Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

The value of the humanities is that they help us avoid becoming corporate drones.

An Enlightenment / virtue ethical approach to climate change and the Anthropocene?

The otherwise excellent Aeon magazine has published this bizarre article on P.K Dick’s experience of the “divine”… Should modern psychology, then, embrace Jung’s metaphysical “theories”?

Math as en elite activity: the overselling of mathematics as being “everywhere.”

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106 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. Hi Socratic,

    OK, I probably shouldn’t have started this theme, but

    So, for the author of Mark, most likely writing in Rome, late 60s CE, this was a real “forsaking.”

    “Most likely” anywhere between CE 75-ish and CE 140s-ish, surely? The gospel “Mark” is largely a theological allegory, and it ties the fate of Jesus with the destruction of the Jewish Temple. E.g. There’s this prediction:

    Mark 13: “And as he is going forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith to him, “Teacher, see! what stones! and what buildings!” and Jesus answering said to him, “Seest thou these great buildings? there may not be left a stone up on a stone, that may not be thrown down.””

    Followed by the disciples asking: “Tell us when these things shall be? and what [is] the sign when all these may be about to be fulfilled?”.

    Jesus answers: “for many shall come in my name, saying — I am [he], and many they shall lead astray;” [Recall that in the earliest Christianity, — the letters of Paul, and the theology of the arch-heretic Marcion, whose version could well pre-date the orthodox theology — Jesus was not so much a person but more a spirit.]

    Then we have, at the crucifixion, “My God, my God, why didst Thou forsake me?”. In Paul/Marcion theology this could be the spirit Jesus forsaking the human body (classic Marcionic docetism). It could also be an allegory for the Jewish nation feeling forsaken by their god after the defeat by the Romans.

    Followed by: “… and the veil of the sanctuary was rent in two, from top to bottom, …”. Thus tying the crucifixion of Jesus directly to defeat by the Romans and the destruction of the Jewish Temple. This would place the gospel “Mark” after the CE71 revolt, in the post-apocalyptic upheavals, or possibly after the Bar Kokhba revolt in the CE 130s.

    If it is the latter, then it could be that Marcion’s theology was first (he is known to have presented his version to Christian leaders in the CE 120s) and then perhaps “Mark” and then the other synoptics were written as a counter to Marcion, each of them then promoting their own theological version.

    One thing one is not normally told in Sunday School is how prominent the (later-called) heretical versions of Christianity were in the first and second centuries. Vast swathes of what the early Church Fathers wrote are headed “Against heresies …” or similar.

    Upshot: much of what we now call the New Testament is likely 2nd-Century rather than 1st. Almost all of it is likely the product of different theological factions making up allegories and stories as suited to their theology and in opposition to other factions. The residue that is historical is likely vanishingly small, and it does not make sense to interpret any of the quoted words as the actual words of any historical person.

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  2. Hi Coel,

    The gospel “Mark” is largely a theological allegory:

    So goes one ingenius theiry, not really born out by the facts.

    In fact the bare bones of the story are already in the authentic letters of Paul. So we pretty much know that there was a small but thriving population of Christians in about 55 AD who believed and practiced much as a modern Protestant does.

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  3. Unless, of course, you put stock in those who claim that, since Paul did not specify that tge events he was talking about happened right here on Earth, then he must have been talking about something happening in outer space.

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  4. Hi Robin,

    In fact the bare bones of the story are already in the authentic letters of Paul.

    Not really. Especially as we don’t know how much what we call “Paul’s letters” are later alterations and additions. The first time they appear in history is through Marcion in about CE 130s, and we’re told that he stated that they had been altered from the originals.

    But, anyhow, to Paul, “Jesus” is someone who appears in visions, of the road-to-Damascus sort. He shows no awareness of Jesus as a recently-lived human. He never distinguishes between people who had met Jesus as a man, and those who had not. He shows no awareness that anyone he met might have met Jesus as man. He almost never quotes any of the sayings of Jesus that later turned up in the gospels, even when they would have supported his theological arguments. He regards his road-to-Damascus incident as trumping any authority that others in the church had, which is preposterous if they’d spent three years living with Jesus. There is almost nothing of the life and activities of Jesus in Paul’s letters. The one exception to all of this is a brief mention of a last-supper occasion, but then such rituals were already part of religious life.

    So we pretty much know that there was a small but thriving population of Christians in about 55 AD who believed and practiced much as a modern Protestant does.

    We simply don’t know that. If we go on writings likely to be pre 71 CE, then much that a modern Protestant believes is not there.

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  5. “Recall that in the earliest Christianity, — the letters of Paul, and the theology of the arch-heretic Marcion, whose version could well pre-date the orthodox theology — Jesus was not so much a person but more a spirit”

    OK, I missed that you do put stock in that.

    But really it is nonsense. Paul is clearly talking about someone who lived on Earth, someone who was crucified and buried on Earth. He clearly intends his account of Jesus having supper on the night he was betrayed and breaking bread etc to refer to events happening on Earth. It seems utterly perverse to claim they are a reference to events in outer space.

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  6. Hi Robin,

    Paul is clearly talking about someone who lived on Earth …

    That’s only clear if you read Paul through the lens of orthodox Christianity. Let’s take, for example, Galatians, where he is telling the Galatians off:

    “Paul, an apostle — sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ […] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ [i.e. turning away from Paul] and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all.”

    Now, what is Paul’s message?:

    “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

    So the Galatians got their gospel from Paul, and Paul got it “by revelation from Jesus Christ” [Road to Damascus incident?] and not from any human who had lived with and heard Jesus speak! In other words the theology of the Galatian church is not something derived from people who had met Jesus, not from any oral tradition deriving from that, it comes from a spiritual Jesus who gave it to Paul who gave it to the Galatians.

    Then we have:

    “But when God … was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [= Peter?]”

    What?? This makes no sense at all on the orthodox account. So when Paul, through the Road to Damascus incident, became an apostle of Christ, he didn’t bother talking to anyone who had met Jesus, and made no attempt to learn anything from them. Really? That only makes sense if Paul had no conception of them actually having met and lived with a human Jesus, no conception that there was a huge oral tradition that he could learn from.

    When he does meet up with them he is openly dismissive of their authority, which is ridiculous if he thought they had spent three years living with Jesus. Indeed he says: “they added nothing to my message”. In other words, nothing in Paul’s message comes from people who had met, lived with and heard a living-as-a-human Jesus!

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  7. Then again much of Christianity seems to be Jewish stories filtered through Greek culture and one of the reasons it gained so much traction was because it served as an allegory for the tradition of the years gods and year kings, that were based around the rise and fall of the seasons. As with Jesus being crucified and reborn, as a symbol for spring. Sort of like the grain of sand, around which the oyster forms a pearl.

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  8. Hi Coel,

    You are drawing some very long bows there.

    So your claim is that when Paul says that Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again after three days he was nor talking about events on Earth?

    But that makes no sense in the context, it would undermine his entire point.

    Are you saying that when Paul refers to Jesus breaking bread at a supper on the night he was betrayed saying “This is my body which is fir you, do thus in remembrsnce of me” he was not talking of something happening on Earth? Who was he supposed to be talking to?

    That interpretation just doesn’t make sense.

    The fact that Paul speaks of not hearing Jesus’s words “from any man”, well Paul gas already stated that Jesus was crucified and buried before he became involved.

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  9. And it doesn’t need to be through any lens. If you heard the claim from someone in recent history in Texas, “He was sent to the electric chair, was buried and rose from the dead three days later, you would probably not jump to the conclusion that the speaker meant yhat someone was sent to the electric chair in outer space, was buried in outer space and three days later rose from the dead in outer space. (“In outer space” is the way Carrier consistently puts this)

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  10. Hi Coel,

    What?? This makes no sense at all on the orthodox account. So when Paul, through the Road to Damascus incident, became an apostle of Christ, he didn’t bother talking to anyone who had met Jesus, and made no attempt to learn anything from them. Really? That only makes sense if Paul had no conception of them actually having met and lived with a human Jesus, no conception that there was a huge oral tradition that he could learn from.

    Actually this is an odd comment. I think we can agree that Paul did not actually hear this story from a supernatural being. If he made it up or hallucinated it then why would there be any other apostles? Or are you saying that the other apostles are Paul’s invention?.

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  11. Hi Robin,

    So your claim is that when Paul says that Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again after three days he was nor talking about events on Earth?

    Well let’s actually quote that bit: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, …”.

    Those “according to” phrases are important. He is saying: “The scriptures tells us that Christ died for our sins …”. Note that — the scriptures tell us that he died, was buried and raised again. Not people or oral tradition saying that!

    Now Christians want to interpret that “according to” as meaning “in fulfilment of prophecies in the scriptures”. But the Greek word here, “kata”, is a simple little joining word, not connoting fulfilment of prophecy. It’s the same word as used in early texts for, for example, “The gospel according to Mark” (“… kata Markon”). Thus the simple interpretation is “as told by Mark”, and thus Paul’s straightforward meaning is “… as told by the Scriptures”.

    So where is this in the Old Testament scriptures? Mostly in Isaiah, and see the hundred-odd places where Paul’s letters quotes the Old Testament (as opposed to the nearly zero times when he quotes sayings of Jesus that are later found in the gospels).

    It’s also possible that he was referring to a version of the Ascension of Isaiah. At one point Paul quotes as “scripture” from that work, which means that he regarded it as scripture (though today’s Christians do not, so it’s not in the current Bible).

    The Ascension of Isaiah can be read here. The Chapters 8, 9 and 10 are the most relevant ones, and might be what Paul was referring to. The current version of AoI is widely reckoned to be a composite work from different eras, with the stuff from Chapter 11 onwards reckoned to be a later addition or adaptation. The stuff from Chapters 1 to 10 might be Christianity before the modern orthodoxy got established.

    As for where and when questions, well that might not be a sensible question. The doings of the gods in much of mythology are not things that have dates and places. It’s like asking where and when Satan rebelled against God and got expelled from Heaven. These stories are constructed for theological reasons, not as reports of actual events.

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  12. Hi Robin,

    If he made it up or hallucinated it then why would there be any other apostles? Or are you saying that the other apostles are Paul’s invention?

    The thesis is that there already was a Christian sect before Paul got involved. This sect, like all Jewish sects, based its theology on Scripture. Their “gods” were beings in the heavens, just as most religions have gods in heavens (as opposed to having them living as a human).

    So, Paul did not get his gospel from people, not from disciples who had met Jesus, not from any oral tradition about a recently lived Jesus — he tells us that explicitly. Paul got his gospel from: (1) Scripture — he is very big on Old Testament scripture, quoting it extensively in his letters; and (2) visions and revelations of the Road-to-Damascus sort. Again, he explicitly tells us this.

    It was only later, post AD-71, possibly much later, around AD 120 to 150, that the theology got storified into a recently-lived Jesus with the writing of “Mark”.

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  13. Hi Coel,

    You don’t appear to have answered my question. When Paul says that Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead, do you think that he is referring to events that occurred on Earth?

    When he refers to Jesus bresking bread at a supper on the night he was betrayed, and says “This is my body, this is for you , do this in remembrance of me” is he referring to events that occurred on Earth? Or elsewhere? And who is he talking to?

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  14. Hi Robin,

    When Paul says that Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead, do you think that he is referring to events that occurred on Earth?

    I don’t know what Paul thought about that. What I do suspect is that he gained his belief in such things from Old Testament scripture and the Ascension of Isaiah. You can read them yourself and see what they say about location.

    When he refers to Jesus bresking bread at a supper on the night he was betrayed, […] is he referring to events that occurred on Earth?

    Again, I don’t know what Paul thought about that. But, to me the important thing is that Paul tells us that he derived his thoughts about Jesus from (1) Scripture [= OT + apocrypha], and: (2) visions, and not from accounts from people who had met a living-as-a-human Jesus.

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  15. Also, Coel, Mark’s lack of “prophecy” about details of the destruction of Jerusalem, a la dating the writing of Daniel, is a good benchmark for not putting him after 70 CE. 140??? Outside of mythicists and similar, I’ve never heard anything like that.

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  16. Brodix,

    “its easy to focus on the blatant nonsense, but what would the world be, without the likes of Marx and Freud? Why not go back to the ancients and reprimand them for the various theisms?”

    I wager we would have better fields in both psychology and history. I get your parallel to the atheists and their theism, which is why I didn’t blame either Freud or Marx for what they wrote, which was reasonable at the time. But just as I don’t find ancient religious beliefs tenable today, neither do I see any value in Marxist or Freudian theories now.

    “Are we really totally sure we have the latest word from the god we don’t believe in, that our current masses of received wisdom are infallible?”

    No, but the priors lean very heavily in that direction.

    “Do we really know that a few centuries into the future, our own age, with everything from string theory and multiverses, to capitalism, won’t be considered an intellectual dark age?”

    No, but those are reasonable notions currently. Should they stop being so in the future, then future people should be held accountable if they insist in clinging to them.

    “Thought is a thin veneer over the emotions.”

    Is it now? So these sort of discussions are just a way for people to vent their emotions, with no reasoned arguments or evidence? I think you are a bit too pessimistic about human ability for rational discourse. And of course, if you are right then we are all simply wasting our time here.

    Dan,

    “Marx and Freud were both crucial as two of the three “masters of suspicion.” (The third is Nietzsche) They were essential to breaking a number of Enlightenment illusions”

    Yes, were being the crucial word here. Again, I’m not denying their historical importance, I’m denying their current relevance.

    “something that is testified to by their influence: on literature; on social science; on the entire tradition of continental thought; and on culture more generally.”

    I didn’t think we were playing a popularity game, because by those standards the Kardashians are very influential on our culture.

    “Popper, yes, in comparison with Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, he — and his influence — are small.”

    And this sort of comment is entirely irrelevant to the discussion. Again, the Kardashians probably beat Marx, Freud, Nietzsche and Popper combined, in terms of current ratings…

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