How You Can Tell the Difference Between a True Church and a False

young-calvin… The true mark by which to discern the Church of Jesus Christ [is] to be where his holy Gospel is purely and faithfully preached, declared, listened to and heeded; where the Sacraments are rightly administered, even though there continue to be some imperfections and flaws, as they will always be among men.  On the contrary, where the Gospel is not declared, heard and received, there we recognize by no means the Church. –  John Calvin

A Classic From the Vault: Helmut Koester on Hector Avalos

This nifty piece ran a few years back and since it has been a slow news day I thought I would do what others have done and post a ‘classic’. And this one is.  That’s for sure.

BAR Most Loved and Most Reviled

koesterPerhaps I should not be surprised that a scholar who has advocated a Biblical nihilism and has recommended that Biblical studies should be “tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world” would launch an attack on the discipline of Biblical archaeology and on a magazine that is Biblical archaeology’s most important outlet.

In the May/June “First Person” column by Professor Hector Avalos, as well as his book from which this column is taken, Professor Avalos criticizes not only the policies of *BAR* and its editor, he also questions the legitimate existence of the entire complex of Jewish and Christian religion in the United States, its Biblical base and its relationship to the academic discipline of Biblical studies, to wit, the Society of Biblical Literature—a formidable task indeed! What would be required for such an endeavor, however, is knowledge of the realities of American religious life and Biblical scholarship in general, as well as of the details of controversial issues in present debates. Unfortunately, Professor Avalos reveals a deep ignorance in both respects.

The reality is that both Judaism and Christianity depend upon the Bible. The Bible is their book of law and morality, their source of inspiration and worship, of consolation in sorrow and of festive celebration. The suggestion that the modern world does not need this book at the same time recommends the complete elimination of these Bible-based religions. This is not only preposterous, but it reveals a complete lack of understanding of what Professor Avalos calls “the modern world.” His “modern world” is a fiction in his mind that has no relationship to reality.

As for *BAR *, Professor Avalos off-handedly characterizes it as a journal that “has served Biblical education well in some cases and badly in others” creates the impression that about half of its content belongs to the latter category. He then proceeds to draw a caricature of some of its articles as if this were the kind of thing to which *BAR* was mostly committed. This is far from the truth.

Most of its articles are well-reasoned and well-documented presentations of good scholarship. To be sure, some are controversial—scholars disagree on interpretations of archaeological as well as literary materials—but that is the normal business of scholarship. Does Professor Avalos, claiming to be a scholar, not know that?

In fact the more controversial articles and opinions have served a very important purpose. The albeit-illegal publication of unpublished material from the Dead Sea Scrolls broke a deadlock that many had unsuccessfully tried to do for many years.

It was during the year of my presidency of the Society of Biblical Literature that the society accepted a free-access policy, which had successfully been applied in the process of the publication of the Nag Hammadi Codices (first: publication of a facsimile; second: publication of a preliminary translation; third: critical editions of all documents). But we were never been able to convince scholars involved in the publication of the scrolls to follow the same procedure. Thanks to *BAR*’s bold move to publish some unpublished texts, the deadlock was finally broken. Professor Avalos recognizes this; but is this part of *BAR*’s scandalous behavior?

Then there is the accusation that *BAR* is biased because it calls Professor Frank Cross a friend of Israel and the late Professor John Strugnell an anti-Semite, both Harvard colleagues of mine. This is not bias; it is a statement of a fact. I have known for decades that John Strugnell believed in Christian supersessionism.

Moreover, *BAR *’s seemingly offensive comments about Elisha Qimron are justified in many ways.  That Hershel Shanks has been found guilty by an Israeli court of violating Qimron’s copyright in the translation does not make him a criminal but rather a saint—if there is something like that in Judaism! Qimron has never revealed that the translation of the controversial Dead Sea Scroll known as MMT  was primarily the work of John Strugnell, who never got due recognition for his work.

Professor Avalos also cites as  *BAR *’s “competitive nature” Hershel Shanks’s criticism of the National Geographic’s publication of the Gospel of Judas.  On the contrary, he should have congratulated *BAR* for this critique! The publication of this document by the National Geographic was a scandal. The scholar entrusted with the translation, Marvin Meyer, violated the free-access statement of the scholarly society [the Society of Biblical Literature], of which he is a member. To his detriment, numerous major mistakes in his translation have now been discovered.

This could have been avoided if Marvin Meyer or whoever would be entrusted with its publication had allowed fellow scholars in the field of Coptic studies to discuss this Coptic text before the appearance of the first English translation. What Hershel Shanks wrote, calling attention to the scandal of National Geographic’s publication of this text, was exactly right and has been confirmed by subsequent scholarly investigations.

I shall refrain from setting the record straight on other examples of Professor Avalos’s caricature of *BAR *. More important is a consideration of the fundamental and important role that *BAR * has been playing in the concert of Bible and archaeology. There was once another popular journal, /Biblical Archaeologist/, founded by my former Harvard colleague and prominent archaeologist G. Ernest Wright. In its first years, *BAR * competed with this journal. The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), under whose auspices it was published, however, decided to change the name of this publication to /Near Eastern Archaeologist/, since it seemed to the leaders of this society that the name “Biblical” was odious (Professor Avalos evidently agrees with that judgment!). This was done by ASOR after the vast majority of the subscribers rejected such a change of the title. The result was that subscribers interested in the Bible (including me) discontinued their subscription. This makes *BAR * and Hershel Shanks’s Biblical Archaeology Society the only player in the field. Courageously this magazine alone holds up the torch of a scholarly outlet in this important area, although the very name “Biblical” combined with the world of a scholarly discipline—including archaeology—seems to be deplorable for Professor Avalos as well as the leaders of ASOR, who have largely abandoned their responsibility of a publication with an appeal to the general public in this field of study.

It is exactly here that Professor Avalos’s lack of understanding of the realities of Biblical scholarship is most evident. He apparently is unable to see this reality: The relationship of American religious life, Bible and scholarship is a vital and undeniable factor in our society—especially in the United States—however controversial.

Helmut Koester
Former SBL President
Professor Emeritus
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, Massachusetts

The HuffPo and its Editors are Just Ignorant Hate Mongers

They absolutely love the kind of anti-Catholic drivel featured in their ignorant and silly pseudo-reporting.

huffpo

The Catholic church isn’t a hate group and if the imbeciles at the HuffPo had half a scintilla of sense at all they would realize it and wouldn’t aid and abet the stupidest of groups which insist otherwise.

But since the HuffPo and its editors seem to believe that any anti-Catholic garbage is worth running, then they need to be reminded that they are by there doing demonstrating to the world that they are nothing other than a ‘journalistic’ version of Westboro not Baptist not Church.  That’s right- they are, in their own way, just as vile in their hate-speech spewing and bile spitting senselessness as the Westboro cult is.

As I said to the HuffPo- “how ignorant you are- how willing to pander to the silliest of ideas in your anti-catholic hatred. You’re shameless.”

Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity

frauds_225x353This is fascinating.

“Identity theft” seems a uniquely 21st-century crime, and is very common in the contemporary world. But in a new book, Prof. Miriam Eliav-Feldon of Tel Aviv University‘s Department of Historyobserves that identity theft and associated fraud have deep historical roots. From royal pretenders to women masquerading as men and those who resort to fraud to conceal their religious faith, history is brimming with stories of impostors. The battle between frauds and those who try to thwart them has been constant from the beginning of humanity, she says – and the battle is still going strong.

And

With so many frauds and impostors throughout the early modern period, the question of how and why they succeeded in their deception remains a mystery, notes Prof. Eliav-Feldon, who identifies it as one of the key issues of the phenomenon. The answer, she says, relies on a different notion of truth.

One example is the tale of David Reuveni, who in 1524 came to Venice and declared himself a prince of the lost tribes of Israel. Appearing before the Pope and various kings of Europe, he vowed to forge an alliance with European leaders to liberate the holy land from the Muslims. Despite the absence of proof, Jews and non-Jews alike rallied to his cause. It was years before his deception was uncovered.

Prof. Eliav-Feldon believes that Reuveni succeeded so well because kings and church prelates alike desperately wanted his tale to be true. “They wanted to believe that they had a potential ally — and were willing to suspend judgment because it fit their interests,” she explains. “Many impostors succeeded for a long time not because everybody believed them, but because they had no way of confirming they were impostors.”

Fascinating.  People believe fraud not because they’re foolish- but because they wish the fraud to be true.  This nicely explains why the purveyors of Talpiot, for example, continue to maintain its purported significance: they wish it to be so.  The ‘Lead Codices’ sycophants wish it to be true.  And on, and on.

Indeed.

A Twisted Crown of Thorns ®

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In the modern times in which we live where every body has got the attention span of a gnat it is not surprising to see that many times some pastors opt to dress too casually in t-shirts and jeans to try and emulate popular stand up comedians. Well it actually works…these churches surely get filled up very soon. Most of the churches actually have high turn overs with new faces literally fighting for empty front row seats every week (and an even higher numbers leaving through the back door in search of funnier and more entertaining routines).

Church growth gurus now advocate for “hip and relevant” programmes that are geared to effect maximum entertainment and comedic fun at the expense of discipleship and Bible study. The youth groups are actually not far behind. (Oops! I guess that is the understatement of the generation seeing that its in church youth groups…

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That Pale, Wishy-Washy- Effete Jesus The Emergents Adore…

Never existed.  Not so far as the writers of the biblical text are concerned.  Take, for example, Luke’s perception of Jesus as described by that fellow named John the Baptizer (in ch 3) :

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you withe the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Note in particular John’s no nonsense final statement:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Jesus comes bringing judgment.  The hippy Jesus never existed.  The real, the ‘Historical’ Jesus came to divide, to disunite, to rend asunder mothers from daughters and fathers from sons and husbands from wives: he came to force a choice.  One either chooses God or one chooses judgment.  There is no middle way, no other alternative.

This, the biblical Jesus, makes the emergents and the seekers exceedingly uncomfortable- to such an extent that they avoid such texts and urge others simply to embrace some facile and unbiblical pseudo-‘love’.  Just ‘love God’ they cry (usually with real tears for emphasis).  As if love for God weren’t something concrete and real and directed specifically TO God.  As if loving a worm were the same thing as loving God.

For such souls the biblical truth that God is Love is contorted, twisted, and distorted to read ‘Love is God’.  ‘Love’- or better their false view of real love- is turned into an idol worshiped and adored.  But love apart from God and outside of God and without God is precisely that- an idol.

Flee the wishy-washy pseudo Jesus proclaimed by the idolaters.  He never existed.

Demons in the Scrolls

An essay by Mladen Popovic is up on Academia.edu which may be of interest to folk who follow Scrolls scholarship-

Anthropology, Pneumatology, and Demonology in Early Judaism: The Two Spirits Treatise (1QS III, 13–IV, 26) and Other Texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  

From the 2010 conference, to be published in ‘And God Breathed into Man the Breath of Life’ – Dust of the Ground and Breath of Life (Gen 2.7): The Development of a Dualistic Anthropology in Early Judaism and Christianity, and Their Umwelts (ed. J.T.A.G.M. van Ruiten and G.H. van Kooten; Themes in Biblical Narrative; Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.) at http://rug.academia.edu/MladenPopovic