Killing Heretics: Now and Then

Islamic violence must be called Islamic. To say that Islam owns it, produced it, and has to solve it is not saying that all Muslims agree with the tactics of ISIL, contract killers in Paris, or child killers in Pakistan.

 

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The notion of killing “unbelievers” or heretics, whether in the past, the present, or even in the future, is historically part and parcel of the three Abrahamic Faiths. Worshipping gods other than Yahweh brings a death penalty in the Torah (Deuteronomy 13:10-12). Paul declares a fatwah-like “death decree” (“destruction of the flesh”) on the man living with his father’s wife at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:5).  Christ returns, according to Paul, to burn those who “know not God and obey not the Gospel” (presumably everyone but the Christians) with flaming fire and eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Christian history, unfortunately, is–among many other things–a long tale of torture, murder, and “holy wars,” as as the late great Karlheinz Deschner so meticulously documented in his monumental 10 volume work, Die Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums. The Qu’ran commands the killing of all unbelievers, including those “People of the book” (Jews and Christians), who do not submit to Muslim Shari’a and take the status of Zimmis–forbidding all public practice of faith (just read through Surahs 8-9).

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In the aftermath of the murders in Paris this week we are assured “these are acts of terrorism and are not part of the Islamic religion.” We are told constantly, “this is not Islam,” these are just thugs wanting power. That is like saying the Roman Catholic Inquisitioners who killed “heretics” or the Reformers who slaughtered Catholics were not “really Christian.” From a moral point of view, perhaps not, but in terms of religious identity such disavowals are nonsense. Let’s call extreme views of ALL traditions “bad” forms of the religion, fine, but to deny that such violence and evil is perpetrated by “devoted” religious fanatics who take their faith seriously misses the power that such evil forces draw upon. They have convinced themselves they are doing God’s work and God is on their side–a sad and ubiquitous aspect of the violent history of ALL religious traditions.The issues are much more complex and I recommend these successive blog posts of Joseph Hoffmann as providing some clear thinking on what we are facing in our times when it comes to the new waves of Islamic violence:

Sex, Salvation, and Violence in Islam

Religion begins in violence. Its archetypes and myths are saturated in blood–the predations of Ishtar, the cannibalism of the Greek Titans, the binding of Isaac, the crucifixion of Jesus. Its holy books are full of violence.

Islam is no exception. It is the rule. It’s important to say however that no religion but Islam seems suicidally bent on making violence a permanent part of its contemporary world-view and operations manual. There seems to be no doubt that, at least as represented by its most visible adepts, Islam is the religion which brings us into closest contact with the religion of our vicious tribal past. Religions may begin in violence. But they usually do not survive through violence.

Owning Isis: Collective Responsibility and Personal Guilt

Islam, as I’ve argued here before, was never able to produce a coherent theological or “orthodox” tradition apart from its simple belief in the arkān al-Islām –the pillars of Islam. It did try, and once upon a time, in the storied Golden Age of Islam prior to the thirteenth century there were philosophers who offered a ray of light. Later on however that light was snuffed out by the likes of the imam Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī who taught (contra the much more learned Ibn Rushd) that philosophy and Islam had nothing to do with one another, and to the extent they did, the philosophers were heretics. The rigidity of that teaching deprived Islam of a Renaissance, a Reformation and an Enlightenment. Worse, it created a disconnect between Islam and modernity that still plagues a religion that–in some of its most visible manifestations–belongs to another time and place.

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It is not some sort of intrinsic desire to kill that makes them violent. It is a sort of pornographic idealism, supported by the worst possible reading of an ancient book, interpreted by the worst possible religious experts—many of them in their twenties and lacking any sort of educational qualifications to teach or preach fiqh.

We do Islam no favour by not asking it to take its share of the blame. We do it a distinct disservice by spreading the veil of the sacred, the untouchable, around it-closeting it off from critique, satire and serious discussion through the imposition of blasphemy and anti-defamation laws.

 

 

Was Jesus Naked at his Resurrection?

I never thought much about it until looking at this lovely painting by Titian but have you ever wondered what Jesus was supposedly wearing in his reported empty tomb/post-resurrection “sightings”? The gospels of Matthew and John relate physical encounters with Jesus just outside the tomb by Mary Magdalene alone, or by her and her companions (Matthew 28:8-10; John 20:11-17)  Mark has no appearances (16:8 is the original ending) and Luke reserves the honor of such apostolic witnessing to the men alone. See my post on “The Strange Ending of Mark and Why it Makes all the Difference.”

Tizian Post-ResurrectionIt might seem like a trivial or silly question but it in fact touches on a very profound issue–namely the difference between Paul’s view of a spiritual body–that he characterizes as “clothed,”  being raised in contrast to the rather literal–presumably physical “touch me” body–that Luke and John both emphasize. If we are going to take these accounts literally–at face value–as many urge, we seem to have a naked Jesus. Since the shroud wrapping sJesus’ corpse were left in the tomb according to John (20:6-7), we can only assume that Jesus came out of the tomb naked–and so encountered Mary Magdalene (according to John)  or her with her companions (according to Matthew). I say this “tongue in cheek” of course, but it points to a much more substantial issue–namely the nature of the notion of “resurrection” of the dead among Jews and early followers of Jesus at that time.

What is interesting is that Paul uses this very image of clothing for the new spiritual “resurrection” body in 2 Corinthians 5:2-4. For Paul Jesus has shed his physical body like old clothing left behind and his “naked” soul has been “reclothed” with a spiritual body–so that he can refer to him in such a glorified state as a “life-giving Spirit”–in contrast to the “flesh and blood” body “of dust” of our present human existence–that is both physical and corruptible (see 1 Corinthians 15:45-50).

So Paul would answer the question of “what kind of a body did the resurrected Jesus appear?” differently than Matthew, John, and Luke–he would say Jesus was fully re-clothed in a new spiritual body. This touches on a rather complex issue that most of us have trouble sorting out, see my post “Why People Are Confused about the Earliest Christian View of Resurrection of the Dead.” It is easy to forget  that it is Paul’s view that predates that of our Gospel writers by at least two or three decades–and is thus more likely representative of the original faith of Jesus’ first followers in Galilee and Judea. Thus the recently discovered Talpiot tomb inscription makes sense as a cry or a declaration of faith that from those ossuary bones God/YHVH will raise up! See the updated post here on its best translation. It is very likely, given the date of this tomb, contemporary with the apostle Paul, that it is our earliest archaeological evidence of faith in a spiritual resurrection of the dead–not merely a resuscitation of a largely intact corpse. Paul, and I would argue Jesus’ first followers in Jerusalem and Galilee, were not interested in raising up bones and flesh, but seeing the “naked” self reclothed with a new spiritual body.

Sale Ends Tomorrow: 2-1 Sale: Restoring Abrahamic Faith

SALE ENDS TOMORROW, December 31st.

Many of my blog readers have copies of my book Restoring Abrahamic Faith but I wanted folks to be aware of the annual “Holiday” 2-1 sale on this particular book. I was thinking many who appreciate find this book might find it to be an ideal gift for friends and family. Here are the details on the sale and below is a post from 2010 where I describe the book, its history, and how I came to write it. Unfortunately, due to sky high international postage (more than the cost of the book!), this 2-1 sale is only offered to US domestic customers. I hope to have an e-book version out in 2015. Copies are mailed UPSP Priority Mail and shipped the next business day of the order.

Holiday 2-1 SALE through the end of 2014
Order any quantity of copies of Restoring Abrahamic Faith
and your order will be automatically doubled at no extra cost
All Copies are signed by the author
US Domestic Orders Only

Payments by Credit/Debit or Paypal via genesis2000.org or through Amazon.
Payments by Check to: Genesis 2000 mailed to:
Genesis 2000 Press
2124 Crown Centre Drive, Suite 300
Charlotte, NC 28227

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As a professor in a large and thriving Department of Religious Studies in a public/state university I make every effort to keep my personal religious faith and our enterprise as a faculty in the area of the academic study of religion properly separated. There is some debate in our field on this question with arguments on both sides as to what extent one’s implicit religious or political views should become part of the teaching discourse. Although there is no need to avoid matters of religious faith in the classroom, and indeed such matters are part of our study, my position is that personal theology belongs elsewhere–particularly for those in public education.

That said, like Frank Moore Cross and many others in our field who were raised in Christian contexts, I have found myself more personally drawn toward the complex of ideas, concepts, tensions, and even contradictions, reflected in the Hebrew Bible, as I have noted previously in my Blog post “Reflections on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.”

Back in 1991 I published a little book titled Restoring Abrahamic Faith with a small non-profit publisher called Genesis 2000. It was more or less in response to questions I was getting from many quarters regarding my own “beliefs.” It was mainly an attempt to save my “breath,” so I could refer it to those who were curious about my own personal faith, or the lack thereof.  Also, in the final chapter of my popular book, The Jesus Dynasty, that was intended for general audiences far beyond my academic arena, I did include, a final “Conclusion” that delved into matters of faith and the consequences of historical Jesus studies–mentioning my view of “Abrahamic Faith.” In 2008 in an expanded, 3rd edition was released.  It is now available either directly from the publisher (http://genesis2000.org) or through Amazon. And yes, alas, it also has a Facebook Fan page! You can read the preface to the book on-line here, as well as several endorsements and reviews.

Should Christians Be Celebrating the Birth of Paul Rather Than Jesus?

Millions celebrate the birth of Jesus without realizing that it was the Apostle Paul, not Jesus, who was the founder of Christianity. Jesus was a Jew not a Christian. He regularly went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, read from the Torah, observed the Jewish festivals such as Passover and Yom Kippur, and quoted the Shema: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is One Lord.” In Jesus’ day the closest holiday to Christmas was the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia.

BirthofJesusRead the rest at The Daily Beast here.

How Did the Romans Crucify?–New Archaeological Evidence

The four-part series “Biblical Conspiracies” airs on the Science Channel again tonight: December 23 beginning at 7PM EST:

7:00 PM Bride of God
Gathering dust at the British Library is a 1500-year-old manuscript, written by an anonymous monk. After millennia of rumors, this seems to be the first solid written evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

8:00 & 11:00 PM Secrets of the Crucifixion
A scientific investigation of 2,000-year-old bones may hold the key to the Crucifixion, revealing that the classical depiction of Jesus on the cross may be all wrong.

9:00 PM Secrets of the Sculpture
The new discovery of a terra cotta sculpture attributed to Michelangelo contains a secret symbol that unlocks an ancient, untold story of murder, sex and politics with Michelangelo at its center.

10:00PM Nails of the Cross
Two nails were discovered in the tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas who, according to the gospels, sent Jesus to the Romans, who then sent him to the cross. Using high tech tools, scientists try to prove that these nails were used to crucify Jesus.

Two of the programs are of particular focus in that they have reshaped the entire discussion about how the Romans crucified–in other words, how were victims in fact attached to a cross by nails? It now appears we have the archaeological evidence to answer this question and those of us who have thought for years that nails were put through the wrists not the hands were simply wrong.

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Few have heard anything about the “Abba Cave,” discovered in 1971 in the north Jerusalem suburb of Givat Hamivtar–not far from the tomb of “Yehohanan,” the famous “crucified man,” discovered in 1968–about which much has been written. The Abba cave held the remains of another “crucified man,” with three nails–not just a single one in the heel bone–that clearly pinned the hands (not the wrists, as some have argued) in hook-like fashion to a cross beam. It was assumed back in the 1970s that these bones were buried and no longer available for analysis–but it turns out this is not the case. What is even more intriguing, the victim was arguably none other than Matitiyahu Antigonus–the last of the Hashmonean kings–who was both beheaded and crucified by Marc Anthony. in 37 BCE).

Despite recent nay-saying, by those who are apparently not aware of all the facts, including the available skeletal remains and nails mentioned here, the case that the tomb held the remains of a crucified/beheaded male, as Nicu Haas first indicated, is a convincing one, given this latest analysis from Prof. Hershkovitz. Also those who have argued that crucifixion nails went through the wrist not the hands, and that these nails are too “short” to be for crucifixion, are just mistaken. Hershkovitz has definitely clarified this issue. The nails are driven into the palm, then either angled or bent into a hook, not to hold up the body but to keep the hands and arms in place–thus “tacking” or pinning the hands to the wood behind. The hypothesis that this individual was the Hasmonean royal priest/king Antigonus turns out to be a live option.

In April, 2011 filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici released a film titled “Nails of the Cross,” part of a six-part series on the History Channel titled “Secrets of Christianity.” In this film Jacobovici claimed he had located two lost crucifixion nails, both of which had been originally found in the 1990 discovery of the tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas. The implication, according to Simcha, was these these might well have been nails used to crucify Jesus that Caiaphas superstitiously had buried with him in the common belief at the time that such nails had magical powers–perhaps for healing or to guarantee good fortune in the afterlife. The reaction from biblical scholars and archaeologists was dismissive, charges of Easter-time sensationalism, and denials that there was any evidence these nails were either used in anyones crucifixion much less that they could be identified as coming from the tomb of Caiaphas. Prof. Robert Cargill offered the most expansive critique, which you can read here, and Simcha replied to him, point by point, here.

This latest version of “Nails of the Cross” presents new evidence based on scientific tests that  the nails in Professor Hershkovitz’s lab match the Caiaphas tomb’s chemical signature, they can be traced to the bone box of the High Priest himself, they were in contact with bones, and perhaps most significantly, contain pieces of ironized cedar wood still adhering to the nail.