About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."

2021/09/30

New Testament Creation Story

In the Acts of Apostles (chapter 17) we read about Apostle Paul preaching in Athens on Areopagus. Well, it is not really his sermon. Evangelist Luke wrote it, following the well- established custom of Hellenistic historiographers. They would simply make up speeches they considered appropriate for the occasion and their characters. So in this sermon we have what evangelist Luke thought that Paul would preach. Thus it is our window to the early Christian homiletic (preaching at the time of Luke).
            The opening part of that sermon is a beautiful New Testament creation story. It talks about God creating the world and everything in it, giving life and breath to all living creatures, and creating all peoples from one ancestor, and allotting them their space and time.
            Then the sermon makes a reference to a classical poet whom we now know was legendary Epimenides. This quotation hints the mystic panentheism - that God and creation overlap, “in God we live and move and have our being.”
            When the biblical creation story is mentioned people usually think only about the book of Genesis and its well-known creation in six days. Here you have a beautiful little gem - a New Testament Creation story in addition deeply influenced by Classical Greek philosophy.
And this New Testament Creation Story is something you might not know about the Bible.

 

Now let us look closer at Epimenides. The quotation in the Acts of the Apostles, in what is supposed to be Paul’s sermon but we know was written by evangelist Luke - this is not the only time this legendary Cretan philosopher was quoted approvingly in the Bible.

            Epimenides is not named but is being quoted in the letter to Titus (1:12). It is a letter supposedly written by Paul but it was certainly not written by him. It was written together with the other pastoral epistles (1st and 2nd Timothy) about a generation or two after Paul.

            I cannot stress enough how unusual that is! To have a Greek philosopher quoted in the Bible. And in addition it is the same Greek philosopher or more precisely this semi-legendary pagan prophet. And it is in the documents written at the similar time and both pretending to be written or spoken by Paul.

            What a strange coincidence! It can certainly suggest that pastoral epistles (1&2Timoty and Titus) and the writings of Evangelist Luke (his gospel and the Acts) might share some common background, if not outright the same author’s hand. And this strange closeness of evangelist Luke and Pastoral epistles is another thing you might not know about the bible. 

 

2021/09/23

Biblical gender changes


The last two months we’ve been asking “Who wrote the bible?” In the process we made some surprising, eye opening, and liberating discoveries. Below in this blog you can check the older articles and here you can find some older videoclips and sermons.

But the Bible which we have in our hands was not finished when the last ancient author put down the pen. The biblical authors were followed by editors and translators. And you might be surprised how much “creative” freedom they exercised!

            For instance, they could invent and include an entire biblical story. Good example could be one of the best known biblical stories about a woman caught in adultery with the even more famous pronouncement who is without guilt throw the first stone. This entire story was not in the Bible for several centuries! It is certainly absent from the earliest manuscripts. And when it was finally included, it was not always where it can be found now (in John 8). Some manuscripts had it at the end of the Gospel of John and some others in the linguistically and stylistically more fitting gospel of Luke. So, here you have an example of what editors could do! It is a beautiful story and very much Jesus-like, teaching tolerance and forgiveness, there can be hardly any opposition against it. 

            But there are also more sinister changes to the Bible. For example, those which were generated by the vicious misogyny of the later church. And so ancient editors and biblical translators (some of them until now) actively engaged in gender change of a number of biblical characters.

            In the original texts of Pauline letters were some prominent female characters like Euodia, or Synthyche (in the letter to Phillipians)  or Junia (in the letter to Romans) - but by different hands at different times, by different editors and translators all three of these women were made into males. We know (because they told us) that at least some of those who did it were unable to accept the reality that proud and strong women played important roles in early apostolic church.

            And so conservative patriarchal editors and translators (among them the translators of the King James Bible) actively engaged in quite a radical activity of gender change.

 

And these willful textual gender changes are something you might not know about the bible.

 

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And here are all the video episodes from this series "Who wrote the bible?"
Moses - "Moses In Attic - Lies about the Torah's age?" https://youtu.be/pbUz-PihKo8
David - "David the Hellene - was he a Jewish mercenary?" https://youtu.be/gtesJfLluC8
Isaiah - "Gospel In Cuneiform - Was she really a virgin?" https://youtu.be/Dp8G8Pm4nmI
Daniel - "Biblical Hopscotch - Apocalyptic Delirium?" https://youtu.be/e84fVv43gb4
Luke - "Hellenistic Luke - Biblical Entertainment?" https://youtu.be/F_qG1T3nSws
Not Paul - "Pauline Forgery - Biblical lies?" https://youtu.be/47H3oaPPhuk
Paul's Disciples? - "Biblical Fraudster At Work?" https://youtu.be/dv1fGElAix8
Editors and translators - "Biblical Gender Changes" https://youtu.be/wnQaHFeOuhI

 

2021/09/16

Biblical fraudster in action

In 2 Thessalonians (2:2) the author (supposedly the Apostle Paul) warns his readers against a fake letter written in his name and forged to deceive and mislead recipients.
     Wait a moment! What? Isn’t that a definition of a fraud? How could it be mentioned just that matter-of-factly? Such a blatant fraud must had been a reason for alarm! Unmasking and stopping the fraudster should have been the first item on the agenda. It should have been the primary focus of this letter. Subtle matters of theology could have waited.
     Well, there was a reason why it was not the primary focus. The situation was even more serious because this casual warning against a fraud letter was itself not written by Paul, it was written by a fraudster himself!  
     From the end of the 18th century there were serious doubts about Paul’s authorship of the Second Thessalonians. And throughout the 19th century academic theologians reached the consensus; the Second Thessalonains was not written by an apostle. There are multiple reasons for it starting with vocabulary, grammar, style, theology and its tone. But beyond all this forensic linguistics, this letter also contains several recognized forgery techniques and among them is this casual warning against the fraud. It is a known fraudulent maneuver.
     Here you have a Biblical fraudster crying “Beware of fraud!” And that is something you might not know about the Bible.

Now, why do I bring this up?
Firstly, because the truth and honesty is of the utmost value.  
Secondly, I bring it up to defend apostle Paul. He has been accused of many faults - misogyny, militarism, support of slavery, stiff conservative values... Much of it is in those fake letters, in those, which he did not write.
Thirdly, the church, theologians but also regular ministers and church members need to face the fact that more than half of the New Testament letters are fake. And they are not innocently fake, they are like our example of premeditated deceitful forgeries.
Here I would like to share an archeology parable:
Middens - ancient rubbish-piles - are an invaluable source of information for modern archeology.
Archeologists can learn from the ancient garbage more than from any ancient monuments or artistic masterpieces.
Biblical fake letters are like those middens - garbage piles. They were created by throwing things out and piling them up. And like those piles they offer us unfiltered insight into the second century church and its struggles, the nice the neutral and the ugly. We can observe how they lived, what they valued, what they struggled about and perhaps we can learn what to do and what not to do.
Approaching these letters as middens is a revealing, enlightening and liberating experience. 

2021/09/09

Pauline Forgeries

The first column of Colossians
from the Codex Sinaiticus

I vividly remember reading Colossians in Greek during my seminary studies in Prague. Right away the first chapter is just 6 Greek sentences. Very, very, very long and convoluted complex sentences. Each sentence is a paragraph long and one has as many as 158 words! Any normal modern attempt for translation had to divide those 6 sentences into smaller chunks.

            That language is simply not from Paul, NO WAY! Paul’s own sentences are usually half as long, pointed, argumentative, with a drive and his grammar and syntax were also different.

These are all features of language which do not change easily - you can change your style for artistic reasons but it would be strange not to say contra-productive in a letter. In a letter it is desirable to come across as recognizable by the recipient.

            Of course this suspicion of biblical forgeries is nothing new. There were ancient doubts about some of the writings (Hebrews) and from the end of the 18th century there is ever growing and persuasive arguments in that direction.

            But it is one way to hear about it and read about it and it is something different to experience it first hand. From this early experience I have been convinced that Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus and of course Hebrews were not written by apostle Paul. They are pious forgeries.

            And that is something you might not know about the bible and quite likely something you have hardly ever heard in a church. 

 

Biblical forgeries will be our theme next Sunday. This Sunday will be about the genuine Pauline letters, but even they have some interesting and profound surprises.

2021/09/02

Hellenist Luke

According to an early Christian legend the Evangelist Luke was a physician friend of Apostle Paul. It is difficult to make any judgement about Luke’s medical training. Similarly his relationship to apostle Paul is difficult to judge. He certainly did not know Paul well enough to capture his theology and thought process.
            On the other hand judging from Luke’s writing we know that he was a well educated Hellenistic intellectual. The Gospel of Luke is edited from earlier sources in a pleasant language, most sophisticated of all the other gospels and one of the best styles of the New Testament. And Luke’s second volume, the Acts of Apostles, is a real Hellenistic Masterpiece.  Modern scholars cannot decide about Acts’ precise inspiration or its exact literary category. Is it more a Hellenistic historiography, a Hellenistic Biography or a Hellenistic Novella? Difficult to decide.
       It is certain it shares some characteristic features of Hellenistic literature.
      It contains periodoi, travelogues - journeys of the main character. Hellenistic people were eager to read and learn about new distant lands, cities, cultures, customs, religions.
       It contains elements of teras or thauma - fascination with supra natural, miraculous or bizarre. Because Hellenistic audiences loved to be teased with religious or supra-natural mystery.
       Acts definitely contains aretology - lifting up virtues of the main character/s and setting him or them as examples for the audience.
       It also contains homiliai - made up speeches of the main characters - just like Hellenistic historiographer would insert in pivotal points believable but invented speeches.
       All of it is part of a highly entertaining even thrilling storytelling full of danger, suspension, jeopardy.
       It is really difficult to say what was the main source of inspiration, Hellenistic historiography, biography or novella. I would say that Luke like a proper creative intellectual was familiar and inspired by all the current literary styles. He used them to fit his own unique purpose, in fact he created his own and new style of THE ACTS OF APOSTLES.
       And that exactly what followed - after Luke and his Acts of Apostles - the early Christian literature from the mid 2nd Century is aflush with different acts of apostles- Acts of Andrew, Acts of Andrew and Mathias, Acts of John, Acts of Paul, Acts of Peter, Acts of Peter and Paul, Acts of Peter and the Twelve, Acts of Philip, Acts of Pilate, Acts of Tekla, and Acts of Thomas. And these are just those writings which survived till now and which we know.
       The Evangelist Luke is the first author and the father of this thrilling Hellenistic style, highly entertaining and at the same time educating. And that is something you might not know about the bible.

2021/08/20

Biblical Hopscotch

In our series “Who wrote the Bible” we come to the book of Daniel. It will be our introduction to the apocalyptic genre. There were earlier signs of apocalypticism in several older prophecies, but for the most part the book of Daniel is considered the beginning of the biblical apocalyptic genre - those expressionistic, ear-catching prophetic revelations how history is progressing towards the end. Daniel is an excellent early example of it, and as a book it is highly unusual, a book itself that was written in several languages, but also extremely problematic.
      Already in the ancient times, around the year 300 CE a Greek Philosopher Porphyry of Tire pointed out historical and authorship problems. Porphyry “denied that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of that Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes; he further alleged that ‘Daniel’ did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future.”
     This is a loose quotation from Jerome, translator of the Bible into Latin (Vulgate). And we must be thankful for these apologetic disapproving quotations, because they are our only sources of this Porphyry’s book about Daniel.  100 years later, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Emperor Theodosius II ordered all the copies of Porphyry book burned, not once, but twice! In 435 and then for good measure again in 448.
     It took Christian theologians another 1400 years, until enlightenment, to acknowledge that Porphyry was right after all and his scholarship was sound. With the growing body of historical and archeological knowledge of the ancient Middle East it became ever more clear that Daniel is absolutely sketchy about the time when it was supposedly written. And here are some examples of blaring anachronisms and contradictions.
1) Daniel writes about Nebuchadnezzar “madness” but if anything such an episode is known only about Nabonidus.
2) Daniel treats Balshazzar as a king of Babylon, but he was never a king of Babylon, if anything he was possibly a crown prince .
3) Balshazzar also was emphatically not a son of Nabuchadnezzar, he was a son of Nabonidus.
4) Daniel claims that Dareius the Meade (this cognomen itself is anachronism) conquered Babylon while it is a well known fact that it was the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great who did it, after earlier battles Babylon opened its gates to him without a fight.
5) Dareius was not a son of Xerxes as Daniel claims, in reality Xerxes was a son of Dareius.
            Thus the Book of Daniel is not only wrong about predicting the future beyond Antiochus Epiphanes as Porphyry observed, the book of Daniel is also completely wrong about the past, when it was supposedly written and about the events which should been fresh in the memory of the author.
     This is, dear friends, the beginning and foundation of the apocalyptic genre. Source and inspiration of all those feverish, fiery and often bloody visions of the end of times. In reality it is a forgery and quite a sloppy forgery at that!
     And that is unfortunately something many Americans might not know about the Bible even now. I am singling out our religious/fundamentalist compatriots because in the last several centuries especially American fundamentalist have been a steady source of apocalyptic excesses.
     The Book of Daniel was the basis for Milerites (later known as Adventists) to calculate the end of the world. It played an important role for Jehovah witnesses and several other groups after them (Davidians or Peoples Temple).
     Imagine selling all your property, upending your lives and waiting on hills (and it can be even more sinister - drinking Kool-Aid) and imagine that somewhere at the foundation of all of that nonsense is a sloppy forgery in which Babylon is conquered by Darius, Darius! That is why education matters in all aspects of life and also in theology and in faith!
     On the other hand if we abandon this folly’s errand, this crazy idea that Daniel is predicting the future until now, and take a sober approach and perceive it as a literary product of a religious person (or a group of persons) who felt marginalized, alienated and attacked by a hegemonic foreign culture and religion, then the book of Daniel can offer us invaluable insights into human religious psyche and even possibly bring some sparks of hope to the extreme times and situations.
And that is what we will attempt to do this Sunday.




2021/08/13

Gospel in Cuneiform

A recreation of KTU 1.24.7
Among the Ugaritic cuneiform tablets dated to 12th century BCE is also a myth about the wedding of Yarich (moon god) to a princess called Nikal-and-Ib (KTU 1.24)
            The seventh line reads hlģlmt.tldbn - “Look, the sacred bride shall bear a son...”
            It is almost identical (with just minor dialectical variations and one omitted word) to what is in the prophet Isaiah 7:14 “Look, the young woman is pregnant and shall bear a son...”
            The Ugaritic word ģlmt and corresponding Hebrew ‘lmh were words for a princess, possibly with some religious function. But this word primarily designated a young noble woman who hasn’t given birth yet (in the medical Latin - Nullipara).
            Originally this phrase was quite likely a linguistically and culturally established way of announcing a birth to a new mother. (Similar phrasing is used to about the birth of Ishamel to Hagar and Isaac to Sarah). 
            But then, when Isaiah was translated from Hebrew to Greek ‘lmh - “the nullipara princess” became παρθενος - “a virgin”. The Septuagint was the Bible of the Church and so “virgin” found its way to the Gospel of Matthew and indirectly to the Gospel of Luke while simultaneously generating virginal phantasms of early church theology. 

And this Nativity Gospel in Cuneiform is something you might not know about the Bible.