Sunday, July 31, 2011

Does God Exist? The Argument from Morality

I've been having an interesting discussion about this argument in the comments section at the blog Students for Christianity.

If you'd like, go check it out!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 12 & 13

The twelfth lecture is on the letters of John.

  • In Gospel of John, Jesus talks in riddles, and responds to questions with non-sequiturs
  • Mark includes atonement as a reason for Jesus' death, Luke doesn't
  • 1 John says that everyone is a sinner, yet contradicts by saying no believers sin
  • 1 John commands believers to love brothers, not the outsiders
The thirteenth lecture is on the Historical Jesus.
  • Prof says no reputable historian believes we know anything about the birth or trial of Jesus
  • Peasants, like the disciples, would not have been let into a Roman trial court
  • All reputable scholars believe there was a Jesus of Nazareth
  • Historians agree that the sign nailed to the cross and the baptism by John the Baptist of Jesus are historical
  • Important criterion for historicity is multiple attestation (found in more than one source), e.g. Jesus' teaching against divorce
  • Another important criterion is dissimilarity (something that "swims against the current" of early Christianity), e.g. Jesus' disciples being armed in the garden during the last Passover.  Another example is when Jesus says "nobody is good but God."
  • Prof says Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet
  • Says Jesus picked 12 disciples because of the idea that the 12 tribes would be reconstituted at the restoration
  • Says Jesus was executed because the Romans believed he was claiming to be King of the Jews

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 11

The eleventh lecture is on the Gospel of John.

  • Synoptics say Jesus' ministry is 1 year long, and occurred after John the Baptist's ministry was over
  • John says Jesus' ministry is 3 years long, and overlaps John the Baptist's ministry
  • The prof says he goes to a church w/ priests (Catholic? Episcopalian?) 
  • Jesus in synoptics is almost silent during his trial, in John he has philosophical discussions
  • anachronisms- calling certain people "the Jews" (all were jews), excommunication for belief in Jesus as messiah (this was not an issue early on because many were claiming to be messiah)
  • Jesus claimed to be the "I AM" in the book of Exodus

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 9 & 10

The 9th and 10th lectures are about the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, respectively.
  • Luke and Acts were written by the same anonymous person
  • Unlike Mark, Luke doesn't mention the "abomination of desolation" in context with the destruction of the temple
  • Author is not an eye-witness to events in the Gospels
  • Prof says this Gospel was written after 70 CE because the it says things that happened to Jerusalem that Mark does not say, e.g. "surrounded by armies," "will fall by the sword," "will be led captive into all nations," and "will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles."
  • The theme of Jesus' death is that "prophets are killed by their own people," instead of it being an atonement.
  • Prof says that unlike Luke, Mark has Jesus change the Law, e.g. in Mark 7:19 about Jesus declaring all foods clean.  (I emailed the prof about this phrase not being in the Greek)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 8

The eighth lecture is about the Gospel of Thomas.

  • Tradition says that Thomas brought Christianity to India.
  • Most scholars think it was written in the early second century
  • Some sayings within it might be earlier than the same sayings in the synoptic gospels
  • Proto-Orthodox means the type of early beliefs that eventually became Christian orthodoxy

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 7

In lecture seven, the prof talks about the Gospel of Matthew.
  • Matthew is the most Jewish, yet has been used as motivation for much anti-semetism
  • Redaction criticism is used to compare the passages that occur in multiple gospels
  • Prof says that Matthew was written after 70 CE.  I'm not sure why.  He said Mark was written before 70 CE.  Perhaps the difference is because Matthew emphasizes more than Mark the need to "watch" and remain faithful through the hard times, even though Jesus hadn't come back yet.
  • Says that author of Matthew thinks gentiles should keep Torah

Friday, July 8, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 6

In the sixth lecture, the prof talks about the Gospel of Mark.  He emphasizes that he will only be using the historical critical method to analyze the text.  Thus, he will not try to harmonize this gospel with other NT texts.

  • The "Messianic Secret" is a big problem if this gospel, as is the problem of misunderstanding, which is that of Jesus' teachings by his very own disciples.  
  • Scholars have said this gospel is a passion narrative with an extended introduction.
  • Author of the gospel is unknown
  • Probably written just before, or right around, 70 CE because it doesn't mention the destruction of the Temple (I didn't understand this point, because it actually does mention it in the form of a prophecy)
  • There's controversy over whether or not Mark ends at v. 8 of chapter 16, however most scholars believe it does. Therefore, this gospel includes only rumors of the resurrection

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 5

In the fifth lecture, the prof talks about the NT as reliable history.  He basically says it is not.

The lecture is focused on the differences in the stories of Paul in both Acts and Galatians.  In Acts, it says that Paul was introduced by Barnabas to the other disciples a short time after Paul's experience in Damascus.  The prof counts 5 times that Paul was in Jerusalem before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.  In Galatians, it says that Paul visited Jerusalem perhaps once or twice before the Jerusalem Council, and then only to see Peter and James.  The prof says that these stories are probably contradictory, even though some devout believers have tried to harmonize them.

The prof thinks the account in Galatians is probably more accurate because Paul was being so forceful about something that the readers of his letter could have verified.  However, he admits that his main point is just that the texts must be sifted in order to arrive at historical truth, rather than taken at face-value.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 4

In the fourth lecture, the prof talks about 1st century Judaism.

The prof gives an intriguing explanation of why modern scholars consider the date of the authorship of the book of Daniel to be about 165 BCE.  The explanation is that the author of Daniel accurately predicts the events of history up until 164 BCE, at which point he starts to get things wrong.  Therefore, scholars conclude that Daniel was written after the date of the accurate history and before the date of the inaccurate history.

  • Most notable places in the Eastern Mediterranean were Hellenized.
  • A great quote, "The Jews had an ideology of empire and world domination embedded in their scripture.  And yet their social and political situation was just the opposite.  And it's in that maelstrom of Jewish ideology not fitting reality that Jesus was born."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 3

I listened to the third lecture, and it's about the Greco-Roman world.
  • The prof says that Judaism is a Greco-Roman religion or cult. 
  • Alexander the Great wanted to create a one world empire, and he Hellenized much of the Eastern Mediterranean
  •  Ekklesia was the common term for the town assembly (and eventually the term adopted by believers for referring to themselves, translated into English as "church")
  • Early christian churches were modeled after the pattern of the Roman household.
  • The Romans were very tolerant of other religious beliefs, unless a particular group was rebellious or caused political problems
  • The one-world, Greco-Roman society of the 1st century allowed for Christianity to spread rapidly

Monday, July 4, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament 2

In the second lecture, the prof talks about canon.

He says that the motto of the class is "Doubt Everything."

The canon was formed over time by consensus opinion of church leaders and lay people.  Several different canons were in circulation, and that is the case today, as well.

Interesting bits:

  • Paul did not write Ephesians
  • Peter did not write Second Peter
  • Marcion the Heretic only included in his canon 10 of the 13 letters attributed to Paul
  • Earliest known list of canon that includes the 27-books of of today's NT is from 367 CE
  • Some Eastern/Middle Eastern churches still don't accept the Revelation of John in their bibles

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yale Open Course: New Testament

I listened to the first lecture of Yale's free Intro to the New Testament course.

The prof comes out right away saying that the class will approach the New Testament using methods of historical inquiry and verification.  It will not, on the other hand, approach it using methods of faith or theology.  It will not approach it as if it's scripture.

Martyr E. Coli

I've been listening to the archived episodes of the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast.  They had an interesting episode with an interview of a scientist from UC - Boulder, and in it he mentioned that certain E. coli will explode themselves in order to save the rest of their colony from attacks by other colonies.

I think this is an interesting example of a "moral act" exemplified by non-humans in the natural world.

It is clear that such behaviors can cause greater well-being for a greater number of individuals, and that the absence of such behaviors can cause less well-being for a greater number of individuals.

In short, this is a natural example of the benefits of utilitarian ethics.