romans, religio did not refer to something distinct from what we would call “secular” affairs – no such separation existed. It referred, as Cicero defined it, to the proper performance of the rites owed to the gods or a fitting level of piety and reverence for them. But writing in the wake of the sack of Rome in 410 and the increasing tumult of the accelerating collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Augustine of Hippo needed a way to contrast the transitory and fleeting nature of the world around him, with its cities that fall to barbarians and abandoned estates and villas that crumble to ruins, with the eternity of the things of God, that endure unchanged forever: This was why Augustine, looking for a word to counterpoint the unchanging eternity of the City of God … seized upon [saeculum]. Things caught up in the flux of mortals’ existence, bounded by their memories, forever changing upon the passage of the generations: all these, so Augustine declared, were secularia – ‘secular things’.(Holland, p. 160) “Religion” or religio was to have an even longer evolution: from “the proper performance of rites” to the word used to describe the separated life of monks and ascetics to, finally, our modern understanding of it as the opposite of “secular”. This division of life into that which is “secular” and that which is “religious” is peculiarly western and relatively recent. In a later chapter Holland traces the strange effects of its imposition by colonial westerners on cultures where it really did not fit. So Indian rites and cultural practices that were intrinsic to life on the sub-continent were made to conform to western conceptions of “religion” and “the secular” by creating the concept of something called “the Hindu religion” or “Hinduism”, where a whole variety of “religious”-looking practices, traditions, ceremonial and ideas were jammed, rather awkwardly, into the western concept of “religion” and given a neat label. In medieval Europe, however, this new conception of a division between “the secular” and “the religious” was to have revolutionary effects. With the fall of the Western Empire and the centuries of chaos and fragmentation that followed, the Church in the west needed new powerful patrons for protection. The barbarian warlords and kings converted to the Catholic faith, but in the process the Church came to be dominated by its new protectors. Much of Western Christianity took on a distinct and oddly Germanic flavour, with Christ often depicted as a chieftain surrounded by his disciples as a comitatus, or warband of followers. Off on the western fringes of Europe, Celtic Christianity took on even more strange characteristics. And the Church became increasingly subsumed within a complex network of obligations, exchanges of favours and lordship over lands in return for services and dues. Bishops and priests were appointed by local potentates, rich church benefices were reserved for relatives and allies of the dominant lord in a given region and ecclesiastical offices were regularly bought and sold. But, beginning in the tenth century, a new breed of churchmen began to preach for reformatio – a reshaping of the Church to purify it. Beginning at the great independent monastery of Cluny, these reformers first condemned outside interference in the running of monasteries, the imposition of relatives of local lords as abbots and the requirement of dues from monastic lands. Preaching libertas, these monastic reformers’ ideas of a separation of their religio from secularia spread to the wider church and in 1073 a fervent Cluniac reforming monk became pope. Hildebrand of Sovana, as Pope Gregory VII, took the idea of reformatio to new heights, imposing clerical celibacy, condemning the practice of buying church appointments and fiercely resisting the “secular” dominance of the Church by worldly rulers. This led to a famous showdown with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV that eventually saw an excommunicated and penitent Henry forced to walk barefoot in the snow to seek the pope’s forgiveness at Canossa in January 1077. This clash was just the first skirmish in the long Empire-Papacy disputes and – contrary to the New Atheist fantasy of the medieval world as some kind of “theocracy” where the Church was dominant and supreme – was just one of many bitter conflicts between the Medieval Church and secular rulers. One of the effects of these conflicts was the evolution of a new and uniquely western European idea that we now take for granted: a division between what we call “church and state”, with the “secular” and the “religious” interacting, but occupying distinct conceptual spheres. All of this would have been baffling to Cicero. The concept of reformatio also never went away. Even though the reformers of Cluny staged a successul revolution and effectively captured the Church, remaking it in their image, successive waves of reform would continue, with new reformers calling for renewal, purification and change. Luther and what we call “the Reformation” was just one of these cycles of renewal and notable mainly because, unlike the monks of Cluny, the reformers did not manage to capture the Church wholesale and so formed their own national churches. And the spirit of reformatio lived on into the modern era, with the language and the impulses of Voltaire and the philosophes of the Enlightenment acknowledging they were, in many ways, following in the footsteps of Luther and Calvin. Voltaire was, of course, famously anti-clerical and sceptical of the Church, but the impulses of the Enlightenment were deeply rooted in a now well-established tradition of renewal, purification, a freeing from unnecessary constraints, an overturning of the old to refresh and revive. Similarly, the revolutions that reshaped the modern western world from Europe to America also had their origin in this very western and, ultimately, Christian idea of renewal and purification. It is ironic that movements that saw Notre-Dame (briefly) reconsecrated as “the Temple of Reason” in Revolutionary France or the establishment of a 3.5 million strong “League of Militant Atheists” in Soviet Russia had a fundamentally Christian impulse deep in their genes. Tolkien versus Hitler Holland has a good eye for illustrative symmetries. In August 1914 a young Adolf Hitler was delighted at the outbreak of war but failed his physical when he tried to join the Austrian Army and so managed to join the Bavarian Army instead and ended up fighting for Germany. In Britain, a twenty-two year old J.R.R. Tolkien was recently married to his childhood sweetheart and still finishing his degree at Oxford, so he was far less enthusiastic about the war and delayed enlistment until July 1915. But this meant, a year later, these two very different men faced each other across the battlefield of the Somme. Both saw the world as a clash between darkness and light, though each had a vastly different conception of what “the light” was. A devout Catholic, Tolkien accepted a theology derived ultimately from Augustine: with the eternity of “the City of God” standing against secularia in a fallen world stained by Original Sin. This can make Tolkien’s vision seem somewhat gloomy, especially to those who do not share his beliefs, though there is a stolid (and very British) nobility in what he has the elf queen Galadriel call “the Long Defeat”; the ongoing, impossible but still important battle against evil. For Tolkien, no victory was complete, evil would always rise again and even victory brings loss. But he also held up hope and friendship as essential in the struggle. Holland tells a touching anecdote about an older Tolkien in 1944, now an Oxford don and also a volunteer air raid warden, sitting up talking with his fellow warden, the great Jewish historian Cecil Roth. When they went to bed, Roth noticed that Tolkien did not have a watch, so he loaned him his own to ensure he did not oversleep and miss morning mass. And early the next morning the Jew looked in on the devout Catholic to make sure he was up. “It seemed” Tolkien wrote in a letter to his son later that day, “like a fleeting glimpse of an unfallen world” (p. 461). If the vision of the world Tolkien brought from the Somme was one of hope and friendship in a long defeat, Hitler’s was of merciless dominance and raw willpower resulting in a ultimate glorious victory. A natural pessimist, Tolkien had hope because he saw God’s grace as “like the light from an invisible lamp”, deriving ultimately from God’s sacrifice as a broken figure on the cross. A fierce optimist, Hitler made sure his followers had no time for this weak, Jewish stuff. One SS magazine was typically scornful of useless Christian qualities like compassion: “Harping on and on that God died on the cross out of pity for the weak, the sick and the sinners, they then demand that the genetically diseased be kept alive in the name of a doctrine of pity that goes against nature, and of a misconceived notion of humanity.” (quoted in Holland, p. 460) The Nazis had a notion of humanity based on the strong rightfully dominating the weak, the healthy removing the sick and the “superior race” exterminating the “genetically diseased”. While they were forced by political expediency to pretend otherwise, their doctrine of mercilessness was patently and knowingly anti-Christian – it represented a rejection and reversal of everything people like Tolkien stood for and everything the world had inherited from Christianity. Yet it was Hitler who came to be rejected and defeated 988 years short of the Nazi’s projected “thousand year Reich”, while Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a paean to compassion, humility and friendship, came to be one of the most loved and most read novels of the twentieth century. Holland’s final chapters explore the paradox that, in the west at least, we live in a post-Christian world but one that is so permeated by the ideas and principles that he traces over the course of his history of Christianity that we are like fish swimming in the water of Christian thinking – so used to it that we do not notice it is there. So the Beatles could sing “all you need is love” and not need to explain what that means or why it “makes sense”. Or rich, self-indulgent rock stars can put on a concert to preach compassion and aid for an African famine and see a global audience raise millions of dollars to help strangers on the other side of the planet. Both messages would be at least rather odd to the citizens of ancient Rome or Athens, but they are perfectly normal to us; so much so that we struggle to articulate why. Holland’s book does not shy away from the dark side of Christian history. On the contrary, he emphasises it to the point that some Christian reviewers believe he overdoes that part of the narrative: a likely sign he has actually got the balance about right. But his point is that “the standards by which [these Christians] stand condemned are themselves Christian” (p. 525). He concludes: “Nor, even if the churches across the West continue to empty does it seem likely that these standards will quickly change. ‘God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’ [1Cor 1:27] This is the myth that we in the West persist in clinging to. Christendom, in that sense, remains Christendom still.”(Holland, p. 525) Criticism Holland’s book is long and wide ranging and so it is unlikely that everyone is going to agree with everything he argues. That said, reading it as a harsh critic of any work of popular history, I found nothing I can say was factually wrong, at least in the sections that cover periods and subjects I know well. Holland is very careful in his language and fully aware that sources cannot be taken at face value and much is history is uncertain. For example, many popular authors choose drama over care when they describe the Albigensian Crusade and the infamous declaration by the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury when asked how the crusaders could tell which inhabitants of the fallen city of Béziers were heretics: “Kill them all, God knows his own”. Holland tells the anecdote, but adds judiciously “So, at any rate, it was later reported”. He then notes that the later story, at the very least “spoke powerfully of the peculiar horror that shadowed the crusaders’ minds” (p. 245). Even if the lurid story is untrue (and it probably is), the fact is tens of thousands of citizens of Béziers were put to the sword in the name of faith. On other points Holland takes a position which is highly defensible, even though there are other interpretations. One of the problems with the kind of popular historical overview the Dominion represents is the author usually cannot stop the flow of his narrative to pause and present alternative views and then argue for a particular position. Holland usually at least indicates that there are other views, though at times he presents a single view with a great deal of emphasis and without any indication of an alternative. For example, he argues that our whole concept of homosexuality is a recent development and one ultimately based on Pauline theology. Before Christianity, Holland argues, there was no conception of a homosexual orientation: some men – many of them, actually – had sex with other men. This was not seen as some kind of “orientation”, but definitely was seen in terms of power relationships. There was no shame in having sex with a man, but there was great shame attached to being the passive partner. Of course, all this is highly debatable and the debate continues. In particular, James Davidson has argued in The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient World (2007) that something very much like our modern conception of homosexuality actually did exist in the ancient world. Others have taken up this argument, while many retain the older position of Kenneth J. Dover that Holland favours. Some of Holland’s more over-eager online critics have tried to claim, erroneously, that Davidson’s view is the current consensus (it is not) and that Holland is simply ignorant of the debate. I know from personal correspondence with Holland that he certainly is not, but an indication that there is such a debate would have been useful. I have been harshly critical of Catherine Nixey for presenting one view as though it is fact, and while Holland is not as guilty of it as Nixey, it does leave him open to being dismissed for being slanted in what he presents. Many of his critics have little interest in the nuances of his argument, however: they simply reject his thesis wholesale. And here, gentle reader, we find – yet again and with wearisome inevitability – the indefatigable polemicist, failed academic and unemployed blogger, Dr. Richard C. Carrier (PhD – he has a doctorate, you see). Carrier has not actually read Holland’s book: he is much too busy peddling his fringe Jesus Mythicism thesis and writing his latest effort, Jesus From Outer Space: What the Earliest Christians Really Believed about Christ, which seems to be a kind of “Mythicism for Dummies” and will be released, appropriately, on April Fool’s Day this year. But Carrier took a little time out from his busy unemployment to write a briskly dismissive rejection of Holland’s argument. He was responding to a pre-publication teaser piece Holland wrote for the Spectator, “Thank God for Western Values” (20 April, 2019), which was a broad summary of the themes of his forthcoming book. Holland concludes: “The cross, that ancient tool of imperial power, remains what it has always been: the fitting symbol of a transfiguration in the affairs of humanity as profound and far-reaching as any in history. …. It is the audacity of it …. that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilisation to which it gave birth.” Carrier, the reflex anti-theist and anti-Christian activist, was having none of this. In a characteristically splenetic piece entitled “No, Tom Holland, It Wasn’t Christian Values That Saved the West”, Carrier dismisses Holland as “another amateur” and a “novelist” with “no degrees in history, and no advanced degrees whatever” and declares categorically “everything he says is false”. Carrier then congratulates himself, declaring “I’ve already refuted Holland’s entire thesis”, linking to several of his blog posts and book chapters in atheist polemics, all of which dispute various things that … Holland does not actually say. But when he does bother to contend with Holland’s Spectator piece as opposed to what he imagines is Holland’s thesis, it is the idea that the conception of God as a pitiful crucified human victim that was uniquely significant that gets Carrier especially grumpy. First he sneers at the idea that the key Easter story was unique in any way: “That idea did not come from Christianity. Even insofar as Easter itself is even Christian. After all, it actually incorporates a bunch of pagan holiday stuff now—there are no bunnies laying eggs in the Bible; and Eastre, the German goddess of fertility after which Easter even takes its name, is very definitely a pagan deity. “ This is typically sloppy stuff from Carrier, given that there is no evidence that the bunnies and eggs of Easter are “pagan” at all, no evidence that Eostre (not “Eastre”) was “German” and the name of this local Anglo-Saxon deity is about the only pagan thing about Easter (see “Easter, Ishtar, Eostre and Eggs” for a summary of the evidence and scholarship on this). As usual, Carrier’s bluster and bravado outweigh his knowledge and competence. Nuanced points are, as usual, lost on Carrier. Holland notes Richard Dawkins musing on why he, an atheist and secularist, prefers the sound of church bells to that of the Islamic call to prayer and says that “a preference for church bells over the sound of Muslims praising God does not just emerge by magic”; pretty obviously making the point that we are all products of our cultural context. Yet Carrier misses this simple point completely, sneering: “Holland’s following implication that Christian music (specifically, the lamest kind: church bells chiming) is “prettier” than Muslim’s singing (or even the Arabic language) is pretty much just imperialist pap. I don’t even agree. Perhaps because I’m not an imperialist dick.” Anyone who is not a sophomoric jerk (“lamest”, “I don’t even”, “dick”) would notice that Holland makes no claim that church bells are “prettier” (though Dawkins certainly does) and that Carrier clearly did not understand what Holland is actually saying. Much of his piece is at this level of undergraduate spluttering and blundering. When Carrier does manage to actually engage with something Holland is saying, the results are not much better. In sweeping strokes, he declares grandly that “dignitas and its related ideas, even in the sense of the common worth of persons, was already a widely known pagan concept. So Christianity can’t claim to have invented it”. But Holland does not say that it was invented by Christians, rather that it was given a new and far wider application by them – one we accept so naturally now that people like Carrier mistakenly read it back into the writings of his “Aristotelians, Epicureans, and Stoics”. Much of the rest of his piece is pettifogging mixed with near constant self-promotion and aggrandisement. The remainder is simply wrongheaded. Objecting to Holland noting that Christianity, uniquely, gave us the idea of a God who was “closer to the weak than to the mighty, to the poor than to the rich” Carrier declares (citing himself, yet again) “humiliated, humbled, crippled, castrated, crucified, and defiled gods and heroes already abounded in paganism”. Leaving aside infelicities like his claim the Sumerian goddess Inanna was “crucified”, the problem is that no story of any pagan deity who happened to suffer some humiliation took on the significance of the crucified Jesus in Christianity. No-one taught we should be kind to strangers by citing Inanna’s death or Attis’ castration. Again, Carrier completely misses the point. Then again, Holland’s points tend to require a degree of nuanced thinking and, as with all fundamentalist apologists, that is definitely not Carrier’s strong point. Turning from a blogger ranting to his peanut gallery, Holland’s arguments got a slightly more measured and intelligent critical analysis when New Atheist luminary and philosopher, A.C. Grayling, debated him on Justin Brierley’s Christian radio show/podcast Unbelievable in December 2019. A video of their conversation can be found below: The whole discussion is well worth watching and a full analysis of the points argued on both sides would take an article in itself. But what is astonishing is the way many of Grayling’s arguments are based on a bizarre caricature of history. A caricature so ludicrous and riddled with hoary myths, misconceptions and howlers that Holland, at several points, seems almost at a loss as to how to respond. And Grayling is, it needs to be remembered, a former Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, and the current master of the New College of the Humanities. That he has such a pathetically bad grasp of history is testament, yet again, to how crippling biases can make intelligent people very stupid. Some of the things Grayling accepts as historical are complete myths, such as his invocation of the so-called “droit de seigneur” whereby medieval lords were supposed to have a legal right to have sex with the wife of any of his vassals on the night of their wedding. Grayling seems to actually think this happened, even though whole books have been written debunking this myth and showing how it arose – see Alain Boureau The Lord’s First Night: The Myth of the Droit de Cuissage (University of Chicago Press, 1998). This myth was a favourite of Voltaire, who never let facts get in the way of a nice jab at the Middle Ages, and is perpetuated in popular culture to this day by things like Mel Gibson’s gloriously silly movie Braveheart. Which gives us an indication of where the master of the New College of the Humanities is getting his information about history. Other elements of Grayling’s weird understanding of the past involves a hopelessly mangled understanding of things. At around the 27 minute mark in the video above, Holland gets understandably annoyed at Grayling’s claims about Christians destroying ancient texts, taking issue with the idea that “bands of Christians roamed around destroying copies of Aeschylus”. He notes that not only is there no evidence of any orders to destroy classical texts in anything like the Theodosian Code, but that we know that these works continued to be copied and studied by the very Christian monks Grayling scorns. Grayling then interjects forcefully, saying that this happened “much later on” and tries to claim that these works only survived thanks to Muslim scholars. Holland notes, correctly, that these Muslim scholars were working from copies preserved by Byzantine and Nestorian monks working in the lands conquered by the Muslims, which Grayling tries to simply wave away with a fumbled memory some “Muslim caliph” who ordered the Greek works be translated. But his stumbling reply cannot get around the fact that Holland keeps hammering – the texts they worked from did not fall from the skies or were not found in a hidden cache from pre-Christian times. They were preserved by the Byzantine and Nestorian scholars who had been copying them and studying them for centuries. Holland is right and Grayling is simply totally and grotesquely wrong. Grayling then plays a shifty game of referring, correctly, to the great loss of Greek learning in the Latin west in the early Middle Ages and then trying to pretend this was also the case in the Greek and Syriac east. Holland does not let him get away with this and Grayling simply responds by getting snooty. I must say by this stage Holland was exhibiting a degree of very English restraint and good manners – if I had been there Grayling would have received a heavy dose of blistering Australian forthrightness and obscenity. But he bumbles on. Grayling tells us the dramatic bedtime story of bad, wicked Justinian, who “closed the Academy of Plato” in Athens and shut down all the ancient schools of learning in 529 AD, plunging us into a terrible dark age. He seems very fond of this story, since he invokes it twice and gets quite exercised each time he mentions it. And it is a great story. The only problem is … it is nonsense. As I have detailed before, there was no Empire-wide closing of schools of wisdom in 529. As Edward J. Watts shows in his excellent article on the subject (see “Justinian, Malalas and the End of Athenian Philosophical Teaching in A.D. 529”, The Journal of Roman Studies, 94, 2004, pp. 168-182), Justinian simply withdrew state funding of schools run by pagans. Pagan teachers could and did continue to teach. And Christian teachers continued to teach the classics and the philosophy that had always been the curriculum of Roman learning. There was no “closing of the western mind”. Grayling is also labouring under the misconception that the Academy in Athens that shut up shop when its state funding was withdrawn by Justinian’s edict was the one established by Plato 900 years earlier. After all, this makes for a much more sensational and dramatic story. But, yet again, the esteemed master of the New College of the Humanities had completely bungled things. Plato’s original Academy was shut down back in 86 BC when the Roman general Sulla laid waste to Athens. The Academy that closed itself down in 529 was a much later institution set up in the early fifth century AD. And it was a small group of Iamblichan neo-Platonists who practised thaumaturgical magic and held strange mystical views that Plato would have found rather bizarre – it simply was not the centre of venerable ancient wisdom Grayling fondly imagines. The “history” Grayling invokes is consistently garbled myth. There is much, much more that Grayling gets badly wrong and Christian writer Esther O’Reilly has written an amusing article on the Unbelievable website, skewering him further. Yet again, a wilfully ignorant atheist, spouting dusty eighteenth century myths about history, has let himself open to wry ridicule by Christians because he gets things hopelessly wrong. When are my fellow atheists going to stop doing this? Provocation and Reflection I noted at the beginning of this review that Holland’s Dominion is the best kind of book – one that provokes thought and changes perspectives. It is not necessary to agree with every point or accept every argument in such a book for it to be this kind of good work. After all, I was not wholly convinced that the Christian concept of reformatio, reformation or revolution was as radical a departure from earlier revolutions as Holland claims. Holland argues that things like Augustus’ hijacking of the Roman Republic was presented more as a re-establishment of former, traditional governance (even though it was not) and so was not really a revolution per se. But this is undercut by the fact that the medieval reformatio and the Protestant Reformation were also presented as a return to earlier, purer forms of the Church. I am also still in two minds about Holland’s arguments regarding sexual mores and the shift in ancient attitudes to what we call homosexuality. But I feel the sign of a good book is that it is one that stays in the mind after it is read and shapes the way you read and see what comes afterwards. Since finishing Dominion I keep finding its arguments coming back to me as I watch the news, read the paper, listen to friends or read other history books. Few books have the weight of influence to do this, and that this one does so is a testament to its profound significance. That is no small feat for a popular history writer. The post Review – Tom Holland “Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind” appeared first on History for Atheists.
Can the Bishop Refuse to Ordain Me Because I’m Too Old?
Q: I’m interested in becoming a permanent deacon, but the director of the program in my diocese says the upper age limit, which I have passed, is set by canon law. He wrote to me, “The upper age limit for … Continue reading → The post Can the Bishop Refuse to Ordain Me Because I’m Too Old? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Confession and General Absolution (Repost)
Reposting this piece is unfortunately becoming a Christmas tradition, since reports continue to surface of abuses of the Sacrament of Penance during this busy season. For that reason it may be worthwhile to read it once again. A very … Continue reading → The post Confession and General Absolution (Repost) appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
If I Become a Catholic, What Happens to My Marriage? (Part III)
Q: Neither me or my wife are baptized, but we both desire to be and plan on going through the RCIA process in order to do so. I believe I understand that our marriage is valid according to natural law … Continue reading → The post If I Become a Catholic, What Happens to My Marriage? (Part III) appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
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Canon Law and Selling a Church
Q: Peace! Lately, members of a local sect had posted online their acquisitions of supposed Catholic parishes in the US and UK. I wonder if that is canonically lawful, selling Parish Churches especially to sects? —Chadwick A: In “Canon Law … Continue reading → The post Canon Law and Selling a Church appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Canon Law and Closing a Parish
Q: The church I was baptized and confirmed in back home is closing down due to lack of attendance. What happens to the artifacts and all the official records when that happens? It makes me sad. I loved my parish… … Continue reading → The post Canon Law and Closing a Parish appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Jesus Mythicism 5: The Nazareth “Myth”
Not only is the idea that Jesus came from Nazareth a common element in all four canonical gospels, it also seems to have been an awkward fact that did not fit well with the gospel writers’ claim he was the Messiah. This indicates it is likely his origin in this small village was a historical fact. Jesus Mythicists often deal with this by removing Nazareth from the story and some even claim all the archaeologists are wrong and Nazareth did not even exist. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” If there is anything most people would say they know about Jesus it is the fact he came from Nazareth. After all, after “Jesus Christ” he is most commonly referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth” and his home town of Nazareth features in popular narratives about him: for example, in the well known Christmas stories. Nazareth also features as his place of origin in all four of the canonical gospels and appears in a significant story of his return to his home town in the three Synoptics. So why do many Jesus Mythicists argue that Nazareth is an addition to the Jesus stories or even that no such place existed? This is because the Nazareth element is awkward for the gospel writers in ways that strongly indicate it was a historical element that they had to include, despite that awkwardness. For Mythicists, elements which seem to indicate historicity cannot be allowed to stand, so they have to find ways to make this one go away. Their attempts to do so are, as ever, convoluted, contrived, based on carefully selected snippets of scholarship and a lot of suppositions and – in the most extreme cases – crackpot pseudo archaeology and crazed conspiracy theories. The gospel depictions of Jesus’ origin in Nazareth contain a number of oddities. The opening chapter of the last and latest gospel – gJohn – depicts Philip telling Nathanael “‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth'” (John 1:45), to which Nathanael replies dismissively “‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'”, with the strong implication the answer should be “No”. The same gospel has another expression of scepticism at the idea of a Galilean Messiah from Nazareth: When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him.(John 7: 40-43) gJohn does not present a defence of Jesus’ messiahship in the face of this objection – possibly because it writer did not consider Jesus’ town of origin significant, or because he assumed his readers were already aware of the traditions that did have Jesus born in Bethlehem. We can see those traditions in the earlier gospels of gMatt and gLuke, though here the oddities multiply. Both stories have Jesus being born in Bethlehem. And both have him growing up and living in Nazareth before the beginning of his preaching career. But the way they achieve this differs and the stories they tell to do so are contradictory, full of historical problems and are mutually exclusive. The “scripture” referred to in John 7:42 is Micah 5:2: But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Bethlehem was the home town of Jesse and his son David and it was where David was anointed king by Samuel (1Samuel 16:1-13), so it seems some came to see this text as a prophecy about the town from which the Messiah would come. This is why gMatt depicts Jesus’ parents as living in Bethlehem and Jesus being born there (Matt 2:1). This gospel then has Herod threaten to kill the newborn Jesus and his family escape to Egypt until Herod’s death, eventually returning and settling, not in Bethlehem in Judea, but in Nazareth in Galilee (Matt 2:19-23). But there are elements in this story which make it historically dubious. The clear parallels between Jesus and Moses (a tyrant trying to kill a child, the child escaping, a return from Egypt) make those elements likely to be symbolic, presenting Jesus as a second Moses. The excuse given for settling in Nazareth after Herod’s death – the fact that his son Archelaus was ruling Judea – makes little sense given that another of his sons, Antipas, was also ruling Galilee. And the claim that they settled in Nazareth “so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.'” (Matt 2:23) is problematic because no such prophecy can be found in any scriptures of the time and the writer of gMatt, unusually, does not actually specify which “prophets” (plural) supposedly said this. The problems multiply when we turn to the gLuke account of Jesus’ birth and find a very different story. Here Jesus’ family live in Nazareth to begin with. They then journey to Bethlehem to take part in the census of Quirinius because Joseph is a descendant of King David (Luke 2:1-7) and then return to Nazareth where Jesus grows up. There are historical problems with this story also. Despite the best efforts of Christian apologists, there is no way to reconcile some kind of decree “from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1) with anything historical. It certainly cannot be reconciled with “the first registration …. taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2), given this was a census of Judea only, done when the Romans deposed Archelaus and took administrative control of the region directly. Finally, the Romans had no interest in where your distant ancestors lived one thousand years earlier, so the idea that Joseph would be required to take part in this census because of some ancient ancestral connection to Bethlehem is highly dubious. Most importantly, however, these two stories not only contain internal problems but also (again, despite the strenuous and ingenious efforts of apologists) cannot be made to reconcile with each other. As mentioned, the census in gLuke is specified to be that of Publius Sulpicius Quirinius which was “the first” because Quirinius was taking control of Judea for the first time on the deposition of the tetrarch Archelaus in 6 AD (see Josephus, Ant., XVIII.1). But the gMatt narrative has Herod the Great as a key character and Herod died in 4 BC. So the two gospel narratives not only tell two different stories, but they also set them a whole decade apart. Again, Christian apologists strive mightily to resolve that contradiction using what Geza Vermes describes wryly as “exegetical acrobatics”, but most critical scholars accept that neither story is historical in its details and both are trying to achieve two similar things in different ways. Firstly, both are emphasising Jesus’ remarkable status as the Messiah in various ways, not least of which is the depiction of his birth in Bethlehem in accordance with Micah 5:2. Secondly, both stories “explain” how this Messiah could be born in the (appropriate) Judean town of Bethlehem despite growing up in the (inappropriate) Galilean village of Nazareth. So both stories are working hard to counter the objection we find reflected in John 7:42 – “he may have come from Nazareth” they are saying, “but he was born in Bethlehem as a true Messiah”. This makes sense if, in fact, Jesus was from Nazareth and was well known to be so. That would mean that Nazareth would be an awkward and inconvenient fact, giving a strong incentive for “explanations” to arise in the early Jesus traditions to get around the John 7:42 objection. So while this makes sense if there was a historical Jesus who was from Nazareth, it poses a problem for Mythicists. If he was not historical, why is the Nazareth element in the story at all? It serves no theological or exegetical purpose: on the contrary, it gets in the way of the claim he was born as the Messiah because he is from the “wrong” place. So why do the traditions not simply have him as “Jesus of Bethlehem” and avoid the whole issue? Why is “Nazareth” in there at all? This question forced no less a New Atheist luminary than Christopher Hitchens to reluctantly accept that “there may have been a figure of some kind of deluded rabbi” as the kernel of the Jesus stories. Hitchens noted “the fakery of the story” in the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and concluded “the fakery itself proves something”, asking “why not have him born in Bethlehem right there, and leave out the Nazarene business?” (see this video, with his comments beginning around the 2.47 mins mark). Hitchens garbles some of the details, but nails the essence of the argument. “Is this not the Carpenter?” And we do not find “the Nazarene business” only in the infancy narratives of gMatt and gLuke. In Luke 4:6-30 we find a strange story where Jesus comes “to Nazareth, where he had been brought up” and preaches in the synagogue there, expounding on a version of Isaiah 61:1-3. He declares “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21) The assembled residents are amazed at this announcement, asking each other “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (v. 22). Then Jesus notes that “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (v. 24) and effectively refuses to perform any miracles there like the ones he had performed earlier in Capernaum (v. 23). So the people there become angry and lead him to “the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff ” (v. 29), but we are told he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” (v. 30) This is an expansion and embellishment of the briefer story found in gMark: He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-5) We also find an even shorter version of this story in Matthew 13:54-58, which follows the general outline of its Marcan source above, though rather than saying “he could do no deed of power there” the Matthean version says “he did not do many deeds of power there” (v. 58), making this sound more like a choice than an inability. What do we make of these stories of Jesus being rejected in his own πατρίδα (hometown, country, fatherland)? The first thing to notice is that the later Matthean and Lucan versions work to soften the effect of the “unbelief” of the Nazarenes. In gMark he “could do no deed of power there” except some minor healings, whereas in gMatt he does not do “many” major miracles, which implies he chose to do some. While in gLuke we get a dialogue where Jesus tells the people there that they may have heard of him doing miracles in Capernaum but that he would do none in Nazareth, saying: “[T]here were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”(Luke 4:25-27) So here it is not that Jesus cannot perform great miracles (gMark) or simply chooses not to (gMatt), he overtly refuses to do so and tells the Nazarenes why in terms that emphasises his self-proclaimed status as a prophet and the fulfilment of prophecy. This is what angers the people there and leads them to not just reject him but attack him – an element not found in the other two versions. This means we go from a story in gMark where Jesus goes to his “home country”, is met with “unbelief”, and could not perform major miracles there to one in gLuke where he makes a virtue of their scepticism and, in refusing to perform any miracles at all, emphasises his prophet status. Again, there is a possible historical kernel in the early Marcan story – a memory of an actual incident where Jesus meets with some acclaim in Capernaum and so goes back to Nazareth where his reception from those who know him and his family is far more sceptical. The later versions work to soften this slightly awkward story, with gLuke turning his sceptical rejection into something triumphant. That Jesus came from Nazareth is not only found in all four canonical gospels, it is reflected in later traditions as well. Acts 25:5 depicts Paul being described to the Roman procurator Antonius Felix as “a leader of the Nazarenes”. Writing in the early fourth century Eusebius notes in his catalogue of Biblical place names: Nazareth: – From which the Christ is called the Nazarene and we, who are now called Christians, were of old called Nazarenes.(Onomasticon, 13824-140.2) Similarly Tertullian emphasises Jesus’ origin in Nazareth and says “for this reason the Jews call us ‘Nazarenes'” (Ad. Mar. IV.8) and we find similar comments on the origin of this name for Christians in Origen and Jerome. It may have seemed to these Greek and Latin speakers that it was “the Jews” who gave Christians this name, but evidence suggests that while forms of the Greek name Χριστιανοί (Christians) dominated in the western world, among Semitic speakers the name for the sect was derived from Nazareth. So we find Syriac Christians referring to themselves as Nasraye, Thomasine Christians in India calling themselves Nasrani and the Arabic form Naṣara. Both the Greek-derived “Christians” and the Semitic forms of “Nazarenes” seem to be terms originally given to Christians by others and later adopted by the adherents of the sect themselves. Finally, we have some fragmentary indicators that the association between Jesus and his home town continued to be remembered long after his death. Eusebius quotes a lost work from the late second century Christian writer Sextus Julius Africanus, who records that Jesus’ family still lived in the area much later. Writing about the genealogy of Jesus, Africanus says: “A few of the careful, however, having obtained private records of their own, either by remembering the names or by getting them in some other way from the registers, pride themselves on preserving the memory of their noble extraction. Among these are those already mentioned, called Desposyni, on account of their connection with the family of the Saviour. Coming from Nazara and Cochaba, villages of Judea, into other parts of the world, they drew the aforesaid genealogy from memory and from the book of daily records as faithfully as possible.”(Quoted in Ecc.Hist. IV.7.14) So to most people Jesus’ origin in Nazareth would seem to be firmly established, as far as we can establish anything about such a figure given the nature of our sources. The early traditions emphasise his origin there and preserve memories of his family coming from there. Others use the name of Jesus’ place of origin as an early designation for his sect. And the gospels preserve stories about his origin these that are in several ways awkward for them and have to be moderated or corrected to fit their claims about him. So how can Mythicists claim the whole Nazareth element is a later accretion and not a historical element at all? Jesus of … Capernaum? The main way Mythicists get rid of Nazareth as a likely historical element is by arguing that its use as a gentilic for Jesus – i.e. a part of his name indicating where he came from – was a later development that evolved out of an earlier title that had nothing to do with a placename. So Mythicism apologist Dr Richard Carrier PhD claims: [T]he accumulated evidence suggests ‘Nazareth’ as the town Jesus originated from was a late eponymous inference from what was originally the completely unrelated title of ‘Nazorian’, having something to do with what Jesus was, not where he was from.(On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason to Doubt, p. 400) Here Carrier cites himself, pointing to a longer analysis of the issue in his earlier work Proving History (pp. 145-48). There he notes a range of possible alternative origins of the title “Nazarene” suggested by a few scholars. These include Eric Laupont, who argues that the title was originally a name for the Christian movement derived from Isaiah 11:1 (“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch (Hebrew – neser) shall grow out of his roots”). This name for the sect was then, somehow, retroactively turned into Jesus’ home town – see Laupont, “Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans,” Vigiliae Christianae 54, no. 3, (2000): 233–47). But Carrier also cites J.S. Kennard who presents another suggestion; that the name is derived from the “Nazarites” – the “separated” or “consecrated ones” described in Numbers 6 who take a vow dedicating themselves to God. So Kennard argues that John the Baptist’s followers called themselves something like “the consecrated” from the Hebrew verb nazar (to consecrate) and Jesus had this title because he was a follower of John. The writer of gMark, Kennard argues, had to therefore find a way to distance Jesus from the Baptist’s “Nazorean” followers and find another meaning for Jesus’ title and settled on the idea that Jesus was from Nazareth – see J. S. Kennard, “Was Capernaum the Home of Jesus?”, Journal of Biblical Literature, 65, no. 2 (June 1946): 131–41. Not fully content with these two alternatives, Carrier adds a third, this time from amateur writer René Salm (more on him below), who cites the very late (probably third century) Gnostic text The Gospel of Philip to argue the title originally meant “Truth”. Carrier declares that “I do not agree with all the theories of either Salm, Kennard, or Laupot”, which makes sense, given they are all mutually exclusive. But he decides, despite this, that “their arguments on this point are correct”. So apparently it does not matter which of these very different ideas is correct in detail, because it seems the fact that these and other “possibilities” merely exist is enough to convince Carrier that the word was originally a title and not a place name. It seems none of them has to actually be fully convincing for Carrier – the fact that the three of them all indicate the conclusion he likes (in totally contradictory ways) is somehow enough. Carrier’s work is full of breezy but incoherent arguments like this. Nazareth is made easier to remove from the many gospel references to it if, as Kennard and others have argued, you decide it is all derived from gMark. If the writer of that text came up with the whole idea that this “Nazarene” title meant “from Nazareth” and the other gospels simply repeated and expanded this idea, we have a single point of origin for the whole concept. Some go further than Kennard and argue that not even gMark depicted Jesus as coming from Nazareth and that the only passage that says this – Mark 1:9 (“[i]n those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee”) is somehow an interpolation. Elsewhere gMark only refers to Jesus using a title – e.g. “Nazarene” in Mark 1:24 – which is not a reference to this town at all, as per the various arguments above. The episode where he visits his “home town/home country” in Mark 6:1-5 does not actually name the town in the original Marcan version. Furthermore, as Kennard and a few earlier scholars argue, the Marcan narrative seems to depict Jesus’ home as being Capernaum, not Nazareth at all. Of course, Kennard was no Mythicist, makes several arguments in his works that assumes a historical Jesus much as the gospels describe him and in his paper on Capernaum as Jesus’ home town even makes a wry aside about “the Christ-myth school” (p. 132), but Mythicism is substantially cobbled together out of arguments by scholars who fully accept a historical Jesus. So Mythicists press into service some of Kennard’s arguments that Jesus actually came from Capernaum. He notes Capernaum is referred to as “his own city” (Matt 9:1) and claims Matt 17:24 means Jesus paid a poll tax there. He notes that “the house” in Mark 2:1 and 9:33 is in Capernaum and says that there is evidence the sermon he preached in his “home town” was actually in Capernaum, not Nazareth. Mythicists who use these arguments place great emphasis on Mark 2:1: When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. (my emphasis) So, it is argued, originally there was no association of Jesus with Nazareth, this was invented out of an earlier title that had nothing to do with his home town and his home town was originally depicted as being Capernaum, with Nazareth as a later accretion. But there are many, many problems with this tangled line of reasoning. To begin with, the claim that the whole idea that Jesus came from Nazareth derives from gMark – or, more specifically, from the single explicit reference to Jesus coming “from Nazareth of Galilee” in Mark 1:9 – depends on none of the references to Jesus being from Nazareth in the other three gospels being independent of gMark. Pretty much all critical scholars acknowledge that the three synoptic gospels are interdependent, with most accepting gMark as the earliest of the three and the one the other two used as their major source. But most scholars accept the “Two Source Hypothesis” which notes material independent of gMark in the other two synoptics (the Q, L and M material). Then there is the whole of gJohn, which could be very lightly influenced by gMark, written by someone who perhaps knew gMark (or one or more synoptic gospels) or was perhaps wholly independent of it. Mythicists, of course, tend to think all of the other three gospels are wholly derived from gMark, but there are many reasons not to think so. If there are independent elements in the other three gospels that contain references to Jesus being from Nazareth and which are not derived from gMark – and most scholars believe there are – then the idea this concept is wholly derived from one reference in gMark founders. The hypothesis that the reference to Jesus coming from Nazareth in Mark 1:9 is actually based on an interpolated verse has problems as well. There are no manuscript variants which do not contain this verse or which contain some other version of it that does not mention Jesus coming from Nazareth. This means the idea that Mark 1:9 is a later interpolation to bring gMark into line with the other synoptics depicting Jesus as being from Nazareth has no textual basis and so is tenuous to begin with. Many of those who argue for the interpolation of Mark 1:9 fall back on noting the “anarthrous use” of the name “Jesus” (Ἰησοῦς) in this text: i.e it is used without an article. This makes it highly distinctive in gMark, given that in the 82 uses of the name “Jesus” in that gospel, only eight are anarthrous and there are grammatical or textual reasons for the other seven instances. However, there are alternatives to the idea that this distinctive form of the name indicates a later interpolation. It is not just the name “Jesus” that is anarthrous in Mark 1:9 but also that of “John” (Ἰωάννου), and many commentators (e.g. E.P. Gould, C.E.B. Cranfield, R.T. France, Joel Marcus) note that this text is notably Semitic in its syntax. Given that Hebrew names do not take an article, the anarthrous usages could indicate a Semitic precursor to this part of gMark. Robert A. Guelich’s recent commentary concludes this passage “stems from pre-Marcan tradition” and notes: The anarthrous use of “Jesus” and “John”, the absolute use of “the Spirit” and the reference to “the Jordan” stand in contrast to similar uses in 1:4-8 and suggest that this traditional unit existed separately from that behind 1:4-8. …. The evidence indicates that the evangelist brought this unit into conjunction with 1:2b-8 to form his prologue under the heading of 1:1-3. (Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, Volume 34A , 2018) So a much better interpretation of the anarthrous use of “Jesus” here is not that it represents a later interpolation, but rather the integration of a much earlier stratum of tradition. Which anchors the reference to Jesus’ origin in Nazareth even more firmly. The claim that, minus the 1:9 reference, the Marcan Jesus is depicted as being from Capernaum rather than Nazareth is even weaker. Kennard sees remnants of this in Matt 9:1’s reference to Capernaum as Jesus’ “own city” ( ἰδίαν πόλιν), but this only refers to the fact that Jesus is depicted as living there for a while, not that it was his original town of origin. Even more tenuous is Kennard’s argument that the fact the temple tax collectors come to Peter in Capernaum and ask “does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” ( Matt 17:24 ) somehow means (i) he paid it in Capernaum and so (ii) he was from that town originally, neither of which follow at all. Mark 2:1 and 9:33 refer to Jesus being (in many translations) “at home” in Capernaum. But the key phrases here simply means “in the house” (ἐν οἴκῳ/ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ), not that it is his house, let alone that this means Capernaum is his town of origin. And the context makes it clear that this is not his house at all – it is that of Peter. Mark 1:21 has Jesus, the sons of Zebedee and Peter arrive in Capernaum and then Jesus preaches in the synagogue (v. 21-22), where he exorcises a demoniac (v. 23-28). They then go to a house that is specified as being “the house of Simon (Peter) and Andrew” (v. 29) where he heals Peter’s mother in law (v. 30-32) and many others who “gathered around the door” (v. 33). The next morning he gets up and goes to a “deserted place” to pray (v. 34) and then travels with Peter and the others around Galilee, before returning to Capernaum (2:1). It is as this point he is described as being found to be “at home” or rather “in the house”. Whose house? Given that he had clearly stayed at Peter’s house between v. 34 and v. 35 it would be very odd for it to be his own house, especially in a tiny town like Capernaum. So “the house” of Mark 2:1 and 9:33 is most obviously Peter’s. The idea that it is somehow the house of Jesus ignores all this context – gMark’s Jesus is a guest in Capernaum, not a permanent resident. Nazareth, Nazarites, Nazir, Netzer etc. So Mythicists try to dispose of the explicit Marcan reference to Jesus’ origin in Nazareth at Mark 1:9, often claiming that he was originally depicted as coming from Capernaum, with Nazareth a later accretion in the other three gospels and so not something historical. But what about all the other Marcan references to “Jesus of Nazareth” (e.g. Mark 1:24; 10:47; 14:67 or 16:6)? These, they claim, are not gentilics (i.e. references to his town of origin) but originally titles that refer to other things, not to his home town. gMark uses forms of the word Ναζαρηνός (Nazarénos) in the examples above, and we also find this form in gLuke (see Luke 4:34 and 24:19). gMatt uses forms of Ναζωραῖος (Nazóraios), but both are generally translated as “the Nazarene” or simply as “of Nazareth” since they are interpreted as gentilics – much like Μαγδαληνή (Magdalene, of Magdala) or Κυρηναῖος (of Cyrene). But Mythicists use various arguments to claim that these cannot be gentilics and so have to be titles that do not refer to his town of origin at all. They claim there are insurmountable etymological problems with deriving these words from Ναζαρέθ (Nazareth) and so they must originally be derived from something else. This argument was first used by non-Mythicists like Kennard, who refers to it in the beginning of his “Capernaum” article cited above: The tradition that Jesus lived at one time in Nazareth rests upon a misinterpretation of the term ‘Nazorean’ which, as is commonly recognized today, is not derived from “Nazareth”. The city name would have yielded something like ‘Nazarethenos’, ‘Nazarethanos’ or ‘Nazarethaios’Kennard, p. 131 But Kennard was corrected on this point in the same journal a few months later when W.F. Albright took issue with his blithe assurance that this “is commonly recognised today” noting: The ordinary reader of [Kennard’s] paper will certainly take for granted that “Nazorean” (Ναζωραῖος) is, “as commonly recognized today, . . not derived from ‘Nazareth'”. This statement is, however, misleading, since the overwhelming majority of the scholars who have expressed themselves on the subject take just the opposite point of view.Albright, “The Names ‘Nazareth’ and ‘Nazorean'” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 65, No. 4 (Dec., 1946), pp. 397-401 Albright goes on to present several pages of linguistic analysis drawing on Aramaic and Arabic examples that show that not only can “Nazorean” be derived from “Nazareth”, but this is actually highly plausible. In his reply (“Nazorean and Nazareth”, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Mar., 1947), pp. 79-81), Kennard has to concede that he overstated the case and that “Nazorean” can indeed be derived from “Nazareth”, though he disagrees that this is the most plausible derivation. He then falls back on other, non-linguistic arguments to make that case. One of these is an argument that has been taken up by Mythicists – “[r]eligious movements do not, as a rule, take their names from the birthplace of their founder” (Kennard, p. 79). The problem here is that religious movements take their names (or are given names by others) from all kinds of things, including their founder’s name (“Manicheanism” from its founding prophet Mani), a name or title of its focus (“Rastafarianism” from a title of its Messiah Haile Selassie or, for that matter, “Christianity”), an attribute of the practitioners (the “Quakers”) or placenames (the “Albigensians” from the town of Albi or the “Bogomils” from their origins in Bulgaria). So there is no “rule” when it comes to how these names are derived. That aside, it actually does make perfect sense that the Jesus sect came to be named after the element of his name which was most distinctive. “Yeshua” (Jesus) was, after all, the sixth most common Jewish men’s name in the first century AD. This is why a gentilic (“of Nazareth”) would have been useful to differentiate him from all the many other Galilean men called Jesus and why that gentilic was the distinctive element in his name that attached itself to his sect. So the sect is not actually named after his hometown – at least not directly. It is named after the founder by reference to his gentilic. Many Mythicists also make much of the fact that the words Ναζαρηνός (Nazarénos, as per gMark and gLuke) and Ναζωραῖος (Nazóraios, used in gMatt) both contain the Greek letter zeta (ζ), whereas the Hebrew or Aramaic place we call “Nazareth” would have contained the Hebrew letter tsade (צ) which should be transliterated by the Greek letter sigma (σ). So, they argue, these words must derive from something other than the name “Nazareth”. Most who make this argument plump for some form of the Hebrew word nazir meaning “separated” or “consecrated” and referring to a “holy one”. Others prefer some derivation of the Hebrew nêtser meaning “a branch or shoot” as a reference to Isaiah 11:1 and the Messiah as the descendant or “shoot” of the house of Jesse and David. Either way, they argue that the zeta in these words shows they are titles of some kind and not derived from “Nazareth” at all. The problem here is there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how Semitic words and place-names were transliterated into Greek. It is certainly true that a tsade would usually be written as a sigma, but we have sufficient examples of it being transliterated as a zeta to make any argument based on some rigid rule here too weak to hold any weight. In Judges 8 the name of the Midianite king Zalmunna has his name transliterated with a sigma in the Septuagint, but with a zeta in Josephus. Ditto for the place-name Zoar in Genesis 13:10 and the cliff called Bozez in 1Samuel 14:4. Just to further illustrate the lack of total consistency on this point: in Genesis 22.21 we have Uz and Buz – the Septuagint uses a zeta and Josephus uses both a zeta in the first word and a sigma in the second. So the words Ναζαρηνός and Ναζωραῖος could be written with a zeta because there simply was no consistency. Or it could reflect a regional peculiarity in Galilean pronunciation. After all, when the gospels do refer to the town we have no less than three versions of its name, each with a slightly different ending: Ναζαρέθ (Nazareth – in Matt 21:11; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:4; Luke 2:39; Luke 2:51 and Acts 10:38), Ναζαρά (Nazara – in Matt 4:13 and Luke 4:16) and Ναζαρέτ (Nazaret – in Mark 1:9; Matt 2:23; John 1:45 and John 1:46); one with the more voiced ending, one without it and one with a harder stop. The English place-name “Launceston” can be pronounced “LAWN-ceston”, or “LON-ceston” or even “LONS’ton” depending on who is saying it. How would a Chinese speaker transliterate this name? And would their version be completely consistent with other, similar names with similar spelling but differing regional pronunciations? Probably not. Again, the arguments used by the Mythicists are not robust enough to sustain their conclusions. Another line of argument says that we can detect that the term Ναζαρηνός in gMark is not a gentilic by reference to its use in the first miracle story, where the word seems to be powerfully talismanic title or word of power which is recognised by the demon cast out by Jesus in Mark 1:21-28. This was argued by the French (non-Mythicist) scholar Charles Guignebert (1867-1939) in his 1933 work Jésus, where he notes that the demoniac in the Mark 1 story asks: “What have you to do with us, Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” ( Mark 1:24 ) Guignebert points to the parallel between this and the cry of another possessed man in Mark 5: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (Mark 5:7) Guignebert argues from this parallel: If we compare [these passages] …. we shall notice: first, that the expression, “Son of the most high God,” stands in the same place in the second passage as “the Nazarene” does in the first, and seems to be equivalent to it; second, that “the Holy One of God” and “the Son of God” express similar conceptions, which shows that the former is simply an expansion of “the Nazarene”.Guignebert, p. 83 Guignebert makes some similar arguments about other uses of the word “Nazarene”, such as in John 18:4-5 where the guards are asked by Jesus who they are looking for and reply “Jesus the Nazarene” and then fall to the ground when Jesus says “I am [he]”. So Guignebert claims these examples show that there must have been much more to this word than the designation of his original home town. But, again, this argument is far too tenuous to carry sufficient weight. The parallel formulations in Mark 1:24 and 5:7 have the demons effectively saying “What do you want with us? Leave us alone!” – the same reaction from similar beings to the same situation. It is a stretch to argue that “Nazarene” in the first passage is somehow the “equivalent” to “Son of the most high God”, given that the demons in the first example go on to say “I know who you are, the Holy One of God”. This indicates that “Nazarene” did not have this meaning at all, otherwise this second statement would be fairly redundant. The John 18 example is similarly weak, since it is the fact that Jesus replies with the divine assertion “I am” (Ἐγώ εἰμι) – a repeated element in gJohn – that elicits their stunned reaction, not the fact that he said he was Jesus the Nazarene. The overarching problem with all of these attempts at making the references to Nazareth go away and the variants of the term “Nazarene” mean something else is that none of them are sufficiently compelling to unseat the generally accepted readings. As ever, Mythicists have roamed the well-ploughed field of New Testament Studies and found some bits and pieces of ideas that can be cobbled together to fit their agenda, but there are solid reasons none of these fringe ideas and obscure speculations have been accepted. In the final analysis, even the most sceptical critical scholars find this idea that the Nazareth element is a later accretion or some kind of misreading of something else uncompelling. Yet again, the only reason Mythicists find them convincing is because they need to prop up their contrived theory with whatever then can find. A few, however, go much further than the fringe ideas above. They do not just argue Jesus’ origin in Nazareth is a later addition to the story and so not a historical element. They argue that it cannot be historical because Nazareth itself, like Jesus, never existed. And to do this they make some brave and radical forays into archaeology. The Piano Man While there has been some previous questioning about the existence of Nazareth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the embrace of this idea by many of the current crop of Mythicists is largely due to the work of one writer: a composer and retired piano teacher and tuner from Eugene, Oregon, named René Salm. According to his own account, Salm is a remarkable figure. Not only is he a published composer of classical piano pieces and a concert-quality pianist, but he is also apparently a “mental health professional” and “a linguist who commands many ancient and modern languages” who somehow manages to live “without need of car or television”. What Salm is not, however, is an archaeologist. Despite his manifold talents, he has no training in archaeology, has no qualification or academic publications in that field and has never excavated anywhere. But, with all the confidence of the autodidact, he has certainly not let this deter him. He recounts that he began his delving into the archaeology of Nazareth as a result of his interests in religious history and the study of Christian origins. He was motivated by an online discussion to seek out the archaeological evidence that Jesus’ home town existed, expecting to find this easily. But, he says, he was startled to find the evidence was thin and unconvincing. This began what he reports as a 16 year process of researching and writing his book The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus (American Atheist Press, 2008). For those who are not invested enough in this topic to buy and read Salm’s book (375 pages, with extensive footnotes, an eight page bibliography and no less than seven appendices), Salm gives an accessible summary of his arguments in this 2016 YouTube interview: His book was very well-received by a certain kind of audience. Former American Atheists president Frank Zindler was extremely impressed, declaring that Christian apologists would be out of work “unless they can disprove this book – or find a way to suppress it”, he wrote dramatically. Then again, given that Zindler was Salm’s editor and publisher, he was hardly going to talk it down. Equally impressed by fellow Jesus Mythicist and maverick New Testament scholar Robert Price, who gushed to Salm that “I …. can’t wait to see the pathetic attempts to reply!”. Zindler and Price did not have to wait too long to see replies, though they were not by newly unemployed Christian apologists, but by archaeologists. In 2007 the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society had published “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report” by S. Pfann, R. Voss, Y. Rapuano ( vol. 25 (2007) pp. 19-79 ). Salm had written a detailed response disputing their findings, so the Bulletin published this in the next volume of the journal, along with a reply to Salm by Pfann and Rapuano. The editors also asked British archaeologist Ken Dark, who had excavated at Nazareth and knew the sites there well, to read and review what the journal’s editorial called “Salm’s controversial book”. Dark was not impressed with the piano tuner’s work. After five pages of detailed criticisms, Dark’s review concludes: [D]espite initial appearances, this is not a well-informed study and ignores much evidence and important published work of direct relevance.The basic premise is faulty, and Salm’s reasoning is often weak and shaped by his preconceptions. Overall, his central argument is archaeologically unsupportable.“Review: Salm, R The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus (K. Dark) ” Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, vol. 26 (2008) pp. 140-145) Pfann and Rapuano were similarly unimpressed with both Salm’s criticisms of their work and with his book: Salm’s personal evaluation of the pottery, which he rehearses from his book The Nazareth Myth, reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources. By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, and his recent book must, in itself, be relegated to the realm of ‘myth’. By upholding the idea of a myth, Salm has created a myth himself. “On the Nazareth Village Farm Report: A Reply to Salm”, pp. 105-108 Despite Salm’s claims that archaeologists have somehow avoided his work or ignored him, specialists in the very archaeology he focuses on assessed his book as soon as it was published and found it flawed, tendentious and unconvincing. Like all such amateur enthusiasts, Salm has rejected the experts’ opinion and even concocted increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories to explain why these foolish archaeologists will not acknowledge the obvious correctness and manifest brilliance of his ideas. But it does not take much critical analysis to see why their rejection of his thesis is completely justified. As already noted, Salm has no archaeological training at all. He has never excavated anywhere and has certainly never excavated at Nazareth – a site which, as far as can be made out, he seems to have only ever visited as a tourist. His “methodology” consists entirely of an armchair critique of the work of actual archaeologists, by which he claims to sustain the following thesis: that ancient Nazareth was inhabited prior to the Assyrian Conquest, but the valley was then abandoned for centuries and only settled “towards the end of the first century of our era, following the momentous cataclysm of the First Jewish War” (Salm, The Myth of Nazareth, p. 207). This means there could not have been any “Jesus of Nazareth” because Nazareth did not exist until decades after the time in which Jesus was supposed to have lived. Actual archaeologists, however, say that Nazareth was not only consistently inhabited but was also very much inhabited in the Hellenic, Hasmonean and Early Roman Periods – in other words, the first two centuries BC and the first half of the first century AD. So Salm goes to great lengths to “show” how these archaeologists are all wrong. Indeed, not just wrong but also foolish, incompetent and, perhaps, deceitful or even outright liars and frauds. And he does this all from the comfort of an armchair in Eugene, Oregon. For example, Salm makes a great deal of the fact that several lamps discovered in Nazareth have been claimed to be “Hellenic” or “Herodian” in date but are actually “Middle Roman” (i.e. post-70 AD) at the earliest. Therefore, he argues, these lamps cannot be evidence Nazareth was inhabited in the early first century; the time of Jesus. The so-called “Herodian lamps” or “bow-spouted lamps” are noted by archaeologists to be clear indications that the valley was inhabited in precisely the period Salm’s theory needs to avoid. No less than fourteen of these lamps have been found. Two of them were found in one tomb about 320 meters south-west of the Church of the Annunciation, and they can be seen in the photo below: Six lamps from Tomb 72, with the bow-spouted examples at bottom left and bottom right But Salm insists that these lamps are not as early most archaeologists claim. Back in the 1960s archaeologists considered this distinctively Jewish style of artefact to begin appearing as early as 75 BC. More recent work has brought that forward and Salm quotes Varda Sussman dating their first appearance to “the reign of King Herod” (i.e. 37-4 BC) and then in a later article two years afterward revising this, saying “Recent archaeological evidence suggests that their first appearance was somewhat later, after the reign of Herod” (Sussman, “Lighting the Way Through History”, Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 1985). The only problem here is that this estimate of this kind of lamp’s inception, which is the latest Salm can find in the literature, still doesn’t help him, because it actually places this kind of lamp right in the middle of the very period he desperately needs to avoid – the early First Century AD. But Salm is nothing if not resourceful: Thus, we can now date the first appearance of the bow-spouted lamp in Jerusalem to c. 1-25 CE. Because a few years must be allowed for the spread of the type to rural villages of the north, c. 15-c. 40 CE is the earliest probable time for the appearance of this type in Southern Galilee. Accordingly, we shall adopt 25 CE as the terminus post quem for the bow-spouted oil lamp at Nazareth. (Salm, 2008, pp 168-69) By this bit of fancy-footwork, Salm manages to take Sussman’s “somewhat later, after the reign of Herod”, tack on a whole quarter of a century to get these lamps a mere 150 kilometres north to southern Galilee and thus at least edge the terminus post quem for these artefacts a bit further away from the time of Jesus. Exactly how he came up with the figure of 25 years or why it would take 25 years for a lamp which became common precisely because it was so easy to make to spread a couple of days walk northwards he never bothers to explain. It is by this kind of sleight of hand that Salm shapes the evidence to fit his assumed conclusion throughout his work. He does something similar with the many tombs found around the site where ancient Nazareth seems to have been. Most of these tombs are kokhim – a Jewish form of rock-hewn chamber tombs where long, narrow burial shafts radiate from a central nave which has a single entrance. Kokhim of this kind date from as early as 200 BC, but Salm insists that while they were used this early elsewhere in Palestine, they only came to be used in Galilee much later. For this he depends heavily on a single quote from German archaeologist Hans-Peter Kuhnen in his Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit (München: C.H. Beck, 1990). There Kuhnen discusses the origin and spread of kokhim in Palestine, appearing under the Hasmoneans and coming to dominate the style of tombs around Jerusalem by the time of Herod. He goes on to say (in Salm’s translation): Apparently only later, from approximately the middle of the first century after Christ, did people begin to build kokh tombs in other upland regions of Palestine, as seen in Galilee at Huqoq, Meron, H. Sema and H. Usa.(Kuhnen, p. 254, in Salm, p.159) Salm concludes from this that “kokh tomb use spreads to Galilee only after c. 50 CE” (p. 159), which he feels pushes the dates of the tombs in the Nazareth valley safely away from the period his theory needs to avoid. But Kuhnen does not say that they did not reach Galilee until around the mid century: he specifies the “mountain regions of Palestine” (“Bergregionen Palästinas” in Kuhnen’s original German) and then gives examples of sites from the very north of Upper Galilee, in the mountains close to the modern Lebanon border and far from the lowland region in which Nazareth sits. Salm chooses to ignore where the illustrative examples Kuhnen are, translates ” Bergregionen” as “upland” rather than “mountainous regions” or “mountain regions” (because the low-lying Nazareth region is not remotely “mountainous”) and so decides Kuhnen is saying kokhim did not reach Galilee generally – lower or upper – until “c. 50 CE”. Once again, he twists the scholarship and so shapes the evidence to fit his conclusion. He also depends on his dubious and contrived later dating of the bow-shaped lamps found in several of these tombs to reinforce the idea that the Nazareth kokhim somehow “must” be mid century at earliest. Finally, he ignores the fact that kokhim were expensive to build and so are high status tombs. They are not the kind of tombs we would expect to find until a settlement had become well-established and built up a higher social echelon wealthy enough to commission this kind of structure. So the kokhim imply an earlier period of settlement that pre-dates their establishment. However you look at it, Salm’s attempts at making the kokhim fit with his post-70 AD date for habitation in Nazareth is, again, strained and contrived. The Great Nazareth Conspiracy! Of course, any argument based on an absence of evidence runs into a problem any time new evidence appears. After a reported 16 years labouring on The Myth of Nazareth, Salm must have been startled to read, around the time his opus went to press, the previously mentioned 61 page report of new finds from the “Nazareth Farm” area by Pfann, Voss and Rapuano. Not surprisingly, Salm was stirred to find ways to counter this evidence that punctured his thesis – thus his nine page critique in the next edition of the Bulletin (Salm, “A Response to ‘Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997-2002): Final Report'”, Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society , vol. 26 (2008) pp. 95-103 ). The “Final Report” article had detailed numerous finds of ceramic shards in an extensive appendix by Jewish archaeologist and ancient ceramics expert Yehuda Rapuano, including finds from the Hellenic and Early Roman Eras. Ten pages of the 61 page archaeological report detail the finds from a number of sites, giving diagrammatic drawings of many and assessments of the nature of the (usually) fragmentary items and estimates of their date provenance. This is all standard stuff as any archaeologist would expect to find in any peer-reviewed journal report of this kind. Rapuano notes that the finds ranged from a single potsherd from an Early Bronze Age III Period platter (an intrusive incidental find, since there is no other indication of settlement on the site in that period) up to an entirely intact “Black Gaza Ware” bowl from the Ottoman Period. Rapuano summarised the finds saying: The earliest occupation seems to have occurred in the late Hellenistic period of the first and second centuries BC. Examples dating to this period were primarily the jar and jug sherds discovered in Area B-1. A single jug base of this period was also found in Area A-2 (Fig. 38.5). The horizontal handle of the krater (Fig. 38:6) may derive from this period as well. A small amount of material dated to the Early Roman period of the first century BC to first century AD was found in Areas A-1, A-2 and C-1. The best represented pottery at the site was dated from the Late Roman to the early Byzantine period of the third to fourth or fifth centuries AD. The only area in which pottery from this period was not found was Area B-1. (Rapuano, p. 69) Again, this is all standard stuff with appropriately cautious language in places (“may derive from this period as well”) and a clear indication of the relative volumes and general distributions of the finds. The problem for Salm is the detailing of Hellenistic and Early Roman period finds in areas B-1, A-1, A-2 and C-1 of the dig, which according to his armchair theory should not be there. Rapuano then goes on over the following pages to detail the finds from each location on the site. For example: Fig. 38:3 is the folded, everted rim and short, cylindrical neck of a storage jar that may date to the Herodian period, and Fig. 38:4 is the rim of a storage jar of the Late Hellenistic period. The base of a jug, Fig. 38:5, could date either to the late Hellenistic or Early Roman period. (Rapuano, p. 71) Again, Rapuano expresses himself with the usual caution required of a professional archaeologist, while at the same time giving his trained assessment of their dating provenance. Even excluding finds where Rapuano’s date range estimates cover the early first century AD but extend into later periods, there are no less than 20 finds in his report that he judged to be from the period in which the piano teacher Salm claims there was no settlement there. So how does Salm deal with all this? Badly. Given that he has no training in the discipline and so has never analysed an artefact in his life, he can hardly dispute Rapuano’s assessment. And he has never even seen the finds in question and only seems to have visited Nazareth once as a tourist. So he is reduced to nitpicking. He leaps on what he claims is evidence of incompetence, saying the report’s authors give two different dates for the same artefact. Actually, as Pfann and Rapuano were later able to confirm, the mistake was made by the article’s editors – they simply mislabelled a diagram drawing of the find. Apart from this Salm has pretty much got nothing. Faced with multiple finds at several locations on the site, all from the very periods he claims Nazareth was uninhabited, he simply declares the archaeologists wrong on the weird grounds that only 15 of the finds in the report are noted with a typological parallel. Rapuano refers to examples in Adan-Bayewitz’s Common Pottery in Roman Galilee (1993) in several places, but Salm declares that because he doesn’t do this for all the finds (which is in no way standard in any archaeological report), his estimates can be rejected: “Put bluntly, the NVF evidence for Nazareth in the time of Jesus rests on no more than Y. Rapuano’s opinion.”(Salm, Scandal 5: The Nazareth Village Farm Put bluntly, this is ludicrous. The appendix is by a qualified archaeologist who is an acknowledged expert in identifying and dating ceramics from this period and which has been published in a peer-reviewed journal of archaeology which is used by other qualified experts. It is absolutely standard in the way it reports the finds and that supposedly mere “opinion” is exactly the opinion that counts – one by an expert who has excavated many sites and reported many, many other such finds in precisely this way. To dismiss the “opinion” of a qualified expert is breathtaking. Whose opinions are we meant to rely on then? It seems the armchair pontificating from a piano player from Oregon is the only opinion that matters, according to Salm. The blithe arrogance here is as astounding as it is ridiculous. But still more evidence was to emerge. In his response to Pfann, Voss and Rapuano’s “Final Report” article, Salm expressed great scepticism about their reference to how 165 coins found by Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexandre at a site at Mary’s Well in Nazareth had included “a few Hellenistic, Hasmonaean [and] Early Roman … coins”. Salm responded: The above statement is remarkable to me, because in 2006 Ms. Alexandre graciously shared with me a pre-publication copy of her official [Israeli Antiquities Authority] report on the excavation at Mary’s Well. As I write these lines that short report is before me, and it contains no mention of ‘165 coins’ nor of coins from Hellenistic or Hasmonaean times. …. Certainly, it is difficult to believe that such significant evidence as coins from the Hellenistic, Hasmonaean, and Early Roman periods (incidentally, not otherwise attested in the Nazareth basin) was subsequently divulged to the authors of the [Nazareth Village Farm Report], but escaped the official IAA report. (Salm, “A Response”, 100) Salm’s comment here ignores the fact that the brief summary Alexandre was kind enough to share with him via email in 2006 was just that: a summary. He also neglects to notice that her summary actually did refer to some “worn coins”, which were the very coins he claims she neglected to mention. In their response in the 2008 Bulletin, Pfann and Rapuano replied that the “remarkable statement” that Salm found so “difficult to believe” was actually provided to them by Alexandre herself – archaeologists tend to co-operate much more closely with each other than with random piano tuners. But Salm could not imagine that what Alexandre had shared with a stranger in response to an unsolicited email request may not have been the full story. So he descended into conspiracy theory. On his website he declared himself “flabbergasted” at Pfann and Rapuano’s reference to her finding coins from the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and Early Roman periods and at their revelation that Alexandre herself had given them the very paragraph he objected to. Why would she have not told him about these coins? Why, if they were using her words, did they not use quotation marks? Why were they referring to coins from another site in Nazareth at all? His conclusion? The whole thing is a fraud cooked up by Pfann, Rapuano and Alexandre, exposed by the intrepid René Salm – the Hercule Poirot of Nazareth archaeology! Except Salm was completely wrong. At the end of his web article in which he uncovered this wicked plot Salm concluded: Alexandre herself has been reported to claim that her original IAA notice was not definitive and omitted critical Jesus-era evidence—yet she refuses to set the record straight via publication. “Refuses”! Unfortunately for Salm and other lovers of the dramatic, the truth was simply that the wheels of editing and publication in archaeology turn slowly and, in 2012 Alexandre published the full report on the site (Alexandre, Mary’s Well, Nazareth. The Late Hellenistic to the Ottoman Periods, Jerusalem, IAA Reports 49), complete with a whole chapter on the coins found there by numismatist Ariel Berman. Salm had been tripped up by reality again. But cranks like Salm are indefatigable. He now produced a second book, with the luridly tabloid title NazarethGate: Quack Archaeology, Holy Hoaxes and the Invented Town of Jesus (American Atheist Press, 2015), that purported to expose a vast conspiracy involving the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Pfann, Rapuano, New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, Alexandre and a cast of dozens of other fraudsters. Now that his attempts at depicting the coins as non-existent had totally failed, Salm had to find a way to dismiss their dating to the periods that did not fit his theory. So he contacted the Israeli Antiquities Authority requesting “photos of all of the “Hellenistic” coins” (NazarethGate, p.297). Given that they did not have photos of all the coins in question and would have to have them made, Salm entered into “a considerable amount of negociation [sic]” to badger them into producing photos of four of the coins. And then decided, on receiving them, that “the coins are far too worn and pitted to ascertain even the crudest design feature. These bronze coins could be from any era” (NazarethGate, p. 298). Of course, this is an amateur with no training in numismatics working purely from some photos of a few of the coins and, from the comfort of his armchair, second-guessing the expert opinion of a well-known expert in the coins of this period who had not only examined these artefacts with a trained eye, but (unlike Salm) did so with the actual coins in his hands, taking into account weight, size and fine features that would not be discernible via a photo alone. So we are meant to conclude that (a) Berman is a total incompetent, (b) Berman is another fraud and part of the vast “NazarethGate” conspiracy or (c) Salm is just biased, unreliable, inexpert and wrong. That is not a difficult choice to make. But Salm had more problems. In 2009 press reports emerged about the discovery of a house in Nazareth which seemed to date from the early first century (see, for example, “Nazareth dwelling discovery may shed light on boyhood of Jesus”, Guardian, Dec 22, 2009). Yet again archaeologists had found something that did not fit Salm’s theory and it was Salm’s new nemesis Alexandre who featured in the news reports. Salm’s armchair investigations swung into action again and it was not long before he was able to confidently dismiss the dating of the structure and also decide that it was a “winemaking installation” and not a house at all (see NazarethGate, pp.178-245). The archaeologists were all wrong, yet again, Salm had exposed their wicked deceptions, yet again. Or so he insisted. In an interesting sequel to Salm’s confident armchair critiques, an American Christian with an interest in archaeology named Jim Joyner became aware of Salm’s books. He had visited Israel several times and got to know Dr Mordechai (“Motti”) Aviam – the leading expert in the archaeology of Roman Era Galilee. He introduced Aviam to Salm’s claims about Nazareth and eventually co-ordinated an email correspondence between Aviam, Salm and Salm’s publisher, American Atheists’ Frank Zindler. In a comment on Bart Ehrman’s blog, Joyner relates what happened next: Motti tried to address Salm’s criticisms of archaeological knowledge about 1st century Nazareth, especially the Nazareth residence discovered in 2009. …. Motti offered to Salm to go to the site, meet with the IAA excavator, review the finds and report back. Motti did what he promised, noted the fragments of Hellenistic and ER pottery, including fragments of small stone vessels. He came back and said there was no doubt about the early date of the residence. They questioned Motti’s comments with some strained arguments, and Motti responded (paraphrase): your conclusion is influenced by your atheistic beliefs … we don’t do science that way! This is where the discussion ended. (I should note here that I contacted Joyner directly to confirm this is what happened and I then contacted Dr. Aviam, who also confirmed these events.) This is quite remarkable. Here is the leading authority on Roman Galilee actually going to the site in question and confirming that it is, in fact, an Early Roman Era house and what do Salm and Zindler do? The piano tuner and the biology teacher tell the expert archaeologist that HE is wrong. These people are total fanatics. As ever with these obsessive cranks, it would take two books longer than both of Salm’s to debunk everything he says and point out all the leaps of logic or loaded assumptions and other sleight of hand tricks that pad out his armchair critiques. When he was merely nitpicking at the evidence in his first book he was simply being the standard kind of amateur crackpot. But as more and more evidence overtook that approach, Salm has tipped over into full conspiracy theorist. It is not too remarkable that someone like Salm exists or even that he can get his stuff into print – there will always be an audience for this crank material. What is remarkable is the eagerness with which some people who claim to be rationalists lap up his kooky stuff. Prominent sceptic and debunker of frauds, James “the Amazing” Randi, has enthusiastically endorsed Salm, uncritically parroting his arguments and dismissing the (mostly Jewish) archaeologists as Christian apologists. But not all of the usual suspects find Salm convincing. To his credit, notorious Mythicist Richard Carrier is not convinced by Salm’s work – which is remarkable, given that he usually boosts and justifies any argument that helps his Mythicist apologism. If even Carrier considers this thesis to be dubious nonsense, it really is a stinker. The fact is that all the evidence indicates that Nazareth did exist in the early first century, the gospels did depict Jesus as being from Nazareth and this fact was awkward for the gospel writers in several ways. Jesus’ origin in Nazareth therefore appears to be highly likely to be a historical element in his story and not something added to it later on. The historical Jesus was most likely from the small town of Nazareth. The post Jesus Mythicism 5: The Nazareth “Myth” appeared first on History for Atheists.
How Do you Fix an Illicit Sacrament?
Q: I recently read your post titled “Can Catholics Marry in any Parish Church They Want?” To my dismay, I learned for the first time that if a wedding takes place outside the parish of residence, permission for the wedding … Continue reading → The post How Do you Fix an Illicit Sacrament? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Why Can’t an Ex-Catholic Marry Validly Outside the Church?
Q: Over ten years ago, there were two weddings of ex-Catholic friends outside the Church that I decided to attend, because I considered their membership in other Christian denominations to be a formal renunciation of the Church. I figured that … Continue reading → The post Why Can’t an Ex-Catholic Marry Validly Outside the Church? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
What Makes a Mass Invalid? (Part II)
Q: At Mass, one visiting priest, consistently and with full intention, refuses to elevate the Eucharist at the consecration, rather he offers it to the congregation. He says this is in line with the theology brought about by Vatican II; … Continue reading → The post What Makes a Mass Invalid? (Part II) appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Why Can’t an Ex-Catholic Marry Validly Outside the Church?
Q: Over ten years ago, there were two weddings of ex-Catholic friends outside the Church that I decided to attend, because I considered their membership in other Christian denominations to be a formal renunciation of the Church. I figured that … Continue reading → The post Why Can’t an Ex-Catholic Marry Validly Outside the Church? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.