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.
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.
What Makes a Mass Invalid? (Part I)
Q1: My book-study group started talking about what constitutes a valid Mass. One person is under the impression that as long as the consecration is completed properly, the Mass would be valid. Another person suggested that even if a part … Continue reading → The post What Makes a Mass Invalid? (Part I) appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
“Aron Ra” Gets Everything Wrong
Unfortunately the New Atheist activist who calls himself “Aron Ra” is all too typical of this kind of polemicist – he does not let his profound ignorance of history stop him from pontificating about it. In a recent debate he put this on full display, with a remarkable burst of pseudo historical gibberish proclaimed with supreme confidence and smug self-assurance. Yet virtually everything he said was wrong. L. Aron Nelson, the anti-theism activist who calls himself “Aron Ra”, has a YouTube channel and a blog he writes with his wife called “Reason Advocates”, both of which focus substantially on battling Creationism and other forms of fundamentalist nonsense. On matters scientific, Nelson seems pretty solid. When he turns to history, however, the results are truly woeful. As I have detailed in my critique of his garbled ideas about the historical Jesus, his understanding of New Testament studies and their historical contexts are most charitably described as both “minimal” and “confused”. But in April 2019 he took on Christian apologist Tyler Vela in a debate entitled “Has Christianity Historically Been in Conflict with Science?” and the centrepiece of his opening statement was a sustained piece of mangled nonsense presented as “history”. It is a remarkable example of what happens when someone with little to no grasp of the relevant material has read some stuff that he likes from fellow historically illiterate polemicists and decides to present it as fact. It is worth quoting in full before I take it apart. It begins at the 13.12 minute timestamp in the video above, though I have excluded a long account of Old Testament cosmology from 13.29 to 14.13 minutes, so as to focus on his claims about history: Within the spherical bubble of the firmament is a flat circle according to Isaiah 40:22 in which St. Augustine described as a disc suspended in the concavity of the heavens which the Bible describes as the expanse within that giant crystal dome [of] the firmament …. Augustine said that it was mere conjecture that there might be “antipodes” – meaning men who walked with their feet opposite ours – and the other side is [the] two-sided coin that he imagined our world to be according to Scripture. He said there was no reason to believe the fable that people lived on the other side of the world. But he said that six hundred years after Eratosthenes had already found that the world was round and gauged its circumference. So had Aristarchus other ancient Grecian scientists like Pythagoras; and Anaximander (?) and Aristotle had each followed different lines of evidence to the same conclusion. Yet even a couple centuries after St. Augustine, St. Procopius of Caesarea also expressed belief in a disc-world that the scriptures depict. He said if there be men on the other side of the earth Christ must have gone there and suffered a second time to save them and therefore there must have been as necessary preliminaries to his coming a duplicate Adam, Eve, serpent and deluge. So Procopius also imagined a two-sided coin, with our world on one side and a coin with our world on one side and a mirror image on the flip side.A few more centuries later the Christian monk and famous artist Hieronymus Bosch was still painting the earth as a flat disc within a transparent crystal ball even when Columbus was sailing to the new world proving the scriptural depiction wrong again. So Christianity was still promoting belief in a flat earth eighteen hundred years after science had already repeatedly shown that the earth is a sphere.But if you want even better examples of Christianity historically conflicting with science there are many. In the early 1500s Copernicus proposed the idea that the earth was not the centre of the universe as the Bible implied. The church condemned his theory as heretical, holding to the literal interpretation that the Sun is in heaven and turns around the earth with great speed and that the earth is very far from heaven and sits motionless at the centre of the world. Copernicus had already died in the same year that his theory was published before the church could catch him and kill him for contradicting them, but later that same century a Dominican monk named Giordano Bruno proposed another heretical hypothesis called “cosmic pluralism” – the idea that the stars were suns like our own, albeit much further away and that they might have their own planets and perhaps even life on them. So the church burned him at the stake.And somehow this didn’t stop his contemporary Galileo, the father of modern science, from further promoting heliocentrism with his astronomical observations. The church tried him for heresy too and forced him to recant – they forced him to lie about what he could show to be true and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Consider the Holy Inquisition words of judgement against Galileo in 1616: “The first proposition that the Sun is the centre and does not revolve about the earth is foolish, absurd, false in theology and heretical because it [is] expressly contrary to Holy Scripture. And the second proposition that the earth is not the centre but revolves about the Sun, is absurd, false in philosophy and, from a theological point of view at least opposed to the truth faith.” There’s no such thing as a true faith. Faith is convincing yourself of things that are not evidently true and then refusing to admit when you’re wrong. So, the Catholic Church stuck to this ruling until 1992. That’s 376 years of Christianity being increasingly conflicted with science on many different fronts. Wow. Where to begin? Augustine was a Flat Earther? The first historical claim Nelson makes is that “St. Augustine described [the earth] as a disc suspended in the concavity of the heavens”. This claim is startling to anyone who has actually read Augustine’s works, given that it is completely contradicted by what Augustine actually says about the shape of the earth. He was careful to warn Christians against making stupid claims about cosmology based purely on interpretations of the Bible and in contradiction of accepted natural philosophy: Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an unbeliever to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.(De genesi ad litteram, I.19) Here Augustine seems to be referring to the followers of the Antiochene school who upheld the fringe view of Diodore of Tarsus that the earth and sky had a kind of “tabernacle” shape, based largely on their reading of scriptures. Diodore seems to have inspired similar beliefs in John Chrysostom and, most famously, Cosmas Indicopleustes, who are among the few genuine flat earthers in the early Christian tradition. These Patristics were in the minority even in their own time and, contrary to the “medieval flat earth” myth Nelson is propagating in the video above, had no lasting influence in their Greek-speaking sphere and were totally unknown in the Latin west. Augustine, on the other hand, followed Basil of Caesarea and his own spiritual mentor Ambrose in arguing that a spherical earth and the accepted cosmology of the Platonic and Aristotelian conceptions of the world were entirely compatible with Christian exegesis. In places Augustine seems to speak about the sphericity of the earth as hypothetical, but in others he shows he himself understands it to be a sphere. For example: [D]uring the time when it is night with us the presence of light is illuminating those parts of the world past which the sun is returning from its setting to its rising, and … thus during the entire twenty-four hours, while it circles through its whole round, there is always day-time somewhere, night-time somewhere else. (De genesi ad litteram, I.10.21) And from elsewhere in the same work: Although water still covered all the earth, there was nothing to prevent the massive watery sphere from having day on one side by the presence of light, and on the other side, night by the absence of light. Thus, in the evening, darkness would pass to that side from which light would be turning to the other. (De genesi ad litteram, XXX.33) This only makes sense if Augustine is describing a spherical, geostatic earth of the kind detailed by Aristotle in On the Heavens and maintained by most (though, it should be noted, not all) ancient pagan scholars in the Greek tradition. So Augustine did accept that the earth was a sphere and was well aware of the arguments that supported this idea. This is why it is startling for anyone familiar with his works to hear Nelson claim Augustine “described [it] as a disc suspended in the concavity of the heavens”. Have all scholars of the history of cosmology somehow missed this description by Augustine? Just in case this had happened, I went searching for any such passage in Augustine’s corpus or for any description of the earth as “a disc”. I found nothing. What seems to have confused Nelson is Augustine’s comments on the Antipodes – the idea that there are land masses on the other side of the earth and that they are inhabited. This is why in the video he goes on to say: Augustine said that it was mere conjecture that there might be “antipodes” – meaning men who walked with their feet opposite ours – and the other side is [the] two-sided coin that he imagined our world to be according to Scripture. He said there was no reason to believe the fable that people lived on the other side of the world. He is referring to this passage from Augustine’s De civitatae dei: But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled. For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man(De civitatae dei, XVI.9) But here Augustine is not talking about any “disc” – the reference to “the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us” should be enough indication that he is discussing whether inhabited continents exist on the other side of a spherical earth. His points are (i) the sphericity of the earth does not necessarily indicate that there are land masses on the other side and (ii) the Bible says any such land masses would have to be inhabited by descendants of Adam (“that one first man”) and that would imply an ocean voyage so far that it is “absurd”. Here Augustine is taking a position in a debate that had a long and mostly pre-Christian pedigree in the Greek tradition. The Oikoumene and the Antipodes Early Greek ideas about the size and shape of the world expanded greatly in the fourth century BC, when the conquests of Alexander the Great to the east and the voyages of Pytheas of Massalia to the west and north meant the Greco-Roman world had a broader understanding of the Oikoumene – the known and inhabited world. This was seen as a generally rectangular mass made up of the three continents – Europe, Africa and Asia. In this conception, Africa was a much smaller and narrower region than the modern continent and was not thought to extend beyond the equator and was considered to be bounded to the south by an ocean. The idea that the earth was a sphere may have been around as early as c. 500 BC and it is thought the Pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides established the idea of the five zones of the earth – including two temperate zones which were inhabitable and then the two tropical zones on either side of the equator, which were largely uninhabitable due to the heat of the sun there. While there were Greek schools of thought which stuck with a flat earth cosmology, especially the Epicurians, this conception of the earth was accepted by most of the schools of thought – Stoic, Platonic and Aristotelian – that influenced the early Christian thinkers and their medieval successors. It consisted of the Oikoumene taking up only part of the northern hemisphere’s temperate zone, with the arctic and the tropic zones largely uninhabited and the equator impassibly hot. Eratosthenes famously used geometry to establish his calculation of the circumference of the earth at 252,000 Greek stadi , which (depending on the length of the stadion he was using) was reasonably accurate. He also estimated that the Oikoumene was around 74,000 stadi from west to east and only 38,000 stadi from north to south. This meant the whole “inhabited world”, which was effectively the “known world”, took up only a portion of the northern temperate zone: about 30% of the estimated latitude of the northern hemisphere and 59% of its estimated longitude. This not only struck some of Eratosthenes’ successors as relatively small when the size of the globe overall was considered, but it also offended the Greek sense of symmetry. The whole thing looked rather lopsided. Crates of Mallos, head of the Library of Pergamon, is said to have created a world globe based in part on Eratosthenes’ work, but also on his reading of Homer, which was regarded by the Greeks with a reverence a little like that of the Bible to Christians later. He surmised that there had to be another continent south of the equator to “balance” the mass of the Oikoumene in the north and he based this in part on a Homeric reference. Writing later, Strabo reports that Crates explained Homer’s line – “The Ethiopians who dwell sundered in twain, the farthermost of men” – and argued that on each side of an equatorial ocean there lived the Ethiopians, their skin darkened by their proximity to the tropics, divided by the ocean: one group in the Northern Hemisphere, the other group in the Southern, without any interchange between them. Crates referred to this southern, balancing mass as the land of the Antoecians. He similarly posited that there should be another balancing land mass in the northern hemisphere, west of the Oikoumene, which he called the land of the Perioecians and a fourth, in the southern hemisphere, which he called the land of the Antipodeans, since their feet were in the opposite direction to the people of the Oikoumene (Antipodeans is plural of ἀντίπους (antipous), “with feet opposite (ours)”). Crates’ Globe Not all of Crates’ conjectural continents caught on, but the idea of a balancing Antipodes, occupying a position opposite the known Oikoumene remained a hypothetical and a subject of debate. Many accepted its existence, including Pliny the Elder, whose works on natural philosophy were highly influential in the Middle Ages. The whole idea remained conjecture, however, because everyone agreed on one thing: regardless of whether any Antipodes existed, they would be totally unreachable. This was because the equator was considered most likely to be too hot to cross and, even if it was not, the distances involved were well beyond the maritime technology of the ancient world. The Roman poet Marcus Manilius writes of these unreachable hypothetical continents in his astrological poem Astronomica (c. 30-40 AD): Another part of the world lies under the waters, inaccessible to us,There there are unknown races of men, and unvisited realms,Drawing a shared light from a single sun.(Astronomica, I.373-5) As strange as it may seem to us, both the assumption of the great heat of the equatorial torrid zone and the fact that ancient ships could only make very short oceanic voyages (from the Gulf of Aden to the west coast of India was about their limit) meant that these hypothetical Antipodean lands remained just that – only a theory. So this is the context of the Augustine passage to which Nelson refers – a context that he clearly knows nothing of. As a learned man of his time, Augustine is writing in the traditions of his culture and so is aware of the possibility of antipodean continents on the other side of the globe. But he rejects the idea that, if they exist, they may be inhabited because (i) the vast distances involved, (ii) the possibly impassible torrid zone between the Oikoumene and any such places and (iii) the fact that Scripture tells him that man arose in a part of the Oikoumene and so could not have spread to these hypothetical and unreachable places. That third premise may seem strange to us, but using esteemed ancient texts in reasoning of this kind was normal in Augustine’s world and would have been no more strange than Crates hypothesising whole continents from a single line in Homer. This means Nelson, in his ignorance, gets the whole interpretation of Augustine and, similarly, Procopius of Caesarea completely and hopelessly wrong. Neither of these ancient writers is talking about any “disc world” – they know the world to be a globe. They are simply taking part in a long and ongoing intellectual debate about these hypothetical continents and stating, using reasoning known and respected at the time, that ancient and venerated texts show these lands, if they exist, would be uninhabited. The problem here is not that Nelson is profoundly ignorant of the context of the writings he is trying to interpret. After all, most people do not have a deep knowledge of obscure debates in ancient cosmology and geography. No, the problem is that, despite his ignorance, he takes it upon himself to stand up in public and bloviate, at great length and with great self-assurance, expounding on points that are hopelessly and hilariously wrong. He does this because his erroneous ideas are shared by others who share both his ignorance and the bigotry it is based on and these wrong ideas are ready to hand in the smug, dumbed-down echo chamber of online atheist activism. Subjecting them to critical scrutiny and doing some real research to check them (and learn they are wrong) are what a real rationalist would do. But Nelson is just a bigot, a lazy researcher and, as a result, a pompous fool. His foolishness means, in the onrush of his overconfident preaching, he cannot even get the most basic facts right. So he goes on to make a scornful reference to “the Christian monk and famous artist Hieronymus Bosch” depicting a flat earth in his painting The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490-1510 AD). The idea that Bosch was a “Christian monk” fits Nelson’s narrative of the ignorance of the Church, though I imagine it would have come as a surprise to Bosch’s wife, Aleyt Goyaerts van den Meerveen. Bosch was not a monk and not a clergyman of any kind. He was an artisan and artist (and, as his wife would have been able to assure you, married). He was also devoutly religious and a member of the “Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady”, which was a pious confraternity of laymen (not clergy, let alone monks) of a kind that sprang up around Europe in this period. Perhaps that is why Nelson made the blunder of thinking he was a “Christian monk” – see above about Nelson being a poor researcher. More importantly, Nelson’s claim that Bosch’s stylised depiction of the earth as a flat plane within a sphere on the outer panels of his Earthly Delights diptych means that he believed the earth was flat and that this was still believed in the 1490s is completely absurd. Bosch was an artist. His depiction on the outer panels is meant to be a visual and thematic prelude to the three-part depiction of the creation of the world in the painting inside, not an exercise in geography and cartographic projection. As I have detailed here before ( see “The Great Myths 1: The Medieval Flat Earth“), the Church never taught that the earth was flat and idea that anyone believed this in Bosch’s day is ridiculous. Equally ridiculous is Nelson’s reference to how in this time “Columbus was sailing to the new world, proving the scriptural depiction wrong”. Firstly, no-one believed the earth was flat in this period or any previous century of the medieval period. Secondly, Columbus sailing west to the Americas did not prove it was not flat anyway – that would take a circumnavigation, not just a voyage west and back again. Yet again, Nelson simply has no idea what he is talking about. Copernicus, Bruno and Galileo, Of Course No recitation of the litany that is the dusty old “Conflict Thesis” can be complete without an invocation of Nicolas Copernicus and Giordano Bruno as evidence the Church impeded science. So, right on cue, Nelson wheels out the usual myths: “In the early 1500s Copernicus proposed the idea that the earth was not the centre of the universe as the Bible implied. The church condemned his theory as heretical, holding to the literal interpretation that the Sun is in heaven and turns around the earth with great speed and that the earth is very far from heaven and sits motionless at the centre of the world.” This implies that the reason the Church did this was because its default mode was rejection of anything that contradicted a literal interpretation of the Bible as “heretical”. In fact, the Catholic Church, like the Orthodox traditions and many of the larger Protestant churches, does not and did not hold to Biblical literalism – that is a very modern, largely evangelical Protestant and originally American idea. Biblical texts can be interpreted literally, according to Catholic exegesis, but that is only one way they can be read and it is not always the best or even the appropriate way to do so. After all, “[Jesus] came down to Capernaum” (Luke 4:31) is clearly meant to be read literally, but even the most literalist of holy rolling evangelicals would not read Jesus talking about God as a chicken (Luke 13:34) that way. The Church in Copernicus’ time could easily have accommodated Copernicus’ cosmology, but stayed with the more literal interpretations of certain scriptures because Copernicus’ hypothesis was not proven, and had serious scientific problems and contradicted about 1500 years worth of accepted and rationally based Greek physics and astronomy. But – contra Nelson – the Church actually did give Copernicus a fair hearing. In fact, the initial reaction to his thesis from churchmen was one of great interest, not condemnation. Nelson goes on: “Copernicus had already died in the same year that his theory was published before the church could catch him and kill him for contradicting them” And here we have another hoary old myth. I have debunked this one in detail here – see “The Great Myths 6: Copernicus’ Deathbed Publication“. Suffice it to say that there was a whole century between the first circulation of Copernicus’ thesis in 1514 and the eventual rejection of it as “heresy” as part of the complex Galileo Affair beginning in 1616. In that century the reaction of churchmen ranged from rejection of the thesis on scientific grounds to active support and interest, including sponsorship of Copernicus’ work by Bishop Tiedemann Giese of Culm, active interest and enthusiasm from Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg and a lecture on the topic in the Vatican gardens in 1533 before a highly interested and appreciative Pope Clement VII, along with Cardinal Franciotto Orsini, Cardinal Giovanni Salviati, the Bishop of Viterbo Giampietro Grassi and the papal physician Matteo Corte. The claim that the Church would have caught and killed Copernicus if they had known about his theory and that he only escaped their clutches by dying soon after his book’s final publication in 1543 is utter nonsense and is proof, yet again, that Nelson has not the faintest idea what he is blustering about. But not content with peddling this myth, Nelson moves straight on to another one: ” later that same century a Dominican monk named Giordano Bruno proposed another heretical hypothesis called “cosmic pluralism” – the idea that the stars were suns like our own, albeit much further away and that they might have their own planets and perhaps even life on them. So the church burned him at the stake.” Again, this is such a hoary myth that I have already given it a detailed debunking here – see “The Great Myths 3: Giordano Bruno was a Martyr for Science“. In summary, Bruno was a mystic and magician and the Early Modern equivalent of a New Age crackpot, not a scientist. He did not adopt the idea of the plurality of worlds out of any scientific reasoning – the whole idea was well beyond the science of the day anyway. He did so because it fitted his weird grab-bag of mystical ideas, including planets with souls, magic, a garbled and erroneous version of Egyptian religion and some crackpot “sacred geometry”. Nelson is wrong, as usual, that the idea of “cosmic pluralism” was something Bruno “proposed” – it was actually something he adopted from someone else. And that someone else was the man he called “the Divine Cusanus”: Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, who was not only a cardinal and member of the Curia but was also a Papal Legate and second only to the pope in the Catholic hierarchy. So, not exactly a heretic. Bruno’s use of this idea almost certainly was one of the reasons he was burned as a heretic, along with things like denying Transubstantiation, the divinity of Jesus or virginity of Mary (all because these things did not fit his mystical personal theology, not because of anything scientific). Given that it had been proposed by Nicholas of Cusa and supported and expanded on by respected theologians like William of Vorilong, there was nothing inherently heretical about the plurality of worlds, though it had fallen out of theological favour by Bruno’s time. The issue was how Bruno used this concept in his melange of kooky mystical ideas. To hold this up as an example of the Church impeding science is totally ridiculous. But we cannot have a ham-fisted defence of the old Conflict Thesis without a mangling of the Galileo Affair: “And somehow this didn’t stop his contemporary Galileo, the father of modern science, from further promoting heliocentrism with his astronomical observations. The church tried him for heresy too and forced him to recant – they forced him to lie about what he could show to be true and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.” The burning of the mystical kook Bruno for his collection of weird religious and metaphysical speculations did not “stop” Galileo because Galileo did not regard Bruno as doing anything remotely like the work of actual scientists like himself. He once criticised one of Kepler’s ideas by comparing it to Bruno’s style of argument. This was not a compliment – it was the equivalent of a modern physicist comparing a colleague to Deepak Chopra. Kepler shared Galileo’s low opinion of Bruno, calling him a “monster” for his weird religious ideas. Yet Nelson seems to think that Bruno should be regarded as being in the same category as Galileo. Then he perpetuates the nineteenth century idea that Galileo was “the father of science”. This appellation is a pet hate of my friend Thony Christie, who blogs on the history of science at The Renaissance Mathematicus and has written a number of articles there showing why most of the claims for Galileo being somehow unique or “first” as the basis for this title of “the father of science” are flat out wrong. Probably the best of these is his nicely curmudgeonly article “Extracting the Stopper“. Enjoy. The Church certainly did try Galileo for heresy, but only after Galileo entangled himself in some complex politics by deciding to branch out into theology and Biblical interpretation and then by embarrassing the Pope – neither of which were wise things to do in the welter of the Counter Reformation. Prior to these gaffes the Church was well aware of Galileo’s heliocentrism and simply did not care. Four years before he came to the attention of the Inquisition, Galileo published his Letters on Sunspots (Istoria e Dimostrazioni intorno alle Macchie Solari – 1612). All published work in Early Modern Europe had to pass some form of official scrutiny and censorship and in Rome this was overseen by the Inquisition. Galileo’s work included detailed discussion of cosmology and made it crystal clear that he championed Copernicus’ model. The Inquisition did not care one bit, and the booklet was published without any comment or correction regarding those passages. Yet again, Nelson simply does not have a sufficient grasp of the context to comment with any level of understanding. The claim that “they forced him to lie about what he could show to be true” is also absolute garbage. On the contrary, the crux of the issue was that Galileo could not show heliocentrism was true, and everyone involved knew it. In both of his trials, in 1616 and 1633, his problem was that the theory he championed still had major scientific objections to it and it would not be until several decades after his death that these were considered sufficiently resolved for the scientific consensus to swing around to heliocentrism. Though it was not the flawed and tangled model of Copernicus that Galileo argued which was accepted, but a version of Kepler’s model, which Galileo vigorously rejected. As surveys of the scholarship of the time by Jim Westman (1980) and Pietro Daniel Omodeo (2014) show clearly, only around 10 to 12 scholars in the whole of Europe accepted the Copernican model on the eve of Galileo’s trial – the Church had the overwhelming consensus of science on its side, Galileo was the lonely outlier who had to admit he could not demonstrate what he claimed. Nelson gets it all wrong, yet again. This is why he cannot even understand the judgement of the Inquisition that he quotes in such high dudgeon. The reason that judgement says the propositions are “absurd” and “false in philosophy” is it is noting these ideas are contrary to the scientific consensus I just mentioned. “Philosophy” here means “natural philosophy” – i.e. what was later to be called “science”. As anyone who has actually bothered to study the Galileo Affair knows, the judgement is saying that his ideas are scientifically wrong (“false in philosophy”) AND, therefore, “formally heretical”. The Inquisition, headed in 1616 by Cardinal Bellarmine, upheld the traditional reading of certain Biblical texts because the science said they should do so. As Bellarmine had explained in a widely circulated letter just a year earlier, if heliocentrism could be demonstrated then “one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than what is demonstrated is false”. But, he observed with dry understatement, “I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown to me” (“Letter to Foscarini” 1615). Galileo’s problem was that in his time there was no such demonstration and both he and Bellarmine knew it. And so the consensus that his preferred model was “absurd in philosophy/[science]” remained. In 1616 and in 1632 the Church had consulted the best science of the time and it had science on its side. It should also be noted that the “words of judgement against Galileo” that Nelson fulminates over do not exist in any document from 1616. They come from a distorted paraphrase of the judgement found in the “RationalWiki” article on Galileo and elsewhere online but ultimately found in Andrew Dickson White’s notoriously unreliable book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), one of the founding texts of the “Conflict Thesis” myth. Once again, Nelson shows himself to be an incompetent and lazy researcher with a great talent for getting things wrong. For the actual judgement see The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, ed. Maurice A. Finocchiaro, University of California Press, 1989, p. 146). “Aron Ra” is the Problem Given the mangling of history in everything else he says, it should come as no surprise that his final flourish on this topic contains yet another myth. Nelson sneers that “the Catholic Church stuck to this ruling until 1992”. This is nonsense. There is no doubt that the tangle of personalities and politics that led to the condemnation of Galileo and of heliocentrism meant that the Church was lumbered with a ruling on a matter of science that was outdated within a century. While the Tychonian geoheliocentric model seemed to fit the data best in Galileo’s time and into the mid century, by the end of the seventeenth century a combination of Kepler’s Three Laws of Planetary Motion and Newton’s new physics meant the consensus swung toward Keplerian heliocentrism and then stayed there. This was awkward for the Catholic Church, which reacted by a series of quiet reversals. Galileo’s works and “uncorrected” copies of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum after the Inquisition’s ruling against Galileo in 1616. But when the scientific consensus changed the Church began a long process of backpedalling. The “corrections” to Copernicus were minor and their addition – in the form of notes to be pasted into the text or its margins – was never policed and does not seem to have been done much outside of Italy. The ban on Galileo’s works had more effect, but it was lifted in 1718 when permission was given for an edition of his works, minus the offending 1632 work the Dialogue. In 1758 the general prohibition against works advocating heliocentrism was removed from the Index of prohibited books, although the specific ban on uncensored versions of the Dialogue and Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus remained. Then in 1835 these works too were quietly dropped from the Index. Incidentally, this was three years before Friedrich Bessel successfully observed stellar parallax; finally dispatching the last (though already long dead) objection to the earth’s annual orbit of the sun. The Church had quietly dropped its objections to Galileo long before 1992. So what is Nelson referring to? In 1979 Pope John Paul II commissioned the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to look again at the Galileo Affair. It gave its report to the Pope in 1992 (things move slowly in the Vatican) and the pope gave a complex and actually quite learned speech on the occasion, reflecting on the reasons for the Inquisition’s rulings, Galileo’s forays into theology and the historical relationship between science and theology. It was a good speech and no historians of science would find much in it to disagree with. But it went over the heads of many of the journalists who reported on it, so they boiled it down to headlines like “After 350 Years, Vatican Says Galileo Was Right: It Moves” (New York Times, Oct 31, 1992) or “Vatican admits Galileo was Right”(New Scientist, 7 Nov 1992). The idea that the Church took a whole “376 years” to admit it was wrong about heliocentrism might make for a nice headline and a good sneering flourish for Nelson, but it is hardly an accurate depiction of history. And this is precisely the problem. Nelson does not actually care about history, he just wants to use his poorly researched and mostly misunderstood mangled cherry picking of it for rhetorical effect. This is why he is such a lazy researcher, relying on bungled online rehashing of nineteenth century myths and confused nonsense by fellow polemicists. He does not feel the need to check things that feel right, because they conform to his prejudices. As Nathan Johnstone notes in The New Atheism, Myth, and History, he is, like other New Atheists, not an explorer of history but a hunter-gatherer of pseudo history. Whatever suits his polemical purpose will do. I make no apologies for coming down hard on crappy pseudo history like this. Nelson may be a well-meaning fool, but he is a fool nonetheless. There is no excuse for peddling the lazy nonsense he spouts about history, and even less excuse for doing it with such blithe pomposity while claiming to be a rationalist. Nelson’s YouTube channel has over 218,000 subscribers. He has 31,000 Twitter followers. And many of these people are naive enough to take what he blurts as gospel. Here is a sample of some of the admiring comments on the video above: “I don’t know how that Christian dude even had the audacity to present his argument after that opening segment by Aron. Holy shit Aron has refined his art to a deadly razor sharp sword.” (Judicial78)” ARON RA WINS!! FLAWLESS VICTORY!” (KelvinG)” This was over upon the completion of Aron’s opening statement.” (David N)” AronRa won after his opening statement. ” (O.T.) And so on. The Christian debating Nelson actually did a very competent job of debunking pretty much all of the claims discussed above, but when it came time for Nelson to reply, he just shrugged that off as though nothing had happened. It is as though he is not just ignorant, but happy to be wilfully ignorant. The commenters above also seem to have simply watched Nelson’s opening statement and, having heard things that fitted their prejudices, swallowed it whole. No scepticism. No fact checking. No critical analysis. So much for “rationalism”. So the issue is not just that L. Aron Nelson/”Aron Ra” is terrible at history and believes many stupid and erroneous things. It is not even that he is a lazy researcher and poor thinker who does not bother to check things that he finds appealing. It is that he peddles this gibberish to an equally uncritical audience of thousands and they lap it up like the worst kind of fundamentalist fanatics. “Aron Ra” is the problem of New Atheist bad history, embodied. Update – August 24 2019: Some commenters and correspondents wondered if Nelson would respond to this critique. It seems he has, after a fashion. In response to someone who linked to this article on Facebook, he replied: Amazing. The first sentence tries to imply that I am somehow not “right on both points” (though I made more than two points), but does so without bothering to argue how I am wrong. Then he tries to maintain his thesis that Christianity did hinder science despite his examples being wrong, which dodges the question of what examples would support his “point”. Finally, he seems to think that if he just asserts his point stands, my detailed critiques of the only arguments he uses to support it represent “a failed criticism”. Earlier in the exchange on Facebook he admitted he had not actually read my critique, though later he seems to have at least skimmed it because he claims this: “[T]he best [O’Neill’s] got is that although Bosch is often described as belonging to some monastic order, he wasn’t technically a monk, and Augustine may have known that earth was proven to be round although his writing seems uncertain about that.” This is nonsense. Bosch is ” described as belonging to some monastic order” precisely nowhere and he was not a monk “technically” or otherwise because he simply was not a monk. Nelson does not seem to know what a monk is and, more importantly, does not seem to want to understand. I also do not say ” Augustine may have known that earth was proven to be round” – I show clearly that he did. And these two points in a detailed 6700 word critique are hardly “the best [I’ve] got”. He thinks he can bluster his way out of his errors and that if he swaggers and bloviates enough it will look as though he has defended his case. This person represents the kind of boneheaded fanaticism I constantly find among this kind of polemicist. The post “Aron Ra” Gets Everything Wrong appeared first on History for Atheists.