Is Theism the result of Tea-Drinking?

Jerome Gellman, in The Routledge Companion to Theism (2012) says yes, Theism is the result of tea-drinking … but not for Jews:

I can verify that this is indeed OED’s second definition of “theism”, coming after the more well-known definition of theism1 (which has to do with God and stuff):

I especially like that quote from the 1886 issue of Science, which explains that the form of “theism” in the reference to “acute, subacute and chronic ‘theism’ … has no connection with theological matters”. Nice.

As Simon Blackburn, in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2016), s.v. “theism”, confirms, what we have here with theism1 and theism2 is “homonymy”.

Homonymy. That certainly sounds like something that most forms of theism would frown upon.


Was Genesis even authoritative for the Book of Watchers? In what sense? John J. Collins

John J. Collins indicates the size of a cubit – the conventional unit of measurement for Giants

John J. Collins writes:

It should be clear that the Torah is one of several sources on which the author [of the Book of the Watchers] drew, although in this case it provides the main frame for the story. The story itself is a moral tale, illustrating the pitfalls of fornication and of illicit knowledge. The understanding of the sin of the watchers as improper revelation provides an obvious counterpart to the proper revelation of Enoch in the rest of the book. The contrast between the watchers and Enoch is spelled  out a little later, when Enoch has his audience with God in 1 En. 15. The watchers are reproached for having left the high and holy heaven and lain with human women. The mystery they revealed was worthless. In contrast, Enoch is a human being who ascends to heaven and lives like the holy ones.

Of course, the career of Enoch, which takes up the greater part of the Book of the Watchers, is itself only loosely based on Genesis. Enoch was famously said to have ‘walked with God’ (Gen 5.22). While the biblical phrase may have meant only that Enoch lived a righteous life, it inspired the story that he had ascended to heaven, even before ‘God took him’ (Gen 5.24). It is widely agreed that he was modeled to some degree on Enmeduranki, king of Sippar, who is said to have been taken up to heaven and shown the techniques of divination and the tablet of the gods. The Book of the Watchers spins a story that he was given a tour of the ends of the earth, guided by an angel. In all of this, motifs that echo the Hebrew Scriptures are freely mixed with Hellenistic and Babylonian traditions.

It is difficult to say whether or in what sense the author of the Book of the Watchers regarded Genesis as authoritative. He mainly treated it as fodder for imagination. This is the way ‘canonical’ texts work in literature: they nourish the imagination of later writers, and constrain it only to a limited degree.

    • John J. Collins, “Torah as Narrative and Wisdom in the Dead Sea Scrolls”, in Reading the Bible in Ancient Traditions and Modern Editions: Studies in Memory of Peter W. Flint, ed. Andrew B. PerrinKyung S. BaekDaniel K. Falk (Atlanta: SBL Press, November 2017), pp. 361-362 (357-380).

What do you think? Was Genesis more like Harold Bloom’s literary canon, to which Collins may here allude? Or was it ‘authoritative’ in some further sense (as Collins still entertains, while also asking “in what sense” Genesis may be regarded as authoritative for the Book of Watchers)?

It is prudent that we avoid importing later senses of ‘canonical’ and ‘authoritative’ and other more dangerous terms such as ‘inspired’ and ‘biblical’, at least in the senses in which they are employed to describe phenomena in the Common Era. But two factors, at least, occur to me that suggest Genesis was also ‘authoritative’ in some sense that exceeds its demonstrated ability to “nourish the imagination of later writers”.

First, the text appeals to the arche or origins, a move which is always, inherently an attempt to justify some present situation, institution, practice, belief, doctrine, etc – to invest our present contingent circumstances with the illusion of some fixed and immovable anchor. This quality is intrinsic to ‘the authoritative’, which always involves the claim that one is standing on the shoulders of giants – which like Quixote’s, are no more than phantoms of the imagination.

Second, we should note the importance of the role of heavenly revelation within 1 Enoch, in particular revelations of heavenly secrets of creation (beginnings) and eschatology (endings), which strongly suggests an attempt to discover the ‘deeper meaning’ of Genesis, not to mention other aNE origin stories; this is a giveaway that the author regards Genesis as authoritative, although ‘authoritative’ in a sense that both overlaps with later ideas of inspiration and contrasts with them, given that the boundaries of what counts as ‘inspired’ are expanding, and by nature are expansive, open to new revelations of heavenly secrets.

Lastly, I note that the Book of Watchers sticks closely to the wording of the verses in Genesis 6.1-4, even while expanding its (authoritative, inspired and inspirational) words in what were probably unforeseen directions. Even the words of Genesis are authoritative, but not at all with the implication that they may not be added to – quite the opposite. As supplement to Genesis 6.1-4, the Book of the Watchers is Derridean, not simply making an addition to the text, but asserting its originary lack, a lack to be filled by a plumbing of deeper origins, and (allegedly) more secret truths of origins that are at once ultimate (eschatological) endings.

Update (8 January 2018): Jim Davila answers my question above. He considers that not only was Gen 6.1-4 ‘authoritative’ for 1 Enoch, but that some earlier version of the Watcher/Giant story was also authoritative for Gen 6.1-4 (although the author of Gen 6.1-4 tried to play it down). Yet like me, Jim also states that this ‘authority’ was a long way from the later canonical authority. See what he wrote here. See also the similar views of J.T. Milik, Paolo Sacchi, Philip Davies, and Helge Kvanvig. On the other side, there are quite a few more other scholars who don’t think that Gen 6.1-4 is an abbreviation of any such story as found in 1 Enoch. Unfortunately, given the brevity of 1 Enoch 6.1-4, the issue is possibly beyond definitive resolution. I tend to think that Gen 6.1-4 is no abbreviation, and is not deliberately suppressing a form of Watcher/Giant story. For it works fine as an allusion to antediluvian heroes known for their reputation as great warriors and womanizers, and the story makes no reference to giants (that’s a much later development in the reception of Gen 6.1-4, prompted by Deut 1-3/Numbers 13, a tradition that develops and comes later than Gen 6.1-4). There is too much supposition required to make a reasonable case for dependence of Gen 6.1-4 on an earlier version of the Watcher/Giant story. On the other hand, it is an intriguing possibility…

Update 2 (9 January 2018): Jim Davila replies to my first update, and points out rightly that Nephilim did come to connote giants – at least by the time that the Bible was complete, and certainly in Modern Hebrew (based, as Modern Hebrew usually is, on the Bible read as a whole and interpreted over 2000 years). But as for whether the meaning of ‘giant’ is primary or secondary, he’s right also that this issue is a difficult one to resolve. The etymology, too, is uncertain – although I think the better etymology sees it as a reduction of the passive adjective (qaṭīl), קְטִיל, as I explained here: and so ‘fallen [heroes]’, that is, heroes fallen in battle. A third biblical text (in addition to Gen 6 and Num 13) which supports this view is Ezek 32:27, with its closely related group of gîbbōrîm nōflîm (fallen heroes). And a fourth text is the Hebrew of Sir 16:7, with its group of nsyqy qdm (“princes of old”) who also were ‘mighty’ (which Jim & I have discussed before). This all provides something short of conclusive evidence, but enough to make me favour seeing the primary meaning of the Nephilim as legendary or autochthonous heroes or princes famed for heroic deeds, maybe but not necessarily gigantic in stature.

Monster Theory in Biblical Studies

A recent article examines how “monster theory”, first developed within psychoanalysis and anthropology, has been applied to the study of the Hebrew Bible:

Brandon R. Grafius, “Text and Terror: Monster Theory and the Hebrew Bible“, Currents in Biblical Research
16, no. 1 (2017): 34–49.

Grafius discusses giants in a couple of places in the article. First, he briefly mentions Brian Doak’s description of the giants of Numbers 13-14 (from The Last of the Rephaim [2012], pp. 70-81) as typical of explorers’ accounts of their encounter with “monstrous others”. Second, Grafius discusses how “Anathea Portier-Young looks at how 1 Enoch 6–11 uses Gen. 6.1-6 in combination with the Greek myth known as the gigantomachy, in which the ‘uncivilized’ giants wage war against the gods of Olympus” (Apocalypse Against Empire [2011], pp. 18-23). For Portier-Young, according to Grafius’ summary, whereas Greeks had associated barbarian peoples with giants, the author of 1 Enoch 6-11 made the watchers “synonymous with Hellenistic culture”. This is a “critical inversion”! When 1 Enoch 6-11 portrays the giants’ “enormous size and uncontrollable appetite”, it does so as “a sharp critique of Hellenistic culture”. [Note that Grafius confuses his descriptions of the watchers (fallen angels) and their offspring (the giants) in his summary of Portier-Young: it is the giants whose “monstrous appetites cause them to devour all the people’s food, then the people, then each other” (p. 42), not the “watchers” (see 1 Enoch 7.3-5).]

Overall, the article provides a useful introduction to monster theory and its application to Biblical Studies.


Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem Again: Possible Harmonizing Interpretations versus Probable Contextual Interpretations

the-starThere has been quite a bit of conversation about my post on the contradictions between the birth stories of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

In addition to various Facebook discussions, there was an earlier post by James McGrath, taking much the same view as mine, agreement from Neil Godfrey, Fred ClarkRobert Myles, and seemingly from Jim Davila. Then there was a post by Bill Heroman arguing that the two stories “absolutely can be” reconciled, except perhaps for the statement in Luke 2.39 that Joseph, Mary & Jesus went straight back to Nazareth after Jesus’ birth, and a post by Michael Kok arguing that it is “possible to reconcile the stories”, again with Luke 2.39 being the “the major obstacle” for reconciliation of Jesus’ birth stories in Matthew and Luke.

No doubt we could go into detailed arguments about the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke. But there is a more fundamental hermeneutical choice involved here that I want to highlight.

I want you to note the language that I quoted above from Bill Heroman and Michael Kok: that harmonization “can be” done, or it is “possible to” find a harmonizing interpretation of the two stories. Also, note that the information in Luke 2.39 is seen as “a problem” (Heroman) and a “major obstacle” (Kok). This would be odd language if the goal was simply to seek the more probable meaning of each text. But can there really be a “problem” unless it is your primary goal to arrive at interpretations which result in a harmonization? Can there really be an “obstacle” unless it’s not actually your goal to seek the best meaning of each text (irrespective of whether that interpretation involves a contradiction or harmonization)?

It seems obvious that the so-called “problem” here is only for the harmonizer of texts, not for the exegete (whether in a historical-critical or more literary-critical role). That is, if your goal is to establish the better and more probable meaning of a text, then whether or not that meaning results in a contradiction with any further text is not a “problem” to be avoided at all costs. If however your goal is to attempt to harmonize two texts, which is the goal of many Evangelicals, including Bill and Michael, then harmonization can still be satisfied by a “possible” interpretation, an interpretation that “can be” defended (even if the possibility is less likely than other interpretations).

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with confessional goals in interpreting biblical texts, if it is clear that it is done in the service of Christians, for Christian Bible-reading. But on the other hand, if your goal is critical exegesis, it is insufficient to simply raise “possible” interpretations, without critically assessing which of these interpretations are also probable or at least plausible interpretations of the text. Yet that’s what I’ve seen here in response to James’ and my posts: the raising of a “possibility” in order to preserve a harmonizing, and so confessionally acceptable, interpretation. That’s fine for church, but not for the academy.

That’s why I wasn’t interested in narrowing interpretation of the two Jesus birth stories down to a single “problem” verse, such as Luke 2.39, and discussing “possible” ways to avoid a clear contradiction. That is a game for inerrantists, infallibalists, etc, including their more sophistic academic counterparts.  No – if you are interested in establishing the meaning of the text (as opposed to harmonizing the most “problematic” bits), you have to respect the whole context of the narratives before you. And so I return to my earlier post, in which I went through each narrative (with an eye on all relevant intertexts), respecting the narrative integrity of each text, and showed how they fundamentally differ, in every part of the narrative, in respect of two central elements: their geographical procession and their identification of Joseph’s initial hometown. The geographical processions are radically different, and have much to reveal about the different ideologies of each Gospel. Luke proceeds from Nazareth to Bethlehem and Jerusalem and back to Nazareth. But Matthew proceeds from Bethlehem to Egypt and involves a resettlement in Nazareth. In Luke, Nazareth is Joseph’s initial hometown; in Matthew, Bethlehem is Joseph’s initial hometown. The narrative progressions are different, and the contradiction exists at this wider level of the entire narrative, and cannot be reduced to a single verse seen as a “problem” to the would-be harmonizer.

If you try to base your interpretation  on a “possible” interpretation of the Bible (however forced or tendentious) by concentrating on ‘solving’ the most “problematic” verses, then you might succeed at the Evangelical game of harmonization, but not at critical scholarship.

The Two Stories of Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem


At this time of year, it’s common to see pictures of the Christmas story or to hear someone retell the story: Jesus in a manger, wise men visiting with gifts, angels and shepherds, etc. But all of these depictions are based on two quite different accounts of Jesus’ birth: one in the Gospel of Matthew and the other in the Gospel of Luke. The two accounts are not only different, but contradictory.

The popular retelling of the Christmas story usually involves a conflation (or mix-up) and harmonization (blurring of differences and contradictions) of elements from these two different stories.

But let’s examine each of them, to seek to understand the distinct stories they each tell:

Story One: Luke

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of how Joseph and Mary travel from their hometown in Nazareth in Galilee, to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. Luke situates Joseph and Mary’s home in Nazareth. Before the birth of Jesus (Luke 2.3-4), Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, has to travel from his “own town” (2.39) of Nazareth in Galilee, to his “own [ancestral] town” (2.3-4) Bethlehem in Judea. Why do Joseph and Mary have to travel to Bethlehem so close to the time of birth of Jesus? Luke’s answer is that Joseph and Mary had to travel there due to the census of Quirinius, the governor of Syria:

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David” (Luke 2.1-4)

The idea that Joseph would have had to have traveled to Bethlehem, because it was the town of his ancestors, is most probably a complete fiction. It is fabricated on the basis of the belief that the Messiah/Christ must be a descendant of David.

Then, according to Luke, after Joseph and Mary had travelled to Bethlehem, Jesus was born in Bethlehem:

“While they were there [in Bethlehem], the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son …” (Luke 2.6-7)

Luke then describes the circumcision of Jesus, and the purification of Mary (from the legal so-called ‘impurities’ of childbirth). Circumcision was carried out on the eighth day after birth (Lev 12.3), and the mother was considered ceremonially unclean for the 7 days following childbirth, and 33 days following the circumcision (Lev 12.2, 4). After this 40-day period, the mother had to provide a sheep as a sacrifice to restore her purity. This sacrifice could be changed to two turtledoves or pigeons if she were too poor to afford a sheep (Lev 12.6-8). As Luke 2.24 shows, Mary offered two turtledoves or pigeons:

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”” (Luke 2.21-24)

Leviticus 12 sets out the relevant “law of Moses”, the requirements of which took a period of 40 days following childbirth. Luke is then quite clear that Joseph and Mary returned to their “own town” of Nazareth “when they had finished” these 40 days of legal requirements:

“When they [Joseph and Mary] had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” (Luke 2.39)

The phrase “when they had finished … they returned to Galilee” translates the Greek kai hos etelesan … epestrepsan eis ten Galilaian, literally: “as they completed [all the requirements of the Law]… they returned to Galilee.” Luke is clearly narrating the return to Nazareth as something that occurred just after Mary had completed the 40 days of legal obligations. What’s more, they are returning eis polin heuton (“into their own town”) of Nazareth. So Luke envisages a round trip, from Joseph & Mary’s hometown of Nazareth, to the purported ancestral town of Joseph (Bethlehem), to the Temple in Jerusalem, and back to Joseph & Mary’s hometown.

Story Two: Matthew

But Matthew has Joseph and Mary take an entirely different route, from an entirely different hometown!

In Luke, Jesus is still little more than a newborn baby when he leaves Bethlehem, leaving for Jerusalem after 40 days, the term of Mary’s purification (Luke 2.21-24, 39). By contrast, in Matthew, the wise men who visit provide information to Herod about Jesus’ age that leads to him killing all boys up to two years old. The clear implication of the narrative is that the wise men had given Herod information about the date of Jesus’ birth that led Herod to assume that Jesus was older than a mere one-month-old baby:

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.” (Matt 2.16)

In Matthew, Joseph & Mary escape Bethlehem, with Jesus, and live in Egypt for a period. Moreover, in Matthew’s account, Joseph and Mary remain in Egypt for some time after this, awaiting the death of Herod. Yet, according to Luke, Jesus had travelled to Nazareth with his family only after 40 days:

“and [Joseph, the child and his mother] remained there [in Egypt] until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” … When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” ” (Matt 2.15, 19-21)

Often those who want to harmonize Luke with Matthew posit a trip to Egypt between the visit to Jerusalem and the return to Nazareth. But:

1. Such a harmonization abuses the straightforward statement in Luke that shows Joseph and Mary return home on completing the legal requirements of Leviticus 12. According to Luke, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth “as they finished everything required by the law”;

2. Such a harmonization ignores the presentation of Nazareth as the hometown of Joseph and Mary in Luke, versus Bethlehem in Matthew; and

3. Such a harmonization fails to adequately explain why, on being warned to flee straightaway to Egypt by an angel of Yahweh (once the wise men who had visited them, in Bethlehem, had left the place: 2.1-15), Joseph first travelled to Jerusalem (Luke 2.22) the very place where Herod himself reigned!

In addition, for Matthew, Joseph and Mary’s home was in Bethlehem.

Following the birth of Jesus, Joseph is commanded to go to Egypt, from their house in Bethlehem. If this “house” (Matt 2.11) is Joseph and Mary’s own house, this is complete contradiction to Luke’s account, which places Joseph & Mary’s hometown in Nazareth, Galilee. The term oikia (“house”) in Matthew most naturally refers to a family’s abode. Therefore, Matthew should be interpreted as understanding that Joseph and Mary were living in Bethlehem immediately before the birth of Jesus! As Raymond Brown explains:

“Presumably this was the house which served as the home of Joseph and Mary who were inhabitants of Bethlehem. The view is quite different from that of Luke 2.1-7. There have been many attempts, often quite forced, to harmonize the information.” (Birth of the Messiah, p. 176)

There is further evidence later on in chapter 2 of Matthew that Bethlehem was Joseph and Mary’s hometown. For, when Joseph is told to return to Israel:

1. Joseph’s first thought is to return to Judea (the province in which Bethlehem is located), not Nazareth (Matt 2.22). Naturally, Joseph and Mary wished to return to their hometown, which Matthew 2.22 reveals was in Judea. But Nazareth is in Galilee, not Judea!

2. Only after being warned in a dream not to return to Judea, Joseph goes instead to Galilee (Matthew 2.22).

3. On coming to Nazareth, Joseph is not described as returning to the home that Luke believes he has there. To the contrary, Joseph is described as “making his home” there. The phrase “made his home in a town called Nazareth” (Matt 2.23) reveals that Joseph is settling in a new place, which Matthew now introduces for the first time! Far from returning to his hometown, Joseph has arrived in a town that is altogether new to him.

4. What is more, it is only because of Joseph’s arrival in Nazareth at this time that Matthew sees fit to claim that Jesus will now fulfill the prophecy, “He will be called a Nazorean” (Matt 2.23).

So when we actually come to consider the logic of Matthew’s narrative itself, rather than leap to a forced harmonization with Luke, it is beyond reasonable doubt that Matthew must be interpreted as presenting Bethlehem, not Nazareth, as Joseph and Mary’s original hometown. As Raymond Brown summarises:

“Joseph’s first thought was to return to Judea, i.e., to “Bethlehem of Judea” (2.1), because he and Mary lived in a house there (2.11). Since Joseph and Mary were citizens of Bethlehem, Matthew takes pains to explain why they went to Nazareth. In Luke’s account, where they are citizens of Nazareth, the painstaking explanation is centered on why they went to Bethlehem (2.1-5).”

So, in contrast to Luke, Matthew has Joseph and Mary move from their house in Bethlehem, to Egypt, and then settle for the first time in Nazareth!

So, to summarize:

Luke places Joseph and Mary at home in Nazareth, Galilee, from before the birth of Jesus (Luke 1.26-27; 2.4). After a trip to Bethlehem, Judea (Luke 2.5), during which Mary gives birth to Jesus and has him circumcised (Luke 2.6-7, 21), they return home to Nazareth, Galilee. If he is presented to the temple in Jerusalem after 40 days as was the custom (Matt 2.21-38) – the return would be just following 40 days after Jesus’ birth (Luke 2.39).


Matthew places Joseph and Mary’s original home in Bethlehem, Judea. Matthew does not believe that their original home was in Nazareth, Galilee. This is clear from the fact that they begin in Bethlehem, as shown by the visit to their home in Bethlehem, Judea by the wise men in Matt 2.1-12, and Herod seeking to destroy all Bethlehem infants in Matt 2.16-18; and especially as shown by the angel of the Lord telling them to return home to Israel in Matt 2.19-21 and Joseph’s decision not to return to Judea but to settle in a new town, Nazareth, Galilee.

Therefore, if you hear the Christmas story this year, it will probably involve a forced harmonization of two quite different and contradictory stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Gospel of Peter’s Walking, Talking Cross Again: On Foster’s published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper

I recently offered an explanation of the weird resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter, in which Jesus expands gigantically from earth to heaven, and his cross ‘walks’ out of his tomb and talks to God (“Whence the Giant Jesus and his Talking Cross? The Resurrection in Gospel of Peter 10.39–42 as Prophetic Fulfilment of LXX Psalm 18“).

During the editing process, I made the decision to cut my original discussion of Paul Foster’s published response to Mark Goodacre’s unpublished interpretation of the resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter — as it was not quite relevant. In ‘A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One? A Conjectural Emendation in the Gospel of Peter’ (Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting [Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Section], London, July 2011), as well as in an earlier blog post, Goodacre had argued for an emendation of σταυρός (‘cross’) to σταυρωθεντα (‘crucified [one]’, i.e. Jesus). Goodacre puts forward the possibility that ‘cross’ in an earlier Greek version of the Gospel of Peter had been written with the nomen sacrum ΣΤΑ. Early Christians often abbreviated certain divine names or titles, which they might have done with ΣΤΑ, which would then have originally stood for σταυρωθέντα (‘the crucified one’). But the scribe of the main surviving copy of the Gospel of Peter (the Akhmîm Fragment) misconstrued ΣΤΑ as σταυρόν (‘cross’). And so, the existence of a walking, talking cross in the Gospel of Peter, according to Goodacre, was the result of a copyist’s error. Goodacre’s proposed conjectural emendation therefore makes the text more ‘sensible’. It means that the Gospel of Peter does not make Jesus’s cross walk and talk, but rather Jesus (as ‘the crucified one’). After all, it would be much less surprising, at least for modern readers, to have a person walking and taking, rather than a cross. So Goodacre’s proposal has some degree of plausiblity.

I have argued in ‘Whence the Giant Jesus’ that the surviving text already makes perfectly good sense as a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Psalm 18. So it was not directly relevant to engage with Goodacre’s quite different alternative — although I did make mention of it. As you might expect, I favour my own explanation, rather than Goodacre’s conjectural solution (I mean, conjectural emendation is a last resort, am I right?)

Yet while Goodacre’s suggestion is only conjectural (without any direct textual support), I do consider that it was internally logical and possible. But Paul Foster disagreed. In a published article, Foster made three main criticisms of Goodacre’s proposal (‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk? A Reconsideration of Gospel of Peter 10.39–42’, JTS 64 [2013] 97–99).

I do not consider any of Foster’s three criticisms at all fatal to Goodacre’s case. That’s what my deleted footnote had discussed, and it may be worthwhile preserving my reasons.

In his published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper, Paul Foster objects that

(1) the proposed nomen sacrum is rare;

(2) the author would then have inconsistently translated ΣΤΑ as σταυρωθέντα in GPet 13.56; and

(3) the emendation produces a text in which Jesus is simultaneously supported by the two men and walks behind them

(Foster, ‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk?, pp.  97–99).

The first objection, while cogent, is hardly fatal. Plenty of things we see in early Christian texts are rare or unique. This might be a rare case of ΣΤΑ being used for σταυρωθέντα.

The second objection is evidentially neutral, given the Akhmîm Fragment’s tendency to employ other nomina sacra inconsistently, as Goodacre already notes. Foster’s first two objections raise the question of probability, but are far from being decisive.

The third objection misreads Goodacre’s interpretation of the resurrection scene. Goodacre’s interpretation sees the ‘two’ men or angels from heaven not as ‘supporting’ the [crucified] one, but ‘lifting up’ the one (according to Goodacre’s translation of the rare verb ὑπορθοῦντας in GPet 10.39c). Then, the crucified one subsequently follows the two out of the tomb (10.39d). Although Foster’s own interpretation is different, he needed to acknowledge that, on Goodacre’s particular interpretation, the sequence was quite coherent.

Foster goes on to argue that the scene of a mobile, talking cross is not ‘absurd’, as Goodacre stated, given the examples of cross piety in early Christianity, in which the cross is given an independent role as ‘a salvific object’ which is involved in action or gets addressed by other characters. I have some sympathy for the underlying point that this is an example of cross piety, and my own article discusses the cosmic nature of the cross piety in the Gospel of Peter. But Goodacre’s ISBL paper was really only taking its point of departure from the perceived oddness of the content of GPet 10.39-42. His argument, however, is based on text-critical considerations, in particular the Akhmîm Fragment’s late date and the large number of ‘errors, riddles, and puzzles’ it contains (p. 8). Moreover, as Foster had acknowledged in his commentary, the motif of cross piety fails to account for the innovation of a walking and talking cross, which is ‘not typical of the other forms of cross-devotion exemplified in patristic texts’ (Gospel of Peter, 418). Quite right – something more that “cross piety” is required as an explanation for the unique mobile, talking cross of the Gospel of Peter.

Foster’s counter-arguments therefore fail to convince; Goodacre’s case for textual emendation offers a plausible solution for a problematic text, albeit one which relies on recourse to conjectural emendation. I think ultimately that the debate is superseded by the solution I offered. Yet I find Goodacre’s proposal, while not likely, to be internally consistent and logically possible.

Richard Carrier’s Reading Problems: An Example

After Christina Petterson had reviewed his book, On the Historicity of Jesus (2014), Richard Carrier concluded that Petterson’s review was “highly evangelical” and that Petterson herself was “fawningly Christian”.

As I was book review editor at the time that Petterson submitted her review, I asked Carrier how he had concluded that Christina Petterson was “highly evangelical”, and what evidence he had for calling her (elsewhere) “fawningly Christian”.

Given that Carrier is an historian who places a high value on the logical use of historical evidence, I wanted to see how he had treated this recent piece of historical evidence: a 2015 review of his book. How did he reach his conclusions about Petterson?

So I sent him a question on his website, and he has now kindly answered it.

DEANE DECEMBER 16, 2017, 10:25 PM

Dear Richard,

From the specific content of Christina Petterson’s review of your book, I wonder what evidence you have for calling it “highly evangelical”, and (elsewhere) what evidence you have for calling her “fawningly Christian”? If there is evidence of this in her review, I am sure that, like any good historian, you will not fail to produce it.

I eagerly wait to see your evidence.

Deane Galbraith


  1. You can see for yourself. I link to her article. It’s open access, so anyone can read it. Clues include her disparagement of the Jesus Seminar, and praise for James McGrath; her review in general reads like a James McGrath style poohpoohing of any challenge to orthodoxy, and never engages with the actual arguments of the book, which only a believing Christian would think to do. She’s defending orthodoxy. And assuming she need do no work to do it. While never once conceding the actual orthodoxy is that the Gospel Jesus is a myth (and the historical Jesus not like him). That’s all you need to know her agenda is defending Christianity, not scholarship (her Christian belief is likewise evident from her other writings).

    Although I think it’s fair to cut the word “evangelical” here, since it’s true, she doesn’t evangelize a kerygma in that article. So I’ve made that correction. I’ve gone back to its main descriptor: weird.

Carrier’s basis for calling Petterson “highly evangelical” and “fawningly Christian” was: her negative criticism of the Jesus Seminar, her positive appraisal of a piece written by James McGrath, combined with her negative review of Carrier. Based on this evidence, Carrier concludes that Petterson had behaved as “only a believing Christian would think to do”. Carrier further alleges that Petterson is “defending orthodoxy”, and that “her agenda is defending Christianity, not scholarship”. Furthermore, from Petterson’s “other writings”, he concludes that “her Christian belief is likewise evident”. Yet, he does now acknowledge that Petterson isn’t actually evangelizing in her review: “she doesn’t evangelize a kerygma”.

There is a good reason why Petterson wasn’t “evangelizing a kerygma” in her review of Carrier. She is not a Christian, and not religious, and never has been. She is an atheist.

This provides a good test, however, of Carrier’s inability to interpret his sources, and his ability to draw inferences from them that are simply not there. Carrier consistently assumes that anyone who disagrees with him must have an evangelical “agenda”. Sadly, this is conspiracy-theory thinking, not scholarly thinking.

Carrier has completely failed to interpret his source, taking inferences from it that simply were not there, and which were quite incorrect.