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disengage brain before opening Bible

the following was offered in response to this slate article, in which steven waldman argues that while the jews probably did kill Jesus, the anti-semitic gospel writers still exaggerated their guilt.

***warning: long post!***

as an evangelical Christian, i find myself to be in overall agreement with waldman's article. but i do have a few nits to pick. they center around this remark, and the attitude it bespeaks:

For those who believe the Bible was not only inspired, but also fact-checked by God, the document is simply true. The debates of Bible scholars are just noise to them.

now please note who is included in waldman's indictment: anyone who believes the Bible factually accurate. not just fire-breathing snake-handlers who believe the Bible is factually accurate simply because that's what fire-breathing snake-handlers do, but anyone who so believes it.

now please note what his charge is, precisely: closed-mindedness. no one who is intellectually engaged in the world around them, according to waldman, could possibly believe the Bible is factually accurate. they would have to literally tune out every voice other than those which echoed their own to maintain their belief--the Bible is that bad.

there is, apparently, no one who heard the arguments of secular "higher critics" and thought to themselves "boy, those are pretty weak." there must not be any genuinely conservative Bible scholars at accredited schools who would lock horns in fair debate with the john dominic crossons of the world.

well, if waldman is to be believed then that’s all the case. he'll pray pardon me, however, if i violate his maxim by doing my best to give a plausible defense of Biblical truth, one based on reason as opposed to blind faith, one which indeed acknowledges and then confronts “the debates of Bible scholars.”

now then, john dominic crosson. calling john dominic crosson a "liberal scholar" is a bit like calling george mcgovern a "liberal politician." i once heard crosson assert that Jesus' body was not buried in a tomb as the Bible says, but was probably tossed in an open field somewhere and devoured by dogs. this he based on the fact that the romans did not typically entomb those they crucified. i realize that crosson probably knows the Bible better than jerry falwell and pat robertson combined, but that just makes the level of ignorance displayed in his dogs-eat-Jesus remark all the more astonishing: the Bible doesn't say the romans buried Jesus, it says that

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:

58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock

emphasis mine.

please note that nearly all scholars, liberal, conservative, or otherwise, accept the above. even the first century jewish intellectual assaults on Christianity-as-an-aberrant-cult acknowledge the empty tomb by alleging that the body was stolen by Jesus' followers. i dwell on this topic to make an important point about john crosson: he'll say absolutely anything to get himself into the papers. outside of the airwaves and print media, crosson is seldom taken seriously.

and yet waldman uses this guy as his source.

anyway, regardless of how disreputable crosson may be, there's still a small chance his argument could be worthwhile. let's check it out:

Watch what happens to that Markan source as the story progresses through the later Gospels. Matthew 27:15-26 first copies Mark's 'the crowd' but then enlarges it to 'the crowds' and finally to 'all the people.' Luke 23:13-15 changes Mark to 'the chief priests, the leaders, and the people.' Finally, John 18:37-40 speaks simply of 'the Jews.' Recall, of course, that those expansions do not represent independent knowledge but dependent development. 'The crowd,' in other words, grows exponentially before our eyes.

to prove that anti-semitism shaped the gospels, crosson has compared the differences between the four canonical writers in parallel passages, argued that these must be due to revisions, then argued that anti-semitism is the most reasonable explanation for these revisions. would this method stand up in a court of law? maybe, but it's highly circumstantial and the evidence would have to be pretty darn overwhelming. how does crosson's hold up?

first of all, other than the idiosyncrasies of the writers, is there really all that much of a difference between "crowd," "crowds," and "the chief priests, the leaders, and the people." is it that hard to believe that these descriptions could all refer to the same group of folks--so outlandish that we have no choice but to infer revisionism at work? hardly. crosson has to insinuate that the descriptions don’t fit because, logically, he doesn't have a leg to stand on. he can speculate about shifts in emphasis, but there's nothing in the actual wording used which necessarily precludes the much simpler explanation of three writers describing the same event in their own words. i don’t even think it makes the simple explanation less reasonable than not, to be honest. if you think back on instances in your own life in which different people have told you about the same event, it’s not hard to see how such variations in wording could arise innocently.

but if the simple, innocent variation explanation is correct, crosson’s sunk. he has to prove malice beyond a reasonable doubt or he hasn’t got a case. consider that the whole foundation of his argument is his belief that matthew and luke must be second-hand revisions of mark since they used mark as a source text. stipulating their reliance on mark, why couldn't matthew and luke have added new first hand information as well? matthew is traditionally thought to have been an apostle himself. luke admits that he's examining older sources and eyewitness statements to give as well-rounded a history of Christ as possible. even crosson accepts that they were writing somewhere around the eighties. that’s fifty years removed from the death of Christ, sure, but people in their late sixties or seventies could have witnessed the crucifixion and still been old enough to have meaningful impressions of it, and in all probability, there were some around who did.

finally, to create the apparent shifts in empahsis, crosson has to ignore direct statements made by the gospel writers which contradict his inference. for instance, the "crowd" mark refers to is also described in more detail by mark (and by waldman in this very same article, amazingly enough) as the high priests inciting the jewish faithful who had come to plead for pilate's traditional passover clemency. luke changes this, says crosson, to "the chief priests, the leaders, and the people" in an apparent attempt to implicate jewry in toto, yet later in the same chapter crosson quotes, luke's description is found to be in perfect harmony with mark's:

23 And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.

which is not surprising in the least since earlier in the chapter, luke points out, just like mark, that “they” were a crowd that had assembled to ask pilate for mercy on behalf of their favorite prisoner, plus the jewish leaders looking to have Jesus killed. crosson simply rips the line most favorable to his own splashy, deliberately controversial parsing out of context, and ignores the spirit of the entire passage. if nothing else, it’s a good way to get quoted here in slate.

leaving crosson behind, we move on to waldman, who is horrified at matthew's "let his blood be on us and our children," which strikes him as such an unreasonable and hence suspicious thing to say that matthew must have popped it in the mouths of the mob as a way of blaming all jews for all time. what waldman needs to show is that the mentality represented in this statement would have been so alien to your average first century jew that he would never have said it. does he?

waldman concedes that mark's account is essentially correct: the jewish leaders worked the crowd to get Jesus killed. he also grants that josephus confirms this, at least to the extent that pilate wasn't killing Jesus of his own accord, but at the urging of a third party. is it so hard to believe, then, that an angry lynch mob, sensing pilate's reluctance, would have sought to help him wash his hands of the whole matter? ever been asked by someone to do something they knew you thought was wrong? what did they say to you but “c’mon. if we get caught, i’ll take the blame.” what remains is the exact wording they used, wording that has been given in defense of some terrible atrocities against jews throughout history, no doubt. but couldn't matthew have merely been dutifully recording what transpired? consider that the statement he says they made is a rather blatant reference to the law of moses:

18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

this is a verse that even many casual Christians and jews today are familiar with. to suppose, then, that it wouldn't have been integral to the ken of a devout jew living in the turbulent days of roman occupation is simply ludicrous. thus, the crowd was seeking to exonerate pilate according to their understanding of the torah, and matthew records this for all to see. no anti-semitism required. as with crosson’s argument, there’s certainly a “reasonable doubt” as to matthew’s anti-semitism. as i hope i’ve shown, an alternative exists to matthew the jew-hater which is at least as good.

as for john, enough has been written about john and "the jews" for brevity’s sake i won’t go into it here. this post is long enough. suffice it to say the cheap rhetorical device of picking one guy who happens to share your view, proclaiming him a member of the other side, and saying "see, even conservatives acknowledge john was an anti-semite. anyone who doesn't agree must be a kook!" would embarrass even your shoddiest high school debater. but since waldman is so convinced that legitimate scholars who actually believe the gospels are a factual, untainted-by-human-prejudice record of history don't exist, i suppose he has little choice. look, what waldman has really done here--again--is to suggest that there just isn’t any serious thinker who maintains a contrary position. i’m an amateur, but rest assured that there are indeed very serious scholars at very serious schools who would take issue with the reverend waldman quotes in regards to john. lee strobel’s excellent the case for Christ is a good introduction to conservative Biblical scholarship and what it teaches about the gospel record, and whether you (or waldman) agree with these scholars or not, it’s disingenuous to pretend they don’t exist, or, if they do, they don’t merit a response.

there are a few other things i disagree with, but i’ve nitpicked enough. all in all, as i said, i agree with waldman: fighting over who killed Jesus is mostly counter-productive. the rejection of Jesus as the jewish messiah is, however, intrinsic to the Christian faith. the broadest story arc of the Bible is that of Christ, but you cannot tell the story of Christ without telling the story of the jewish people. The Bible teaches that they rejected Christ, true, but it also teaches that they will someday be reconciled to Him. It also teaches that “there is neither jew nor greek…for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

it has always been my opinion, therefore, that the solution to Christian anti-semitism doesn’t lie in revising or ignoring the story of the crucifixion. blaming things on the conveniently defunct romans is a helpful lie, but it’s a lie nonetheless. what’s needed, i believe, is to look towards the Bible rather than away from it: there’s no way one can read the Bible in its entirety and reasonably conclude that God approves of anti-semitic hatred.

locdog would say that's true of all forms of hatred


hey, i resemble that remark

while scanning my referral logs earlier this morning, i came upon a hive of playa-haters doing what they do best. one of them was struggling to come to terms with his paradoxical inability to look away from a writer he finds so loathsome, and penned this description of the locdog canon:

it's like a car wreck with clown cars.

locdog likes it so much, he may adopt it as the official locdog's blog motto



political roundup

i can only hope my life will resume normalcy and allow me to post more in the coming days. we'll see. anyway, while i have a second, here's what matters in the political universe as seen by yours truly.

blame it on that white supremacist schwarzenegger

for a few weeks now, bill clinton and gray davis have basically been telling californians that the recall election is part of a VRWC (Vast Right Wing Conspiracy) plot to steal power that republicans could never legitimately win. it all started back with the impeachment, says clinton, hoping to bail out his cesspool legacy and, uh, that davis guy, or something. from there, it was the 2000 presidentials, the texas redistricting, and now the recall election. clinton and davis will no doubt be very pleased to learn that, thanks to a three judge panel from the 9th circuit court of appeals, they can now charge racism along with stifling the vox populi.

according to the winning ACLU attorneys, the six counties who still use the punch card machines have disproportionately high percentages of minorities, and the outdated machines they vote with produce an error rate better than double that of modern voting systems. therefore, they argued, the recall would constitute a violation of the federal voting rights act.

interestingly enough, no one, least of all the ACLU or davis administration, minded the systematic disenfranchisement of the brutha man less than a year ago when gray won his reelection bid.

the case will be appealed to the USSC, who, if past performance is any indication of future results, may very well overturn the decision, the ninth circuit being the most frequently overturned appellate court in the land.

a final, personal note: i've been voting on dangerously outdated-outmoded-racist-sexist-homophobic-disenfranchising punch card machines since i turned 18, and i grew up in a county that was whiter than robert c. byrd's boney old butt. printed clearly on the front of every ballot i ever punched was a set of instructions which included a stern admonishment to punch your card all the way through, and to verify that you haven't left any dimpled or hanging chads before you turn it in. frankly, i don't think that's too much to ask in exchange for participation in the greatest political system ever conceived by man. in fact, i find it comforting that people too stupid or unappreciative of their awesome privilege have a greater chance of not being heard, and wish that the "disenfranchisement" could be more systematic still.

starving beats half a loaf any day

last night, fox news reported on a visit by president bush to a michigan coal-burning power plant. the plant welcomed the president warmly but has not received all federal guests with such enthusiasm. it seems that not long ago, the plant sought to upgrade one of their steam turbines to produce power more efficiently. the change would have allowed them to supply power to 90,000 additional homes without burning one ounce more of coal, that is, with no increase in pollution. but under existing "clean air" act regulation, a power plant cannot upgrade one part of it's operation without modernizing everything, meaning that economically sensible yet environmentally sound improvements power producers could be making right now must be postponed indefinitely for fear of the massive expense incurred by simultaneously modernizing their entire facility. in effect, the regulation guarantees that many fossil fuel burning power plants will never be able clean up their acts. the bush administration seeks to revamp the law in such a way that business would be free to upgrade piecemeal whilst maintaining fiscal solvency, but critics claim bush's new code would savage the environment. yet according to the proposed regulation, power plants would not be able to output any more pollution than what is currently permissible.

try as i may, i cannot come up with a reason the environmentalist lobby would not want the power plant to be able to upgrade their turbine. well, except one. see, it can't be that it's bad for business because the business would benefit by being able to produce their product at reduced cost. it can't be that it's bad for consumers because if the price of production drops, the producer is in a position to reduce fees, or at least serve more people at the same rate. it can't be that it's bad for the environment because there would be a significant in drop in pollution output per watt generated. i mean, doesn't that all look like something that responsible, thinking adults ought to be in favor of? what it looks like, in a word, is progress.

no, the only reason that the environmentalist lobby doesn't want the law changed is because they don't want to make it easy for fossil fuel burning power plants to clean up. that's the anvil they've placed coal and oil burning plants upon. then they bring down the hammer of ever-increasing pollution restrictions and *squish* goes the power plant. the democrats are beholden to these environmental extremist groups, hence the nightmarish clinton clean air regulations.

we need to realize that these extremists are devoted to nothing less than the destruction of the american way of life--that's not a generalization i'm making from this incident alone, either. they don't want clean coal. they don't want clean oil. they don't even want the cleanest economically viable power production alternative of all: nuclear. instead, they want to severely limit power production by relying on impractical means like hydrothermal, solar, wind, etc., means that they know would have a devastating impact on our economy if widely enacted. they want to reconstruct america as a socialist, agrarian society whether the other 99% of our republic wants it or not.

one toke over the line, sweet Jesus

in the last story, we examined an instance of a general truth we conservatives regard as axiomatic:

whenever a common sense solution exists that would benefit absolutely all parties concerned, and it isn't getting done, you can bet your bottom dollar that government is the obstruction.

here's another venerable conservative axiom:

whatever government touches turns to crap.

...and another great example of it in action.

the hosers up north are *cough* experimenting with government issue ganga, a *cough* gateway to so much hilarity and hijinks that my neurons are redlining as i contemplate a mere discarded roach's share of the possibilities:

"It's totally unsuitable for human consumption," said Jim Wakeford, 58, an AIDS patient in Gibsons, B.C. "It gave me a slight buzziness for about three to five minutes, and that was it. I got no other effect from it."

Barrie Dalley, a 52-year-old Toronto man who uses marijuana to combat the nausea associated with AIDS, said the Health Canada dope actually made him sick to his stomach.

"I threw up," Dalley said Monday. "It made me nauseous because I had to use so much of it. It was so weak in potency that I really threw up."


special bonus not-quite-political roundup

can anyone explain to me what in the name of pius XII the vatican is doing? in case you missed the drudge story,

"Gibson’s artistic choices make [his controversial film the passion] faithful to the meaning of the Gospels, as understood by the Church," says Cardinal Hoyos in an interview set for release in Italy.

as i see it, the vatican has nothing to gain and everything to lose by backing mel's movie. am i missing something?

1. gibson is technically apostate: he rejects vatican authority and holds to an ultra-traditional, pre-vatican II form of catholicism. so why do him any favors?

2. even if the above wasn't true, why on earth would jp II want to snuggle up with such a hot potato film? this is a pope who's made a spectacle out of stomping closet skeletons, particularly those that emerged out of the church's not-so-nice treatment of their jewish neighbors. the anti-defamation league has been in hysterics over this movie for months now, and the vatican is going to unconditionally endorse it?

3. and if they still felt an obligation to praise what they viewed as good theology after all that, why not say "Gibson’s artistic choices make the film faithful to the meaning of the Gospels, as understood by the Church...but we feel that he did not show adequate sensitivity to the… [insert p.c. psychobabble disclaimer here]" according to drudge, this is a no-holds-barred, ringing endorsement, which makes me wonder, for the umpteenth billion time, if jp II has any idea of what's going on inside his house.

hopefully, locdog will have more time to keep on top of these and other fine stories in the coming weeks