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.

 

The-Sabbath-Breaker-Stoned-by-James-Tissot-1900-Jewish-Museum-New-York

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).

isis-iraq-war-crimes.si

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.

Charlie and Ahmed

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.

 

 

Join Us And Dig Mount Zion in 2015!

 

Announcing our 2015 Mt Zion Excavation Season

http://digmountzion.uncc.edu

June 14 through July 10th 2015

Registration is now open for both student and non-student participation in our 2015 Mt Zion Excavation. UNC Charlotte is the only American university excavating in the historic Old City of Jerusalem and our site is rich with material remains from all periods of habitation–Iron Age, Herodian/Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Crusader, and Ottoman. There is no excavation like it in all of Jerusalem.

We ask that applicants dig with us a minimum of two weeks but those who can stay longer are encouraged to do so. Many of our participants come for the entire four weeks. Participants of any age over 18 are welcome to apply with no previous experience or background required other than good health and an enthusiasm and willingness to take part. The Mount Zion excavation is run as a field school and all team members receive specialized training from the directors and area supervisors as part of their participation.

Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer

Photo courtesy of Joel Kramer

We have two tracks for registration and participation:

I. A University academic credit option for UNC Charlotte Students or students registered at any accredited U.S. University. This program includes a course taught by Dr. Tabor with 3 semester hours credit (transferable through UNC Charlotte) and runs two weeks, June 14 through 28. The program cost includes lodging at the Gloria Hotel (including breakfast and lunch), tuition, special lectures, and tours, but airfare is extra and arranged by the students themselves. It is administered through our UNC Charlotte Education Abroad office. Full information and links to register are here: http://edabroad.uncc.edu/programs/europe/mt-zion-jerusalem-excavation

II. Non-student or non-credit option for any participants over age 18 and in good health. A “dig fee” of $250 per week (discounted to $200 for previous participants or those who stay four weeks), with a two week minimum stay. Lodging, airfare, and meals are arranged by each individual but we encourage our team members to stay at the Gloria Hotel where we have arranged special discounted group rates (single, double, and triple options), or a slightly cheaper option at the German Lutheran Hospice nearby. For details, questions, and an application form write our administrator Mareike Grosser at digmountzion@gmail.com. Prospective participants are also encouraged to interact with others on our Facebook group page (anyone can ask to join the group) to arrange roommates, ask questions of former participants, and gather details on the history of our operations:https://www.facebook.com/groups/digmountzion

You can also find more information on our dig, photos, and past discoveries at our official web site: http://digmountzion.uncc.edu

Mt of Olives Looking East

Mt of Olives Looking East, Mt Zion Site as it Appeared in 1880

Jerusalem Ruins: 70 CE Roman Destruction or 363 CE Earthquake?

My friend and colleague Shimon Gibson, with whom I co-direct our Mt Zion excavation in Jerusalem (see: digmountzion.uncc.edu), has presented a controversial revisionist interpretation of the fallen “Herodian-like” stones just south of the Western Wall Plaza whom most believe result from the Roman 70 CE destruction of the Jewish Temple.

Prof. Shimon Gibson at the Western Wall. Photo by Emil Salman

Prof. Shimon Gibson at the Western Wall. Photo by Emil Salman

 Archaeologist: Western Wall stones result of earthquake, not Roman demolition

Prof. Shimon Gibson says the huge stones near the Western Wall may have been caused by major earthquake in 363 B.E.

By  | Jan. 4, 2015 | 2:30 AM
The Old City in Jerusalem is full of archaeological attractions from all periods of its life. But one of its most emotional – certainly for Jewish visitors – is the pile of huge stones lying next to the southern section of the Western Wall, in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden and Davidson Center, next to the Western Wall plaza.

Information signs, tour guides, books and archaeologists explain that these stones fell to the street during the destruction of the Holy Temple, with the end of the Great Revolt in 70 C.E., and that they are the most palpable testimony to the destruction.

However, professor of archaeology Shimon Gibson suggests these walls stayed in place nearly 300 years after the destruction, and fell not by the hands of man but in a major earthquake that wracked Jerusalem in 363 C.E. He presented this thesis for the first time at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, last week, and the theory has aroused disputes among senior archaeologists.

Prof. Benjamin Mazar conducted the first digs to uncover the fallen stones, in the 1970s. There has been a consensus since then that the giant stones lying on the ground are from the destruction of the Holy Temple.

However, Gibson points to several problems with this explanation. First, we now know a lot more about life in Jerusalem after the destruction than we did in the ’70s. Recent archaeological digs taught us that Roman Jerusalem (which became known as Aelia Capitolina) was a functioning city with a rich population, sturdy homes, a commercial life and wide, elegant streets.

“Now we know much more about the late Roman period,” Gibson says. “If there was a neighborhood like this there, how could it be that they leave debris from the year 70 C.E. in the middle of it all? It’s like going out of your house and leaving a pile of debris. You clear it. And why leave the city to bring stones to build new buildings if you have stones next to your house?”

Next to the heaps of destruction, Mazar’s granddaughter, Eilat Mazar, uncovered a Roman-era bakery. “Who would buy bread in a place with damaged walls above it and fallen stones?” Gibson adds. “You don’t build next to a four-story ruin.”

Inspiration for Roman builders

Gibson, a British-born archaeologist living in Israel, also points to the similarity in artisanship – comparing supporting pillars or other pillars that adorned the Temple Mount with the artisanship of those at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Mamre (near Hebron).

The three sites contain religiously important structures, which were built hundreds of years after the destruction. According to Gibson, the builders of these structures, at the beginning of the fourth century C.E., saw the Temple Mount walls and tried to imitate them, as part of the effort of Christianity at that time to prove that it was the successor of Judaism.

If the walls were destroyed in 70 C.E., asserts Gibson, how could the builders of 325 C.E. succeed in copying them, considering the fact that they did not have access to archaeological drawings or photographs? He concludes that the walls still stood hundreds of years after the destruction, and served as inspiration for the Roman builders.

Gibson also disagrees that the Roman legion would bother to destroy the stones in an expensive and complex engineering operation, after the Temple was already pillaged, burned to ashes and Temple Mount abandoned. Instead, he suggests another force at work to topple these walls.

Pagan worship

The earthquake of 363 C.E. is well documented in Christian sources related to Jerusalem. It occurred during the rule of Julian the Apostate. Julian sought to restore the Roman Empire to the period before his uncle Constantine had made Christianity the state religion.

Julian encouraged renewed pagan worship, and also permitted the Jews to return and build a new temple. The Jews started rebuilding, but the powerful earthquake destroyed the foundations of the third temple and other places around the country. That earthquake caused considerable damage, as walls and entire buildings collapsed.

“Half of Jerusalem was destroyed during this earthquake,” says Gibson. “I suggest that the Temple Mount walls fell at the same time. The way the stones lie is also more consistent with an earthquake than destruction by man. I propose that perhaps the debris we see there are also from the destruction of 363 C.E.”

He also quotes historical sources describing the death of Jewish workers from stones that fell from Temple Mount. While these sources undoubtedly have a theological interest in describing the ruin, there is no disputing that, in that same year, an especially powerful earthquake rocked the land.

Prof. Ronny Reich, who was a partner in the original Southern Wall digs in the 1970s and ran the excavations in the ’90s together with Prof. Yaakov Billig, vehemently rejects Gibson’s theories.

Other side of the coin

“It doesn’t hold water,” he states. Reich’s strongest evidence against the theory is a layer of mud or dirt several centimeters thick, which was discovered underneath the fallen stones.

‘The rockslide doesn’t lie on the street. It lies on a layer of sediment 3-5 centimeters thick,” he says. “We cleaned this layer very exactingly, and we found 120-125 coins. It is sediment that collected on the street after it went out of use and before the collapse – I suppose in the first winters after the destruction. The last coin we found is from the fourth year of the rebellion, that is to say 69 C.E. If Gibson is right, could it be that for 290 years, no other coins were collected under the pile of stones? What happened between 70 and 363?”

Reich does not assert that legionnaires destroyed the wall immediately after the destruction of the Temple but perhaps a few years later, even in honor of the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 130 C.E. But he is sure they did not stay standing through the fourth century.

“Size matters in archaeology,” says Reich about the earthquake. “It’s true buildings collapse, but you are talking about the walls of Temple Mount. That’s not just another structure.”

Yet Gibson is not convinced. The coins, according to him, could have rolled underneath the rubble in various ways. For example, builders who wanted to level the road in a later period might have brought dirt from elsewhere, or perhaps the stones were moved and rearranged so they could be employed for secondary use.

Sometimes in archaeology, he says, there are ideas that need to be raised to rethink things. “We all accepted as gospel that these stones fell in the year 70, and I don’t want to remove from anyone the symbolism of these stones. But I have an interest in the historic, substantive side,” he says. “I tried to convince myself that I am wrong because the heart wants it to be the year 70, but it goes against reason. The goal is that people start to think about it – and if I am wrong, then I am wrong. Life will go on.”

 

http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.635160

TaborBlog in 2014

THANK YOU ALL!

Thank you to all my blog readers–old and new–for your continued interest in my postings on TaborBlog during 2014. It was a record year by every measure. Total page-views, going back to 2010 when the present metrics were activated, topped 1,000,000 in November, 2014 with 467,877 page-views in 2014 alone. At the end of 2011 we were at just 40, 967–so that is a 10-fold increase in four years! Here is a report that WordPress put together with lots of interesting stats about top posts, countries reached, total traffic, and so forth. I look forward to a fantastic 2015 with lots of new postings and information to come–so bookmark the site and check back often! Click on the image to view a report and then scroll down.

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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.